Plant Profile: Baby Tears vs Pearl Grass

“Baby Tears” is one of the most popular aquarium plants available and is popular as a foreground and midground plant. It has very small leaves and will stay short to cover the bottom under high lighting or will grow taller and bushier under moderate lighting. However, as is often the problem with common names, when we discuss “Baby Tears”, we may be talking about different plants. There are several plants that may be referred to as “Baby Tears”. That description above can apply to any of them. They all have small roundish leaves and grow in similar conditions…so which is the “real” one? That’s as tough to answer as the sneakers/tennis shoes/running shoes/trainers name debate.

Baby Tears and Pearl Grass

L: Baby Tears (M. umbrosum)
R: Pearl Grass (H. micranthemoides)

“Baby Tears” vs. “Pearl Grass”

The two most common “Baby Tears” available to aquarists are Hemianthus micranthemoides (also called “Dwarf Baby Tears” or Pearl Grass) and Micranthemum umbrosum (the species most often known as Baby Tears, also called “Giant Baby Tears”). The main difference between these two plants is in the leaf shape. M. umbrosum (“Baby Tears”, from here on out) generally has round, almost completely circular leaves. H. micranthemoides (“Pearl Grass”, for the rest of this blog) has elongated leaves, more tear-dropped or elliptical in shape.

 

Both of these plants have almost identical care and can usually be used interchangeably but there are some small differences here too. Baby Tears is usually easier to care for and tends to grow a bit faster than Pearl Grass, but Pearl Grass is a better foreground plant that will stay shorter and have smaller leaves under high light. Baby Tears tends to be taller and bushier but either can be pruned and trimmed to maintain a height or growth pattern. Both plants can be grown in bunches or on a surface like driftwood, rock or a plastic mat to form a thicker carpet; use fishing line or string to hold it in place under the roots start to attach.

 

A thick mat of Glossostigma in an aquarium

A thick mat of Glossostigma in an aquarium

Glossostigma: A Third Look-alike

 

Another plant, Glossostigma elatinoides (usually shortened to “Glosso”) is also very close to Baby Tears and Pearl Grass in appearance and is sometimes confused with these two plants. It has pairs of small, round leaves that are somewhat in between Baby Tears and Pearl Grass in shape, a rounded teardrop but with the widest and roundest part of the leaf at the end rather than by the stem. They stay short and small under very high light but the leaves will become bigger and taller under lower light. This plant can also be planted in the same way by attaching it to a hard surface or planting each stalk individually until it begins to spread on its own.

 

(Baby Tears image by Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil from Brazil (Micranthemum umbrosum (J.F. Gmel.) S.F. Blake) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)

Dave’s Bucket list and the Great Barrier Reef

School of Yellow and Blueback FusilierDave here. Most of you have heard of making a “bucket list”, a list of things that you feel you have to do before you die to make your life complete.  Well, I am far too disorganized to have much of a list, but one thing that I would have had on by bucket list if I were to have made one, I have been lucky enough to do:  Diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

Maxima ClamI just got back from a long awaited vacation to Australia, part of which I spent in Northern Queensland, where I was able to make a couple of visits to the outer reefs for some amazing diving and snorkeling fun.  Having been born in Australia, and still being an Australian citizen, there are questions that I have been asked all my life from friends and acquaintances. Have you ever seen a Kangaroo? Have you ever held a Koala Bear? What the heck is Vegamite?  Yes, I have seen a Kangaroo, and held a Koala, and Vegamite is an Aussie thing that defies description, if you know, you know.  The question that I have been asked a million times over the years that I have always had to answer “NO” to, I can finally answer “YES” to. YES, I have been diving on the Great Barrier Reef.  I have been a certified diver for 16 years, and ever since I began thinking about diving, the Barrier Reef has always been one of my target sites.

Tomato Clown in host anemone The reef was everything that I had hoped it would be, truly amazing.  I have done many interesting dives, mostly wreck diving in the Carolinas, and some diving in Florida and the Caribbean.  It just does not compare. The shear size of the Barrier Reef is overwhelming, you could spend a lifetime exploring, and still only see a small portion of it.   The pictures that are posted in the blog are from my trip out to the Agincourt Reef System, which is a portion of the outer Great Barrier Reef system about 40 miles off shore out of Port Douglas, Queensland

You could tell that I was the only reef geek on the dive boat.  While most of the divers on my boat were hoping to see a shark, or a turtle, or maybe a migrating whale (don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to experienced a dive with a whale), I spent most of my time in shallow water, looking in all the nooks and crannies, taking pictures of “nothing” as I heard someone say.  The diversity was amazing, and some of what I saw was quite surprising to me.  There were huge colonies of brown Sarcophyton and Lobophytum leather corals, growing very near the surface, and large colonies of White Pom Pom Xenia on the outer reef.

Fromia sp. starfishA couple of the things in particular that I was looking forward to seeing were some wild Clownfish, and Giant Clams, neither of which I have had the opportunity to see here in the Atlantic.  The reef delivered big time.  I saw some massive T. gigas clams that had to have been at least 4′ long, as well as T. maxima, T. crocea and T. squamosa.  Some of the clams were in fairly deep water, one of the T. gigas that I saw was in about 50 feet of water.

Clownfish litter the reef, wherever their host anemones can gain a foothold.  Common to many of the large coral boulders were clusters of Green Bubble Tip Anemones (E. quadricolor), which hosted mostly Clark’s (A. clarkii) clownfish, and also some Cinnamon (A. melanopus) clowns.  There were also quite a few spots where what I believe were Long-tentacle (M. doorensis) Anemones hosting mostly Clark’s and a few Maroon (P. biaculateus).  The most spectacular anemones that I saw were a few bright blue and purple colored Magnificent or Ritteri (Heteractis magnifica) Anemones hosting Pink Skunk Clowns (A. perideraion).  There were others that I caught glimpses of, but I was not sure of the species.

Soft Corals as far as the eye can seeThe large schools of fish that dart about the reef are equally impressive, one of the more brilliant schools that I saw was one of hundreds of Yellow and Blueback Fusilier (Caesio teres), which are quite common to the reef.  Also seen on the reef were large schools of Green Chromis that dart in and out of the reef formations as they sense danger.

I hope you enjoy the pictures from my visit.  I think that this experience needs to appear on my list a few more times, as once was definitely not enough.

You may check out lots more underwater pictures I took of the GBR at the That Fish Place Facebook page.

Until Next time,

Dave

Keeping Tropical Fish in Outside Ponds for the Summer

Eureka red kept in pond Hey there!  This week I wanted to talk about something a little different than my usual cichlid blog. I wanted to share some tips on how you can develop spectacular color on tropical fish in a way you may have never considered.

A few years ago, we moved into a house that had a small pond in the front yard. It was one of those rigid, preformed round ponds about 15 inches deep with a  50 to 80 gallon capacity. We kept a few goldfish in there the first year. They grew and made it through the winter just fine as we expected.

The following Spring, I got hold of some Astatotilapia aneocolor from Lake Victoria, 2 males 3 females to be exact. I was told by the previous keeper that they were aggressive, so I put them in a 55 gallon. I figured that would be plenty of space, since they were only 2.5 inch fish, and that they would leave each other alone for the time being.

Boy, was I wrong. One of the males showed his dominance within 2 hours of being added to the tank, and no matter what I did he couldn’t be swayed. I moved decorations around, gave him a time out for a week in a net breeder, and  I even put him into an aquarium with four 3 inch Black Belt Cichlids hoping he would be intimidated into submission. He went nuts in that tank, too, and started beating up the Black Belts, so back into the original tank he went. He quickly went back to his old ways, dominating and terrorizing the other male. He finally ripped out male no. 2’s right eye.

The Great Outdoors

I wasn’t sure what I could do for him. Then it occurred to me that I did have another place for him to go. The temps were high enough outside, so why not? I decided to relocate One Eye to the pond outside to give him a chance to recover. I watched to make sure that the other fish (goldfish) didn’t bother him and they didn’t. In fact, by the end of the week ol’ One Eye was the sole proprietor of the pond.

For the next few weeks, he ate well and still came up to the surface to see who was around the pond when I went to feed. I only had a little internal filter system on the pond, and soon the water started turning green. Before long I could barely see One Eye to see his condition, but i knew he was still alive and growing, possibly even larger than the bully inside. He was eating well, besides my offerings he ate insects that fell into the pond, and I also noticed he was scraping algae off the sides.

Meanwhile the dominant male in the 55 was attaining his astounding breeding colors. He was red on top half of his body and yellow on the bottom half with black fins.

The nights started to get into the mid 60’s, so it was time to bring in ol’ One Eye. When I netted him out I was shocked to see that he was an inch and a half larger than my dominant male and his colors were unbelievable! He had a deep maroon upper half and the bottom half was gold…I kid you not. I mean it was so vibrant that I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen to other fish from my collection if they had the same conditions. The following Spring, I upgraded the filter setup to an internal mag drive pump pushing into a Fluval 403 canister filter with the return line feeding a waterfall. I started keeping Albino Eureka Red Peacocks outside in that pond after the upgrade. You can see the results in my photo (top photo, sorry it’s a little blurry).

There is no match for the magic of natural sunlight and the varied diet tropicals can get outside. A friend of mine kept Red Terrors outside, where they bred for him through the season. Summer vacation outside isn’t just for cichlids, it can also be done with platies, swordtails, guppies and pretty much anything tropical if you have a place for them. Even small patio ponds could be populated with livebearers or tetras. Imagine a school of Cardinal Tetras soaking up those sun rays! Any pond will do as long as it doesn’t get too hot or too cold, and as long the fish have a little cover to protect them from would be predators like herons.

It’s a Jungle Out There

While the benefits are great, there are also some cautions to consider. This time I’d like to talk about some of the dangers and pests that may wreak havoc on our poor little fishies.

I was lucky not to have my pond visited by pests, but local stray cats, opossums, raccoons, snakes or predatory birds that may decide to visit your pond at any time.  Even bugs like dragonfly nymphs can prey on young and small fish. Ample water movement and surface ripples are usually enough to deter them, but more effort may be needed to deter larger predators. There are some easy ways that you can help to protect your fish while they enjoy their outdoor summer vacation. Personally, I would recommend the live plants. You can use floating foliage like water lilies, duck weed or hyacinths for cover and protection for your fish. Young fish will also hide in the roots and feed on the small bugs that live in the roots. Another solution is the use of pond netting. The netting can prevent many predators from snatching your fish out of the water. Not very aesthetic, but effective.

Pesticides and other contaminants may pose a hazard in an outdoor environment. Toxins can be washed into a pond during heavy downpours or may be blown into the Green Heronwater.  The rish is small as long as you stay aware when applying such products…something to keep in mind. Even the rain itself can be a danger to your fish. Acidic rain can drive your ph to low levels if you have a low kh. Depending on the species you’re keeping, such fluctuations can wipe fish out quickly.  I was able to keep the kh high and the ph stable with weekly buffered water changes so thi swas never a problem in my experiences.

Closing Time

Cool temps are the other concern. It’s important to know when to bring them in. For me, when night temperatures start dipping below 75 F, I know it’s time to bring them back to the tank. You may notice the fish becoming lethargic, and some may even die if you don’t pay close attention at the end of summer. I recommend acclimating them slowly back to indoor temperatures. If the filter running the pond is a canister filter, I would recommend keeping it running on the main tank. Clean it out before bringing it inside, but you’ll be supplying an established filter/biological for your indoor tank, and you don’t have to wait for the whole cycling process. We drain the pond each year and look for babies. You can then either store it till the following year or couple of set it back up in the house for the winter.

I hope this inspires someone else to try some tropicals outside. You wont regret it. Let me know if you have any questions, I’ll be happy to help you out.

Until next time,

Jose

Choosing an Aquarium Filter

Choosing an Aquarium Filter. Where do we start? The modern aquarium hobby is full of a variety of options claiming to keep your aquarium cleaner easier, cheaper and more effectively than the next. Like any technology, weeding through what you need and don’t need can be a difficult task. Which is why the experts at That Fish Blog got together to create a complete guide on how to to choose the right aquarium filter for your tank and your situation.

 

Grading Scale

Below, we will go into the the types of aquarium filters and highlight some of the main points about each type.  We will grade each type on 6 factors independently.

Ease of Installation – Let’s face it – some filters can be a pain to install. Some of the more complex versions may require purchasing a drilled aquarium or a separate pump to sustain it.

Cost – Cost includes not only the price to purchase the filter, but the cost associated with installing it on your tank.

Upkeep – Some filters are basically set it and forget it – others require additional expense or maintenance along the way.

Space Requirements – Not everyone has room for a big filter in their setup. This category ranks not only how easy it is to fit under or on your aquarium, but also inside. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to stare at aquarium equipment when I’m trying to check out my Tropheus

Biological Effectiveness – How well do these filters maintain effective biological filtration? Biological filtration is the most important aspect of aquarium filtration so this matters a great deal.

Chemical Effectiveness – Does the filter offer a level of chemical filtration – and how good is it?

Mechanical Effectiveness – Does the filter offer a level of mechanical filtration – and how good is it?

Noise – Noise can be a real concern for some aquarists and some filters are definitely louder than others.

 

 

Sponge Aquarium Filters

A sponge filter is one of the simplest aquarium filters available. They rate high for ease of installation, but are pretty limited in their effectiveness in all areas of aquarium filtration. They work with aquarium air pumps too – so you’ll have to purchase one of those. Most aquarists use them exclusively as add-on filtration or in small tanks like quarantine setups or transport tanks. They’re basically bacterial beds – their ability to filter mechanically and chemically is, for the most part, non-existent on most models.

Ease of Installation – Easy

Cost – Low

Upkeep – Low to Medium

Space Requirements – Low

Biological Effectiveness – Medium

Chemical Effectiveness – Low to Medium

Mechanical Effectiveness – Low to Medium

Noise – Medium

 

Undergravel Aquarium Filters

Undergravel Filters are a tried and true way of providing aquarium filtration to most size aquariums. They work by providing a gap between substrate and aquarium where beneficial bacteria can grow and thrive – providing consistent biological filtration to your tank. They are controversial however due to the risks associated with large scale biological breakdown underneath the plates. They also require the use of an aquarium air pump or powerhead to keep things flowing correctly and oxygen moving. They’re also pretty much a pain in the neck if you try to install them in an already-established aquarium due to the fact that you have to actually remove the gravel before installation. Given their limited filtration options, most aquarists tend to use them in conjunction with a power filter, canister filter or internal filter to supplement their biological filtration.

Ease of Installation – Easy

Cost – Low to Medium

Upkeep – Low to Medium

Space Requirements – Low

Biological Effectiveness – High

Chemical Effectiveness – Low to Medium

Mechanical Effectiveness – Low

Noise – Medium

 

Internal Aquarium Filters

Also called ‘In-Tank Filters’, these filters typically feature a motor to go along with fairly basic mechanical, biological and chemical filtration options. A favorite of tanks with low water levels and terrariums, these filters can be placed directly inside your tank and offer a higher level of 3-stage filtration than most of the options above. Aesthetically, they don’t blend in the way an Undergravel Filter does, but they still typically have a lower profile in your setup.

Ease of Installation – Easy

Cost – Low to Medium

Upkeep – Medium

Space Requirements – Medium

Biological Effectiveness – Medium

Chemical Effectiveness – Medium

Mechanical Effectiveness – Medium

Noise – Low to Medium

 

Power Filters

If there is a ‘traditional’ aquarium filter, the power filter would be it. Brands like Tetra’s Whisper, Marineland’s Penguin & Emperor, & Hagen’s Aquaclear have become household names in the aquarium industry due the ease, convenience and effectiveness of the power filter. A simple, magnetic impeller design combined with easy-to-replace filter cartridges make power filters a very effective for their price and simplicity. A simple hang-on-the-tank profile makes them easy to hide while still providing adequate 3-stage filtration for small to medium-size aquariums.

Ease of Installation – Easy

Cost – Low to Medium

Upkeep – Low to Medium

Space Requirements – Medium

Biological Effectiveness – Medium

Chemical Effectiveness – Medium

Mechanical Effectiveness – Medium to High

Noise – Low to Medium

 

Canister Filters

Canister Filters are great for providing a higher level of biological, chemical and mechanical filtration when compared to their power filter counterparts. Larger media areas and more stationary designs let you maintain larger bioloads and to maintain larger tanks in general. They’re also really easy to customize if you’d like to add additional filter media, while their specialized designs ensure a great water-to-media contact ratio so you maximize filter media effectiveness. However, what canister filters add in filtration capacity, they give back a bit in ease of installation, cost and space requirements. These big boys tend to cost a bit more and take up a bit more space under or behind your aquarium. They’re not always a walk in the part to install either.

Ease of Installation – Intermediate

Cost – Medium to High

Upkeep – Medium

Space Requirements – Medium

Biological Effectiveness – Medium

Chemical Effectiveness – Medium to High

Mechanical Effectiveness – High

Noise – Low

Wet/Dry Filters

Wet/Dry Filters are the pinnacle of aquarium filtration effectiveness. Most large scale aquariums employ some variation of wet/dry filtration in conjunction with an external sump system to maintain crystal clear, biologically sound environments in both fresh or saltwater. Their higher ratings for chemical and mechanical filtration are derived from the idea that, given that it’s a large, external sump, you can quickly and easily add large amounts of filtration pad or chemical media to facilitate your tank’s clean-up, but water contact is not ensured the way it is in a canister filter. But these filters are not for the timid. Large wet/dry sumps take up a lot of space. You also may need additional equipment or tank modifications to get yours to work correctly. Make no mistake, wet/dry filtration is the gold standard for biological aquarium filtration, but be prepared for a more complex installation, a higher starter cost, and greater space requirements than the other filters on this list.

Ease of Installation – Intermediate to Hard

Cost – High

Upkeep – Medium

Space Requirements – High

Biological Effectiveness – High

Chemical Effectiveness – Medium to High

Mechanical Effectiveness – Medium to High

Noise – Medium to High

So there you have it. Now that you’ve made it this far – we’ve thrown together our recommendations in a handy infographic as well. You may also check out our filter guides for information on specific types.  Good luck with your filter purchase and aquarium setup. As always, if you have any questions – please shoot us an email at marinebio@thatpetplace.com or give us a call at 1-888-THAT-PET.

Choosing an Aquarium Filter Infographic

Top 10 Aquarium Plants For Beginners

The beauty of a thriving planted aquarium is undeniable; it is like an exotic slice of nature in your living room.  Many people shy away from advancing to a live planted aquarium because they think it is too difficult.  Some folks have tried, and failed, and decided that live plants are not for them.  Whatever the cause for not keeping live plants may be, the truth is that keeping live plants can be easy with a little guidance to help your chances of success.  There are a wide variety of easy to keep aquarium plants available, here are my top ten.  I have separated these into two groups, with smaller plants listed as foreground plants, which are also well suited for shorter aquariums.  The second group is for mid-ground and background plants, which will work well, planted behind foreground plants, and can be incorporated into taller aquariums.

 

Foreground Aquarium Plants

 

java mossJava Moss (Vesicularia dubyana) is fairly undemanding. It can be left floating or attached to a surface like wood or rockwork (anchor in place with fishing line or another tie and remove the ties when plant has attached). It will form mats that provide hiding places for inverts and fish fry as well as a low foreground texture to the aquarium.   Java Moss will thrive in low light aquariums, and requires no special care.

 

 

Moss BallsMoss Balls (Chladophora aegogrophila) Moss Balls are a truly unique addition to planted aquariums. They are non-invasive structures that are actually made from algae shaped by wave action. Moss Balls are low maintenance, tolerating a wide range of water conditions and tolerant of minimal lighting (though they thrive better in moderate lighting). They may be left in their ball shape or split and attached to a surface like driftwood or rockwork (use fishing line or another anchor until attached, then remove the ties).

 

anubias nanaAnubias Nana (Anubias barteri ‘nana’)  There are several forms of Anubias Barteri, that have been developed for aquarium use, with Anubias Nana being the most common.  Anubias plants are characterized by their broad, thick, dark green leaves.  Anubias Nana is an extremely tough plant, which can be kept with fish that may eat other more delicate species.  This plant will thrive in low to medium light aquariums, and a wide range of water conditions.

 

chain swordNarrowleaf Chain Sword (Echinodorus tenellus)   Also known as Pygmy Chain Sword, this grasslike plant is one of the smallest of the sword family, and is an excellent choice as a foreground plant, or for small aquariums.  Narrowleaf Chain Sword is tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, but requires moderate to high lighting to maintain its small size.

 

 

micro swordMicro Sword – (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis) Micro Sword is another excellent foreground plant, and is a staple for aquatic gardeners of all levels.  This plant forms dense green mats, which resemble a green carpet across the bottom of the aquarium.  Tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, this plant is a fast grower, but requires strong lighting to keep a short dense appearance.

 

 

 

Mid-ground and Background Aquarium Plants

 

amazon swordAmazon Sword (Echinodorus bleheri) The Amazon Sword is one of the most iconic aquarium plants used in the hobby, and is probably what most people visualize when they think about aquarium plants.  These plants are tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, and can grow quite large.  These plants can also survive in low to medium light, but will thrive in medium to high light levels.  Be careful not to plant smaller species close to this plant, as it will overshadow smaller plants in a short amount of time.

 

java fernJava Fern (Microsorum pteropus) Java Fern is a hardy plant that tolerates a wide range of conditions. They can tolerate lower lighting as well as the higher pH and hard water of cichlid aquariums and aquariums with higher lighting. They even may be used in brackish water aquariums with low salinity.  Java Fern can easily be attached to driftwood and rockwork, and can form a dense covering on these structures if allowed.  Mature plants can grow leaves up to a foot in length.

 

Crytocoryne WendtiiCryptocoryne (Cryptocoryne wendtii) Cryptocoryne wendtii is one of the most popular of the Cryptocoryne plants, which are commonly called Crypts. They are adaptable to most aquarium conditions, although the conditions in which it lives will often affect its form. When grown in lower light, the plant will become taller and narrower.  Crypts grown in higher light will typically remain more compact with broader leaves. The color also varies greatly. Some of the most popular variations in the aquarium trade are green, red and bronze.

 

anubias congensisAnubias Congensis ( Anubias barteri ‘congensis’) Anubias Congensis is another form developed for aquariums from Anubias barteri plant.   Congensis has dark green, waxy, spear-shaped leaves which grow to an average height of about 15 inches.  Like most of the Anubias aquarium plants, this variation is adaptable to a wide range of aquarium conditions, and thrives in low to medium light levels.

 

 

sagittaria subulataSagittaria (Sagittaria subulata) Subulata is a thin, grasslike plant. The leaves are green in coloration with some areas of reddish brown. A “dwarf” variant is often available as well as the “regular” Subulata but height is often dependent on lighting; the plants will grow taller in lower lighting but will stay more compact and spread laterally in higher lighting. Subulata will thrive in a wide range of water and light conditions, and may tolerate brackish water environments with very low salinity.

 

 

If you have ever considered trying a freshwater planted tank, but did not know where to start, give some of these plants a try.  Once you see how easy it can be, the sky is the limit, and you are on your way to becoming an aquatic gardener.

Until next blog,

Dave