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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,


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




Aquarium Salt Mixes – Choosing the Right Salt for Your Tank

Juvenile Queen AngelChoosing the right aquarium salt mix to add to your tank can be can be a confusing process, especially if you’re new to the hobby. But, it isn’t as complicated as it may seem, you just need a little background info to get you on the right path to choosing the salt that is appropriate for your set-up.  

Salt in Freshwater Aquariums

Adding salt to a freshwater aquarium is not a necessity, but it is used by many aquarists as a treatment to add electrolytes to the aquarium water, and as both a stress reducer and a parasite deterrent. Basic Aquarium Salt is not the same as the formulated mixes used to make a brackish or saltwater aquarium. Aquarium Salt is simply Sodium Chloride, and does not contain minerals and trace elements like calcium and iodine like sea water mixes. Adding small portions of this salt can help to treat osmoregulatory stress, an imbalance or disruption in the exchange of salts and minerals between the fish itself and its environment. Stressful situations such as transport, disease, or injury can cause osmoregulatory stress, but if used properly, aquarium salt can increase blood and oxygen flow through the gills, helping the fish relax and heal. When used in higher concentrations for short time periods as a dip or bath, salt can help to build a the protective slime coat on the body, preventing parasites from attaching and even killing one-celled parasites like Protozoa, that may already be on the fish. While aquarium salt does have some benefits, it is not a necessary additive. Once introduced to the tank, salt does not evaporate out of the tank. It can only be removed with water changes and plants, inverts and other sensitive species may be negatively impacted if the concentration is allowed to rise. Read More »

Sunfish Care – Keeping Pumpkinseeds, Bluegills and their Relatives

Pygmy SunfishHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  The world’s 30-35 freshwater sunfish species (Family Centrarchidae) range throughout Canada, the USA and Central America.  Although popular among European aquarists, sunfishes have been largely been neglected in American aquaculture. This is a shame, as all are colorful, interesting and active, and most adjust well to aquarium life. From the tiny Black-Banded Sunfish to the 39 inch long Largemouth Bass, there is something for everyone.  I’ve had the good fortune of working with a “sunnies” ranging from the tiny Black-Banded Sunfish to the massive Largemouth Bass, and would enjoy hearing from readers who have also come to know them, or wish to (please post below).

Obtaining Sunfishes

Although rarely offered in the pet trade, many species are easily collected via seine net or minnow trap (check state regulations).  While their diversity is greatest in the southeastern USA (my friend in Louisiana collected 8 species in the lake behind his house!), sunfishes can be found most everywhere in the USA. New York, where I reside, is home to 14 species. Read More »

Barton’s Cichlid – Hericthys bartoni

Herichthys bartoniWell, hello! It has been awhile since I’ve blogged, but some current acquisitions have inspired a new post. Recently, one of our fish distributors informed me he had some Hericthys bartoni available. So for our anniversary sale I ordered 20 of them to offer for sale. A couple days later I was staring 20 fish each between 1 inch to 1.5 inches in length. We acclimated them into a 40 breeder and waited until the sale weekend to offer them, once we knew they were eating well in the store. The weekend came and went quickly, but I’ve knew this was a species I had to grab for myself. I’ve always wanted to breed them, from first time I saw a picture of one, and we carried them a long time ago and were able to get them to breed at around 3 inches. So I netted 7 of the remaining stock and placed them in holding, til I make some room for them.

Let’s talk a little about this gem from Mexico. Bartoni is restricted to the springs of Rio Verde. Water conditions may vary from place to place with pH ranging from 7.6 – 8.0 with a stable hardness (100 degrees German and a carbonate of 15 degrees). A robust male Bartoni can reach lengths up to 8 inches, while females reach a little over 4 inches. Males also develop a nice little forehead hump.

Their normal coloration is gray to light brown with a row of black blotches running from behind the eye to the base of the caudal fin. Some scales in the lower half of the body have a blue spot. But the breeding coloration is outstanding, and it’s also one of the main reasons I want to keep this fish. In both sexes, the upper half of the body turns white while the lower half becomes velvety black, including the fins.

In the wild, Bartoni mainly dine on algae, but so far they have done well on frozen cyclops and flakes while in holding. I would make sure that they get a flake high in veggie matter.

Pairs tend to either spawn in caves or beside rocks. The size of the clutch dependes on how old the female is, with an adult producing as many as a couple hundred eggs each spawn. At 84 F the eggs hatch in about two and a half days. In another five days, the fry should start to become free swimming after they consume their egg sacs. The females does most of the brood tending inside the cave while the male guards the perimeter. At any sign of danger, instead of running away like most Central American cichlids he will enter the spawning cave and wait with his mate until the danger goes away. Both parents take care of the fry when it comes to feeding time.

Bartoni generally tend to be very aggressive towards conspecifics, and sometimes their aggression may extend to other species in aquariums smaller than a 50 gallons.

It is believed in many circles that this species and others may become endangered in the near future, due to the introduction of a tilapia to their native waterways. What a shame that would be! If you have room for a 30 or a 40 gallon aquarium, this would be an awesome fish to add to your collection, and you can do your part to conserve them through captive breeding.

Until next time,