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Our Newest Aquarium Display: An African Cichlid Utopia Tank!

Have you stopped by our Lancaster, PA retail store lately?  If not, you are missing out on our new and exciting 220 gallon cichlid aquarium display.  Created by one of our cichlid experts Erett Hinton, the aquarium is located in our spacious fish room and displays the beautiful and natural environment that cichlids can bring into your own home.

 

Why Cichlids?

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The cichlid species is a diverse group of fish, each with distinct appearances and behaviors that make them attractive to aquarium hobbyists.  “I was fascinated by the color, variety and intelligence,” said Erett.   “Something that separates cichlids from other fresh and saltwater fish is that there are more variants in cichlids than any other variety of fish in the world.  New species are still being discovered every day and it continues to make the hobby more interesting.”

Erett is certainly no stranger to cichlids.  He has kept them since he was a young teenager, and operated his own cichlid breeding company in Florida.  “I ran it by myself for eight years, with about 200 tanks and 70 different African, South and Central American species.”   His experience is a tremendous addition to our knowledgeable fish room staff.

Erett has combined a variety of cichlids from the Malawi, Tanganyika and Victorian Lake regions into a single “African Cichlid Utopia Tank.”  The aquarium houses 71 fish selected from our fish room, included with a variety of plecos and clown loaches to give the ecosystem some added variety.

A total of 71 fish in a single aquarium may seem like a few too many, but there is a method to Erett’s design.  Cichlids are famously territorial by nature and if they were afforded space to take as their own, they would–and actively defend it.  “Crowding them takes their territorial behavior away,” says Erett, “and it creates more peace, with fewer fights and less fish loss.”

Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid

Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid

One resident that stands out is the Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid.  The Tanganyikan native displays a prominent forehead with an attractive deep blue color.  The Mpimbwe has a calm demeanor and is not afraid to show itself to tank admirers, making it a perfect specimen around which you can build a show aquarium.

The selection showcases the wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes available from the species that you might not see from other types of freshwater fish.

Equipment

Erett has housed this eclectic mix of fish in a Perfecto 220 gallon Aquarium donated by Marineland.  The six foot long aquarium provides the living space needed for a large number of fish.  Erett chose lace rock and antique coral rock for the natural decor and crushed coral for the substrate.  “The combination of rock elements and substrate help exfoliate higher pH and water hardness, to a degree which cichlids prefer.  It also creates a habitat they can thrive in and replicates their natural environment.”

Erett has doubled down on the filtration to accommodate the large bio-load that comes with so many fish.  Filtration for the aquarium includes two Marineland C-530 Canister Filters.  Together they provide the increased water flow and circulation necessary for the large aquarium.  Erett also includes sponge filters with his aquarium set ups.  He explains, “Sponge filters provide surface area for a super colony of beneficial biological bacteria.  It serves as part of the filtration that is never tampered with, allowing me to make larger water changes without harming the natural stability of the aquarium.”

 

Making Cichlids Feel At Home, In Your Home

IMG_0719 (1)African cichlids generally prefer a pH around 8.2 and enjoy temperatures around 79 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.  They also prefer low nitrate levels, so frequent water changes and making sure not to overfeed are both critical.  Erett feeds a mixture of Pure Aquatic Cichlid Flakes and New Era Cichlid Pellets, both of which provide necessary nutrients for growth and help bring out natural vibrant coloration.

Replicating a cichlid’s natural environment with structural elements like rock and substrate, along with water quality parameters like pH and temperature, gives you the ability to view firsthand how cichlids would behave in their native habitats.  You can watch as they exhibit unique territorial behaviors and engage in breeding activity and ritual, allowing you to experience nature right in your own living room.

Come Check It Out!

This attractive cichlid display tank is just one of several hundred aquariums that can be found in our fish room.  If you’d like to check out the aquarium stop by our Lancaster, PA retail store.  If you have any questions about the tank or cichlids in general, you can ask Erett in person or speak with any of the members of our expert fish room staff.

 

The following components were used to construct Erett’s “African Cichlid Utopia Tank”: 

Marineland Perfecto 220 gallon aquarium

Marineland Perfecto 72 in. x 24 in. Glass Canopy

(3) Marineland 30 in. Single Bright LED Fixtures

Approx. 180lbs of lace rock and antique coral rock

Approx. 220 lbs of crushed coral

(2) Marineland C-530 Canister Filters

(2) Marineland Visi-Therm 400 watt Heaters

Sponge Filters

Air Pump and Airline Tubing

 

 

 

Aquarium Gravel and Substrate vs Bare-Bottom tanks: Pros and Cons

One of the first purchases most aquarists will make for a new aquarium, be it freshwater, saltwater, reef, discus, goldfish, cichlid or any other – is the gravel and substrate. It could be sand, crushed coral, Fluorite, neon pink pebbles, glass marbles or countless other materials  but it all tends to be the very first thing to go into an empty aquariums. But….why? Do you really need it? Are there alternatives? Much like the eternal home decorating debate of hardwood-versus-carpets, the battle brews among aquarists over what covers the bottom of their aquariums, a layer of substrate or nothing at all.

 

So why has substrate become such an integral part of the aquarium culture, and why are some aquarists now looking past it in favor of the bare glass or acrylic bottom of their aquariums? Much of it has to do with our understanding of the aquarium ecosystem now over what we knew years or even decades ago. Even as recently as five or ten years ago, undergravel filters were thought as indispensable for all types of aquariums and as such, gravel was thought vital to their function. We’ve come a long way with filtration technology since then, and we’ve also come a long way with understanding how the water chemistry in our aquariums functions. Alternatives and advancements have made the old undergravel systems nearly obsolete and the aquarium gravel that went on top of them is become more of an Option instead of a Requirement.

 

That said, how do you make the choice? Like so many other parts of our hobby, it comes down to personal preference and your goals. Bare-bottom tanks are becoming more common and have their benefits of substrated tank and vice versa; substrate is still a better choice than going bare for some other types of tanks. Weigh your options carefully before you choose which one is right for you. We’ll go over a head-to-head comparison in the major factors to consider to help you make your decision.

Cleaning a Fish Tank

 

The ever-iconic Gravel Vacuum

The ever-iconic Gravel Vacuum

An aquarium that is easy to clean and easy to care for is the dream of most aquarists. Bare-bottom tanks win this category easily. Ever wrestle with starting the siphon on a gravel vacuum, then have it clog up repeatedly with gravel when you are cleaning? With a bare-bottom tank, a gravel vacuum isn’t needed; you can just use tubing to vacuum up any waste sitting on the bottom of the tank and water pumps or powerheads can be used to circulate the water underneath and behind the rockwork more efficiently. It can be a lot easier to scrub algae off of the glass bottom and sides without having to worry about missing some at the gravel line or getting bits of sand stuck in your scrubber as well. For tanks like reef aquariums with lots of rockwork, debris and detritus can get stuck under the rocks or in the back where your vacuum cant reach as well, causing the nitrate levels and algae blooms to increase. While not as vital in, say, a freshwater community tank, nitrate and algae can spell Doom (and Headaches) in a reef tank.

 

Aesthetics & Natural Environments

 

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A natural planted freshwater nano-tank

I have to give this one to Substrate. Surprisingly, flat panes of glass or acrylics just aren’t found at the bottom of most environments in the wild. Natural environments have sand, or mud, or pebbles or some other natural material. Besides just plain looking more natural, some animals also need this substrate to live normal lives. Some fish and snails bury themselves in it or find their food in it. Timid animals need it to hide or camoflauge themselves and in some specialized ecosystems, the substrate plays a vital role in the water chemistry. Most live aquarium plants won’t survive without a substrate to root into. Having a substrate also provides many more options in changing the look of the aquarium, whether its a natural substrate or a decorative one.

 

Aquarium Water Chemistry

 

This one is an even draw; both having substrate or having a bare-bottom can negatively and positively affect the water chemistry in an aquarium. Some substrates like crushed coral can buffer the pH and hardness of the water. For a saltwater tank with a target pH around 8.0-8.4, this is a good things. For a tropical tank with a target pH around 6.0-7.0, maybe not so much. A Flouorite substrate for planted freshwater tanks can give the plants some much-needed minerals and nutrients through their roots that a bare-bottomed tank can’t give them.

 

As much as this exchange helps, any waste that can get trapped in the substrate can hurt the tank. If waste becomes trapped, it will decompose and increase nitrate, phosphates, ammonia and other negative levels which can lead to fish illness and algae blooms. As we mentioned before, this waste is much easier to get rid of in a bare-bottomed tank.

 

Microinverts, hitckhikers and other “bonus” tankmates

 

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Our bare-bottomed 700 gallon store display tank

Unexpected new arrivals like bristleworms can be the ban of a saltwater aquarist’s existance, and tiny little nuisance snails or flatworms can harass a freshwater aquarists to tears. Most of these critters live or reproduce to some extent within the substrate and getting rid of the substrate to go bare-bottom will help get rid of them. Unfortunately, it will also get rid of the good critters like copepods and amphipods that can provide a natural food source to some of the pickiest fish and inverts. If you are making your choice to go bare-bottom to get rid of the nuisance critters, weigh the needs of the rest of your tank carefully to see if they can do without the good to get rid of the bad.

 

The (Bare-)Bottom Line

 

Choosing whether to add substrate to your aquarium or stick with the bare tank ultimately rests on you. Most aquariums will survive either way but one choice may be more successful than others. In our store, we have both bare-bottom tanks and tanks with substrate among our display tanks as well as the tanks we sell fish out of. Stocking these tanks is determined by the needs of the fish and the care that they need. Generally, coral-only reef tanks can go bare, planted freshwater tanks can’t; freshwater fish-only tanks might not need it but saltwater fish-only tanks (or fish-only with live rock) will do better with it. If you can’t decide which way will be more successful for you, we’d be happy to help you make the best decision for you and the success of your aquarium.

Aquarium myths & Misconceptions

In the attempt to make aquarium keeping easier, or simply be able to provide some sort of answer to common questions. There have been a number of “rules” or guidelines that have found their way into the hobby, that you may have heard repeated over the years. You may have heard them from other hobbyists, from your LFS, Web Forums and even in published books and magazines.
I want to focus on a few that I feel really need to go away, that were either bad information to begin with, or have become obsolete. These myths and misconceptions have a far greater potential to cause problems for the beginning aquarist, than they are to provide guidance for success.

The Inch Per Gallon Rule

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One 6 inch Oscar does not equal 6 1 inch Guppies

How many fish can I put in my aquarium? This is the oldest question in fish keeping, the first person to put fish in an aquarium asked himself this question. People want a number, they need a number, why can’t you give me a number!!!! Somewhere along the line, born out of the need to provide an answer, the Inch per gallon rule was conceived, and I hate it.
Why do I hate it? Because not all fish are created equal, and not all aquariums are created equal. Six one inch guppies do not equal one six inch Oscar. Body type, temperament, compatibility, adult size, diet and many other things should be considered when choosing fish. Slender bodies fishes, deep bodied fishes, schooling fish, colder water fish, all have different space and habitat needs.

Tank shape is also important, and is completely ignored in most cases. A tanks surface area (footprint) has much to do with how many fish it can easily hold. Gas exchange only occurs at the water surface, and is where an aquariums dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are maintained with the atmosphere. A tall narrow column shaped aquarium, will have a smaller surface area than an aquarium that is short, wide and long. Two aquariums can be the same size in volume, but be very different in shape and surface area.
This is a case where I don’t like the simple answer. My advice to people is to try and do a little research into the fish they’re interested in, see what they will get along with, and how big they will be as adults. Make sure you have adequate filtration, and take a conservative approach to stocking, don’t add all the fish at once. Most importantly, test your water quality, especially if you plan on keeping your aquarium near its limit. If at any point you are having trouble keeping your aquarium chemistry stable, do not add more fish, you may already have too many.

Fish will only grow to the size of the aquarium

fat-fish-little-tankThis one really bugs me, and I still hear it stated as fact on a regular basis. This is simply just not true, some fish may grow slower in a small aquarium, or can be kept smaller by limiting food, but this is not way to treat your fish. Often used in conjunction with the inch per gallon rule, to try and justify putting more fish in a small aquarium, by ignoring the adult size of the fish, this myth needs stop being perpetuated. Most fish that reach a large adult size, and going to get quite large in the first 2 years, if your aquarium is too small, don’t buy the fish. There are better choices to be made!

Small fish tanks are better for beginners.

There are a plethora of small aquarium kits on the market, many of the marketed for children, or with the entry level aquarist in mind. Where this has the potential for problems is when people confuse affordability and ease of setup, with the reality of the needs of a small aquarium. The downside of the small aquarium is how quickly problems can arise, conditions can change, and frustration takes over. Some of the things that can cause serious problems in small tanks, are common mistakes made by the beginner. Over feeding, overstocking, poor tank placement, improper heater and risk of contamination are just a few things that can have rapid and unfortunate effects on a small aquarium. Not to say these things are good for larger aquariums, just that they affect larger aquariums more slowly, and allow you a chance to correct issues before the results are disastrous. Be sure to check out our aquarium beginners guide before buying.

The dos and don’ts of cycling your aquarium.

This one could be a topic for a long article all by itself, so I will just hit on a few of bits of bad information that gets passed around to the unsuspecting new aquarist. Again, this is another topic where some simple research will go a long way to understanding the nitrogen cycle, and what to expect in your new aquarium.

Let your aquarium sit for a month before you start adding fish.

This is false; an aquarium is no more ready for fish after a month, than it is after 24 hrs. Once you have the aquarium setup, filters running, and heated to the proper temperature, you can start to add fish right away. 24 hrs is usually sufficient for your new tank to stabilize. Start with just a small number of hardy fish to get your system started.

Using a bacteria supplement will instantly cycle your aquarium and allow you to fully stock your aquarium immediately.

Although many manufactures’ of these products make them out to be a magic bullet, I feel Bacterial supplements should be used to complement the natural cycling process, not replace it. Without supplementation cycling will take 4-6 weeks, this time can be significantly reduced using supplements, but ultimately what is going to provide a stable aquarium is its own biological filter, the bacteria that colonizes and grows in your filter, and on your gravel, rocks and decorations. In a Marine aquarium, starting your aquarium with good cured Liverock will start you with a strong foundation.

Don’t do water changes while your aquarium is cycling.

This is also false. While your aquarium is cycling, toxic ammonia and nitrite levels can occur while the beneficial bacteria that consumes these waste products establishes in your system. You can absolutely perform small water changes to keep levels low enough that you do not reach levels that are toxic to your starter fish. While it is true that the first bacteria to colonize your aquarium are free in the water, especially if you are using bacterial supplements, the vast majority of bacteria that forms your biological filter lives on solid surfaces. Removing water will not affect this bacteria, and will not greatly inhibit your aquariums cycling ability. If you are a couple weeks into cycling your new aquarium, you should not be afraid to do water changes to help manage the high Ammonia or Nitrite levels.

How Diet, Lighting and Other Factors Can Influence The Appearance of Aquarium Fish

Red TerrorDedicated aquarists pour their hearts and souls into creating thier own versions of breathtaking aquatic displays. Countless hours are dedicated to precise placement of wood, rock and other ornaments, painstaking pruning of live plants, and,  of course, to testing and maintaining the water quality to provide the healthiest environment possible for the stars of the show: the fish! The ultimate goal is to have brilliant, beautiful, healthy fish to observe, and just about every other aspect of the tank contributes to the appearance of the livestock you keep. While the conditions that favor each species vary, you can provide the necessary factors to tweek the colors they show and make your fish look their best.

Understanding Fish Coloration

The inner layer of each fish’s skin contains color cells called chromatophores. Some chromatophores produce melanin, providing brown or black pigmentation. Some are capable of storing carotenoids which provide brilliant red, orange, and yellow pigments that come largely from foods the animals eat. Then there are iridophores, that contain crystalline deposits that reflect and bend light and giving the illusion of silvery, white, or metallic blue and green pigmentation. Read More »

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 »