Aquarium Care

Useful articles, news, information, product reviews about aquarium care

Archive for April, 2009

Aquarium Care: Solving Mysterious Deaths In Your Aquarium

Monday, April 20th, 2009

by Ruby Bayan

sickfishweb“Help me! It’s my fish! I just fed them this morning, none of them looked sick. Now they’re dead!” Bob’s voice quivered over the phone.

“Take it easy, Bob. I’ll be right there.” You rush to your friend’s house to find him sobbing over the coffee table where two of his favorite Oscars lay dead on a paper towel.
You examine the fishes — there are no indications of disease. No white spots, no reddish lesions, no parasites attached, and no hole in the head.

“I was gone for just a couple of hours.” Bob explains. “When I got back, they were…” he chokes.

You know Bob to be especially fond of his fishes and had been successful in raising his Oscars for quite a while now. This is clearly one of those “mysterious death” cases — a challenge, surely, but not impossible to solve.

“I’m sorry about your Oscars, Bob. Just relax and let me look around to see if I can determine the cause of death — maybe find the murder weapon. This will have to be a crime scene investigation.” You get excited at the prospect of solving a mystery. Bob can only hold back his tears, comforted by your presence and concern.

Examining the Scene of the Crime

You approach the 50-gallon aquarium and give it a close look. The first thing you eliminate as the cause of death is incompatibility. Bob had no other fishes in the tank that could compete with the Oscars. You spot three Siamese Algae eaters doing their thing among the plants in the background. They couldn’t possibly have harassed a couple of 4-inch Oscars to death.
Oscars of this size are still relatively juvenile, so, they obviously didn’t die of old age.

Could it have been lack of oxygen? Certainly the tank is far from being overstocked, so you look for decaying food and rotting debris that could sap the oxygen level. The tank looks impeccably clean — for an Oscar environment. Bob had been taking care of his fishes well. In fact, he had added an EcoBio-Block, strategically located close to the airstone.

The next thing you check is the decor. Bob can be extra creative with his decor. Had he also been safety-conscious? You’ve seen him experiment with electric blue substrate and sleepy-hollow-type driftwood, so you want to check out how innovative he has been with the decorations in what is now the scene of the crime.

Could one of the rock pile formations have toppled over and hit the Oscars while they frolicked underneath? Could the fast-growing fish have been accidentally stuck in a hole or crevice? Are there any sharp or pointed formations that could’ve caused a fatal concussion of the highly active couple? You look through the front, side, and back of the tank — negative on all counts.

Signs of Breaking and Entering

You turn to Bob, his gaze frozen on his dearly departed pets. “They look like they’re just sleeping,” he whispers.

“I need to ask you a few questions, Bob. Are you up to it?”

“Sure. Ye.” Bob raises his eyes for just a second, and takes a deep breath.

“We’re going to try and eliminate the possibility that contamination or the introduction of something toxic caused your Oscars’ death.” You proceed with the investigation, trying to sound very professional.

“Did you recently medicate the tank?” Malachite green and methylene blue are common medication for parasites and fungus, but extended use or an overdose can also kill the beneficial bacteria that help maintain the ideal environmental conditions in the tank. The death and absence of the bacteria can lead to an ammonia or nitrite spike that kill fish in no time. Bob said he has had no need to administer any type of medication.

“Did you bring in new fish that you failed to quarantine before including in the tank?” Newly bought fish come from “unknown” environments — although looking healthy, they could be contaminated with all sorts of microorganisms and parasites that could unleash a fatal and unpredictable epidemic. The same is true with the water the new fish were transported in.

Bob assures you he always quarantines new fish, and the newest one he put in that tank was a couple of the algae eaters, several months ago.

“Do you have sick fishes in your other tanks?” Bob has two other tanks and you’re wondering if he has sick fishes in there. Because if he does, he should not be sharing nets, scrapers, decor, and equipment between sick tanks and well tanks due to the risk of contamination. He should even be washing his hands well after doing any form of maintenance on hospital or quarantine tanks.

“Nobody has been sick lately. I’ve been very careful with contamination,” Bob answers, almost resenting your insinuations.

“Did you just do a water change?” You’re thinking it’s possible that Bob may have done a considerable water change and he may have forgotten how much chlorine the tap water has.

High concentrations of chlorine attack the fishes’ gills and can cause death due to asphyxiation.

Before you can follow up on that question, Bob shoots back with, “The last one was five days ago, and, yes, I always make sure the new water has no chlorine, and has the same pH and temperature as the water in the tank.” Okay, so that’s out of the way.

“Would you mind if I look at your supply of fish food?”

Bob points to the side of the stand where he keeps his containers of flakes and pellets. “The frozen food are in a covered plastic container in the freezer,” he adds. You check the expiration dates on all of the labels, and examine the food for molds or unusual appearance. Even the best fish food can turn into something lethal. You ask Bob if he trusts his live food vendors — he swears by them.

You give the tank a second look for anything potentially toxic to the Oscars. Could Bob have introduced a new decor that he failed to clean? Is any of the stuff in his tank water soluble or metallic? Once again, nothing raises suspicion. It’s time to test the water.

The Lab Reports

“Where’s your water test kit, Bob?”

As Bob pulls out his kit, you glance quickly at the tank’s thermometers — one close to the surface at one end of the tank, the other submerged close to the bottom at the other end. Both of them read 75 degrees.

Meticulously, Bob arranges his testing paraphernalia and volunteers to check the water himself. He starts with the pH. Because his tank had been long established, he expects the pH to be a little below the neutral 7.0. A high reading would indicate the possibility of high and toxic ammonia content. The pH test reads 6.5. And the ammonia level comes out normal (below .3 mg/liter), which is expected because if ammonia had been high, the water would’ve had a yellowish tint and given off a pungent smell.

How about nitrite or nitrate poisoning? In ideal conditions, the ammonia released by fishes through respiration and excretion are converted to nitrites (by beneficial bacteria), which are then converted to nitrates (also by beneficial bacteria), which are then absorbed by plants as fertilizers. Nitrates become toxic above 100 mg/liter, but this shouldn’t happen if Bob had been doing regular water changes. Besides, he knew that the EcoBio-Blockwould’ve done its job providing the beneficial bacteria that controls ammonia, and nitrite levels and also appears to have some effect on nitrates as well.

Nitrite poisoning ranks high in the list of culprits for the Oscars’ death because it kills almost instantly and its victims die in full color. When the oxygen supply in the water becomes insufficient, brought about by overstocking, overfeeding, decaying food and debris, and improper filtration or aeration, nitrites are not converted to nitrates. At nitrite levels of higher than 10 mg/liter, the water becomes toxic to most fishes.

“If it’s nitrite poisoning I have only myself to blame,” Bob sighs. Afraid of the truth, he makes you conduct the test. Result: normal. You hit another dead end.

More Poisons

You widen the area of inspection and look around the room for any telltale evidence of another kind of poisoning — biohazards.

Toxic fumes dissolve in water and although a bit remote, it can accumulate to a level deadly enough to the residents of an aerated aquarium.

“Has anyone come in the room to clean?” You ask Bob who looks more composed now.
Bob looks at you and glances around what he always refers to as his domain of organized chaos. “Does it look like someone came in to clean?” He drops a hint of sarcasm.

“I’m just wondering — someone may have used an aerosol detergent or glass cleaner pretty close to the tank. Those wood shine sprays, furniture cleaners, and carpet deodorizers can contain toxic chemicals, you know. You sure you didn’t use them lately then submerged your hand in the aquarium? Just want to be sure.”

Bob gives you the what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about look. So, instead of asking another question, you just make a mental note that he doesn’t smoke and it doesn’t look like paint fumes is a suspect. You move on.

“Do you know if you have copper plumbing? I read that copper poisoning is a real threat to fish. Copper is sometimes used in medicines to fight snails and algae. And copper pipes can contaminate tap water.” You just want to cover all the bases. Bob says the house was built just two years ago and he doubts they used copper pipes for plumbing. He’s never had to deal with snails or treat algae with chemicals.

“There wouldn’t be copper or other metal ores in your rock decor, would there?”

“Are you kidding?” Bob says. “Those rocks are inert — hard plastic. Looks real, huh?”

You’re running out of options. But there are still a few things you haven’t explored. You wanted to save it for last because you’re hoping you wouldn’t have to confront Bob with the idea that he had been killing his fishes very slowly for the longest time.

Slow Death

When humans suffer from stress, anxiety disorders, and unrelieved tension, their immune systems malfunction and the end result is mayhem of disorders such as headaches, muscle pain, poor coordination, depression, and a nervous breakdown.

Fish are also highly susceptible to stress that weakens the immune system. It’s possible that prolonged exposure to stress is the root cause of the sudden, yet inevitable, death of Bob’s Oscars. You want to know what could possibly have been stressful to the fishes. You start ruling out the obvious.

“You haven’t been moving the fishes around, have you?” You sit beside Bob and join him in staring at the tank that now looks so empty.

“Nope.” Bob answers quickly. “I’ve been tempted to hold them — they’re very friendly. They come to me when I approach the tank. They know when it’s time to feed them. But I’ve never held them. I’m afraid I’d hurt them.”

You noticed the wide screen TV and audio system across the room. “You know that fishes are highly sensitive to vibrations, right? You think your entertainment center gives them a headache?”

Bob looks at you with one raised eyebrow. “Come on, I deliberately put the TV and stereo across the room because I had learned my lesson. When I was younger, my bedroom was just half of this. I had to put my cassette player next to the aquarium. I wondered why my fishes never lasted more than a month. Then I noticed that every time I turned on the player the fishes darted around frantically. I did a little research and discovered that the vibrations of sound waves are four times ‘louder’ through water than through air. Therefore, loud sounds, tapping the aquarium walls and tank stands, and even slamming doors and windows can shock fishes out of their wits. I had been careful since then.”

“Speaking of shock,” you proceed, “fish don’t like sudden changes in anything. Has your water temperature been constant?”

Bob is eager to fill you in on how good a fishkeeper he has been. “I always check the water conditions. I check the temperature maybe three times a day. I know that fish are delicate creatures and maintaining an ideal environment is extremely important because unlike in the wild, the aquarium is a small, enclosed habitat that could easily go foul if unattended. I am not aware of any equipment malfunction or power failure that could’ve caused extreme conditions in the tank.”

“How about your feeding routine?”

“I was getting to that.” Bob continues. “Nutrition is very important to fish. Not just the right kind of food but also the proper manner of feeding. I give my Oscars a good variety of food, and in adequate amounts so they don’t become obese. I read the labels, too, to be sure I am providing them with all the necessary nutrients. I don’t want them suffering from some vitamin deficiency. And I never give too much too soon, especially if it’s a new type of food because they can get constipated that way. Constipation can kill, you know. But I’m sure that’s not what killed my Oscars.” Bob buries his face in his hands.

“Your water changes have been regular?” You explore another cause of stress.

“Yes,” Bob mumbles through his fingers. “Fifteen percent, every two weeks, conditioned water, like clockwork.”

Once again, you’re back to square one.

Lethal Weapon

You approach the coffee table and inspect the dead Oscars. You pick up a pen and flip one of them over.

Bob notices you and snaps, “Oh, no! You’re not thinking of doing an autopsy on my pets are you?”

You leave the Oscars and reassure Bob. “I may not have to.”

You rush back to the tank and trace the wiring of the lights, pumps, and heaters back to the wall socket. You notice that the socket doesn’t have a GFCI or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter.

You unplug all the equipment and examine them one by one. Is any electrical part of the powerhead filter submerged in the water? Are the wires in the overhead reflector lamp properly insulated? They’re all clean.

You pull out the heater that’s camouflaged behind one of the rock formations, and… “Voila!

Here’s your culprit, Bob. Hairline cracks on your heater. Your fish were electrocuted.”

“How can that happen?” Bob looks over your shoulder, mystified.

“Your rock formation may have accidentally pressed on the heater and cracked the glass casing. The water seeped into the cracks and caused a short. Normally the short would trip a GFCI if you had one, but since you don’t have one, you may want to check your house wiring because it should’ve tripped your breaker fuse.

“The short in the heater caused an erratic current to run through the water. The Oscars were in close proximity to the heater when the current surged, and the electricity flowed through their bodies, killing them instantly. If you had been there and dipped your hand in the water, you would’ve been zapped as well.”

Bob falls back in the chair. “You mean because I didn’t have that grounding interrupter thing my fish and my own life were in danger all along?”

“Yep. Not just your Oscars but also you would’ve been toast. And it would’ve caused an electrical fire, too.”

“How did you figure it out?” Bob wanted to know what tipped you off.

“When strong electricity runs through the body of a fish, it snaps the fish’s vertebra causing instant death. When I flipped one of your Oscars, I noticed that it was limp, like it had a broken spine. That’s what led me to your wiring. Case closed.”

Bob thanks you for your help and condolences, and invites you to the funeral services at sunset. You put your arm around Bob’s shoulder and offer to help him check the house’s electrical wiring; that should be a lot simpler than solving the mystery of what causes healthy-looking fish to swim away to that great aquarium in the sky.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Top 20 Suspects in Mysterious Deaths:

  1. Incompatibility – fish could harass each other to death
  2. Lack of oxygen – asphyxiation is just one of its many complications
  3. Overfeeding – leads to pollution, obesity, and other problems
  4. Decaying food and debris – raises the level of toxic chemicals
  5. Décor accidents – fish bruised, crushed, snagged, or punctured for art’s sake
  6. Toxic or unsafe décor – unwashed, metallic, or contaminated
  7. Medication – read the fine print for the side effects
  8. Contamination – from sick fish, polluted water, infected tanks, or rotten food
  9. Chlorine poisoning – attacks the gills, and gags the fish
  10. Ammonia poisoning – like swimming in a pool of pee
  11. Nitrite poisoning – breathing in an alien atmosphere
  12. Copper poisoning – nobody survives a diet of metals
  13. Toxic fumes – they dissolve in the water
  14. Improper or inept handling – can injure externally and internally
  15. Sudden changes – not for the faint of heart
  16. Equipment failure – like pulling the plug on a life support system
  17. Loud vibrations – killing softly with loud songs
  18. Poor nutrition – a form of torture
  19. Constipation – can distress a fish to death
  20. Electric shock – just one zap and it’s all over

 

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Sticky: Aquarium Care: What is a pH?

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

by Ruby Bayan

I was first introduced to the concept of pH back in high school chemistry when we dipped little blue and pink strips of paper that changed color depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the solution. Of course, all I had to do was remember the acronym B-R-A, meaning “blue to red – acidic” to pass the subject. I didn’t foresee that I’d have to deal with the pH phenomenon for the rest of my life. Now that you’re hooked on the hobby, you will have to deal with it, too.

Let’s start with what exactly pH is and then we’ll elaborate on its role in the aquarium and why you need to know how to manage it.

Basic Concepts

pH is short for “pondus hydrogenii” meaning “potential hydrogen,” “power of hydrogen,” “weight of hydrogen,” and “predominance of hydrogen ions (H+)” as a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a particular solution.

The pH scale is expressed as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration ranging from 0 [high concentration of hydronium ions (H+) = acidic] to 14 [high concentration of hydroxide ions (OH-) = alkaline/basic]. The pH concept was introduced by a Danish chemist, Soren Sorensen, in 1909 (if logarithmic formulas and chemical equations will help you better understand how the pH scale was devised, and how it is applied, the site on Sorensen would be an excellent resource).

Factors That Affect pH

Pure water has a pH value of 7 which is considered neutral (neither acidic nor basic), and generally the ideal condition for freshwater aquaria. However, various factors can cause the water parameters to swing several notches towards acidic or alkaline, which, although almost negligible, could be fatal to the fishes. Here are some examples:

  1. Water Source — normally, tap water would be within the neutral pH range but some water sources are naturally “soft” or “hard,” or chemically treated such that the pH level diverts from neutral.
  2. Substrate and Decor — your choice of substrate and decorative items will influence your tank’s pH reading over an extended period of time. At first, a substrate spiked with corals, shells, or limestone deposits will show high pH levels (influenced by the hardness or mineral content of the water), which could later on diminish as the minerals are used up. On the other hand, the presence of peat, or driftwood that leach tannins, can swing the scales towards the acidic side.
  3. Maturity of the Tank — the natural tendency for well-established tanks is to dip towards acidic. Fishes eventually adjust to this trend, but not if it falls into ranges that are already toxic to them.
  4. Plants — taking an active role in the nitrification process, plants help to maintain a relatively neutral pH by absorbing dissolved salts and waste products.
  5. Water Circulation and Aeration — without adequate aeration, carbon dioxide can remain trapped in the water and lower the pH (make the environment acidic).
  6. Overstocking, Overfeeding, Excess Medication, Poor Filtration — in short, inefficient tank maintenance can wreak havoc on your pH levels.

pH and You

Every well-meaning aquarist needs to have a pH test kit handy. Various types of kits are commercially available — they’re mostly inexpensive but will be a valuable tool in your efforts to maintain the ideal home for your pets.

Test your tap water to make sure it’s safe for the types of fishes you’ve chosen to keep. Remember to pre-check the parameters of the new water you bring in when you make water changes.
Test your aquarium water regularly (daily when setting up a new tank; once or twice a week for established tanks).

Consult your local fish store for the availability of buffer solutions in case you need to make drastic adjustments in your pH levels.

Add an EcoBio-Block to your tank. Its resident beneficial bacteria help control the conditions that can cause unhealthy changes to your pH level.

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Sticky: Aquarium Care Series: Too Many Fish in Your Aquarium

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

crowded-aquariumwebThere is a question that is brought up rather frequently by beginners in aquarium care, who have not been very successful after having seemingly followed all the basic instructions gleaned from books, the internet, or our dealer friends. They have given recommended foods in conservative amounts. They have good light and temperature control. But here is where the trouble starts, through the acceptance of a fallacious signal as to what constitutes “overcrowding.” The signal watched for is when the fishes gasp at the surface of the water, “blowing bubbles.”

That is a carry-over from the days when goldfish was King. Goldfish and other cool-water fishes are very sensitive to any shortage of oxygen in the water, or the presence of too much carbon dioxide. They quickly express their distress by breathing at the surface. Incidentally, I have often wondered how fishes, never before in such a situation, know enough to get a fresh supply of oxygen at the surface of the water.

Warm-water fishes are better equipped to get along in oxygen-deficient conditions. In a tank containing both goldfish and exotics (a combination not recommended) the goldfish will invariably be the first to register discomfort from overcrowding. The point that I am stressing is that “Tropicals” are apt to “suffer in silence.” When they come to the surface and stay there, conditions are not merely bad, but very bad.

Undetected crowding has been present for some time past, indicated by the poor condition of the fishes. Of course such symptoms can come from other causes, but crowding is one of the first to look for. That suspicion can be confirmed if frequent partial changes of water relieves the condition.

Water changes help keep the parameters within acceptable limits, help remove excess organic material such as waste and uneaten food, and also replenish required minerals in the water that the fish use up over time. If you prefer not to do as many water changes or are physically unable to, there are alternatives that can reduce your labor. My favorite is the EcoBio-Block, which is an aquarium care product that introduces beneficial bacteria into the aquarium (which keep the biological filter healthy) for water clarification. (It breaks down organic waste into safer by-products). This simple-to-use product then slowly leaches necessary minerals into the water to keep fish healthy, reduce fish loss, and help beginners become successful aquarists.

Advising a new aquarist at the height of his frenzy to go slowly in building up his tank of fishes is like talking against the tempest. Recently I fitted out a grandson with an aquarium and a suitable collection of fishes. All was lovely for a few weeks until he was bitten with the desire for more and more.

The dealer could not be blamed for selling to him, but the result was not hard to foresee – a general attack of “Ich.” Overcrowding does not necessarily cause that disease, but reduces the vitality of the fishes so that they are more subject to it.
“No aquarist ever got into trouble by having too few fishes.”

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Sticky: Aquarium Care Series: Real-life Problems with Algae

Friday, April 10th, 2009

by Ruby Bayan, OurSimpleJoys.com

Green Algae

Green Algae

Problems with algae are some of the most common concerns I hear about. Below are actual questions posted by our visitors, followed by my suggested solutions.

~ Green Water ~

Question: I have just performed a water change to my 230l tank, and the water has turned into a greenish hue. Nitrate levels are okay, I tested them. Could you tell me why this has happened? Will it harm the fish? – Therese

Answer: Hi Therese, green water doesn’t harm fish — and some people actually like the color. It’s an algae bloom. You may be exposing your tank to too much light. And there’s enough nutrients in the water to feed the algae. If you don’t like the greenish color, you can reduce the lights a bit, do another water change, or add plants to absorb the nutrients that feed the algae. You may also want to consider using a diatomaceous filter.

Follow-up Question: I still have that green water problem which started about 2 weeks ago. I have been keeping the neon light of the aquarium off, and I have performed a 50% water change, but the water is as green as ever. I can hardly see the fish. I am considering using a green water treatment. I have heard that this could be harmful to the fish. What is your opinion of this? Should I add some live plants, although my fish make a meal of these? -Therese

Follow-up Answer: Hi Therese, here’s something a bit radical — daphnia. These are minute crustaceans that are actually a favorite of fishes. If you can find a supplier of live daphnia, they will eat off your green water in no time — that is, if the fishes don’t eat the daphnia first. :) Yes, live plants are always a good option because they absorb the nutrients that the green algae will otherwise thrive on. And, this is just me, but I’ve never liked using “chemical treatments” for algae.

~ Brown Algae ~

Question: I have a well established 6 year old temperate goldfish tank. It is a 29 gallon acrylic with a aqua clear 300 filter. I have 4 oranda gold fish and 2 black moors. In the past i have had an algae issue that has since been taken care of but now i have a brown sludge like fungus growing constantly in my aquarium. It got my fish sick and i gave fungus medication, cleaned the tank very well and have been feeding every other day rather than every day. i do about a 30% water change every week and the fungus (?) keeps coming back. My question is how do i get rid of it and is it even fungus or am i going about taking care of it the wrong way because its not what i think it is. thanks, AP

Answer: Hi AP, I have a suspicion that you’re dealing with brown algae. Goldfishes are notorious for polluting the water. It’s possible that your filter and water changes are not able to cope with the waste products they produce. These waste products are food for algae; add to that a low-light situation, and you have the perfect habitat for brown algae (diatoms). Just vacuum them off and try raising your illumination level a bit. I know it’s tricky because too much light will encourage green algae. Have you considered adding plants? Another solution worth exploring is a water-conditioning product called EcoBio-Block, which releases beneficial bacteria that helps address water pollution and algae buildup.

~ Red Algae Hybrid ~

Question: I have had my tank set up for a while. The inhabitants and such can be found under the 46 gallon section of www.geocities.com/aqua_ajb. In my tank I find these little stringy balls of grey matter. They started to appear after I upgraded my lighting from 60W to 124W. I do not know what these little grey things are, but would like to know what cause them so I can fix it. I also would like to what they are. Sometimes they are very easy to pull from the leaves of a plant, and come in a big mass. Other times they are attached to the plant leaves and don’t come of very well at all. It is my guess that these stupid things are algae, but I would like to know for sure. Thank you for your help. AJB

Answer: Hi AJB, I’ve heard about a hybrid of red algae that looks blackish and collects mostly on plant leaves. This may be your culprit. I see you already have a Siamese algae eater — want to consider adding a couple more? Or maybe a couple of Otos. If the algae (ye, I tend to imagine this is algae) doesn’t come off from the leaves easily, cut off and throw away the affected leaves. Then next time you clean out your filters, be sure to wash them thoroughly to eliminate algae spores. Let me know if any of the suggestions work. Good luck.

~ Algae Attack! — A Recap ~

Question: HELP…I have a 10 gallon tank with 3 cherry barb fish. We are having a terrible time with algae growth. We will do a complete water change that includes new rocks, filters, and decorations. The tank will be troughly scrubbed. Within 5-7 weeks, algae starts growing. I have used the algae destroyer and some type of tablet to try to control the growth. No luck. The light is only on for 4 hours a day and that time is in the evening. No direct sunlight on the tank. We do feed the fish at night. We are getting ready to get rid of the tank. Any suggestions on how to keep the algae from coming back. thanks – LLP

Answer: Hi LLP, these things can be annoying, huh? Do you have plants in the tank? One trick is to add a few plants to consume the nutrients that the algae are feasting on. If the plants use up the nutrients, the algae won’t have enough to live on. A more reliable solution is algae eaters — my recommendation is the Otocinclus. They’re small, peaceful, and should be happy to keep your tank algae-free. Also, try this new aquarium-conditioning product called EcoBio-Block to control the nutrients that promote algae. Good luck.

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Aquarium Care: Care and Maintenance of Aquarium Plants

Friday, April 10th, 2009

by Ruby Bayan

aquariumplantwebAs caretaker of the simulated natural environment in your tank, you will have to make sure that your aquarium flora are planted well, and receive adequate light, nutrients, and the constant care and maintenance they need to thrive. This may all seem a bit overwhelming, but once the plants are established, they do not really require much fuss.

Planting Techniques

Once you’ve chosen your assortment of aquatic plants and are ready to introduce them into your tank, be sure you are not also introducing unwanted elements such as snails and tiny predators. Rinse your newly acquired vegetation under clean water and remove damaged or decaying leaves, stems, and roots. Plant them into their designated places gently to minimize bruising.

Rooted plants should be planted into the substrate only up to where their leaves meet the roots. Burying them too deep will cause the stems to rot. If the plant is mature and has a good root system, you can trim off a third of the roots, including the old brownish ones because these are, in effect, dead roots.
Tubers should be planted at an angle, with the shoots just above the substrate; otherwise, the plant will not survive.

Cuttings, which are usually sold in a bunch or cluster, should be separated and planted one by one, and properly spaced out for better growth. Spacing them will also help provide adequate lighting to the bottom leaves. Thrusting clusters into the substrate, or tying them together, will crush the stems and cause them to rot. Trim off a few leaves from the bottom of the stem and sink the stem into the substrate up to its first bottom leaf.

As to the placement of plants in your tank, try to follow some basic principles:

  1. Put tall ones, and those that tend to grow tall and thick, at the sides and at the back.
  2. Plant short and rosette-type plants in the front and center.
  3. Do not use the rooted plants in areas where fish that have a tendency to dig can uproot them. Instead, plant them behind rocks, driftwood, or other dominant decor.

Lighting Considerations

All plants have unique lighting requirements. Some require intense light while some can’t tolerate it. Most aquatic plants require about 10 to 12 hours of light exposure in order to thrive, and very few will continue to flourish if the light source is partially blocked by tall neighboring plants.

Remember that if certain species like the red-leafed and fine-leafed ones need bright light, extending their exposure to regular light (i.e., the standard fluorescent tube that came with the tank) will not suffice. Putting the aquarium by the window so that it will catch the sun’s rays is not a good idea either — too much light will encourage algae growth. The best strategies are to add fluorescent light tubes or install aluminum reflectors behind the light source, and to ensure that the glass cover is always clean so that proper illumination reaches all the plants.

Regular Care and Maintenance

Just as you would diligently check on the health and wellness of your fish, give a little attention to your aquatic plants as well. Here’s a list of things to do:

  1. Fertilize. Aquatic plant fertilizers that are rich in nutrients like iron and potassium are available as pellets and in liquid form. Follow the product instructions on the quantity, schedule, and manner of applying these fertilizers. Some substrates are mixed with laterite clay that is specifically beneficial for tank vegetation.
  2. Change some of the water. Aquarium plants play an active role in the tank’s nitrogen cycle, but sometimes the water composition degrades into one that is not any longer highly beneficial to plants. This is when your assistance is required — once a week, changing the water (less than 20 percent) helps in refreshing the quality of the environment. Be sure to de-chlorinate and check the temperature of the new water before introducing it into the tank. You may also add fertilizer to the new water if appropriate. If you have an EcoBio-Block in your tank, water changes can be done less frequently.
  3. Do regular check-ups. Regular maintenance for plants also includes trimming dead or damaged leaves and branches, propagating by cutting or separating new growth, and removing snails. Some serious aquatic plant enthusiasts introduce CO2 into the tank to boost the plant systems. You can inquire from your vendor about this option.
  4. Avoid toxic elements. The standard manner of treating fish ailments is by dropping medication directly into the water. Unfortunately, some fish medications are harmful to plants, affecting leaf coloring, absorption of nutrients, and overall health. Therefore, when medicating fish, transfer them to a tank containing no plants. Also, when using water conditioners and anti-chlorine treatments, never pour them directly on the plants. (Also, remember to take out your EcoBio-Block, medications can be toxic to the beneficial bacteria).

And finally, address warning signs. Be aware of indications of poor maintenance. When environmental conditions are not ideal, you will see the effects on the leaves of the plants themselves. Pale and widely spaced leaf growth in the stems is a sign of poor or insufficient light. Yellowing of the leaves is a sign of lack of nutrients like iron. Blackening of the leaves indicates pollution. Holes or damage indicates the presence of either snails or vegetarian fish. Attend to these distress signs immediately so that your aquarium garden will always be in good health.

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