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

Algae Eaters and Plecos for Small Freshwater Aquariums

Finding the perfect new addition to an aquarium is often like finding the Holy Grail to many aquarists. We all want the perfect little helper to keep the tank clean so there’s less work for us to do (and so our tank is cleaner and healthier, of course) but many “algae eaters” get too large for smaller aquariums and many others like the group of fish known as “plecos” don’t even eat algae at all. So what are the best plecos and algae eaters for small freshwater aquariums? Here are a few of our favorites that are some of the best choices for smaller community aquariums:

 

Bushynose & Bristlenose Plecos (genus Ancistrus)

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus dolichopterus L183)

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus dolichopterus L183)

  • PROS: Lots of variety in color and pattern, small size, vegetation-heavy diet (including algae), community-friendly.
  • CONS: Some species grow larger than others, needs meaty foods as well, underfed fish may eat live plants.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A community algae-eater and bottom-feeder.

 

Plecos from the genus Ancistrus usually have “Bristlenose” or “Bushynose” somewhere in their common names, a nickname that comes from the whisker-like frills that develop on most adults. They are usually more prominent in adult males but some females may get them too in some species. Different species in this group have different requirements, but they are generally among the smallest plecos. While they eat some meatier foods as well, most appear to eat mostly vegetation.

 

 

Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

  • PROS: Small size, easy-going temperament, fairly wide-spread diet.
  • CONS: Need driftwood for grazing, not primarily an algae-eater.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A general clean-up bottom-feeder for community aquariums.

The Clown Pleco is a popular small pleco. As with other Panaque plecos, these fish are omnivores and feed about equally on plants matter and meatier foods. Panaque plecos are also unique in that they actually feed on driftwood as well; make sure you have driftwood décor in your tank for these fish to graze on.

 

 

 

Hillstream Loaches

Reticulated Hillstream Sucker (Sewellia lineolata)

Reticulated Hillstream Sucker (Sewellia lineolata)

  • PROS: Eats algae, can be kept in groups, unique and unusual appearance.
  • CONS: Needs high flow and pristine water, vulnerable to aggressive tankmates and poor water chemistry.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A unique addition to a suitable community aquarium where it incidentally may help eat algae but isn’t the primary algae-eater.

Hillstream Loaches have flattened guitar-shaped bodies and are often mistaken for plecos. They cling to rocks in the fast-moving mountain stream where they come from much like plecos cling to surfaces. Hillstream Loaches need well-oxygenated and well-filtered tanks and don’t do well with nippy tankmates or in tank with less-than-pristine water quality. They do eat some algae however, as well as other detritus and leftover sinking foods.

 

 

Otocinclus Catfish

Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish (Otocinclus sp.)

Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish (Otocinclus sp.)

  • PROS: Small size, safe for planted tanks, primarily algae-eaters.
  • CONS: Can be sensitive to stress, can starve if they can’t find enough to eat.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eating housekeepers in planted community aquariums.

 

There are a few very similar species that are commonly grouped together as Otocinclus Catfish (“Oto Cats”) or “Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish”. Most are brownish-grey in color with a black stripe but some like the Zebra Oto (Otocinclus cocama) have a more ornate pattern. These fish stay under two inches in length and are great for eating algae off of plants without harming the plants. They can be a bit finicky and sensitive though so only keep in a stable, healthy aquarium. They are also best kept in groups so plan tankspace accordingly.

 

 

Rubbernose Plecos (Chaetostoma sp.)

Spotted Rubbernose Pleco (Chaetostoma sp.)

Spotted Rubbernose Pleco (Chaetostoma sp.)

  • PROS: Moderately small adult size, eats some algae, community temperament.
  • CONS: Not a primary algae-eater, can be bulky for very small tanks.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A general bottom-feeder for community tanks over about 30-45 gallons.

 

Like the Clown Pleco, Rubbernose Plecos are some of the most common smaller plecos available. They also have a very familiar pleco-like appearance that many novice aquarists associate with algae control. They are not exclusive algae-eaters however; this is another omnivore that needs about equal parts meaty food and plant matter. These fish are pretty middle-of-the-road overall: moderate adult sizes, eats diet for about half their diet, neutral coloration, moderate temperament.

 

 

Freshwater Nerite Snails

Freshwater Nerite Snails (Neritina sp.)

Freshwater Nerite Snails (Neritina sp.)

  • PROS: Colorful shells, safe for plants, small size.
  • CONS: Limited availability, may reproduce, may be vulnerable to predators.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eating grazers for small planted aquariums.

 

Nerite Snails are popular for saltwater aquariums but some species are found in freshwater as well. These snails are much smaller than some of the other less-suitable and more invasive freshwater snails like Apple Snails or Trapdoor Snails. They mainly eat smaller algaes like the ones that cause spots on glass but usually won’t harm plants. These snails also appear to bred less frequently in most aquariums than the more common Apple Snails. Make sure the ones you get are from freshwater; a saltwater Nerite will not survive being moved to a freshwater tank.

 

Freshwater Shrimp (Caridina sp.)

Several freshwater shrimp (Caridina sp.)

Several freshwater shrimp (Caridina sp.)

  • PROS: Safe for plants, small size, can be kept in groups.
  • CONS: Limited availability, vulnerable to predators, very small.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eaters for planted nano tanks with peaceful or no other tankmates.

Small freshwater shrimp like the popular Cherry Shrimp and Amano Shrimp can be ideal grazers, especially for nano tanks (under 1-2 gallons). Some are clear, some are colored or have colored markings and they can be kept in groups. However, most of these shrimp are very small; you may not see them often and can’t be kept with anything remotely predatory.      

 

 

 

As always, the best algae-eater for your tank depends on its tankmates, the size of the tank, the water parameters and other such factors but hopefully this helps give you some alternatives to fish that may be too big or otherwise unsuitable to your needs. If you need more help in making your best choice or have a favorite of your own, feel free to comment below!

The Best Aquarium Filters for Goldfish

Comet

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Heptagon

Although goldfish made their debut as pets over 2,000 years ago, their needs are not always understood by those new to fish-keeping.  Because the average pet store goldfish is small and inexpensive, they are sometimes viewed as “beginner’s pets” that need little care.  Add to this the fact that many people remember “Grandma’s goldfish that lived for years in a tiny bowl”, and it’s easy to see why most meet untimely ends (well-cared for goldfishes can live into their 20’s – and sometimes to twice that age!).  Folks who buy a single goldfish usually do not want to be bothered with a filter, but the lack of filtration is by far the main reason for failure with these otherwise hardy fishes.  However, there is a filter that needs no pad or carbon changes, and which becomes more effective with age – custom made for busy, “filter-shy” fish enthusiasts.  Today we’ll take a look at it and other simple options that will lessen your workload and improve your goldfish’s quality of life.

 

Goldfish Do Not Stay Small!

When considering a goldfish, it’s important to realize the potential size your pet will reach.  Goldfish are available in a wide variety of colors, 4 tail-shapes, 3 body-shapes and 3 eye-types, but are all of the same species, Carassius auratus auratus.  Those known as comets – the basic pet store or “non-fancy” goldfish – can easily reach 8-12 inches in length.  Sixteen-inch long individuals have been recorded; in fact, I have seen several feral goldfishes near that size in the Bronx River, mixed in with breeding aggregations of carp (I must check if hybridization is possible…).  Fantails, moors and other strains tend to be shorter in length than comets, but they get quite hefty.

Veil Tail

Uploaded to Wikipedia commons by Bechstein

 

True, improperly-kept goldfishes will become stunted, and may survive in that state for several years, but this is not to be encouraged – and certainly not a lesson to be teaching the children for whom single goldfishes are often purchased.  When fully-grown, your pet will need a 20 gallon aquarium in which to live; plan on a 30 gallon for a pair.

 

The Ultimate Goldfish Filter

Although now largely-ignored by hobbyists, (perhaps they are “too simple”!), undergravel filters were once considered indispensable by serious aquarists, and are still relied-upon by many public aquariums today.  In zoos and at home, I’ve used these highly-effective filters in aquariums housing creatures ranging from seahorses to alligator snapping turtles, always with great results.

 

t204151gWhen considering undergravel filters, it’s important to bear in mind that biological filtration – the breakdown (by aerobic bacteria) of ammonia to nitrites and nitrates – is the most important function of a filter (please see article below).  And it is at this aspect of filtration that undergravels excel.  Simply-put, an undergravel filter turns your aquarium’s substrate into a giant, living, biological filtration unit.  What’s more, the filter plate does not take up important living space and, being hidden below the gravel, allows for the creation of pleasing aquascapes.  Best of all, there are no cartridges or filter mediums to clean or replace! 

 

Water Changes

Regular partial water changes are essential to maintaining water quality and fish health…regardless of tank size, filtration method, or fish species.  When doing partial water changes, be sure to use a manual or battery-operated gravel washer.  In this way, you will remove debris trapped in the substrate along with the water…that’s all the maintenance your undergravel filter will need!

 

Black Moor

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by ﻯναოթ€ռ

Currents

Undergravel filters have another characteristic that suits them well for use with goldfish.  Goldfish evolved in slow-moving waters, and they cannot abide fast currents; fantails, lionheads and other round-bellied varieties are especially-weak swimmers.  Yet they produce a good deal of waste, and do best in aquariums equipped with powerful filters (which usually put out strong outflow currents).  Undergravel filters discharge clean water through two tubes that reach to the water’s surface…even when very powerful air pumps are used, outflow currents remain mild.  You can check out a wide variety of air pump styles and sizes here; please post below if you need assistance in choosing a pump.

 

Increasing Your Filter’s Efficiency

Power heads can be used in place of air pumps if you need to increase water flow through the gravel bed.  You can also set up a reverse-flow system, which will lessen the amount of detritus that becomes trapped in the substrate; please post below for details.

 

Commercially-available aerobic bacteria (i.e. Nutrafin Cycle) can be used to jump-start your filter or to boost the beneficial bacteria populations that have developed naturally.

 

Other Goldfish Filters

From simple corner filters to state-of-the art canisters, there is a huge array of other filtering options for goldfish owners.  Please share your thoughts and experiences by posting below.

Further Reading

Aquarium Filtration: Understanding the Nitrogen Cycle

Making the Most of Undergravel Filters

Synodontis Angelicus Catfish – The Most Spectacular Synodontis

Synodontis Angelicus Catfish

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Haps

Faced with “an embarrassment of riches”, catfish enthusiasts usually find it impossible to single out a favorite species.  Those in the genus Synodontis – boldly-marked and fascinating to observe – are a case in point.  Each time I’m introduced to a new species, I find some quality that draws me to learn more about it.  But if the Angelicus Squeaker, Synodontis angelicus, is not the most sought after of all Synodontis cats, it certainly is in the running.  Also known as the Black Clown Catfish, Angelicus Synodontis, Polka-Dot Synodontis and Angel Squeaker, it is both breathtakingly-beautiful and extremely interesting in its habits. And dedicated aquarists have the opportunity to broaden our understanding of the little-studied species, as captive breeding success has remained elusive.

 

Description

The Angelicus Squeaker’s jet black, dark gray or deep purplish coloration is beautifully offset by numerous yellow or white spots.  Some have described it as having the opposite color pattern of another popular relative, the Cuckoo Squeaker, S. multipunctata (please see photo below).  Color and spot patterns vary greatly, and individual fishes are capable of radically changing their background colors.  Health, stress, age, sex and other factors are likely involved, but much remains to be learned.  Fishes involved in aggressive encounters or, perhaps, courtship, sometimes lighten to almost white in color.

 

The maximum size reported is 9.4 inches, but detailed field surveys have not been carried out, and there are rumors that much larger individuals have been seen.  Growth appears to be rather slow, at least by pet catfish standards.

 

Synodontis mltipunctatus

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Mario Rubio García

Natural History

This river-dwelling catfish has a large range, but details concerning its exact distribution are sketchy.   It is known to occur throughout much of the Congo Basin, and has been reported from Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Congo Republic.

 

The Synodontis Aquarium

Angelicus Squeakers remain rather subdued during the day, unless food is detected, but they are very active by night.  Although success has been had in smaller accommodations, I believe it best to plan on a 55 gallon aquarium for 1-2 adults.

 

Angelicus will not thrive if forced to remain in the open.  As they can be quite picky when it comes to choosing a hideaway, a variety of caves, hollow logs, driftwood refuges and similar structures should be provided. .  This is even more important when 2 or more Angelicus Squeakers are housed together, as battles over favored hiding spots are common.  Once a retreat is chosen, your fish will likely remain faithful to it.

 

Additional security in the form of well-rooted live or artificial plans should also be added.  Fishes kept in complex environments will exhibit a greater variety of natural behaviors than those denied access to hiding places…you’ll wind up seeing of your fish, and more of interest!

 

I like maintaining this and similar Synodontis cats on sand, as they keep very active by rooting about for food.  If displaced sand causes problems in your aquarium, they will also do well on smooth gravel.

 

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Temperature and pH

Temperatures of 74-80 F and a pH range of 6.0-8.0 have been used successfully.  I have found 78 F and pH 7 to be ideal.

 

Several friends working in public aquariums and for fish importers have reported seeing what appear to be heater burns on Angelicus Squeakers.  I have not seen this in my collection.

 

Companions

I’ve successfully kept groups of 6-8, but they must be watched carefully, especially at night.   Angelicus Squeakers guard their caves, and we know little about male-male rivalry or aggression that may occur when pairs are courting.

 

They may also be kept with similarly-sized peaceful or moderately aggressive fishes of other species. Active top-feeders will out-compete most catfishes for food, so night-feeding and other accommodations to bottom-feeders will be necessary.

 

I’ve not tried hosing Angelicus with other catfishes, and, in most situations, would avoid any fish that is dependent upon caves for shelter.

 

Feeding

Angelicus Squeakers are opportunistic feeders that will readily consume all manner of flake, pelleted and frozen fish foods.  Mine especially relished crushed crickets, blackworms and fresh and freeze-dried shrimp.

 

Plant-based foods are also important.  Cucumber, zucchini, spirulina tablets and similar foods should be offered regularly.

 

Individuals maintained on flakes and pellets alone do not do as well as those provided a diet comprised of live and frozen invertebrates.

 

Breeding Synodontis Angelicus Catfish

Despite the high demand for these beautiful fishes, captive breeding has not been documented, and little is known of their reproduction in the wild (other than that they are egg-scatterers).  Eggs have been produced by Angelicus Squeakers in several private and public collections, but none have hatched.  Anecdotal reports hint that hormone-based breeding has been accomplished in Europe, but details are not available.

I’m sure that the key to success lays in a detailed study of their natural habitat…pH, temperature or water level changes may be involved. Where captive spawning has occurred, hatching failures may possibly be linked to nutritional deficiencies. Increased amounts of live and protein-rich foods were offered prior to spawning in some cases.  Please let me know your thoughts (or, hopefully, successes!) on this important topic by posting below.

Further Reading

Keeping the Frog Mouth Catfish

Keeping European and Oriental Weatherfish

 

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 »

Vacation Fish Care – Ensuring Your Aquarium’s Health While You Travel

automatic feederWhen you and your family go out of town on vacation or for the holidays, one important consideration is who takes care of the pets? You can board your dog or cat, or have a friend take care of them while you’re away with a set of pretty basic instructions for feeding and walks. Aquariums may take a little more preparation and training to ensure that they are cared for properly and any dire issues are addressed.  Generally, depending on the duration of your time away, you’ll want to have a trusted and competent friend come to your home to monitor and feed the tank.  Here are some things to consider in preparing that friend to successfully care for your tanks.

Feeding

Feeding is probably the first thing people think about when you think about leaving your fish for a few days. If you’re going away on a short weekend trip, chances are your tank will be fine without feedings, inless you’re keeping fry or some other “special needs” class of fish. If you’re going to be gone longer that 2 or 3 days, you’ll want to either invest in an automatic feeder or vacation food blocks, or leave detailed instructions with your tank-sitter on what, when, and how much to feed. Generally a few pinches of community food will be enough, but it may be much more complicated with a large reef aquarium or one stocked with various specialized feeders. If you have a complicated feeding regime, or if you’ll be taking an extended vacation, it’s probably a good idea to print a detailed list of instructions on feeding as a reference, and to go through the process at least once with your sitter in person to prevent overfeeding and other mishaps. Read More »