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AQUARIUM Beginner FAQ .............................................................................................. 5 How To Insure Your First Aquarium Is a Success ............................................................. 5 Time and effort involved in keeping a fish tank. ................................................................ 7 Equipment ........................................................................................................................... 8 Where To Get Your Equipment ......................................................................................... 8 Equipment: What's Essential and What's Not..................................................................... 8 Finding Reputable Fish Stores.......................................................................................... 15 Water Treatment............................................................................................................... 16 Municipal Tap Water in the Aquarium ............................................................................ 16 Well Water...................................................................................................................... 18 The Nitrogen Cycle, and New Tank Syndrome............................................................ 19 What Is the Nitrogen Cycle?............................................................................................ 19 How Much Ammonia Is Too Much? ............................................................................... 20 Minimizing Fish Stress During Initial Cycling................................................................. 21 Speeding Up Cycling Time (For the Impatient) ............................................................... 21 Practical Water Chemistry ............................................................................................... 22 What you need to know about water chemistry and why.................................................. 22 Altering Your Water's Chemistry .................................................................................... 25 Test Kits which are Useful? .............................................................................................. 27 Ammonia Test Kit........................................................................................................... 27 Nitrite Test Kit ................................................................................................................ 28 Nitrate Test Kit ............................................................................................................... 28 pH Test Kit ..................................................................................................................... 28 General Hardness (GH) Kit ............................................................................................. 29 Carbonate Hardness (KH) Kit.......................................................................................... 29 Fish Stress and Healthy Fishkeeping................................................................................ 29 What Stress Means, and Why it is Bad for Your Fish. ..................................................... 29 Common Causes of Stress in the Aquarium ..................................................................... 29 Symptoms That Your Fish Is Stressed ............................................................................. 31 Adding & Feeding Fish ..................................................................................................... 32 Selecting Good Fish..................................................................................................... 32 How Many Fish Can Be Added? ..................................................................................... 32 Acclimating the Fish to Your Tank.................................................................................. 33 Feeding the Fish .............................................................................................................. 34 Partial Water Changes...................................................................................................... 35 Purpose of Water Changes............................................................................................... 35 How frequently should partial water changes be made?................................................... 36 Long-Term Success ........................................................................................................... 36 Stopping that !@*!@ Algae Plague ................................................................................. 36 Snail Plague .................................................................................................................... 37 What to do on Vacations ................................................................................................. 37 Moving a Tank ................................................................................................................ 38 Euthanasia....................................................................................................................... 39 Aquarium Filtration.......................................................................................................... 40 1. Why you need Filtration .............................................................................................. 40 2. FILTER TYPES .......................................................................................................... 43 Tables of Data.................................................................................................................... 49 Metric ............................................................................................................................. 49 Chemical Concentrations................................................................................................. 49

Tank Weight and Volume Calculations ........................................................................... 49 General Questions ........................................................................................................... 51 Fish ................................................................................................................................. 53 Lighting .......................................................................................................................... 53 Carbon Dioxide (CO2)..................................................................................................... 55 Nutrients and Fertilizer.................................................................................................... 57 The Substrate .................................................................................................................. 58 Heating ........................................................................................................................... 59 Long Term Problems....................................................................................................... 59 Plant Survival.................................................................................................................... 60 LIGHT ............................................................................................................................ 60 CO2 ................................................................................................................................. 61 NUTRIENTS .................................................................................................................. 61 TRACE ELEMENTS ...................................................................................................... 61 OTHER INFORMATION............................................................................................... 62 Common Plant Listing ...................................................................................................... 63 Blacklisted Plants ............................................................................................................ 63 Legend ............................................................................................................................ 64 Stem Plants ..................................................................................................................... 64 Rosette Plants .............................................................................................................. 65 Ferns and Mosses ............................................................................................................ 68 Lighting ............................................................................................................................. 69 Converting a fluorescent fixture to auto-start ................................................................... 70 CO2 in the aquarium ......................................................................................................... 70 Substrate Heating Cables.................................................................................................. 73 Construction.................................................................................................................... 74 Fish Diseases...................................................................................................................... 75 Causes............................................................................................................................. 75 Keeping your tank free of disease.................................................................................... 75 Common diseases: How do I know the fish is sick?......................................................... 76 Diseases/problems or what's wrong with my fish? ........................................................... 77 Good (and Bad) Beginner Fish ......................................................................................... 81 Introduction..................................................................................................................... 81 Good First Fish ............................................................................................................... 82 Good Second Fish ........................................................................................................... 84 Bad First Fish.................................................................................................................. 90 Conclusion ...................................................................................................................... 93 LIVE FOOD ...................................................................................................................... 93 Baby Brine Shrimp (Artemia spp., usually A. salina)....................................................... 93 Adult Brine Shrimp ......................................................................................................... 94 Daphnia........................................................................................................................... 95 Cyclops ........................................................................................................................... 96 Mosquito Larvae ............................................................................................................. 96 Black Worms .................................................................................................................. 97 Grindal Worms (very small worms)................................................................................. 97 White Worms (small worms, related to earthworms) ....................................................... 98 Earthworms..................................................................................................................... 99 Infusoria (microscopic aquatic protozoans).................................................................... 101 Vinegar Eels (Turbatrix aceti aka Anguillula silusiae)................................................... 101 Microworms (Nematodes)............................................................................................. 102 Wingless Fruit flies (Drosophila species)....................................................................... 103

Feeder Fish.................................................................................................................... 104 Algae ................................................................................................................................ 104 Introduction................................................................................................................... 104 Algae Types .................................................................................................................. 104 Prophylactics for Algae ................................................................................................. 106 Algae Eaters.................................................................................................................. 107 Snails................................................................................................................................ 108 Water Hardness ............................................................................................................. 108 Types of Snails.............................................................................................................. 108 Snail Prophylactics........................................................................................................ 109 Fish Breeding .................................................................................................................. 110 Breeding Strategies ....................................................................................................... 110 Breeding and Agression ................................................................................................ 111 Breeding Tanks ............................................................................................................. 112 Breeding Requirements ................................................................................................. 112 Raising Fry.................................................................................................................... 113


What constitutes success? Healthy fish that live a long time, quite likely even breeding and having babies. Success also means having a tank that looks nice without a lot of maintenance (e.g., constantly battling excessive algae growth).

How To Insure Your First Aquarium Is a Success

Having a successful tank is not difficult, nor is it necessarily a lot of work, provided you use some common sense. These guidelines are based partly on science and partly on experience gleaned from aquarists having many years experience in the art of fishkeeping. The following list summarizes the most important rules for success. Each is discussed in more detail in subsequent sections of this document.

Have patience.
Buying a tank, setting it up and filling it with fish all in the same day, while possible, is a sure road to disaster. In fact, setting up and fully stocking your first tank will take close to two months!

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Providing an environment that minimizes fish stress is the key to success. As fish become stressed, their immune systems weaken and they become more susceptible to disease. Moreover, most fish medicines don't work very well, aren't worth the money, and frequently do more damage than good. Often, the best treatment for sick fish is to relieve stress by 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. performing regular partial water changes, not overfeeding, checking that your filtration system works, giving them enough room to live, and keeping them with compatible tank mates.

(See the STRESS SECTION of this FAQ for full details.)

Understand and respect the nitrogen cycle.

Fish produce toxic wastes (ammonia) that must be broken down by bacteria through biological filtration. Most fish deaths for first-time tank owners are a direct result of not understanding the nitrogen cycle and are completely avoidable. (The NITROGEN CYCLE SECTION explains how the process works.)

Perform regular maintenance on your filter to keep it clean.

Dirty (clogged) filters operate at reduced efficiency. In the case of biological filtration, a clogged filter will be unable to remove ammonia properly, resulting in fish stress and eventually death. Floss-based biological filters are cleaned by gently rinsing them in used tank water that has been siphoned into a bucket. Undergravel filters are cleaned through regular vacuuming. (Filters are discussed briefly in this beginner FAQ, and in more detail in their own FILTRATION FAQ.)

Properly treat all tap water before adding it to your tank.

Municipal water contains such added chemicals as chlorine or chloramine to make it safe for human consumption. These substances are toxic to fish and can weaken, damage or even kill fish. (See the WATER TREATMENT section of this FAQ for details.)

Take the time to learn basic water chemistry

Basic water chemistry is pH, hardness and buffering. You needn't enroll in a chemistry course, but you should know enough about water chemistry and the specifics of your local water supply so that you can keep fish happy. Every location's water source is different, and some fish won't be able to survive in your water. You can learn details about your water from a local fish store, through the use of test kits, and from local aquarium clubs (or, amazingly, from the CHEMISTRY section of this FAQ).

Keep the pH of your tank's water stable.

Rapid pH changes stress fish. Tank water has a natural tendency to become acidic due to the production of nitric acid (nitrates) from the nitrogen cycle. Keeping pH stable requires having adequate buffering. If your water is soft, you may need to add buffering agents. Again, see the CHEMISTRY section for details.

Avoid adding chemicals that lower the pH (e.g. pH-Down).

Such chemicals frequently have undesirable side-effects (e.g., stimulate algae growth). Moreover, in most cases (despite what books and stores tell you) the pH of water DOES NOT need to be adjusted to make it more perfect for a particular species of fish. If the pH of your tap water is between 6.5 and 7.5, it is just fine for most fish. (This is discussed in the CHEMISTRY section too!)

Pick fish for your water.

Select fish who are native to waters having a similar chemical properties (pH and GH) to your local tap water. If you have hard water, choose hard water fish. If you have soft water, choose soft water fish. This is especially important if you water is outside the 6.5-7.5 pH range. Changing the natural hardness (or pH) of your tap water can be hard work and often takes the fun out of keeping aquariums. Moreover, bungled attempts at adjustment are common and often worse for fish than the original sub-optimal water conditions. A good way to learn which fish live happily in your local water is to check with a local fish store (or club).

Choose the fish to fit your tank.

Select fish that are compatible with each other and think long-term. That 1 inch fish sure looks cute at a store. But what will you do when it gets 6 inches long and views its cohabitants as potential meals? Fish have specific minimal space requirements that are dependent on their physical size and temperament. Select fish whose needs will be met in your tank. Be sure your tank has adequate hiding places (e.g., rocks, plants, driftwood, etc.) for its inhabitants.

Properly acclimate fish before adding them them to your tank.

(Details are covered in the section on ADDING FISH.) NEVER add store water to your tank (it may contain diseases), and if feasible, quarantine new purchases for 2-3 weeks before adding them to your tank.

Perform regular partial water changes.

Changing 25% of your tank's water every other week serves two purposes: it dilutes and removes nitrate before it accumulates to dangerous levels, and it replaces trace elements and buffers that get used up by bacteria, plants, etc. Finally, regular partial water changes help insure that your tank's water chemistry doesn't deviate significantly from that of your tap water. The latter benefit is especially important should disease strike your tank; water changes are the most important step in controlling disease, and large water changes are not safe unless the chemical composition (e.g., pH and GH) of your tank's water is similar to your tap water.

Shop only at reputable stores.

Sadly, many pet stores are more interested in taking your money than selling you healthy fish. It is almost always worth spending a little more money to get quality fish. Diseases introduced to your tank with newly purchase fish may infect your other fish with catastrophic results. Buying a low cost fish is also not much of a bargain if it dies less than a month later. But many stores will instead try to sell you equipment and medications you don't really need. Your best defense is to arm yourself with knowledge so that you can properly evaluate their advice. Some hints for finding reputable stores can be found in the STORES SECTION. The above summary serves as a reminder of the principles that lead to happy fish keeping. Each of these topics (and many more) is discussed in the remainder of this document.

Time and effort involved in keeping a fish tank.

For a 10-20g tank, once it is set up, expect to spend about 30 minutes every other week doing partial water changes, cleaning the tank, etc. If this is too much time for you, DON'T GET INTO THIS HOBBY! You will also spend a few minutes once or twice a day feeding your fish, turning the lights on and off, etc. Warning: many people spend much more time than this simply looking at their tank and its inhabitants. Of course, that is the whole point. :-) Be prepared to spend several hours researching the hobby before you make your first purchase. The more time you spend BEFORE you actually get the tank, the smoother things will go. Go to several pet stores to find one that looks like a reputable place. Visit them again several more times. Get some beginner books. Read this beginner FAQ several times. Most people who get frustrated with fish tanks made mistakes that could have been easily avoided. The way to avoid mistakes is to learn the basics (e.g., the nitrogen cycle) BEFORE you put fish in your tank. There are few things more upsetting than frantically reading the FAQ for the first time, while three feet away your beloved fish are dying. Remember: most aquarium problems are easy to prevent, but hard to deal with after the fact.

Where To Get Your Equipment
All fish stores sell tank setups containing everything you need for one price. However, a smart shopper looks carefully at what the package contains to be sure it includes only what you need (and doesn't include things you don't). Packages vary from store to store, some are more appropriate than others. Be especially wary of setups bought at discount stores (e.g., Hartz brand). They often include obsolete technology, noisy pumps, cheap heaters, etc. Garage sales are a great way to get into the hobby cheaply. However, a few cautions are in order. Before buying the tank, examine it closely for cracks or scratches. Although cracks can be fixed, doing so is more hassle (for a beginner) than it is worth. Don't buy a scratched tank; algae will grow in the scratches making the tank look bad. Be wary of really old equipment. It may no longer work well. Before setting up the tank (especially if the tank is used), check it for leaks. Fill it with water outside and leave it for a week. A leak on your carport is a lot less of a problem than one in your living room. To clean the tank, NEVER use soaps or detergents. Use water and nothing else. If you want to sterilize the tank, gravel, etc. wash everything plastic in a mild bleach solution (use pure bleach, not one with other additives). Rinse everything well in clean water, and let everything soak a bit in a solution with a bit of added dechlorinator. (Non-plastic) gravel can be sterilized through boiling.

Equipment: What's Essential and What's Not

Tons of aquarium gadgets are available at pet stores. Some are essential, others are useful only for specialized applications, and some are completely useless (though stores selling them probably won't tell you that). The following checklist shows the items that will likely to be of use to you.

Tanks come in many shapes and sizes, but there are only two types: glass and acrylic. You will probably want to get a glass tank. In summary:
Glass ===== cheapest per gallon hard to scratch scratches permanent higher index of refraction empty tank heavy important with tanks >30g) Tank stand only needs to support edges more easily broken Acrylic ======= more expensive per gallon scratches easily (e.g. scraping algae with razor blade) scratches can be buffed out (though not easily) lower IOR (tank distorts less when viewed from angle) same sized tank weighs less (empty) Special stand needed that supports entire base of tank (not just edges) harder to break 8

The size and shape of the tank is completely up to you. However, keep the following in mind: 1. Contrary to first impressions, larger tanks are not necessarily more work than smaller ones (within reason, see the TABLES AND CONVERSIONS for information on large tanks). In particular, it is easier to keep water chemistry stable in larger tanks than in smaller ones (the less water, the more easily a small chemical change causes a big change in relative concentration). Much of the regular maintenance work does not require twice the time for twice the size. For example, a regular partial water change for a larger tank may require one more bucket of water than for a small tank. That doesn't translate into twice the work, since you already have the bucket and siphon ready, your hands are already wet, etc. 2. It is very common for people to really like their fish tank and want to add more fish. A larger tank can hold more fish safely. Indeed, a single 10g tank adequately supports only a handful of medium sized fish. 3. Note, however, that the number of fish that a tank can safely hold depends not only on the volume of the tank, but on its shape. For example, some fish spend their entire lives near the bottom. Doubling the volume of a tank by doubling its height won't allow you to keep more bottom dwelling fish. Surface area is more important than volume in determining how many fish a tank can support. If possible, start with at 20g (or larger) rather than a 10g (or smaller). A 20g (high or tall) makes an excellent first tank size. Avoid all tanks smaller than 10g. They are simply too small to keep healthy. For example, although many stores sell them, the tiny 1 gallon goldfish bowls are totally inadequate for even a single fish. Stay away from them!

If you are keeping tropical fish, you will need a heater. A heater insures that a tank doesn't get too cool, and that the temperature stays steady during the course of the day, even when the room cools off (e.g., at night). For many tropical fish, a temperature of 78F is ideal. There are two main heater types. Submersible heaters stay completely below the water. A second, more traditional style, has a partially submerged glass tube (which contains the heating coils), but leaves the controls above the water. Submersible heaters are the better design, as they can be placed horizontally along the tank's bottom. This helps keep tank temperature uniform (heat rises), and prevents the heater from becoming exposed while doing partial water changes. With the traditional design, one must remember to unplug the heater before doing water changes; if the heater is accidentally left on while the coil is above the water, the tube gets hot and may crack when you fill the tank back up with water. If your room is never more than 8-10F degrees cooler than your target tank temperature, a heater of roughly 2.5 Watts per gallon will suffice. If the differential is higher, up to 5 Watts (or more) per gallon may be necessary. Remember, the heater needs to keep the tank at its target temperature, even when the room is at its coldest point; the tank's temperature should not fluctuate.

Heaters (especially cheap ones) will fail. Most often the contact that actually turns the heater on and off gets permanently stuck, either in the on or off position. In the former case, your tank can get VERY hot, especially if the heater is larger than your tank actually requires. To minimize potential problems, avoid heaters larger than the optimal size for your tank. To prevent winter disasters, use two smaller heaters in parallel rather than one large one. That way if one fails, the consequences won't be as disastrous.

You will need a thermometer to verify that your tank stays at its proper temperature. Two types are commonly available. The traditional bulb thermometer works the same way as the ones you can buy for your house. They either hang from the top edge of your tank, or float along the surface. The second common design is a flat model that sticks to the outside of the glass. In this design, liquid crystals activate at a specific temperature, either highlighting the numerical temperature or a bar that slides along a scale. Aquarium thermometers can be rather unreliable (check out the ones on display at a fish store --- they should all register the same temperature, but frequently don't). Thus, thermometers are good for verifying that your temperature is not too far off, but may be off by several degrees in some cases. When buying a thermometer, look at all the thermometers and pick one that has an average temperature, rather than one of the extremes.

There are three types of filtration: biological, mechanical and chemical. Biological filtration decomposes the toxic ammonia that fish produce as waste products. All fish tanks MUST have biological filtration; biological filtration is the cheapest, most efficient and most stable way to breakdown toxic ammonia. Mechanical filtration traps such particles as plant leaves, uneaten food, etc. (collectively known as mulm), allowing them to be removed from the tank before they decompose into ammonia. Chemical filtration (e.g., activated carbon, zeolite, etc.) can remove (under limited circumstances) such substances as ammonia, heavy metals, dissolved organics, etc. through chemistry (e.g., adsorbtion or ion-exchange resins). Chemical filtration is mostly useful for dealing with short-term problems, such as removing medications after they've served their purpose, or purifying tap water before it goes into a tank. A healthy tank DOES NOT require the use of chemical filters such as activated carbon. One point about filtration cannot be made enough. ALL FISH TANKS MUST HAVE BIOLOGICAL FILTRATION. Although chemical filtration can remove ammonia under limited circumstances, it are NOT a general solution. Typical filters perform some or all of the three filtration types in series. Mechanical filtration (if present) usually comes first (where it is called a pre-filter), trapping particles that might clog remaining stages. Biological usually comes next, followed by the chemical filtration section (if present). Whether or not chemical filtration is useful (or even helpful) depends on who you talk to. It can be useful for removing fish medicines after their effectiveness has ended (partial water changes do the same thing though). They can also remove trace elements necessary for plant growth (with obvious results). Unless you have a good reason to believe that your circumstances require chemical filtration, avoid it. Filters are not maintenance-free. For example, if debris is allowed to accumulate in a mechanical filter, it decomposes into ammonia, negating its primary purpose. Likewise, a

biological filter's effectiveness diminishes as it becomes clogged. Biological filtration requires water movement across a large surface area on which bacteria have attached (e.g., floss or gravel). The less surface area available, the less effective the filter. UGFs are cleaned by regularly vacuuming the gravel (e.g. while doing partial water changes). Canister and power filters are cleaned by removing the media and gently squeezing it in a bucket of used tank water (tap water may contain bacteria-killing chlorine). There is no magic formula for what size filter one needs. Consult with specific manufacturer's ratings and be conservative. You can't have too much filtering (though you can have too much water movement), so err on the side of overfiltering. Filters are discussed in more detail in a separate FILTER FAQ.

Gravel serves three main purposes. First, it serves as decoration, making your tank look nicer. Second, if using an UGF, gravel is mandatory as it is the filter media (the surface area on which bacteria attach). Third, in plant tanks, it serves as a substrate (e.g. dirt) for plant roots (consult the PLANT FAQ for details on what quantity and type of substrate is appropriate for plants). Ultimately, the choice of color, size, etc. is up to you. However, be aware that dark gravel better highlights a fish's colors. Fish adjust their colors to match that of the surroundings, and light gravel tends to wash out a fish's true colors. Most of the gravel sold for aquariums is plastic coated. For obvious reasons, you should not boil it. :-) It is also very expensive ($1 a pound). Gravel can be purchased for much less at patio stores (e.g., Wallmart, Home Quarters, local sand and gravel suppliers, etc.). However, it often tends to be larger than ideal and too light in color (e.g., marble chips). Sand can also be used. Be aware that not all gravel is inert. For example, coral, sea shells, dolomite and limestone will release (leach) carbonates into the tank raising its pH buffering capacity (see the CHEMISTRY SECTION for details). When keeping African rift lake cichlids, this is desirable. But in most other cases, you will not want your gravel affecting the water chemistry. As a quick test, drip an acid (e.g., vinegar) onto the gravel in question. If it foams or bubbles, the gravel is going to leach carbonates into the water. To be absolutely sure, fill a bucket of gravel with water and measure the pH over a period of a week. If the pH remains stable, it should be safe to use in your tank. When used for the first time, gravel should be washed thoroughly. Simply rinse clean water through it until the water comes out clear (tap water is fine). For example, put the gravel in a bucket of water, fill it with water, and churn the gravel up. Drain the water and repeat the procedure until the water remains clear. Before using gravel of unknown origin (e.g., not purchased at a fish store), you may (as a precaution) want to boil it for 15 minutes to kill unwanted bacteria.

Driftwood and other Decorations

It is safe to place items in your tank as long as they are inert, meaning they won't release (leach) chemicals into the water. Most plastics are inert inert, as are glass and ceramic. Wood may leach substances into the water, changing the pH in a possibly inappropriate manner. Driftwood often leaches tannins and other humic acids into the water (much like peat

moss), possibly softening it and lowering its pH. The water may also obtain a yellowish teacolored tint. The tint is not harmful and can be removed by filtering the water through activated charcoal. If you use wood that you've found yourself (e.g., woods or lake), boil it first to kill any pathogens. Boiling it (long enough) will also make it sink.

Lights & Hood

You will probably want to purchase lights and a hood. A hood prevents fish from jumping out of the tank and reduces the rate at which water evaporates. A good hood effectively seals the tank (except perhaps where the heater and filter reside). You want as little water as possible evaporating as it may raise the room's humidity to unacceptable levels and requires more maintenance (i.e., you will have to top off the tank once or twice a week to replace the lost water). There are two styles of hoods. Full hoods combine the light and hood as a single unit. Hoods include space for only 1 or 2 (parallel) fluorescent light tubes, which is fine for fish-only tanks, but not usually enough for growing plants. Glass canopies cover the tank with two strips of glass connected by a plastic hinge, but don't include lighting. A separate strip (or other) light is used in conjunction with it. Canopies are a bit better for plant tanks than full hoods; one can upgrade or change the lighting without replacing the entire hood, and in situations where very high wattage is needed, one can usually fit more light bulbs directly above the tank. Light serves two purposes. It highlights and shows off your fish's colors and provides (critical) energy for plants (if present). Unfortunately, the two purposes conflict somewhat. In a fish-only tank, a single low-wattage fluorescent bulb suffices and does a good job of showing a fish's true colors (most fish don't like bright lights either). If you want to grow plants, however, more light is needed, and the bulb's spectrum becomes an issue; be sure to consult the lighting sections in the PLANT FAQ before purchasing your light and hood setup. Whether or not you will be growing plants, fluorescent lights are the way to go. Incandescent bulbs give off too much heat, causing your tank to overheat in the summer. Fluorescent bulbs run cooler and use less electricity for the same amount of light. Note that in the summer time, even fluorescent lighting can produce enough heat to lead to tank overheating problems, if your house gets warm (e.g, you live in the tropics and don't have air conditioning). Unfortunately, light grows not only plants, but algae. If your tank contains lots of the kind of light plants desire, and there are no plants, algae quickly fills the void. Thus, the ideal lighting for fish-only tanks differs significantly from that for a plant tank. Two components of light are of particular importance: intensity (i.e., wattage) and spectrum. Plants require intense light and certain spectral ranges produce more growth than others. Different types of bulbs give off light in different spectral regions. So-called full-spectrum bulbs attempt to reproduce the sun's full spectral range. They are good both for growing plants and bringing out a fish's natural colors. Specialized plant bulbs (e.g., gro-lux, etc.) emphasize a spectral range that stimulates plant growth. Such bulbs grow plants (and algae!) well, but fish don't look quite right under them, because the light does not have the spectrum of normal sunlight. The common cool white bulbs give off light designed for humans in windowless offices; they neither grow plants particularly well, nor bring out a fish's natural

colors. As a quick rule of thumb, 2-4 watts/gallon of full-spectrum (or specialized plant) lighting is good for plants; for fish-only tanks, use less than 1 watt/gallon, and avoid using plant bulbs.

A powerhead is a water pump that runs completely submerged in a tank. They typically attach to the lift tubes associated with UGF filters, pulling water through the lift tube. The stream of outgoing water can usually be oriented in (almost) any direction, and it is common to point them in such a way that water circulates throughout the tank and stirs up or agitates the surface a bit.

Air Pumps
An air pump simply bubbles air through your tank. Air pumps serve two purposes. First, they insure that your tank maintains an adequate concentration of oxygen. An air pump is NOT required for this purpose, as long as your tank maintains adequate water movement together with surface agitation. This is generally the case if external (e.g., box or cannister) filters are used. Second, air pumps can be used to force water through a filter (e.g., sponge or corner filter). If using a UGF, for example, an air pump produces bubbles that force water up the uplift tubes, pulling water through the filter. In larger tanks, powerheads perform the same function. Thus, an air pump is not required, provided your tank has good water circulation.

You will need some sort of stand on which to place your tank. The stand can either be specially designed to hold your tank, or existing furniture. The first thing to consider is whether your chosen stand can support the tank's weight. When full of water, tanks weigh a LOT (the water alone weighs roughly 10 lbs/gallon). Consult THE TABLES in the INTRODUCTARY FAQ for detailed specs on common aquarium sizes. If you live in an older or cheaply constructed home, give consideration to how weight is distributed among the stand's supports. The larger the surface area of the leg stands, the less instantaneous pressure (per square inch) on the floor. You don't want the stand to crash through your floor! If you plan to have a large tank (e.g., 55g or more), be sure the floor itself can properly support the weight. For big tanks, try to place the tank perpendicular to the floor joists (so that the weight is distributed over multiple joists). Placing your tank near a load bearing wall is also safer than placing in the middle of your floor. Stands should keep the tank level, in order to keep weight distributed properly. An un-level tank places stress in the wrong places, increasing the odds of having the tank break (yes, this does actually happen sometimes). In order to more evenly distribute weight on the stand, it is a good idea to place a 1/4 inch sheet of Styrofoam between the stand and the tank.

There are two kinds of plants real and plastic. Both kinds provide decoration and hiding places for fish. Plastic plants are (obviously) easier to maintain. Although it is possible to grow real plants in an aquarium, it is not always trivial to do so (e.g., plants have special lighting requirements). If you are at all interested in trying to grow real plants, consult the PLANT FAQ before purchasing your tank --- especially the hood.

Miscellaneous Cleaning Tools

Siphoning is the easiest way to remove water from a tank. For large tanks, using a water python or other long hose allows one to dispense with the bucket and siphon water directly into a drain or outside garden. When removing water via siphoning, you should also clean (vacuum) your gravel. Many water changing hoses are available at local fish stores and include a gravel cleaning attachment. The basic idea behind them is to connect a wide mouthed tube to the end of the siphon hose. When the tube is plunged into the gravel, the water flow churns up the gravel, but only the detritus (dirt, mulm, etc) is light enough to be siphoned out. Note that the dirty water being removed from your tank contains nitrates, which make an excellent fertilizer for your flower or vegetable garden. To remove algae from the side of your tank, a plastic, non-soapy scouring pad can be used. If you have an acrylic tank, be especially careful that the pad isn't hard enough to scratch the side. Many types of algae can be wiped free using the floss inserts made for Whisper filters (cheap and can't scratch). Some of the slower growing algae simply can't be removed with a scouring pad without a lot of work (and churning of the tank!). A razor blade works best at this point. Go to your local fish store and purchase a scraper that has a long (foot long) handle with a razor blade on one end. A razor blade can be used to remove just about anything from the sides of a tank. However, razor blades CAN scratch glass, if one is not careful. So-called magnet cleaners can also be helpful for removing algae. A scraping block on the inside of the tank is held in place by a magnet held on the outside of the tank. Moving the outside magnet moves the scraping block, removing algae without having to plunge your entire arm in the tank. The best magnet cleaners are those with a strong magnetic field (e.g., larger magnets), and they work best on smaller tanks, which have thinner glass. A toothbrush is one of the most effective tools for removing algae from the inside of plastic tubing.

Bucket For Water Changes

You will need at least one bucket for adding and removing water from your tank. Use the largest bucket you can comfortably work with (e.g., up to 5 gallons). Use it only for your aquarium and don't ever put any chemicals in it.

You will need at least one fish net, and having two is better; catching fish is easier if you use one net to chase fish into the other. Nets with a fine mesh are harder to use because of their high water resistance. The right net size will of course depend on the size of your fish. Note: netting fish is stressful. In particular, the fish net scrapes off some of a fish's protective slime coating. If possible, when catching fish, use a net to chase the fish into a small plastic or glass jar.

Test Kits
You will probably want to buy some test kits for measuring things like ammonia concentrations. Because there are so many kits, recommendations as to which to buy are given in a separate TEST KIT SECTION of this FAQ.


Finding Reputable Fish Stores

Like all businesses, fish stores have to make money to survive. Unfortunately, some are more interested in profits than selling you just what you need and nothing more. Consequently, a smart customer is a careful shopper. Of course no store is 100% perfect all the time, but the difference between a good store and poor one can be astonishing once you've been to a few. Visit a store several times, and don't rely on just one experience. If the same bad patterns are present on multiple visits, find another store. The following highlights some of the things that distinguish a good, reputable store from one you should avoid. If the fish don't look good at the store, chances are they won't survive long after you bring them home; they may already have been stressed beyond the point of recovery. 1. A store's fish tanks should be clean and the fish should look healthy and unstressed (e.g., no nipped fins, good colors, fish active, etc.). Are dead fish removed quickly? All stores will have fish die in their tanks; good stores will remove them quickly (fish covered with fungus have probably been dead a long time). 2. Do any of the fish show signs of disease such as ick (tiny white spots)? A good store won't sell you ANY fish from a tank that has ick, even if the specific fish you are purchasing looks OK. 3. Are incompatible fish kept in the same tank? If so, how can you trust the advice they give you concerning compatible inhabitants for your tank? 4. Check out the store's policy on fish returns. A good store will give you full credit on fish deaths for a period of a few days, provided you bring in a water sample so that they can test your water for ammonia. 5. Are the sales staff knowledgeable about what they are selling? A good store will ask you about your tank (size, inhabitants, etc.) in order to find out whether a prospective fish purchase would be a good addition to your tank. A bad store will sell you whatever you want; they'll be happy to sell you more fish later, after incompatible inhabitants have killed each other. For beginning aquarists, a good store will take the time to explain the nitrogen cycle, and advise you to wait on fish purchases until your tank has become established. A bad store will neglect to mention the nitrogen cycle, until you return a few days later wondering wondering why your fish died (now they can sell you more fish, and maybe nitrification bacteria to go with it!). Ask lots of questions. Be wary of vague answers; they are a sign that the seller doesn't know the answer (and isn't willing to find out), or worse. Like that tiny oscar fish? A good store will warn you that oscar fish get VERY big, and verify that your tank is big enough and that none of its inhabitants will get eaten by the oscar. A bad store will remain silent. 6. Be wary of adding medications to your tank; they frequently don't work or are unnecessary. (See the DISEASE FAQ.) A good store will first ask about your tank's water quality, verify that cycling has completed, etc., and suggest water changes.

They will also recommend medications only if they can identify the specific disease. A bad store will encourage you to buy medicine, without regard to whether the specific medicine is useful in combating the specific problem you have. A good store will ask you what fish you have in the tank, as some medications are toxic to certain species of fish. A bad store will let you find out the hard way. 7. As a (very) general rule of thumb, stores that specialize in aquariums are better than stores that sell fish as a sideline. In the former case, a bad store won't make money over the long haul (they can only sucker customers once or twice) and will eventually go out of business. In the latter case, a store's fish department may continually lose money, but remain open because the rest of the store (e.g, puppy sales) is making money. Of course, there are exceptions. 8. Finally, buying fish at the cheapest store isn't necessarily a good bargain. A healthy fish is worth paying extra for. A sick fish may infect all of your tank's inhabitants or die shortly after purchase; some bargain. Is a pattern becoming clear? A good store is knowledgeable about the products they sell and will take the time to be sure the customer is making a purchase that they will be happy with in the long term. They want your repeat business in the future. A bad store will encourage (or fail to discourage) you from buying things you don't need.

Water Treatment
Municipal Tap Water in the Aquarium
Most people use tap water in their tanks; it is cheap and easy to use. Unfortunately (for aquarists), local water companies add chemicals to the water to make it safe to drink (e.g., chlorine or chloramine to kill bacteria). More recently, concern about water flowing through older lead pipes has caused some water utilities to add pH-raising chemicals to the water (because lead dissolves less readily in alkaline water). Consequently, tap water must be specially treated before it can safely be used in fish tanks. Another potential problem concerns variability in the chemical properties of your water supply over time (e.g., month-to-month). Some water districts don't have enough water themselves, forcing them to purchase additional water from neighboring water districts in times of shortages. If this water has a different chemical properties (e.g., hardness), your tap water's chemistry will vary as well. As a common example, high bacteria levels are more of a problem in summer than winter, especially in warmer climates. Consequently, it is not uncommon for water companies to use more chlorine in summer months to keep bacteria in check. Even such factors as local weather can have an impact; heavy rains may cause the hardness of your water supply to decrease as local reservoirs fill. In general, chlorine and chloramine are the two additives that cause the most problems. Note that these two substances are VERY DIFFERENT! Be sure you know what is in your tap water and treat appropriately.

In the US, EPA guidelines require that tap water at any faucet contain a minimal chlorine concentration of 0.2 ppm, and stringently limits the concentration of bacteria (which may require more than 0.2 ppm chlorine to keep in check). Because chlorine breaks down over

time, the chlorine concentration of the water that comes out of your tap will be lower than that put in at water plant. Thus, the exact concentration at your faucet depends on how far you are from the water plant, how long it takes the water to travel from the water plant to your house, how much chlorine is initially added, etc. Chlorine at high concentrations is toxic to fish; at lower concentrations, it stresses fish by damaging their gills. Concentrations of as little as 0.2-0.3 ppm kill most fish fairly rapidly. To prevent stress, concentrations as low as 0.003 ppm may be required. Fortunately, chlorine can easily be removed from water by the chemical sodium thiosulfate, readily available at fish stores under various brands. Sodium thiosulfate neutralizes chlorine instantly. Note that there are many water treatment products that are advertised as making tap water safe. Read labels carefully. Inevitably, the ones that neutralize chlorine all contain sodium thiosulfate, plus other substances that may or may not be useful. If your water only contains chlorine (as opposed to chloramine), sodium thiosulfate is all you need. The most costeffective treatments use only 1 drop per gallon of water. Most other water treatments are much more expensive in the long-term; they may require a teaspoon of treatment (or more) per gallon! Chlorine is relatively unstable in water, escaping to the atmosphere on its own. Water left in a bucket (or tank) with adequate water circulation (e.g. filter or airstone) will be free of chlorine in 24 hours or less. Many netters report that they perform partial water changes without ever treating their tap water to remove chlorine. Keep in mind that even though fish show no APPARENT ill effects from untreated water, that doesn't mean that the chlorine isn't stressing your fish. How much stress depends on how much chlorine is introduced to the tank, which depends on many factors (including the percentage of new water added). Because chlorine removers are so cheap (pennies per usage), the insurance they provide should not be passed up.

One problem with using chlorine to treat water is that it breaks down relatively quickly. Another concern with the use of chlorine is that it can combine with certain organics (that may or may not be present in your water) forming trihalomethanes, a family of carcinogens. Consequently, many water companies have switched from using chlorine to using chloramine. Chloramine, a compound containing both chlorine and ammonia, is much more stable than chlorine. Chloramine poses two significant headaches for aquarists. First, chlorine-neutralizing chemicals such as sodium thiosulfate only neutralize the chlorine portion of the chloramine, neglecting an even bigger problem: deadly ammonia. The consequences can be devastating to fish. Although a tank's biological filter will (eventually) convert the ammonia to nitrate, the time it takes to do so may be longer than what your fish can tolerate. The second problem relates to water changes. One of the primary reasons for doing regular water changes is to remove nitrates that build up. If your replacement tap water contains ammonia, you'll be putting nitrogen right back into your tank and it will be impossible to reduce the nitrates below the concentration in your tap water. Fortunately, tap water concentrations are relatively low (1 or 2 ppm); you are more likely to have a much higher concentration of nitrate in your tank.


Chloramine can be safely neutralized through such products as Amquel, which neutralize both the ammonia and chlorine portions of the chloramine molecules. The neutralized ammonia will still be converted to nitrates via a biological filter. Another method for neutralizing chloramine is to age the water while simultaneously performing biological filtration. For example, get an appropriately-sized (plastic) garbage can, fill it with tap water, dechlorinate it with sodium thiosulfate, and then connect an established biological filter to it. Just as in your tank, the bio filter will convert the ammonia to nitrate, after which it can safely be added to your tank. Note: you must add sodium thiosulfate to neutralize the chlorine; otherwise, the chloramine will kill the bacteria in your biological filter. Alternatively, the ammonia can removed by filtering the water through zeolite or carbon before adding it to your tank. [Note: folks report mixed success with this. If you have concrete (positive or negative) experience to report, please notify the FAQ maintainers.]

Other water impurities you should be aware of

In addition to the additives described above (chlorine and chloramine), municipal water may (or may not!) contain other elements that the aquarist may need to know about. Water in some locations actually contains nitrates. In some places, water contains elevated concentrations of phosphates (1 ppm or more). High phosphate has been linked to algae problems, and a comprehensive algae control strategy may require removing phosphates. High levels of iron (1 ppm or more) have also been linked to thread algae. Consult the algae section of this FAQ for more details.

How to Find out What Your Local Water Company Adds to Your Tapwater
The quick answer is to ask someone who knows. A local fish store (if they reside in the same water district as you do) should be able to tell you. Alternatively, call your local water utility. Ask to speak with the water chemist. Tell them you are an aquarist and want to know about the pH, GH, and KH of your water, as well as how much the water characteristics vary from month to month. Finally, (in the US) if you really want details, have them send you a copy of the periodic water report they are required to generate for the EPA. It contains a detailed listing of exactly what your water contains and in what concentrations (e.g., iron, nitrates, phosphates, etc.). By law, the report is available for public inspection.

Well Water
You may have access to well water instead of municipal tap water. One advantage with well water is that you don't need to deal with chlorine and chloramine. On the other hand, well water is frequently (much!) harder than water available through local utilities. In addition, the only way to know its composition (GH, KH, etc.) is to run tests on it yourself. Alternatively, there are companies to which you can send water samples that will perform a detailed analysis of its contents (for $20-100). One potential problem with using well water is that it frequently contains high concentrations of dissolved gases (which may be dangerous to fish). For example, well water is frequently supersaturated with CO2, which lowers the water's pH. Once the CO2 escapes, the pH will increase. Fish shouldn't be subjected to this temporary pH fluctuation. For safety, aerate well water thoroughly for several hours before adding it to your tank.

The Nitrogen Cycle, and New Tank Syndrome

What Is the Nitrogen Cycle?
Like all living creatures, fish give off waste products (pee and poo). These nitrogenous waste products break down into ammonia (NH3), which is highly toxic to most fishes. In nature, the volume of water per fish is extremely high, and waste products become diluted to low concentrations. In aquariums, however, it can take as little as a few hours for ammonia concentrations to reach toxic levels. How much ammonia is too much? The quick answer is: if a test kit is able to measure it, you've got too much (i.e., it's in a high enough concentrations to stress fish). Consider emergency action (water changes and zeolite clay) to reduce the danger. (A more detailed discussion of ammonia toxicity can be found later in this section.) In aquaria-speak, the nitrogen cycle (more precisely, the nitrification cycle) is the biological process that converts ammonia into other, relatively harmless nitrogen compounds. Fortunately, several species of bacteria do this conversion for us. Some species convert ammonia (NH3) to nitrite (N02-), while others convert nitrite to nitrate (NO3-). Thus, cycling the tank refers to the process of establishing bacterial colonies in the filter bed that convert ammonia -> nitrite -> nitrate. The desired species of nitrifying bacteria are present everywhere (e.g., in the air). Therefore, once you have an ammonia source in your tank, it's only a matter of time before the desired bacteria establish a colony in your filter bed. The most common way to do this is to place one or two (emphasis on one or two) hardy and inexpensive fish in your aquarium. The fish waste contains the ammonia on which the bacteria live. Don't overfeed them! More food means more ammonia! Some suggested species include: common goldfish (for cold water tanks), zebra danios and barbs for warmer tanks, and damselfishes in marine systems. Note: Do not use toughies or other feeder fishes. Although cheap, they are extremely unhealthy and using them may introduce unwanted diseases to your tank. During the cycling process, ammonia levels will go up and then suddenly plummet as the nitrite-forming bacteria take hold. Because nitrate-forming bacteria don't even begin to appear until nitrite is present in significant quantities, nitrite levels skyrocket (as the built-up ammonia is converted), continuing to rise as the continually-produced ammonia is converted to nitrite. Once the nitrate-forming bacteria take hold, nitrite levels fall, nitrate levels rise, and the tank is fully cycled. Your tank is fully cycled once nitrates are being produced (and ammonia and nitrite levels are zero). To determine when the cycle has completed, buy appropriate test kits (see the TEST KIT section) and measure the levels yourself, or bring water samples to your fish store and let them perform the test for you (perhaps for a small fee). The cycling process normally takes anywhere from 2-6 weeks. At temperatures below 70F, it takes even longer to cycle a tank. In comparison to other types of bacteria, nitrifying bacteria grow slowly. Under optimal conditions, it takes fully 15 hours for a colony to double in size!


It is sometimes possible to speed up the cycling time. Some common procedures for this are detailed later in this section. Warning: AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO GET MORE FISH UNTIL AFTER YOUR TANK HAS FULLY CYCLED! More fish means more ammonia production, increasing the stress on all fish and the likelihood of fish deaths. Once ammonia levels reach highly stressful or toxic levels, your tank has succumbed to New Tank Syndrome; the tank has not yet fully cycled, and the accumulating ammonia has concentrations lethal to your fish.

How Much Ammonia Is Too Much?

In an established tank, ammonia should be undetectable using standard test kits available at stores. The presence of detectable levels indicates that your bio filter is not working adequately, either because your tank has not yet cycled, or the filter is not functioning adequately (e.g., too small for fish load, clogged, etc.) It is imperative that you address the problem (filter) in addition to the symptoms (high ammonia levels). The exact concentration at which ammonia becomes toxic to fish varies among species; some are more tolerant than others. In addition, other factors like water temperature and chemistry play a significant role. For example, ammonia (NH3) continually changes to ammonium (NH4+) and vice versa, with the relative concentrations of each depending on the water's temperature and pH. Ammonia is extremely toxic; ammonium is relatively harmless. At higher temperatures and pH, more of the nitrogen is in the toxic ammonia form than at lower pH. Standard test kits measure total ammonia (ammonia plus ammonium) without distinguishing between the two forms. The following chart gives the maximum long-term level of ammoniaN in mg/L (ppm) that can be considered safe at a given temperature and pH. Again, note that a tank with an established biological filter will have no detectable ammonia; this chart is provided only for emergency purposes. If your levels approach or exceed the levels shown, take emergency action IMMEDIATELY.


Water Temperature pH 20C (68F) 25C (77F) _________________________________ 6.5 15.4 11.1 7.0 5.0 3.6 7.5 1.6 1.2 8.0 0.5 0.4 8.5 0.2 0.1

Minimizing Fish Stress During Initial Cycling

Should ammonia levels become high during the cycling process, corrective measures will need to be taken to prevent fish deaths. Most likely, you will simply perform a sequence of partial water changes, thereby diluting ammonia to safer concentrations. As a final caution, several commercial products (e.g., Amquel or Ammo-Lock) safely neutralize ammonia's toxicity. Amquel does not remove the ammonia, it simply neutralizes its toxicity. Biological filtration is still needed to convert the (neutralized) ammonia to nitrite and nitrate. Thus, adding Amquel causes the ammonia produced by the fish to be neutralized instantly, yet still allows the nitrogen cycle to proceed. Using Amquel during the cycling phase has one significant drawback, however. Amquel (and similar products) may cause ammonia test kits to give false readings, making it difficult to determine exactly when cycling has completed. See the TEST KIT SECTION for details. It is also possible to cycle a tank without ever adding fish. The role fish provide in the cycling process is simply their steady production of ammonia; the same effect can be achieved by adding chemical forms of ammonia manually (e.g., ammonium chloride). However, it is a bit more complicated than using fish because the water chemistry needs to be monitored more closely in order to add the proper amount of ammonia on a day-to-day basis.

Speeding Up Cycling Time (For the Impatient)

The nitrogen cycle can be sped up or jump started in a number of ways. Unfortunately, they require access to an established tank, which a beginning aquarist may not have available. The basic idea is to find an established tank, take some of the bacteria out of it and place them in the new tank. Most filters have some sort of foam block or floss insert on which nitrifying bacteria attach. Borrowing all or part of such an insert and placing it in the new tank's filter gets things going more quickly. If the established tank uses an undergravel filter, nitrifying bacteria will be attached to the gravel. Take some of the gravel (a cup or more) and hang it in a mesh bag in your filter (if you can), or lay it over the top of the gravel in the new tank (if it has an UGF). If you have a box, sponge or corner filter, simply connect it to an established aquarium and let it run for a week or so. Bacteria in the water will establish a bed in the new filter. After a week, move the now seasoned filter to the new tank. More recently, products containing colonies of nitrifying bacteria have become available at pet shops (e.g., Fritz, Bio-zyme, Cycle). In theory, adding the bacteria jump-starts the

colonization process as above. Net experience with such products has been mixed; some folks report success, while others report they don't work at all. In principle, such products should work well. However, nitrifying bacteria cannot live indefinitely without oxygen and food. Thus, the effectiveness of a product depends on its freshness and can be adversely effected by poor handling (e.g., overheating). Unfortunately, these products don't come with a freshness date, so there is no way to know how old they are. Some (not many) aquarium stores will provide aquarium buyers with a cup of gravel from an established tank. A word of caution is appropriate here. Due to the nature of the business, tanks in stores are very likely to contain unwanted pathogens (bacteria, parasites, etc.); you don't want to add them to an established tank. For someone setting up their very first tank, however, all fish will probably be purchased from the same store, so the danger is relatively small, as the newly purchased fish will have been exposed to the same pathogens. If possible, seed a filter with bacteria from a non-store tank. Of course, there are many variations on the above that work. However, it is a bit difficult to give an exact recipe that is guaranteed to work. It is advisable to take a conservative approach and not add fish too quickly. In addition, testing the water to be sure nitrates are being produced eliminates the guesswork of determining when your tank has cycled.

Practical Water Chemistry

What you need to know about water chemistry and why
Water in nature is rarely pure in the distilled water sense; it contains dissolved salts, buffers, nutrients, etc., with exact concentrations dependent on local conditions. Fish (and plants) have evolved over millions of years to the specific water conditions in their native habitats and may be unable to survive in significantly different environments. Beginners (especially the lazy) should take the easy approach of selecting fish whose needs match the qualities of their normal tap water. Alternatively, an advanced (and energetic!) aquarist can change the water characteristics to match the fish's needs, though doing so is almost always more difficult than first appears. In either case, you need to know enough about water chemistry to ensure that the water in your tank has the right properties for the fish you are keeping. Water has four measurable properties that are commonly used to characterize its chemistry. They are pH, buffering capacity, general hardness and salinity. In addition, there are several nutrients and trace elements.

pH refers to water being either an acid, base, or neither (neutral). A pH of 7 is said to be neutral, a pH below 7 is acidic and a pH above 7 is basic or alkaline. Like the Richter scale used to measure earthquakes, the pH scale is logarithmic. A pH of 5.5 is 10 times more acidic than water at a pH of 6.5. Thus, changing the pH by a small amount (suddenly) is more of a chemical change (and more stressful to fish!) than might first appear. To a fishkeeper, two aspects of pH are important. First, rapid changes in pH are stressful to fish and should be avoided. Changing the pH by more than .3 units per day is known to stress

fish. Thus, you want the pH of your tank to remain constant and stable over the long haul. Second, fish have adapted to thrive in a (sometimes narrow) pH range. You want to be sure that your tank's pH matches the specific requirements of the fish you are keeping. Most fish can adjust to a pH somewhat outside of their optimal range. If your water's pH is naturally within the range of 6.5 to 7.5, you will be able to keep most species of fish without any problems. If your pH lies within this range, there is probably no need to adjust it upward or downward.

Buffering Capacity (KH, Alkalinity)

Buffering capacity refers to water's ability to keep the pH stable as acids or bases are added. pH and buffering capacity are intertwined with one another; although one might think that adding equal volumes of an acid and neutral water would result in a pH halfway in between, this rarely happens in practice. If the water has sufficient buffering capacity, the buffering capacity can absorb and neutralize the added acid without significantly changing the pH. Conceptually, a buffer acts somewhat like a large sponge. As more acid is added, the sponge absorbs the acid without changing the pH much. The sponge's capacity is limited however; once the buffering capacity is used up, the pH changes more rapidly as acids are added. Buffering has both positive and negative consequences. On the plus side, the nitrogen cycle produces nitric acid (nitrate). Without buffering, your tank's pH would drop over time (a bad thing). With sufficient buffering, the pH stays stable (a good thing). On the negative side, hard tap water often almost always has a large buffering capacity. If the pH of the water is too high for your fish, the buffering capacity makes it difficult to lower the pH to a more appropriate value. Naive attempts to change the pH of water usually fail because buffering effects are ignored. In freshwater aquariums, most of water's buffering capacity is due to carbonates and bicarbonates. Thus, the terms carbonate hardness (KH), alkalinity and buffering capacity are used interchangeably. Although technically not the same things, they are equivalent in practice in the context of fishkeeping. Note: the term alkalinity should not be confused with the term alkaline. Alkalinity refers to buffering, while alkaline refers to a solution that is a base (i.e., pH > 7). How much buffering does your tank need? Most aquarium buffering capacity test kits actually measure KH. The larger the KH, the more resistant to pH changes your water will be. A tank's KH should be high enough to prevent large pH swings in your tank over time. If your KH is below roughly 4.5 dH, you should pay special attention to your tank's pH (e.g, test weekly, until you get a feel for how stable the pH is). This is ESPECIALLY important if you neglect to do frequent partial water changes. In particular, the nitrogen cycle creates a tendency for an established tank's pH to decrease over time. The exact amount of pH change depends on the quantity and rate of nitrates produced, as well as the KH. If your pH drops more than roughly two tenths of a point over a month, you should consider increasing the KH or performing partial water changes more frequently. KH doesn't affect fish directly, so there is no need to match fish species to a particular KH. Note: it is not a good idea to use distilled water in your tank. By definition, distilled water has essentially no KH. That means that adding even a little bit of acid will change the pH significantly (stressing fish). Because of its instability, distilled (or any essentially pure

water) is never used directly. Tap water or other salts must first be added to it in order to increase its GH and KH.

General Hardness (GH)

General hardness (GH) refers to the dissolved concentration of magnesium and calcium ions. When fish are said to prefer soft or hard water, it is GH (not KH) that is being referred to. Note: GH, KH and pH form the Bermuda's Triangle of water chemistry. Although the three properties are distinct, they all interact with each other to varying degrees, making it difficult to adjust one without impacting the other. That is one reason why beginning aquarists are advised NOT to tamper with these parameters unless absolutely necessary. As an example, hard water frequently often comes from limestone aquifers. Limestone contains calcium carbonate, which when dissolved in water increases both the GH (from calcium) and KH (from carbonate) components. Increasing the KH component also usually increases pH as well. Conceptually, the KH acts as a sponge absorbing the acid present in the water, raising the water's pH. Water hardness follows the following guidelines. The unit dH means degree hardness, while ppm means parts per million, which is roughly equivalent to mg/L in water. 1 unit dH equals 17.8 ppm CaCO3. Most test kits give the hardness in units of CaCO3; this means the hardness is equivalent to that much CaCO3 in water but does not mean it actually came from CaCO3.
General Hardness 0 - 4 dH, 0 70 ppm : very soft 4 - 8 dH, 70 - 140 ppm : soft 8 - 12 dH, 140 - 210 ppm : medium hard 12 - 18 dH, 210 - 320 ppm : fairly hard 18 - 30 dH, 320 - 530 ppm : hard higher : liquid rock (Lake Malawi and Los Angeles, CA)

Salinity refers to the total amount of dissolved substances. Salinity measurements count both GH and KH components as well as such other substances as sodium. Knowing water's salinity becomes important in salt water aquariums. In freshwater tanks, knowing pH, GH and KH suffices. Salinity is usually expressed in terms of its specific gravity, the ratio of a solution's weight to weight of an equal volume of distilled water. Because water expands when heated (changing its density), a common reference temperature of 59F degrees is used. Salinity is measured with a hydrometer, which is calibrated for use at a specific temperature (e.g., 75F degrees is common). One component of salinity that neither GH or KH includes is sodium. Some freshwater fish tolerate (or even prefer) a small amount of salt (it stimulates slime coat growth). Moreover, parasites (e.g., ick) do not tolerate salt at all. Thus, salt in concentrations of (up to) 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons can actually help prevent and cure ick and other parasitic infections.


On the other hand, some species of fish do not tolerate ANY salt well. Scaleless fish (in general) and some Corydoras catfish are far more sensitive to salt than most freshwater fish. Add salt only if you are certain that all of your tank's inhabitants prefer it or can at least tolerate it.

Nutrients and Trace Elements

In addition to GH, KH, pH and salinity, there are a few other substances you may want to know about. Most tap water contains an assortment of nutrients and trace elements in very low concentrations. The presence (or absence) of trace elements can be important in some situations, specifically:

nitrates, which are discussed in great length in this FAQ in conjunction with the NITROGEN CYCLE; phosphates, the second most prominent nutrient. Phosphates have been linked to algae growth. If you have persistent algae problems, high phosphates may be a contributing factor. In a plant tank, ideal phosphate levels are .2 mg/L or lower. To control algae, frequent partial water changes are often recommended to reduce nutrient levels. If your tap water contains excess phosphate, water changes may be aggravating the situation. Your local water company can tell you what the exact phosphate levels are. iron, manganese and other trace elements. Plants need iron in trace quantities to grow. Tap water in many areas contains no iron at all. Consult the PLANT FAQ for more details.

Altering Your Water's Chemistry

Hardening Your Water (Raising GH and/or KH)
The following measurements are approximate; use a test kit to verify you've achieved the intended results. Note that if your water is extremely soft to begin with (1 degree KH or less), you may get a drastic change in pH as the buffer is added. To raise both GH and KH simultaneously, add calcium carbonate (CaCO3). 1/2 teaspoon per 100 liters of water will increase both the KH and GH by about 1-2 dH. Alternatively, add some sea shells, coral, limestone, marble chips, etc. to your filter. To raise the KH without raising the GH, add sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3), commonly known as baking soda. 1/2 teaspoon per 100 Liters raises the KH by about 1 dH. Sodium bicarbonate drives the pH towards an equilibrium value of 8.2.

Raising and Lowering pH

One can raise or lower pH by adding chemicals. Because of buffering, however, the process is difficult to get right. Increasing or decreasing the pH (in a stable way) actually involves changing the KH. The most common approach is to add a buffer (in the previous section) whose equilibrium holds the pH at the desired value. Muriatic (hydrochloric) acid can be used to reduce pH. Note that the exact quantity needed depends on the water's buffering capacity. In effect, you add enough acid to use up all the buffering capacity. Once this has been done, decreasing the pH is easy. However, it should be noted that the resultant lower-pH water has much less KH buffering than it did before,

making it more susceptible to pH swings when (for instance) nitrate levels rise. Warning: It goes without saying that acids are VERY dangerous! Do not use this approach unless you know what you are doing, and you should treat the water BEFORE adding it to the aquarium. Products such as pH-Down are often based on a phosphoric acid buffer. Phosphoric acid tends to keep the pH at roughly 6.5, depending on how much you use. Unfortunately, use of phosphoric acid has the BIG side effect of raising the phosphate level in your tank, stimulating algae growth. It is difficult to control algae growth in a tank with elevated phosphate levels. The only advantage over hydrochloric acid is that pH will be somewhat better buffered at its lower value. One safe way to lower pH WITHOUT adjusting KH is to bubble CO2 (carbon dioxide) through the tank. The CO2 dissolves in water, and some of it forms carbonic acid. The formation of acid lowers the pH. Of course, in order for this approach to be practical, a steady source of CO2 bubbles (e.g. a CO2 tank) is needed to hold the pH in place. As soon as the CO2 is gone, the pH bounces back to its previous value. The high cost of a CO2 injection system precludes its use as a pH lowering technique in most aquariums (though see the PLANT FAQ for inexpensive do-it-yourself alternatives). CO2 injection systems are highly popular in heavily-planted tanks, because the additional CO2 stimulates plant growth.

Softening Your Water (i.e., lowering GH)

Some fish (e.g., discus, cardinal tetras, etc.) prefer soft water. Although they can survive in harder water, they are unlikely to breed in it. Thus, you may feel compelled to soften your water despite the hassle involved in doing so. Typical home water softeners soften water using a technique known as ion exchange. That is, they remove calcium and magnesium ions by replacing them with sodium ions. Although this does technically make water softer, most fish won't notice the difference. That is, fish that prefer soft water don't like sodium either, and for them such water softeners don't help at all. Thus, home water softeners are not an appropriate way to soften water for aquarium use. Fish stores also market water softening pillows. They use the same ion-exchange principle. One recharges the pillow by soaking it in a salt water solution, then places it in the tank where the sodium ions are released into the water and replaced by calcium and magnesium ions. After a few hours or days, the pillow (along with the calcium and magnesium) are removed, and the pillow recharged. The pillows sold in stores are too small to work well in practice, and shouldn't be used for the same reason cited above. Peat moss softens water and reduces its hardness (GH). The most effective way to soften water via peat is to aerate water for 1-2 weeks in a bucket containing peat moss. For example, get a (plastic) bucket of the appropriate size. Then, get a large quantity of peat (a gallon or more), boil it (so that it sinks), stuff it in a pillow case, and place it in the water bucket. Use an air pump to aerate it. In 1-2 weeks, the water will be softer and more acidic. Use this aged water when making partial water changes on your tank. Peat can be bought at pet shops, but it is expensive. It is much more cost-effective to buy it in bulk at a local gardening shop. Read labels carefully! You don't want to use peat containing fertilizers or other additives. Although some folks place peat in the filters of their tanks, the technique has a number of drawbacks. First, peat clogs easily, so adding peat isn't always effective. Second, peat can be

messy and may cloud the water in your tank. Third, the exact quantity of peat needed to effectively soften your water is difficult to estimate. Using the wrong amount results in the wrong water chemistry. Finally, when doing water changes, your tank's chemistry changes when new water is added (it has the wrong properties). Over the next few days, the chemistry changes as the peat takes effect. Using aged water helps ensure that the chemistry of your tank doesn't fluctuate while doing water changes. Hard water can also be softened by diluting it with distilled water or R/O water. R/O (reverse-osmosis) water is purified water made by a R/O unit. Unfortunately, R/O units are too expensive ($100-$500) for most hobbyists. R/O water can also be purchased at some fish stores, but for most folks the expense and hassle are not worth it. The same applies to distilled water purchased at grocery stores.

Test Kits which are Useful?

There is a seemingly endless array of test kits for testing everything from ammonia levels to phosphate levels. Does one really need to buy them? The quick answer is no. It is quite possible to have a healthy tank without ever buying a single test kit. However, test kits are extremely useful at eliminating guesswork when something goes wrong (e.g., fish appear stressed or die). In the following, we describe the test kits that are most useful and the conditions under which they are useful.

Ammonia Test Kit

Get one. Ammonia test kits are cheap ($5-10) and will tell you whether your tank has elevated ammonia levels. This is useful in two circumstances. First, during the tank-cycling phase, regular testing for ammonia will tell you when the first phase of the nitrogen cycle has completed. Second, should you have unexplained fish deaths, testing for ammonia verifies that your biological filter is (or is not) working correctly. Note that even in an established tank, the biological filter can sometimes weaken or fail outright. Common causes include

not cleaning the filter regularly (water can't flow through a clogged filter, where the nitrifying bacteria reside), naively adding fish medicines (antibiotics kill nitrifying bacteria (oops) as well as disease carrying ones), having too small a filter for the fish load, etc.

Be warned: if you have fish deaths and subsequently ask the net (or a fish store) for advice, the first question asked will be What are your ammonia (and nitrite) levels?. Ammonia levels are measured in ppm. At concentrations as low as .2-.5 ppm (for some fish), ammonia causes rapid death (consult the CYCLING SECTION for further details). Even at levels above 0.01-0.02 ppm, fish will be stressed. Common test kits don't register such low concentrations. Thus, test kits should NEVER detect ammonia in an established tank. If your test kit detects ANY ammonia, levels are too high and are stressing fish. Take corrective action immediately by changing water and identifying the source of the problem. Warning: Amquel and other similar ammonia-neutralizing water additives are incompatible with most ammonia test kits. Water treated with Amquel will falsely test positive for


ammonia, even when ammonia is not present. Test kits using the Nessler method are known to give false readings under such conditions.

Nitrite Test Kit

You might want to get one of these; nitrite kits are cheap ($5-10) and are useful in the same circumstances where an ammonia test is useful. The only time a nitrite kit provides information that an ammonia kit can't is while testing for completion of the second phase of the nitrogen cycle (see the CYCLING SECTION). As in the case for ammonia, if your test kits detects nitrite, your biological filter is not working adequately. Once a tank has cycled, nitrite kits are pretty much useless. (If the bio filter in an established tank isn't working, both ammonia and nitrite levels will be elevated.) Nitrite is an order of magnitude less toxic than ammonia. Thus, one common saying about tank cycling is: if your fish survive the ammonia spike, they'll probably survive the nitrite spike and the rest of the cycling process. However, even at levels above .5 ppm, fish become stressed. At 10-20 ppm, concentrations become lethal.

Nitrate Test Kit

Get this kit! Nitrate levels increase over time in established tanks as the end result of the nitrogen cycle. (The only exception to this rule is heavily-planted tanks and some reef tanks, which MAY be able to consume nitrogen faster than it is produced.) Because nitrates become toxic at high concentrations, they must be removed periodically (e.g., through regular water changes). Having a nitrate test kit helps you determine whether or not your water changes are removing nitrates quickly enough. Nitrates become toxic to fish (and plants) at levels of 50-300 ppm, depending on the fish species. For fry, however, much lower concentrations become toxic. Note: A nitrate test kit is only of limited value in determining whether the nitrogen cycle has completed. Most nitrate test kits actually convert nitrate to nitrite first, then test for the concentration of nitrite. That is, they actually measure the combined concentration of nitrite and nitrate. In an established tank, nitrite levels are essentially zero, and the kits do properly measure nitrate levels. While a tank is cycling, however, a nitrate kit can't tell you how much of the reading (if any) comes from nitrate rather than nitrite.

pH Test Kit
Get one; these kits are extremely cheap, so there is no excuse for not owning one. You will want to know the pH of your tap water so that you can select fish whose requirements meet your water conditions. In addition, you will periodically want to check your tank's pH so that you can be sure it stays stable and doesn't increase or decrease significantly over time. In some cases, tank decorations (e.g., driftwood) or gravel (e.g., made of coral, shells or limestone) change the pH of your water. For example, tank items may slowly leach ions into your tank's water, raising the GH and KH (and pH). With driftwood, it is not uncommon to have the wood slowly leach tannins that lower the pH.


General Hardness (GH) Kit

You may want to get one of these, but having one is not critical. You don't need to know the exact hardness level. Knowing whether your water is soft, very soft, etc. is good enough. Your local fish store may be able to give you sufficient information. Alternatively, call your water utility (see the TAPWATER SECTION of this FAQ).

Carbonate Hardness (KH) Kit

This kit is not critical to have. By regularly monitoring the pH, you can figure out whether your KH is high enough. That is, the KH should be high enough that your pH stays stable over time. If you have trouble keeping the pH stable, you may want to increase your tank's buffering capacity. Your local fish store may be able to give you sufficient information as to your KH value. Alternatively, call your water utility. A KH kit is, however, indispensable to plant enthusiasts who use CO2 injection. It is also strongly recommended that you get one if you want to change the pH of your water, and it is a very useful diagnostic tool if you are experiencing pH stability problems.

Fish Stress and Healthy Fishkeeping

What Stress Means, and Why it is Bad for Your Fish.
Most fish can tolerate environmental conditions that differ somewhat from the natural conditions in which they evolved. This does not mean, however, that they will be as healthy or live their full normal life span. For example, keeping a fish in water that is cooler (or warmer) than its preferred condition forces its body organs to work harder to keep it alive. That is, such conditions place the fish under increased stress. Increased stress reduces a fish's ability to ward off diseases and heal itself (e.g., if its fins get nicked, or parasites get introduced into the tank with newly purchased fish). In addition, stress reduces a fish's ability to breed successfully and shortens its natural life span. A small amount of stress by itself is not usually fatal, but as stress levels increase, a fish's ability to cope with it decreases. Thus, one of the most important goals of a fishkeeper is to remove sources of stress wherever possible. It should be noted that eliminating stress does not guarantee that your tank will be healthy. But it significantly increases the odds. Many netters boast regularly about how they've kept fish (apparently) healthy and happy for long periods of time under (apparently) highly stressful conditions. Such aquarists are sitting on a time-bomb; the not uncommon followup story will refer to one fish getting sick, then another, with an end result of multiple fish deaths. Reducing stress simply increases the likelihood that a tank will stay healthy (much the same way as eating right, exercising and getting the proper amount sleep is generally associated with a long healthy life for humans).

Common Causes of Stress in the Aquarium

In this section, we list some of the more common stress-inducing conditions. In all cases, the level of stress induced by a specific factor is highly species-dependent. You should be aware

of the type of stress that will be present in your tanks and select fish known to tolerate such conditions well. For example, if your water is hard and alkaline, you're best off selecting fish that thrive under such conditions. Nitrogen compounds (ammonia, nitrite and nitrate) have varying degrees of toxicity and are stressful at all levels. Ammonia is toxic in low concentrations and severely stresses fish under ANY concentration. Consequently, a healthy aquarium must have an adequate biological filter that quickly converts ammonia to nitrite (and nitrate). Although significantly less toxic than ammonia or nitrite, nitrate also stresses fish. Thus, a means of removing excess nitrate (e.g., through regular water changes) helps keep an aquarium healthy. The water temperature of your tank should match the needs of its inhabitants. Keeping water temperature too cold or too warm for a particular species will stress those fish. For example, goldfish prefer cooler temperatures (under 70F) than most tropical fish (goldfish survive winters in ponds where temperatures approach freezing), guaranteeing that a tank containing both goldfish and tropicals will either be too cold or too warm for some of the inhabitants. Some fish prefer soft water, others prefer hard water. Keeping a soft-water preferring fish in harder water (and vice versa) is stressful. Some fish prefer acidic water, some prefer alkaline water, others prefer water with a neutral pH. (Some fish don't care too much.) Some fish live in brackish water conditions; they will do better in water with a small amount of added salt. Other species are extremely intolerant of salt. Add salt only if all of a tank's inhabitants can tolerate salinity. Mollies, for example are known to like salt, whereas many species of catfish tolerate no salt at all. In general, fish lacking scales (or having small scales) don't tolerate salt well. The amount of physical space required for a particular fish depends on its species. Some fish do just fine in a 10g tank, others need 100g or more. Keeping a fish in a tank that is too small for it increases the level of stress (on everyone), frequently leading to increased aggression among tank inhabitants. Note also that the amount of space required may change should fish pair off to breed. Cichlids, for example, claim a portion of the tank for themselves when in breeding form, chasing away any fish that encroach on their territory. Thus, the onset of breeding behaviors frequently increases stress levels. Not all species of fish mix well with others. As an obvious example, most cichlids will eat smaller tank inhabitants (e.g., anything they can fit in their mouths). Even if too big to be eaten, however, peaceful fish will be stressed if kept with aggressive fish that chase them around all day. Moreover, many fish communicate through behavior and body language (i.e., cichlids frequently establish a pecking order in which one fish is king). Fish of one type of species may not recognize the signals given off by others, guaranteeing continual strife. Some fish school in nature, spending their entire lives in large groups (rather than individually); they never feel comfortable or safe when kept by themselves. Cory cats for example, do better in a tank with 6 or more other Corys than they do by themselves. While it may be tempting to buy six different kinds of fish, this may not be ideal for the fish themselves. The opposite can also be true. Some fish are more aggressive towards members of their own species (e.g., mating behaviors), whereas they may not feel threatened by other species and pretty much ignore them.


Fish need oxygen, and some fish are more tolerant of low-oxygen water than others. Water with insufficient oxygen stresses fish. Note that as the water temperature goes up, the amount of dissolved oxygen in water decreases. Poor nutrition also causes stress. A healthy diet is a varied diet, and one should avoid using old foods in which vitamins and other nutrients have broken down. Old food includes food that has been stored in hot places, been exposed to air (not sealed), etc. The cure of adding medicines to tanks is often worse than the original disease. Medications that kill bacteria, parasites, etc. are usually not too discerning: they may also kill your nitrifying bacteria (now you REALLY have a major problem) or be toxic to the fish themselves. For example, some species of fish do not tolerate certain types of medicines at all. Adding such medications may weaken healthy fish to the point that they become susceptible to the original disease. Adding untreated water to your tank may introduce chlorine or chloramine, both of which are toxic to fish. Be sure to treat all water prior to adding it to your tank. Sudden changes in water conditions can be stressful. Within limits, most fish can adjust to sub-optimal water conditions (e.g., wrong temperature, wrong pH). However, fish have difficulty adjusting to a SUDDEN change in water chemistry. Thus suddenly raising (or lowering) the temperature, changing the pH, changing the water hardness, etc. stresses a fish. It is more important to keep the water chemistry stable over the long haul than to keep keep water conditions exactly optimal. In summary, many factors lead to fish stress. Minimizing and eliminating sources of stress increases the chances of keeping tank inhabitants healthy. The exact amount of stress an individual fish can take depends greatly on what species it is, its age and size, etc. A stressed fish is a weakened fish. Although it may appear healthy to the casual observer, it will be more susceptible to disease, injury, etc. In contrast, healthy (unstressed) fish will be able to ward off disease and infection on their own. Thus, the appearance of disease in a tank is frequently brought on by poor water conditions that leave fish with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms That Your Fish Is Stressed

In short, stressed fish don't act normal (with normal defined according to the species of fish). Once you've had fish for a few weeks, you'll see that each species behaves in its own characteristic way (that's why fish are fun to have!). Some fish tend to always stay near the top of the water, others near the bottom. Some fish swim continuously, others stay in one place. Deviation from their norm usually indicates stress. Common symptoms of stress include:

Fish stays near the surface gasping for breath, indicating that it has trouble getting enough oxygen (the concentration of dissolved oxygen is highest near the water's surface). Possible causes include low oxygen concentration due to poor water circulation, toxins that have damaged its gills, high ammonia or nitrite levels, etc. Fish won't eat, or doesn't eat as aggressively as in past. Fish stays hidden continuously and won't come out where it can be seen. Possible causes: aggressive fish, insufficient cover (e.g., plants, wood, etc.) to make fish feel safe while swimming about.

Fish has nicked fins, open wounds that don't seem to heal. Possible cause: fish is target of aggression. Normally, minor nicks and cuts heal quickly. If they don't, stress levels may be suppressing the fish's immune system. Fish has disease (parasites, fungus, etc.) Of course, the disease itself is a major problem. But in most cases, a healthy fish's immune system keeps it from getting sick in the first place. Thus, getting sick is a sign that the fish is in a stressed state (or had been until recently).

Adding & Feeding Fish

So you've got your tank set up and the filter running, you know about the nitrogen cycle and a little water chemistry. You've got all your test kits poised and ready to monitor your first month. Armed with this knowledge, you make your way to the local fish store to buy your first fish (or two). In this section, we'll deal with some of the common questions about keeping your fish. (Whew! Didn't think we'd actually get to fish, did you?)

Selecting Good Fish

There are so many things to say about good beginner fish, we've covered it in a whole separate FAQ (oddly-enough, called the GOOD BEGINNER FISH FAQ); it contains many suggestions for particular fish. Here is the author's general advice: If we define a good beginner's fish as one that is easy to feed and care for, hardy, able to live in a variety of water conditions, and attractive, then there are a number of widely available fish which fit the bill nicely. Many of these are regularly sold as beginner's fish. But watch out! Many of the fish sold as beginner's fish really are not well suited to that role. Many of the smaller schooling fish make ideal first fish. These include White Cloud Mountain Minnows, the several commonly available species of Danios and Rasboras, and most available species of Barbs. For those with a slightly larger tank, Rainbowfish make a great schooling fish. Corydoras Catfish are ever popular schooling catfish. While many beginners are tempted to get just one or two of each of several different schooling fish, this should be resisted. Schooling fish do better if there are several of their own species present for them to interact with. A minimum of six of each of the midwater schooling fish is recommended, while four is the bare minimum for Corys. In the long run, a school of a dozen fish showing their natural behavior will be more pleasing than a mixed group of fishes unhappily forced to share the same tank. (Mom, why is that one fish hiding behind the heater and that other one just hanging in the corner?)

How Many Fish Can Be Added?

The easiest answer to that question is one fish at a time. As far as how many in total can safely survive, a frequently used rule-of-thumb is up to a maximum of 1 inch of fish per gallon. Much discussion of this rule has suggested that it really should read up to a maximum of 1 inch of SLIM-BODIED fish per gallon. Slim-bodied could be fish such as neon tetras, White Cloud Mountain Minnows, danios etc.; medium bodied might be red-tailed black sharks, tiger barbs, platys, cory cats etc.; heavy bodied would be goldfish, oscars etc.

In other words, this is only a rule of thumb, and the maximum population that is safe and humane will vary from tank to tank. Factors that increase your possible fish load include:

regular and significant water changes, HEALTHY live plants, and more than one type of well-tended filtration (remember to think of your filter as alive; it needs care just as do your fish).

Likewise, factors that decrease your possible load include:

erratic or sparse water changes, no plants or UNhealthy live plants, and limited or ill-tended filtration (an undergravel filter can do a great job, but if it fails for some reason and was the only filtration on the tank, a heavily stocked tank will experience much more disastrous consequences than one with a light load).

So, back to adding fish. Often it is not practical to add fish one at a time - for instance, you find some especially great looking neons and want to add a small school (6 or 7 fish) to your recently cycled 20 gallon tank. You currently have one 2-inch pl*co and three 1.5-inch platys. Adding the neons will essentially double the volume of fish in the tank. In this case, you will see the same effects as cycling your tank, i.e., an ammonia and nitrite spike before the bacteria grows to match the new fish population. Test your water frequently and be prepared to do emergency partial water changes if the ammonia levels go up too far. The bio-filter for your tank is only fed by the wastes of the fish you have in the tank. This means that no matter how large your filter (e.g., one rated for a fully stocked 50 gal tank on your 20 gal), the bacteria population will be limited by the food it has. Few fish = small bacteria population. We are accustomed to thinking of bacteria reproduction as explosive. Many bacteria can double their population size in hours, after all... but as we have seen in the CYCLING SECTION, the appropriate nitrifying bacteria are relatively slow to reproduce. There will be a time delay between the increased waste production of additional fish, and increased waste processing by the bacteria. In extreme cases, the ammonia increase could harm or kill your fish before the bacteria population had time to catch up to the amount of available nitrogenous wastes. This is why it is wise to add fish slowly and gradually. Safely bringing your tank's population up to the maximum load can take more than 6 months; in fact, it should be permitted to take at least that long. Leave breaking the rules to those with more years experience than they have fish.

Acclimating the Fish to Your Tank

Once you get the fish home you should set the bag in your tank, allowing the temperature to equalize. After about a half an hour or so, add a 1/4 cup of tank water to the bag. Repeat this process once every 15 minutes for an hour, removing any water if the bag gets too full. Any water you remove from the bag should be disposed of. It will most likely contain parasites and other bad things.


After you have the fish acclimated to your tank's water chemistry, there are a couple of things you can do. You can place the fish directly into the main tank and hope for the best, or you could place the fish into a quarantine tank. In either case, quickly net the fish from the bag to the tank so that no store water gets transferred to the tank. The best scenario is to place the fish in quarantine. Keep the fish in the quarantine tank for 2 weeks and watch for signs of disease. If the fish gets sick, you can medicate the quarantine tank without affecting the chemistry of the main tank's. If you are going to quarantine the fish, you should acclimate the fish to the quarantine tank's chemistry, not the main tank. While a quarantine tank is a good idea, it is most likely that you do not have such a luxury (for now, at least... :). In this case, be extra careful to select healthy fish at the store, and carefully monitor your new arrivals for the first few weeks in your tank for signs of stress and disease. You always risk infecting the other fish in your tank when skipping quarantine.

Feeding the Fish

Most common fish sold in aquarium shops, especially those recommended for beginners, can subsist on processed (flake, stick or pellet) food. Some can even thrive on it... although for fish, just as for other animals, some variety in the diet is usually desirable. Fish food is somewhat delicate. Exposing it to sunlight, leaving the lid off so that damp can come in, or buying a very large container that takes 8 months to use up all can sabotage the nutritional value of your fish's food. Generally speaking, there are five classes of fish food:

various processed foods (processed ground stuff remade into flakes, sticks or pellets; often divided into categories for omnivorous, vegetarian, and carnivorous fish), freeze dried foods (whole beasties such as blood worms, daphnia etc), frozen foods (more whole beasties), live foods (live beasties), and other fresh foods (home made carnivore food of beefheart, zucchini for your pl*co, etc).

To many fishkeepers, flake food is like rice. It will do for most every meal, but a little something else now and again is important. Nearly every new fishkeeper will hear the rule feed your fish only what they will eat in 3 minutes or similar blandishment. This is terrifying to the beginner; after all, those fish are obviously ravenous! What if they starved! This is only a tiny pinch! How can it be enough? Take it seriously. The reason most folks have fish is, we hope, to observe them. If not up close and personal, at least in a general sense. The perfect time to do some of your observing is when you feed. Each time you feed, park yourself in front of the tank to watch. Put in less than you think can possibly be enough. Watch the fish consume it. Observe what falls to the bottom. If you don't have any fish who are primarily bottom feeders (pl*cos, corydoras, loaches etc.), take the time to learn if any of your other fish will glean the bottom; gouramis often will, but rainbows generally won't, for example. If you do have bottom feeders, watch to see how fast they eat. So you put a little pinch in, and after 2 minutes (you counted!) there is practically no food to be seen... except a little on the bottom which the cories are really going for. Yep, you can probably safely give them some more. But watch to make sure they really eat all of the

second pinch too. It is better to feed a tiny bit several times a day, especially with fish who won't scour the bottom, than it is to feed a bunch all at once... but most adult fish will do fine being fed a 5 minute ration once a day. In an established tank, even less often is preferred by some fish keepers; that way, the fish will eat more of the algae and other edibles that can naturally occur in a tank. Another thing to keep in mind: fish CAN get fat, especially if fed a lot of rich foods such as bloodworms. Many of the fish you'll buy to put in your tank are juveniles: how they develop into adult fish will be determined by your care of them. Just as high nitrates can stunt a fish's growth, shorten its life, and prevent it from ever breeding successfuly, fish who are overfed can end up with deformed bodies and other problems - plus they poop more... which has obvious ramifications :-). Feeding a good variety of foods ensures that your fish will get not only the rich foods, but also fiber (brine shrimp and other crustaceans) and vegetables (algae foods, vegetables). A word on live foods: certain commercially available live foods are considered risky by many hobbyists, as they can carry parasites - tubifex worms in particular. You will have to decide yourself how you feel about this risk. Be very sure that you are feeding food that is, indeed, still alive! Rinse the critters thoroughly, and especially if they are not able to live in your tank water, be just as careful about overfeeding live food as you are other foods. Live foods are covered in detail (including culturing instructions) in the LIVE FOOD FAQ.

Partial Water Changes

Purpose of Water Changes
The solution to pollution is dilution; water changes replace a portion of dirty water with an equal portion of clean water, effectively diluting the concentrations of undesirable substances in your tank. In an established tank, nitrate is the primary toxin that builds up. Regular water changes are the cheapest, safest and most effective way of keeping nitrate concentrations at reasonable levels. During the tank cycling phase, however, ammonia or nitrite may be the substances that need to be diluted and removed. Likewise, if medications have been added to your tank, they may need to be removed after they've served their primary purpose. The effectiveness of water changes is determined by two factors: their frequency and the percentage of water that is replaced. The more often water is replaced, or the greater the quantity of replaced water at a change determines overall effectiveness. The benefits of water changes must be balanced by the stress caused by a sudden change of your tank's water chemistry. If tank water has similar pH, GH and KH as tap water, changing 50% (or more) of the water at one time will not affect fish. On the other hand, if your tank's pH is (for example) 6.3, while your replacement water has a pH of 7.5, replacing 50% of the water all at once will change the pH of your tank significantly (possibly more than 50% depending on buffering factors), which will stress your fish, possibly enough to kill them. Because water changes are the first line of defense in dealing with problems such as disease, you want to be able to do large, frequent partial water changes during emergency periods. Consequently, you want your tank's water chemistry to closely match that of your replacement water. That way, you always have the option of performing large water changes on short notice. Note that this is the way tanks start out; when you initially set up your tank,

the water is the same as that from your tap. Over time, however, the tank's water chemistry may drift relative to tap water due to acidification from the nitrogen cycle, the addition of chemical additives such as Ph-up or Ph-down, the use of non-inert tank gravel (e.g. crushed coral or sea shells), etc.

How frequently should partial water changes be made?

The more frequent the changes, the less water that needs to be replaced. However, the longer between changes, the more stressful each change potentially becomes, because a larger portion of the water gets replaced. Replacing roughly 25% of your tank's water bi-weekly is a good minimal starting point, but may not be enough. The proper frequency really depends on such factors as the fish load in your tank. Nonetheless, you should do water changes often enough so that 1. nitrate levels stay at or below 50ppm, and preferably MUCH lower (less than 10ppm is a good optimal value); 2. the change in water chemistry resulting from a change is small. In particular, the before and after pH of your tank shouldn't differ by more than .2 units. (Use a test kit the first few times to get a feel for what's right.) If your pH changes too much as a result of a water change, perform changes more frequently, but replace less water at each change. Water changes remove nitrates after they've been produced. Nitrogenous substances in the form of uneaten fish food, detritus, etc. can also be removed BEFORE they get broken down into nitrate. This is achieved by cleaning your mechanical and biological filter regularly, and by vacuuming the gravel with a gravel cleaner. This should be done every time you perform a water change, e.g., every two weeks. Note: if your heater becomes partially exposed to air as the water level drops while doing changes, be sure to unplug your heater while doing your water changes. The heater can crack if the water level drops below the heating coil! Also, be sure to dechlorinate/dechloriminate the replacement water before adding it to your tank! (See the WATER TREATMENT section.)

Long-Term Success
In this last section, we bring up popular issues that come up after your tank has been running for a while.

Stopping that !@*!@ Algae Plague

You should first be aware that not all algae is bad; Algae, like plants, feed off nutrients in the tank, so a good crop of regularly-harvested algae can help keep the pollution levels in check (this is the principle behind ALGAL SCRUBBER filtration). Likewise, algae plagues are usually symptoms of overfeeding or not enough water changes. The best thing to do is to learn what is causing the plague, and eliminate that cause. Test your nitrate and/or ammonia. Increase your water change volume and/or frequency, or feed your fish less. There are also a number of chemical remedies for specific algae types, and algae-eating fish which will

consume some algaes. For full details, including specific remedies, please consult the ALGAE SECTION of the DISEASE FAQ.

Snail Plague
Snails, like algae, can be both useful and detrimental to a tank. Some species will burrow in the gravel, aerating it and keeping it from being compacted; others will eat algae. However, some species will reproduce unchecked, destroying plants and generally being an eyesore. You can protect against snails by sanitizing anything inanimate you add to your tank in a 1:20 bleach solution, and treating new live plants in potassium permangenate or Alum. For ridding your tank of snails, you have little recourse other than vacuuming as many up as possible, though clown loaches are rumored to eat snails. The SNAIL SECTION of the DISEASE FAQ describes individual species of snails and specific remedies.

What to do on Vacations
Healthy fish can easily go a week without food. When you go out of town for the weekend, don't bother getting someone to feed your fish. (Indeed, someone not familiar with fish tanks is likely to overfeed your fish while you are gone, leaving you a mess to deal with when you return.) Stay away from those vacation feeders that slowly dissolve. They can upset the pH of your tank and lead to excessive food in your tank. Electrically-operated automatic feeders, though, can be useful as you pre-measure the amount of food it dispenses each day. If you're going away for longer than a week you will have to make arrangements for someone to feed the fish. Tank minding companies and some fish stores will do this for a fee, but most people ask a friend or neighbor who doesn't keep fish themselves. Sustained overfeeding could overload your filter and wipe out your tank, and the best way to avoid the risk of this happening is to make up individual packages (such as small envelopes) each containing a day's worth of food. The fish don't have to be fed every day, and shouldn't be given more than one day's normal amount of food at a time, even if they've gone a few days without. Be sure to warn your helper not to make up for days they have missed by giving extra food. If your tank has a high evaporation rate you may also want to arrange for it to be topped off with fresh water. This is most important in a marine tank, as you don't want the salinity drifting too high. You can't guarantee there won't be a major equipment failure or some other kind of disaster while you're away, but you can minimize the risk by replacing any suspect equipment well in advance (so you can be sure the replacement is working). Don't add any new fish in the month before your vacation in case they introduce disease that takes some time to come to light. Clean your tank and filter and do a normal water change before you go, but if you've neglected maintenance don't wait until the day before you leave and then blitz it. That will stress your fish and perhaps damage your filtration bacteria just when they least need it. If there is a serious problem, the chances are that it will be discovered too late to do anything about it. However, looking after someone else's fish can feel like a heavy burden of responsibility, and your helper might have better peace of mind if they have the number of a fish store or some other source of expert advice to call in an emergency.


Moving a Tank
The best word on moving fish (and in this discussion, fish includes all aquarium animal life), beyond very short distances, is DON'T. Travel is very stressful on fish, and even with the best precautions you should expect to lose several. Given that this is true, you may want to seriously consider selling off your stock and getting new fish at your destination. If, given the above, you still want to try to move fish, then the following may help to minimize the pain and loss of fish. The task of moving fish splits into two tasks: moving the tank, and then (later) moving the fish. Never attempt to move the fish in their tank.

Moving the tank

The main problem in moving the tank is the filtration system. After a very few hours (less than a day) without a flow of oxygen-laden water, aerobic bacteria start to die. If you are moving a short distance (a few hours' drive or so), it may be possible to preserve your bacteria colony; even for longer drives, some of the bacteria will survive and rebuild itself quickly. With a modest amount of ingenuity and planning, it should be possible to minimize the down time of the filter by keeping water flowing though the media until the last possible minute and restarting it as soon as you arrive. It is advisable to always try to save your old filter media rather than throw it away. The moving procedure is as follows: 1. Put your fish in a holding container (more on that below) 2. Drain your tank. If the move is going to be short, preserve some of the water to help preserve the bacteria colony. 3. Disassemble your tank. Aquarium plants will survive a fair amount of time if their roots are kept wet, so it should be possible to bag them with some water and set them aside for hand-moving. If the move is going to be short, put your (unrinsed) filter medium in a sealed container (preferably a never-used pail or other chemical-free hard-sided container); keep the media wet, but not submerged. For long moves (more than one day), either clean or discard your filter media. Pumps, heaters, etc. can be packed as any fragile appliance. 4. Move your tank. Don't use a moving company or professional packers, unless you have absolutely no choice AND you can supervise them packing the tank and loading it in the truck. It's far better to move it yourself or with the help of friends. 5. Reassemble your tank at your destination. If you're doing a short move you should have enough dechlorinated/treated water available on arrival to fill your tank and get water moving through your filter. If you're doing a long move, then set your tank up as if it was a new tank-- including a week-long delay before putting fish in the tank. Initially, put in a few hardy fish to get the nitrate cycle established. After the tank is stable, put the fish from your old home back in.


Moving the fish

There are three problems in moving the fish: 1. Where do you put them? You have two options: a friend's tank, and a pet store tank. Some pet stores will, for a fee, board fish during a move. A signed contract, detailing what responsibilities the pet store is assuming, is a very good idea. Some pet stores, for a further fee, will pack and air-ship the fish to you on request. This isn't cheap. Bear in mind that you'll be leaving the fish there for at least a couple of weeks. 2. How do you pack them? For short periods of time (a couple of hours, tops) you can put the fish in sealed bags, half-filled with air. This time can be stretched somewhat by filling with oxygen, rather than air. Put the bags in a padded, compartmentalized container, and ship by air. (This is how pet stores receive their fish). For larger fish, or longer trips, one can use a sealed bucket for each fish, rather than a bag. 3. How do you support them on the move? Fish won't eat during the move. They're too stressed, and you don't want to degrade the water quality by the food, anyway. Fish can survive a week or so without food if they've been previously well fed. Try to maintain an even temperature, perhaps by placing the fish in a sealed cooler, or compartmentalized cooler. For long trips, particularly by car, a battery-powered airpump and airstone is a good idea (if not a must). After the move, slowly condition the fish to the new tank location, as you would in adding new fish to a tank.

It's come to this has it? You've read all the FAQs, found out everything you can about diseases, ailments and the proper treatments, asked for help from several knowledgeable sources and have come to the conclusion that you cannot nurse your fish back to health. And since you took on the responsibility of caring for the fish you now must find the most humane method in helping it to die. Several options exist for euthanizing your ill pet. They include chemicals, decapitation, and donation. The best method is probably through the use of chemicals. A few vets recommend an overdose of MS-222, a fish anesthetic. It can be purchased from chemical supply companies as MS-222, tricaine methanesulfonate or Ethyl 3-aminobenzoate, methanesulfonic acid salt. Immerse the fish in a container of 350 ppm MS-222 (350 mg MS-222 per liter of water) for 10 minutes. This is very humane and is non-traumatic for both the fish and owner. Another chemical method is the injection of pentothal into the abdominal cavity. This may be more difficult for the owner as syringes may be hard to come by and sticking animals with needles may not sit well with some people. It is almost painless for the fish if this helps ease your hesitations regarding this method. Finally one can use alcohol to euthanize a fish. Make a 1:5 (20%) solution of Vodka (or any other similar strong grain neutral alcohol) and water. Then place the fish into the container and it will simply `go to sleep'. These 3 methods are highly recommended as they are very humane. One method that has been recommended by a non-veterinary (but experienced Oscar breeder) type is the use of Alka-Seltzer. Place the fish in a shallow container of water and place 2 Alka-Seltzer tablets in a position under the gills. The fish supposedly will `fall asleep' within minutes. A non-chemical but effective method is decapitation. Once again, some owners may be squeamish over this method. If done properly is quick and painless for the animal, and has the

benefit of being cheap; most of us own knives but not anesthetics. Use a sharp knife and sever the spinal cord by quickly cutting down through the body just behind the eye at the level of the lateral line. The quicker you make this cut the better it will be for the fish. Remember to disinfect this knife after the procedure if you plan on using it for anything other than euthanizing fish. If you are unable to go through with any of the above methods try contacting a local university. It is possible that one of the departments in biology or similar fields will take your sick fish off your hands. They may use the fish for research and study its disease or will be able to dispose of it properly. Methods that are not recommended but are often mentioned include variations on freezing. Fish tend to suffer in these procedures. It does not matter whether they cool down slowly when you place them in a bowl of water in the freezer or if the water is already cold from the addition of ice cubes. Fish react to these methods in a negative way, and it is painful to watch. Finally one should NEVER flush a fish down the toilet. This is not an effective method of euthanasia but is a form of torture as the fish ends up in a septic tank or similar place where it is bathed in nasty chemicals and sewage before finally succumbing hours if not days later.

Aquarium Filtration
1. Why you need Filtration
Sometimes we forget that fish kept in an aquarium are confined to a very small quantity of water as compared to their natural habitats in the wild. In the wild, fish wastes are instantly diluted. But in an aquarium, waste products can quickly build up to toxic levels. These waste products include ammonia released from your fishes' gills, fish poop, and scraps of uneaten food. The food and the poop will also eventually decay, releasing ammonia. Even small amounts of ammonia will kill your fish. Obviously, the more sources of fish waste, the quicker and greater the ammonia problem. A small heavily-fed tank with lots of large fish will have much more ammonia than a large tank with one seldom-fed small fish. But for both these cases you need some form of aquarium filtration to control the toxic ammonia. Some aquarists try to control ammonia levels exclusively by changing the water. This is helpful, but impractical because of the frequency and size of the water changes required. Fortunately, there is an easier way! In fact, the world is full of bacteria that want nothing more than to consume the ammonia and convert it into less toxic substances. For many an aquarist, this process occurs without their knowledge or help. However, the smart aquarist will learn how to take advantage of this beneficial bacteria by maximizing its growth. When you start a new fish tank, colonies of beneficial bacteria have not yet had the chance to grow. For a period of several weeks this is hazardous to fish. You must gradually build up the source of ammonia (i.e., start with only one or two small fish) to allow time for the beneficial bacteria to grow. This is called cycling your tank.


Remember that the bacteria break down the ammonia into substances (first nitrite, then eventually nitrate) that are merely less toxic, rather than non-toxic. Many fish can tolerate reasonably high levels of nitrates, but over time the nitrates will accumulate until they, too, become toxic. Also, because nitrate is a fertilizer, high nitrate levels can lead to excess algae growth.

Water changes
Although there are many ways to remove excess nitrate, the most effective way is to regularly change part of the water. This is one of the most neglected and important parts of aquarium maintenance! How often and how much you need to change depends a lot on the waste load in your tank, and the sensitivity of your fish. You don't want to change ALL of the water at any point in time because the change in water chemistry will be stressful to your fish. The best way to decide how often and how much to change your water is to monitor your water quality with water tests. As a minimum, if your tank is new, you should test for ammonia and perhaps nitrite. In established tanks you should monitor for nitrate accumulation. Water tests are the most reliable way to know how well your aquarium filtration works. For an average tank, you should change no more than one third of the water in 24 hours. Many aquarists with average aquariums change a quarter of the water every two weeks. Your aquarium is probably not average, and you really should measure nitrate levels to determine your water change schedule.

Biological filtration
Biological filtration is the term for fostering ammonia-neutralizing bacteria growth. It is so important to the health of your aquarium that we should look at how this process works more closely. (There are other types of wastes that can cause problems, but the regular partial water changes needed to control nitrates are typically enough to control other forms of waste as well.) Mother Nature provides several types of bacteria that break down ammonia into progressively less toxic compounds, nitrite and nitrate. These bacteria are not harmful and are quite abundant in nature. They are so common that we do not need to add them to our aquariums; nature does it for us. In the presence of ammonia and oxygen these bacteria will naturally multiply. The bacteria attach to the tank, rocks, gravel, and even tank decorations. Note that we have not yet said anything about a physical filter. This is because biofiltration bacteria require only 1. A surface upon which to attach, 2. ammonia for food, and 3. oxygen-rich water. This sounds so simple; why do we need a physical filter? Actually, if you limit the amount of fish to what the natural biofiltration can handle, you do not need a physical filter. Unfortunately, you cannot support very many fish with only the natural biofiltration.

In the last few decades, the hobby has seen many new types of biological filters invented which can vastly increase the capacity of the bacteria colony to provide biological filtration to your aquarium. In essence, all of these types of filters provide additional surface area for bacteria attachment and increase the available oxygen dissolved in the water.

Mechanical filtration
Remember that ammonia comes directly from the gills of your fish, but also from decaying fish poop and food scraps. If you can mechanically filter out the poop and the waste food before it gets a chance to decay, you can be a step ahead in the game. Not to mention that these wastes are ugly and can detract from the beauty and enjoyment of your aquarium. Simply stated, mechanical filtration is the straining of solid particles from the aquarium water. Mechanical filtration does not directly remove dissolved ammonia. Most common mechanical filter media do not remove microscopic bacteria and algae from the water. Neither will mechanical filtration remove any solids trapped by gravel, plants, or decorations. You will need another method to remove the solid wastes from the nooks and crannies of your aquarium. One of the easiest methods is to vacuum the gravel, etc., as part of your regular water change routine and everybody should do this. (Note that those marine aquariums which use live substrates are an exception.) Some people install circulation pumps, known as wave makers, to improve the chance of catching solid wastes in the mechanical filter. The four most popular mechanical filtration media are sponges, paper cartridges, loose and bonded floss media which are reusable to different degrees. Clean paper cartridges have the smallest openings and clean bonded floss has the largest openings. Clean sponges and clean loose floss fall somewhere between. A filter media with small openings catches finer particles, but clogs faster. Also, as a rule, a physically large filter area will clog more slowly than a small filter. As the filter media gets dirty it will trap smaller and smaller particles. At some point the media is so clogged that it will not pass water. SUMMARY: A good mechanical filter is one that traps enough solids to keep the water clear without plugging too often.

Chemical Filtration
Chemical filtration, in short, is the removal of dissolved wastes from aquarium water. Dissolved wastes exist in the water at a molecular level, and fall into two general categories, polar and nonpolar. The most common chemical filtration method involves filtering the water through gas activated carbon which works best on the nonpolar wastes (but also removes polar wastes). Another effective method is protein skimming, which removes polar wastes such as dissolved organics. Granular activated carbon (GAC) is manufactured from carbon, typically coal, heated in the presence of steam at very high heat. This process causes the carbon to develop huge numbers of tiny pores, which trap nonpolar wastes at the molecular levels by means of adsorption and ion exchange, and removes heavy metals and organic molecules, which are the source of undesirable colors and odors, through a process known as molecular sieving.

The best GAC for filtering water is made from coal and is macroporous (having larger pores). A good macroporous activated carbon feels light (not dense) and fizzes and floats when initially wetted. GAC intended for removing wastes from air (such as odors) are commonly made from coconut shell and are microporous. Carbons for filtering air feel more dense. Some people (especially those with reef aquaria) are concerned about phosphate leaching from activated carbons. As a rule, buy only carbons made by reputable aquarium supply companies which have been acid washed during manufacture to minimize ash content. Carbons low in ash also help reduce the chance of undesirable pH shifts. Low ash carbons typically have lower phosphate leaching levels too. The phosphate in GAC stems from the fact that activated carbon is manufactured from coal, which was once living plant matter. All living matter is high in phosphates. The leaching of phosphate from GAC is known to be high initially and to decrease over time. This problem can be mitigated significantly by presoaking your activated carbon for a few weeks before use. Some people are concerned about GAC removing trace elements required by plants and invertebrates for healthy growth. Trace element depletion is a problem in planted aquaria and minireefs, with or without activated carbon. The potential benefits of activated carbon are great enough that on whole you will be better off using it. If trace element depletion is a worry, use a trace element supplement in conjunction with the activated carbon. GAC cannot be rejuvenated outside a laboratory, but fortunately, it is cheap enough to use liberally. Always wash your carbon before use to remove the dust that accumulates during shipment. Advice on how much to use vary, but smaller amounts changed more frequently seem to work best. You probably want to experiment, but 1/2 cup per 20 gallons water, changed monthly is a good starting point. In summary, activated carbon is an excellent, cheap and effective filtration method which is highly recommended for all aquaria. A variety of special chemical filtration media have been developed to remove specific chemicals. A common one is made from the zeolite clay (also used as some cat litters), and is marketed under such brand names as Ammo-Carb. This media removes ammonia from water, and is good for short term use. The aquarist should be aware that if zeolite is used, especially when cycling a new aquarium, then the establishment of natural biological filtration will be delayed or disrupted. Protein skimmers are primarily used in saltwater aquaria, especially reefs. They have the remarkable ability to remove dissolved organic wastes before they decompose. The process involves taking advantage of the polar nature of the organic molecules, which are attracted to the surface of air bubbles injected into a column of water. The resultant foam is skimmed off and discarded.

The humble corner filter
For decades, hobbyists have successfully kept fish healthy and happy through the use of the $2.49 corner filter. Typically, they are clear plastic boxes, which sit inside the tank. An air stone bubbles air through an air lift tube, which forces water through a bed of filter floss or other media. mechanically filtering the water. Colonies of bacteria build up on the media,

providing excellent biological filtration. (It is important to change only some of the media at any given time! This way the bacteria does not get wiped out.) Nowadays people don't use corner filters as much because they're ugly, take up space in the tank, and require a bit more frequent maintenance than other filters. But you can't beat the price. Another use of the corner filter, that is not really matched by other filter types, is as an impromptu quarantine tank filter. If you have the need to set up a second tank on the quick, you can take some gravel from an established tank and put it in a corner filter, and immediately, you will have a functioning biological filter. This way you can turn a five gallon bucket into a quick and cheap hospital/quarantine tank on a moment's notice.

Undergravel Filters
Fish stores commonly sell undergravel filters (UGF's) to beginners in aquarium kits because they are cheap, and they work (for a while). UGF's work by slowly passing water through the bottom gravel, which sits on top of a perforated plate. The water can be pumped with an air lift, with bubbles air lifting the water in a vertical tube attached to the filter plate. Also, some people prefer the increased water flow achieved with submersible pumps, called powerheads, attached to the same lift tubes. UGF's make good biological filters, because the slow flow of water through the gravel fosters large colonies of beneficial bacteria which neutralize toxic ammonia. The hitch is, that UGF's are awful mechanical filters. Fish waste gets pulled out of sight into the gravel. Before you know it, the gravel clogs up. You then have a big mess and a health risk to your fish! A partial solution to this dilemma is to run the powerhead in reverse, sending water up through the gravel. This technique is known as Reverse-flow Undergravel Filtration (RUGF); conversion kits or special powerheads can be purchased to accomplish this. The intake of the powerhead is covered with a porous sponge which serves to "prefilter" out some of the waste that can clog the gravel. In actually practice, this helps, but is only a partial solution. If you choose to use an UGF/RUGF, you must regularly vacuum your gravel. Fish stores sell siphon hoses with a wide mouth gravel vacuum tube attachment that washes the gravel during your regular water changes. IF you clean your gravel regularly, and maintain a regular and frequent partial water routine, UGF's and RUGF's are an economical and effective aquarium filter in freshwater aquariums, and in lightly stocked saltwater fish-only aquariums.

Sponge filters
Sponge filters provide an efficient and cheap form of biological filtration. Water is forced through a porous foam, either by a powerhead, or air bubbling through an airlift tube. Water flowing though the sponge allows the growth of a colony of beneficial bacteria which neutralizes toxic ammonia. One style of sponge filter uses two sponges attached to one lift tube. These have the advantage that the sponges can be cleaned one at a time, reducing bacterial loss. Also, one of the sponges can be removed and transferred to a new tank, bringing with it a colony of beneficial bacteria, and thereby "jump starting" the cycling of a new tank. Some enlightened fish stores sell these double sponge filters to beginner customers when they sell a tank kit. They take one of the new sponges out of the "box" and swap it for a old established sponge in one of their tanks in their store which is carried home in a plastic bag.

Power filters
Most people agree that power filters are much easier to maintain and can be as economical as undergravel filters. There are many styles of power filters, but the most common hangs on the back of the tank. A siphon tube pulls water from the tank into the filter box and passes the water though a mechanical filter (typically a porous foam sponge). The sponge doubles as a biological filter. A internal pump then returns the filtered water into the aquarium. These power filters come in many sizes suited for small to large aquariums. The foam sponge can be easily inspected for clogging or removed for cleaning. You must clean the sponge regularly to remove the solid wastes before they decompose and dissolve back into the water. It is quite important that when you clean the porous foam that you do not kill the bacteria colony through the use of detergents, very hot or very cold water. A safe and easy way is to rinse the foam sponge in the bucket into which you have just drained some tank water during your regular water change routine. Power filters now come with all sorts of fancy features. Most allow placement of a chemical filtering media, typically granular activated carbon, in the water path. Another development in the last few years is the wet-dry wheel (called a biowheel by one manufacturer). The beneficial bacterial colonies that neutralize toxic ammonia require an oxygen rich environment to grow. The wet-dry wheel passes water over a water wheel device which sits outside (on the edge) of the aquarium. This rotating wheel maximizes available oxygen allowing a large bacteria colony to flourish. One drawback is that these wheels have been known to jam, so you need to check them frequently. Other than this minor point, the wet-dry wheel is an excellent method of providing vigorous biological filtration.

The Canister filter

Canister filters have some similarities with the hang on tank style of power filters, but the essential difference is that canister filters are designed to provide more powerful mechanical filtration. Typically, the water is pumped, at moderate pressure through a filter material, such as glass wool, or a micron filter cartridge. Canister filters are especially useful in aquaria with large or numerous messy eaters that generate a lot of waste. For these filters to be effective they must be frequently cleaned, to avoid the decomposition of waste in the water stream. These filters usually sit on the floor below the tank, but also can hang on the tank, and in some designs even sit inside the tank, in which case they are called a submersible filter. Some hobbyists attach a wet-dry wheel to the outflow of their canister to improve the biological filtration capacity of this type of filtration system.

Wet/Dry Filters
Also known as trickle filters, wet/dry filters work on the principle that the beneficial colonies of ammonia neutralizing bacteria grow best in the presence of well oxygenated water. By trickling water over unsubmerged plastic gizmos or other media, wet/dry filters provide a very large air/water surface area. They come in many shapes and sizes. The boom in successful saltwater aquariums in the 1980's can be attributed to the use of this filter type. Many things can used for the media, with the best providing great amounts of surface area, while at the same time having large openings to reduce the tendency to clog and ensure

efficient gas exchange. The problem of clogging of the media can also be reduced by prefiltering the water with an efficient mechanical filter, and (when used) with a protein skimmer.

Protein skimmers (aka Foam Fractionators)

Protein skimmers were initially developed for use in industrial sewage treatment plants where they are also known by the term foam fractionator. Protein skimmers have the unique ability to remove dissolved organic wastes BEFORE they decompose! This is a neat trick which is accomplished by taking advantage of the fact that organic chemicals are attracted to the surfaces of bubbles which are passed in large numbers through a column of water. The foam is then skimmed off the water, while at the same time removing the organic wastes. The foaming process only works in a water with high pH and salinity, and as a result skimmers are primarily for saltwater use. The protein skimmer is largely responsible for the boom in reef aquaria in the 1990's, due to the high water quality possible with this type of filtration. A current state of the art in reef systems is based upon the use of protein skimmers and live rock without the use of a wet/dry filter. This school of thought is known as the Berlin method.

Fluidized bed filters

Very recently, some hobbyists have reported success with a new type of filter which uses a fluidized bed of sand. This filter is roughly similar in principle to the reverse flow undergravel filter, but with much higher water flow. The higher water flow keeps the sand clean of debris, while at the same time allowing the development of large and efficient colonies of beneficial bacteria. Reported problems include oxygen depletion and clogging.

Another specialized type of filter is designed to help in the control of the accumulation of nitrates, the end product of the neutralization of ammonia by the biological activity of bacteria. These fall into two categories, the anoxic bacterial, and the plant/algal scrubbers (discussed in the next section). It has been discovered that colonies of bacteria that grow in oxygen poor environments can be harnessed to biologically consume nitrate, and release harmless nitrogen gas. This method is achieved in one of two ways. The process was first developed in the 1980's through the use of a box system, coil, or porous foam block which allowed very slow transmission of nitrate-laden water. Inside the box/coil/foam, sugar was placed, and the slow passage of water quickly became anoxic. In these anoxic conditions, bacteria would grow and consume excess nitrate. Many aquarists have reported failure in their attempts at this type of filtration. More recently, hobbyists have developed similar anoxic conditions below plates at the bottom of their tanks buried in fine sand. In the saltwater systems, these sand beds are referred to as "live sand". In freshwater-planted systems, fine grain substrates are allowed to develop anoxic zones which probably also has a denitrification capability. The Berlin Method of reef aquariums involves the use of large quantities of live rock harvested from tropical reefs. Aquarists report good nitrate control in live rock systems, which, though not well understood, probably involve the denitrification of the nitrates within


the interior of the rocks. Another school of thought is that the heavy growths of calcareous algae on the live rocks in Berlin Method reef aquariums consume nitrate.

Algal Scrubbers
Algal scrubbers use live algae to do the filtration. Water is run over a wire mesh in a trough under bright lights, where algae is encouraged to grow. The growth of the algae removes some pollutants from the water. This is a controversial form of filtration for reefs and large marine ecosystems invented by Dr. Adey at the Smithsonian. Some believe it is a complete filtration solution, others claim its use leads to poor water quality and algae growth in the tank as well. In freshwater-planted aquariums vigorous plant growth has been observed to beneficially consume excess dissolved nitrates.

While not really a filtration, saltwater aquarists occasionally have the need to lower the temperature of their aquarium water. The high light levels needed in reef aquaria involve a build up of excess heat. Use of a hood fan and removal of the ballast from the vicinity of the tank can also help. Submerged pumps are also a source of unwanted heat, and as a solution, reef aquarists favor the non-submerged pumps due to the decreased transfer of heat to the water. A little recognized source of heat control is through the natural cooling effect of evaporation in wet dry filters, and through the flow of air over the surface of the aquarium. Nevertheless, additional cooling is often required, especially in warm climates. This is achieved through the use of "freon" style cooler units similar to home refrigerators. They either pass the water through a heat exchange unit, or pass coolant through a heat exchanger in the tank. Those chillers are expensive but not many people have had success in the "do it yourself" construction of chillers. (The "dorm" type of refrigerator is not powerful enough to be of use, just in case you were thinking about this.)

In especially sensitive aquaria, infections resulting from water born parasites, fungi, bacterium and vires can cause serious problems. Water sterilization is most beneficial for breeders (as it can help control infections of incubating eggs), for centralized multi-tank filtration (to control the spread of disease between tanks), and for delicate and/or costly setups such as large tanks and reef systems (as a safety measure). It is important to remember that a healthy aquarium depends on beneficial bacteria typically growing on media in your filter which neutralize ammonia. At most, your sterilizer can kill some water born pathogens, but total sterilization is not possible or desirable. Aquarists who practice prudent quarantine procedures for newly acquired fish generally do not need to sterilize. Two main types of sterilization are used, ozone injection and ultraviolet irradiation.: Ozone Ozone gas is highly reactive and is a powerful oxidizer of organic pollutants, including living pathogens. Another benefit of water treatment with ozone gas is that it systematically reduces dissolved organic compounds in the water stream which increases the reserve capacity of the

water to oxidize organic waste throughout the aquarium. Ozone laden water also improves the ability of protein skimmers to generate foam which increases their overall performance. Prior to the discovery of the live rock/protein skimmer "Berlin Method" style of reef keeping, ozone injection was considered part of a "state of the art" filtration system, especially among Europeans in the 1980's. The trend of late is towards the more simple and natural Berlin Method. Though ozone use remains beneficial, it is being used less in recent years among reef keepers. Ozone gas is produced by devices that create a spark in dry air. As humidity drastically reduces the efficiency of ozone generators most aquarist choose to pretreat the air for the ozonizer with a dehumidifier. Ozone gas is highly corrosive; all elements (especially rubber), which can come in contact with ozone, must be made from ozone safe materials (commonly silicone). Residual ozone can be efficiently stripped from air by passing the air through activated carbon. Ozone must not be allowed to enter your aquarium because it can kill your fish and invertebrates and/or damage the beneficial bacterial in your biological filter. Also, ozone gas is unsafe to breath and can cause irritation even in small concentrations. Ultraviolet Sterilizers High intensity ultraviolet light destroys the DNA in living cells and can be an effective means to control living pathogens. The most effective UV light is the high energy UV(C) light roughly at the wavelength of 250 Angstroms. To be effective, UV Sterilization (UVS) must expose the pathogens to high enough light intensity for a long enough period of time. Martin Moe cites 35,000 to 100,000 microwatts per second per square centimeter as the norm, which works out to roughly 10 to 25 gallons per hour per watt (or less for units not operating at peak efficiency). Common problems that can reduce efficiency and kill rate are: 1. Allowing the water to flow too fast past the UV light. 2. Light blockage due to a build up of salt deposits or bacterial slime on the bulb. 3. Fading of the light due to age of the bulb (which typically have a six month life.) The same property of this light that kills germs can damage your eyes, and special care MUST BE TAKEN to avoid direct or indirect eye contact with this light. [This is especially serious because the damage occurs inside your eyes before you feel any pain. Too many people have already damaged their eyes in this way!] The UV(C) light does not penetrate water very well, so to be effective, UV Sterilizers commonly position the UV bulb close to the water which also can pose a risk of electrical shock should the bulb break, etc.. There are three types of UV Sterilizers: 1. Tray type. (Typically homemade) with UV bulbs suspended in a reflecting fixture over a shallow tray of slow flowing water. Benefits: easily cleaned, can be cheap, can be made large enough for commercial applications. Problems: safety risks to your eyes, too large and awkward for many home uses. 2. Tube type, wet bulb. Tube types have the benefit of exposing all sides of the UV tube to water with no reflector. The water passes directly past the bulb that is mounted in a waterproof tube. Benefits: cheap, compact and effective. Problems: difficult to clean the slime accumulations from the bulb, safety risks due to electrical shock.


3. Tube type, dry bulb. Similar to above, but the UV tube is surrounded by a quartz tube [glass blocks UV(C) light] insulating it from the water. These are more expensive and probably safer. Changing the light bulb is easier and dry bulb tube types can have a internal device to wipe slime from the quartz tube. Some of these types come with sensors to monitor the intensity of the light to let you know when to replace/clean the bulb. etc..

Tables of Data
Celsius (Centigrade) = (Fahrenheit - 32) * 5/9 1 Liter 1 U.S. Gallon 1 Meter 1 Inch 1 Foot 1 Yard 1 Ounce = 0.264 Gallon = 3.78 Liter = 39.4 inches = 2.54 cm = 12 inches = 36 inches = 29 grams (on Earth)

1 British Gallon = 4.5446 Liter

Chemical Concentrations
1 degree hardness (GH)

= 17.8 ppm CaCO3 = 2.8 degrees KH = 1 mg/L = 4.4 * Nitrate-N = 3.3 * Nitrite-N = 1.1 * Ammonia-N

1 degree "carbonate hardness " (KH) = 17.8 ppm CaCO3 1 meq/L alkalinity 1 ppm Nitrate-NO3 Nitrite-NO2 Ammonia-NH3

Note that the term carbonate hardness is bit of a misnomer, and most amateur chemists would prefer we use the more appropriate term Alkalinity.

Tank Weight and Volume Calculations

In metric, this calculation is quite easy because 1 cubic centimeter of water has a mass of 1 gram, or 1 liter of water has a mass of 1 kg. Thus, the water in a 200L tank will have a mass of 200 kg (don't forget to add the weight of rocks into your estimate!). If you need to work from tank dimensions, multiply the length times width, times height in centimeters to obtain the mass in grams.


For those of us having to work in inches and pounds, 1 gallon of water at 4C 231 cu inches (in ^ 3) 1 cu foot (ft ^ 3) Example: 44x16x16 tank = 11264 in^3 = 48.76 gallons. Tank will weigh 418 lbs (roughly) (+ rocks which have an SG much higher than 1, so you can *roughly* say " + rocks ") The pressure at the bottom of the tank will be 0.59 psi, or 85 psf, roughly 13% more than the standard loading for code construction, so catch an extra joist or three with the stand!! Along the bottom strip of the tank, you will have a total (uniformly spread side to side) force of ( 15.5/12*.445*44 = 25 lbs) pushing outwards against your joints. The total force on the long side will be ( 8/12*.445*44*16 = 208 pounds). Note: In general, this is NOT half of the water weight. This is a coincidence due to the same bottom and side shape. = 8.57 lbs approximate weight = 1 gallon = 7.48 gallons = 1728 in^3

One foot of fresh water depth = .445 psi.

Other useful points...

Weight = psi at bottom * bottom area ( (44x16=704 in^2) * .445*16/12 = 418 lbs) Note: If this doesn't give you the same answer as the volume calculation SOMETHING IS WRONG! Standard (new) wood joist floor loading is 75 psf. This corresponds to one 14" high tank of any other dimensions. Before you build that 30" high tank, think about where it goes! For old houses and houses not to code, this may be worse (or better, who knows?).

Common tank sizes (courtesy of All-Glass Aquariums)

These match the table on the back of Catalog AA693, but are sorted by the tank's "footprint".
Tank Size Exact Outside Dimensions (inches) (L x W x H) (Including frame) 20 1/4 20 1/4 20 1/4 24 1/4 24 1/4 24 1/4 x 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 x 10 1/2 x x 8 1/2 8 1/2 x 12 9/16 x 18 3/4 x 23 3/4 x 12 5/8 x 16 5/8 x 12 3/4 Weight Empty (lbs) 11 22 32 16 22 21 Weight Full (lbs) 111 170 232 116 170 170 Tempered Bottom

10 Leader 15 High 20 X-High 10 Long 15 Show 15 Gallon

x 12 1/2


20 High 25 Gallon 30 X-High 20 Long 29 Gallon 37 Gallon 26 23 30 38 45 Flatback Long Gallon Gallon Gallon

24 1/4 24 1/4 24 1/4 30 1/4 30 1/4 30 1/4 36 36 36 36 36 1/4 1/4 1/4 1/4 1/4

x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 x x x x x 12 12 12 12 12 1/2 5/8 5/8 5/8 5/8

x 16 3/4 x 20 3/4 x 24 3/4 x 12 3/4 x 18 3/4 x 22 3/4 x x x x x 16 13 16 19 23 5/8 3/4 3/4 3/4

25 32 41 25 40 45 42 32 43 47 66 48 58 100 126 52 55 60 78 111 200 140 160 228 215 182 206 338 338 2.6 7 9 10.5 18.5 25.5 12 23 43 110

225 282 340 225 330 415 300 253 343 427 515 348 458 600 775 382 455 510 625 710 990 850 1050 1320 1400 1150 1400 1800 2100 27 62 49 70 115 175 110 220 390 750 X X X X X X X X


30 Breeder 40 Breeder 50 Gallon 65 Gallon 33 40 45 55 60 Long Long Long Gallon Gallon

36 3/16 x 18 1/4 36 3/16 x 18 1/4 36 7/8 36 7/8 48 48 48 48 48 1/4 1/4 1/4 1/4 3/8 x 19 x 19 x x x x x 12 12 12 12 12 3/4 3/4 3/4 3/4 7/8

x 12 15/16 x 16 15/16 x 19 5/8 x 24 5/8 x x x x x 12 7/8 16 7/8 19 21 23 7/8

80 X-High 75 Gallon 90 Gallon 110 X-High 120 Gallon 100 Gallon 125 Gallon 150 Gallon 180 Gallon 2 1/2 Mini 5 1/2 Gallon 4 Designer 6 Designer 10 Designer 15 Designer 10 20 35 60 Hexagon Hexagon Hexagon Hexagon

48 7/8 48 1/2 48 1/2 48 7/8 48 1/2 72 1/2 72 1/2 72 1/2 72 1/2

x 14 x 18 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 19 x 24 1/4 x 18 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 24 1/2 6 1/8 8 3/8

x 30 3/4 x 21 3/8 x 25 3/8 x 30 3/4 x 25 1/2 x 19 3/8 x 23 3/8 x 28 1/2 x 25 5/8 x 8 1/8 x 10 1/2 x x x x x x x x 18 7/8 24 7/8 19 25 18 20 24 29 3/4 5/8 3/4 1/2

12 3/16 x 16 3/16 x 8 8 13 13 14 18 23 27 1/4 1/4 5/8 5/8 1/2 3/4 1/4 1/4

x 8 1/4 x 8 1/4 x 13 5/8 x 13 5/8 x x x x 12 16 20 24 9/16 1/4 3/16 1/8

General Questions
What do you absolutely need to grow plants?
Successful plant growth requires a balance of light, nutrients, trace elements, and carbon dioxide (CO2). The light should be provided in a spectrum the plants can absorb, must be of great enough intensity to keep the plant alive, and should be consistently on 10-14 hours a

day. Most nutrients are supplied by fish waste. Some trace elements might be supplied by your tap water, but are more consistently obtained using commercial trace element mixtures. CO2 is supplied partly from the air and partly by your fish, but can be enhanced by injecting it from an external source (for example, a compressed bottle). If your plants have a deficiency of even one of these factors, their growth will be limited. (Don't panic about this; most of us don't need optimal plant growth.) Overabundance of one factor over another may cause problems, such as plant malnourishment, undue algae growth or toxic buildup. Each ingredient will be discussed in detail in the following sections.

My friend grows plants beautiful plants and doesn't do high-tech stuff like CO2 or fertilizers. Is it really necessary?
The quick answer to this is no. It is completely possible to grow plants using basic tank equipment, either by chance or by patiently learning through trial-and-error. This is accomplished by slight modification of the basic equipment and usual fishkeeping practice. High-tech gadgetry, however, can remove much of the guesswork by allowing you to better control each of the four ingredients. We should also mention that the term beautiful is a bit subjective here; Many hobbyists achieve great success with easy plants and no special equipment, and this is perfectly fine. But beware comparing this to a high-tech monger and their ability to grow a wider variety of plants, because they're really two different categories!.

How do I disinfect my plants?

New plants may have unwanted hitchers: snails, algae or disease. Disinfection can help reduce their transmission into the tank, and can be used to remove algae growths from established plants. Beware, there is always a danger of going too far and damaging the plant itself. Some popular methods:

A ten minute soak in potassium permangenate (pale purple) works well; it is available in dilute form from Jungle products as "Clear Water". Permangenate is particularly good for killing bacteria and pathogens. A 2-day soak in 1 tbsp/gallon of alum (buy it at drug stores) is good for killing snails and their eggs. If the plants are kept in a fish-free system for three weeks, parasites like ich and velvet will die without their fish hosts. A soak in a 1:19 diluted bleach solution; 2 minutes for stem plants, 3 minutes for tougher plants. Make sure to remove all traces of bleach afterwards by rinsing with water and dechlorinator. This method can kill your plants, so use only as a last resort against hell algae.

Do I leave my new plants in the pot?

Many aquatic plants are now sold in potted rockwool. Plants with delicate roots, such as Cryptocoryne and Anubias, are usually best left in the rockwool wadding, especially if you have to move them around in the tank. Leaving them potted also can reduce transplant shock; otherwise you must be patient and allow the plants time to recover in their new substrate. You can bury the pots in your gravel to conceal them. Some folks like to cut away the plastic pot, and just leave the plant in the wadding so it can grow out into the substrate.


What kind of plants can I keep with fish X? What kind of fish can I keep with plant X?
These are essentially the same question, though asking the second one shows you are a serious plant person. You need to match the habits of the fish with the plant. Big cichlids that like to dig should not be kept in a tank with rooted plants, though floating (or ephiphytic) plants are fine. Vegetarian fish should not be kept in a tank with plants they like to eat, unless the plants grow faster than they destroy them! Some algae-eating fish also turn out to be plant-eaters too. In general, try and learn the habits of your fish before you buy them and your plants, and be prepared to find out what works by several trials. Some fish that can be kept with virtually any plants: small tetras, danios, rasboras, gouramis, discus, bettas, angelfish (Pterophylum), rainbowfish, Corydorus catfish, livebearers, killifish, dwarf cichlids, and in general most small fish.

How much light do I need
The classic rule of thumb for lighting is 2-4 watts of fluorescent light per gallon (0.5-1 watts/l) for a tank of normal depth, less than 24 inches (60cm). In reality, the issue is clouded (so to speak) by the amount of algae and other particles in the water and on the walls, what sort of reflector you have on the light source, and how far away the source is from the tank. In general, start with the guidelines, but be prepared to add more later. For plants that demand medium to high light, most people find they need at least two fluorescent bulbs of the length of normal tanks (20-gallon (80l), two 24 inch tubes; 55-gallon (200l), two 48 inch tubes).

Can I grow plants with my single strip light?

Yes, you can, though you are limited to the lowest-light plants and will get very slow growth. Some of these include Java fern, Anubias, Cryptocoryne species, water sprite and Java moss. Some of these plants, notably Cryptocorynes, actually prefer lower light. We should also mention that some people may have luck with plants that normally prefer higher light, but the odds are that they will grow slowly and stunted.

What kind of bulb do I need?

First and foremost, don't use incandescent lights; they generate far too much heat and not enough light. Full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs are ideal, since they duplicate the spectrum of the sun. These tubes (Vitalite, Spectralite) can be costly, at $8 to $20. An inexpensive but effective alternative are tri-phosphor daylight tubes such as the Chroma-50 or Design-50, which retail at $4-8; these tubes do a reasonable approximation of sunlight. Cheaper plant lights are also good, and may actually bring out your fish's color better. Tri-phosphor bulbs (Triton, Tri-lux) are slightly more powerful, but also more expensive than full-spectrum bulbs, and high-end bulbs with internal reflectors (BioLume) are overpriced and unnecessary. Other bulbs to avoid are standard cool-white tubes, and aquarilux tubes, designed to show

off the fish and retard plant growth, though some folks have had success with a mixture of cool white and plant bulbs.

What's T-8?
The term T-8 refers (usually) to high efficiency fluorescent tubes installed in most modern office buildings, as opposed to the "T-12" standard fluorescents. They are currently in vogue with some aquatic plant keepers because of their relative inexpensiveness, longer life, and high energy savings (consider that the ballast and tubes for a 4-tube 128-watt setup can be had for under $50). They can be distinguished from their standard counterparts by three things: 1, diameter (which is the literal meaning of T-8: 8/8 inch, as opposed to T-12 = 12/8 inch), 2,wattage (4-foot 32-watt, 3-foot 25-watt, and 2-foot 17 watt), and 3, their markings ("FO-32", "F32-SPX" "TL7xx", etc., depending on manufacturer). T-8's use a different (but inexpensive) type of ballast, so you should not use them interchangably with standard fluorescents. The one trick with T-8's is that you may need to get the tubes and ballasts from a commercial lighting supplier (check the phone book). Tubes are available in 5000K and 6500K color balances, ideal planted tanks, but they may need to be special ordered. One word of warning, there are some standard fluorescent tubes that are T-8 diameter, most notably 18" and some 36" tubes. These should not be mistaken for the above bulbs, and should be used with normal ballasts. When in doubt, make sure to check the wattage and identification (3-foot 30 watt and 18-inch 15 watt bulbs are not the new kind).

What's MH? Is it better than fluorescent?

Metal Halide (MH) lights are most commonly seen illuminating football fields, but are also used in our hobby by reefkeepers and die-hard plant enthusiasts, who demand very high light intensity. The fixtures cost significantly more than fluorescent (over $200 per fixture). The bulbs last longer and provide more efficient and brighter illumination than fluorescents (typically 175-250 watts per bulb), but generate an appropriately higher level of heat as well. Some aquarists like the sun-like shadow effects generated by MH bulbs.

Can I use those cheap Halogen bulbs from the hardware store?
Do not confuse MH with the tungsten halogen lights sold in hardware stores as utility floods or living room fixtures; Halogen lights are basically high-wattage incandescent lights, and generate an enormous amount of heat and are very inefficient in their light output. Some also find the spectrum too yellowish.

How do I add another light to my tank?

If you can fit a second tube in your existing hood, many stores sell upgrade kits to add the second fixture. Otherwise, you might be able to add a second hood to the tank, or you can find a replacement two-bulb hood. Another option for 4-foot long tanks is to buy a shoplight fixture and lay it across the top over the glass. You can also build your own hood or canopy and mount the shoplight or fixture inside. It's possible to omit the fixture by purchasing special end caps and clips for the tubes. These are available, with ballasts, from aquarium stores and are commonly used by marine aquarists.


How long do I leave the light on each day?

Plants want a definite daily light and dark cycle each day; 10-14 hours is fine; twelve hours is the duration on the equator, where many tropical plants are found. You should buy a timer to automatically turn the lights on and off for you, since the plants & fish prefer a regular cycle to an erratic one. If the plants need more light, you should not extend the light period, as that will only help the algae. Rather, install another fixture and increase the intensity of light. Speaking of timers, many fluorescent fixtures don't self-start, i.e. you have to hold in a button for a few seconds to turn it on. You can quickly convert any fixture into a self-starting one with a few new components from a hardware store or sold as a kit from mail-order houses.

How often do I change the bulb?

Most fluorescent bulbs lose a major portion of their intensity after six months, so they should be replaced every 6-12 months (T-8's can be kept longer). If that seems expensive to you and you can live with the reduced light level, you can cheat and wait until the bulbs burn out after two years (that is, according to TAG editor Neil Frank, what many experienced plant enthusiasts do). It is best to stagger the replacement on multi-bulb tanks in order to avoid dramatic intensity changes.

Won't increased light fill my tank with algae?

If you are adding that second light to your tank for the first time, you should be prepared for this. Increased light is welcomed by both algae and plants, so the plants must out-compete the algae. You can help tip the balance in the plants' favor by maintaining a low fish population, keeping algae eaters, and frequent water changes.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

Is CO2 injection really necessary?
CO2 injection is not required to grow plants. However, most people who have used it feel that, aside from high-intensity lighting, CO2 is the most important step to getting excellent growth. In fact, as light intensity is increased, plants will require more nutrients, including carbon which is derived from CO2. In conjunction with carbonate buffers, CO2 injection will buffer your water to a neutral or low pH. Lower pH will help plants get access to certain nutrients. Some also report CO2 injection keeps algae down.

Isn't CO2 expensive?

The startup cost can be a bit steep; expect to pay around $500 for a fully-automated Dupla system, $350 for a manual injector. If you do it yourself using welding or bar supplies, you can drop the price to $100-$200 for a tank, regulator, and needle valve. After your initial investment, CO2 refills (try fire extinguisher or beverage service outlets) are cheap: $5-10 a year for a 5 lb cylinder. If this is still too much, try the ultra-cheap Yeast Method of brewing CO2 (see below).


How much CO2 is normal?

The optimum dissolved CO2 level in an aquarium is 15-20 ppm. Some references say that levels above 25ppm poison your fish, but general experience is that this doesn't happen. The amount found in the water from atmospheric concentrations varies by elevation and temperature, but is less than 1ppm.

How does the compressed gas method work?

A compressed gas cylinder supplies CO2 at a high pressure of 800-1200 PSI. This is dropped to 5-20 PSI through a regulator, and reduced to a few bubbles per second by a fine-control needle valve. This slow bubbling must be dissolved in your aquarium's water, through either a gas reactor (which lets water and gas mix in a chamber much like a trickle filter), an inverted jar (which just lets the gas diffuse into the water slowly), or by injecting the bubbles into the intake of a power or canister filter (the impeller chops them up into smaller bubbles, many of which dissolve). The reactor is the most efficient method, while the power filter injection is the easiest to try. It is important to have control over the rate of injection, as too much CO2 can kill your fish. Expensive automatic systems use an electronic pH meter to regulate the amount of CO2 in the water by shutting off the gas when the pH drops too low. Manual systems require you to start with very low injection and gradually increase over several days, all the time carefully monitoring pH drops and CO2 bubble rate in order to find the correct needle valve setting.

How does the yeast method work?

CO2 is generated by fermentation of sugars in a bottle (just like when brewing beer!) and then injected into the tank using the same methods described above. The parts are very cheap and easier to set up than the compressed tank. The main drawback is that CO2 generation rate can be erratic, and will quit on you if you do not change the solution (once every two weeks or so) or get the mixture right. The CO2 level generated is lower than that of compressed gas tanks, but is still enough to help plant growth. Initially passed off as useless by much of the aquarium literature, this technique has enjoyed a certain vogue in the last few years as a good way to try CO2 without draining your wallet. Here is one quick construction method: Tap the cap of a 2-liter plastic soft drink bottle (the author uses drip-irrigation taps, which can be obtained cheaply at local hardware stores; if you get leaks, try sealing it with Amazing Goop or Shoe Goo) so that an airline tube can feed the gas into your tank. Half fill the bottle with water, and add 1/2 tsp yeast and 1/2 cup (or more) sugar. The solution will last about two weeks, after which you can throw it out and start a new batch. Beware of water siphoning back from your tank... put a check valve in-line with the airline tube.

Can I just dump carbonated water into my tank?

No! Plants need a slow continuous source of CO2. If you dump carbonated water in, it will spike the pH (stressing your fish), and the CO2 will just dissipate back into the air within a few hours.


Does injecting CO2 reduce the oxygen content?

No. The level of dissolved CO2 and oxygen are actually independent of each other; high levels of both can exist at the same time. Furthermore, if you have a set of healthy plants, they will be saturating the water with oxygen on their own. The problem is that many of the techniques used to increase oxygen content (airstones, trickle filters, keeping the water moving at the surface) also cause CO2 to diffuse out of the aquarium; i.e., if you turn off your airstone in order to keep the CO2 in, you might also reduce your oxygen content. The best solution is to keep the water moving at the surface of the tank, but inject CO2 faster than it can escape, giving you high levels of both CO2 and oxygen.

Nutrients and Fertilizer

Is fish food enough to fertilize my plants?
Fish food usually provides enough of the three macronutrients, nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium (N-P-K), to keep your plants healthy. However, the trace elements such as iron are not all supplied in a form that the plants can use. Some trace elements may be in your tap water, so frequent water changes will replenish them. This may provide enough for some plant growth, but if you want the best growth you should consider adding a trace element fertilizer.

Can I use normal plant fertilizer?

Normal land plant fertilizer contains high amounts of N-P-K which is already supplied by the fish food. Adding more will cause algae outbreaks and possible fish stress. You may be able to find a trace-element-only fertilizer at better garden shops, or even mix your own. Aquarium-specific mixes by Dupla (available world-wide) and Dennerle (not available yet in the U.S.) are expensive, but are proven to work very well. Beware some other brands that supply N-P-K (check the label for ingredients; some do not list their contents for this exact reason.) Fertilizer tabs, or even 1/4 inch pieces of plant sticks (without sulfates) have been successfully used if placed deeply in the substrate and used sparingly.

How do I know if I need fertilizer?

Lack of fertilizer shows up in your plants, as sickly transparent or yellow leaves, as holes in the leaves, and as reduction in plant growth. Old leaves die off more quickly than they are supposed to, and the new leaves are small and stunted. Another symptom is the plants grow very well for a month or so after you buy them, but then stop as their internal supply of trace elements and macro nutrients run out. You also need to add fertilizer if you have high levels of CO2 and lighting, but no plant growth.

How do I know which nutrient is limiting plant growth?

This is always difficult to answer without actually trying it yourself. If you have slow growth and it picks up shortly after you change your water, then your water is probably supplying some trace elements which get depleted later; consider adding a trace element mix or changing your water more often. If you have slow growth, but it picks up after adding trace element mix, problem solved! If you have slow growth but it picks up after feeding your fish a little bit more, problem solved! But watch out that you don't increase things too drastically, or you'll get algae blooms.

How much is too much?

If you like keeping zillions of test kits, then you can check some trace element levels with them (Dupla recommends an iron level of 0.1ppm). Ammonia and nitrate test kits will tell you if you are overfeeding. Alternatively, you need to watch your tank. Too much fertilizer and fish food may show up as excessive algae growth.

What's PMDD? How do I make it?

PMDD (or Poor Man's Dosing Drops) is a do-it-yourself recipe, put together by Kevin Conlin and Paul Sears as part of their experiments to control algae. Much discussion an experimentation with the recipe is occuring on the Aquatic Plants E-mail List, so you are likely to get the most current info there. Semi-regular updates are kept on the WWW at THE KRIB. Future updates of this FAQ may include sources and recipes when things settle. :)

The Substrate
What should I put in my substrate?
Gravel or sand is a good start! Size is an issue; with small grains the roots might not be able to get a good hold and the sand tends to compact, while larger gravel has a tendency to collect pockets of rotting detritus. Most believe the ideal size is 2-3mm (#8) gravel, while a few others like 1-2mm coarse sand. Malaysian trumpet snails will burrow into the substrate and keep it aerated. The bottom 1/3 of the gravel can be supplemented with a fertilizer, of which popular choices are peat (softens water), laterite (a clay containing iron, usually used with undergravel heating systems) and soil. If you use an undergravel filter, it may suck your fertilizer back into the tank instead of keeping it with the bottom of the gravel. Dupla makes special laterite balls which can be used in an UGF (though expensive).

How deep a substrate?

In general, it's good to match the substrate with the types of plant. For instance big Amazon Sword plants like deep gravel of 4 inches, but Lilaeopsis grass can do fine with an inch or less. This can be helped by terracing the back of your tank to be deeper & planting your deeprooted plants there. You also can't go wrong with a uniform 3 inches of gravel all-around.

Can you grow plants with an undergravel filter (UGF)?

Oh my yes! Make sure you have enough gravel for the plants to be happily rooted. It should also work best with a very slow flow rate. Pluses of UGF may be an increased circulation to the roots. However, you will probably get roots growing in the plates, it will be harder to vacuum everything, and will be a major pain to pull and replant. Many feel so strongly that you shouldn't grow plants with an UGF that it has become a bit of a religious issue on Usenet. However, this does not mean it is not possible... like most religious issues, it is something for which you must make your own decision. :)


What temperature do I keep a planted tank?
This varies from plant-to-plant, but you can keep most aquatic plants from 72-80F (22-27C). For warm-water discus tanks, check a plant book for species that thrive in these special conditions.

Do I need to have substrate heating?

The exact benefits of substrate heating have not been proven yet, but it is believed they provide long-term stability to a tank. If you are a beginner, it's hardly worth messing with before mastering the basics (fertilization, lighting, etc). If, though, you are a gadget freak or love to spend money, you may get a sense of pride from installing a cable heating system. (Some believe that a very slow UGF can provide the same benefits.)

Long Term Problems

This list is by no means exhaustive! Please feel free to suggest more long-term problems that can be addressed here.

The leaves turned yellow and fell off. The leaves got holes & fell off
Might be a trace-element deficiency, or in the latter case, fish and plants eating them.

It grew for a while & then died/still grows, but slower.

This is by far the most common problem beginners experience, and has several different causes. 1. Plants can store some nutrients and trace elements, using them later. When they come from the greenhouse, they are fully stocked. But after a month or more, if you do not supply them with a balance of nutrients they take what's missing from their stock. When the stock's gone, the plant dies. 2. Most potted plants are grown emersed (hydroponically) in greenhouses, and are used to growing in very high light (i.e. filtered sunlight) and with high levels of nutrients, and must acclimate to aquarium conditions. First, they'll lose the old leaves which were growing out of the water and produce new leaves that have a different shape and firmness. Secondly, as they acclimate to the lower light and nutrient levels their growth rate will temporarily slow down. While potted plants ship well, this may not be true for non-potted plants. They may have been stressed by passing through many hands from grower or collector to wholesaler to retailer, so they may not be in optimum condition when you acquire them. The non-potted plants were most likely grown underwater, but also outdoors under filtered sunlight, so they also must acclimate to the aquarium conditions.


3. The plant might not be a true aquatic plant. Many stores pass off land plants as aquatics. These plants can manage to stay alive for a month or more, but eventually succumb. 4. Some plants go into hibernation. Aponogeton bulbs will lose all their leaves, at which point they should be removed from the tank and kept in cold water for a few months. Then they can be replanted and will send out new leaves. 5. Cryptocorynes will melt all their leaves on a change in water chemistry. Don't despair, eventually they will send out new leaves.

My ... grows great but everything else dies

Some plants are hardier than others, and will grow in lower light, CO2, or worse water conditions than others. However, some plants will actually out-compete others for the available nutrients, and some plants will not do well in the presence of other species; try moving the other plants into a different tank if you can.

My ... is covered with algae!

To summarize, you can keep algae-eating fish to munch on it, starve it for nutrients by adding floating or fast-growing plants that consume nutrients faster than the algae, harvest some plants and remove dying leaves often to take nutrients out of the tank, reduce feeding (or increase water changes if you must overfeed), reduce the number of light hours per day, use root fertilization instead of liquid leaf fertilization, or physically remove it from the tank. There are also antibiotics for blue-green algae and other algicides, but the latter can kill your plants as well; use with caution!

Plant Survival
Plants need certain things to grow: light, CO2, nutrients and trace elements. This should be no surprise. What is generally not known is that plants need these things in fixed proportions (and unfortunately, the proportions vary with each type of plant). For example, if you have plenty of light, CO2, nutrients and most trace elements but not enough of one specific trace element for a plant, the trace element in short supply will determine how well that plant grows even though other plants do fine. This explains why some plants are "easier" than others - their needs are typically supplied by tap water or other incidental sources. If the plants aren't able to utilize all the nutrients due to a shortage of one or more specific elements, the "excess" nutrients and light energy will be wasted or be used by algae. In general, there is no information available that says "this plant needs this much light, CO2, nutrients and trace elements". Aquarists can only determine "what works for me" by tedious trial and error. Aquarists who follow the Dupla "Optimum Aquarium" regimen try to ensure that all the requirements of all the plants are met, but this leads to expensive and complex systems.

Light is very important for photosynthesis since it supplies the energy required to drive the chemical reactions involved. The plants use light energy primarily in the blue and red spectrum but an aquarium will look better to people if full spectrum lighting is used.


Light intensity and spectrum are more important than duration. You can't make up for dimmer bulbs by leaving them on longer. 10-12 hours per day is usually sufficient. You need about 1.5 to 3 watts per gallon, with deeper tanks requiring more intensity. It is important to balance light intensity with other nutrients. Intense lighting will be wasted if not enough CO2 and nutrients are available to support the needs for photosynthesis.

This is very important to plant growth. Without sufficient quantities of dissolved CO2, photosynthesis cannot take place. Most tanks will have some CO2 due to fish respiration but this is usually not enough to get "lush" growth. Some plants do not need much CO2 and some plants like Cryptocorynes actually seem to do worse with higher levels of CO2. Typical levels of CO2 in a non-CO2-injected aquarium are in the range of 1-3 ppm. Most plants will flourish with levels of 10-20 ppm but this requires some type of CO2 injection. With lower levels of CO2, the plants will not be able to utilize high levels of light and nutrients and the extra light and nutrients will be used by algae.

Beyond the "building blocks of life" provided by water and CO2 (oxygen, hydrogen and carbon), two other important nutrients are required: nitrogen and potassium. Nitrogen is usually available in sufficient quantities from fish waste in the form of ammonium (NH4+). Most plants will prefer ammonium but some will use the end product of the nitrification cycle, nitrate (NO3-). Ammonium is the preferred source since it takes less energy to use that form of nitrogen. A good test for ammonium levels is to monitor nitrates. If the nitrates are 0 ppm, you know that all the nitrogen is being used. This may indicate that some plants are starving for nitrogen. It also might indicate that a perfect balance has been achieved, but that is unlikely. Potassium (K+) is also usually available from fish food. Unfortunately, potassium is difficult to measure in the water. If there are enough nitrates, there is usually enough potassium. Some fertilizers contain additional potassium and can be used to be on the safe side.

Trace elements are those things required in very small quantities yet are still vital to plant growth. These are taken in by the plant in ion form. The more important trace elements are sulfur (SO4--), calcium (Ca++), phosphorus (HPO4--/H2PO4-), magnesium (Mg++) and iron (Fe++). Sulfur, calcium and magnesium are usually found in tap water. If the water has too little general hardness (< 3 degrees dH), calcium and/or magnesium may be in short supply. This can be remedied by adding calcium and magnesium sulfate in small quantities. Phosphorus can be measured in the water and should be present in quantities less than 0.2 ppm of phosphate. If the nitrates are OK, phosphorus levels are usually also OK.


Iron may be present in tap water in the correct ionic state (Fe++) but will quickly oxidize to a form unusable by plants. To prevent this, chelated iron mixtures can be used. The chelator prevents the iron from oxidizing and makes it easy for the plants to assimilate. The iron concentration should be less than 0.2 ppm. Other trace elements are needed in extremely small quantities and can usually be provided in fish food or specialized trace element formulations. Note that some of these elements are toxic in anything but trace amounts so the addition of trace elements should be done very carefully.

Some plants can concentrate carbon, potassium, nitrogen, phosphorus, iron or the lesser trace elements and store it for later use. This means that plants may do well for a while, using stored nutrients, and then mysteriously wither if they can't replenish their supply. This also means that some plants may "out-compete" others for required nutrients, preventing the other plants from doing well. Regular water changes are an important part of keeping a planted aquarium healthy since many of the nutrients and trace elements are in tap water. Changing 25 percent every two weeks is recommended. The substrate can play a major role in the availability of nutrients. Nutrients can be put in the substrate when an aquarium is setup by mixing laterite (tropical clay), potting soil, peat moss or commercial equivalents into the lower layer of gravel. These additives will release some necessary elements and provide chelating sites so that the correct ionic states are maintained. However, if nutrients aren't replaced, the substrate will eventually be exhausted and the plants will begin to do poorly. If laterite or peat is used in the substrate and a very slow flow of water can be forced through the substrate, water-born nutrients will be chelated by the laterite or peat. This will provide a continuous source of nutrients in the substrate. Substrate heating coils are recommended for this since they can provide slow convection currents. They are expensive, however.
Average nutrient content of plants and aquarium water +-----------------------------------------------------------------+ | Symbol Nutrient Plant Water Absorbed as Concen| | mg/kg mg/l Factor| +-----------------------------------------------------------------+ | O Oxygen 48,000 880,000 H2O 0.02 | | Abundantly available in the water | | | | C Carbon 36,000 Varies CO2(HCO3-) 1000 | | Absent if no CO2 injection | | | | H Hydrogen 6,000 110,000 H2O 0.02 | | Abundantly available in the water | | | | K Potassium 3,600 5 K+ 1000 | | Sufficient with good feeding, otherwise fertilizing | | | | N Nitrogen 3,200 5 NH4+/NO31000 | | Too much nitrate with good fish feeding | 62

| | | S Sulphur 660 15 SO4-50 | | Source: fish food and mains water | | | | Ca Calcium 650 90 Ca++ 10 | | Absent in soft water | | | | P Phosphorus 460 0.1 HPO4--/H2PO41000 | | Too many phosphates with good fish feeding | | | | Mg Magnesium 210 18 Mg++ 10 | | Absent in soft water | | | | Fe Iron 15 0 Fe++/Fe+++ 1000 | | Absent under good light, unless fertilized | | | | Other Trace elements 10 0 Ions 1000 | | Sufficient with good feeding, otherwise fertilizer | +-----------------------------------------------------------------+

Notes: "mg/kg" and "mg/l" are roughly parts per million or "ppm" "Concen Factor" is how much plants can store beyond their needs for growth, i.e., plants can store 1000 times more iron than they need.

Common Plant Listing

Blacklisted Plants
These plants are so-called blacklisted because though they are sold under the guise of being true aquatic plants, they are actually land or emersed plants. Typically what happens is you buy one of these, it lives for a month, then dies. Don't buy them, unless you are setting up a paludarium and want to keep their leaves above water. The main problem with identifying all the blacklisted plants is that they are mostly known by goofy trade names which vary from region-to-region... To make things worse, true aquatics are sometimes sold under one of these trade names as well, so it's best to know the plant's scientific name!

umbrella pine ground pines/club mosses (Lycopodium) aluminum plant (Pilea cadairei) crinkle (Hemigraphis) green hedge underwater palm spider plant (Chlorophytum) Chinese evergreen arrowhead -- either Syngonium (the houseplant) or a species of Sagittaria that doesn't do well submerged. pongol sword sandriana, green dragon plant (Dracena sanderana) -- tall corn-like stalk, dark green sword-like leaves with white edges. mondo grass, fountain plant (Ophiopogon japonicus) -- Grassy, leaves in one plane. Japanese rush (Acorus gramineus) -- looks like mondo. Brazil sword, Borneo swords (Spathiphyllum sp.). S. wallisii may be suitable for submersion according to Rataj.

scarlet hygro/dragon flame/alligator weed (Alternanthera sessilis and other sp.) -- see stem plant listing as some varieties can be grown.

Most plants that grow under low or medium light will usually do even better under higher light. Exceptions are noted. Here is what each symbol means:

High light requirement Medium light requirement Low light requirement Tolerates brackish or high-pH water. Fast grower Floating plant

Stem Plants
To propagate most stem plants, cut the stem and replant the top cutting. You can also leave the bottom part (the mother plant) planted, and it will sprout two or more new side shoots. Some stem plants will grow out of the water (emersed) and produce flowers. Most stem plants are suited for grouping as background plants. Alternanthera reineckii (scarlet hygro, etc.) Scarlet to deep red color, which turns olive in lower light conditions. Not to be confused with A. sessilis sold under the same common names, this species can truly grow underwater. (TAG 6:4, 6:5) Bacopa (water hyssop) A bog plant that grows OK underwater, background or filler plant. Pale green-to-red fleshy leaves, up to 16" tall stem. 68-78F. Makes good background or side plant, in groups. Cabomba (fanwort) Stems up to 20" (50cm) tall. Leaves resemble fine pine needles, fanning out from central stem. Pair of leaves at each node. Will tend to break apart and litter the aquarium if light is too low. Difficult to grow; needs high fertilization. Cardimine lyrata Beautiful, delicate plant. Small (1/2 - 1") heart-shaped leaves with wavy edges on a thin stem. Grows roots above water at each node. Tolerates cold water very well; will overwinter outdoors at temperatures around freezing, even when emersed. Leaves look kind of like Hydrocotoyle sp., but stem is straight. Ceratophyllym demersum (hornwort) Very hardy. Whorls of forked leaves. Grows leggy under medium light, quickly under better conditions. No roots, so can be kept free-floating or planted. Lengths up to 2 feet. Elodea/Egeria (anachris) Prefers low temperature (50-77F) tanks, somewhat alkaline pH. Translucent green whorled leaves. Good goldfish food and tank oxygenator. Can be kept free-floating or rooted. Nice beginner plant. Hydrocotoyle leucocephala (water pennywort)

Tall stem plant (over 20") with heart-shaped green leaves of 1" diameter. Develops several small roots at each node. Tolerates 50-82F. Will grow floating when it reaches the top of the water and flower in the aquarium. Doesn't root well, so needs to be refreshed occasionally from cuttings. Leaves look kind of like Cardimine lyrata. Hygrophila corymbosa (giant hygro, temple plant) Also known as Nomaphila stricta. Light green leaves, sometimes with reddish veins. Easily grows out of the water, where leaves turn dark reddish green. Big plant; makes good corner/background in large deep tanks. Grows quickly given high fertilization. Fairly hardy. Another species with similar appearance and requirements is narrowleaved hygro (probably H. augustifolia). Hygrophila difformis (water wisteria) Easy to grow. Prefers high light, but grows slowly under medium. Fine branched light green leaves. Has different emersed leaves, and flowers above water. Propagated from cuttings. Also known as Synnema triflorum. Sometimes confused with water sprite. Hygrophila polysperma (green hygro, Indian hygro) Spreads like a weed. Green under medium light, but gets brownish tinge (and grows larger) in high light. Sunset and variegated varieties are available, but harder to grow. (TAG 7:4) Limnophila sp. (ambulia) Similar in appearance to Cabomba, but less light-demanding. Grows light green leaves in whorls at each node (Cabomba has a pair of leaves at each node). There are two common species, L. aquatica and L. sessiliflora. The former is larger, more bushy, and has finer leaves. It is hardy in tropical aquaria with high light. Lobelia cardinalis Similar/same the red-flowered land garden plant. Rumored to leach poison if cut. Ludwigia repens Spade-shaped leaves, dark green to brownish colored. Stiff stems, up to 20" (50cm) long. For me, transplant stems sometimes rot. Mayaca fluviatilis Very pretty plant. Light green, narrow leaves about 1/2" long, arranged in whorls. Attractive for background plantings. Became commonly available in 1994. Like Hygrophila species, it seems to be a delicacy for fish. Doesn't root well, so plantings need to be refreshed from cuttings. Myriophyllum (water milfoil) Temperate water plant that needs good lighting. Good for background. Fine, green to reddish green leaves, depending on the species. Produces coarser leaves above water, which will flower. Rotala Very delicate leaves, easily damaged. Grows up to 20" tall, so they make excellent background plants. R. indica can grow in medium light, but just will not stay as green. R. macrandra is largest, and hardest to cultivate. It has red leaves with pink undersides, turning to green in lower light, and requires iron fertilization to maintain its red color. Utricularia (bladderwort)

Rosette Plants
These plants reproduce vegetatively (asexually) by runners or stalks, which you can usually cut after the new plant is large enough to grow on its own. Like stem plants, many will grow

emersed and produce flowers in that state. Generally, they prefer slightly-soft acidic water (23dKH, pH 5.5-7). Anubias 72-82F (22-28C). Not really a rosette plant, Anubias all have a creeping rhizome that grows very slowly, throwing out new leaves as it grows. The plant is built like a tank, some having reported keeping them in a closet for six months in a plastic bag yet still surviving. It is also one of the most expensive aquarium plants. If grown emersed, they may produce larger leaves, and will grow faster, and flowers will produce seeds. Anubias will frequently flower underwater, but not seed. You can grow the roots in gravel, or even train the rhizome to grow on bogwood like Java fern does. (TAG 6:2) Most commonly kept species is A. barteri var. nana, the smallest Anubias, which has egg-shaped leaves and makes a great foreground plant in medium-to-large aquariums. A. barteri var. barteri looks similar to the nana variety, but with bigger leaves. A. congensis, A. lanceolata and others grow very tall and make good background plants. They can sometimes be seen in better stores. Aponogeton Tuber. Needs rest period (triggered after blooming? drops its leaves), except for hybrid crispus. Easy beginner plant. Foreground plant singly, or background in groups. Most species flower by sending up a stalk with single or double-spike and seed easily. (Grows very slowly from seeds, and you must protect the young seedlings from fish.) (TAG 4:3) Oft seen Species:

bouvianus crispus: up to 20" (50cm) tall, red to green leaves; easy starter plant, often sold as bulbs at Wal-Mart. Single-spike flower stem, slightly-undulating leaf margins. elongatus, ulvaceus: 10-20" (25-50cm) wavy light green leaves, twin-spiked flower. undulatus: 16" (40cm) slightly-undulating leaves, smooth in low light. Flowers rarely.

Aponogeton madagascariensis (Madagascar Lace Plant) Very desired plant because of its 6-18" leaves which are actually a lace-like skeleton. Pink self-fertile flowers on double-spiked stalk. Likes rich substrate. Observe dormancy period! Dies in water over 80F. Difficult plant to grow. Barclaya longifolia (orchid lily) 10-20" (25-50cm) delicate brownish or olive-green leaves, moderately-undulated margins. Likes warmed substrate and warm aquariums (75-82F). Foreground single plant. Often rots on transplant. Flowers and seeds easily by sending a stalk to the surface, or will remain submerged and closed (seeds still viable). Very difficult to grow. (TAG 4:1). Crinum (onion bulb) As the name implies, it grows from a bulb and looks like a scallion. Bright-green leaves are huge 20-40" (50-100cm), and recommended only for large aquariums. Does better in bright light. Cryptocoryne (most species) Shocks on transplant, takes up to months to adjust to new tank, so don't move them once you've planted them. Crypt rot caused by sudden water chemistry/quality changes. Spreads by rhizome; new plants develop at nodes. -> Not a good beginner plant. Often sold potted in rockwool, which reduces the above shocks. Usually prefers

acidic water. Some species will not tolerate high light. Requires iron fertilization and likes rich substrate. (TAG 4:1, 4:2, 5:1, 5:2, 5:3, 5:4) Oft-seen species:

affinis: emerald-green 4-12" (10-30cm) leaves, red undersides. Foreground plant in large aquariums or center plants in small tanks. Grows OK in alkaline water. balansae: likes higher light? becketii: likes higher light? lutea: easier crypt to grow. walkeri wendtii: easier crypt to grow. bronze, red, green varieties. wrinkled leaves. Up to 8" tall. Adaptable to high light and will grow with CO2.

Echinodorus (Amazon swords) Most are good as single highlight plant, or background groups in large aquariums. Like high levels of fertilizer. Can grow emersed. Reproduce by adventitious plants on end of stalks runners, or root division, depending on species. (TAG 4:5, 5:5, 7:1, 7:5) Common species:

bleheri, paniculatus, amazonicus: Your generic amazon swords, usually available in small, medium or large. Light green leaves can be over 20" (50cm). Produces plantlets directly on the flower stalk. cordifolius (radican sword): heart-shaped leaves. Likes being emersed; will flower in open-top aquarium. Sends floating leaves if illumination is low. major/maior (ruffle sword) osiris (melon sword): blood-red slightly-undulate leaves. parviflorus (tropico sword): smaller variety. tenellus, quadricostatus (pygmy chain sword): leaves up to 6", 72-86F. Fast reproduction by runners; can create a lawn on large enough tank. Small plants; nice foreground display.

Lemna (duckweed, green plague) Tiny (1/4") plant with a pair of leaves and a root. Reproduces very quickly. A very noxious weed, hard to eradicate, and most fish don't like to eat it. Try a floating fern such as Salvinia instead of this one. Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae (micro sword) 64-77F. This plant sold under this name is probably L. braziliensis, a South American Liaeopsis. It slowly spreads out in thick "turf" of grass, about three 1-3" long light green grass-like leaves per plant. Nice spawning medium, foreground plant. Nuphar (spatterdock) Water lily-like plant. Usually sold as rhizome end-cutting, which rots away in a month. Likes colder temperatures. Nymphaea (Water Lily, tiger lotus) Bulb. Delicate leaves, colors varying from red to green with possible mottled spots, depending on the variety. Pinch off floating leaves if you want only submerged ones. Reproduction is by blooms, or side-tubers from the main bulb. Need 3-5 floating leaves for it to bloom. Nymphoides aquatica (banana plant)


Olive-colored Heart-shaped leaves that look superficially like water lily, and bananalike tubers on roots. Plant by sticking the tubers 1/3 in the gravel. Prefers lower temperatures. Throws out floating leaves if light and fertilization is good. Pistia stratiotes (water lettuce) Very demanding plant that prefers full sun (where it will grow the size of actual lettuce) over aquarium conditions (where it might be the size of a quarter). Reproduces by runners. Buy at water garden supply stores. Sagittaria (sag, arrowhead) Straight-bladed green grass. Many different varieties, some small foreground plants, some rather big. Hardy. Propagates by runner. S. subulata grows 4-24" leaves and throws up small white flowers in shallow water. 63-82F. Valisneria Grass. Reproduction by runners. Some find it grows wildly, then mostly dies off, in a cycle. Wide temperatures 59-86F. V. spiralis (Italian val) has ribbon-like leaves up to 20" (50cm) and throws up a spiral stalk when flowering. V. tortifolia grows corkscrew leaves, hence its name Corkscrew val. Other common species: V. gigantica (Jungle Val). Wolffia (watermeal) Similar to duckweed (Lemna), but even smaller.

Ferns and Mosses

Azolla (floating fern) Floating fern that grows out in triangular rafts. Buy at water garden stores. Bolbitus heudelotii (African water fern) Slow-growing creeping rhizome with dark green, 8" (20cm) lobed leaves. Tie roots to bogwood like Java fern. Don't bury the rhizome in the gravel. Can be grown emersed with fast-moving water. Ceratopteris (water sprite) Up to 20" (50cm) tall. Exists as rooted or floating specimens. Good fry shelter, shade plant. Baby plants grow on older leaves. Confused with Hygrophila difformis sometimes. Several different species and/or forms, which may require more light than others. Microsorum pteropus (Java fern) It's actually Microsorum but everyone writes it as Microsorium, says Arie De Graff (FAMA, 1991). This is one of the more hardy aquarium plants. It roots itself to solid objects like bogwood and rocks (attach with a piece of string or rubber band to hold it in place at first) and has a creeping rhizome which may be divided for cuttings. Young plants will also develop directly off spores, attached to old leaves, and can be cut off and rooted. In high light, it produces tough, plastic-like leaves; under low light the leaves are more delicate. Fronds are up to 8" (20cm) long and undivided, though on older plants are trilobade (three lobes to a frond). Riccia fluitans (floating liverwort, crystalwort) Big tangly glop like Java moss; good livebearer fry cover. Grows fast under high light. Salvinia (floating fern)

Small floating fern that grows in long chains of two oval leaves and a root-like third leaf. Easier to control than duckweed. Buy it at water garden supply stores, as it's too cheap for most aquarium shops. Vesicularia dubyana (Java moss) Grows in branching strands, tangling around other plants. Dark green. Makes good spawning medium and cover for young fry. Min temp 75F. May dislike salt.

All plants have a cycle in which during the light hours they use CO2 and release Oxygen through a process called photosynthesis. During the dark hours the opposite occurs and the plants use Oxygen and release CO2 in a process referred to as respiration. In most aquarium plants the period of photosynthesis in nature is between 10 and 12 hours which should be duplicated as closely as possible in the aquarium to allow a balance between the two. In nature some plants are located in large open ponds and receive a large quantity of light, others are located in triple canopy jungles and receive low quantities of light. Each variety of plant has its own light requirements and for best aquarium results these requirements should be met as much as possible. In this FAQ we will divide the plants into groupings that require low light, low to moderate light, moderate to bright light, and bright light. There are also bog plants that are often sold as aquarium plants which we shall not cover in this FAQ except to mention here that their lighting requirements are usually greater than even the bright grouping. Fluorescent lighting is the most economical means of establishing a broad spectrum of light in an adequate quantity for the survival of aquatic plants. It is recommended that broad spectrum tubes be used to produce the proper lighting similar to the varieties sold in plant stores and aquarium stores, rather than the standard cool white bulbs available at hardware stores. People have had good luck with almost any of the "full spectrum" or plant specific bulbs (Vita-Lite, GE Chroma 50 and 75, Phillips Agro-Lite, UltraLume and Advantage X). The more expensive "three phosphor" bulbs like Triton and Penn-Plax Ultra-TriLux seem to have a more realistic color rendition. You can combine different types of bulbs to achieve the same results but the tri-phosphor bulbs are generally much brighter than less expensive types. Note that fluorescent bulbs age and will lose intensity over time. It is recommended that bulbs be changed every 6-12 months (try to have the bulbs on a rotating schedule, i.e., a new bulb every 3 months rather than 2 new bulbs every 6 months). When calculating the amount of lighting you will need there is a general of thumb. First multiply the surface area of the aquarium by the distance from the light source to the top of the gravel. Then depending on the type of plants you desire multiply this by one of the factors given below.
Low light plants Low to Moderate light plants Moderate to Bright light plants Bright light plants 0.08 0.12 0.18 0.27

This will give you the ideal watt hours of fluorescent lighting that you need. Divide this number by 11 and you now have the approximate total wattage of lights you need. Unfortunately this number may not be equal to what is available in bulbs so find the

combination of wattage that will most closely match this requirement and adjust the available time to match the watt hour calculation. Example: required watt hours is 1440, divided by 11, is 131 watts of power. since the closest is 3, 40 watt tubes we divide 1440, by the 120 watt total and we find we need 12 hours of lighting at this level. Warning: A common mistake is to deviate greatly from the 11 hours of light to compensate for low or high wattage. If the light time exceeds 16 hours more wattage should be added to reduce this time, Or if the light time is less than 8 hours less wattage must be used to allow adequate time for photosynthesis. When selecting plants also keep in mind that large center plants will shade the smaller plants under them and that higher light requiring plants should not be selected for small filler plants.

Converting a fluorescent fixture to auto-start

Many older or cheaper fluorescent fixtures require you to hold down a pushbutton for a few seconds to turn it on, thus preventing you from plugging it into a timer. You can convert such a fixture into an auto-starting model by clipping two wires and buying two new parts. You need a starter, a little gray can-like thing found in any hardware store. Make sure to buy the correct one for your size bulb; they say which is right on the package. You also need to buy a socket for the starter, or find some way to attach the wires directly to the two terminals on the starter. The sockets can sometimes be hard-to-find, but big hardware stores might have them, and mail-order fish suppliers (MOPS, for instance) can sell you both parts as a kit. Refer to the diagram below:
line switch line plug \ Hot wire /-----| +------------ballast-------------o \____________/ |---> smaller plug | --\ |----- -> longer plug | --------| \-----| | ----------------|starter|---------------+ +-----------------------+ | | --------| | | | +---------------------+ | | | | |Neutral | | |-----------------------------------------------------| | |Wire | +---| |---+ | | | light tube | | +------| |--------+ |-----------------------------------------------------|

The two leads you want to connect to the starter are connected to the pushbutton; usually they're red. Clip them at the pushbutton and attach to the starter socket. That's all!

CO2 in the aquarium

Anyone who has observed the explosive growth of aquarium plants in response to carbon dioxide (CO2) fertilization must be convinced of the usefulness of this system. Certainly, there are thousands of aquarium hobbyists who do not give their plants any sort of special treatment and still end up with a fairly nice display. However, truly luxuriant growth, the sort that you see on the covers of aquarium magazines and in pictures of "Dutch aquariums," can only be achieved by fertilizing with CO2.

During photosynthesis, plants use light energy to capture CO2. This CO2 is used to build the basic carbon structures from which all plant material is made. In a poorly lit aquarium, light is likely to be what limits the rate of plant growth. The amount of CO2 produced by fish- and bacterial respiration is more than enough to allow photosynthesis under these conditions. If on the other hand, you try to make your plants grow faster by adding more light, it is likely that there will not be enough CO2 in your aquarium. The plants simply can not grow as fast as they would like to, given the available light energy. The easiest way to increase the amount of CO2 in an aquarium is to buy a tank of CO2 and let it bubble into the water. Several, mostly German, companies sell systems for adding CO2 into the outflow of your canister filter. If you buy your CO2 system from someone like Dupla, you are likely to spend about $300. That seems a bit pricey, doesn't it? Fortunately, it is very easy and also a fair bit cheaper to buy a CO2 tank at a local welding supply place and use it to bubble CO2 into the water. CO2 in the tank is under high pressure. A pressure regulator brings this pressure down to a manageable level, and ordinary aquarium air valves can be used to regulate the flow to individual aquariums. [Editor's note: this is counter to general net-experience. Most of us end up installing a fine-metering needle valve after the normal regulator in order to regulate the flow down to a few bubbles per second, because normal aquarium air valves do not have good enough control.] The CO2 reactor is simply a small chamber that allows the CO2 to be dissolved in the water before it escapes into the air. Outflow from a filter or a pump enters the top of the reactor; CO2 is bubbled in from the bottom. To give the CO2 more time to dissolve, one can add a system of baffles to trap the gas as it is moving up. Near the top of the reactor, there should be a small hole to vent other gases, which may be present in small amounts in the compressed CO2. These gases do not dissolve as readily in water as CO2 does. I purchased my CO2 tank and regulator at Wesco on Vassar Street in Cambridge. Their current (May 1992) prices are: 5 lbs CO2, $52.50, refill $9.74; 20 lbs CO2, $101.75, refill $19.55. A CO2 pressure regulator is "$79 and change." People who have better welding connections than I do might be able to get things more cheaply than that. Refills are generally not a very big expense. My 20 lb CO2 tank is used on three aquariums (30, 65, and 110 gallons) and lasts about three years between refills. That works out to about $2 per aquarium per year. Other possible sources of CO2 that I have not investigated are CO2 fire extinguishers and the CO2 canisters they use to put the bubbles in beer and soft drinks. Don't bother trying to rig up something with dry ice, it is too complicated. The tubing and valves that I use for my CO2 setup are the sort that one buys for use with the aquarium air pumps. It is better to get the brass rather than the plastic valves, since it is easier to make fine adjustments with them and they also tend to leak less. Even a tiny leak can empty out a gas tank distressingly quickly. I check all of my valves and connections with a soap solution and make sure that no bubbles appear. The CO2 reactor can easily be constructed out of any wide bore tube. I use the lift tubes from an undergravel filter in my aquariums. Local aquarium enthusiast Jim Bardwell does well with the top half of a one-liter coke bottle, with the filter hose attached to where the cap should be. It is best to use a clear plastic, so that one can see what is happening inside. Baffles, designed to let the water cascade down in one direction and to trap the CO2 moving in the other direction, are helpful, but not absolutely necessary. I make my baffles out of foam cubes that I cut to the right size and shape to fit inside the tube. Jim simply lets the CO2 collect at the top of the reactor, where the water is coming in. He does not have a vent and does not seem to have a problem with excess gas accumulating.

While a small increase in the amount of CO2 in the water causes lush plant growth, too much CO2 can prove to be toxic. CO2 dissolved in water forms carbonic acid (H2CO3). With weakly buffered water, like what comes out of the tap in the Boston area, adding too much CO2 can bring the pH down to as low as 3. That is not quite as acidic as Coca Cola, but about equal to vinegar. Naturally, this can cause death or other serious reactions in your fish and plants. One can buy CO2 test kits that measure the actual level of CO2 in the water, but measuring the pH and counting the bubbles in the CO2 reactor works just about as well. It is best to start off by adding CO2 very slowly (about one to three bubbles per minute) and increasing the rate until a small, but measurable drop in pH is achieved. In my 30-gallon aquarium, I add one bubble of CO2 every three to four seconds to bring the pH from 7 to between 6 and 6.5. How much CO2 one needs to add varies from aquarium to aquarium and can depend on several factors: the size of the aquarium, how fast the plants are growing, the number of fish, how much food is decaying on the bottom, the buffering capacity of the water, the types of rock and gravel, and how well ventilated the surface of the water is. However, anything in the range of one bubble every two to fifteen seconds seems to work pretty well. Bubble size will vary with the diameter of the tubing. I am referring to the sort of bubbles that come out of the end of ordinary, one eighth inch inside diameter aquarium air tubing. By using a CO2 reactor, you are saturating the water with CO2, and any excessive agitation of the water surface or bubbling of air through the water will cause the CO2 to escape into the atmosphere, just about as quickly as you can add it. Thus, at least during the day, you should *not* have an airstone or an undergravel filter turned on. If you have a plant aquarium, you should probably not be using an undergravel filter, anyway, since most kinds of plants do better without one. When the lights are on, plants use CO2 and produce oxygen. In my tanks, so much oxygen is being produced, that I can often see it forming streams of bubbles from the plants. At night, on the other hand, the plants are actually using oxygen (and not CO2) If there are not too many fish in the aquarium, then the oxygen produced by the plants during the day will tide everyone over until the next morning. However, if you notice that your fish are gasping at the surface in the mornings, they are obviously running out of oxygen. To remedy this problem, you can simply turn on an air stone when the lights go out. This will keep up the oxygen level and remove excess CO2. I have the aquarium lights and an air pump on two separate timers; when one turns on, the other one turns off. It would also be fairly easy to rig up a solenoid valve for the CO2 supply and have it turn the CO2 on and off with the same timer that is regulating the lights. The system that I have described here and use is a very basic one that works well. For those who like those sorts of things, the automation possibilities are almost limitless. My brother Albrecht, who is an electronics whiz, has his entire aquarium run by a TRS-80 computer. Among many other things, the computer measures the pH, adds more CO2 if the pH is above a predetermined level, and sounds an alarm if the CO2 tank is running low. Fortunately, you don't need all of that to have a truly great-looking plant tank. There are more than thirty kinds of thriving plants in my aquariums; I have to weed out bunches once a week, and I have enough extras to supply all of my aquarium friends and still sell some at the monthly BAS auction. The fish are also doing well and reproducing. CO2 makes it easy to grow aquarium plants, but it is not a cure-all. You still have to observe some of the other essentials of proper plant care. Aquarium plants need a lot of light. When using fluorescent bulbs, I usually figure about four watts per gallon. Wide-spectrum plant and aquarium bulbs seem to work better than the "soft white" ones that you can buy at the hardware store. The amount of iron in most aquariums is too low for maximum plant growth.

I supplement the iron by adding "Micronized Iron" to the canister filter (about one teaspoon at every cleaning) and "Ortho Greenol" directly to the water (two drops per ten gallons per day). Both of these are available at gardening stores. Other nutrients and trace elements that your plants need are usually taken care of when you feed the fish and do water changes (frequently). Also, don't forget the regular sacrifices of goat entrails to the aquarium gods, at midnight when the moon is full.

Substrate Heating Cables

Much of the mystery surrounding heating cables is that Dupla has been careful to hide the rationale to protect their product, i.e., keep it "magic". I think a key concept is that we are NOT trying to mimic what happens in nature (even though the Dupla description implies that) but we are trying the achieve an equivalent biological affect. In nature, you have sources of underground water moving to the surface or surface water moving to aquifers due to natural pressure differentials. Dupla mentions this in terms of "nutrient springs" in tropical streams. In our aquariums, there are no such natural pressures to cause any movement (except for UGF, etc). The water column will tend to keep the gravel at water temperature through conductive heating; heat will "seep" downward. However, in glass tanks especially, the glass bottom is radiating heat into the room, cabinet, etc, unless insulation is provided. This will tend to keep the roots cooler than the water temperature. Even with insulation, you'll find the bottom of the substrate cooler than the top, just not as much. Here is a list of substrate processes I think are important (no particular order of importance implied): 1. Provide warmth in the substrate for certain plant species (Barclaya longifolia, specifically). In this case the substrate should be warmer than the water. (hot feet) 2. Provide warmth in the substrate to speed up biochemical processes. 3. Transport nutrients from the water into the substrate. Important nutrients would be ammonium (fish waste, etc), iron (from trace element additions), calcium, potassium and other trace elements. This will replenish nutrients used by the roots and provide long term viability (in terms of years). 4. Transport harmful products out of the substrate. Decomposition products may be harmful to plant roots. There is also conjecture that plants give off low level toxins to keep other plants out of their territory (successful weeds have made this an art form). If these toxins build up due to poor circulation, the plant may harm itself. 5. Provide a chelating medium that binds the divalent state of trace elements with an organic molecule, enabling the trace element to be adsorbed by root hairs. 6. Provide a reducing rather than oxidizing environment so that trace elements are kept in their divalent state (usable by plants) or are reduced from their oxidized trivalent state. Iron especially will rapidly oxidize in water with normal levels of oxygen. Heating coils provide the hot feet and warmth for biochemical processes directly. The convection currents generated by the "spot" heat source of the coils provide for nutrient and toxin transport. Laterite in the bottom 1/3 of the substrate provides the chelating medium. The slow convection currents, coupled with nitrifying bacteria in the gravel will reduce the

concentration of oxygen getting to the bottom layer of the gravel, providing a reducing environment. A heating pad under the tank will tend to warm the entire bottom layer uniformly. This will provide hot feet and increased biochemical activity, but I suspect the heat will go through the gravel as conduction and won't generate convention currents. Thermodynamics theory says that conduction will occur up to a certain heat threshold and then convection currents will be formed with more heat. I think the linear hot zones generated by proper spacing of the coils along with the higher temperatures of the coils will provide this. Yes, there will be hot and cool zones for the roots but I think the other factors outweigh this. Schemes that use warm water flowing in tubes in the gravel (Bioplast, for example) won't work, IMHO, because they can't generate enough heat. Bioplast wraps some tubing around a heater and pipes it through the gravel with a pump. The first foot or so of the tubing may get hot enough (though I doubt it) but the water in the coil will cool off rather quickly as it travels through the tube. If the tube is insulated enough to keep the water hot, then it won't transfer any heat to the gravel. Reverse flow undergravel filtration (RUGF) will provide increased biochemical activity, toxin transport, and a reducing environment. It may provide hot feet if you heat the water before putting it through the RUGF. Nutrient transport is kind of difficult since the water is usually filtered before going to the RUGF (to avoid injecting crud into the gravel) and trace elements probably will be oxidized in the filter (oxidizing is a bio-filter's purpose). Chelating is a problem because a RUGF will probably push the laterite up and out of the gravel. Don't get me wrong, a RUGF may provide the six processes, but it would be difficult to get it set up with the right flows and even flow across the substrate and proper mechanical filtering, etc. A coil setup is a "no-brainer" if you have the correct wattage. UGF will provide warmth for biochemical activity, and nutrient and toxin transport. Hot feet would be very tricky to achieve, if not impossible. Detritus pulled into the gravel can be chelated by the substrate, but a reducing environment is almost impossible unless a very slow flow is used and that would be hard to do evenly across the whole substrate. We have three ~100g tanks with coils and one 85g tank with UGF. All grow plants equally well but the 85g is much more unstable. We think it is sensitive to too much detritus building up in the gravel; a thorough vacuuming every 6-9 months perks it up. The coil tanks require no gravel vacuuming and the 90g tank was rock solid biologically for at least three years. We replanted at that point because some of the plants had gotten out of control but we didn't "tear down" the tank - just replanted. I think this is the key to the cables - long term stability. Plants will grow fine without them if you can accomplish most of the six things I mentioned. Just pulling up plants for trimming every month will accomplish as lot (stirring up the gravel, moving roots out of their toxin zone, etc).

Fully-automated systems can be purchased from commercial sources such as Dupla, though the cost can be a bit much for a beginner. You can save a great deal of money by buying just the cables and building the rest of the setup yourself. If you use a small enough wattage cable as a supplement to your tank's main heater, the temperature controller can be ignored or

replaced with a timer, requiring only a low voltage transformer! Furthermore, it is possible to make your own cables, taking the price down almost to that of a normal heater.

Fish Diseases
Q: Why is my fish sick and how do I prevent more illness?
A: Probably 80-90% of diseases in captive fish can be prevented by avoiding stress. Stress weakens fishes' immune systems, leading to increased susceptibility to disease. Actually, diseases and pathogens are almost always present in tanks, but a healthy fish's immune system will prevent them from being a problem. Some of the most common stressors for captive fish are:

Poor water quality: measurable ammonia or nitrites, or very high nitrates. The water temperature is fluctuating more than 2 deg F/day Incompatible species in the tank. Too many fish in the tank (5 adult angelfish in 10g tank). The tank is too small for the fish (foot long fish in 10g tank). The water is too warm or too cold for the species (goldfish vs. tropicals). wrong pH for species (Discus vs. African cichlids) pH fluctuations greater than 0.2 units/day. Insufficient cover or hiding places present. Wrong water hardness for the species (Discus vs. African cichlids). Insufficient oxygen in the water. Improper fish nutrition (wrong food, foods not varied).

Keeping your tank free of disease

Q: Do I need a quarantine tank for new fish?
A: Quarantining new fish is a good habit for all aquaria, but is not absolutely necessary for success. Quarantining is simply keeping a fish in a separate tank for long enough to be certain that it is disease free. Many beginners do fine without a quarantine tank, and object to the cost of another setup. A quarantine tank does cost more, but if a hobbyist has hundreds of dollars invested in fish, it is cheaper to have a separate quarantine tank than to replace fish killed by a newly introduced disease. Also, many of us become attached to fish and do not want to expose our pets to diseases from newcomers, no matter what the cost. The purpose of quarantining is to avoid introducing new diseases to a stable system, and to be able to better observe new fish for signs of disease. A quarantine tank can also double as a hospital tank for sick fish. Hospital tanks are good because they lower the cost of using medicines and keep diseased fish separate from healthy ones. Quarantine is probably most important for saltwater tanks/reef systems because of the difficulty of treating diseases, or wild-caught freshwater fish because they are probably not disease-free. Quarantining itself can stress fish so be sure quarantine is as stress-free as possible. To set up a quarantine or hospital tank:

Keep an extra filter -- a sponge filter is ideal -- or piece of filter floss in an established tank, so that you don't have to keep the quarantine tank set up at all times. Some people choose instead to keep the filter going with guppies or danios (for freshwater) or mollies (for saltwater). If you don't keep the tank running, use old tank water to fill the tank. So: old tank water + established filter = instant established tank. Add a spare airpump and heater. If you haven't messed with the heater during storage, it should come to wherever you had it last time. Consider using Amquel or equivalent when medicating the tank in case the biological filter bacteria are sensitive to the medication. Sick fish are especially susceptible to ammonia. (Note that ammonia which has been bound with Amquel still shows up on a nessler ammonia test. So, if you are planning on testing for ammonia in that tank, you need to use a salicylate ammonia test.) For a hospital tank, do small, frequent water changes (even every day).

If possible, quarantine all of your new fish for about three weeks. During that time, gradually acclimate the fish to your tank's parameters: hardness, pH, salinity, temperature, etc., and watch for and treat any signs of disease. Do not medicate quarantined fish just in case. Only treat evident, definitely identified diseases. Treating all quarantined fish with a bunch of medicines will just lead to weakened fish and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Once you are done with the quarantine, if you treated any especially nasty diseases, it is good to disinfect the tank and reestablish the filter. Chlorine bleach or strong saltwater (for freshwater) work well. Be sure all traces of bleach are rinsed off. Another good disinfectant is potassium permanganate (Jungle's Clear Water is one commercial way to get it). If you choose not to quarantine, do not add store water to your tank with the new fish.

Q: How about quarantining plants?

A: Plants can carry diseases into a tank, too. It is a good idea to disinfect new plants if there were fish in the tank with them at the store.

Q: How do I avoid introducing diseases in the first place?

A: Never buy sick fish from a store. Especially do not buy fish or plants from a tank if *any* fish in the tank shows any signs of disease or if there is medicine in the water (water is colored yellow, green, or blue). Store people may say the fish are fine, but if they were, why is the medicine in the tank? Also ask how long the fish have been in the store. New arrivals may be carrying diseases that have not shown up yet. It is better to wait a couple of weeks before purchasing the fish. If you must have a fish that just came in, be especially sure to quarantine it properly.

Common diseases: How do I know the fish is sick?

Most important: watch your fish and know what their normal behavior and appearance is. If you don't know what normal is, you can't know what sick is.


Bad signs:

Clamped fins (fins are held abnormally close to body) The fish refuses its usual food for more than 2 days. There are visible spots, lesions, or white patches on the fish. The fish gasps at the surface of the water. The fish floats, sinks, whirls, or swims sideways. The fish shimmies (moves from side to side without going forward). A normally active fish is still. A normally still fish is very active. The fish suddenly bloats up, and it's not due to eggs or young. The fish is scratching against tank decorations.

I suggest setting up a fish medicine cabinet. It seems like fish always get sick when the store is closed.

Water quality test kits: pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate Aquarium salt (NOT table salt. Most table salts contain additives to keep them from clumping. Kosher or rock salt is OK). Malachite green/formalin ich remedy Methylene blue Chlorine bleach for disinfection Maybe one antibiotic (Kaynamycin or Furanace) Antibiotic-containing food Copper remedy for parasites

And for fish big enough to handle:

Q-tips Malachite green or mercurochrome

Diseases/problems or what's wrong with my fish?

Bad water quality
Fish are gasping at the surface, or very inactive, but there are not visible lesions when it first starts. Their fins may be clamped. Many fish of different species are affected, and possibly the whole tank. If the water has been bad for a while, the fish may have finrot, or streaks of blood in their fins.

If fish are gasping at the surface, or have purple gills: high ammonia or low dissolved O2 may be the problem; test ammonia, dissolved O2 If the main symptom is inactivity: test nitrites, pH, dissolved 02, nitrates

Depending on your test results, try the following: Ammonia Change enough of the water to reduce ammonia levels to 1-2 ppm for freshwater or below 1 ppm for saltwater. If that means changing more than a third of the water, be sure the water you add is the same temperature, salinity, hardness and pH of the tank water. It is also okay to do multiple smaller water changes for a few days. Aerate, and make sure pH is at or below 7.0 for freshwater tanks. In addition to or instead of

Change enough of the water to bring nitrites down to below 2 ppm (as with ammonia, if this is a lot of water, match water parameters or do multiple water changes), add 1 tbsp/gallon salt (not all fish may tolerate this much -- start out with 1 tsp), and add supplemental aeration. Find out why the nitrite levels are high and correct the problem. Nitrates Change water and clean the filter. If your filter is dirty, there is more waste material present to break down into nitrate. Start feeding less and changing water more often. Low oxygen Run an airstone. If this helps a lot, the fish probably don't have enough oxygen in the water. Your tank may need cleaning, fewer fish, or additional water movement at the surface from a powerhead, airstone, or filter. Improper pH If pH is too low: make sure carbonate buffering is adequate -- at least 5dKH. In general, adding baking soda at 1 tsp. per 30 gal. raises dKH about 2 degrees. For a 1020g tank that just needs the pH a little higher, try about a quarter teaspoonful. If that isn't enough, add up to a teaspoonful more. You can scale this up to 1 tsp/30 gal for larger tanks. If the pH is still too low and the KH is at least 5-6 dKH, clean the tank. For long-term buffering in saltwater and alkaline freshwater systems, add crushed coral. If pH is too high, pH down (phosphoric acid) can be added. Don't rely on this stuff, except in extreme situations like ammonia poisoning because it can cause excessive algal growth. To lower pH long-term, filter over peat, or use distilled or deionized water mixed with your tapwater.


changing water, you can also add a dose of AmQuel to give fish immediate relief. Find out why ammonia is present and correct the problem.

Freshwater Ich
Symptoms: Fish look like they have little white salt grains on them and may scratch against objects in the tank. White spot disease (Ichthyopthirius multifiliis) is caused by a protozoan with a life cycle that includes a free-living stage. Ich grows on a fish --> it falls off and attaches to gravel or tank glass --> it reproduces to MANY parasites --> these swarmers then attach to other fish. If the swarmers do not find a fish host, they die in about 3 days (depending on the water temperature). Therefore, to treat it, medicine must be added to the display tank to kill free-living parasites. If fish are removed to quarantine, parasites living in the tank will escape the treatment -unless ALL fish are removed for about a week in freshwater or three weeks in saltwater systems. In a reef tank, where invertebrates are sensitive to ich medications, removing the fish is the only option. Some people think that ich is probably dormant in most tanks. It is most often triggered by temperature fluctuations. Remedy: For most fish, use a medication with formalin and malachite green. These are the active ingredients in many ich medications at fish shops. Some products are Kordon's Rid Ich and Aquarium Products' Quick Cure. Just read the label and you may find others. Check for temperature fluctuations in the tank and fix them to avoid recurrences. Note that tetras can be a little sensitive to malachite green, so use it at half the dose.


Use these products as directed (usually a daily dose) until all of the fish are spot-free. Then dose every three days for a total of four more doses. This will kill any free-swimming parasites as they hatch out of cysts. Another remedy is to raise the tank temperature to about 90 deg F and add 1 tsp/gallon salt to the water. Not all fish tolerate this. Finally, one can treat ich with a transfer method. Fish are moved daily into a different tank with clean, conditioned, warmed water. Parasites that came off of the fish are left behind in the tank. After moving the fish daily for a week, the fish (presumably cured) can be put back into the main tank. The disadvantage of this method is that it stresses both fish and fishkeeper.

Fin rot
Fishes' fins turn whitish and die back. Fin rot often follows damage or injury. It can also be caused by poor water quality. Remedy: First, fix the water and remove any fin-nipping fish. Change some water (25% is good) and add 1 tsp/gallon salt to promote healing. If bad water quality or an aggressive tankmate was the problem, that should be adequate. Healing will begin within a couple of days. If it worsens, decide first whether it's fungal or bacterial. Fungal finrot looks like clumps of cotton on the fins and usually follows injury. It is commonly seen in African cichlids or fish that have injured themselves against decorations. Bacterial finrot is whitish, but not cottony (unless it's columnaris), and can be contagious. The fish then need to be removed from the tank and medicated. Fungus: For fish large enough to handle, catch the fish, and dab malachite green directly on the fungus with a Q-tip. This is extremely effective. Repeat treatments may be necessary. For small fish, a commercial fungicide such as Maroxy may work. For severe infestations, try a bath in methylene blue (enough so you can barely see the fish) until the fungus turns blue or for 20 min. If you add methylene blue directly to a tank, you will kill plants and trash your biological filter. Bacterial: Antibiotic treatment in a quarantine tank. This is stressful for the fish, and doesn't always work, so be sure of what you are doing before you attempt it. If the fish is still eating, the best bet is an antibiotic food. Tetra makes one that works well -- just buy the one for bacterial diseases and follow the directions on the can. If the fish is not eating, a bath treatment is necessary. A combination of Kaynamycin and Furanace usually works, especially for Columnaris. Again, treat in a separate tank and aerate heavily.

Cichlids and other scrappy fish may sustain injuries that are severe enough to draw blood from fighting. Other fish may run into tank decorations, walls, or rocks.


Larger fish can be netted and their injuries dabbed with mercurochrome (available at drug stores) or Betadine (iodine-based antibiotic also available at drug stores) to help prevent infection. Be sure to keep these chemicals off of the gills and eyes. For really small fish, put the affected fish in dilute methylene blue (pale blue) and 1 tsp/gallon salt in a separate tank. If you want to keep the fish in the main tank just add salt, as methylene blue will trash your biological filter. Watch the fish to be sure injuries are healing cleanly, and repeat the mercurochrome dosage if necessary. If finrot or fungus sets in, see the above section on finrot.

Fish swells up like a balloon and may show popeyes. It may recover with no treatment and may die despite it. The swelling is because the fish is absorbing water faster than it can eliminate it, and it can be caused by many different problems. High nitrates are one thing to check. Internal bacterial infections, including fish TB, are other possibilities. If there are no water quality problems, you may want to attempt antibiotic treatment in a separate tank.

Head and Lateral Line Erosion (hole-in-head disease)

This disease can affect discus, other cichlids, and many saltwater fish. The fish develops holes in it's head and sometimes along its lateral line. Causes are unclear but as in any disease, stress and poor water quality likely play a role. The Manual of Fish Health states that HLLE is probably due to nutritional deficiency, especially of vitamin C. Fish in planted tanks rarely get HLLE, which supports the nutrition idea, since fish can nibble on the plants and obtain extra nutrition. Untergasser also observes that the protozoan Hexamita can be found in the lesions. Untreated cases can eventually prove disfiguring or fatal. Remedy: First, make sure water quality is optimal and reduce stress. Stopping carbon filtration may help as it can remove nutrients from the water. Then feed a vitamin-enriched food, paying particular attention to vitamin C supplementation. For stubborn cases, some books suggest metronidazole (Flagyl) to eliminate Hexamita (a mildly pathogenic protozoan) from the lesions. Your mileage may vary with that one. Metrozole and Hex-a-mit are commercial medications with metronidazole.

Swim bladder disorders

Fish floats upside-down or sideways. This is particularly common in fancy goldfish because of their bizarre body shapes. Dry food eaten quickly swells up in the fish's intestine and keeps the fish from controlling its swim bladder properly. To help, feed the fish pre-soaked or gel-based foods. Green foods are also helpful; peas in particular. As with finrot, these disorders can also be caused by bacterial infection. Treatment is much the same. Use antibiotic food if the fish is eating, or add antibiotic to the water in a quarantine tank if the fish is too sick to eat.


Large external parasites (as opposed to ich)

Add a copper remedy to the tank and monitor it with a copper test kit. Also, Mardel's Maroxy works well. For anchor worms or leeches on pond fish, remove them from the affected fish with tweezers and swab the area with mercurochrome to prevent infection.

Fish look like they have been finely dusted with flecks of gold. Fins may be clamped and the fish may shimmy. Treat with an anti-parasitic medication such as copper or formalin/malachite green.

Good (and Bad) Beginner Fish

Since even a small amount of material can be difficult for a newcomer in any field to digest and retain, the novice aquarist may wish to read only the Good First Fish section to begin with. Then, while consulting a good beginner's book (the most essential item for any novice aquarist to own), she or he should choose a small number of possibilities for the fish with which to start her or his new tank. If someone familiar with the local fish stores is available, it is wise to get a recommendation for where to shop for fish. Otherwise the beginner should try looking for shops that specialize in fish, either exclusively or as a major part of their business. This is no guarantee, of course, but it does improve the odds of finding a good store. If, upon reaching the store, none of the selected fish can be found, the novice should refrain from purchasing any fish that he or she is unfamiliar with, even if recommended by the store's employees. (Some stores have very knowledgeable staffs but many, alas, do not. It will take some time before the new fishkeeper can discern a good store from a bad one, or good advice from poor.) At this point, another store could be sought out or further reading done to determine alternate choices for first fish. Assuming that desirable choices for first fish can be found, the beginner should carefully inspect the specimens for sunken bellies, sunken eyes, clamped fins, labored breathing (often with gill covers quite extended), and any sort of external blemishes that might indicate parasites or disease. If the fish appear healthy, the novice should ask to purchase a very small number of fish, depending on the size of the tank and the fish. A twenty gallon tank is a good size for a beginner; it is large enough that the water conditions will be fairly stable, yet small enough that the beginner is not intimidated. For this size tank a single fish of one to two inches in length, or three or four smaller fish, is the most the novice should start with. (If more fish are put into the tank initially, poisonous ammonia will build up and kill the fish. If the tank population is built up gradually, however, this will not be a problem. To understand this gradual introduction of fish, known as `cycling the tank', the novice should read about the nitrogen cycle in his or her aquarium book, or the NITROGEN CYCLE section of the BEGINNER FAQ.)


Good First Fish

If we define a good beginner's fish as one that is easy to feed and care for, hardy, able to live in a variety of water conditions, and attractive, then there are a number of widely available fish which fit the bill nicely. Many of these are regularly sold as beginner's fish. But watch out! Many of the fish sold as beginner's fish really are not well suited to that role. Many of the smaller schooling fish make ideal first fish. These include White Cloud Mountain Minnows, the several commonly available species of Danios and Rasboras, and most available species of Barbs. For those with a slightly larger tank, Rainbowfish make a great schooling fish. Corydoras Catfish are ever popular schooling catfish. While many beginners are tempted to get just one or two of each of several different schooling fish, this should be resisted. Schooling fish do better if there are several of their own species present for them to interact with. A minimum of six of each of the midwater schooling fish is recommended, while four is the bare minimum for Corys. In the long run, a school of a dozen fish showing their natural behavior will be more pleasing than a mixed group of fishes unhappily forced to share the same tank. (Mom, why is that one fish hiding behind the heater and that other one just hanging in the corner?) Of course, as mentioned in the introduction, the population needs to be built up slowly, two or three fish at a time. The aquarist might, for instance, build up a school of eight Rasboras of a certain species, then turn to building up a school of six of a species of Cory Cats.

Some Cyprinids
White Clouds, Danios, Rasboras, and Barbs are all Asian fish related to the Carp and the Minnow. All of these fish belong to the family Cyprinidae. White Clouds, Danios, Rasboras, and Barbs are small, active, hardy, and colorful. White Cloud Mountain Minnows - Tanichthys albonubes Found in mountain streams in China, White Clouds can be kept in unheated tanks (down to 55F). Some people advise against putting these fish in tropical tanks but I have found that they do fine in heated aquaria as well, as long as the temperature is not kept above the mid 70s. They can be fed any small food and they spawn often but fry will not be seen unless the parents are removed to another tank. White Clouds are brown with a red tail and a silvery white line down the side that shines in the light. They get to be 1 1/2" long. Danios Several species of Danios are often found in pet stores, including the Giant Danio Danio aequipinnatus, the Zebra Danio - Brachydanio rerio, the Leopard Danio Brachydanio frankei, and the Pearl Danio - Brachydanio albolineatus. These fish are fast swimmers and are always in motion. Different patterns of blue markings allows one to tell these fish apart. Most Danios stay under 2 1/2" long, although Giant Danios can get up to 4". Rasboras The most popular Rasbora is the Harlequin Rasbora - Rasbora heteromorpha. A very similar looking species, Rasbora espei, is also available, as is the Clown Rasbora Rasbora kalochroma and the Scissor-Tail Rasbora - Rasbora trilineata. Orange, brown, and red are usual colors for Rasboras, and their stop-and-start swimming



makes them interesting to watch as a school. Scissor-Tails can get up to 6" long and Clown Rasboras up to 4" while Harlequins stay under 2" long. By far the most commonly seen and commonly cursed Barb is the Tiger Barb Capoeta tetrazona. It nips the fins of other fish if not kept in a large school of its own species and because it is over-bred it is susceptible to diseases. Several aquarium morphs are also available (such as the greenish Mossy Barb and an albino variety) but these are even more sickly and often deformed. Don't give up on the Barbs too fast though, as many are well suited as first fish, especially for those with moderate sized tanks. Capoeta titteya, the Cherry Barb, is a terrific little barb - up to 2" long and with a wonderful orange-red color. Mid-sized barbs (up to about 4 1/2" long) include Clown Barbs - Barbodes everetti, Rosy Barbs - Puntius conchonius, and Black Ruby Barbs - Puntius nigrofasciatus. The artificial morphs (long-finned, albino, etc.) of the Rosy Barb should be avoided though, as these tend to be sickly. Checker Barbs - Capoeta oligolepis and Spanner or T-Barbs Barbodes lateristriga are large, peaceful barbs (Spanner Barbs up to 7" long). Unless you have a very large aquarium avoid Tinfoil Barbs - Barbodes schwanefeldi. They grow to be over a foot long! Note that many barbs don't school as nicely as do Danios or Rasboras, but most should be kept in schools nonetheless. Also note that many authors may put all of the above mentioned species in the genus Barbus.

Corydoras Catfish
Cory Cats are members of the family Callichthyidae, a family of armored catfish from South America. Corys are small (generally 2 1/2" long or less), schooling fish that are always searching the bottom of the tank for food. There are at least 140 species of catfish in the genus Corydoras. Some of these are quite delicate and die quickly even in the hands of experts. The fragile ones, however, are rarely seen in pet stores and are high priced when they can be found. The Corys you will see for reasonable prices are hardy and can even survive in a tank with low oxygen as they can swallow air from the surface and absorb it through their intestines. Some Corys you may encounter are the Bronze Cory - C. aeneus, the Spotted Cory - C. ambiacus, the Leopard Cory - C. julii, the Skunk Cory - C. arcuatus, the Bandit Cory C. metae, and the Panda Cory - C. panda. Corys generally feed at the bottom of the tank and special sinking foods should be fed. These include sinking pellets like Tabi-Min and frozen blood- worms. Care should be taken to insure that all frozen foods are eaten quickly as they decay rapidly and can foul the tank. Don't overfeed!

Rainbows are extremely colorful fishes native to Australia, New Guinea, and Madagascar. Like the Cyprinids described above, Rainbows are schooling fish and should be kept in groups of six or more. Larger, somewhat more expensive, and harder to find than many of the schooling fishes already discussed, Rainbows are easily cared for, active, and make good first fish for those who want to try something a little less common. Look in your dealer's tanks for the Australian Rainbow - Melanotaenia splendida, Boeseman's Rainbowfish - M. boesemani, Turquoise Rainbows - M. lacustris, and the Celebes Rainbow - Telmatherina ladigesi.

Good Second Fish

The previous section talked about good fish for the complete novice aquarist. This section will discuss good fish for beginning aquarists who have had some experience or who are willing to do more careful research and shopping before buying their fish. Many of the fish recommended here are every bit as hardy, adaptable, and easy to care for as those in the first section. However, in the first section I was able to recommend whole groups of fish or at least say to watch out for only a species or two in each group as bad choices. Here, however, the groups will be quite mixed with many good choices and many poor ones. Also, some of the fish in this section are hardy only if some special needs are cared for. If you wish to successfully keep fish from these groups you need to be sure you know which species you are getting and what their needs are. Why bother? If you are a complete novice, perhaps you shouldn't. The great choices from the First Fish list should allow you to get your feet wet (as it were) with minimum risk. However, as you gain experience you may decide to give some of these fish a try. Many are quite beautiful and/or have interesting behaviors and some aquarists become so taken with them that they join specialist clubs just to learn about and trade one group or another of these fish.

Loaches are long-bodied Asian fishes distantly related to the Cyprinids (Barbs, Danios, etc.) described above. Like Cory Cats, loaches have a down-turned mouth equipped with barbels an adaptation for living and feeding at the bottom of ponds and streams. They will scavenge the tank bottom eating the food missed by other fishes, but you should take care to see that they get enough to eat. Special sinking foods are a must. Some loaches are sensitive to poor nitrogen cycle management, which is why they are included here, rather than in the Good First Fish section. Once the tank is established and the beginner seems to have gotten the hang of maintaining a tank, however, loaches make great additions to most community fish populations. The most commonly seen loaches are the Kuhli Loaches - Acanthophthalmus species. These are long, ribbon-like fishes which grow to be 4" long. Brown with yellow stripes and bands, Kuhli Loaches are shy and spend a lot of time buried in the gravel. Another popular group of loaches are the members of the genus Botia. Clown Loaches - B. macracantha, Yo-Yo Loaches - B. lohachata, Skunk Loaches - B. horae, Blue Loaches - B. modesta, and Striated Loaches - B. striata are all seen in the hobby. Some of these (notably Clown and Blue Loaches) can get big, but they grow extremely slowly and can live in a small aquarium for several years. Loaches will often be happier if kept with a few of their own species. Weather Loaches - Misgurnus fossilis and Spotted Weather Loaches - Cobitis taenia should be avoided. They are cold water species and have the unfortunate habit of jumping out of aquaria, especially at the approach of a storm.


Dwarf Plecos
Pleco (a shortening of the now-unused genus name Plecostomus) is the common term used for suckermouth catfish of the family Loricariidae. As mentioned below in the Bad First Fish section, common Plecos (Hypostomus species) are often sold to beginners as algae cleaners. Unfortunately, these fish get too large for the relatively small tanks of most beginners. Some species of suckermouth catfish, however, do stay small enough for most beginners to keep. The Clown Plecos of the genus Peckoltia have alternating transverse bands of darker and lighter brown, tan, or yellow and generally stay under 4" long. The Bristlenose or Bushynose Plecos of the genus Ancistrus possess, as their common names imply, numerous projections from the area between their eyes and mouth. Within each species the bristles are larger on the male, especially near breeding. In fact, Bristlenose Plecos are among the few Loricariids to be successfully spawned in the home aquarium. Otocinclus Cats, often just called Otos, are the smallest Loricariids and will clean algae from live plants without hurting any but the most delicate of them. Otos sometimes die shortly after purchase for no apparent reason, but if they make it past this critical time they make very good community tank residents. While the various suckermouth catfish will indeed help to keep the aquarium free from many common algae types, the beginner should not make the mistake of thinking of these fish as simply algae eaters or scavengers. They should be given foods intended just for them, such as zucchini which can be blanched or weighted down to sink it to the Pleco's level. Some fish food manufacturers have recently realized that there is a market for specialized Pleco foods and now sell products such as sinking algae wafers which fit this bill nicely. These foods should be fed in the evening when the light reaching the tank is low, as most Plecos are more active at this time and most other fish which might compete for the food are less active. Pieces of (uncoated) driftwood in the tank are also important for many Pleco species, which rasp at the wood and ingest the scrapings. By the same token, Plecos should *not* be kept in wooden tanks, or even acrylic ones for that matter, as they may chew into the tank material damaging it and/or themselves (by ingesting toxins or undigestible matter). Pleco species can be quarrelsome amongst themselves and may be picked on by other fish due to their generally slow-moving nature. Provide a hiding cave for each Pleco and give them territories proportional to their size (e.g. 10 gallons for a 3" fish.)

Like many of the fish in the first section, Tetras are schooling fish and should be kept in groups of six or more of the same species. Tetras are native to Central and South America and Africa. In some regions of South America the water is quite soft (very little rock is dissolved in it) and acidic. (Another way of saying acidic is to say that it has a low pH one below 7, which is considered neutral. A strong acid has a very low pH. Liquids above pH 7 are said to be basic.) Unless you know that your tank water is also soft and acidic, the Tetras that need that water should be avoided. Before you buy a Tetra that you are not sure about, look it up in your book. If it says that it needs a pH below 6.5 you should probably avoid it. While many beginning aquarists are tempted to simply adjust the pH of their water by buying little


containers of chemicals in the pet store, do not give in to this temptation! Water chemistry is very complex and you can easily kill all your fish by trying it. On the other hand, if your tap water is naturally soft and achieves a consistent acidic pH, there is no reason that you can't try your hand at some of these fish. Two very popular Tetras which need soft, acidic water are the Neon Tetra - Paracheirodon innesi and the Cardinal Tetra - Cheirodon axelrodi. These are quite attractive red and blue fish. The red line on the Cardinal runs from the head on back, while in the Neon it starts only in the belly region. But their attractiveness is their only advantage. Besides its water requirements the Neon has the added drawback that almost all of them are bred in the Far East in huge numbers with no regard to quality. Further, the raising ponds for the young fish are filled with medicines. The medicines keep diseases in check but as soon as the fish are shipped they begin to get sick. They die in huge numbers in the stores and in buyer's home tanks. Probably less than 1 in 10 Neons lives for more than one month after being removed from the pond it was raised in. Further, those two or three tiny neons for a dollar at the local store can easily introduce a disease that kills all the fish in your tank. Cardinals will have a greater chance of not dying immediately after purchase but even they will probably not live long in your home tank. They are wild caught in Brazil as adults so they may have lived most of their naturally short life span before you buy them. Other Tetras which need acidic water include the Blue Neon Tetra - Hyphessobrycon simulans, the Flag Tetra - H. heterorhabdus, H. metae, the Loreto Tetra - H. loretoensis, the Black Phantom Tetra - Megalamphodus megalopterus, and the Red Phantom Tetra - M. sweglesi. So what about those aquarists without acid water? There are plenty of hardy Tetras out there for beginners without special water. These include the distinctive Black or Black Skirt Tetra Gymnocorymbus ternetzi, the brightly colored Glow Light Tetra - Hemigrammus erythrozonus, the radiant orange Jewel Tetra - Hyphessobrycon callistus, the Flame Tetra - H. flammeus, and the red-tailed Pristella - Pristella maxillaris, all of which grow to less than two inches long. Slightly larger Tetras include the Penguin Tetra - Thayeria obliqua and the closely related Hockey-stick Tetra - Th. boehlkei, both of which are easily recognized by the black lines originating in the lower half of their caudal (tail) fins and running forward, the shiny Diamond Tetra - Moenkhausia pittieri, and the beautiful, trident-tailed Emperor Tetra N. palmeri. Finally, the only African Tetra frequently seen, the Congo Tetra Phenacogrammus interruptus is a gorgeous fish which grows up to four inches long.

Cichlids, members of the family Cichlidae, come from Central and South America and Africa, with a few species found in Madagascar, the Middle East and into Asia. Cichlids are quite unlike any of the fish discussed so far. They are related to and resemble the Perch and Sunfish of US waters. For aquarists, cichlids pose four major problems: (1) Some need special water conditions, (2) some have specialized diets, (3) some get quite large (the largest up to 3' long), and (4) all are territorial. Again, why bother? Because for those willing to take the challenge, the rewards can be great. If any fish can be said to be intelligent, Cichlids can. They display this in their everyday activities as well as in their specialized mating, breeding, and fry-raising activities. The fish mentioned in the previous sections all lay eggs and then ignore or even eat them! Cichlids, on

the other hand, care for their eggs and young. It is said that one of the most rewarding sights an aquarist can see is parental Cichlids herding their fry around the tank and protecting them from all dangers. And, even if your Cichlids never breed, they will be more responsive to you than perhaps any other fish. Cichlids can be much more pet-like than you might think a fish could be. If you do decide to take the Cichlid challenge, choosing your Cichlids can be difficult. Some can be added to your community tank and will do fine with the schooling fish talked about above. These include Curviceps - Aequidens (really Laetacara) curviceps, Dorsigers Aequidens (again, really Laetacara) dorsiger, and the less frequently seen Nannacara anomala, all from South America, and Thomas' Dwarf Cichlid - Anomalochromis thomasi from western Africa. Unlike the monster Cichlids, these fish stay small (3 1/2 is a good sized adult) and are relatively peaceful. Two or three may be placed in a 10 gallon tank and they should still all find places to live if there are rocks and other decorations in the tank. Other Dwarf Cichlids you may see are the Ram - Papiliochromis (some books use Microgeophagus or Apistogramma) ramirezi, Apistos - Apistogramma species, and the Checkerboard Cichlid - Dicrossus filamentosus (referred to as Crenicara filamentosa in the books). These fish vary in their difficulty for keeping as aquarium fish, but all of them should be avoided by beginners. Keyhole Cichlids - Aequidens (really Cleithracara) maronii, Festivums - Cichlasoma (really Mesonauta) festivus, and Angelfish - Pterophyllum scalare can be good fish for the relative novice, but only if healthy specimens can be found and this is often not easy. For this reason, small Keyholes and Festivums should not be purchased. Adults of these two species are generally better choices; still, one should look the fish over carefully and not buy them until they have been in the store tanks for at least a week. Similarly, for the very popular Angelfish, one needs to be very careful when buying them. Before you buy, ask the salesperson to tell you where the store gets its Angels. If the salesperson doesn't know, won't tell you, or says that they come from the wholesaler (and who knows where before that?) don't buy them. If you are told that they come from a local breeder then you have at least a chance of getting healthy fish. Also, Angels should be kept in tanks both taller and longer than a 10 gallon aquarium. Keyholes, Festivums, and Angels are all shy fish and should be provided with cover -- preferably a planted tank. Discus, like Angels, need tanks higher and longer than 10 gallon tanks. Their specialized needs do not stop there, however, and beginners should shy away from these difficult and demanding fish. At the other end of the difficultly scale, a very good choice, especially for those with a 20 gallon or larger aquarium, is the Jurupari - Satanoperca leucosticta (formerly referred to in the hobby as Geophagus jurupari). It does get large (up to a foot), but it grows very slowly and may still be less than six inches long when several years old. It is a very peaceful Cichlid which will help to clean your tank by sifting through the gravel for uneaten food. A similar fish, Geophagus surinamensis, is also a good choice. Kribs or Kribensis - Pelvicachromis pulcher are a widely seen West African Cichlid that will do well with the larger schooling fish and should be kept in a twenty gallon or larger tank. Male Kribs grow to be 4" long and females stay a bit smaller. Most of the remaining cichlids which are commonly available are too aggressive and/or grow too large for the beginning aquarist to effectively deal with. This includes the very popular

Oscar - Astronotus ocellatus which grows rapidly to over a foot, is opportunistically piscivorous, and is a very messy species. If the aquarist is truly interested in keeping more cichlids than those recommended above, she or he should be prepared to set up special, separate (and probably larger) tanks for these fish and to read more extensively on cichlids before buying them.

Anabantids are another group of fishes that are quite different from those already discussed. Distantly related to Cichlids and Perch, Anabantids are found in Africa and Asia. Members of the families Anabantidae, Belontiidae, Helostomatidae, and Osphronemidae, Anabantids are also referred to as the labyrinth fishes. This is due to a special breathing organ referred to as the labyrinth organ which is essentially a maze of tunnels near the fish's gills. Labyrinth fish gulp air at the surface of the water and absorb it through the labyrinth organ, allowing them to live in water with too little oxygen to support fish which only breath through their gills. Some Anabantids can survive out of water for several hours breathing only through their labyrinths, as long as they stay moist. Anabas testudineus, known as the Climbing Perch, is said to be able to climb trees and to live out of water for up to two days. As well as giving aquarists some additional choices for community-tank fish, Anabantids offer some unique options to fish keepers as well as presenting a few problems. Because some Anabantids are able to withstand cooler temperatures, and because of their ability to survive in water with very low oxygen, these fishes can be kept in tanks or bowls without heaters or filtration. On the other hand, some Anabantids (particularly males of some species) are very territorial and some grow quite large. Breeding Anabantids can be quite rewarding. Some species build nests out of bubbles into which they place their eggs while others, like some Cichlids, are mouthbrooders. The most commonly seen Anabantid is probably the Betta or Siamese Fighting Fish (which is generally said to be Betta splendens but is probably a crossbreed). Artificial color varieties with red, blue, green, purple, and many other colors in various combinations are widely available. Males are bred to have very large fins and both sexes are seen with double tails. Siamese Fighting Fish generally make poor choices for the community tank for two reasons. First, as their name would imply, they are very territorial. The aggression is greatest between two males, but can be directed towards any fish that looks to the Betta too much like another Betta. Second, their long fins make easy targets for many fish such as Barbs. Siamese Fighting Fish can be kept alone in bowls (the larger the better) or tanks without filtration as long as frequent partial water changes are done. They do need warm temperatures, however, and are sensitive to temperature changes, so a constant heat supply is needed if the room is less than about 75F. Also, due to poor breeding, many Siamese Fighting Fish are not very healthy. A 3" male would be a large adult; females stay smaller. A better choice for keeping alone in a bowl or small tank is the Paradise Fish - Macropodus opercularis. These are much hardier fish than the Fighters and can withstand temperatures down to 60F. They may jump, however, so the tank should be covered to be safe. Also, like Siamese Fighting Fish, male Paradise Fish can be extremely territorial towards one another. Paradise Fish may get up to 4" long. Another very commonly seen Anabantid is the Blue or Three-Spot Gourami - Trichogaster trichopterus. Gold, Silver, and Cosby Gouramies are also widely available and are simply artificial color varieties of the Blue Gourami. Blue Gouramies can get up to 6" long. They are

not as aggressive as Fighters or Paradise Fish, but more than one in a small tank may lead to constant (if not overly deadly) chasing. They will do well in a tank with larger schooling fishes. Similar, though slightly smaller species include the Banded or Giant Gourami - Colisa fasciata (which is only a giant compared to the similarly colored Dwarf Gourami described below), the Thick-lipped Gourami - Colisa labiosa and the somewhat less aggressive Pearl Gourami - Trichogaster leeri and Moonlight Gourami - T. microlepis. The Kissing Gourami Helostoma temmincki grows larger (up to 12") but makes a good fish for beginners with larger tanks. It is peaceful, though males will contest with one another by pressing their lips together and pushing - the so-called kissing from which the common name derives. Most Kissing Gouramies seen will be of the Pink variety. Small Gouramies, only growing to 2" or so in length, are also available. These include the Dwarf Gourami - Colisa lalia, the Honey Gourami - C. chuna, and the Sunset Dwarf Gourami (probably a cross between C. lalia and C. chuna). In theory, these would all be good fish for the community aquarium. In practice, these fish are often the victims of poor breeding practices in the Far East (like so many others described before) and many are even treated with hormones before they are shipped to make them appear brighter in the store tanks. A good rule of thumb is, If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Although harder to find, Anabantids which have had less human interference with their reproduction are generally better choices. Look for the Mouthbrooding Betta - Betta pugnax, the Licorice Gourami - Parosphromenus deissneri, the Spike-Tailed Paradise Fish Pseudosphromenus cupanus, the Croaking Gourami - Trichopsis vittatus, and the Dwarf Croaking Gourami - T. pumilus, which range in size from 1" to 4". Do not buy Chocolate Gouramies - Sphaerichthys osphromenoides which are quite delicate, or the true Giant Gouramies - Osphronemus spp. which grow quickly to well over two feet long.

The family Poeciliidae contains Guppies, Mollies, Platies, and many other fishes. While these fish are often thought of as beginners' fish they have been intentionally left off the list until now in order to make a point. The reasons these fish are often sold to beginners are that they are cheap, brightly colored, and have a general reputation among non-aquarists as easy fish. Notably absent from this list is any real suitability for keeping by beginners. For one thing, many livebearers need high level of salt in their water to be healthy - making them incompatible with many other aquarium fish. Many common livebearers also are overbred, resulting in fish not nearly as healthy as those kept by aquarists of previous generations (or by the authors of most books). Some are not even able to reproduce without human intervention. Finally, due to their low market price, they are generally not well cared for and may carry diseases. Poeciliids, as they are also called, come from the Americas, primarily Central America. They are called livebearers (as opposed to egg-layers, as all the previously discussed fish have been) because the eggs are fertilized within the female and the fry do not appear until the eggs have hatched. There are also livebearers from other families in which the details of reproduction vary. The well-known Guppy can be found in a number of colors and with as many as 12 different artificial tail varieties. Also available is the closest thing that you may find to the wild Guppy - Poecilia reticulata: feeder Guppies which are not bred for color. The fancy strains tend to be fragile while common Guppies often carry diseases. Guppies should be kept in water with at least one teaspoon of salt per five gallons of water.

Common Mollies are the Black Molly (which was derived from the Marled Molly - Poecilia sphenops) and the Sail-Fin Molly - Poecilia velifera (of which there are also several color varieties available). Black Mollies need at least one teaspoon of salt per five gallons of water to keep them healthy and prevent the outbreak of ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, a parasite commonly seen in aquaria) while Sail-Fin Mollies need at least three times this amount. SailFins grow to 6" while Black Mollies stay less than 3". Closely related, Swordtails - Xiphophorus helleri and Platies - Xiphophorus maculatus are also popular fish. A number of color and finnage varieties are available of each with some of the Platies also referred to as Moons. These fish need at least a teaspoon of salt per 5 gallons of water to be healthy. Some varieties are susceptible to various maladies (Tuxedo Swords often get tumors, for instance) and as with so many other fish the naturally colored fish are probably your best bets. Green Swords (which are really multi-colored) are naturally colored X. helleri, but unfortunately wild morphs of Platies are not often seen. The Variegated Platy - Xiphophorus variatus is sometimes seen, however, and fills this role nicely.

Bad First Fish

We have already discussed several poor choice for beginners' fish alongside their more desirable cousins. Here are more fishes that are seen in the stores that beginners should be warned about. Many of these fish make good fish for advanced hobbyists while others never make good aquarium fish. Some are even suitable for a well-informed beginner; you just need to know what you are getting yourself into before you buy the fishes on impulse and drop them into your community tank.

Goldfish are one of the most common fish sold to beginners, but are particularly poorly suited to this role. The common Goldfish sold as feeders are generally full of diseases and parasites which may kill them and other fish they are housed with. Fancy varieties, which have been selectively bred for centuries to achieve their unnatural appearances, are subject to a host of problems associated with their abnormalities. All Goldfish are cold water fish which do not do well in the lower oxygen levels found in tropical aquaria, and therefore should not be housed with tropical species.

Piranhas are among the most abused of all aquarium fish. They are often purchased in order to watch their legendary feeding habits. As mentioned above, feeder fish often bring diseases and parasites with them and these can infect Piranhas. A regular diet of feeder fish can also be quite expensive. Piranhas are schooling fish and are generally shy and stressed when kept as single specimens. Unfortunately, they also get big (many species well over a foot long), so most beginning aquarists don't have room to house more than a single Piranha. If enough tank space is available to keep several Piranhas together, they must be kept well fed or they will turn on each other, killing and cannibalizing one fish after another.


Knife Fishes
There are several families of fish from South America, Africa, and Asia, referred to as Knife Fishes. Many species of Knives get large, some over 3' long although some of the less attractive species stay as small as 8". All of them are nocturnal predators, a fact that many a beginner could have used before all of his or her small fish mysteriously disappeared a few at a time.

Hatchet and Pencil Fishes

Somewhat related to Tetras, Hatchets (family Gasteropelecidae) and Pencils (genus Nannostomus) are Characins from South America. Many of them need soft and acid water and all of them are delicate. Hatchets have the added disadvantage that they tend to launch themselves out of the aquarium to an untimely death.

Elephant Nose and Baby Whale

More fragile fish include Elephant Noses - Gnathonemus petersi and Baby Whales Petrocephalus bovei. African fishes from the family Mormyridae, these are night feeders and are hard to provide for in the aquarium.

Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese Algae Eaters - Gyrinocheilus aymonieri are often introduced into the aquarium to do what their common (sales) name implies - eat algae. They are usually seen at a small size and many die within a short time of purchase. If they live, however, they get big (up to a foot long) and tend to prefer to rasp at the sides of slow moving fish (making them susceptible to infections) to eating algae.

Bala Shark
Not a shark at all but a Cyprinid (related to the Carp), Bala Sharks - Balantiocheilus melanopterus quickly outgrow most home aquaria. They get to be over one foot long.

Iridescent Shark
Unrelated to the Bala Shark or to true sharks, the Iridescent Shark - Pangasius sutchi is a catfish. It grows to over 3' and tends to injure its nose against the aquarium glass.

Glass Catfish
Another catfish to avoid is the Glass Catfish - Kryptopterus bicirrhis. While it stays small enough to be an aquarium fish (up to 6"), it is very delicate and should not be purchased by beginners.

The suckermouth catfish of the genus Hypostomus are often sold in the stores as algae cleaners. Most of these species get in excess of 12". Some of the slender suckermouth catfish, such as the Whiptail - Dasyloricaria filamentosa and the Farlowella - Farlowella gracilis, are quite delicate species.

Long-Whiskered Catfish
Catfish don't have long whiskers for looks. They are there to help them hunt for their food other fish! In addition to eating all fish of less than half their size in the tank, many of the piscivorous (fish-eating) Cats will outgrow most tanks. One common species of longwhiskered catfish, the Pictus Cat - Pimelodus pictus grows to 10" while the Channel Cat (a pink form is often seen) grows over 2 feet long. Shovelnose Cats are usually only seen at six inches or greater, so the beginner does have some warning with these. Still, one might not expect them to get 2 or 3' long.

Red-Tailed Catfish
Red-Tailed Catfish - Phractocephalus hemiliopterus are particularly large-growing predatory catfish. A dark body with a horizontal white stripe and red tail gives them an attractive appearance at a small size that has unfortunately made them a popular aquarium fish with those who fail to appreciate the enormity of adults. Adults may grow to well over 4' in length and have mouths that more than match their lengths. As such, they are more than many public aquaria can house, not to mention private aquarists.

Spiny Eels
Spiny Eels (family Mastacembelidae) are aggressive fish, some of which grow quite large (over 3'). Some do stay small (less than 4" for one species), but all are likely to have internal parasites.

Painted Glassfish
Painted Glassfish are Glassfish - Chanda ranga which have been painted with chemical dyes. This procedure adds a temporary bit of unnatural color (which disappears with time) and stresses the fish, causing them to be prone to diseases and parasites. This fish needs at least 1 teaspoon of salt per gallon of aquarium water.

Dyed Fish
While Painted Glassfish were for a long time the only fish commonly seen that had been colorized by unscrupulous marketers, the last few years have seen several other fishes subjected to this abuse. One of these is the White Skirt Tetra (an albino version of the Black Skirt Tetra - Gymnocorymbus ternetzi) which are sold as Blueberry Tetras, Strawberry Tetras, Rainbow Tetras, etc. depending on the dyes used to color the individuals. Similarly, Blueberry and Strawberry Loaches have also been seen. If you are unsure if a fish has been dyed, ask.

Brackish Water Fish

I have already mentioned some fish, such as Mollies and Glassfish, which come from brackish waters - I simply have not called it that before. Brackish water is intermediate between the fresh water of most rivers and lakes and the salt water of the Oceans. Brackish water is found in gulfs, deltas, and lagoons, as well as a some lakes and rivers. Because brackish water fish need so much salt in their water they are not compatible with most aquarium fish. Further, brackish water fish generally need more room per fish to stay healthy

than freshwater fish. Some commonly seen brackish water fish include Monos Monodactylus species, Archers - Toxotes species, Scats - Scatophagus species, and many species of Puffers (family Tetraodontidae).

Salt Water Fish

If brackish water fish are to be avoided by beginners, then beginners should stay well away from salt water fish. Their bright colors are attractive, but they are generally much more difficult for beginners to keep alive than are fresh water fish.

There are thousands of species of aquarium-suitable fish from a host of families that are not covered above; this article is far from comprehensive. Killifish (fish of the family Cyprinodontidae) for example, are widely kept by many advanced hobbyists, but not often by beginners. This is not because they are all unsuitable as beginner's fish. In fact, some of them would make very good first or second fish. They are simply not widely available in pet stores. For choices of good beginners' fish beyond those listed here, and for expanding once one has moved beyond the beginner level, local aquarium clubs and friends who are aquarists can be very good sources of information. So can many of the available fishkeeping books and magazines. At every level of experience, the aquarist will find that good information is well worth the time and/or money it takes to get it.

The advantages of live foods over frozen and prepared foods are: 1. the uneaten food will not immediately decay and load up the filtration system, 2. foods can be raised in controlled conditions and be free of pathogenic (disease causing) bacteria 3. by using inexpensive media and techniques, costs are minimized, and 4. most importantly, fish love grabbing things that try to run away (plus, fish owners love watching their fish chase live food). Here are some live foods the aquarist can easily culture at home, to the extent that some people on the NET have had experience with them.

Baby Brine Shrimp (Artemia spp., usually A. salina)

Baby brine shrimp are a food of choice for the newly hatched fry of egg-layers and other small fish. They're also eaten voraciously by some surprisingly large marine fish and make a good substitute macro-plankton for some filter-feeding invertebrates. Culturing: To hatch brine shrimp, one needs very little. A hatchery can be built out of almost anything, such as 1 gal plastic milk jug to 12 oz soda bottles. Also, stores sell "shrimpolators" and plastic hatching cones. Everything works, but a container with a concave or conical bottom is the best because the water flow has no dead spots. Add


air tubing connected to a small pump, put a light over it and keep temperature around 85 degrees if the shrimp are to hatch faster. Ed Warner's book suggests 3.5 table spoons of uniodized salt per gallon of water. He suggests using the cheapest salt available, like the water softener salt at $3 for 50 lb. SF Bay Brand recommends hardening the water to improve hatching and shrimp survival, so adding some Epsom salt and a tiny pinch of baking soda may be a good idea. In order for the shrimp to hatch and not die, the water in the culture must be vigorously turned over to keep the shrimp in suspension. This can be done by aerating the water just like everyone else, using a 12 inch length of rigid air tubing attached to a 3 inch tail of flexible tubing attached to an air pump. The rigid section keeps the hose from slipping out of the container. Aquarists using airstones may find that they crud up and clog too often in this environment. To get nauplii (hatched brine shrimp) out, turn off the air, put a piece of rigid air (1/8") tubing with 2-3 ft of flex tubing attached into the culture, and let the stuff settle. The shrimp egg cases will collect on top of the water, the shrimp ought to sink to the bottom (if the water is not too saline). Then just siphon the wriggling shrimp off into a brine shrimp (fine) net, dump the lot into a cup of water and use an eye dropper to dispense to the fish. The nauplii will live in the tank for up to 24 hours. Sources: Eggs can be bought in most aquarium and pet shops or by mail order. Eggs bought in bulk (such as 1 lb cans) will be much less expensive than the tiny ampoules sold in stores. The cans may be held in the freezer, with 2-3 weeks worth of supply held in a small, tight-lid jar. Ed Warner insists that the eggs of brine shrimp need at least a year of incubation to become ready to hatch. He goes on to say that a low yield from a newly opened can of shrimp eggs may be due to insufficient incubation time and that the best hatches come from the eggs that had been kept for a few years, with the eggs kept for 5 years in a vacuum packed airtight container giving perfect 100% hatch rates.

Adult Brine Shrimp

Uses: Just about all fish under 5" long will readily eat brine shrimp. Culturing: Don't bother. The yields from the cultures are very low and it's easier to culture Daphnia and buy live brine shrimp in the pet shops. Those who REALLY want to try to culture brine shrimp should get a large open top container (an aquarium, a garden tub, a baby wading pool), fill it with real or synthetic salt water and seed it with some green water and nutrients (fertilizer tabs or what have you) and wait for the water to turn yellow-green. Throw in some baby brine shrimp or live adult shrimp (available from the pet shop) and wait. Adding small amounts of


brewers yeast, APR and other micro-foods will help promote the shrimp growth. It helps to put the culture in a brightly indirectly lit place to promote microalgae growth. Sources: See above.

Daphnia (also known as "water fleas") are tiny crustaceans of Daphnia pulex and D. magna spp. They are probably the most ideal food for the smaller fresh water -Daphnia do not die in the tank and will eat microscopic garbage while they live. They come in a variety of sizes -- from hardly visible to over 1/8". This is a typical source of food for many fish in the wild. Culturing: Daphnia can be cultured in everything from betta bowls to 32 gal trash cans. Indoor cultures can be fed various algae scrapings and tank sludge, as well as deactivated brewers yeast, powdered milk and APR (artificial plankton stuff from OSI). The best food to use is green water, and can be used in outdoor cultures. Green water can be grown using a weak solution of Miracle Grow and chelated iron in dechlorinated water, seeded with "pea soup" water. If water full of nutrients is left out in full sun, within weeks it will turn green from the airborne algae spores. Blender-pulverized lettuce is rumored to work well in small amounts. Fry tanks and bowls can be seeded with Daphnia -- the Daphnia eat the bacteria that may be hazardous to the fry and generally purify water and the fry will eat them as they get larger. Freshly hatched fry can also be added directly into Daphnia cultures (about 2 fry/liter) and will feed at their leisure. However, fry kept in equivalent sized tanks and fed more intensively grow faster. A shrimp net or a fine fish net can be used to catch Daphnia. Sources: A clean Daphnia culture may be obtained from a local aquarium club or mail order. Daphnia can also be gathered from local lakes with a plankton net. An inexpensive net can be constructed by the do-it-yourself aquarist. Sew a conical fine mesh net with something like sheer curtain material, and attach it to a circular piece of wire (such as a clothes hanger, bent into a circle). Add some weights to one side of the wire frame and hang it from a three string harness. The net can then be slowly dragged behind a canoe or rowboat in a lake known to contain Daphnia. The wire frame will keep the mouth open, and the weights will act like the tail of a kite, to keep the net from rotating when it is dragged. Such as setup can be remarkably productive, but the aquarist must beware of parasites like Hydra and various carnivorous insects, like glass worms. Capturing glass worms are a mixed blessing, because larger fish will happily eat them, but the glass worms will also eat fry, if present. Uses:


Same as Daphnia, but predatory. Can damage eggs and very young egg-layer fry. Nauplii can be used like brine shrimp nauplii. Culturing: As Daphnia (but less numerous per the same volume). Sources: Often comes with the culture of worms or as contaminants in Daphnia cultures. Very hard to eradicate once they start breeding in the tank. Also mail order and club auctions, as Daphnia. Uses:

Mosquito Larvae
Uses: Most adult fish of smaller species love them. As long as fish are bigger than the larvae, they'll eat them. Aquatic larvae of flying insects is the main ingredient in the diet of many small fish in the wild. Culturing: Very simple. Put a wide-mouth bucket or a barrel or a tub of water outside. Throw in small amounts of evaporated milk or grass clippings in a nylon bag to seed the water with bacteria and promote the growth of infusoria, mosquito larvae's food sources; green water works well, too. Some people even use manure! If there are mosquitoes in the area, 2-3 weeks later there will be larva in the water. Another means of culturing is to use a child's wading pool with a small amount of grass clippings (no herbicides, please) added to encourage the water to stagnate, then wait for the mosquitoes to breed in it. After a couple of weeks, large numbers of larva can scooped up with a coarse fish net. In this sort of "wild culture", one must sneak up on the pool to net them, so that the larvae don't dive to the bottom when they detect movement. Other methods include filling a one gallon bucket with garden pond water (tap water takes too long to age!), then adding a cup or two of fine soil and allow it to sit for a few days. After the larvae begin to appear, one may use a large aquarium net to strain the water into another bucket, thus capturing the mosquito larvae that are now present. A major problem with these techniques is that the neighbours make take exception to mosquitos being cultured. However, provided all the larvae can be captured and used, an optimist might see it as a means of population control since the mosquitoes are no longer breeding in a pond somewhere where all control is lost. Another problem is that if one adds too many larvae and the fish don't eat them all, there may be a significant increase in the mosquito population in your house, as the uneaten larvae pupate, then develop into mosquitoes. Sources: Wait for the little bloodsuckers to discover the container of evil-smelling bacterial soup (=culture), or go find "floats" of mosquito eggs in a nearby lake or puddle. They look like rafts of eggs, all glued together.


Black Worms
Uses: These disgusting, bacteria-infested stinkers are among the best sources of protein for the fish and are an excellent conditioning food for breeding preparation. WARNING: frequent feedings will cause the fish to become fat and impair breeding. Also, diseases are far more likely on a steady diet of worms. ANOTHER WARNING: if too many worms are fed to the fish at one time, the worms will burrow into the gravel and hide, risking fouling the tank. Culturing: May not be worth it. Worms will live on the bottom of a tank, eating scum and breeding. They can be fed banana peels. Filter water intensively. Collect them by sieving gravel with worms through a net. Messy, laborious and there are easier sources of protein. Sources: Most aquarium shops have these uglies. (Tubifex are even uglier and stinkier and the aquarist should not attempt to raise them. It is possible, but consider -- they live and feed in sewage and may carry hepatitis or other potential pathogens.) If one buys tubifex, it is reported that since it is their, uh, "food" that smells, not the worms themselves, they may be successfully kept in cold running water without producing odour. Alternatively, 2 oz. of worms can be kept for up to three days in a medium sized bucket of cold water in a fridge).

Grindal Worms (very small worms)

These worms are small (up to 1/2") and can be fed to a variety of small fishes. Because of the way they are raised, they are totally disease free. They do not burrow as readily as other worms and live in the water for a few days. Great for bottom feeders and any fish fast enough to grab food sinking to the bottom or smart enough to look for it (i.e. just about all fish). Culturing: Get a plastic shoe box (available at Target on sale for $1), fill it with sterile potting soil and peat moss mix (50-50), or just potting soil, get it moist, perhaps nuke it in the microwave oven for 5 minutes to thoroughly sterilize it, let it cool, inoculate with a small starter culture of worms and add some high protein cereal powder (Gerber, for instance) every time the previous feed disappears -- and watch them breed! Cultures should be kept at 70 F or warmer. Put a piece of glass on the soil and the worms will crawl on it. The worms can be washed off the glass into a cup with clean water and dispensed into the tank with a large medicine dropper (1 tsp). If food is placed in troughs in the soil, the glass will be free of potentially water-clouding soil. One healthy culture produces enough to feed about 100 small fish. Remember to keep the culture moist but not soaked and soupy. Spray it with dechlorinated water now and then. Uses:


Cultures like this often get over-run with mites and/or gnats. Both pests can be fed to the fish and are readily eaten, but soon become a nuisance. Should this happen, take some worms and keep them in a cup of water for 3-4 hours. This will drown the infestation and the worms can be used as a new starter culture. Old infested cultures can be salvaged, but it may not be worth the effort. If the worms are not growing well, try adjusting the soil's pH by mixing a bit of baking soda into it to neutralize the peat's acidity. An interesting technique of culturing worms is used by some German killi breeders. They use open-celled foam that sits in a tray filled with water and is covered by a piece of glass. This method is cleaner than the soil/peat one. Sources: Friends, local aquarium clubs and mail order.

White Worms (small worms, related to earthworms)

Uses: These worms are up to 1" long and are good for feeding fish 3"-6" long. Culturing: Similar to Grindal worms, but these worms do not do well at high temperatures. If possible, keep them below 70F; during the summer, they will survive if kept moist and in a cool place, i.e. a north facing carport. White worms can be grown in potting soil in plywood boxes, about 16" x 12" x 6" deep, with a close fitting, moistureresistant top such as a sheet of glass. They will eat the same foods as Grindal worms, but a number of sources suggest that white bread soaked in milk is a very good food for these worms. Another option found to work extremely well is to raid the materials heading for the compost, and prepare a mixture of old lettuce, fruit, and bread crumbs or oatmeal. Add water and blend it, as thick as the blender can handle, and still be able to turn over this soup. Add maybe a cup each week (it's mostly water anyway, which is needed to keep the cultures moist), in a small trench dug down the center of the dirt. The medium typically and most successfully used by one of us (DW) is dried, rehydrated bread crumbs with some brewers yeast added. Bread crumbs are prepared by collecting old crusts (even moldy ones) and storing them in your freezer, then drying them in the oven at 175F. The bread is then crushed into into crumbs and, if stored in sealed containers (such as plastic ice cream buckets) the crumbs will last forever. When it is time to feed the worms, use a large bowl and mix the powdered bread with enough water to make a slurry, then ladle it into a trench in the culture. Use only as much as the worms will eat in a week. The amount of water in the slurry should be varied - when the worm culture tends to dry out in the summer months, use a wetter mixture to replace the water but if the culture is already too moist, use a drier mixture. One might ask how long such a culture will last before going sour. It is a good question, to which there is no clear answer yet; one of use (DW) has 3+ year old cultures which have been seen to produce as strongly as ever, without odour.


Keep these worms in complete darkness. They will come out of the soil and coat the food, devouring it shortly and clustering in a writhing mass. The aquarist can pluck this mass of worms from the soil and use it to feed the fish. The worms will hide in the soil as soon as the light strikes them, so be swift about grabbing them! Another means of separating worms from the dirt is to get a tin can with both ends removed and fasten a piece of plastic window screening over one end (with string, an elastic band, or whatever works). Sit it in some type of tapered glass container (such as a measuring cup) with water in the container, so the can sits above the water (1/2" between the top of the water and bottom of the mesh). Place some of the soil and worm mixture in the can and place a light over top (i.e. a gooseneck lamp, with one of those mini-spot bulbs). The heat will drive the worms out, through the mesh, and into the water. This takes a couple of hours or more. The worms come out clean, and can be fed to the fish directly, placed in a worm feeder, or frozen for future use. This works well for white worms, large and small, so assuming Grindal worms can be grown in soil, it should work for them, too. However, if you don't mind getting your hands dirty, a faster, more effective means of separating them is to put the worm laden dirt into a container, add water, swirl the mixture, then pour out the dirt. The worms will collect in knots. Remove the knots by hand to another container, then continuing to swirl and pour off the dirt in both the old container and the new one. This way, clean worms can be obtained within minutes. Whiteworms should be fed to your fish with a worm feeder, so that the fish can eat them over time. They can be also be placed directly into a bowl on the bottom of the tank, where they will remain until the fish eat them. This may apparently be particularly useful for killifish breeders, which have only peat as a substrate. Be careful not to overfeed by adding whiteworms directly to the tank; the excess will burrow into the sand, where they will be inaccessible to all but the most eager diggers, such as Hoplosternum. Where the aquarist has separated too many worms for one day's feeding, the remainder should be promptly frozen and used later. Sources: same as Grindals.

Uses: Feeding of medium and large fish (over 4" long). Culturing: To raise earthworms cheaply and easily: 1. Build a box out of wood (any size is fine, a bigger box = more worms) (apartment dwellers can make do with a 1' x 1' x 8" box) 1. Attach the top with two cheap hinges. 2. Drill/cut two 2-inch holes in the front of the box in such a way as to line up the bottom of the hole with the bottom of the inside of the box 3. Paint the box with any outdoor rated, oil based paint. 4. Place a small piece of fine plastic screen against holes that were drilled/cut. Make sure the screen is placed on the inside of the box. Firmly nail the screen into place. The screen will allow the box to drain, but will not allow the worms to escape.

The box is now complete. 2. prepare the box for worms 1. Buy enough peat moss from a garden supply store or nursery to fill up the box (remember the peat moss will compact after it gets soaking wet). 2. Place the peat moss in the box and completely soak the peat moss (stir it up until it is uniformly wet). 3. Get 6 bricks. 4. Place one brick at each front corner and two bricks at each rear corner so that the box slopes forward and can drain from the holes. 5. Place a pan under the holes to catch the future runoff (unless the box is placed outside). Note, after worms are growing, the runoff is great for plants. 3. Now, for the worms 1. Go buy three or four boxes of the smallest worms that can be found at a fish and tackle shop. 2. Put the worms in the box 3. Buy some corn meal (a small bag will last forever). This is all the worms need for adequate nutrition. 4. Every three or four days, sprinkle a light layer of corn meal on top of the peat moss. Note: before each new layer is applied, use a small, tined garden hand tool to stir up the peat moss and to mix the corn meal left over from the previous feeding into the peat moss. 5. After about a month, there will be literally millions of worms ranging in size from tiny little young worms to fully adult worms. The baby worms can be used for small fish and very young fish, while the larger worms will easily satisfy the live food requirements of even the most ravenous large fish. 6. This is an infinitely renewable resource, which is difficult to overharvest! 7. The peat moss must be kept damp by periodic watering. Don't over water! Do not allow it to dry out! The worms will die QUICKLY if the peat moss dries out. Fortunately, peat moss retains water very well, and watering is rarely needed. 8. The worms must not be allowed to freeze. The worms and the worm box will not smell and can be kept in garages or closets during the winter. The worms do not like being baked in the full evening sun in the summer (they will be killed). Place them in a shady location if they are left outside. 9. keep the lid closed, worms like it dark. 4. Other uses for Earthworms-1. Potted plants love earthworms!! 2. Gardens love earthworms!! 3. Lawns love earthworms!! Sources: the backyard, bait shops, gardening shops, gardens, aquarium clubs.


Infusoria (microscopic aquatic protozoans)

Uses: Feeding of newly hatched fry. Culturing: Starting with a culture of green or pond water, add plant material such as lettuce, alfalfa pellets, etc. to your culture container. Good results have been found with boiled vegetation, which appears to break down more quickly. When the plant material begins to decay, bacteria will initially appear, then the protozoa will quickly increase in number as they feed on the bacteria. Note that new cultures may contain largely bacteria, not infusoria. If the infusoria culture is vigorously aerated, odour will be minimized. If the aquarist intends to maintain the culture over an extended period, every 3 - 4 days one must siphon out the "expired" organic material which settles to the bottom and discard it, then replace it with new culture media. Optimum culture size depends on how much infusoria is needed. One of us (DW) uses a spare 15 gallon tank, which can produce prodigious amounts of infusoria. An effective means of concentrating the culture before use is to turn off the aerator, then place a small spot lamp beside the culture container and let the culture settle. Within 15 minutes, the infusoria will begin to form shimmering clouds around the light or they may form a distinct whitish layer in the water, often just below the surface. One may be able to see minuscule silvery bits of "dust", moving distinctly and purposefully through the water. The infusoria concentrations may then be selectively siphoned out and added to the fry tank.. Sources: Old tank water (especially out of the filter), friends, mail order

Vinegar Eels (Turbatrix aceti aka Anguillula silusiae)

Information provided by Greg Frazier Uses: Food for very small fry, i.e., those that are too small to take baby brine shrimp (e.g., Rams) Culturing: Vinegar eels are small nematodes found in unpasturized cider vinegar. They live in acidic water and feed on bacteria in fermenting vinegar. They can survive for extended periods of time in alkaline water (including tank water!), but they will not reproduce. As a food for fry, they are extremely easy to culture, require very little attention or care (i.e., they can be ignored for months at a time), and can be harvested at a moments notice. Hold a starter culture up to the light, to be able to see the worms wriggling in the cider/water mix. To culture vinegar eels, one needs a container (a 1 gallon jug/jar/pitcher with a mouth wide enough to stick one's hand through works well), an apple, cider vinegar and water. Smaller containers should work OK, but a 1 gallon container provides more than enough eels for everything short of a professional hatchery. The cider can be cut by up to 50% with water, but not more than that. Drop some (peeled) apple cubes into the pitcher (one only needs a handful of 1" cubes for a 1 gallon culture), and fill it up with vinegar + water (again, no more than 50% water). Put half of the starter into the

culture. Wait at least 24 hrs to give the bacteria time to get a foothold, and then put the second half of the starter into the pitcher. In about a month, a cup dipped into the pitcher should come out cloudy with wriggling worms. When the mixture starts looking really cruddy (e.g., 1/2 inch of stuff has accumulated on the bottom; this should take months) re-culture and start again. Harvest the eels with two cups and a coffee filter. Dip one cup into the culture, pour it through the filter into the other cup, and return the liquid to the culture. Most of the eels will have passed through the filter, but some will have clung to it. Pour fresh water though the filter, then invert the filter and flush the worms into a glass. A filter paper (available at some drug stores) may also be used. Filter paper will prevent any eels from getting through, but it also takes quite a while (10 minutes or longer) for the vinegar get through as well. Let the worms purge themselves in the glass for a while before feeding them to the fry. Also, be careful to rinse the eels well -- adding vinegar to a small fry hatchery could lower the pH suddenly (with disastrous consequences!). Vinegar eels are longer than brine shrimp nauplii, but have a smaller diameter - fish can handle vinegar eels before they can handle freshly hatched brine shrimp. In a tank the worms will flow with any current, but if there is no current they will work their way up to the surface (a big advantage over microworms). Sources: Mail order, aquarium clubs, etc..

Microworms (Nematodes)
Uses: These microscopic worms are good for feeding newly hatched fry and the smallest fish, although fish up to 1" or more will eat them. Culturing: Good culture media include Oatmeal pablum, Gerber high-protein cereal or cooked oatmeal porridge. The oatmeal porridge is inexpensive and is the media of choice of one of us (DW). All media should be prepared so that it is thick, then added to a dish so that it is from 1.5 cm. deep or more. Add at least 1 tsp. (5 ml) of deactivated brewers yeast (can be bought from health food stores); the cultures do not do well without the brewers yeast. Seed with a small quantity of the nematodes. If you are subculturing from an existing culture, just use the top 1/8" of the old culture; that's where all the worms are. Your new culture will be encouraged by initially storing it in a warm area (such as the top of a tank). They can be cultured in 500 ml. yogurt containers, made out of type "5" plastic (the type of plastic will be marked in the recycling information on the bottom). This material is fairly thick, flexible, and cheap, and the micro-structure of the surface seems to be such that the worms can crawl up the sides in thick enough concentrations that they can be wiped off and collected. The thinner, more brittle plastic containers work very poorly - the worms do not thrive, and they can't seem to climb up the sides. Cut a hole, perhaps, 3/4" wide in the lid to provide air, and if the cultures are piled several cultures high, ensure the containers are rotated so that all cultures are exposed to the air at least every second day. If this is not done, the cultures will die off.


Cultures can be grown in the house, and as many as 24 containers still make up a compact, but very productive source of live food. In about a week, microworms can be "harvested" off the sides of the dish with a finger (the best way), a Q-tip or a brush. Optionally, once can place a flat piece of plastic or wood onto the culture and scrape the worms off with a razor when they become numerous (a popsicle can be used stick as this "collection platform"). Wash them out in a glass of clean water and dump them into the tank, or place them directly in the tank. Cultures will last about 2 weeks. As long as the culture media is fairly fresh, there will not be any offensive odours produced but when the the odour increases and production decreases, it is time to subculture. One can extend the time it takes for the microworms to be passed into the tank by placing them in a worm feeder stuffed with filter floss. Sources: friends, clubs, mail order.

Wingless Fruit flies (Drosophila species)

Uses: The fruit flies are the closest analog to the natural diet for most killifish and many other small fish. Culturing: 1/2 gal fruit juice bottles can be used as culture containers. The media is a mail order instant mush that seems to be some sort of instant mashed potatoes substance that smells like pure starch mixed with fungicides. Use enough to get a 1/4-1/2" layer of media at the bottom of the bottle and add enough water to get it to a sour cream-like consistency. It should be dense enough to not run when the bottle is tilted. Next, place a 2 layer roll of plastic "bug screen" mesh into the bottle, so the flies and maggots have somewhere to climb out of the wet goo -- it seems to help their survival. Dump in a few fruit flies, perhaps a dozen. Finally, stopper the bottle with a wad of filter floss, so the flies can't get out and wild fruit flies and other critters can't get in. Two weeks later there will be newly hatched fruit flies ready to be fed to the fish. The culture keeps producing for 2 months or so and should be "cloned" after some 6 weeks of operation. When the previously cream-colored media become dark and "used up" looking, it's time for the new culture. It's probably easier and safer to clone the culture every 4-6 weeks and be ready for the eventual crash of the old culture. To feed the fish, sharply shake the bottle to knock the flies away from the stopper, open a fish tank cover, open the bottle, turn it up side down and give it a few taps, shaking out a dozen or more flies every shake. The media gets thick enough by then to not drip out. CAUTION! These flies are wingless and flightless, but not legless. They will walk up the sides of the tank, crawl out through the cracks and head straight for the fruit which has been left out in the kitchen. They may be fish food, but they are still fruit flies. Feed them to fish in small doses.

There are several different strains of usable fruit flies. Some are smaller than 1/8", others are over 3/16". Some are completely wingless or have vestigial stubby wings (wingless), others have the wings that are so large that they are useless (flightless). CAUTION! The "wingless" fruit flies will sprout functional wings if they are kept at high temperatures, so keep the culture cool. If this becomes a problem, open the jar outdoors, let the winged flies fly away, then make sure the rest pupate at a cooler temperature. HINT: a jar of Drosophila can be chilled in a refrigerator for a few minutes to make them sluggish and/or immobile. This makes them lots easier to handle when a new batch is being bred, and also makes them less likely to wander off. The fish might prefer them to be more active, though.

Feeder Fish
Several large fish, including cichlids and piranhas will eat live fish as part of their diet. Culturing: Generally not necessary. Many fish stores stock offer inexpensive "feeder guppies" or "feeder goldfish" as part of their ordinary stock. However, a colony of prolific cichlids, such as convicts, can practically be used as a source of feeder fry. For fish like piranhas, a small piece of raw chicken or a strip of fish fillet will work just as well as a live fish. Uses:

There are two categories of algae of concern to aquarists: "good" and "bad". Good algae is present in small quantities, is indicative of good water quality and is easily kept in check by algae eating fish or simple removal during routine maintenance. This algae is a natural consequence of having a container of water with nutrients and a light source. Bad algae is either an indicator of bad water quality or is a type of algae that tends to overtake the tank and ruin the aesthetics the aquarist is trying to achieve. The label of "bad" is entirely subjective. For example, one type of green, hair-like algae is considered a plague by some American aquarists, yet is cultivated by European aquarists as a valuable addition to most tanks, serving as a dietary supplement for the fish.

Algae Types
Blue-green, slime or smear algae
Grows rapidly in blue-green, slimy sheets. Spreads rapidly over almost everything and usually indicates poor water quality. However, blue-green algae can fix nitrogen and may be seen in aquariums with extremely low nitrates. Sometimes seen in small quantities between the substrate and aquarium sides. Will smother and kill plants.

This is actually cyanobacteria. It can be physically removed, but this is not a viable long term solution as the aquarium conditions are still favorable for it and it will return quickly. Treatment with 200 mg of erythromycin phosphate per 10 gallons of water will usually eliminate blue-green algae but some experts feel it may also have adverse effects on the biological filter bed. If erythromycin is used for treatment, ammonia and nitrite levels should be carefully monitored.

Brown algae
Forms in soft brown clumpy patches. In the freshwater aquarium, these are usually diatoms. Usually indicates a lack of light or an excess of silicates. Increased light levels will usually make it disappear. Easily removed by wiping the glass or siphon vacuuming the affected area.

Green water
Green unicellular algae will sometimes reproduce so rapidly that the water will turn green. This is commonly called an "algae bloom" and is usually caused by too much light like direct sunlight. An algae bloom can be removed by filtering with micron cartridges or diatom filters. UV sterilizers can prevent the bloom in the first place. Green water is very useful in the raising of daphnia and brine shrimp.

Film algae
Grows on the aquarium glass and forms a thin haze. Easily removed by wiping the glass. Considered normal with the higher light levels needed for good plant growth.

Spot algae
Grows in thin, hard, circular, bright green spots, usually on the aquarium glass but also on plants under high light conditions. Considered normal for planted tanks. Must be mechanically removed. On acrylic aquariums, use a cloth pad or a gentle scouring pad like a cosmetic "Buff-Puff" and a lot of elbow grease. On glass tanks, scraping with a razor blade is most effective.

Fuzz algae
Grows mostly on plant leaves as separate, short (2-3mm) strands. Considered normal. It might be a less "virulent" form of "beard" algae. Easily controlled with algae eaters such as black mollies, Otocinclus, Peckoltia and siamese algae eaters.

Beard algae
Grows on plant leaves and is bright green. Individual strands have a very fine texture but it grows in thick patches and looks just like a green beard. It grows up to 4 cm. It cannot be removed mechanically. This does not indicate bad water quality but grows very fast and overtakes the tank, making it a "bad" alga. Can be eliminated with Simazine (Aquarium Pharmaceuticals "Algae-Destroyer").

Hair algae

Grows in bright green clumps in the gravel, around the base of plants like Echinodorus and around mechanical objects. It has a coarser texture than "beard algae". Beard algae will ripple in the water current, hair algae tends to form matted clumps. Individual strands can get to 5 cm or more. This is easy to remove mechanically by twirling a toothbrush in it. Can be troublesome if left unchecked. This is a popular food supplement for fish among European aquarists.

Thread algae
Grows in long, thin strands up to 30 cm or more. Tends toward a dull green color (hard to tell because it is so thin). Usually indicates an excess of iron (> 0.15 ppm). Easily removed with a toothbrush like hair algae.

Staghorn algae
Looks like individual strands of hair algae but tends to grow in single branching strands like a deer antler and is grey-green. Seems to grow mostly on tank equipment near the surface. Difficult to remove mechanically. Soak affected equipment in a 25% solution of household bleach and water to remove it.

Brush algae
This grows in feathery black tufts 2-3 mm long and tends to collect on slower growing leaves like Anubias, some Echinodorus and other wide leaf plants. Also tends to collect on mechanical equipment. This is actually a red alga in the genus Audouinella (other names: Acrochaetium, Rhodochorton, Chantransia). It cannot easily be removed mechanically. Remove and discard the affected leaves. Equipment can be soaked in a 25% bleach solution, then scrubbed to remove the dead algae. Siamese Algae Eaters (Crossocheilus siamensis) are known to eat this algae and can keep it in check. A more drastic measure is treatment with copper.

Prophylactics for Algae

Algal spores are everywhere and will always be present in an aquarium unless drastic measures are taken. For fish only tanks, a properly set up ultraviolet sterilizer will kill algal spores in the water and prevent them from gaining a toehold. For planted tanks, this is not a good solution since the UV light will also oxidize trace elements needed by the plants and will limit the plant's growth potential. Unfortunately, conditions that are good for growing plants are also good for growing algae. Fortunately, plants will usually out-compete algae for the available nutrients. However, if there is an imbalance of nutrients, algae will opportunistically use whatever is not used by the higher order plants. Different algae will utilize different nutrients, causing sporadic outbreaks of new algae types in apparently stable tanks when a temporary imbalance occurs. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid introducing a new algae type to a planted tank with new plants, a simple bleach dip seems to work well. Mix 1 part bleach in 19 parts water and dip the new plant in it for 2 minutes. Immediately rinse the plant in running water, then immerse it water containing a chlorine remover to neutralize any remaining


bleach. This will kill the algae and only temporarily slow down a healthy plant. Plants in poor condition may succumb to this treatment, but they probably would not have lasted anyway.

Algae Eaters
The most effective control of algae in a planted aquaria is via algae eating fish. It is especially critical in the set up of a new tank to make sure algae does not get established before the plants have had a chance to establish themselves. For this reason and to help the biological filtration get established, it is recommended that some hardy algae eaters are added right away.

Black mollies
Black sailfin mollies are excellent candidates for the break-in period of a planted tank since they are cheap and easy to find. They are usually considered expendable and are removed after a month or so. It is important to NOT FEED THEM. If they are fed, they will not be quite so eager to consume algae. When they are hungry, they are eager consumers of most algae types seen during the break-in period.

Otocinclus sp.
Otocinclus are diligent algae eaters, but are best kept in schools due to their small size. One per 10 gallons is a useful rule of thumb. Various species of otos are seen in the shops at various times; most are good algae eaters but some seem to prefer the slime coat on fish to algae. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to distinguish the "attack otos" from normal otos. Otos seem to be very delicate fish, but this is probably due to capture and shipping abuse rather than an inherent weakness. When a fish shop gets some in, it is wise to wait a while before purchasing to account for die offs. Most people report getting a dozen and having them die over a period of a few months until just a couple are left. Those then seem to last for a long time.

Plecostomus sp.
Plecostomus is the generic name for a wide range of sucker-mouth fish. Only the smaller types are useful in a planted tank, since the larger varieties tend to eat the plant right along with the algae. Two common types that are useful are the "bristle-nose plecostomus" and the "clown plecostomus" or Pekoltia. Both stay under 4" long and don't seem to cause too much plant damage. Sometimes broad-leafed plants like Amazon swords will be scraped a little too closely by the plecos, so they bear watching. Their diet can be supplemented by blanched zucchini and bottom feeder tablets. They also appreciate a chunk of driftwood in the aquarium to satisfy their need for cellulose.

Siamese Algae Eater

Do not confuse this fish with the Chinese Algae Eater, which is very aggressive and does not eat algae. The siamese algae eater, Crossocheilus siamensis, is a very good algae consumer and is known to eat black brush (red) algae. The only problem is that these fish are hard to find in the United States (see the RESOURCES section of the PLANT FAQ for sources and

identification paper). There are several fish in this family. The most commonly seen is Epalzeorhynchos kallopterus, commonly known as the Flying Fox. The Flying Fox is the more attractive of the two. It tends to have a brownish body with a very distinct, sharp-edged black stripe with a distinct, thin gold or bronze stripe above it. These tend to be very aggressive when they are full grown and don't eat red algae (as far as one aquarium reference is concerned). The other member is the Siamese Algae Eater. It is the same shape as the Flying Fox but tends toward a silverish body with a somewhat ragged black stripe. There may be an indistinct gold or bronze stripe above the black. These are definitely not aggressive; they are good companions for discus and small tetras. When they are young, the differences between E. kallopterus and C. siamensis may not be very apparent, especially if you haven't seen both types together. Unfortunately, most wholesalers don't sell fish to stores by their scientific name and the common names that are used sometimes get pretty silly (like "siamese flying fox"). If you really can't tell which one the store has, buy it anyway, but be prepared to sacrifice it if it turns out to be the wrong kind (unless your fish aren't bothered by it, of course).

Farlowella are useful algae eaters although they are very sensitive to water conditions. They type known as the Royal Farlowella will get too large for a plant tank and may cause damage.

Snails are usually considered disasters in a plant tank, but with dense planting and good plant growing conditions, the right type of snail can be very useful by consuming dead plant material and detritus. Any damage they do cause will be compensated for by fast plant growth.

Water Hardness
Most snails do best in harder/alkaline water. If the hardness/ph drops below a certain point, their shells will start to dissolve and/or grow improperly (the behavior seems to be based on species). Malaysian trumpet snails seem the hardiest, showing little adverse effect from soft water. The Ramshorn snails shell will start to dissolve, and gaps will form in the new shell growth. Mystery snails will form gaps. Most of these problems can be corrected by hardening the water, and the snails will recover, although exterior shell damage (from dissolving) will remain.

Types of Snails
Malaysian trumpet snail
The Malaysian snail, Melanoides tubercularia, is an interesting creature in that it lives in the substrate during the day and only comes out at night. Its shell is a perfect cone shape and gets to about 2 cm long. It is a livebearing snail and reproduces quite readily. It is considered

beneficial to a plant tank and doesn't seen to harm plants, even in large populations. They are hard to find for sale, but usually come for free on plant shipments. If desired, Clown loaches will keep them and other snails well under control.

Ramshorn Snail
Ramshorn snails are very common and come in various sizes. Their shape is as their name suggests. The smaller varieties (under 1 cm) are not too damaging to a plant tank, although they seem to relish the tender leaves of the Hygrophila family. The other type is the dark and light brown striped Columbian Ramshorn that can grow big as large as 2 inches in diameter. The stripes run the length of the shell with a pattern of random width light-dark- light stripes that stays constant throughout the snails life. These snails are extremely prolific and have a terrific appetite for plants.

Pond Snails
Pond snails are football shaped snails under 2 cm in length. They are to be avoided, as they will happily eat all your plants.

Mystery (Apple) Snails

One of the most beautiful kinds of snails are the Mystery snails. These snails have a shape similar to the Pond snail, but their spiral is rounder, and they grow much larger. They can reach tennis-ball size if well taken care of. The come in many varieties. The snail's body can be dark, or almost albino (very light with a bright orange speckle pattern). The shell can be dark, bright orange, albino, or multi-colored striped (length-wise like the Ramshorn). The Apple snail variety typically has the multi-colored stripes, with a dark body. In general these snails don't eat living plants. They prefer algae and dead plant/animal material (canned spinach will get you a very large Mystery snail).

Snail Prophylactics
To guard against unwanted snails, use a weak potassium permanganate solution. The Manual of Fish Health recommends a concentration of 10 mg/l as a 10-minute bath as a general disenfectant for aquarium plants. Then rinse them in running water. This kills snail eggs and parasites and might guard against algae spores. Alum is also useful. Get "Alum U.S.P." at the drug store. Soak the plants in a gallon of water that has up to 10 teaspoons of Alum. The Alum kills microscopic bugs. Longer soaks (2-3 days) will kill snail eggs and/or snails.


Fish Breeding
Breeding Strategies
How do fish make babies...and can I watch?
Fish breed in many ways, and yes you can watch. In fact, watching fish breed is one of the great fascinations in the hobby because there are so many interesting breeding strageties among fish. There are two main strategies that fish use: egglaying and livebearing. Livebearing fish do what the name suggests. The female gives birth to fully formed, freeswimming young. The female fish is internally fertilized by the male fish, and carries the fry for about a month before delivering them. Upon delivery, the babies swim off, hide, and begin searching for food. Livebearers include the popular mollies, platies, swordtails, and guppies. Other livebearers are halfbeaks, anableps, and fish in the Goodeid family. They are easy to sex, as the female is larger, and the male has a rod-like anal fin called a gonopodium that he uses to internally fertilize the female. After fertilization, the female can produce multiple batches of babies without a male present. Egglaying is also what the name suggests: the fish lay eggs instead of giving birth to little fish. As the fish grow, they hatch into fry with an attached yolk sac, and then mature into fish. The process usually takes around a week to 10 days, although it can vary widely.

Egglayers have many methods of laying their eggs

Egg scatters usually scatter eggs around weeds, or onto gravel. The male chases the female during spawning, and the eggs are fertilized as they fall. Spawning runs can be spectacular to watch since the fish race around the tank and ignore anything else, including food. Examples of egg scatterers are tetras, barbs, rasboras, and danios. Substrate spawners are a little choosier about where they put the eggs. They lay eggs that attatch to some sort of substrate. Plants, rocks, wood, and even the aquarium glass may be chosen as a spawning site. Both fish participate in the egg laying, with the male fertilizing the eggs as the female lays them. Examples of substrate spawners are many catfish, some cichlids, and killifish. Bubblenest builders lay their eggs in a nest of bubbles blown by the male fish. The bubbles are held together with saliva and look like foam. They tend to attract infusoria that the babies can eat, and keep the eggs at the surface of the water, where they are well-oxygenated. The eggs are laid a few at a time, and carefully placed in the nest where they hatch. Examples of bubblenest builders are bettas and gouramis. Mouthbrooders actually keep their eggs in their mouths until the eggs hatch. The eggs are again laid a few at a time, and once the male fertilizes them, the parent doing the mouthbrooding gathers them up in his/her mouth. That parent eats sparingly, if at all, until the baby fish are released. Examples of mouthbrooders are male arrowanas and female cichlids.

Marine fish also lay eggs. Some are substrate spawners, but many lay pelagic eggs that float in the plankton. There the eggs hatch into a larval stage, and the larvae float freely and eat tiny plankton until they grow into fish. See the Moe reference for a more complete description.

Breeding and Agression

Help! Why have my angelfish (or kribs or African cichlids) started killing everything in my tank? Why did my female platy just turn around and eat her babies? I think my tetras spawned. Where are the eggs? Parental care in the fish world varies widely. Parents can be anywhere on a continuum from eating all their eggs or fry, to both parents fiercely guarding their eggs and fry. Many fish parents show some common behaviors, so I will discuss them here. Most fish consider any and all fish eggs and young to be a tasty treat. Therefore most fish will not hesitate to snack on any they find, including their own. This means that egg scatters and many substrate spawners really cannot be bred in a community tank, as the eggs will quickly be eaten by the parents and other fish. Marine fish and invertebrates also eat eggs. Livebearers are especially notorious for eating their young. A few fish ignore their eggs or fry, and so can be bred in a species tank. White cloud minnows can breed this way, and many killifish will at least ignore the eggs. Baby killies are fair game, though. Guppies will also often ignore babies. Other fish have one parent that guards the eggs and fry. Most bubblenest builders and mouthbrooders operate this way, as do some substrate spawners. The responsible male or female stays with the eggs and young, until they are free swimming. With bubblenest builders, the male tends the nest, blows bubbles as they pop, and keeps any falling eggs or fry in it. He will also defend the nest against other fish. Mouthbrooders simply hide their eggs in their mouths, and some substrate spawning catfish will hide the eggs underneath them. Certain substrate spawning cichlids also have one parent care for the eggs and fry. A more common setup among cichlids is to have both fish guard and care for the young. This setup can be really fascinating to watch. The parents will take turns fanning or blowing fresh water onto the eggs, and removing any fungused eggs. They will also fiercely defend the spawning site, which can often cause injury or even death to other tankmates. Once the eggs have hatched, the parents will also guard the fry. Some fish will even move the fry to a different place each day. Once the babies are free swimming, some fish continue to guard them, while others end their parental duties. Many African cichlids guard their babies until they spawn again. Discus even feed their babies off of their slimecoats. A more extreme version of guarding is practiced by some Tanganyikan cichlids. There, older siblings will stay around the nest and help the parents defend subsequent spawns. The babies are allowed to stay until breeding age, when they are driven off.


Breeding Tanks
My fish just laid eggs. How do I keep the eggs or babies from being eaten?
The most common way to keep eggs from being eaten is to use a separate breeding tank. There the parents can spawn or give birth to their young, and be removed once they are done. Egg scatterers can be placed over a piece of netting, a grate, or a bed of marbles to protect the eggs as the fish spawn. Bubblenest breeders and mouthbrooders can be left in the tank until they stop caring for the young. Livebearers can be allowed to give birth in a dense thicket of plants or plastic spawning grass, so the babies can hide until the mother is done giving birth and is removed. A breeding tank also is good because it can be kept clean. Eggs and fry need very clean water to hatch and grow. There are also no adults around to compete with the babies for food. Many breeders use a bare tank with only a sponge filter as filtration. Debris and extra food are easily seen and siphoned off daily. Frequent water changes can be done on the tank, as there are no other fish around to stress. Another solution is to allow fish to breed on yarn mops, a plant, or a piece of slate or glass in the community tank. The eggs can then be moved to the breeding tank to grow. This works well for angelfish, catfish, and Australian rainbowfish. Killifish eggs can be collected from peat or yarn mops and set in a separate container or dried to incubate. Livebearers can be bred in a commercial breeding trap or breeding net within a community tank. The trap separates the babies from the mothers and then gives the babies a safe place to grow. Some cichlids protect their babies well enough to just be left in a community setup, although this can stress the other fish in the tank. In fact, there are species of cichlids that will turn on each other if there are no other fish in the breeding tank for them to threaten.

Breeding Requirements
I have fish in a breeding setup, but they just won't breed. Why do my fishes' eggs keep fungusing and the fry dying? Many fish will not breed successfully without specific requirements. These include: A mix of male and female fish. I know this sounds obvious, but some fish are not easy to sex. In species that are difficult to sex, is best to start out with at least six young fish so that you are certain of getting both males and females. Starting with many fish also gives monogamous fish a chance to pick compatible mates. Sometimes if a single male and female are introduced, they will not breed. Other fish, like livebearers, killifish, and polygamous cichlids need more females that males so that females are not harassed by amorous males. Extremely clean water. Most fish will not breed if there is any ammonia or nitrite present, and large amounts of nitrate are toxic to baby fish. Some fish, especially tetras, must be bred in a breeding tank that is bare and sterile so that their eggs do not fungus. For more information about clean water, see the beginner FAQ. A varied diet. Fish that are producing eggs need better food that fish that are just living in a community. Breeders call the process of specially feeding parents conditioning.

Conditioning foods include live foods, fresh frozen foods, or spirulina based foods. Find out the specific requirements of the fish you intend to breed. If you need information about live foods, see the live food FAQ. The correct environment. Fish that breed on substrates need proper substrates to breed on, like peat, rocks, shells, or plants. Some fish are shy and require a lot of cover, caves, or dim light. There are also fish that require a particular water chemistry to breed. Examples are discus, which require very soft, acid water or African cichlids which require very hard, alkaline water. External cues. Many tropical fish breed in the rainy season. When it rains, streams flood, the water hardness drops, and there is thunder and lightning. Adventuresome breeders with rainy season fish may try large water changes with distilled water, watering cans to simulate rain, strong currents, and even flashing lights and loud noises. Temperature changes may also stimulate spawning, as may changes in the light/dark cycle.

Raising Fry
My fish bred, but I cannot raise the fry to adulthood.
Rearing fish can take some work. Baby fish require clean water, and some require special foods. Baby livebearers are usually the easiest to raise. Some will take finely crushed flake foods from the start, and only require frequent water changes to keep up with their growth. They also need algae or spirulina. Baby egglayers are often more difficult to raise. Most are too small to eat adult fish foods, and so require special foods. Live baby brine shrimp are the food of choice for most baby fish, although some require even smaller infusoria. Sifted daphnia also work. Baby algae eating catfish require algae or blanched vegetables. There are also commercial fry foods that work or, in desperate situations, cooked egg yolk. Be careful, though, because non-living foods pollute the tank water terribly -- especially egg yolk. Actually, keeping the tank water clean is probably the biggest challenge in raising fish. The growing fish require lots of food, and they are not very good at finding it which means even more must be added to the tank. As in any fishtank, adding lots of food must be balanced with keeping the water quality extremely high. In fact, fry require cleaner water than adult fish. Frequent water changes are a must, as is efficient biological filtration. Baby tanks often require daily water changes of up to half the tank. Sponge filters are the preferred method of filtration because they are great biological filters but cannot suck up baby fish. Marine fish larvae have the strictest requirements of all. They must be fed extremely small plankton or rotifers in a tank with near-perfect water. For more discussion of marine fish rearing, see Moe. Finally, as the baby fish grow, they must be transferred to larger quarters. Clearly the 10 gallon tank that housed 100 fry cannot house those 100 fish for long. Betta breeders have even more work on their hands, since the little male bettas will fight and have to be put into separate jars or a partitioned tank.


I have a ton of baby fish. What do I do with them? Can I make any money breeding fish?
Finding homes for baby fish can be almost as much of a challenge as breeding them. Young fish can be given away, auctioned at aquarium society auctions, traded for other species, or sold. Pet stores will sometimes take African cichlids, guppies, and bettas, but many only give store credit rather than cash. As for turning breeding into a commercial venture, remember the laws of supply and demand. For most common community fish, pet stores can order whatever they want whenever they want it from importers, fish farms, and wholesalers. The hobbyist, on the other hand, has occasional batches of fish that the store may not need or want at that time. The only thing on your side when you walk into a store with a batch of unrequested fish is that locally bred fish are often healthier and less stressed that fish that have been shipped and must be acclimated to local water conditions. If you insist on breeding saleable fish, try rare catfish, rare rainbows, African cichlids, show quality fancy guppies, or marine fish. Those are all difficult for stores to obtain. To make money selling more common fish like angels, barbs, tetras, cory cats or livebearers (other than guppies), you need many breeding tanks and breeding pairs of fish to assure a constant supply. You must also have fish of consistent quality. Personally, I would recommend that you breed fish for the sheer pleasure of it, rather than turning your fun hobby into a business venture. There is nothing like seeing a pair of ciclids court, disappear into a cave, and emerge in a few days with a swarm of babies.