Home | Freshwater Aquariums | Planted Aquariums (page 6)

Category Archives: Planted Aquariums

Feed Subscription

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

A Community Aquarium for Fishes, Shrimp and Frogs – West African Oddities – Part 3

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

Please see Parts I and II of this article for general information and for details concerning the care of elephant nosed and butterfly fishes.

Dwarf Clawed or African Dwarf Underwater Frog, Hymenochirus boettgeri, H. curtipes

This tiny (males to 1 inch, females to 1.4 inches) aquatic frog is a real pleasure to keep.  It is perpetually on the prowl, sticking its pointed little head into every nook and cranny in its ceaseless search for food.  A group so engaged is really quite comical to behold…they look like nothing so much as squadron of tiny, flattened divers!

Habitat and Habits

Dwarf clawed frogs move slowly about the aquarium bottom and among the plants, and save “free swimming” for trips to the surface for air.  In deep aquariums, they do best when provided with “ladders” to the surface in the form of (preferably live) plants.  They are at their best in heavily planted aquariums, and will utilize every square inch available to them. 

Small size and bold demeanors render these frogs ideal observation subjects. It is quite easy to provide them with a habitat in which they will reveal to you nearly all of their natural behaviors, and captive reproduction is not uncommon.  Dwarf clawed frogs are not favored aquarium animals in the USA, due largely to the fact that they are usually kept improperly.  Typically housed in bare tanks with active fishes that out-compete them for food, they usually expire in short order. 

Feeding Dwarf Clawed Frogs

In addition to dense cover, dwarf clawed frogs need a varied diet of small, live invertebrates.  Blackworms can account for up to 75% of their food intake, supplemented whenever possible with live brine shrimp (brine shrimp alone are not an appropriate diet), whiteworms, bloodworms, mosquito larvae and similarly-sized aquatic organisms.  Newborn guppies may be taken by particularly large individuals.  I’ve had my best breeding results when I provided my frogs with occasional meals of pond-seined fairy shrimp and other tiny invertebrates.

I have not had much success in inducing dwarf clawed frogs to accept non-living food items, but others have reported good results with some individuals.  I suggest that you feed them as described above, but experiment with Reptomin Select-A-Food  (freeze dried and pelleted components), freeze-dried fish foods  (mysis shrimp, daphnia, bloodworms) and frozen mosquito larvae.

As dwarf clawed frogs feed largely by day and elephant nosed fishes by night, competition for live blackworms is rarely a problem.

A Unique Hunting Strategy

Dwarf clawed frogs use a suction-based feeding technique, unique among amphibians, to capture their prey.  The tiny hunters lunge forward while extending the front limbs and opening the mouth, after which the body is recoiled.  Like other members of the family Pipidae (African clawed frogs, Surinam toads), dwarf clawed frogs are tongue-less.

Hybrids and Feral Frogs

Only Hymenochirus boettgeri and, to lesser extend, H. curtipes, appear in the trade; there is some evidence of hybridization between the two.  H. boettgeri has been introduced to Florida and is apparently well established.

An Important Distinction

It is important that you are able to distinguish this frog from young African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis).  The two are frequently housed together in pet stores….Xenopus grows quite large and will consume smaller frogs, fishes and shrimp.

In dwarf clawed frogs, the appendages of all 4 limbs (fingers and toes) are webbed; Xenopus possesses webbed feet only.  Dwarf frogs are also more flattened in body form, and their heads are very narrow, nearly “pointed”.

Giant African Fan Shrimp, Atya gabonensis

African Fan ShrimpThis stoutly-built West African native is bound to become more popular as time goes on.  Built more along the lines of a crayfish than a shrimp, yet completely benign toward tank-mates, it feeds by sweeping food into its mouth with feathery appendages.  Fan shrimp are quite social in nature, with groups often sharing the same shelter even when others are available. 

The Importance of Shelter

I have found African fan shrimp to be compatible with the other animals mentioned in this article, provided that they have access to secure shelters.  They seem to be very much “home oriented”, and become quite stressed when their retreats are disturbed in any way. 

Be sure to supply your shrimp with caves and other such hideaways that will not be disturbed by foraging elephant- nosed fishes (the other species pose no concerns), and do not move the shelters once they have been occupied.  Small rock dens  or Mopani wood shelters  are ideal.

Please see my article on the Natural History and Care of African Fan Shrimp  for husbandry details.

I was recently told of an unusually large (possibly 8 inch) fan shrimp that was residing in a local pet shop.  I went to see the animal, only to find that it had expired and had been discarded.  Please write in if you have observed fan shrimp larger than 5 inches or so – we have a great deal to learn about this animal…perhaps there is more than 1 species in the trade.

Further Reading

You can read more about the dwarf clawed frog and its relatives at http://research.amnh.org/herpetology/amphibia/names.php?taxon=&family=&subfamily=&genus=hymenochirus&commname=&authority=&year=&geo=0&dist=&comment=.


Please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.

Essential Nutrients for the Planted Aquarium

Essential Nutrients for the Planted Aquarium

Uruguayensis SwordBrandon here. Anyone who gardens or keeps houseplants knows that plants need a boost once in awhile to look their best and maintain lush, consistant, healthy growth.  Aquarium plants are no exception, but it may be difficult to decide which supplement to use.  Here is an overview of some of the components you may see in the supplements, and what they do to help you along in your aquatic gardening. 

*In order of highest to lowest required concentration


  • Nitrogen: Used for formation of amino acids, protein, DNA, and various other functions such as osmoregulation and nutrient uptake. Deficiencies result in stunted growth and cell death.
  • Potassium: Important in breaking down carbohydrates for protein production.
  • Used in production of seeds and fruits.
  •  Important for overall plant growth.
  • Generally not harmful if overdosed
  • Calcium: Used as a signaling mechanism for environmental stress.
  • Excess calcium interferes with phosphorous and can lead to health problems.
  • Magnesium: The central molecule in chlorophyll. Also used for enzyme activation.
  • Phosphorous: Used in DNA and RNA to hold base pairs. Also found in Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) and ADP, which is used for energy storage and transport. Nitrogen and phosphorous are the two most important elements found in plants.
  • Deficiencies result in stunted growth and cell death.
  • Sulfur: Used to create certain amino acids.
  • Deficiencies usually indicated by decreased or stunted growth and yellowing of entire plant. Low levels of sulfur are required for plants health.


  • Chlorine: Used for chemical signals between cells. Also used in opening and closing of stomatal guard cells (important in terrestrial plants).
  • Iron: Used as an electron acceptor and donator in photosynthesis. Also used in the creation of new chlorophyll molecules.
  • Iron deficiencies are indicated by yellowing leaves. The plant cannot function without iron and the processes it is involved in, and can die from stress.
  • An excess of iron can result in a build-up of free radicals within the plants tissues, which damages cells and DNA and can also lead to plant death. In the aquarium an excess of iron can be readily absorbed by algae which can result in algae blooms.
  • Boron: Enzyme activator used for making starch, which is used in the production of cellulose.
  • Used for sugar transport to meristems (the parts of the plants where new growth forms).
  • Manganese: Enzyme activator. Needed for the production of chlorophyll.
  • Zinc: Enzyme activator. Required for leaf formation.
  • Deficiencies result in what is called “little leaf” syndrome.
  • An excess of zinc interferes with metabolic function and may result in plant death.
  • Copper: Enzyme activator.
  • Inhibits shoot and root growth when overdosed. Also interferes with electron transport during plant metabolism. Can result in plant death.
  • Molybdenum: Important in the reduction of nitrates, which provides nitrogen for the creation of proteins.
  • Nickel: Enzyme activator. Used in breaking down urea.
  • Inhibits shoot and root growth when overdosed. Can result in plant death.

Other non-mineral elements required for plant growth:

  • Carbon: usually acquired from carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Found in sugars, carbohydrates, starch, and every part of the plant.
  • Oxygen: acquired through photosynthesis, respiration, and from water. Also found in sugars, carbohydrates, starch, and every cell of the plant.
  • Hydrogen: acquired through photosynthesis, respiration, and water. Again, essential compound in the makeup of sugar, starch, carbohydrates, and cellular structures.

Carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are the most prominent elements found in plants (found in the highest concentrations). Because they are readily available from the aquarium water they do not need to be supplemented (with the exception of carbon which can be added to the aquarium with a CO2 reactor).

Hopefuly this helps clear up some of the confusion with planted tank supplementation.


A Community Aquarium for Fishes, Shrimp and Frogs – West African Oddities – Part 1

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

The subjects of this article are often sold in pet stores as “curiosities” to be added to aquariums housing typical tropical fishes.  Unfortunately, due to their unique dietary requirements and feeding methods, none do well in such situations.  As most hobbyists are unaware of their fascinating behaviors, tanks are rarely set up solely for these creatures, and most perish in short order. 

ElephantNose FishesI recently set up a tropical West Africa themed exhibit for a public aquarium, based on similar tanks I have maintained at home and at the Bronx Zoo.  It was a big hit and generated many inquiries from visitors who wished to have a similar aquarium in their homes. 

The aquarium I’ll describe here is similar to that exhibit.  It houses animals from the same region of Africa, and includes two of the pet trade’s most interesting and overlooked fishes, a social shrimp and an active, aquatic frog.  All follow different lifestyles and utilize unusual feeding methods, yet they co-exist very well.

General Considerations

The animals described below hail from West Africa, and all prefer heavily planted aquariums maintained at 78-80 F.  They are quite sensitive to water quality, so be sure to choose a filter that is of an appropriate size for your aquarium, but avoid strong currents (from the filter’s outflow) within the tank.  A comprehensive water test kit  should be used regularly to assure that pH is held between 6.8 and 7, and that the water is moderately soft (water softness is not a major concern, but is best monitored).

Due to the feeding habits of the elephant nose (see below) and the desirability of establishing a lush growth of plants, I suggest that you use Porous Clay Gravel as a substrate.

Peter’s Elephant Nose or Elephant-Nosed Fish, Gnathonemus petersi

ElephantNose FishThis first recommended member of the aquarium is truly interesting in appearance and behavior.  It uses the greatly extended lower jaw from which its common name is drawn to root in the substrate for aquatic worms and insects, its main food source.  Organs near the tail discharge electrical impulses that allow the elephant nose to navigate, hunt and, according to recent research, to communicate (please see the article referenced below).

Feeding and Observing the Elephant Nose

The elephant nose is a confirmed live food specialist, and rarely feeds before nightfall…hence it is always out-competed for food when kept with swordtails, platys and other typical community fishes.  A heavy growth of live plants will encourage it to move about by day; Moonlight Bulbs  are great for use in observing nocturnal behavior. 

Although only small specimens are usually seen in the trade (adults do not ship well at all), the elephant nose can reach 10 inches in length – a group of adults foraging in a large aquarium is a very impressive sight.  Live blackworms can form the foundation of their diet, but you should endeavor to include live bloodworms, glassworms and other such invertebrates regularly.

Click: A Community Aquarium for Fishes, Shrimp and Frogs – West African Oddities – Part 2, to read the rest of this article.

Frank Indiviglio.

Fish Husbandry in a New Aquarium – Common Aquarium Questions

The Marine Bio staff That Fish Place gets a lot of questions about husbandry of fish and inverts in aquariums. When adding any new inhabitant to an aquarium we recommend researching the conditions, max size, and temperament of the species you are interested in to ensure that it will be a good fit for your tank and the other creatures you may already be keeping. And, as always, quarantining new additions in a separate aquarium is highly recommended.  If in doubt, we’re always here to answer any questions you may have so you and your aquarium continue to stay happy!

 One question recently submitted was from Al in New York:

 I’m going to be starting up my 55 gallon set-up with blue rams. My questions are what will make good tank mates? What water conditioners might I need? Should I use live plants, and if so which do you recommend? How many rams should I add?

 Marine Bio Responded:

There are several fish you can keep with rams. Lemon tetras in a school of 6-10 would be nice. Serpae tetras in a large school of 8 to 10, or Brilliant rasboras in a similar school would also work well. These are fish (introduced gradually) that I would start with once the tank is established. Rams should not be added to the tank for at least 2 to 3 months after the introduction of your first fish. So you can maybe start with 6 Serpaes or Brilliant rasboras, and let the tank run for with nothing else added until the cycle is complete.

During this time, you can certainly add plants if you wish, but do not add more fish. I am a proponent of live plants in aquariums. They make for a beautiful and healthy environment, and many fish will do very well in a planted tank that is similar to their native waters. Plants that you can add may include Rotala, Ruffled swords, Ozelot swords, dwarf sagittaria, and Bacopa. These are all nice plants to start with, and there are others you may prefer, it is all according to taste and the lighting and conditions you present. Just make sure you add Flourish Iron or a similar product to your tank to help your plants to stay healthy.  

After you cycle your tank with the tetras or rasboras, you can add some Corydoras Catfish in school of 5 or 6 to help keep the bottom clean. Some smaller pleco species may also be considered.  Rubbernose plecos, for example, are great algae eaters in planted aquariums, as are Bristlnose and Medusa plecos. Gold nugget plecos and Queen Arabesque plecos would also work, and they are really attractive. When you are ready to add rams, I would think a small group of 5 or 6 would work out great for you, maybe 1-2 males and the rest females.

Water conditions? Well, rams prefer warm, soft water. So you want your temperature to be in the range of 80 to 82 degrees, and your pH should be around 6.5 to 6.8. You may need a buffer to maintain the keep the water at this pH and there are several available to choose from and keep on hand for water changes and maintenance including Seachem Discus Buffer.

Algae and Plants for Brackish Water Aquariums – Part II: Adapting Freshwater Plants to Brackish Aquariums

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

Please see Part I of this article for information concerning typical brackish water plants and algae.

A number of well-known freshwater aquarium plants adjust quite nicely to brackish water.  Given the great variety of species that are available, I’m sure many others will be found.

Experimenting With Freshwater Plants

If you are of a mind to experiment, first research various natural habitats, keeping an eye out for plants that thrive along coastlines, estuaries and in other such situations….these might be exposed to salt water during floods or at high tide.  In general, freshwater plants with waxy leaf and stem coverings make the best prospects with which to begin.

Bear in mind that the change from fresh to brackish water is an extreme one, and can easily shock your plants.  Treat them as you would a new, delicate fish and increase their exposure to brackish water gradually.  For untested species, you might consider dripping brackish water into the plant’s tank via a section of airline tubing during the acclimatization period.

Anachris (Egeria) densa

Much favored by freshwater aquarists and a standby for grammar school science experiments, Anachris is very hardy and highly recommended for use in brackish tanks.  Most agree that it is the most likely of all freshwater plants to thrive in this foreign environment.

Anachris grows well as a rooted or floating plant and, in strong light, can add an inch or more a day to its length.  Cuttings taken anywhere along the stem will grow into new plants.

Temple Plant, Hygrophila corymbosa

This most attractive of aquarium plants does very well in brackish water, but is considered a delicacy by snails, hermit crabs and many fishes.  It and related species, which are native to South and Southeast Asia, can be propagated from cuttings and grow best under bright lights.

Cabomba aquatica

Another popular freshwater plant, this South American native has delicate leaves which cannot withstand the attentions of herbivorous fishes and invertebrates.  However, when housed with halfbeaks, mudskippers and others that will not molest it, Cabomba makes a fine addition to the brackish aquarium.

Aquatic Grasses – Sagittaria and Vallisneria

Sagittaria, relatively impervious to salt water damage and unpalatable to most organisms, is one of the best freshwater plants to use in brackish systems.  The widely-available grass Vallisneria does very well also, even under subdued lighting, but is considered a tasty food by many aquatic animals.

Hornwort, Ceratophyllum demersum

Reaching 10 feet or more in length in the wild and equally at home in cold and warm water, this hardy survivor is an excellent candidate for brackish water tanks.  It can get by in dimly-lit aquariums, but in such situations its foliage will pale considerably.

Water Sprite, Ceratopteris thalicroide

Even in such an unnatural environment as brackish water, this plant will grow quite vigorously if kept warm and under bright lights.  It can be maintained either floating or rooted, and in different situations will develop rounded, bulky or fern-like leaves.  Water sprite’s prodigious rate of growth often compensates for the attentions of plant-eaters.

Chain Swordplant, Echinodorus tenellus

This attractive plant spreads rapidly via runners (hence the “chain” portion of its name) and is fully grown at 4 inches in height.  As is true for its larger relatives, the chain sword requires warm water and a well-lit environment.

Further Reading

Anachris (Egeria) densa is widely introduced in the USA and elsewhere.  The University of California has posted an interesting account of its natural and unnatural history at http://ucce.ucdavis.edu/datastore/detailreport.cfm?surveynumber=182&usernumber=43.


Please write in with your questions or to relate your own experiments with aquatic plants.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.