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

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 »

Maintaining Aquarium Temperatures for Fish Health

Cichlid with ichMaintaining proper aquarium temperatures is essential for the health and well-being of your fish. While aquarium heaters do a pretty good job at this, the probability of fluctuations from fall through spring tends to be greater and possibly more detrimental. You may not even realize how much the temperature of the water changes through the day or day-to-day until you’re faced with ich or some other problem in your aquarium.

The Threat of Cool Temperatures

While our aquarium fish will rarely if ever be exposed to near or below freezing temperatures in the safety of your home (hopefully), fish farmers in Florida can attest to the immediate and lingering problems that can come with even short exposure to cold temps. Exposure to temps below 60 F can create chaos in a tropical tank, so you can imagine what freezing temps do to tropical fish housed in an outdoor setting. Sensitive fish may be killed outright from the shock of extreme temperatures or fluctuations in temperatures. Others face blows to their immune systems and the increased chance of being infected by opportunistic parasites, fungi or bacteria. These organisms take advantage at the slightest sign of stress on the part of tropical fish, and can decimate the population in a short amount of time. Cooler temperatures tend to make normally active fish lethargic and slower to react, making them more open to predation if outdoors. Similar problems can occur in the aquarium if smaller or more sensitive fish are not able to hide or escape the curiosity of larger, hardier tankmates.  Read More »

Growing Green – Live Mosses for Aquariums

Java MossI love a green aquarium…not green in the algae-covered, pea soup kind of way, but green as in dense with varying colors and textures of aquatic plants. We all know that there are many types of aquarium plants, from slow growing Anubias to massive Echinodorus, but one of the often overlooked groups is the mosses. These colonies of simple, prehistoric plants have a special niche in the aquarium when it comes to aquascaping, and they’re also really useful to many types of fish. Here’s a little primer on common mosses for aquariums and what they can bring to your tank.

About Mosses

Mosses aren’t like other plants. They’re simpler in structure, lacking roots and the thick vascular leaves of true plants. These plants don’t blossom or produce seeds.  Most mosses reproduce with spores, relying on moisture to fertilize and create the next generation. Aquatic mosses simply spread, creating new plants with their existing vegetation, so a small portion can populate a vast area. Simply place or anchor small bits or strands where you want them to grow and, under the right conditions, you’ll have lush mounds in just a few short weeks.  Read More »

Aquariums in Classrooms as Educational Tools

Crayfish in aquariumSchool isn’t always the most stimulating place for kids to be all day, but as I remember, there were some things that made long days much more interesting and bearable. Visual aids and interactive tools, to me anyway, could reinvigorate my zest for learning. The most interesting and anticipated place in my school was the science wing. Those rooms were always full of the most interesting things to look at–specimen jars filled with preserved animals, reassembled skeletons, and of course, live displays. Having tools like these in the classroom for hands-on experience and to break the monotony of repetitive days is something that, for some students, may instill more passion, curiosity and interest to increase their scholastic performance.

With a little money, know-how and effort, simple aquarium set-ups in a school or classroom can become invaluable tools as well as enhancing the sometimes sterile aesthetic.

Benefits of Institutional Displays

The most obvious benefit of having live displays in classrooms is the offering of “hands-on” education.  It can be any kind of set-up…freshwater, saltwater or reef, or even a reptile, amphibian habitat. Each unique set-up can provide relevant topics and visual aids for biology, anatomy, chemistry, ecology and physics courses. Not every kid in the class may have the opportunity or means to see aquariums up close. You can provide a platform for such students to “see” the nitrogen cycle in action, witness the process and stages of fish reproduction an development, or maybe chronicle predator/prey, symbiotic, or other co-habitation relationships between the organisms in the display.  And that’s only the beginning!

These live and variable habitats can be great for developing critical thinking and problem solving skills. What caused a fish to spawn? Why do fish school together? Why did a fish get sick or die when the others seem healthy?

Aquariums can be beneficial in non-educational ways to students and faculty as well. Peering into the serene aquatic environment can ease stress and calm spectators. Tests, deadlines and other pressure points can influence a child’s ability to focus…an aquarium can help to alleviate this tension for some.  This is one reason why you often find aquariums in dental and medical offices. too.

Aesthetically, a well-maintained aquarium can enhance any environment. Whether in an individual classroom or a lobby or hallway, any live habitat is sure to draw attention and smiles. Worried about the responsibility of keeping the tank maintained?  Why not consider an extra-curricular club or group to help with the work?  Interested students or other faculty members can gain even more experience for an hour or so a week. Water changes, filter maintenance and other duties don’t have to be work, they can be continuing education!  

More Than Just Science

Colostethus panamensis in AquariumAquariums and other live displays are of value to more than biology and chemistry. These set-ups can be inspiring! Think of applications other educators can use–reading/research and writing topics on aquariums can be endless, encouraging good writing, grammar, and research skills. Factual reports and journals aside, a nice aquarium set-up and some colorful fish can inspire kids of any age to create art and creative writing stories, too. They can even be tools for math, applying formulas to find out volume, dosing amounts of supplements or medications, and much more. Imagine the classroom discussions and problem solving skills that can be developed using such a tool…the possibilities are endless.

Getting Started

A classroom set-up may seem intimidating or overwhelming to a teacher who has never had experience with aquariums or animals before, but it doesn’t have to be. You’ll just need some basic essentials and a basic knowledge of what to expect to get started. There are even kits available that are almost out-of-the-box ready. Pet store staffers and hobbyist forums can help you with any questions or problems you may run into. Habitat kits are also available for reptiles and small animals which can also be great additions to a teaching curriculum.

Continuing Education at Home

Freshwater AquariumRemember when it was your turn to bring the class pet home for the weekend?  Whether or not you personally had that opportunity or you know a child who has, you can recall the excitement of the experience. It may have been one of the things that got you into the aquarium hobby to begin with. Maintaining aquariums and other live animal habitats provide kids of any age not only with practical education, but it also helps them to develop a sense of responsibility and pride. Parents may find that an aquarium is a great way to keep kids motivated and interested in learning while also increasing emotional bonds, and maybe even life experience to some degree, over a common activity or project.

Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be complicated.  A betta bowl, a hamster…something small and easy to care for. Plant the seed early, nurture it, and chances are the interest will grow as the child does, along with the thirst to know more.  If you can’t do it at home, encourage your child’s teachers or contribute funds and materials towards live displays in your local school for this year and generations to come.



Frog in Aquarium image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Brian Gratwicke

Aquascaping – Proper Techniques for Planting Aquatic Plants

Amazon SwordLive plants are to the freshwater aquarist what live corals are to the saltwater reef aquarist. They add a natural look to the tank, can benefit the water quality and other livestock and can be a challenge to maintain and “aqua-scape” into just the right look for the aquarium. Just as corals need to be placed in the right area of the aquarium and secured correctly so they can remain healthy and thriving, so also do plants need to be planted correctly and appropriately. Knowing how to best plant different types of live plants that you may have will help them thrive. Keep in mind however that these are general guidelines. Some plants prefer larger or smaller substrates or may have special considerations for their species.

Bunched Plants

Bunched plants are popular and common. Though their appearance, care and requirements vary, “bunched plants” are all sold as bundled individual stem cuttings held together with a metal plant anchor or rubber band.  These plants generally root within a week or two and the growing tips can be pruned and replanted to make new plants. Some bunched plants like hornwort an anacharis, can be left floating on the water’s surface. You can plant each stem of a bunch individually by inserting the end into the substrate, or keep them in their bunches for a bushier look. The plant anchors or rubber bands can be removed once the plant is rooted in place. Read More »