Adding a Personal Touch to Your Aquarium Décor

Hey, Eileen here. Ever have a certain look or item in mind for your home or wardrobe or aquarium, and were not able to find just what you wanted? Ever decide to just make it instead? Despite the huge selection of aquarium ornaments on the market today, this DIY approach is what many aquarists are beginning to turn to when the ornaments in the stores just aren’t personal enough for their own unique tanks. So, how can you get in on the action to make your tank truly your own? Here are a few tips to making your own aquarium ornaments or using non-aquarium items to personalize your aquarium.

Silicone Sealant is Your Friend

Silicone aquarium sealant can be found in almost any fish store and is usually available in clear or black. Sealants designed for aquariums are safe for fish and aquarium tankmates when fully cured, but stay away from other sealants like those used for bathroom or hardware applications. You can use sealants to make caves from pieces of rock or rubble, glue shells, stones or other decorations together, or even to cover things like PVC or plastic “caves” with substrate or rocks to form a more natural-looking hideaway.  Note: The tank in these photos has a custom background created by arranging and attaching layered slate with black silicone.  The effect of the rock wall is rather permanent, but impressive as it adds dimension.  This background was applied before the tank was set-up.

Think Outside the Box

Most rigid plastic toys, ornaments and figurines are safe for aquariums as long as they are not painted and do not have any sticker decals on them. Make sure the object is well-cleaned and any stickers or adhesives are completely removed. If you aren’t sure if it is painted or printed, try soaking it in water for awhile, then try to scrape the color off with your fingernail. If it comes off, it isn’t safe for your aquarium. You’ll also want to make sure any small pieces are removed or firmly attached with an adhesive like silicone sealants, and make sure nothing is small enough for your fish to eat.

A lot of ceramics and pottery like coffee mugs and flower pots are generally safe for aquariums, too. This is a great way to get your companies logo in that aquarium you have set up in the lobby! If a mug or plate or bowl is safe for food use, you can generally use it in your aquarium. Decorative pots that are only partially glazed or have fragile artistic glazes are not safe enough for aquariums. To see if an object will last in your aquarium, you can soak it for a few weeks in water that is the same conditions as your aquarium (or better yet, is at the extremes of your aquarium as far as temperature and pH). If it is unchanged in color, texture and strength at the end of a couple months, it should be safe to use as a decoration. Completely unglazed terracotta pottery is also perfectly suitable for aquariums.  These items can make excellent caves and breeding shelters for fish like cichlids and gobies.

Some of the only artifacts leftover from ancient shipwrecks are pottery and glassware. It may look different and become completely encrusted with corals or algaes – especially in saltwater aquariums, a problem all of these ornament ideas – but glass is very durable (which is probably why most aquariums are made from it as well).  Decorative glass bottles can be found in craft and antique stores and even very well-cleaned beer, wine and condiment bottles can be made into aquarium décor! As with the other materials listed, you’ll want to make sure there are no labels or adhesives left on the glass or bottles you decide to use and the glass should not be painted – if the glass is colored, make sure it is the glass itself that is colored, not a glaze or paint over it. You can also fill a light-colored bottle with small objects, ornaments, beads or substrates and seal the top closed to form a decorative glass “bubble” within your tank.

Cues from Nature: the Good and the Bad

Using natural items can be good and bad. In general, avoid the temptation to use something you’ve picked up off the ground since it is difficult to tell what chemicals or foreign substances may have leeched into it. Things like seashells and coral skeletons that can be cleaned VERY, VERY thoroughly in very hot water are usually safe, but avoid organic matter like starfish or wood that can decompose when put back into the water of your aquarium. Wood ornaments created for aquariums are usually safe for freshwater aquariums since they’ve already been cleaned and treated, but wood from the forest behind your house or that you’ve found at the shore is usually not a good addition to a home aquarium. If you aren’t sure if an object like a shell will affect your water quality if it is submerged, soak it in water with similar conditions to your tank and monitor the changes in color, smell, and chemistry of the water over a few weeks.  Most shells are not suitable for freshwater aquariums except african cichlid or brackish set-ups, as they may raise your pH.

The Don’ts and Disclaimers

Of course, there are always disclaimers. These tips are just to give you an idea and starting point for your own creativity.  Always make sure any non-aquarium ornaments you re-purpose for your aquarium are very clean and are safe for your fish, inverts and water chemistry before adding them to your aquarium, especially in extreme aquarium conditions like saltwater aquarium, low pH/acidic aquariums, high temperatures and sensitive or very aggressive animals. Make sure all objects are free from chemicals and sharp edges are sanded down or covered with silicone to avoid injuries to yourself or your aquarium residents. When in doubt, feel free to ask and we’ll be happy to help you figure out if your new decorating idea is a safe one!

These are just a few ideas. Be creative and let your personality shine through into your aquarium.  And, don’t forget to show us the pictures of your new, unique aquarium!

 

 

Visit the next blog in this DIY series, "Aquarium Decoration Ideas - Fish Bowl Designs & DIY" for more tips, tricks, examples and ideas!

Visit the next blog in this DIY series, “Aquarium Decoration Ideas – Fish Bowl Designs & DIY” for more tips, tricks, examples and ideas!

Part 3: More Decoration DIY: Materials and Aquarium Suitability

Read even more in Part 3 of our DIY series, “More Decoration DIY: Materials and Aquarium Suitability”!

Live Foods for Marine and Freshwater Fishes – Worms and Worm Look-a-likes

PolycheteHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  Marine, grindal, micro, white, blood and other worms drive even the most peaceful aquarium fishes wild, and with good reason – they figure prominently in diets worldwide, and are packed with important nutrients.  Research in which I was involved (Bronx Zoo) has shown that earthworms form a near-perfect diet for many amphibians, and may likely be so for certain fishes as well. 

Blackworms are a pet trade staple…today I’d like to mention a few lesser-known types.

Marine Worms, Families Neridae and Annelidae

Sandworms, bloodworms and other large marine species are seasonally available at bait stores or, where legal, may be collected under rocks along bays and tidal streams.  They are an expensive but important component of the diets of a great many saltwater fishes and invertebrates.

Several species have sharp mouthparts and can deliver a painful bite, and may be dangerous to aquarium pets as well….in fact, the hard jaw material of one sandworm is being put to industrial uses.  It is usually prudent to remove the head before feeding. 

Marine worms store well packed in seaweed under refrigeration.  They are interesting aquarium animals in their own right – please look for a future article on their care.

Microworms, Anguillula silasiae and Grindalworms, Enchytraeus bucholizi

Grindalworms are related to earthworms; microworms are not true worms, but rather nematodes. 

Both breed well in damp peat moss at 75 F, and feed upon vegetable-based tropical fish flakes.

Whiteworms, Enchytraeus albidus

Closely related to grindalworms, whiteworms fare better at cooler temperatures (50-58 F) and may be fed oatmeal and staple diet fish flakes.  Cultures are commercially available.

Bloodworms, Chironomus spp.

Unlike marine bloodworms, Chironomus are the aquatic larvae of tiny flying insects known as midges (“gnats”).  Interestingly, they utilize a form of hemoglobin to transport oxygen in the blood, much as we do.

Bloodworms are impractical to breed but are available at pet stores, and survive well under refrigeration.  Like other freshwater invertebrates, bloodworms may be fed to marine creatures, but they spoil rapidly in salt water.

Further Reading

Earthworms are the most useful of all invertebrates…a breeding colony will supply the needs of fishes and invertebrates of all sizes.  Please see my article Rearing and Using Earthworms for further information.

For an interesting article on sandworm behavior and breeding habits, please see this article.

Please write in with your questions and comments. 

Thanks, until next time,

 Frank Indiviglio.

Upgrading Your Aquarium Lighting – What a Bright Idea!

Please welcome guest blogger Jeff Berdel, a member of our sales staff, who has submitted a few tips on helping your livestock to adjust to new lighting.

Upgrading aquarium lighting is a common step forward for many aquarists who are looking to get more growth out of their corals or plants, or open themselves up to newer species that may have higher light requirements. Other times, we may find ourselves buying new light-demanding inhabitants for our already stocked tanks. Often aquarists can be too anxious for their photosynthetic pets to get all the light they think they need, but fail to realize the effect that the newer, more intense lighting will have on them.

When You Install New Lighting

There are some easy things you can do to help the photosynthetic organisms in your tank to adjust to new lighting.

When you first install your upgraded fixture, start with a very short photo-period like 3-4 hours a day and gradually add an hour on every 2-3 days until you’ve reached the desired photo-period. You can also elevate the lighting system about 18 inches above the aquarium and gradually lower it a few inches every other day until it’s at the desired height above the tank. If the lighting system features numerous bulbs (like a T5 HO fixture), try the system first with a few of the bulbs out, and then after 3-4 days add a bulb until all the bulbs have been replaced. These small adjustments can help to ease the transition to what will soon make them very happy!

Introducing a New Inhabitant

When you can’t resist purchasing a new and exotic addition to your planted tank or reef, place the new specimen close to or on the bottom of the tank, or in a place with less direct light exposure. Then, gradually move the specimen to the desired position over the course of no longer than ten days. Be sure to let new additions remain at the lower position for 2-3 days before you attempt to move it to any other position.

Anemones can be more difficult as they generally adhere themselves to rocks or the substrate. However anemones and also mobile, and more often than not, the anemone will move to the desired lighting location. Remember, it has the ability to sting anything that gets in it’s way, so be sure you know where it is moving and where it settles so you can relocate anything too close for comfort.

Blue Carpet AnemonePhotosynthetic inhabitants aren’t the only ones to consider when upgradign your lighting. Fish are also susceptible to being stressed out from a sudden increase in the light’s brightness. Just like when you acclimate a new tank inhabitant to your tank’s water chemistry, it’s important to acclimate your livestock to your new lights. It may be safest to introduce new fish with the lights off for the first few hours, or with only actinic or accent lighting fired. Results of not doing so can lead to fish becoming severely stressed. Fish may be skittish and might want to jump out or hide under rocks, anemones and soft corals might retract, and hard corals may lose polyp extension or possibly bleach out. All of this can be avoided by following the above methods for acclimatin to new lighting.

Putting a light over the aquarium with a higher intensity requires a little more than just plugging it in and flipping the switch if the tank is already stocked with aquarium inhabitants. They have become quite used to their source of light being as bright as it is, and a sudden shift in that intensity may shock them.  If given time to adjust with these easy steps, your fish and corals will be more vibrant and your plants more lush than ever!

Thanks,

Jeff

Why Did My Plant Do That? Exploring Some Common Aquarium Plant Problems – Part 1

UruguayensisHello, Craig here again! With 15 years on the retail side of this hobby, I have been asked a lot of questions, many of which have been centered on the well-being and growth of live plants for the freshwater aquarium.  In my next couple of entries, I thought I would explore some frequently asked questions about aquarium plants. Here we go!

Why is my sword plant losing leaves when I just bought it?

As a general rule, most aquarium plants are not actually true aquatic plants. Most of them are found along the banks of rivers, streams, or lakes. This is the case with Echinodorus sword plants. In their natural environment wild Echinodorus are very rarely fully submerged and some individuals may never be fully submerged. Rainy seasons are part of what allows hobbyists to keep these beautiful plants in a fully aquatic environment!

When swords are cultivated at an aquatic nursery, they are typically grown in a bog like setting, or even grown hydroponically in a greenhouse. The growth rate of an emerge-grown sword is more rapid and transportation and shipping of that plant tends to be safer than if the plant was grown completely submerged. Knowing that the plant has been grown emerged helps to explain why some of the leaves die off when you get the plants to your home aquarium.  It helps to explain why, even though you have a nutrient rich substrate and bright light, your swords still seem like they are dying. When that plant is fully submerged in water, the growth form changes somewhat. Those long, rigid stems and smaller leaves that you see will begin to decay shortly after the plant is placed fully underwater. Once you see that emerge-grown leaf start to turn brown, simply clip it off near the base of the stem and the plant will pop a new leaf out to replace it. This new leaf will grow from the center of the sword’s rosette and will often have a slightly different shape and/or color. The new growth may start slow, but adding the proper nutrients will ensure that the sword maintains growth. Fortunately, most plants make the transition to fully submerged form rather quickly and easily!

So, next time you see a big beautiful Sword that you can’t resist , just show a little patience and give it a little pruning. You will be amazed how resilient swords can be!

Thanks, Until Next Time,

Craig

Adding a New Fish? Don’t Forget to Quarantine

Sam here. Quarantine tanks are very important for new or sick fish. When bringing fish home they should be housed in a quarantine tank for the first couple of weeks to be sure they are in good health. There are several reasons for this.

1. Stress

Just like people, fish get stressed out when they are suddenly thrust into a new environment, and this stress only increases in the presence of other fish. A quarantine tank allows your fish to “come down” from that intial home stress, making it healthier to cope with life in the main aquarium.

2. Easier and Cheaper to Medicate

Transporting or moving fish is a stressful time, and often leads to disease. Fish commonly contract bacterial infections, fungal infections or parasitic infections after coming home, and the last thing you would want would be to spread these to your other fish. In addition, an isolated sick fish is much more ecomomical, quicker and easier to medicate than one in a large display tank. Many common fish medications, such as copper or formalin based, are detrimental to other tank inhabitants as well as biological filtration, so keeping an isolated quarantine tank is essential.

3. Easier to Observe

There is no better way to ascertain the health of a fish than simply by watching it. Large display tanks can have lots of nooks and crannies for fish, especially stressed ones, to hide. Having an isolated quarantine tank makes it quick and simple to gauge when your fish is in prime shape.

Have a great New Year,

Sam