Monday, December 31, 2012

Other ideas for that small fish tank

I've seen a lot of cases where someone buys a betta and a bowl. They do get a heater for the bowl once they know the requirements of bettas. Then on down the line they upgrade to a 5 gal or a 10 gal tank. Now they have this bowl just sitting around. It's still large enough (but just barely) for a betta, so while it's still empty there is still that temptation to get another betta. Here are some nifty ideas to fill that bowl with things that aren't bettas. 

Shrimp Tank

Level of difficulty: Varied

There are a few variety of shrimp commonly found in pet stores. Ghost shrimp are most common. Red cherry shrimp can be found in some stores or from other hobbyists online. There are a lot of other varieties that can be found in specialized shops, but it's good to keep in mind that some are more difficult to care for than others. Shrimp are tropical creatures so they they will need a heater. They appreciate live plants and the benefits they bring, but you can just use low-light plants like anubias, java moss, and java fern. Shrimp have a very small bioload compared to fish, so you can have quite a few in a smaller tank. Some species also breed easily in aquariums. Just like fish, they will need some kind of regular maintenance.

Red cherry shrimp (

Plants only Tank

Level of difficulty: Varied

A well-aquascaped tank even without fish can be a very striking thing. With a black background and black sand, the green plants pop. Add some rocks and driftwood to really complete the picture. This tank could be very easy or rather difficult depending on your choice of plants. Low-light, low-maintenance plants like anubias, java moss, and marimo moss balls can be grown with the ambient light from a window and little to no fertilizer. Marimo moss balls don't even need heaters. If you want a bit more of a project, you can have plants like crypts and dwarf hairgrass. These plants require enriched substrates, CO2, and in some cases high lighting.

Bowl planted with hornwort, java fern, and moss (

Snail Tank

Level of difficulty: Moderate

While some people think them gross, a lot of people enjoy having snails in their aquariums for the benefits they offer as well as their interesting locomotion. A small tank without a betta is a great place to have snails. With larger snails like apple snails and rabbit snails, you could only have one, but with smaller snails like malaysian trumpet snails or ramshorn snails you could have quite a few. You will have to pay more attention to water quality and parameters as soft, acidic water will dissolve their shells. Larger snails like apple snails and rabbit snails will need to be fed, but the small snails can scavenge enough food from algae and biofilm supplied by water changes. Most snails will only eat dead and dying plant matter so you can combine them with a planted tank without worry. 

Golden rabbit snail (source)


Level of difficulty: Easy

One idea that people don't normally think about is removing all the water from the bowl. If you have a sunny spot in your house or office you won't need a light. Some aquarium plants can be grown on land if the soil is moist enough, or you could take house plants and pot them in the tank. Moss terrariums are another option and don't need to be watered often if the tank has a top that reduces evaporation. If you're worried that other house pets might get into the terrarium, you should plant species that are okay to be nibbled on by cats and dogs or get secure lids.

Moss terrarium in a bowl (

I know that temptation to buy another betta when you have extra bowls and tanks laying around is very strong. I've fallen prey to it a few times, and I can tell you the best way to reduce that temptation is to fill those extra bowls with something else. My extra tanks are currently being used as moss terrariums and Marimo aquariums.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

My Tanks: 13 Dec Update

A lot has happened since my last tank update. Basically something has changed in every single tank. Most of the changes have been for the better. This will probably be my last tank update of the year as I'll have to wait until after Christmas to add any more fish because we will be leaving on vacation. I don't like to have fish in QT while I'm away.

I bought a new goldfish buddy for my remaining ryukin. She went through a 3 week QT just fine, and they are now swimming together in the large 55 gal. I've seen the breeding tubercules on the ryukin, but I don't see them on the new redcap oranda. And I've seen the ryukin nudging the oranda's vent. I've come to the conclusion that the new goldfish is a girl. I'd really rather have all males to avoid the breeding issue, but it's done and over with. Plus, my new oranda is just precious and outgoing as ever! How could I not love her?

My newest goldfish, a redcap oranda named Burbbles

Burbbles and Magikarp playing together. It's so hard to get them both in focus.

My 29 gal community has undergone the most changes. I added a new large piece of driftwood that I ordered from as well as about 2 more species of plants. I've added green tiger lotus (Nymphaea lotus)  and Cryptocoryne undulata. I ordered them from, and I can't say I'm too pleased with the packaging. The plants weren't protected very well; there was no padding and the plants were just in plastic bags. The box was visibly crumbled, and some of the plants look damaged. It remains to be seen if they will recover.

Anyway, this complete the aquascape and hardscape. I'm going to let these plants establish for about a month before I begin stocking the fish. I still haven't decided on a final stocking plan, but I do know I will have a tetra species, a gourami species, and a twig catfish (Farlowella spp).

The crypts are small and hardly visible,
but the lotus is that large reddish leaf in the center.

Since I have written you, I've lost one of my bettas, Knucker. He was my oldest and had the worst health due to inbreeding.  During his last months I noticed he lost control of swim bladder and could not maintain neutral buoyancy, a problem common in double-tail bettas. While not a double-tail himself, I believe he carried the genes as I saw a lot of bad hallmarks of the double-tail like scoop head, a huge dorsal, and massive fins. I placed him in a breeder box in the 29 gal. I returned from a Thanksgiving vacation to find him dead, but I take heart in knowing that I gave him the best care and he probably wouldn't have gotten the same if another person had picked him up from the shelf.

Goodbye, Knucker. The picture on the left is from when I first bought him.

The last major change I made was for the plants. I've noticed rather stalled growth in many of my plants. I dose weekly with micronutrients using Seachem Comprehensive, but I still didn't get good growth. After a little research I figured out it is because my water is so soft. I started adding Seachem Equilibrium to raise the GH up to about 6 in each of my softwater tanks. I use it to raise the GH to around 10 in my goldfish tank as they are hardwater fishes. As of right now I haven't seen a large increase in plant health, but I didn't expect it so soon as I've only been using Equilibrium for two weeks now.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Goldfish Garden

Good Idea... Wrong Fish!!

Aquaponics is a type of sustainable agriculture that combines traditional aquaculture of fish with  hydroponically grown plants (plants grown with roots submerged in water). The fish are grown in large holding tanks, and the waste they produce is pumped to the plants in the hydroponic systems. The plants use the nutrients and send the "clean" water back to the fish. That is the general idea behind aquaponics, but there are a few variations. Recently, I have seen a few products come on the market aimed at home aquaponics systems. Some are good, and some are bad. This is one of the bad ones I recently stumbled upon.

Artist's rendition of proposed Goldfish Garden

Some quick facts about this product: it holds 2 gallons (7.6 L) of water; is powered by a 1.5W air pump; is 6.5 inches (16.5 cm) wide; and can come with a light if it cannot be placed near natural light. More information can be found on their kickstarter page.

The entrepreneur claims that goldfish are the best candidate for the bowl because of the amount of waste they produce, but he neglects to mention that they will outgrow a tank like this in a matter of months. He also fails to state any need for water changes. Not only do fish need clean water, but plants need it, too. Plants use up minerals that are in the water like calcium, magnesium, and iron. The only way to replace these minerals is with a water change, something that is rather commonplace in normal aquaponics operations. He also fails to mention any additional fertilizer that will likely be needed for healthy plant growth. Fish only produce nitrogenous wastes, but plants need many other micro and macro nutrients for complete and healthy growth.

He does mention that other fish can be used in the system and even mentions a slot for a heater to enable tropical fish to be used in his system. This is a very smart idea, and I believe this product could be better marketed and used with creature suited to living in a (relatively) small environment their whole lives such as betta fish, small snails, or shrimp.

Or you could save a few hundred dollars by buying a 10 gal tank with a single T8 and putting the plants in with your fish. That's where my vote is!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Amazon: Secrets of the Golden River

A great deal of common freshwater fish in the hobby come from the Amazon River Basin, and with good reason as it's the second largest freshwater river system in the world. Angelfish, discus, and many species of cories and tetra are all only found in the Amazon. Due to the wide variety of species Amazon biotopes are very common. This documentary includes footage of many of these and other Amazon fishes in the wild.

I do not own or claim to own this video.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Differences Between Goldfish and Koi

I know there are a lot of similarities between these two fish, but getting them mixed up is one of my largest pet peeves. Maybe this is because I’ve kept both species of fish for many years. Maybe it's because I dislike people who don't bother to think about what they are seeing. Either way, I would like to point out the major differences between koi (Cyprinus carpio) and goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus).


This is the most obvious difference between adult koi and goldfish. If you see a colorful fish in a pond that is larger than 15 inches, it is a koi. lists 12.5 in (32 cm) as the maximum size for goldfish while it lists 43 in (110 cm) as the maximum size for koi. Younger specimens in ponds can be more difficult to tell apart, though, so this isn't always reliable.


Goldfish are pretty limited in their patterns and colors whereas koi have a much wider variety. Goldfish tend to come in solid colors of orange, white, black/blue, or red. Yellow can be seen but is very uncommon. White and black combinations and red and black combinations are also possible but rare compared to the common red and white combination. Koi come in a much greater variety of common combinations. The base colors are red, white, black, yellow, orange, and blue. The chart below illustrates some common koi colorations and the names of the patterns. 

Koi color varieties (credit in picture)

The barbels (sometimes called whiskers)

This is the most obvious difference between koi and goldfish. Koi will have these barbels and goldfish will not. If you can see these on a pond fish, that fish is a koi. However, these aren't always easily observable. 

Barbels on koi (Stan Shebs @ Wikipedia)

The Tail

Both koi and goldfish can have elongated tails, but only goldfish will have the signature double-tail. This is where the caudal fin (tail fin) is doubled. From above, this will often give the tail a three-pronged or a four-pronged appearance. This characteristic is only found in goldfish. 

Typical split caudal as seen on wakin goldfish (

Other less obvious physical characteristics

This illustration below points out more of the morphological differences between koi and goldfish. Often times these aren't visible unless you view two fish side by side or have looked at a lot of koi and goldfish. The difference in mouth is often visible when you feed them. Sometimes it will give you a chance to look for barbels, too. 

Physical differences in koi and goldfish (credit unknown)


Can they interbreed?

Yes. When found in the same habitat (either in the same pond or in the wild), the two species will hybridize, but the hybrids are infertile. Often times these hybrids will be the natural brown, but some can come out a beautiful solid black. When these are found in the aquarium trade, they are often breeding mistakes. 

Genetically verified hybrid carp goldfish found in the wild (Jim Negus)

I hope you now have a better understanding of the differences between goldfish and koi. These are two beautiful fish that deserve to be recognized for their own merits.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Color Changes in Bettas

As anyone who has keep bettas for a long period of time knows, they are apt to change colors. What you see in the cold cup in the store is never what you will see after a few days of warm, clean water in your tank. For this reason, bettas bought in pet stores are often gambles. You can buy a pretty white one in the store and it will turn a peachy-yellow in a few days. There are three reasons why bettas change colors: stress, age, and genetics.


All fish are known to change colors when stressed. Most of the time this is a whiting out or a dulling of their colors. In pet stores almost all fish are stressed. The tanks are crowded and often contain diseases. While the cold cups may not always contain disease, they will stress tropical fish like betta. And just like any other fish, the colors of the betta will dull and fade. The transformation from stressed fish to unstressed fish can take a matter of hours or sometimes days. This is the main reason betta change color when you first get them. 

This is the same betta. On the left is the betta in a cold cup in the store.
On the right is after a month of being in clean, warm water.


Often the fish you see sold in store aren't very old. Typically the smaller they are, the younger they are. Their colors haven't fully developed yet and neither have their fins. So essentially what you are buying is a "work in progress." Some will change more than others as not all bettas being sold are the same age. Below is a very young betta that I bought in July 2011.

This image shows the same betta from July 2011 to February 2012.
Notice the longer fins and more pronounced color.


Some betta carry what is called the marble gene. This gene sequence causes the betta's colors to  changing even after they should have stabilized with age. Sometimes the betta will continue to change his whole life even looking like a whole different fish a year after you buy him or her. Sometimes the betta will "marble out" and become a cellophane, and some "unmarble" and turn a dark, solid color.  There is no way to predict what you will end up with. This presents an interesting challenge to breeders, and they can be a neat fish to have as a pet. A month later you can end up with a completely different fish than you started with!

This is my marble plakat. The image on the right is from July 2012. The middle image is a
month later. The far right image is from October 2012. My marble has unmarbled
to a beautiful solid blue.


Works Referenced

Parnell, Victoria. 3 Mar 2006. "The Ever-Changing Marble." Retrieved 4 Nov 2012. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

My tanks: 22 Oct Update

So while it has been a few months since my last update not much has changed in my tanks except with the goldfish.

I completely redid the aquascape. I removed the gravel once and for all and replaced it with aragonite sand to aid me in hardening the water. I figured out my light is too dim for most plants to grow in the substrate, so I opted for fake plants. I think they look realistic, and I like the cover they give to the fish.

If you can spot him, he's in the bottom right corner!

The fake plants I have are Marineland jumbo bamboo which is floating while the live floating plants--which the goldfish seem to leave alone--fill in, the Marineland A-size multipack that includes red ludwigia, rotala, and moneywort (but I only used to two tallest plants in the center and right), and the  Aqueon Begonia plastic plant 16" on the left. My live plants (most of which are floating and out of view) are hornwort, water sprite, and anarcharis. I also have that one little marimo ball on to bottom, too.

Unfortunately, right after I completed the re-'scape, I lost my two oldest goldfish within a week of each other. They had been with me for six years. I'm not positive on what caused either of their demises, but I am keeping a close eye on my remaining goldfish.

Seaking on left, Goldeen on right. Together in life and together in death.

I also know I owe you guys some up close pictures of my newest (well relatively) goldfish. I'm fairly certain he is male as I've seen some breeding stars on his pectorals, but only time will tell. He's still pretty small. No bigger than 3 inches on body!

Here he is sitting next to his "mirror buddy." Since goldfish enjoy company,
this will be his best friend until I can find another goldfish
and put him through a QT process.

He's still a little shy!

Here is a pretty good image to give you a size comparison.
He's grown a lot since I brought him home.

While it hasn't been getting that cold at night and the leaves haven't changed that much, I went ahead and put the net over my pond. It's been decent weather, and I wanted to make sure it was done right. There have been a few years where I was putting the net out when it was rainy, cold, and almost dark. Plus, I catch more leave if I put the net up before the they all start coming down.

It's still warm enough that the koi are happily swimming around under the net.

And everyone got new lights. I noticed I needed new lights because I began to see an abundance of brown algae growing on the walls as well as some of the lower plants. Bulbs don't last more than a year, and the deeper the tank, the more often they have to be replaced. I probably could have gotten another few months from my betta tank bulbs, but I like doing them all at once. You might not notice a difference, but the plants do! 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Little things

Yesterday when I was finishing up with my work, I walked over to our local butterfly garden. It's a very nice little garden where my local science center hatches and grows native butterflies.  In the back of the garden, they have a nice little goldfish pond. It's probably about 300 gallons or so. While I was sitting by it and trying to snap photographs of the butterflies that danced by, I noticed a white goldfish with a red splotch on his head, and he looked familiar.

Some of the flowers and butterflies in the garden

A few years past the butterfly garden was the subject of vandalism when some punks broke in and killed a handful of the goldfish. A year or so before then I had donated comet goldfish with a red splotch on his head to them, but I thought him lost in the raid as he is a very recognizable fish.

On my way out of the garden, I asked the attendant who had worked there for a while how long that particular goldfish with the red splotch on his head had been there. She told me as long as she could remember, and then proceeded to tell me that the vandals only took the largest goldfish which would not have included my little comet. I came to the conclusion that the unique goldfish in the pond was the little comet, who I had named Tancho, that I'd released there years ago! The attendant was just as shocked as I was and even more so when I told her he could easily live another 10 years there.

The only photo I have of Tancho.
Taken in summer 2007.

I spent the next 30 minutes by the side of the pond watching him. His markings have changed a lot. Instead of a neat, almost circular mark, it's spread down to his cheeks. But the rest of his body is still as white as a cloud. And while I did spend a lot of time there, I never managed to get a picture of my goldfish who I'd named Tancho. But it made my day to be able to see him again, so strong and so healthy.

The pond where Tancho now lives. He shares
it with three other orange-red goldfish.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Goldfish Salvation

I don't often talk about fish art because there simply isn't a lot of it, but the other day I found an artist who deserves recognition. Riusuke Fukahori was a struggling artist who found inspiration in his pet goldfish. These beautiful works resulted from his chubby, golden muses.

Photo of Riusuke Fukahori's work displayed at

It looks real, doesn't it? It's all done in resin. He makes these 3D painting by pouring layers of resin on top of paint in a similar manner as a 3D printer. Watch a video of him working here:

Beautiful works inspired by beautiful fish. If you look in the background of the video, you can get a quick glimpse of his fish comfortably living in a 50 gallon tank.

Photo of Riusuke Fukahori's work displayed at

You can find more photos from his ICN gallery expo here: Goldfish Salvation by Riusuke Fukahori at the ICN gallery.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Largest Aquariums in the World

These are tanks like we can only dream of. So take in these videos of the world's three largest aquariums (they do have sound) and dream away. They are spread out over three continents. If you ever get a chance to visit just one of them, take it. These videos are nothing compared to the real thing. 

# 3 "Kuroshiro Sea" Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium (1.98 million gallons)

# 2 Dubai Mall Aquarium (2.64 million gallons)

#1 Georgia Aquarium (6.3 million gallons)

I do not own any of these videos. Credits are in the individual videos.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Emergency Preparedness and Aquariums

It’s hurricane season in the south eastern US again. For some that means potential evacuations. For others it just brings the possibility of a few days without power. Either way, we want to consider our pets. Animals like dogs are easy to move in case of an evacuation. Fish are not. You need to have a plan with them.

I’m going to divide emergencies into two types to simplify this a bit: sudden emergencies and predicted emergencies. Sudden emergencies would be things that you don’t have a day or even a few hours’ warning. Predicted emergencies could potentially give you up to a week to prepare. But first let’s go over a fishkeeper’s emergency kit.

Hurricane Irene that hit the eastern US in August 2011 (kakela @ flickr)

Things to have around

Battery-powered air pump and sponge filter: these can be rigged up when the power goes out to provide both mechanical and biological (if the sponge filter was already in the tank) filtration for your tank. Pumps can also be used to provide aeration if fish suddenly need to be moved. Always make sure you have an extra set of batteries or two.

Blankets or extra towels: in case of a winter power outage, these can be used to maintain a warmer temperature in your tanks. The air temperature may fall but an insulating layer around your tank will help keep the water from getting too cold. If you live in an area that can get very cold in the winter, having an extra space blanket and duck tap to secure it to your tank is a great idea.

Flash lights: let’s face it, emergencies can happen in the dark, too. It’s no fun to fumble with cords and batteries when you can't see. A head light comes in handy here, too. Always make sure you have an extra set of batteries.

Medicines: while I don’t recommend stuffing your cabinet more thoroughly than your local vet clinic, having things like aquarium salt, General Cure, and Maracyn I & II around is a great idea. After a disaster there is a chance your fish could get sick. Depending on the severity of the disaster, you might not be able to get to the store for a while. These medications or a combination of them can treat most common tropical illnesses.

Sudden Emergencies

These would be things like tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides, house fires, and some volcanic eruptions. Disasters that you didn’t get warning of. Often times in these situations, we simply don’t have time to think about our fish or other pets before our safety comes into question. First rule of thumb is save yourself. If you aren’t alive when it’s over who will take care of your fish if you protected them first?

Certain areas of the world are more prone to some of these immediate disasters, and there are things you can do to help lessen damages when they happen. If you live in an earthquake zone, consider stabilizing your stands to the wall (the studs not the drywall) or nailing stands to the ground. If you are in an area where tornadoes are prevalent, consider putting most of your tanks in the basement or other central area of the house. The best thing you can do for these types of emergencies is preventative preparedness.

Predicted Emergencies

These are situations like hurricanes, blizzards, most tsunamis, some severe thunderstorms, and some wildfires. In some case you might just have a few hours warning, but in others you could potentially have days to prepare. When you have a warning, your fish have the best chance of survival if you make the necessary preparations.

You typically have some warning with a thunderstorm (rejected reality @ flickr)

First: Stop feeding

Healthy fish can go up to a week without eating. Depending on the fish, they can be pushed to two weeks with no food without suffering major ill effects. This is actually rather natural to the fish. Often times they will go weeks without a meal especially in the dry season. Not feeding your fish will reduce the amount of physical waste and ammonia that is in the tank. It will also reduce the need for water changes. If you are unable to attend to water changes for an extended period of time, this will help keep your tank from becoming too polluted.

Second: Perform a large water change

Depending on the severity of the approaching disaster, you may not get to do another water change for a while. Doing a large water change before it strikes will ensure that your fish are in cleaner water when they go through other stressors like falling water temperature and rising ammonia. Fill up some extra jugs and barrels with water especially if you are on a well system and are expecting a few weeks without power. If you are in a city where the water pressure and quality will remain intact, this is not as important.  

Third: Clean your filters (with tank water not tap water)

This is especially important if you don’t clean your filters often. Once the power goes out and water stops running through the filters, the organic waste that is trapped in there will quickly decay, and the water will become toxic. You won’t want this in the tank with the fish when the power returns. Leave the filter media in the filters until the power goes out.

If you have to evacuate and leave your fish behind, unplug the filters and put the filter media in the main tank. Running a battery-powered air stone through the filter media will help give the beneficial bacteria enough oxygen to survive the power outage.

Fourth: Double check your emergency equipment

Because these types of emergencies don’t come along very often, locate your emergency equipment and make sure it is in good working order. Turn on the battery-powered pumps and flashlights. Double check your batteries. Make sure the medicines haven’t expired. Put your equipment in an easily accessible place, so you won’t be scrambling for it when the electricity does turn off.

Natural disasters are hard enough on families without having to worry about pets. Please remember, your safety is of the utmost importance. You are the only person who will take care of your fish as you want. In case your family doesn’t have an emergency plan for themselves, you can take a look at the US Federal Emergency Management Agency’s guide for family preparedness called Are you ready? An in-depth guide to citizen preparedness. Be safe and happy fishkeeping!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Goldfish Gel Food Recipes

As many of you may know I advocate against the use of commercial pellet food for fancy goldfish. I make all of my goldfish food as I've just had too many problems with commercial food. That's not to say that fancy goldfish can't thrive on commercial pellet food, but I haven't found one that will work with my fish.

Ryukin are a breed of goldfish that commonly have problems with commercial pellet food. (dirkusmaximus @ flickr)

There are a few different types of gel foods for goldfish. There actually is a commercial gel food mix. You buy the powder and mix in the gel. Mazuri gel food is the one recommended by a lot of people. The 5ML6 composition is good for goldfish older than 3 years and the 58LK or 5M70 compositions are good for younger goldfish. If you do make these, it's always good to add more roughage to the gel food. A good gel food should be opaque.

I like to make gel food using pre-liquified food: baby food. It contains no preservatives as it is made for young children. This is the recipe I use. I originally got it from The GAB, but have since modified it for my own uses.

3 jars 4 oz baby food, green veggies (only 1 sugary*)
1/2 cup boiled hot water
2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
1/2 adult multivitamin (no iron) **
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder **
1 1/2 oz salmon (drained if from can) half a can
1/4 cup finely chopped veggies --> spinach, kale or zucchini work
* I'll explain this in a bit
** optional

Dissolve 2 envelopes of gelatin in 1/2 cup hot, boiled water. Mix veggies, garlic powder, salmon, and crushed pill stuff in a small bowl. Pour gelatin/water mix into the bowl. Stir well. Pour into a flat container so it's about 1/4 inch thick. Put in fridge to set. Once gelled, cut into bite sized pieces.

Cutting into bite sized bits is hard for the smaller goldfish, so I just cut them into 1/2 inch chunks and then cut what I need from the chunks at each feeding.

I lay about a week's worth of food on a plastic wrap sheet, and layer them like this. I end up with one large bag of goldfish food layered in plastic wrap. Lay them flat in the freezer, and pull out a new layer of food per week. The food will sit for a while. My most recent batch will probably last me 6 months.

Now let me explain the first asterisk. Sugary vegetables are things like peas, pumpkin, and carrots. If you don't have many choices, only get one of these and two of leafy, green vegetables like spinach. The "garden vegetable" variety is good. If you can't find them then getting two green beans and one peas is fine.

In order to modify this recipe for young goldfish (under three years old), just add more salmon. Instead of half a can, use the full can. As a general rule you want one part protein to four parts veggies for adult goldfish and one part protein to three parts vegetables for younger goldfish.

Pearlscales like this one also struggle with commercial pellet food and do best on gel food. (locorosa @ The GAB)

If you are a great cook (unlike me) and want to get more creative with your gel food recipes, you can find some of them the goldfish experts at The GAB have created. Betty's Goldfish Gel Food Recipes. If you don't want to try these, the baby food recipe works perfectly fine. I've been relying on it for about a year now and could not have been happier with the results.

I encourage you to try making gel food just once for your goldfish. At the very least it's a fun and interesting way to bond with a pet that you can't cuddle with like a dog or cat.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fish and Thunderstorms

Storms have an effect on our fishy friends (Kevin Rank @ flickr)

Ever wondered why your fish always seem to be more active right before a thunderstorm? Bettas will build larger bubblenests. Loaches swim more frantically than normal. Tetra start breeding behavior. This isn’t just coincidence. Our fish do react to changes in the weather. 

Male golden gourami (Trichopodus trichopterus)
attending to bubblenest (Alberto Garcia @ flickr)
 Most fish in the hobby come from tropical waters where there are only two seasons: wet and dry. During the dry season, the water recedes and all the fish are cramped together. Competition for food and shelter is high. The dry season is ended by huge rainstorms, sometimes called monsoons. These, like any thunderstorms, are preceded by a huge drop in barometric pressure which fish can sense using their swim bladders. Through the millennia fish have learned that these huge drops in the air pressure mean rain and therefore more water is coming. This reduces the competition for food and shelter. With more resources, the parents won’t be in strong competition with their offspring. The adults can reproduce without fear that their offspring won’t be able to find enough food.

Fish also associate the drop in air pressure with reduced visibility at a later time. Storms and heavy rains will dirty up the water both by wave action and the runoff from the hills. As many fish are sight-predators and can’t hunt in murky waters, the drop in air pressure sets off an insane hunger drive. In the wild they ravenously feed until the water starts getting muddy or the thunder scares them into hiding. They do this because the water has can stay muddy for a few weeks at a time depending on the severity of the storm.

Sight predators like oscar (Astronotus ocellatus) and many cichlids have
high food food drives before a storm (Brynja Eldon @ flickr)

So while we may have taken the fish out of the wild, we still can’t take part of the wild away from the fish. Whenever the barometric pressure begins to drop, they still think the monsoons are coming! 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Common Beginner Aquarist Mistakes

Okay, so you've gotten your first tank, and it’s fully cycled. Whew. Glad that ordeal is over. But you have to be careful. There are still a few beginner mistakes that will trip up a new fishkeeper. I’ll recount some of the big ones here and ways to avoid them.

Trusting the pet store implicitly

When you are just beginning you get a lot of advice from a lot of people. Some of it will be good, but some of it will be bad. The majority advice will from pet stores will fall under the bad category. The large chain stores like Petsmart and Petco are notorious for this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say “But this is what the lady at Petsmart told me to do,” when I asked why they were doing something wrong.

It’s actually in pet store’s short-term benefit to give bad advice because it leads to stress on the fish. Stressed fish get sick. And where do you buy medications to cure the illnesses? The pet store. So instead of just making money from the tank, the fish, the décor, and the filter, they also make money on the medications. And they sell a lot of them.

So to be safe, double check whatever advice you get from pet stores. For the most part they are thinking about money not your fish.

German blue ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi),
beautiful but fragile  (sapienssoultions @ Flickr)

Leaving the light on too long

While this usually won’t kill your fish, it will do your tank more harm than good in the long-run. I’ve heard people say they want to use the tank as a night light, but people often forget that fish need sleep, too. They don’t have eyelids and can’t block out light like we can.

All living thing have a circadian rhythm; this is basically your body’s clock. Scientifically it’s a series of hormonal responses that govern a variety of processes in the body from hunger to the need to use the bathroom. It makes you sleepy before you normally go to bed. It’s how your dog always knows when it’s feeding time. Fish have this, too. Part of the circadian rhythm is the day/night cycle. The circadian rhythms of fish are directly related to the amount of light. These changes in light govern things like metabolism, sleep, and breeding behavior. Sleep in fish is induced by an absence of light much in the same way as with humans. Without a period of darkness the hormones that govern these processes won’t be produced. As a result of this, the fish won’t live a normal existence.

Excess light in the aquarium will also lead to outbreaks of algae. Some algae is normal. No healthy tank is without it. But when it starts to take over the walls and coat the décor, it becomes a nuisance. One of the easiest ways to get rid of algae is to reduce the amount of light coming into an aquarium which usually means reducing the amount of time the tank light is on. This leads me to my next point.

Getting a fish to “clean the tank”

There is no fish that will do this for you. Algae eaters (and not all fish that are advertised as such will eat algae) may physically remove the algae, but it’s not gone. They just convert it into poop. This poop decomposes to become ammonia which is algae fuel. Combine this with the lights being left on too long and you have a recipe for even more algae.

I’ve also seen people get substrate fish like cories and loaches for the purpose of cleaning the tank. They want something to eat the food the other fish miss. But when these fish aren’t given some kind of supplement they often die of malnutrition (yes it is possible to underfeed). All fish in all levels of the aquarium must be fed. Even the true algae eaters like the oto catfish and farlowella catfish need supplements from time to time.

I’ll take this moment as aside to talk about the fish that are commonly sold as algae eaters and the problems most come with. These fish include plecos, Siamese algae eater, Chinese algae eaters, and oto catfish. These fish are often “buyer beware” as the labels in the pet store rarely tell you everything you need to know about them. Plecos only graze algae when they are juveniles and actually become predatory scavengers as they age. The adults need levels of protein similar to most community fish. They often achieve this by latching on to the sides of slower moving fish like discus and goldfish. Some species like the bristlenose (Ancistrus spp) will stay small enough for a regular community, but the fish commonly traded as “common pleco” will get over a foot long and need a very large aquarium. 

Young male bristlenose pleco (public domain)

The Siamese Algae Eater (SAE) is another one that can cause problems as there are three fish traded under this name: true SAE (Crossocheilus langei), false SAE (Garra cambodgiensis), and flying fox (Epalzeorhynchos kalopterus). All of these fish look remarkably similar, but have different behaviors. The true SAE and false SAE are both peaceful provided they are maintained in groups of more than 5 individuals, but false SAE won’t eat algae like the true SAE. The flying fox is the bad apple; they are rather nasty to members of their own species and any other fish that likes to be near the substrate. They hardly ever touch algae. The name of the Chinese algae eater (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri) is rather misleading as it won’t eat any algae either. It’s also rather aggressive and not recommended for either a community aquarium or algae control. Oto catfish are actually very good at keeping an aquarium free of algae, but they are a rather fragile fish and still need supplements to be healthy. 


It’s another major problem that plagues the new aquarist. Every single time you walk by the aquarium, the fish are at the front, and they’re begging for food. They always look so hungry, and you want to feed them. Just because fish look hungry doesn’t mean you should feed them. It’s a good thing that your fish are acting hungry. A hungry fish is a healthy fish. But overfeeding can change that.

When you overfeed (add more than the fish can consume in a minute) then the extra food sits at the bottom and decays. This releases more ammonia into the water and contributes to the overall nitrate level in the tank. The decaying food will also lower the pH in the tank as well as use up oxygen. Even if you remove the uneaten food, the fish will poop more when they are fed more. This poop will also decay and cause the same problems as uneaten food.

Koi begging for food (Barbara L. Hanson @ Flickr)

“But they always look so hungry.” I know. But fish metabolisms operate much differently than a mammal’s metabolism. Because we have to spend so much energy maintaining our core body temperature we need to eat a lot of food. Fish don’t need half the calories we do because they don’t heat their bodies. In fact, most healthy adult fish can go about 2 weeks without eating and still remain fine.

Messing with water chemistry

I’ve seen a few beginners make this mistake, but not as many as you would think. Sometimes the pet store employees encourage the purchase of products to stabilize pH, and other times people just see them and assume they are necessary because they believe a perfectly neutral pH is essential for fish. In most cases these products are not needed at all and can actually harm the fish by creating a constantly changing environment as they rarely ever stabilize the pH. Fish are adaptable, and many of the best beginner fish will adapt to any pH within a normal range (6.0 – 8.0). Stable water is always safer than water with a rapidly changing pH.

Adding too many fish at once

This is probably the second most common mistake after trusting the pet store. Too many fish added to a tank too fast will cause problems in any tank, even the established tanks of old pros. Adding a lot of fish at once creates a large influx of ammonia. The beneficial bacteria that comprise a cycle don’t replicate that fast and need time to adjust to large changes. In the meantime, the ammonia is poisoning your fish. Whenever you add fish, you will have an increase in ammonia, but if you add them a few at a time, the influx will be small enough that the plants and bacterial colonies can easily take care of it and grow accordingly.

In an uncycled tank, adding a large amount of fish can be deadly. They will be producing ammonia at a fast rate and there will be basically no bacteria to take care of it. Ammonia levels can rise to fatal amounts within a matter of days. This is called new-tank syndrome. It’s easily avoidable by either cycling the tank with a small number of very hardy fish or by cycling the tank before you add the fish.

Harlequin rasbora shoal (Chantal Wagner @ flickr)

The most important thing to remember is this hobby is about patience. I've heard it said that nothing good happens fast. Plants and fish don’t grow overnight and neither do the good bacteria. If you need a “fish fix” in the meantime, join a fish forum and talk to other hobbyists!

Works Referenced

10 Biggest Mistakes in Fishkeeping.” Updated: 2 December 2011. Retrieved 1 Aug 2012.

Helfman, G. S et al. 2010. The diversity of fishes, second edition. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.

Zhdanova, I. V. and S. G. Reebs. 2006. Circadian rhythms in fish. Pages 197 - 238 in K. A. Slowman, editor. Behaviour and Physiology of Fish, vol 24. Gulf Professional Publishing. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jewels of the Rift

I decided to take a little different approach to my post this week. I've found a series of videos that comprise a documentary about the great rift valley lakes of Africa. Many of the cichlids commonly found in the aquarium trade come from these lakes. I'm not a big fan of cichlids, but I still found these videos fascinating. Watch and enjoy!

I do not own any of these videos. They were made by National Geographic.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Visitors to the pond

Not only does my pond give my family and me great joy, but a number of wildlife get nourishment from it, too. I've seen deer dart away as I approach and have observed birds bathing and drinking from the waterfall. I've  been lucky enough to have my camera handy now and then to capture these visitors. Some, I have seen many times, and others were just fleeting glimpses.

This leopard frog (Lithobates spp) or at least his relatives have been at my pond for years. On rainy summer nights we can hear them croaking to each other. I've seen them in the upper stream and the main pond. The smaller ones tend to stay above the waterfall. 

Dragonflies are another common sight at my pond. They are a welcome guest as they are ravenous predators of mosquitoes. Very rarely do I see them stop like this. They are usually zooming around and thus I don't often get a chance to ID them. This little beauty is a member of the Libellula genus. Species is really difficult to determine without a closer examination, but I wasn't about to disturb this little guy. 

The eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) was a pleasant surprise when I went out one morning to feed the koi. Unlike the frogs and dragonflies, this guy sat still for a while and even let me walk back in the house to grab my camera. Turtles are much less common at my pond, but I do see some from time to time. This was actually my second of the year. 

I also have juvenile salamanders that call my pond home. They live in the upper pools as any in the main pond would quickly get eaten. I have never seen the adults that obviously lay the eggs year after year (I have different sizes of juvenile), but come they must because I see the results. 

I'm happy that my pond also serves as a hub for local wildlife. It gives me a chance to observe them up close and it adds to the natural feel of the pond. I wanted the most natural-looking pond I could build, and I got just that. I couldn't be happier. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What I would do differently with my pond

Not often in life do you get a chance to do things over. Hopefully, in 20 or so years, I will get a chance to build another pond. The construction and maintenance of my pond has taught me many things. Some lessons were learned the hard way, and others have just been slow realizations.

What I will repeat


My pond is roughly 4000 US gal and only has 6 koi in it. There are a lot of different stocking ideas, but even by the most conservative levels, my pond is understocked. As a result of this, I have never dealt with disease. The next time I have a pond, it will most certainly have no more than one koi per 500 gallons.

Canopy cover 

I built my pond on the edge of a forest. Granted, this did make the actual construction a bit of a hassle, but the end result is a wonderful canopy of leaves that cover my pond. Despite the temperatures commonly soaring above 90F at my house, the water never got warmer than 80F. The canopy also shields my pond from herons. I live less than a mile from a river and have never had problems with them. The only problem the canopy does bring is in winter, I must have my pond covered with a leaf net or it gets really clogged. This is a small price to pay for everything the shade does.

What I will change

Contacting a professional 

I started to dig my pond on my own. I planned my pond on my own with rather little knowledge of how these things really work. While digging, we realized that bringing in a professional water feature constructor would be a much better idea. I believe that’s one of the reasons my pond looks like water garden instead of a hole in the ground. Next time, I will bring in a contractor from the start.

Bog system 

I originally designed the pond to be aesthetically pleasing. I wanted it to look like a natural stream with the water flowing in from a waterfall and then out down another channel. It really does have that appearance. But this has also caused some problems for me. The idea behind the bog system is to have it be water storage area. It’s supposed to hold an extra 300 gallons of water and make sure the pump is always submerged. It also provides a shallow bog area to grow plants like rushes, cattails, and others. The main purpose of these plants is to be a nutrient sponge. However, these plants need full sun which my bog doesn’t get. My bog is also not large enough to have a lot of these plants. Next time, I will build a larger bog much closer to the pond and shorten the stream or completely forgo it.   

Changes to the upper stream 

I really like the setup I have with the large waterfall, but I think with the next pond I want to elongate the upper stream and make the first pool much larger. This will also give me more landscaping options, and I would like to put a path and a bridge over the upper stream. A larger pond will also allow more salamanders and frogs to live in my pond. These animals eat insect larvae and are also an indicator of water quality.

More plants 

Right now I only have about 3 species of pond plants. I would like to add more, but there just isn’t the room or the sunlight. More plants will make the water cleaner and out-compete with the algae. Plus, I love the look of floating plants. The way I have the body of the pond set up now, floating plants just don’t work well. And I would also love some lilies, but again not enough sun. I would like to plan my pond so that some parts will get enough sun for lilies. This will also mean having a larger surface area. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My Tanks: 22 July update

So almost a month later, a lot has changed with my tanks. But all of the changes have been for the good.

The amazon sword has done well in the goldfish tank. I'm thinking about adding a root tab to boost it's growth; I would really like two huge swords in that tank. The hornwort has also taken off. It's really helped bring down the nitrate level in the tank. I will certainly need help with that when I add the newest goldfish to the tank.

The biggest change is the betta tanks. I ordered a double-decker stand and stacked them. Basically I can fit two tanks in the space that one would normally take, and run both filters from one air pump. I highly recommend this for anyone who is having trouble finding places for more tanks. I got the stand from for a very reasonable price. They come in sizes up to 55 gallons and are of a rather sturdy make. Industrial strength shelves also work if the tanks aren't going to be on display such as what you would find in someone's fish room.

So the other day I went into Petco looking for something (can't remember what), and I made the mistake of looking at the bettas. I saw this beauty a halfmoon king betta being sold as a plakat halfmoon. Kings usually sell for $25 around here, but I got this beauty for only $14 because he was miss-marked. His name is Lapis, but my mother likes to call him Captain America because of his patriotic colors. He is currently in the 29 gallon.

The changes to my 29 gal community were the most challenging ones. Removing the gravel and then adding the sand was a pain in the rear (and back and head and knees). The sand just didn't want to work with me. I used Estes Ultra Reef, and it looks great (it's also really soft so it won't hurt the kuhlies). I don't care what anyone says, it should be at least rinsed before going into the tank. At the very least it gets rid of a lot of air bubbles (which was my main problem). I've also added pygmy chain sword (Helanthium tenellum), dwarf sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata), and Rotala indica that I bought from (very pleased with their service and quality of the plants and packaging). This is the first step in making this my first fully planted community.

My baby goldfish is still in QT mostly because I want him to grow more before I add him to the main tank. He's gotten bigger, but still not big enough for me to feel comfortable with him in the big goldies.