Seahorses in the Aquarium – 5 Things You Should Know Before Purchasing

Hippocampus hippocampusHello, Frank Indiviglio here. In 2001, I wrote a book about the Natural History and Care of Seahorses. As I intended, many readers were discouraged, due to the demands involved in their care and the fragile state of wild populations. Today, I am happy to report that captive-born individuals of several species are regularly available, and that the task of feeding them (a major stumbling block) has been greatly simplified.  Still, they are not ideal for every aquarist. Following are some important points to consider before you decide to keep these intriguing but challenging fishes. 

Seahorses Need a Wide Variety of Small, Live Foods

The world’s 130+ seahorse species (Family Syngnathidae) are strict live food specialists. Brine shrimp, the most easily-obtained seahorse food, is suitable as a steady diet for only one, the Dwarf Seahorse, Hippocampus zosterae (please see this article). Most others avidly consume brine shrimp, but will not survive long without amphipods (scuds, side-swimmers), sand hoppers, tiny shrimp, Mysids and similar marine creatures. 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 »

Choosing the Right Substrate for Your Aquarium

OnyxThere are hundreds of ways that you can make your aquarium “your own”, from the decor or theme you choose to the plants and fish you keep, and even how you choose to accent your habitat with lighting. You may spend a lot of time anguishing on these aspects, hoping to match the vision you build in your head. One aspect that you may not guve the consideration it deserves is the substrate you choose, but the right gravel can make or break the look of your aquarium. This stuff is more than just rocks and sand, it may be the one thing that completes your perfect aesthetic. Let’s look at some of the popular substrate options on the market and explore why one may suit your aquarium better than others.

Freshwater Substrates

If you have a freshwater aquarium, you have a huge selection of substrate colors and types to choose from. First you have to decide if you’re going for a natural look or for something more thematic or colorful. You can purchase colored pebbles or glass accent stones in every color of the rainbow, but some colors are so vibrant they can take the attention away from the stars of the display, your fish.  Colored stones have their place, and can make for a realy fun set-up, but be sure you know what you’re getting into before you purchase a bulk of neon pink or blue substrate. Often these substrates are best as accent colors mixed with natural selections, or for use in smaller tanks.

The natural look tends to be more desirable amongst most hobbyists, shades of grey, tan and brown. These pebbles mimic the textures of creak beds, river shallows, and other natural habitats where these fish come from, making them feel like their back at home. While not all that eye-catching in a bag, these substrates complement the natural colors of live fish and plants, really allowing them to shine. These selections aren’t monotonous either. There are lots to choose from, different sizes, multi-tone, tumbled or rough, that can be mixed or matched to create a custom blend for your tank.  Keep in mind that the size of the gravel you choose may have some impact on fish and plants. Bottom dwelling or bottom feeding fish, and those who breed and nest in the substrate will generally prefer sand or very small pebbles that are easier to move and shuffle, and softer on fins, skin and scales. Likewise, plants may not root well in pebbles that are too large or rough. You may choose to create varying areas in the tank between larger pebbles and finer substrate like inert sand to accommodate several types of fish and plants.  Inert types of freshwater sands are available, but be sure to choose the right kind, otherwise your water chemistry could be effected.

Specialty Substrates

OnyxThere are also special substrates you can use in your freshwater tanks that not only look natural but also provide benefits to your livestock. These include packaged live sand, flourite/laterite plant substrates, soils and cichlid substrates. Live sand is harvested from a natural wet environment and is packaged with live bacteria intact. These bacteria jump start the cycling process and help to establish marine tanks fast. Plant substrates are naturally colored and sized just right for root establishment. These materials also contribute nutrients to enhance plant growth and vigor. Several substrates on the market are designed to cater specifically to the chemistry and habitat need of Rift Lake Cichlids. These help to maintain pH and hardness, and mimic the rocky appearance of their natural habitats. Some hobbyists also go to the next level for Asian and Amazonian species by creating a soft soil/sand bed using peat, laterite or coco fiber. The natural feel and tannin production helps to make these light-shy fish more comfortable and can make their colors super vibrant.

Marine Substrates

Marine substrates include shell, crushed coral, aragonite sand and similar materials principally composed of calcium carbonate. These substrates will help to increase and maintain pH and hardness. These materials are suitable for all marine set-ups and for Rift Lake cichlids that enjoy similar water chemistry minus the salt. These substrates present little variation from afar, with mostly cream or white coloration with flecks of pink, orange and other naturally occurring shell coloration. There are a few selections that occur naturally in gold or black hues which may be mixed with lighter varieties or used as primary substrate. Incorporating these darker colors may help to keep the colors of your fish more vibrant, as the bright bottom may cause the colors of the fish to appear washed out.

Going Without

Australian GoldIn some instances you may even choose to go bare in the aquarium. Bare bottom is usually reserved for med tanks or quarantine systems, but many aquarists opt for no gravel to make maintenance and feeding easier. While this type of set-up has advantages, there are several things to consider before going bare. Some fish may stress easily or not be able to behave naturally if there is no substrate to cover the bottom glass. This method is obviously not a good choice if you want to house gobies or other bottom dwelling or burrowing species. Rooted live plants will not have a place to anchor without a deep gravel bed, so you’ll also be limited to either artificial plants that suck to the bottom or bunch plants that do not need to be anchored in gravel. Substrate also provides a large bed for nitrifying bacteria…be sure to have ample biological filtration, porous rock, or other media to offer the bacteria a place to thrive.

What it all boils down to is taste. The gravel you choose will complete your aquarium’s look and can play a big role in how your fish behave in the tank. Consider the needs of your fish before you make the final decision on how to “carpet” your tank.

Aquarium Fishes and Hurricanes – Dealing with Bacterial Blooms, Disease and Lack of Oxygen

Discus AquariumHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  October, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy wrecked havoc on fish keepers and public aquariums in the Northeastern USA.  My own collection, which houses several 20-30 year-old catfishes, loaches and aquatic amphibians, suffered only a single loss.  I owe a debt of gratitude to the dedicated folks at That Fish Place-That Pet Place, who shipped much-needed supplies to me in record time, despite the disastrous weather.  The public aquariums for which I consult are now working frantically to limit losses; I’ll provide updates via Twitter.

Most aquarists know what steps to take during power outages, so today I’d like to focus on several points that, in my experience, are sometimes over-looked.

Filter Care and Bacteria Die-offs

When power fails, submersible, corner, and other internal filters should be removed from the aquarium.  When oxygenated water is flowing through a filter, waste material is processed by beneficial aerobic bacteria, and ammonia is converted to less toxic nitrites and nitrates (please see this article).  Once the flow of water stops, the resident beneficial bacteria perish.  Without aerobic bacteria, your filter becomes a source of decomposing organic material, quickly poisoning the already-stressed aquarium inhabitants.

As the contents of external aquarium filters are not in direct contact with the water, they will not immediately add to the pollution problem.  However, these filters should be disconnected because when electric power is restored, they will pump ammonia and other toxins into the tank. Read More »

The Blob in Your Back Yard – Bryozoans in Backyard Ponds

Pond BryozoanA few weeks ago, a co-worker presented me with a photo, and asked me if I knew what the thing represented in the pic was. I’ve seen a lot of things in my 15 years with That Fish Place (many of which spent in the fish room), but I had never seen the object I was looking at in the pic. My first guess was a bizarre form of algae, as ponds can be home to some strange sludge. Then I contemplated that the mass might be an egg mass of some type, the gel of which possibly being coated or having incorporated algae and muck into it as it floated along. But something still wasn’t right about it. I turned to Google, and with a few quick clicks I found similar photos helping me to identify the blob with relative certainty. It was a freshwater species of Bryozoan! I was familiar with marine forms of bryozoans, but this was quite a different and interesting specimen from others I’d seen, and certainly worth a little more research. Read More »