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.