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

Live Rock: Some Common Questions

Especially for beginners, getting what you need for setting up a saltwater or reef aquarium can be daunting.  One of the most confusing aspects of the process may be Live Rock.  Here are some common Q & A that may make it a little clearer for anyone, especially those who just starting out.

Do I need Live Rock and what is its purpose?

Live rock is the calcium carbonate skeletons of ancient corals and other calcareous organisms, which forms the base of coral reefs.  It is not actually “alive” but is it is usually encrusted with coralline algae and inhabited by microscopic and macroscopic marine organisms.  The organisms on the live rock help to establish the biological base of the aquarium.  The rock serves as a biological filter hosting nitrifying bacteria that fuel processes like the nitrogen cycle to eliminate organic waste.  Live rock also has a stabilizing effect on the water chemistry, especially helping to maintain constant pH by releasing calcium.  The other obvious purpose is for decoration.  The rock, once established, serves as a shelter for fish and inverts, as a decorative element encrusted with colorful coralline algaes and other organisms (that may appear to spring from its surface from nothing), and as a platform for corals that you introduce to grow onto.

What is the difference between natural and cultured rock?

There are many varieties of live rock.  Most are named for the region where they are harvested, and often they have distinctive forms and characteristics. Some are dense, some are lighter and more porous, some are branchy, some are plate-like, ect.  They all basically serve the same purpose, and they may be mixed and matched according to your taste and needs.  Natural rock is chipped off and collected from specified areas in designated regions.  This rock is naturally occurring and highly variable.  Cultured rock is man-made from specially mixed concrete that is formed into basic shapes and then placed in the oceans near reefs for a period of 1-5 years where it is seeded with the same micro and macro organisms as natural rock. The rock is then collected and distributed for aquariums.  Cultured rock is favorable as it has the same benefits to the aquarium, but less environmental impact and is sustainable. It is typically less variable in shape.

How much rock do I need?

You may hear different opinions on how much rock you need, but it will depend on what your intentions are. Generally, the rule of thumb is 1-2 lbs per gallon.  This amount can vary depending on the arrangement you want and the density of the rock.  You may choose to purchase all the rock you need when setting up the tank initially, as the rock be used to cycle the tank, and will cure in the process.  Otherwise you can buy the rock a few pieces at a time, cure it in a separate vessel then add pieces periodically until the arrangement is where you like it.  The other option is to purchase base rock and cover it with fresh live rock.  Over time the base rock will be seeded by the live rock.  Just be sure your arrangement has spaces where the water can circulate through the rock and dead zones don’t occur.

What is curing and how do I cure rock?

Curing Live Rock means conditioning or cycling it for use in your aquarium. Cured rock has already been conditioned and is stable to use right away in an aquarium with minimal concern of fluctuations in water chemistry.  Fresh live rock is not cured and it shouldn’t be placed directly into a main aquarium until you cure it.  The collection and shipping process of most rock involves it being out of the water for days at a time, and a lot of the organic matter on the rock dies off.  By tanking and curing the rock, you allow the rock to recover from these stresses.  The dead matter breaks down and new beneficial organisms have the chance to re-establish and freshen up.  If you purchase fresh rock, a saltwater rinse or dip and shake will help to remove loose debris and some of the dead matter to kick start the curing process.  You can learn how to cure live rock in this short video.

How long will it take for stuff to start growing on my rock?

Once the rock is in the tank and the rest of your set-up is complete with adequate lighting, skimmer, and circulation, additives such as calcium, iodine and strontium will encourage the growth of colorful coralline algaes, and contribute to the health of other forms of live rock growth.  As the tank establishes and becomes more stable, you’ll probably see a variety of organisms from macroalgaes to small corals and other sessile inverts.  Each tank and each piece of rock may reveal different surprises, but the important thing is patience.  Taking the time for careful set-up and maintenance and a time allowance for the tank to progress at a comfortable pace will result in a healthy and sustainable reef environment.

Fish for a Phillies Fan – Setting up a Sports-themed Saltwater tank

Phillies tankAs many of your know, That Fish Place/That Pet Place is located in the heart of Lancaster, PA…thus, we love our Phillies. Hopefully you enjoy this Phillies tank idea (unless you’re a Mets fan) from rabid Phillies fan Marine Biologist Melissa was Leiter but now Weibley (she just got married :). – Ed

Hey Phillies fans, how about paying homage to your favorite team by adding something red, reminding you of those fighting Phils every time you look at your tank? If you have a spare tank, you can create a theme aquarium, or dress up the aquarium you already have in the living room to show your spirit! Let’s begin with some critters that may fit the theme. One of my favorite inverts, the banded coral shrimp is one possibility for an addition if you have the right marine set-up. Their claws have red and white Phillies pin stripes all over them! They have a great personality and are easy to care for, though only one can be put in a small tank unless they are purchased as a mated pair. If you only get one they tend to be a little shy and reclusive until they get used to the tank.
Peppermint shrimp, fire shrimp, and Randalls pistol shrimp may also be great possibilities in a reef or community saltwater tank. There are also some other cool inverts besides shrimp that are red, too. We have some red reef starfish (for well established reef set-ups), scarlet hermit crabs that will help to maintain your “field”, and burrowing crabs that like a deeper sand bed. Flame Scallops like to spend time in the dugout (they’ll anchor to rock usually) but they too show their colors proudly! Be sure to provide adequate feedings for them to thrive.

For you real reefer Phillies fans, we have a couple of possibilities for you to add to your tank as well. Red mushrooms look awesome and will brighten any tank. If you have good lighting the red blastomussa or a red open brain coral would look very nice. For those of you that do not have too much light, you could try a red deep water gorgonian or tree sponge. These guys are not photosynthetic they just need lots of phytoplankton to keep them happy.

Now for you fish lovers we have lots of fun fish that go with the Phillies theme. For well-established tanks we have red firefish, flame pygmy angelfish, longnose hawkfish, and flame hawkfish. We even have some clownfish that sport the flashy red for the Phils, like the maroon clown, fire clown and cinnamon clown. For those of you that love the big boy fish we have that covered, too! White edge lyretail groupers, and other similar groupers may fit the bill. So for all you avid Phillies fans out there make sure you have at least one of these fish/inverts in your tank at all times. Who knows, maybe it will be the luck they need to win big again this year…GO PHILS!!!

Marine Angelfishes: an Overview of Natural History and Captive Care

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Angelfishes (Family Pomacanthidae) represent to many the “classic marine aquarium fish” – vibrantly colored, active, alert and somewhat delicate.  Ranging in size from 4 to 24 inches, an angelfish of one kind or another is responsible for luring a great many people into setting up their first marine aquarium.

Diversity and Range

The 74 described angelfishes range throughout the tropical Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and generally occur in shallow water (less than 60 feet in depth), often in association with coral reefs.  All are somewhat compressed in profile and spectacularly colored.  A great many species exhibit long, trailing extensions from the dorsal and anal fins.

Adult-Juvenile Differences

Juvenile and adult angelfishes of the same species often exhibit striking differences in coloration…so much so that the young of several were initially given full species status.  A number of theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon.  Young angelfishes of some species consume external parasites from the scales of larger fish.  It may be that their unique coloration advertises this role to larger fish, which might otherwise make a meal of them.  Such coloration may also inhibit aggression from the normally territorial adults of their own species

Angels in the Aquarium

Although the cherubfish (Centropyge argi) and certain other dwarf angels are fairly hardy, angelfishes are not recommended for inexperienced hobbyists.  Most are intolerant of sub-optimal water conditions, and a number are fairly specific in their food requirements, subsisting largely upon sponges, corals and fish eggs, and therefore difficult to acclimate to captive diets.


Angelfishes with less specialized dietary requirements should be offered a wide variety of live, freeze dried and frozen foods, including brine shrimp, mysis, squid, prawn, algae and mollusks.

Be aware that large angelfishes may not bother to eat live brine shrimp and other tiny creatures.  In fact, such may be pulled into the fishes’ gills during respiration, causing irritation and stress.


Despite being quite active swimmers, all angelfishes require rocks and coral among which to shelter for the night.  Dwarf species in particular require a great deal of structure in the aquarium, as much of that time is spent in and around such in the wild.  Deprived of secure hiding spots, most will languish and die.


Among this family we find species that are hermaphrodites and others that utilize virtually every reproductive strategy known to fishes – monogamy, promiscuity, harems and leks (in which groups of males gather to display before females).  Although captive breeding is not routine, several species of angelfishes have successfully reproduced in private and public aquariums.

Outwardly very similar, the sexes may sometimes be differentiated by the swollen abdomen of the gravid female.  In those species that exhibit monogamy, mated pairs rise upward together, releasing eggs and sperm as they go.  The tiny eggs float about among the plankton, and, after a time (which varies from species to species but averages1 month in length), the minuscule fry settle to the ocean’s floor.

I’ll cover individual angelfish species in the future.  Until then, please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, Frank Indiviglio.

Further Reading

For detailed information on some of the largest and smallest of the angelfishes, please see the following excellent articles, also posted on this blog: Species Profile: Pygmy Angels http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatfishblog/2008/05/02/species-profile-pygmy-angels/ and Species Profile: Queen Angel http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatfishblog/2007/09/12/species-profile-queen-angel/.

Florida Ricordea – More than Just a Mushroom

There are two species of Ricordea readily found in the aquarium hobby; the Yuma and the Florida. Both offer an amazing pallet of colors and vary in size. The Yuma variety is found in the Indo-Pacific region, while the Florida species is found in the Caribbean and around coastal Florida. Ricordea yuma are typically the larger variety, but tend to be  more difficult to keep alive. They are also more expensive, with some prices topping $100 per polyp. The Florida species are by far hardier and can tolerate a wider range of lighting. Florida ricordea can be expensive, but typically not much more than $50 per polyp, more on the average of $20 to $30 dollars per polyp.

As far as water quality, a healthy reef system is all they require with an average of 3-5 watts per gallon of lighting. They can thrive under Power Compact, Metal Halide, and T-5 lighting. If the ricordea becomes well established and “happy” in your aquarium, they will begin to divide, leaving you with more ricordea than you originally purchased. You can also force them to divide by cutting them in half or if you are feeling lucky, in quarters. Water flow can be variable, low to moderate and more turbid. Try to avoid high, laminar flow,  it can cause the ricordea to detach or just to melt away in the worst case. They make a great addition to smaller aquariums because they typically only get a few inches in diameter while having very little aggression towards other corals. Like many other corals, they will “fight” back if too close to other corals, so give them a little room to grow. Through photosynthesis, ricordea gain a majority of their food. However, they will also feed on phytoplankton and zooplankton.

The Florida ricordea found in the aquarium trade are collected throughout the Caribbean and Florida. However, new regulations in Florida that are set to begin in July may cause the price to increase. The limits on collection are going to decrease by more than 50 percent. This should force the price of each polyp to increase noticeably. The drastic increase should be offset slightly by the import of ricordea from places like Haiti.

Overall, I would highly recommend the Florida Ricordea to anyone with a healthy reef tank. The color variety and hardiness make this coral a perfect choice for most aquariums, small and large.

A Livestock Preview: New and Interesting Arrivals in our Fishroom

Hey  Everyone!  Patty here.  Thought I’d take a minute to highlight some of the new and interesting things we’ve gotten in this week in the fish room.  With the Anniversary Sale coming this week, I’m sure there will be more to see and buzz about for the weekend, but here is a look at just a couple of the newest arrivals that are looking particularly pretty.  All of the regular favorites will be here for the sale along with some special goodies that will make the visit even more worthwhile!  We hope you can make it in this weekend!

Lake Terbera rainbow

Lake Tebera Rainbow
Like other Rainbowfish, this species is great for larger community aquariums. They are larger, but active and peaceful. Rainbowfish are also great additions for their shimmering colors.

small blood parrot

Small blood parrot
This batch came to us with more natural looking coloration instead of the traditional brightly colored Bloody Parrots.


Lelupi are a staple in the world of African Cichlids, sought after for their interesting habits as well as their bright yellow-orange coloration. These are lovely!

Gold faced datnoid
Datnoids have a mystique about them that is quite a draw. This species has attractive bars and a golden sheen in the head and face. Enthusiasts should check these out!

yasha haze

Yasha haze
The Yasha Haze Goby has been around in the market for a few years now, but every time one arrives it’s beauty still astounds me. This is a great candidate for a reef or nano-reef system.

Orange-spotted Sea Slug
This pretty slug is a real spectacle! A Pacific native, its bright orange dots make it easy to spot.


Despite is rather cryptic, cave-dwelling personality, Swiss Guards and other related basslets like the Swales Swiss Guard (also here) have amazing color and will not disappoint in the right environment. They are most at home in a rocky reef home.

Feel free to contact our livestock department or a fishroom associate if you are looking for anything in particular before you come in or if you are interested in having something live shipped to your door.