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!