First maintenance

Diatoms begone!Above is the photo of the aquarium after I finished a full maintenance on the aquarium.

I started by turning off the heater and filter, and scraping all the diatoms off of the front using an expired bank card, followed by the sides and the back, although I must admit that I did not make a particularly good job of the back. I was especially careful to not catch the sand, but I think I still may have caught one or two grains which would have scratched the glass.

Next, I drained out 5-10% of the water into a bucket, syphoning up all the diatoms I scraped from the glass. At this point, I decided to clean the filter. So I took the filter out of the aquarium, which was a bit more difficult than I would expect because of the spray bar. I pulled the filter apart and started cleaning the media in the old aquarium water which I had just drained: chlorine and chloramine will kill the nitrifying bacteria that I have been growing and feeding ammonia to. In the two months that the filter has been running for, it has become covered with sand dust, including the media and the impeller. I gently squeezed the sponge in the water until I could not see any sand left on them, then cleaned the impeller, the plastic casing and rubbed the ceramic media between my hands to remove the fine sand coating which was covering it in places. Rubbing ceramic media against itself is not harmful to the filter because the vast majority of the bacteria will be inside the media. Next, I cleaned all the soft plastic as some of it still had fungus on it. I reassembled the filter and placed it back into the aquarium.

Because my tap water is hard, I have lime scale deposits around the top of the glass, inside the aquarium. I cleaned these off with some cotton wool which I soaked in spirit vinegar and then rinsed the areas with aquarium water.

Finally, I syphoned out the remaining water down to about 10 cm from the bottom. So as to not disturb the sand, I then syphoned dechlorinated and temperature matched water back into the aquarium, finishing off with a top up to get the water level right as I do not like the sound of trickling water too much. In total, I changed 36 litres of water.

Finally, I switched the filter and heater back on, managing to spray water out of the aquarium in the process, and added the new piece of wood. The flow of the filter looked much faster, now that it had been cleaned.

Daitoms everywhere

Back to fertilisers and keyhole spawn

I received a new batch of 50 tabs of Sera’s florenette A so 4 of those went under the Hygrophila corymbosa var. siamensis, Vallis., Echinodorus tenellus and Cryptocoryne beckettii ‘petchii’ yesterday, and another 16 were dispered under some of the other plants today (Hygrophila polysterma, Crypt. wendtii ‘brown’, Echinodorus bleheri, Eichhornia azurea, Pogostemon erectum, Crypt. wendtii ‘green gecko’, Pogostemon helferi). I also noticed that the keyholes have spawned again and because as usual, I do not believe that they will do well, I removed 10 eggs using a paintbrush. Even as I was removing the eggs, the Melanoides tuberculata ((Malaysian trumpet snails) were already trying to eat the rest. One unusual thing did happen though: the male keyhole bit me, which has never happened before, even when they were breeding. On closer inspection, I am not sure if the female spawned with her usual mate or one of the younger ones because the older male and the bigger of the younger two now look almost identical.

Daily tests: day 48 – 57 and adding wood

Test tubes waiting to be washed

I’m planning to do a large water change tonight, in preparation for the fish, and I would also like some clear readings for the record, so I know how much the wood will affect the water after it is added. This morning, the readings were:

  • KH: 9.5 ° (170 ppm)
  • GH: 21 (376 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 80 – 160 ppm
  • pH: 8.2

I expect KH, GH and nitrate to drop after the water change because my tap water readings are lower.

Unfortunately, the diatoms are still there and getting worse, so hopefully, the water change will help improve the situation. I also have a Malawi aquarium, which, for those of you who do not know, is a Lake Malawi simulation, with a lot of rockwork and no plants because the fish which live in the lake naturally graze on algae and have a habit of mistaking plants for algae, which means that most plants would not survive for long. In this rocky and plant-free environment, I also often see diatoms, and as is currently the case with this aquarium, the Malawi setup also has high nitrates, so I assume, given that the general hardness is the only other common factor between the two aquariums, that the nitrate is responsible. I have also noted the appearance of cyanobacteria, an algae-like bacteria, today. I hope this is also related to the high nitrate levels.

I performed a clean of the aquarium, including glass and filter, and changed 36 litres of water, which was approximately 80%. The water readings after the maintenance were:

  • KH: 10.5 ° (188 ppm)
  • GH: 18 (322 ppm)
  • ammonia: 0.25 ppm
  • nitrite: 0 ppm
  • nitrate: 10 – 30 ppm
  • pH: 7.8

The results indicate that my tap water has changed since I took the original readings: my tap water pH has dropped, while the KH has risen.

I also added the wood, right after the water changes. It has now picked up the rich red which gives it the name of “red moor wood”, but is being slow to water log.

Aquarium wood

Moor rootOne of the most popular types of décor for aquariums is wood. There are a number of different types sold commercially and it is possible to prepare one’s own wood for aquarium use. The most likely ones to be found in shops are bogwood, driftwood, mopani root and “red moor root”. There are also a few other types which are only starting to become available now or are not so popular too.

Bogwood and driftwood are usually solid pieces of grey to brown colour, they are usually parts of the trunk or thick branches. Mopani is more of a thick, gnarled root, a light sandy colour on one side and a rich brown on the other. “Moor root” is used to describe any wood which is composed of weaving, curly branches, usually attached to a gnarled base. Moor root often comes in colours ranging from orange to red. I have also used dead English oak branches with success, and dead heather branches and roots, but the heather tended to disintegrate quite quickly.

There are a few benefits to using wood, the biggest one being the release of tannins, which help lower pH. Soft woods, such as bogwood, are also required if plecos are kept, because plecos will feed on them. Wood can also be used to grow certain plants, such as Anubias, Microsorum pteropus and various aquatic mosses, which can be a big advantage when keeping species which like to dig.

The advantages of wood are also the disadvantages, some people do not like the tannin coloured water and the lower pH is not suitable for certain fish. Wood can also start growing fungus, this is often the case if the wood has been boiled in a bid to remove tannins: it is considerably more productive to just soak the wood in a bucket, changing the water regularly. Once fungus has appeared, it can easily be removed with a syphon or by gently scrubbing the wood under the tap.

I prepare wood by brushing off any dirt under a running tap, then adding it to the aquarium, where it should quickly become water logged, although sometimes, the wood can take a few days to a few weeks to sink.

Deciding on fish numbers

Most aquarium fish can be classed into one of three living preferences:

Schooling and shoaling:
These fish, depending on the species, live in groups that range form a few hundred to a few million individuals. Home aquariums are most often not able to hold groups that large, but the bigger the group the better it is. I usually recommend that one should aim to keep 10 – 15+ individuals per schooling species as there is no excuse to not do so if stocking a new aquarium. Unfortunately, some people find out that they have only a few individuals from a schooling species after the aquarium is fully stocked, in which case it is best to try and increase the numbers to at least 6 individuals per species or to find them a new home. In some way, fish are aware of individuals up to a point, at which the individuals become “many”. I think that 6 individuals is this point for many species. One of the most important functions of schooling is to protect the individual fish from predators, either by letting the weaker fish in the group be picked off first (as easier prey) or appearing as one larger fish. The main difference between schooling and shoaling fish is that shoaling fish will normally only swim in a tight formation when threatened, usually going about their own business (for example, Trigonostigma heteromorpha). On the other hand, schooling fish (such as Paracheirodon innesi) will spend most of their time swimming close together, even to the point of facing the same way. The group includes fish like tetras, rasboras, danios, barbs, many loaches and rainbows. One unusual member of this group is Neolamprologus brichardi, a shoaling cichlid.
Small groups:
There are a few different variations of small groups which can be found. These include small groups of social fish, which do not have much social structure (such as livebearers) or which have a specific social structure (for example, cichlids); closely knit family groups; pairs of breeding male and female couples; harem groups of one male and a number of females (often seen in many Apistogramma species), or quite rarely, one female with some males. As with schooling fish, small groups provide security for individuals. For some mildly aggressive species, such as Pterophyllum scalare, it may even be possible to keep them peacefully only individually, in proven breeding pairs or in small groups of more than 6 individuals because the dominant fish can then spread the aggression over multiple individuals, instead concentrate it on a single one.
Some of these fish are too aggressive to keep with any others of their own kind, and in some cases, even with other fish which would occupy the same area inside the aquarium, while others simply do not interact with one another on a regular basis. This group includes some loaches, cichlids and gouramis.

It is quite important to try and keep the fish in appropriately sized groups as some may otherwise display odd or aggressive behaviour. The easiest way to find out appropriate stocking numbers is to research the conditions in which the species is found in the wild.

Some basic research showed me that Danio margaritatus and Yunnanilus sp. ‘rosy’ is a peaceful, mid-water schooling fish, which automatically means that I should be considering 10 individuals per species. This is a good number to start with, and there is always the option of adding more later.

Pseudosphromenus dayi, on the other hand, is a solitary fish which breeds in pairs. Males may occasionally be persistent, so I decided that it is better to have 1 male and 2 females, to give the females a bit of a break in case of uninvited attention.

So for my first “final stocking”, I will be aiming at the following:

  • 10 × D. margaritatus
  • 3 (1m 2f) × P. dayi
  • 10 × Y. sp. ‘rosy’

It is very common for final stock to evolve with time, which is why I am referring to this as my first one. As for how I decided on the total number of fish? That is rather difficult to explain as there are no set rules, nor have I seen any good guidelines. I chose the number based on my experience and I always base my decisions on adult size. The stocking numbers are also affected by the amount of plants in the aquarium as they will use up ammonium. For an aquarium which is 60 × 30 × 30 cm in size, I would normally expect to stock between 6 individuals of the larger species I list and 25 individuals of the smaller species. I would also stock conservatively if I pick female livebearers because they will drop fry and it is best to reduce chances of overstocking.

The best advice I can offer on stocking is to not stock more than one feels comfortable with, even if others say that the aquarium will take more fish, and if one is being advised to stock less than one plans to, to try the lower stock first.

Pseudosphromenus dayi

Since I am now unable to collect the Danio margaritatus, I will be moving the Pseudosphromenus dayi to this aquarium instead. This anabantoid comes from Kerala, the most south-western Indian state where air temperatures range from 15 to 36 °C, which I assume corresponds to water temperature of 16 to 34 °C. The fish have been found in fresh and brackish water, usually in lentic conditions, and may be very common in Chalakkudy River, Muvattupuzha River and Periyar River. There are some claims that this species can also be found in south-east Asia, but this is very likely to be a mistake caused by a mislabelled P. cupanus holotype.

As with other Osphronemidae, P. dayi possesses a labyrinth organ as well as gills, which allows it to breath air instead of extracting oxygen from the water as most other fish do. The labyrinth organ is located in the gills, at the first gill arch. I have read of research done into the breathing of Betta splendens, another labyrinth fish, where results showed that without access to air, the fish suffocated, so it is safe to assume that fish which have a labyrinth organ do require access to air at all times.

Apparently, the fish can grow up to 75 mm, although one of my females is currently at 30 – 35 mm and the male is around 35 mm at, by my estimate, at least one year of age. Fish are normally measured nose to base of tail for consistency, as tails can vary in length between individuals; with the tails included, the same female is around 45 mm and the males is close to 50 – 55 mm.

Mature males of the species have more orange throats, considerably elongated and pointier dorsal and caudal fins, and slightly elongated anal fin compared to females. Juveniles are almost impossible to sex unless the males’ fins have already started growing longer and I have found that the orange throat is usually more noticeable when the fish are ready to breed.

These gouramis are not shy, but do require plenty of plants as they spend most of their time under leaves. I currently have three of these fish in a 420 litre aquarium, where each one has taken up residence in a specific group of plants. One female has chosen a large Anubias barteri (spending most of her time under one of the broad leaves or swimming thought the roots), the other female has taken up residence in some plants which have floated to the surface, while the male lives in a patch of Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘brown’ (I often see him wrapped around one of the leaves). Flow does not seem to matter much to them as the females are both in areas where there is almost none, while the male spends much of his time about 15 cm away from a circulation pump, which is pointing directly at him. They are not strong swimmers, so I would say that a densely planted aquarium or one with low-flow areas is compulsory. The aquarium is 60 cm tall, but all three fish spend their most of their time either within 15-20 cm of the bottom or inside floating plant clumps, with the exception of feeding times, when they happily come out into the open.

As with many other gouramis, P. dayi is a surface feeder and their natural diet includes insect larvae. In an aquarium environment, they readily take all prepared and live foods of appropriate size. They are a slow feeder which takes its time to come out for the food, so it is important to make sure that they receive their portion of the food, especially if they are kept with fish which are known to be greedy for food.

P. dayi are compatible with most peaceful, community species, with the usual exception of other labyrinth fish and those which are big enough to eat them. Because they are a slow species with a flowing tail, they will make prime subjects for abuse by fin-nipping species, so it is best to avoid those.

The species breeds in pairs, with the male building a bubble nest inside a cave or under some leaves. The female lays approximately 200 to 300 eggs, which sink to the bottom and are collected by both parents before being spat into the nest. The eggs are guarded by the male and will usually hatch within 24 – 36 hours. After a few days, the fry use up their yolks and become free swimming.

P. dayi are currently classed as vulnerable by the IUCN, so it is worth looking for aquarium bred specimens over wild caught ones. Deforestation and agricultural activities, man-made pollution, mining and destructive fishing are the main threats to their habitat.

After more than a few hours of searching, I finally located the journal that the species was originally described in on Google books, but I am unable to find somewhere that I can download it from. For reference, the species was originally described as Polyacanthus cupanus dayi by W. Köhler in 1908. The paper, Untersuchungen über das Schaumnest und den Schaumnestbau der Osphromeniden, was published in Blätter für Aquarien- und Terrarien-Kunde, Stuttgart, volume 19 (pages 392-396). If anyone has a copy of it, please let me know as I am interested in reading it.

Plants have arrived!

_MG_6340Last Tuesday, I ordered 1 × C. parva cup, 1 × Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Tropica’ pot, 1 × C. wendtii ‘Mi Oya’ pot, 1 × C. wendtii ‘green gecko’ pot and 2 × Rotala rotundifolia bunches from Wasserpflanzen-Freunde, which is owned and run by Roland Strößner. The C. wendtii ‘green gecko’ was an impulse buy: I had never heard of it before, so had a search for some images, which I liked the look of and after confirming that it was suitable for the aquarium, I decided to go for it. Today I received, as always with some freebies, 1 × Cryptocoryne beckettii ‘petchii’ pot, 1 × C. parva cup, 1 × C. wendtii ‘Tropica’ pot, 1 × C. wendtii ‘Mi Oya’ pot, 2 × C. wendtii ‘green gecko’ pots and 2 × Rotala rotundifolia pots from the seller. The Crypts are in excellent condition, although the C. wendtii ‘Mi Oya’ is much smaller than I expected, but the R. rotundifolia was melting and in generally bad health. The pots were packed tightly into tall bags, similar to those used for fish, wrapped in a lot of newspaper and placed inside a cardboard box, with more newspaper stuffed around them so that they did not move around.

UnwrappedI start preparing the plants for the aquarium by removing them from the bags, laying them out on my trusty white bath sheet. Then, I removed the pots and the wool, making sure I pulled off as much wool as possible. Some people don’t worry about leaving the wool on the roots, but I find that it is sharp and irritates my hands, so I expect it is likely to affect any fish that try to eat it, which is why I think it is better to always remove it. While I was doing this, I also sprayed the plants with water using a spray bottle so that they do not dry out. I found that I had to spray them at least once every few minutes to keep the leaves glistening.

Taking off the woolOnce all the wool was removed, I started separating the plant bunches into individual ones. I plant aquariums back to front, so I started with the R. rotundifolia, which was meant for the back right corner. Because I did not want to damage the stems, I floated the bunches inside the aquarium and gently agitated them to encourage the stems to separate. I estimate that there were approximately forty or so stems between the two pots, but most were rotting. Given the existing damage, I used a pair of “flat tip conventional” tweezers to push bunches of 2 – 3 plants, 3 – 6 cm into the sand, while trying to hold them (for the most part, unsuccessfully) gently.

DepottedNext, the Cryptocoryne went in: I started in the back right corner and worked my way to the left side of the aquarium. Normally, I would need to trim back the roots on the Cryptocoryne to be 5 cm or shorter, but these did not have particularly long roots, so I could plant them straight in. I did this by clearing the sand, pushing the individual plants in, covering them with sand and gently pulling the plant up from the sand so that the rosette is just barely exposed, which discourages rotting.

I had to pull up some of the Hydrocotyle sp. ‘Japan’ and Lindernia rotundifolia to make space for the new plants, so lastly, I replanted all of these. The L. rotundifolia is doing well and the H. sp. ‘Japan’ has grown so fast that I will soon have to start finding some of it a new home.

It took me about two hours to finish the planting, mainly because the aquarium is still on the floor, which makes it difficult to see into it from the front. If I had invertebrates or fish that are sensitive to copper in the aquarium, I would have soaked the plants overnight in a bucket first to remove any remnants of any medication or snail-killing solutions which the plants may have been exposed to. As it is, I added the plants straight into the aquarium.

More Hygrophila and Crypts

I was recently ordering some plants for another one of my aquariums, so decided to get some more for this one too. I bought Hygrophila polysperma, H. corymbosa var. siamensis and also added half a pot each of Cryptocoryne beckettii ‘petchii’ and C. wendtii ‘green gecko’, both of which I received as freebies.


Freshwater diatomsDiatoms are a type of algae, they often manifest in a freshwater aquarium as brown dust, usually on the glass and rocks, sometimes also on plants. This algae is not uncommon in aquariums which do not have plants or have very few plants (as this one currently does) and is usually associated with ammonia in the water. It should disappear with the addition of more plants and time.

Most diatoms are unicellular, although they can exist as colonies in the shape of filaments or ribbons, fans, zigzags, or stellate colonies. Diatoms are autotrophs within the food chain. A characteristic feature of diatom cells is that they are encased within a unique cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule. These frustules show a wide diversity in form, but usually consist of two asymmetrical sides with a split between them, hence the group name. Fossil evidence suggests that they originated during, or before, the early Jurassic Period. Diatom communities are a popular tool for monitoring environmental conditions, past and present, and are commonly used in studies of water quality.

The Bacillariophyceae (diatoms) class was described by Ernst Haeckel in 1878. Haeckel was also responsible for Kunstformen der Natur, a book of lithographic and autotype prints which is now available on Wikimedia Commons.

Drawing of a diatom by Haeckel