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Contains articles featuring information, advice or answering questions regarding freshwater aquariums, livestock or equipment.

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.



Oct 2016 UPDATE: Recent publications have listed that the Pearl Grass found in the aquarium trade may correctly be Hemianthus glomeratus, not H. micranthemoides. Though these two plants are very similar, they have some slight differences in native range and in the flowers. H. micranthemoides may actually be essentially extinct and it is thought that the Pearl Grass known to aquarists in the recent hobby is likely H. glomeratus.


(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)

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,


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,


A New Display Tank: An Amano-inspired Planted “Canyon”

planted display tank

This new 60-gallon cube display tank is located at the entrance to our retail store Plant Room

Several week ago, we posted about a new cichlid display tank in our retail store Fish Room. Not far from that tank, we have another new display tank with a very different look and theme. This tank was designed and set up by myself and former Fish Room supervisor and biologist, Sara Stevens. We were inspired by the style of the world-famous Takashi Amano, an aquarist who popularized mind-blowing freshwater tanks designed to resemble terrestrial forest and landscapes. These tanks have a higher focus on the aquascaping and livestock is chosen as a compliment rather than the focus of the tank.






The "river" tapers off from the front corner to the back to create dimension and distance

The “river” tapers off from the front corner to the back to create dimension and distance

The Display Tank Concept and Design

While our tank doesn’t completely follow the true Amano style, we still wanted to focus on taking the aquarium out of the underwater setting and give it more of a land-based feel. We love the look of the petrified wood available at our retail store and decided to use this rock as our centerpiece. The petrified wood has a color and texture a lot like that found in canyons so we made use of perspective and the space available in the 60-gallon cube tank to create a large cliff face in the back and a smaller rockmount in the front, which meet in the back corner, giving us a “river” diagonally down the center of the tank. To create even more of a “river” appearance, we lined this canyon with pond liner to separate the fine white sand representing the river itself from the black Eco-Complete plant substrate in the rest of the tank. Sara did a great job of arranging the rockwork to add the illusion of depth as the river flows from the back to the front. Instead of a traditional underwater aquarium background, we used a desert background that turned out to be an excellent complement to our theme!




A few of the plants used to create a lush environment

A few of the plants used to create a lush environment

Live Plants

The live plants in the aquarium were all chosen to represent the forest surrounding our canyon and the plants growing down the riverbed. In any planted tank like this, the aquascaping will take time to grow in and become established. We wanted an almost overgrown look with the plants over time so we chose plants that would grow and spread. Plants were chosen that can grow and root into the cracks of the petrified wood and I plan to also establish low, carpeting plants in the foreground of the tank. The bunched plants in the background were chosen with a gradient in leaf size and color for a transitional, ombre look.







L-R: Marbled Hatchetfish, Forktail Rainbows, Glowlight Tetra)

L-R: Marbled Hatchetfish, Forktail Rainbows, Glowlight Tetra)

Live Fish and Inverts

The fish and invertebrates in the tank were some of the last additions we settled on. While Amano’s tanks use a lot of small, schooling fish like Neon Tetras (if any fish at all), we wanted to use some of the more overlooked fish in our Fish Room to show how gorgeous they can be when established in the right tank. The stars of this tank are several pairs of Forktail Rainbows. Their body shape and swimming style makes them the hawks circling high above our river canyon and the color they’ve developed is a great complement to the rockwork and plants. We added a school of Glowlight Tetras for some additional color and movement as well as a few pairs of a gorgeous freshwater goby known only by its scientific name, Stiphodon percnopterygionus (who we’ve taken to calling these little guys “Pterodactyl Gobies” because that scientific name is a mouthful, even for us!). Most recently, we’ve also added a few Marbled Hatchetfish for some extra surface movement and a True Siamese Algae Eater and freshwater Nerite Snails to help with cleanup.




Visit our Retail Store to see this tank morph and grow!


In a tank like this one, pre-planning is important. We had a concept drawn out before we started and made some adaptations to it as we went along (the original design had a sand volcano erupting in the back and spilling sand down a rockface) but all of the adaptations were made while keeping the overall look, theme and the future appearance of the tank in mind. Since the plants will take time to get to the look we had in mind while starting the tank, this kind of design and aquascaping isn’t one for an aquarist wanting a finished product right away. But, with a little planning, patience and imagination, you can end up with a gorgeously original display far from the average aquarium. Visit our Lancaster, PA retail store to see how this landscape grows or to create your own!


Tank Specifications:





Stiphodon percnopterygionus photo found on SeriouslyFishy.com species profile, © Leo Chan

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?

IMG_0713 (1)

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.


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