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Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).

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Understanding the Active Ingredients in Multi-Purpose Aquarium Medications

Sick fishIn the first two parts of this series, we discussed anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic ingredients but there are multi-purpose aquarium medications that are available to aquarists treat more than one symptom. Also, we often see more than one type of infection at a time as one can lead to another. Parasites may lead to bacterial infections at the wound site, and secondary fungal infections may occur as a result of a bacterial infection. These ingredients listed here may be effective for more than one type of disease or outbreak.


Acriflavine is used as an active ingredient to treat a number of conditions. It is an antiseptic that has been shown to be successful in treating fungal infections on fish as well as to treat some bacterial and parasitic infections. It can be used against two of the most resistant infections in the aquarium hobby: Oodinium (parasitic) and Columnaris (bacterial). Acriflavine is generally used for infections based in the slime coat and skin of the fish, not for “larger” parasites like Ich or worms.

Formaldehyde/ Formalin:

Formaldehyde is well-known as a preservative, especially for scientific specimens, but it is also used in medications and diluted solution of formaldehyde gas are found under the name Formalin. Formalin by definition is usually about 37% formaldehyde. Formaldehyde and Formaline are both used to treat fungal infections and some parasites – including the notorious Ich – but can be dangerous, especially to invertebrates (after all, parasites are invertebrates). Most formaldehyde-based medications work better as a bath or dip instead of being used to treat the entire system, and any of these medications should never be used with invertebrates that you want to keep alive. Formalin also depletes the oxygen in the water very quickly, so the water must remain well-aerated, especially when the concentration is high and water movement is low, as in a dip. Some of these medications can also be used to keep fish eggs fungus-free.
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Understanding Active Ingredients in Anti-Parasitic Medications

white spotIn Part 1 of our blog “Understanding Active Ingredients in Antibacterial Fish Medications“, we discussed active ingredients primarily used to treat bacterial infections. Next in this series is anti-parasitic medications. These ingredients are used to treat for different types of parasites.

Parasitic infections or infestations in aquariums can be internal (inside the fish or invertebrate) or external (on the outside of the animal, on tank surfaces or in the substrate), as well as microscopic or large enough to see with the naked eye. Use caution with these medications as most may also destroy sensitive fish and invertebrates.


Copper has long been one of the “go to” medications for parasite treatment in aquariums, especially for treatment of “Ich”, and protozoan parasites. Copper sulfate is the most common form in most copper-based medications but chelated copper treatments are also available as a potentially safer alternative. Copper-based medications are usually used to treat parasites and even some algae outbreaks, but since it is a heavy metal, it can be very dangerous to invertebrates and some fish.  Monitoring Copper levels during treatment is extremely important, to maintain effective levels, and to prevent disastrous overdoses. Even after treatment is over and most of the copper has been removed using carbon or another filter media, residual copper can be left behind in the aquarium.


Fenbendazole is the active ingredient in many dewormers. It is used most commonly to treat mammals including cattle, sheep, and other livestock but is also used less commonly for reptiles, amphibians and fish. It is effective against internal parasites like roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms and others but for aquarium purposes, it is usually used to eliminate planaria (a type of flatworm), calamus worms (an internal parasitic worm) and hydra (related to corals and anemones, usually seen on the glass or rocks). This is regarded as a very strong medication but is one of the few considered reliable for these parasites.

Garlic GuardGarlic (Allium sativum):

While not an actual “medication”, I include garlic because it is a very popular nutritional supplement that has been proven to be helpful in recovery and treatment for some diseases. It is an appetite stimulant in many fish and can help encourage even finicky eaters to feed. Garlic is also a power antioxidant that has been shown to improve a fish’s own immune system and help them fight off a condition on their own. Some believe that the garlic may “taste” bad to the parasite and cause them to fall off of the fish, but it is more likely that the fish is able to fight the parasites off on its own because of the extra nutritional boost it receives. Although garlic extract from any health food store can be used in aquariums, formulas manufactured specifically for aquarium use are generally best and often also contain Vitamin C or other vitamins and minerals. At any rate, this homeopathic herbal additive is not a true medication, has no measurable side effects, and is beneficial as a supplement for most freshwater or saltwater fish.
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Understanding the Active Ingredients in Antibacterial Aquarium Medications

My poor clownfish has a bacterial infection behind its right eye.Understanding what a medication contains can often be as or more important than understanding what it treats. I’ve compiled just a few of the most common active ingredients found in many of the most popular aquarium medications. This list is not all-inclusive but may hopefully help to unravel the why’s and how’s of some medications.

Remember, some of these active ingredients have more than one use and the medications they are in may be marketed for different uses. Antibacterial medications may be included in anti-parasitic medications and some anti-parasitic ingredients may also be useful in fungal infections but the uses I’ve listed are the most common or most effective in the aquarium trade. Always remember to properly diagnose conditions and diseases before medicating and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for any medications.

Part 1: Antibacterial ingredients in aquarium medications

These ingredients of common bacterial fish medications are used to treat different types of bacterial infections. Some are broad spectrum, general medications while others are geared towards Gram-negative or Gram-positive bacteria only.  The Gram designation refers to a testing system named for the scientist who developed it, Hans Christian Gram.  Known as Gram Staining, bacteria samples are treated with a purple dye under microscope, the bacteria who accept the dye, and turn purple are Gram-Positive.  Bacteria that do not accept the stain are Gram-Negative, and appear pink.  These two groups are the largest two types of infectious bacteria.  If you try a Gram-Negative medication, and it is ineffective, then you may need to switch to a Gram Positive medication. Some antibiotics may also kill off the beneficial bacteria in the aquarium, as most nitrifying bacteria are Gram-Negative, and will affect the biological stability of the system.

Amoxicillin/ Ampicillin/ Penicillin:

The “-cillins” have been well-known for decades as popular treatments for human infections, but some aquarium medications are also made with these active ingredients. All three derivatives are used to treat bacterial infections. Amoxicillin is the most broad-spectrum of the three and treats Gram-positive and Gram-negative infections. Ampicillin treats some Gram-negative infections but is most effective on Gram-positive bacteria. Penicillin is used for Gram-positive bacteria. Aquarists who are allergic to Penicillin or any other -cillin derivatives should use extreme caution if using these medications in their aquarium.
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Actinic Light vs. Blacklight – Highlighting Fluorescent Livestock and Decor

Glo tetrasWith the growing popularity and availability of fish like GloFish and GloTetras and decorations like our own Pure Aquatic Glow Elements line, “glow-in-the-dark” and fluorescent aquariums are becoming more and more common. Most of these animals and decorations are brightly colored in any light but under special lighting, the colors will really glow. There are two main kinds of light that are used in these aquariums: “blacklights” and actinic lights. Knowing the difference between these two can play an important role in making your tank really stand out, as well as in keeping it healthy. For this blog, we will be focusing in general terms only for community aquariums. Aquarium with invertebrates and corals will have different needs since their light requirements are much more specific and extensive.

First, the science…

The colors we see around us come from the light’s wavelength, measured in Terahertz (THz) or nanometers (nm). Most people can see light ranging from about 700nm (reds) to about 400nm (purples). Blacklights and actinic lights both produce light from the bottom of the visible light spectrum (the BIV in ROY G BIV). Most actinic lighting for aquariums has a wavelength of about 420-460nm. The higher end of this range (460nm) produces a more blue color light, while the color shifts to purple approaching the lower end (420nm). This type of lighting is still well within what we are capable of seeing. “Blacklights” emit a light below what we as humans are able to see known as ultraviolet or UV light. Yes, this is the same UV light that we wear sunscreen to protect ourselves against! UV lighting is separated into three major ranges. Blacklight bulbs are UV-A bulbs (315-400nm), the spectrum which causes our skin to tan. For comparison, the UV Sterilizers popular in aquariums for eliminating algae, diseases and parasites are UV-C bulbs (200-280 nm), a destructive spectrum that is mostly filtered out by Earth’s atmosphere and the UV-B range in between is the more damaging rays from the sun that causes sunburn and other harmful conditions. Read More »

GloFish – It’s All in the Genes

Electric Green Tiger BarbsGloFish are some of the most popular, colorful and controversial fish to enter the aquarium trade in a long time. Their easy care, small size, peaceful nature and neon bright colors make them appealing to aquarists of all ages, but the modifications that cause these bright colors cause some debate among aquarists, scientists and environmentalists alike.

The original “GloFish” were not created for the aquarium trade. They came from a popular fish used in many different fields of research, the Zebra Danio (Danio rerio). Zebra Danios have been used in research for environmental studies, cancer research, genetics, reproductive biology, neuroscience and applications to other fields as well. They even made the trip to space in 1975 on the Russian “Salyut 5” space station. So what makes them such good research subject? Zebra Danios are easy to breed and it only takes hours for the internal organs to develop after the eggs have been fertilized (about 24-36 hours, depending on temperatures and conditions). During this time, it is easy for researchers to monitor the development of the embryo since the “shell” around the eggs is a clear membrane. The eggs can hatch about 12-36 hours after that (again, depending on the conditions). These variable time frames also mean that, while the development is being studied, conditions can be adjusted to slow down or speed up the development, depending on what exactly the researchers are trying to determine. The genetic sequence involving the structure of the Zebra Danio’s DNA and RNA is very well-known at this point and is comparable enough to our own that, by understanding how changes in this structure affect the fish, researchers are gaining more understanding into how changes in our genetic structure can affect our own health.

Originally, GloFish were being developed for two major fields: cancer research and pollution detection. In the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, researchers thought to develop a fish that would change colors when a certain pollutant was found in their water. The thought was to develop a fish that would appear normal in “ideal” conditions but when a specific chemical or type of chemical was present in the water, a “trigger” would be set off to cause the fish to “glow” with a fluorescent protein in their bodies. As a step in this direction, they began to develop a fish that would always have this flourescent “glow” in a reproducible and hereditary way that wouldn’t affect the ecosystem around them. To do this, scientists turned to a fluorescent protein naturally found in jellyfish, corals and anemones rather than potentially harmful chemical dyes. Around the same time, similar projects were using a fluorescent protein to “mark” specific genes that were thought to be a cause or sign of cancer. By pairing the fluorescent protein with the cancer-related gene, researchers could see the fluorescence increase or decrease along with the other gene and see if an increase or decrease in that gene was related to the cancer. Since the genes (and cancers) in these fish behave in much the same was as they do within ourselves, researchers are using this to develop a way to track, diagnose and treat cancer in people. Read More »