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Cichlid Parenthood, The Discus' Sacrifice

Cichlid Parenthood, The Discus' Sacrifice

Discus are a species of cichlid (sick-lid) native to the Amazon River in South America. While the wild varieties are still quite handsome, the popularity of the species has led hobbyists to select for some very colorful specimens. What makes Discus such interesting parents is unlike other cichlids, Discus fry (baby fish) will eat their parents slime coating for initial sustenance. This allows the fry to gain vital nutrients without venturing too far from the protection of the parents. The slime coating is a fish's first line of defense against sickness and disease. It is a thin mucus layer that coats the fish and prevents foreign agents (fungus, bacteria, etc.) from taking hold. Photos Wikipedia commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Biot%C3%B3pica,_breeding_discus_fish_Turquoise_Indiana.jpg

Perfect Water for the Perfect Aquarium

Perfect Water for the Perfect Aquarium

Water quality is paramount for the health of your aquarium, and starts with adding only the purest water to your aquatic system(s). Reverse osmosis deionized (RODI) water is the product of pushing regular tap water though multiple high pressure filters. This setup in my basement runs tap water at a pressure of 75 pounds per square inch (psi) through five stages of filtration. The first filter removes sediment at 1 micron. The second and third filters remove toxic chlorine, chloramines and volatile organic compounds using high-quality catalytic active carbon. The fourth filter is an ultra fine membrane that removes up to 99% of the remaining contaminants from the tap water. The fifth and final filter is a color changing deionization resin designed to polish the nearly pure water to bring the total dissolved solids (TDS) down to 0%. The color changing aspect of this filter helps you know when to change it. RODI water is very important in any aquarium, not just saltwater or reef tanks. Starting off with the "blank slate" that is RODI water allows you to create the perfect environment for your fish, plants, or coral. The water from our taps in Kansas and Missouri is "hard". This means it is high in calcium and or magnesium, in our case calcium carbonate (limestone). This type of water is ideal for African cichlids, but is unhealthy for South American species where the water is naturally softer. Fish can adapt, but they will never be as healthy or as colorful as in their ideal water parameters. Tap water also includes dozens of chemicals and additives that make it safe for us to drink, but would never be found in natural bodies of water, and are extremely harmful to corals. Tap water contains increased amounts of nitrogen and other organic compounds that can increase algae growth. Mixing your own RODI water may require an extra step or two, but it will actually make maintaining your aquarium easier in the long run. Creating the perfect environment with RODI water can be as easy as adding a pH buffer and a remineralizer. It can also be as complicated as titrating in specific amounts of dozens of different elements all of which have complex reaction relationships with each other. Regardless of how you mix your aquariums' perfect water, the health, longevity, activity, and beauty of your aquarium species will unmistakably benefit.

Coldwater Suction, The Hillstream Loach and Dissolved Oxygen.

Coldwater Suction, The Hillstream Loach and Dissolved Oxygen.

The fish of the family Balitoridae are the known as the hillstream loaches and are native to east and southeast Asia. The little guy pictured above is of the genus Sewellia; which is very popular in the aquarium trade. Their modified pectoral (front bottom) and pelvic (middle bottom) fins allow them to suction onto rocks in fast moving streams. The streams which these fish inhabit are cool in temperature and and have high flow. These streams originate high in the mountains where the flow is rapid, and then begin to slow down as the degree of incline decreases. Eventually, the streams combine with other similar sized streams until they form a lowland river, which eventually empties into a lake or ocean. The hillstream loach is adapted for higher dissolved oxygen content due to the colder water retaining higher levels of dissolved oxygen as compared to warmer water. If you decide to house hillstream loaches in your aquarium, make sure they have plenty of flow, cooler water, and lots of plant matter to consume. There are other ways to achieve more dissolved oxygen in your aquarium other than cooler water. Most people think adding an air bubbler will increase their oxygen content, and it will, but not in the way you think. The air bubbles form the bubbler are too large to be considered dissolved, but what they will do is agitate the surface of the water, and that's where gas exchange happens. When the surface of the water is agitated, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen gas transfer between the water and the atmosphere. Any method of surface agitation will work, such as a correctly pointed powerhead, or the outflow from your filter if it is near enough to the surface. Because nitrogen gas can mix into the water as well, over agitating a saltwater tank can add too much nitrogen to the water and cause the rapid expansion of excess nitrogen in the fishes' bloodstream. In human scuba divers, this is known as nitrogen narcosis. So consider the hillstream loach for your cold-water aquarium, and just as with any species, make sure you recreate their ideal environment. Photos https://www.flickr.com/photos/slimcoincidence/352848961 https://pxhere.com/en/photo/110593

Fragging Corals and Saving the Environment.

Fragging Corals and Saving the Environment.

The Great Barrier Reef and many other reefs like it are in dire straits. Rising temperatures make it difficult for corals to reproduce naturally during their spawning events. Corals are animals, and once a year there is a massive spawning event when they release eggs and sperm into the water to mix and be carried throughout the reef by currents. The harvesting of wild corals is detrimental to reefs, even if global warming was not already affecting coral reefs. However, the aquarium trade may be able to address both of these issues, and aquarists can do their part to help save the reefs. First, what is coral fragging? Back in the day, and still too often today, the corals sold in aquarium stores are "fragged" or cut up and fragmented from living corals in the wild. Sometimes this will kill the coral, sometimes it won't, But the heavy traffic of divers, harvesters, and collectors is detrimental in itself. What you think of as a coral, is in most cases actually a multitude of individual organisms (polyps) living in a shared skeleton. This skeleton can be broken off and the colony fragmented into smaller colonies. This form of propagation, when done properly, shouldn't harm or kill the polyps or the colony. The home aquarist can acquire the tools and the knowledge necessary to grow their corals to a healthy size and safely propagate them by fragging. These fragments or "frags" can then be easily sold or traded to other aquarists. With the use of artificial selection, new and never before seen colors, morphs, and varieties of corals can be shared throughout the hobby. This method of coral propagation is much better for the environment, as it reduces harm to wild corals and eliminates the need for traffic in the reefs. As for the problem of rising temperatures, I mentioned aquarists artificially selecting corals for beauty, what about selecting for heat-tolerance? This is what the scientists at the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program are working on now (Crow 2021). Corals in the northern Great Barrier Reef are naturally more tolerant of heat as the water is warmer. These corals can mix genetically with cooler water southern varieties and create more heat tolerant offspring. Scientists are trying to speed up the adaptation of heat-tolerance by breeding species of coral with up to 26 times more heat-tolerance and introducing them into less tolerant wild populations (Crow 2021). This is done by selecting for heat-tolerance in the polyp tissue as well as in the symbiotic algae that lives within the polyps (Crow 2021). There is some risk however. Artificially selected hybrid species introduced into nature may become invasive, as their effect on the environment and how they will compete with natural species can never be perfectly predicted (van Oppen et. al. 2015). If you want to start propagating your own corals at home, you'll need some basic tools. Firstly, a good pair of bone cutters. These powerful shears will cleanly cut through the coral skeleton without too much chipping. Next, you'll need frag plugs. These plastic or ceramic plugs are what you will glue the newly cut frags onto. That brings us to coral glue or epoxy for attaching to the coral to the plug. Finally, a good coral dip is necessary to promote tissue regrowth, fight off infection, and kill parasites. Don't forget a pair of forceps, a net or strainer, and a couple five gallon buckets as well. Sources van Oppen, et. al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States. 112 (8) 2307-2313. 2015. Crow, J.M. Nature 595, 142. 2021. Photos https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bone_cutter.jpg

Bettas Can Live in a Bowl, Right? So Could You, But Not for Very Long.

Bettas Can Live in a Bowl, Right? So Could You, But Not for Very Long.

The betta fish (Betta splendens) is one the most common aquarium fish, and a great species for the beginner aquarist. The myth of bettas being able to live out their lives in a bowl or small non-filtered aquarium came about because of an interesting adaptation the betta processes. In the rice paddies of Southeast Asia, the wild betta goes about it's betta business; defending his territory, looking for mates, blowing bubble nests, and hunting for small insects and invertebrates. During the wet season, October to June, the betta has ample habitat and plenty of room to thrive. During the dry season, July to September, if it does rain, it is only for an hour in the afternoon (Solace Global 2018). The lack of rain dries up the bettas' habitat and limits it's range. Sometimes, it gets so dry bettas are reduced to surviving in a small mud puddle for up to weeks on end. These puddles are extremely low in oxygen and can become so small the betta is out of water for a short period of time. To overcome this hostile condition, bettas and other anabantoid fish evolved a labyrinth organ. This modified branchial gill arch is a many-folded organ that can take in atmospheric oxygen and distribute it to the bloodstream, much like our lungs (Pinter 1986). This allows the betta to survive long enough to find a more hospitable environment or until it rains again. Obviously, lying in a drying up, dirty, low-oxygen puddle, ready to die at a moments notice is no way to live. Just because the betta evolved to survive in this extreme for a short period, should not mean we subject it to this environment for its entire life. Besides the ethical implications of such treatment, the betta's health, color and activity will increase profoundly when kept in the proper environment. So what is the proper environment for a betta? I'm not suggesting you take out a loan and build a pond for your betta, (although betta ponds do exist). Really all you need is a properly sized tank, good filtration, a heater, live plants, and a decent light, just like for any other freshwater fish. The betta's natural territory is generally considered to be about 3 feet square. As they are surface dwelling fish, that is where they spend most of their time, so depth is not as important as length and width. Getting as close to this 3 square foot measurement as possible is the goal even if we include the third dimension and allow for 3 feet cubed. This comes out to about 20 gallons. Your betta's home should definitely be no less than 10 gallons. This size of tank makes a great desktop aquarium, and can even fit on your bookshelf, provided your shelf can hold at least 90 pounds. 10 to 20 gallons is ideal because it is enough water to buffer changes in pH, temperature, and nutrient levels, but is not so large it becomes a hassle to clean for the beginner. Anything smaller than 10 gallons and you will find limited filtration, lighting and heating options. Good filtration can come in the form of a simple hang-on-back filter rated for 10-20 gallons, or even an air bubbler attached to an internal sponge filter. They even make internal filters for nano-tanks that are quiet and easy to hide. Bettas are tropical fish and their ideal temperature range is between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. You can pick up a small automatic heater that keeps the water at 78 exactly, or invest in a controlled thermostat heater, allowing you to adjust the temperature manually. This is better if you have a draft or keep your home cooler than average. Bettas love plants. They will sleep on large leaves and their natural environment includes many dense species creating an underwater jungle of sorts. In addition, live plants will benefit the health of your aquarium by absorbing excess nutrients such as harmful phosphates and nitrates that can become toxic and cause nuisance algae growth. Finally, a full spectrum LED light will help your plants grow, but also reveal your betta's beautiful and vibrant colors. This article has only touched the surface of owning a betta fish. There is much more to discover such as diet, behavior, ideal water chemistry, breeding and even betta sororities. I simply wanted to start by making the case for housing your betta in an appropriately sized aquarium. Just because they can survive in a bowl does not mean they will thrive there. Sources Solace Global. 2018. South Asia 2018 Monsoon Season Report. Pinter, H. (1986). Labyrinth Fish. Barron's Educational Series, Inc. Photos https://www.pxfuel.com/en/search?q=fighting+fish https://www.pxfuel.com/en/free-photo-qletq https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:125L_planted_tank.jpg

Five-Armed Friends and Foes.

Five-Armed Friends and Foes.

Starfish, or sea stars, are amazing creatures. The way they think, eat, and walk is unique and interesting. If you're thinking about adding a sea star to your home aquarium, there are five common and readily available species that are considered reef safe. This means they won't predate on your fish, corals, or other invertebrates. The Fromia starfish genus has several different species and is one of my favorites. They are suited for small, well-established aquariums around 50 gallons. They feed on algae films and microorganisms that already exist in the tank, which is why you want a tank at least a year old. One trick with the Fromia is their sensitivity to changes in water chemistry. Make sure they are acclimated with a slow drip over 2.5 to 3.5 hours. My next two favorites are the serpent and brittle sea stars. These guys are funky dudes with their long reaching arms about eight times the length of their center body. They are hardy and they are excellent scavengers, as they will come out during feeding time and at night to eliminate any extra food. Be careful as they are opportunistic scavengers. This means they are not 100% reef safe as they have been known to feast on the occasional snail, clam, or scallop if they go hungry. Minimum tank size for these guys is also around 50 gallons. Be sure to avoid the green brittle sea star as well, They are avid hunters and not considered reef safe. The Linckia starfish are vibrant, peaceful and beautiful sea stars. They feed on algae film and are truly reef safe. I only mention them because they are peaceful cohabitants for reef aquariums. However, they are even more sensitive than the Fromia sea stars. I only recommend them for very established aquariums and expert aquarists. The Linckia can reach up to 12 inches and requires a minimum tank size of 150 gallons. The sand sifting starfish might be an option for you as they are great at consuming detritus in the sand bed. However, like the serpent stars they can be carnivorous and have been known to predate on mollusks, shrimp, and urchins. Use caution with these guys, if they expire in your tank, it will most likely be under the sand bed where they will decay and cause nutrient blooms. They can reach upwards of 12 inches and I recommend at least 100 gallons with 80% open sand bed. Compared to the non reef safe chocolate chip and green brittle sea stars, the above mentioned starfish are relatively reef safe with the Fromia and Linckia species being at the top of the list. Whether reef safe or not, what all sea stars have in common is the unique and interesting way they eat. Starfish will protrude their stomach outside their body and partially digest their food externally. Then the stomach and the partially digested slurry is retracted and digested further using their digestive glands. Recently, scientists have discovered a neuropeptide (molecule that talks to neurons) that controls the release and contraction of the stomach (Dean 2013). This is great news for the reefs that have been devastated by the crown-of-thorns starfish (pictured right) as scientists may be able to control the predatory behavior of these destructive species. But you won't need to resort to all that just to enjoy a friendly starfish in your aquarium. Always remember to do your research and acclimate invertebrates slowly. For more information on sea stars and how to introduce one to your aquarium, scroll down to contact Brian at Boodleshire Aquatics. Sources Dean C. Semmens, et. al. "Discovery of a novel neurophysin-associated neuropeptide that triggers cardiac stomach contraction and retraction in starfish." Journal of Experimental Biology. 10.1242. 2013, Photos https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Underside_of_starfish_at_Aquarium_of_the_Pacific.JPG https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fromia_indica_Landaagiraavaru.JPG https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ophiura_ophiura.jpg https://www.piqsels.com/id/public-domain-photo-zwuiw

Ich Bin Ein Parasite: Diagnosing, Preventing and Treating Ich in your Aquarium.

Ich Bin Ein Parasite: Diagnosing, Preventing and Treating Ich in your Aquarium.

The most important aspect of aquarium ownership is the health of your fish. Recreating ideal water chemistry, temperature and habitat go a long way to reducing stress, bolstering the immune system, and promoting vivid coloration. However, just like with any living creature, fish can get sick even if you do everything right. One of the most common illnesses that can effect your aquarium is an infection of the parasite ichthyophthirius, or ich in freshwater tanks, and Cryptocaryon, or marine ich, in saltwater tanks. Below, we'll discuss how both types of ich come to be in your aquarium, what you can do to prevent them, and how to manage an infection if one breaks out. The first step with diagnosing and treating any illness is to know thine enemy. Understanding the freshwater and marine ich parasites' life cycles and biology is crucial to effectively treating the resulting illness. This knowledge is a powerful tool you can use to troubleshoot any problems you may come across during treatment. Both types of ich are classified as protozoan ciliates. Protozoans are an informal classification of small unicellular organisms, and ciliates means they have a bunch of little "hairs" they use for locomotion. They don't sound so scary now do they? There are four main life stages of the ich parasites. They go through these four stages over a period of seven days to eight weeks depending on temperature. Higher temperatures speed up their lifecycle (Nielsen 2000). The first stage is the feeding form, called the trophont, which is visible to the naked eye as white spots as it protrudes from underneath the fishes skin. The trophant will feed on the host cells until it reaches a certain size, then leave the protection of the host and enter the free-swimming stage called the tomont. Within as little as a few minutes or over several hours, the tomont will settle on a surface and form a protective gelatinous cyst wall; this is the third stage, the tomocyst. Once settled, the tomocyst will reproduce several hundred daughter cells within the cyst wall. These daughter cells are the fourth stage, known as tomites. The tomites will then burst from the tomocyst and begin searching for a fish host. The ich parasites are introduced to the aquarium as trophonts on an infected host or as tomonts (free-swimming stage) in the water. Even one tomocyst attached to one piece of gravel can cause a tank wide infection. The ease with which the ich parasites can be transferred, and their prolific nature, is why it is important to prevent an infection before treatment becomes necessary. The best way to prevent an infection is to inspect the health of the tanks you are getting your fish from. If the fish have white spots on them, that is pretty obvious, but remember, the ich parasites have three microscopic life stages that cannot be seen. Only buy from reputable sellers and inspect the fish for general signs of health and vitality as these demonstrate strong immune systems. Some secondary signs of unhealthy fish to look for when diagnosing your own fish, or fish at the store, with ich are: lethargy (loss of appetite and sluggishness), clamped fins, rapid breathing, resting at the bottom or top of the tank, and rubbing their sides on the substrate or rocks (flashing). These are common symptoms because ich effects the hosts' respiration and osmoregulation (fluid balance). If all looks good, you may still bring home a contaminated host, plant, rock, or even coral skeletal base. To prevent infection of your display tank you can quarantine the new specimen in a separate tank for at least 7 days at a minimum temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Treat the quarantine tank with sodium chloride (non-iodized salt) at 1 tablespoon per gallon and hydrogen peroxide at 1 mL per gallon. In a marine tank, use the same amount of hydrogen peroxide and slightly increase the salt levels by 1-3 ppt (Nielsen 2000). If you don't have the means to set up a quarantine tank, then you can use these amounts of salt and hydrogen peroxide in your main tank at a minimum temperature of 77 degrees Fahrenheit, 75 degrees for a tank with sensitive invertebrates, for a minimum of 7 days. Fishes' natural immune systems can resist the ich parasite, but only if the host is healthy and has fought off an ich infection before (Buchmann 2019). Ich can exist in an aquarium for some time without ever causing an infection if the fish are immunized and healthy. If you have done everything you can and you notice your fish become infected with an ich parasite it is important to begin treatment immediately. The first step to treating ich is to safely raise the temperature to 77 degrees F over several hours. If you raise the temperature too quickly you will stress the fish and weaken their immune systems even more. The ich parasites' life cycle is heavily dependent on temperature. At 77 degrees F, the parasite will undergo all four stages in about 7 days. The life cycle speeds up at higher temperatures (Nielsen 2000), but go too high and you risk killing your fish and definitely your more sensitive invertebrates. Keep the temperature below 82 degrees with fish only, 80 degrees with invertebrates and no more than 78 degrees with cold water species. You want the life cycle to speed up, because only the tomont and tomite (free-swimming) stages are vulnerable to medication, the other two stages which cause the most harm and are responsible for reproduction are resistant and generally unaffected by medication, hydrogen peroxide and salt treatments. The second step is to begin medicating. At this stage, it is wise to transfer all fish, infected or not, into a quarantine tank if you have sensitive invertebrates and plan to use heavier medications like malachite green, methylene blue , or copper sulfate. I do not recommend using these as it is a pain to remove all fish and these chemicals are carcinogenic. Instead, leave your fish where they are which reduces further stress, and medicate with 1 mL per gal of hydrogen peroxide and the directed dosage of garlic extract daily. Hydrogen peroxide is toxic to both the tomont and the tomite, while garlic juice has shown toxicity to the tomite stage. Additionally, increase your salt level by 1-3 ppt for saltwater tanks and by 1 tbsp per gallon for freshwater tanks. Remember to do this slowly over 24 hours, just like with the temperature increase. I do not recommend water changes as they cause further stress and do nothing to remove the parasite. However, if your ammonia or nitrite levels are above 1 ppm and 5 ppm respectively, and you must do a water change, don't forget to add more salt to the new water to maintain the increased concentration. Continue this treatment for 7 to 14 days and wait for the parasite to longer be visible on any fish for at least 72 hours. The ich parasites are fast, and can reproduce and infect rapidly. You may lose some fish in the process, if this is the case, don't lose hope, just be sure to remove them quickly so they don't decay and contribute to elevated ammonia levels. After the all clear, stop dosing hydrogen peroxide, garlic, and sodium chloride to bring your levels back to normal after your next scheduled water change. The only way to completely remove the ich parasites from your system is to remove all hosts until the parasite has run its course and dies off, or to medicate the entire system and destroy the parasite at its most vulnerable stages. I don't recommend giving individual fish medicated baths as it does nothing for the whole system, and further stresses the fish. However, in some cases, it may be advantageous to use a bath as the fish's immune system, once immunized, can more easily fight off a second infection (Buchmann 2019). Don't forget to also treat the whole system as well. The bad news is that ich parasites are rampant and easily infect aquariums and fisheries systems all over the world. The good news is scientists are motivated world-wide to research new treatments, and most studies are leaning towards environmentally friendly herbal extracts that boost the fish's immune systems or are toxic to the parasite. Sources Nielsen, C.V., Buchmann, K. "Prolonged in vitro cultivation of Ichthyophthirius multifiliis using an EPC cell line as substrate." Diseases of Aquatic Organisms. 42 (3): 215-219. 2000. Buchmann, K. "Immune response to Ichthyophthirius miltifiliis and role of IgT." Parasite Immunology. 42 (8). 2019. Photos https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ichthyophthirius_multifiliis.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Life_cycle_of_Ichthyophthirius_multifiliis.svg https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichthyophthirius_multifiliis#/media/File:Ichthyophthiriasis.jpg

Destination Aquarium, the Wonders of a Biotope Tank.

Destination Aquarium, the Wonders of a Biotope Tank.

Transport yourself to the steamy Peruvian rainforest, teaming with life, the river runs by you, it's secrets hidden under the water. One way to reveal the underwater beauty of any exotic local is with a biotope aquarium. A biotope tank is a type of setup which includes fish, plants, invertebrates, substrate, wood, litter, lighting, and the water chemistry of a specific region from anywhere in the world. One of the most popular biotopes is the blackwater aquarium, (pictured above). The blackwater gets it coloration from tannins leaching into the water from leaf and wood debris known as litter. Pictured above is a participant in the 2012 Aquatic Gardeners Association biotope contest; an aquascape of the north Mekong River. This setup includes harlequin rasbora fish from southeast Asia, wood and stones endemic to the region, and Microsorum grass, Vesicularia moss, and Lomariopsis fern, all from southeast Asia. The virtues of a biotope tank go beyond just the appearance. When you recreate the environment of a certain region down to the pH, temperature, water hardness, lighting, and even the type of sand, you achieve a perfect habitat for the fish you decide to place in there. These fish become healthier, more colorful, vivid, and active, and more likely to undergo natural behaviors like shoaling and breeding. There is nothing quite like the perfect murmuration of a school of fish. Here is a beautiful aquascape recreating the rocky shores of lake Malawi in east central Africa. These vibrant fish are African cichlids. Saltwater and reef biotope tanks are not as common due to the massive geographical scale at which the creatures in the oceans exist. It is hard to pin down a specific location for most fish and coral due to breeding habits. Regions can be recreated to some affect. The tank pictured above is an attempt at a Caribbean biotope. Mangrove forest biotopes are probably the most popular saltwater biotopes as the mangrove plants are easy to grow and this setup allows for all kinds of salt tolerant fish like mollies, bumblebee gobies, archerfish, scats, and different kinds of brackish pufferfish. Photos https://za.pinterest.com/rensink0186/ https://showcase.aquatic-gardeners.org/2012/show144.html https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AquariumArtis.jpg https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aquarium_02_Zoo-Basel.JPG https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mangrove_aquarium_-_Springfield_Science_Museum_-_Springfield,_MA_-_DSC03479.JPG

Feeding Frenzy: Supplementing Frozen Foods in your Fishes'  Diet.

Feeding Frenzy: Supplementing Frozen Foods in your Fishes' Diet.

The number one ingredient most people feed their fish is fish meal. This is only because fish meal is the number one ingredient in most fish foods. This is primarily because of the ease and inexpensive sourcing of fish meal. However, the harvesting of fish meal is responsible for massive ecosystem and fisheries destruction. The second ingredient is usually some kind of filler like wheat flour or barley. These are a poor sources of carbohydrates and only useful as roughage for herbivores like goldfish and koi. Some of the higher quality dry foods use whole ingredients like whole krill, shrimp or salmon and even add vitamins and minerals. These are great options and should be used several times a week. Flakes, granules, pellets, and wafers are easy methods for feeding your fish, but so are whole, frozen options and they should be supplemented often. Frozen foods are cleaner, healthier, and closer to your fishes' natural diet. Let's break down what is in most common dry foods, higher quality dry foods, and frozen foods so you can make the most educated decision on how to customize your aquarium's diet to achieve the healthiest specimens possible. Nutrition = Energy Fish need protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to thrive. Cheap dry foods have little to none or poor sources of these nutrients. So lets stop feeding cheap dry-foods right now. The first two ingredients are trash. Even though fish meal is an excellent source of protein, there are other options that include every vitamin enriched part of the animal, not just the blend of viscera (guts) called "meal". Wheat flour can be good for the digestion of a few species, but the vast majority don't need it, and it's a poor source of carbohydrates anyway. Finally, common dry foods rarely include added vitamins and minerals which are responsible for a fish's every metabolic function, not to mention their color. High Quality Dry Food But dry food is convenient, are there none of good quality? Luckily, companies are starting to catch on and are producing dry foods of higher quality all the time. When shopping for dry food always check the ingredient list and the nutrient analysis. Here is what to look for in order; (1) whole protein sources such as shrimp, krill, fish, mussels, brine shrimp, scallops, roe (fish eggs), (2) whole carbohydrate sources such as spirulina, kelp, chlorella algae, ulva seaweed, rice starch, and (3) additional nutrients like garlic, fish oil, beta carotene, vitamins a, b, c, d, e, k, and trace elements and minerals like potassium, magnesium, strontium, iron and zinc. You will most likely still find wheat flour on the label, just remember the farther down the list it appears, the better. Okay, so cheap dry foods are not ideal, even the best brands still have wheat flour, now what? The best option by far is to supplement your fishes' diet with frozen foods. A lot of aquarists will make their own foods from fresh ingredients and freeze it for a truly customized diet. For now, lets focus on which pre-prepared frozen foods to supplement and when. Feeding Schedule For freshwater and saltwater tropical community tanks you most likely have top, middle and bottom feeders. Amongst them are probably omnivores, herbivores and maybe strict carnivores. Most fish don't need to eat every day. The exception being fast moving fish with high metabolisms or fish that graze on plant material throughout the day. In a seven day week, feed frozen food every day, skipping two non-consecutive days, and high-quality dry food only once or twice. Feed your grazers every day with dry spirulina (saltwater) or fresh cucumber or dried kale (freshwater). Spot, or hand feed your most active fish every day with their favorite food. The saltwater fish anthias, for example, need to be fed throughout the day, every day. This is how they eat in the wild and its the only way they will acquire the level of nutrition and energy they need. Frozen Foods When its time to feed frozen foods, there are tons of options. For freshwater insectivores (most small tetras, bettas, barbs, etc.) I would recommend daphnia or bloodworms. For Freshwater and saltwater carnivores I would feed whole shrimp, krill, sardines, Mysis shrimp, and cyclops depending on the size of the fish. Be careful if you use shrimp or fish intended for human consumption. There is a chemical preservative in whole shrimp that is not safe for fish and coral, but can be leached out by soaking in RODI water. It is best to buy whole frozen foods intended for aquarium use. In addition to these single ingredient frozen foods, there are hundreds of varieties of frozen fish blends. My favorites being LRS Foods, Ocean Nutrition, and Piscine Energetics for saltwater, and Hikari and San Francisco Bay for freshwater. These blends achieve the same level of ingredient diversity as dry foods and are much cleaner (no whole wheat filler). When done properly, your fish will receive all the nutrition they need to thrive with vibrant color and healthy immune systems. The key is to determine what your fish eat and how often, then provide the closest whole ingredient source. Insectivores eat insects, piscivorous eat fish, herbivores eat plants, etc. In the end feeding a customized diet can be as simple or as involved as you like. You can feed all your fishes' preferred foods separately, or you mix them together in a slurry and feed all at once. Your fish and invertebrates will be healthier, happier, more vibrant and active, and behave more naturally. Photos Boodleshire LLC 2022 mysis.com brineshrimpdirect.com

A Drop of Water in the Bucket: The Advantages of Drip Acclimation.

A Drop of Water in the Bucket: The Advantages of Drip Acclimation.

Most of us have practiced the age old method of acclimating our new specimens by floating the bag in the tank, pouring in a little bit of water a few times over a half hour, then scooping out the occupants and plopping them into our tank. Most pet stores will give you these exact instructions. The only time you hear anything different is when your newly purchased animal is particularly sensitive. Only then do we hear about drip acclimation. Why should we not use drip acclimation for every new inhabitant? In my experience, drip acclimation is safer, healthier, and much less stressful on your new specimens, allowing them to explore the tank, unafraid, much sooner. Drip acclimation is a relatively simple process. The idea is that you acclimate your new inhabitants to the water chemistry of your tank, just like you would with the floating bag method, except it's over a longer period of time with a slower and more consistent addition of tank water. The first thing you'll need is a 5 gallon bucket. The dark and calm environment inside a bucket is much less stressful for your new specimens than a floating bag which is exposed to the activity and the light of the tank and the room around it. If you are only acclimating a couple of small, aggressive species with limited water in the bag, you can use 2.5 gallon buckets. Next, you'll need a length of airline tubing, enough to extend about 6 inches below your tank's water level and then down into the bucket with about 12 inches extra. You'll also need an airline valve attached about halfway along the airline tubing, Finally, you'll need two 6 inch pieces of plastic moldable wire ( I use plastic paper clips). Do not use metal, as it will leach into saltwater. After you bring your new inhabitants home, gently pour them and their water into the 5 gallon bucket. Fish and invertebrates from the same tank can go in the bucket together as long as they are not aggressive. Separate buckets for aggressive fish. Next, straighten the plastic wire and coil it around one end of the airline tubing with about 6 to 12 inches sticking out. Then, bend the airline tubing and coiled wire over the tank frame so it forms a U-shape with one end submerged in your tank water and the rest of the tubing leading down the outside of your tank to the bucket. Really, any method of attaching the tubing to your tank can work. I use a suction cup and bracket clip in the photo to the left, but the plastic wire is easy and usually handy. Next, cut the tubing and insert the valve some where in-between the highest point (the top bend), and the top of the bucket. Now coil the second wire around the bucket-end of the airline tubing, far enough up so that it bends over the top of the bucket and only enough tubing extends into the bucket so it is not submerged. This will create surface agitation from the drops of water, allowing oxygen exchange while acclimating. Finally, you can open the valve and pull water from the bottom of the tubing until it starts to siphon. It's okay if the tubing loops below the top of the bucket as shown in the photo to the right, the water will still siphon effectively. Then close the valve just enough so you reach about 1 - 2 drips per second. Acclimate until you've added an equivalent amount of tank water as the bag water you started with, or for 45 minutes to 1 hour for more sensitive species. Don't worry about temperature fluctuations, the bucket water will reach close to tank temperature as it drips. Just keep the bucket away from air vents and direct sunlight. Finally, net out your new inhabitants and place them in the aquarium. Don't forget to dim the lights in the tank for a couple hours after you add them. Drip acclimation is all around a less stressful process for your new fish and inverts. They have more time to acclimate. They are not bothered by the activity of the tank and room. Some species, like starfish, must be drip acclimated no matter what, but I believe all species benefit and so will you. Photos https://pixahive.com/photo/plastic-fish-bag-for-sale-at-a-shop/

How Many Fish Can I Have in My Aquarium?

How Many Fish Can I Have in My Aquarium?

How Many Fish Will My Aquarium Hold? This is one of the most common questions in the aquarium hobby. Most often asked by new aquarists who can't help but want to enjoy every new fish they see. There are two factors at play when knowing how many fish your aquarium can hold. The first is nutrient load and the second is behavior. We'll discuss both below and how they effect your tanks' carrying capacity. Carrying Capacity Carrying capacity is an ecological term that describes the population or community limit an ecosystem can hold before food abundance, pollution, predation, disease, or other factors cause their numbers to plummet. If we do it right, our aquariums are closed ecosystems and many of the same principles apply. While disease is certainly a factor in your aquarium, it does not apply to our definition of carrying capacity because the ecosystem is already small enough to more than easily pass disease if any is present. Two fish or two hundred, disease will spread relatively quickly in a closed ecosystem. As for other factors like predation and food abundance, our closed ecosystems are also controlled, meaning we regulate which species we add and when we feed. Nutrients Therefore, in order to determine the number of fish we can add, we measure the two factors that most effect fish health which we can not prevent; nutrient levels and social behavior. By prevent I mean we can not prevent nutrients from building, but we can remove them after the fact. Same thing with behavior, you can't stop a territorial fish from being territorial, but you can curb their aggression by changing the habitat or removing the fish. Let's start with this formula in regard to nutrient levels and assume all fish behavior is ideal. If you perform one 25% water change once per week, or if you have X number of healthy, growing plants, and your nitrates are at 0 ppm right before your water change, or at any given time with plants, you are free and clear to add more fish. If your nitrates are 5-10 ppm with water change and or plants, you might consider a larger water change or fertilizing your plants before you add more fish. If your nitrates are 10-20 ppm you are at carrying capacity and if your nitrates are above 20 ppm you already have too many fish. Regardless of when you do your water change or how much you take out, your nitrates should be as low as possible right before maintenance is done. If you have live plants and your nitrates are still above 0 ppm, try fertilizing, adding CO2, or increasing the quality or quantity of your light. If you don't have live plants, try adding a biological filter media to your filter. Choose a porous media with a dense center that allows for aerobic and anaerobic bacteria growth. This article explains more about biological filtration. Technically, if you wanted 100 fish in a 10 gallon, it would be possible by means of performing a 100% water change every few hours, but you would then be limited by your fishes' behavior, which leads us to the second factor. Behavior If your nutrient levels check out fine, but you are having aggression or nipping issues preventing you from adding more fish there are some things you can try to curb this behavior. The first is to rearrange your tank. This breaks up territory and forces inhabitants to reestablish territory. This could be useful if you have added fish after older inhabitants had already established territory. Also, be sure to provide ideal habitats for each individual. If you have two fish that enjoy claiming caves for their own, make sure to build at least three caves for them to establish territory. Breaking up the tank and providing cover for fishes to hide when necessary can also be useful The best practice of course is to do your research to prevent adding problematic species. You can read more about fish aggression here. Photos https://www.flickr.com/photos/gabrielsaldana/8946258983 Boodleshire LLC 2022

One Type of Fish, One Type of Rock, the Purism of the Iwagumi Aquascaping Style.

One Type of Fish, One Type of Rock, the Purism of the Iwagumi Aquascaping Style.

In a previous post, I discussed biotope tanks as a style of aquascaping. Another style I am fond of is the Iwagumi style, created by famed aquarist Takashi Amano. Iwagumi translates to "rock formation", and the design concept relies on the restrictive purism of one type of fish and one type of rock. This type of aquascaping is more challenging, but liberties can be taken by the aquarist to modify the style to their liking. For example, I would add more than one type of fish, but the same size of small schooling species. Hardscape This aquascaping style relies heavily on the hardscape as a foundation on which to build. Hardscape refers to the non-living components, in this case the rock and substrate. Begin by choosing a fine grain substrate. When completed, you want everything to scale appropriately. If the substrate is large gravel, it will look unnatural against the rocks and make them appear much smaller. I would also recommend a light color if using dark rocks and a dark color substrate if using lighter rocks. Consider a fertilized substrate as well. Most of the carpeting plants used in this style are heavy root growers. The most important part of the Iwagumi style is the selection and placement of your stones. This will be the most time consuming as the stone placement must appear as natural as possible. It is normal to live with a hardscape for days before redoing it again and again. This is part of the process and when you find the ideal arrangement, nothing is more rewarding. The two most common types of stones for Iwagumi are seiryu (pictured above) and dragon or ohko stone (pictured right). Don't hesitate to use a different type of stone, just make sure the lines flow well and use the same type of stone through out. Function of Each Stone Once you have chosen your style of stone, you'll need an odd number. Nature can be balanced, but is rarely even. You'll choose approximately 5-9 stones for a small tank, 11-15 for a larger one and so on. You will choose the same type of stone, but each individual stone has its own function and name. Start by choosing your main showpiece stone, called the "Oyaishi". There will only be one of these and it should be placed off-center. Next, choose your counter stone, or "Fukuishi" stone. There is also only one, it should be smaller than the main stone, and it's purpose is to visually counter the main stone. It should break up the line set by the Oyaishi stone and placed opposite, off-center. Then, choose and position one or more smaller "Soeishi" or impression stones. Their purpose is to support the visual impression of the main stone. Choose an odd number and place them around the main stone to focus the eye on it. Unlike the counter stone, the impression stones are meant to compliment, not break up the main stone's visual lines. Finally, choose your smallest design stones, the "Suteishi". Their purpose is to fill in where necessary, create that final odd number, and complete any balance in the scape. Plants Choosing your plants for the Iwagumi style is open to interpretation. There are several classical styles that rely on grass type and carpeting plants to keep the scale of the large landscape rocks as large as possible. Long grass types and stem plants are also used, especially when trying to bring color to the scape, such as the vivid red color of the Ludwigia sp. leaves. Don't forget to choose the right light and possibly CO2 setup to accommodate any plants you choose. Fish Lastly, the strictest interpretation of the Iwagumi style allows for a small number of calm, schooling fish of the same species. The idea being to recreate a tranquil landscape and the fish appear as a murmur of birds in the sky. However, there is nothing wrong with a more colorful and active interpretation and choosing a couple species of small schooling fish. Because of the openness of the design, there are few places to hide, so larger aggressive fish should be avoided as they will limit the visual potential of your schooling fish. Balance In the end, there are many ways to accomplish the Iwagumi style, as long as you are true to your interpretation of a tranquil landscape. If you have trouble achieving balance and no arrangement looks quite right, don't get discouraged. Try referencing some basic design elements like the rule of thirds or the golden ratio. Photos https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_Kirwan_Mountainscape.jpg Boodleshire LLC 2022