Aquarium Care

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Sticky: Starting a Healthy Aquarium- Allowing Your Aquarium to Cycle

Many people hear the word bacteria, and they automatically think of sickness, gross, dirty, and disease. The truth is, most bacteria are actually not harmful. In fact, in all environments, bacteria make the very base of every cycle of life. Without bacteria, the base wouldn’t be there, creating an unstable and unhealthy environment. This is especially true in an aquarium. An aquarium needs to have a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in order for fish to live long and healthy lives, and to cut down on maintenance work keeping your aquarium clean.

Beneficial bacteria neutralize toxins from aquarium waste, such as animal excretions and extra food.  Without the good bacteria, these wastes build up and release poisonous toxins that are harmful to fish and other aquarium inhabitants. Without these bacteria, your fish and other animals will get sick and eventually die.

The best time to create a good healthy base of beneficial bacteria is when you first set up a new aquarium. The key component when cycling a new aquarium is exercising extreme patience. The bacteria need time to grow and colonize your filter and the surfaces in the aquarium itself. If you add your animals to the aquarium before a sufficient amount of bacteria have grown, you’re going to be putting your fish at risk.

newly cycled aquarium

Newly cycled aquarium

There are several ways to cycle an aquarium. One way is to set up your aquarium completely, without adding your fish or animals and letting it run for two to three weeks. Adding very tiny amounts of fish food to the water as the aquarium runs will help expedite this process. Another way is to add fish very slowly- fish that are hardy and can take a small amount of toxins. Guppies are a good choice of fish. Many experienced fish keepers use feeder guppies for this task, as they’re cheap yet tend to be very healthy and good at dealing with steep swings in water quality, which is normal as a tank first cycles.  Goldfish are NOT good fish to cycle aquariums with. They excrete more waste than a growing colony of bacteria can handle, and you’ll have a difficult time cycling your tank with them. The last and fastest way to cycle a new tank is to add beneficial bacteria that are commercially ready to simply pour or toss into the water. If you use the EcoBio-Block Products, your tank will remain cleaner much longer with less effort.  Once you put in the product, EcoBio-Stone does the rest. These additives will take weeks away from the cycling process, allowing you to add your animals faster to your waiting aquarium.

There are a few signs that will let you know when your aquarium has finished cycling and is ready for inhabitants. You should test the water for ammonia and nitrites with simple to use testing kits that you can find at any pet store that sells aquarium supplies. During the time the tank is still cycling, if you test every day, you’ll notice at first a very fast spike in ammonia then in nitrites. When these go down and your nitrate levels go up, then it is safe to put in your fish. Aerobic beneficial bacteria in your tank feed on organic waste breaking them down into ammonia, then into nitrites and then the nitrites get broken down into nitrates. As the days go by, with more food for the bacteria in the tank, the bacteria will grow and multiply. Sometimes you’ll see cloudy water in the tank- this is normal. This is just a bloom of bacteria floating in the aquarium water column. Anaerobic bacteria in your tank will cause the nitrate levels to decrease. When your tank has finished cycling and your aquarium environment is balanced, your water should be clear. EcoBio-Stone keeps levels of beneficial bacteria high in your tank, which keeps your aquarium water clear, clean and healthy.

Conventional aquarium cleaning techniques remove these bacteria from the environment. Completely changing filter material, constantly vacuuming aquarium gravel and continuous sterilization of aquarium furniture and other decorations kills and removes these good bacteria. To keep the bacteria in your tank and keep your tank looking clean, simply remove bits of extra uneaten food daily, and wipe down the glass of your tank with a clean cloth or sponge. Once a month, clean out your filter material by gently rinsing out the filter with aged and tepid water, which will keep the bacteria in your filter but remove debris. Try to not over feed your fish, as this is the usual main reason for fish deaths and unhealthy aquariums, even after you allow your tank to cycle.

Cycling your tank is a natural process when starting your new aquarium. Given some time in the beginning, your fish tank will reward you with long lived and healthy inhabitants for years to come.

 

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Sticky: Raise The Livebearer Babies

Platy Fish

Platy Fish

The part I enjoy most about our hobby is taking care of the babies. I await the arrival of the tiny new ones like an anxious grandmother. I can just about tell, to a day, when the blessed event will take place, much to the amazement of young fish fanciers. Most of our fish are livebearers and my experience concerning the raising of babies is based on this type of fish.

There is not much to the trick of knowing when the mother is to give birth if one will take the trouble of taking note of the date of the month the fish previously gave birth. If the fish is in good condition, she gives birth every certain number of days with leeway from a day to ten days or so. About that time of month, I begin to look for other signs such as the shape of her gravid spot and the shape and fullness of her middle.

Some fish get very puffy and as her day approaches, even her chest fills out full almost up to the head and her middle gets quite distended. Others do not get so heavy and it is a little more difficult to tell when they will give birth. With a reflector overhead, I try to look through the fish at the gravid spot. If the cavity at the middle of the fish is filled and is sometimes like a crescent or a triangle in shape, I know that her time is near. In some of the more translucent fish, the embryos or babies can be seen thru the skin at this point. As the embryos develop, the gravid spot becomes larger and clearer and the side of the fish will bulge, particularly when viewed from the top, or looking down on the back.

So that the newly born babies won’t be devoured by the rest of the fish in the tank, I take out the ripe female and place her in a small maternity tank which is thickly planted with micro or dwarf Sagittaria. I also place some floating plants such as Water Lettuce, Myriophyllum, Anacharis, Water Sprite or Water Fern. Other plants that are excellent for this purpose are Nitella, Riccia, Crystalwart, etc. The purpose of the plants, of course, is to protect the babies from the Mother. I find I can save almost all the young when there is a small type of Sagittaria planted in the tank because it affords a hiding place at the bottom of the aquarium where the newly born babies rest before they float to the top. I have found that it is a good idea to give the hungry mother some food – preferably some live food – so that she tends to ignore her young. Sometimes, all my maternity tanks are occupied and that’s when the gallon jars come in handy. The water in the maternity tank can be from four to seven inches deep.

As soon as the mother has finished giving birth, it is best to remove her and place her in an aquarium with other females, which have just been thru the same experience. This will give her a chance to rest and enjoy some live food.

The new babies may stay in the maternity aquarium for a few days, depending on the size of the tank and the number of babies. They are on their own in a short time and can take micro worms, micrograin, or baby manna.

I drop a tiny pinch of baby manna on the water and give the water surface a light tap to teach them to take dry food. In a few days they can eat newly hatched brine shrimp.

The number of babies which can be raised to good healthy, lively fry in three or four months, depends on cleanliness, size of the aquarium and intelligent feeding. Siphoning a few inches of water from the bottom of the aquarium about once a week is not too often. If the aquarium is well planted it is not necessary to do that except when needed. Even better, if you use EcoBio-Block, the water will stay clear, clean, and healthy without changing it for a considerably longer time. It also helps reduce the fatality rate of the new baby fish.

The size of the aquarium that the babies are to occupy during the first few weeks is important. If placed too soon in a large one where they have plenty of swimming space a number of them somehow, get lost, and wander about while the rest are feeding, and therefore, do not get enough to eat. After awhile, they get thin and deformed and eventually die. From a batch of thirty five, there would probably be less than half of that number alive after two months. On the other hand, if the babies are left too long in a small container, they do not get to be vigorous and healthy, nor do they grow. If I do not want to move the babies from one tank to another as they grow in size and need more swimming space, I place them in a ten or fifteen gallon aquarium with about five inches depth of water. As they grow in size, the depth of the water can be increased. The babies grow like weeds, if they are fed properly and intelligently. Adult fish can be fed once or twice a day only, but babies, in order to attain good and fast growth are fed from four to six times a day. If they do not get a good growth in the first three or four months, they will not get to be good-size adult fish. Platies can attain about an inch or over in four months, while swordtails will be an inch and a half in that time.

Before I learned to put the babies on a regular feeding schedule, I sometimes forgot to feed them and at other times, I fed them too often, neither of which is good. Now, they get their light feeding on schedule every three hours, and are thriving on it.

If all goes well, they will be having a lot of babies of their own in six months.

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Aquarium Care Series: The Ideal Freshwater Aquarium Setup: Basic Concepts

by Ruby Bayan, OurSimpleJoys.com

aquawithwhitefishsSetting up the ideal aquarium environment can be a challenge since there are fundamental principles about taking proper care of your fish that must be taken into serious consideration. You will be simulating the natural habitat of your pet fish, within the confines of a glass tank. It will be necessary for you to exercise the utmost care in creating and maintaining an environmental balance. It can be tricky, but that’s what makes the aquarium fish hobby truly engaging!

In order to create and maintain the ideal freshwater aquarium setup, you will have to purchase the best tank you can afford and supply your fish with good clean water (filtration) and the required amount of oxygen (or aeration). Adequate illumination (lighting), proper temperature (heating), and the appropriate landscape (substrate and decor) are also important. Let’s discuss how to set up these elements one by one.

Tank Size

Before you purchase an aquarium, ask yourself the following questions:

Where will I put the tank? Is there enough space? Measure the exact dimensions of the area where you want to install your new tank. Be sure that you will have elbowroom to attach the accessories (light hood and external pumps or filters) and to perform the required maintenance activities (which include cleaning, landscaping, or catching the fish).

Are both the stand and the floor sturdy enough to hold the combined weight of the tank, the gravel, and the gallons of water you will need? Remember, water alone weighs about 10 lbs. per gallon. Depending on the size of the tank and the complexity of your landscaping (the substrate and rock decor), you may need to acquire a dedicated metal stand. Ask the aquarium store proprietor to explain your various options.
What kind of fish will you take care of? How many varieties? How big will they grow?

You will need to do your homework on these topics. Picture the types of fish you want to live in your tank. Find out how big they will get when fully grown. Though schooling fish are a joy to watch, they require a lot of swimming space. Since some species are territorial, you will need to provide them with sufficient “territories” to prevent stress. Basically, if you want to take care of a lot of fish, you will need to buy a larger tank.

Do you have the budget to purchase the appropriate lighting, heating, aeration, and filtration fixtures? You may think it’s easy to answer those questions since you know you want to keep several varieties of fish and believe that all you need to do is buy a 100-gallon tank. Before you pull out your credit card, remember that you will also need 100-gallon filters, heaters, and overhead lighting. Additionally, you will need sufficient aerators, gravel, plants, and decor. So, be sure you are ready to finance the entire 100-gallon set-up before you start making any purchases.

Aeration

Fish “breathe” oxygen from the water, and water absorbs oxygen from the air. This is why aeration is important in a tank setup. Aeration, or the generation of tiny air bubbles in the water, supplements the tank’s water surface area, which is critical for the exchange of gases with the atmosphere. The bubbles also create a disturbance in the water surface, promoting the absorption of oxygen and dissolution of carbon dioxide.
Furthermore, the rising bubbles “stir” the water, which helps to balance the water temperature. The bubbles also create the semblance of water flow that fish thoroughly enjoy.

Choose aerators that suit your tank size and your taste — various models of air pumps and air stones are available. Tubing, connectors, and other accessories make installation convenient and organized. A spare air pump will be valuable in case of a breakdown.

Filtration

In simulating the natural habitat of your fish, you will need to ensure that the environment does not become toxic due to the accumulation of waste products. An effective filtration system is, therefore, another essential element of the ideal aquarium setup. Here’s a list of the various filters that are available:

  • Under-gravel Filters – These are plastic-slotted plates placed at the bottom of the tank, under the substrate. For best results, these plates must cover the whole tank floor. Working in conjunction with the air pump, the filter pulls the floating waste, uneaten food, and decaying plants onto the gravel. The waste products accumulate in recesses in the gravel, where they can be easily siphoned off.
  • Box Filters – These are plastic boxes that are put in the corner of the tank. They also require the assistance of the air pump. This filter uses activated carbon and glass wool (or peat moss) to serve as biological filters. They absorb and retain the fine waste products that float in the water, along with the harmful nitrates and ammonia by-products. Compared to under-gravel filters, box filters are easier to pull out and clean.
  • Power Filters — These are usually external filters attached to the back of the tank. With its own power motor, it sucks water from the tank, passes the water through a sponge (or glass wool and activated carbon), and pumps the filtered water back into the tank. The sponge needs to be cleaned regularly.

Lighting

Fish require adequate amounts of light and dark, like most other creatures on the planet. Correct lighting is essential for the biological clocks and eating patterns of your fish. It is also important for the healthy growth of the live plants in the tank. Apart from those needs, adequate lighting makes the aquarium a bright and colorful showcase for underwater life.

Several types of aquarium lights are commercially available. Full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs are common fixtures – they enhance the colors of the fish and decor, and they don’t give off too much heat. Some hobbyists prefer specialized ultraviolet aquarium lamps because they believe they promote fish health and breeding, along with plant growth. Study the options at your aquarium vendor’s store and choose the lighting that suits your tank and fish community.

Aquarium lights are best mounted inside reflector hoods, placed either directly on top of the tank’s glass cover, or on a special frame above the tank. Some vendors have attached timers to these hoods to facilitate the setting of photoperiod exposures. Fish do not need more than 12 hours of light each day, so a preset timer can be a convenient gadget.

Be sure to replace your light bulbs at least once a year because fluorescent and ultraviolet lights tend to degrade with use.

Heating

Aside from adequate oxygen and light, the right water temperature is essential for the overall health of your fish. Most varieties of aquarium fish come from tropical regions with water temperatures of up to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Find out about your fish community’s temperature requirements. With the help of heating elements, ensure that the proper ranges are maintained in your tank.

Submersible heating rods of various lengths, together with programmable thermostats, make it easy to control tank heating. Be absolutely sure that the settings are correct because a faulty or poorly calibrated heater can bring about a catastrophic end to an otherwise flourishing fish community.

Substrate and Decor

After you complete your research on the natural habitats of the fish species you wish to keep, you will have an idea of the type of decor to put in your aquarium. For starters, here are some facts to help you determine what substrate and decor to use:

  • Some fish, known as bottom dwellers, stay close to the floor of the tank and feed on the food that settles on the substrate. For these types of fish, sand is better than gravel (food will sink among the course gravel, making it hard to reach).
  • Fish that are territorial will need “markers” like plants, rocks, or driftwood. Without these items to mark their territory, they will experience stress and may become unduly aggressive.
  • Some varieties of fish are “shy” and need at least a few places where they can go hide. Plants and overturned pots or little caves will be a comfort to them. Plants also provide shade from the overhead lighting, which may be just a little too bright for some species of fish.
  • In case you have chosen fish that are totally herbivorous, consider decorating with plastic plants. Live, decorative plants will always be attractive as food to such fish and may stop looking very attractive when your fish start feasting on their leaves and branches.
  • As a rule of thumb, never try to use anything that’s metallic, water-soluble, corrosive, or biodegradable as part of your decor. You can always be creative with glass and plastic. Before using rocks, pebbles, stones, clay, and driftwood as decorative pieces, be sure you rinse them thoroughly to remove all of the dirt, parasites, or harmful bacteria that may be attached to them.
  • Consider incorporating water-conditioning products in your setup, like EcoBio-Block, which is made of volcanic stones that are home to beneficial bacteria, whose main function is to clarify and deodorize cloudy water.

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Sticky: How to Cycle an Aquarium

aquariumcycleDid you ever think you couldn’t have fish because “they just die”? If all your fish die within a week of buying them, it’s not just the fish. The most common cause of mass fish deaths is an improperly cycled tank. Before you buy any fish, it’s absolutely imperative to make sure your aquarium is well-cycled.

What is cycling? Simply put, the cycling process is the time it takes to set up a biological filter for the nitrogen cycle to function inside the aquarium. Your aquarium is much more than a tank full of water, it has to be an entire contained eco-system to keep your fish healthy. The goal with your cycling time is to develop a culture of beneficial bacteria (or “bio-bugs”) that will break down the ammonia from the fish’s waste into nitrites, and then from nitrites into nitrates. Ammonia is extremely toxic to your fish and will kill them very quickly with much less than one part per million in your aquarium.

There are several methods for cycling. This is a method that is very effective, easy to do even for beginners and does not subject any live creatures to the potentially deadly cycling process. First, set up your aquarium with filtration, heater, aerator, etc. and fill with water. Add whatever de-chlorinator you prefer; if you’re not sure what’s in your water be sure you use a treatment that eliminates or neutralizes chlorine, chloramines and potentially harmful metals. With the filter running, add a tiny amount of fish food…about one or two flakes. The food can be old, stale food that’s no good for feeding anymore — it’s only there to rot. As the food decomposes it will produce the ammonia that will feed the bio-bugs as they get established in your aquarium.

That’s it! Keep adding one or two flakes every day throughout the cycling process, then do a partial water change before you add fish. It’s safe to add fish when both ammonia and nitrites test at zero but there are nitrates in the tank to show that ammonia is actually being broken down. A full cycle takes 36 days to complete, though some hardier fish can be added after a couple of weeks as long as you keep a close eye on the water parameters.

Don’t want to wait 36 days? There are a few products on the market that can help speed up the process. There are bottled, refrigerated products such as Bio-Spira that can give the cycle a big boost by adding the bio-bugs directly (via a liquid) instead of having to wait for them to get established in the aquarium. The only problem I’ve found with those products is that you add them, it boosts the bacteria, and that’s the end of its use. One great cycle-time reducer is the EcoBio-Block. This product is a little more expensive than Bio-Spira, but you get a lot better value for your money.

To use the EcoBio-Block, rinse it off in some de-chlorinated water and then place it in the tank after the water has been treated and filtration is going. Make sure you set it somewhere near the aerator or below the flow of an HOB filter (the kind that hang on the back of your aquarium). The EcoBio-Block has the beneficial bacteria the aquarium needs sealed into it; the flow of water facilitates the dissolving of the seal and ensures that the bio-bugs get the oxygen they need. These blocks can take a couple of weeks to start working (though sometimes they work much faster), and once it’s working you’ll be able to begin adding the fish you want, hardy or not, because this effectively finishes the cycle. Test your water; it may not be necessary to do a partial water change before adding fish unless there’s an excess of decomposed fish food in the bottom. Don’t take the block out! The EcoBio-Block is still useful for about 1 1/2 to 2 years; it’ll keep the bio-bug population healthy and contains all the trace minerals that normally have to be replenished through water changes. The minerals are time-released into the water to keep it healthy without constant water changes.

In short, the cycling process is simple but time-consuming. If you decide to shorten the cycle time take care with which product you purchase to help, there are a lot on the market that don’t actually do what you need. The above have proven to be good, reliable products that greatly aid with this process. Once you’ve achieved a good biological filter and the nitrogen cycle is up and running, you can start adding the fish!

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