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Practical Fishkeeping 03 2018

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TERS & SHIFTERS: Marine cleaners for your substrate
Showstopping barbs for
your community
Issue 3 March 18 £4.50
Top tips for a
peaceful reef
basin biotope
m al
o r Me
lF t
ra ec
tu ns
Na ith I
Aquarium Fish Foods with Insect Meal
Uses cultured insect meal to recreate the natural
less waste - it’s what they have evolved to eat
Environmentally friendly and sustainable - reduces
Have you tried it yet?
Learn from
the best
former PFK editor and
now Evolution Aqua’s
Business Development
Manager. He walks us
through the quirky
breeding of the Splash
tetra on page 56.
curator at the Blue
Planet Aquarium in
Cheshire Oaks. He
offers advice on
breaking up coral fights
on page 50.
works in aquatic retail
and has sold marines for
15 years. He looks at
how to keep your
substrates aired by using
sifters and shifters on
page 96.
New year, new PFK? You’re probably
wondering why I’m on the welcome page
instead of Karen this month. If you’ve been
out of the loop, you won’t know that she’s left
us, taking her highly coveted editing skills to a
fresh challenge on a whole new (non-fishy)
magazine. While this issue is still ‘hers’ I’ve
been chomping at the bit to get my hands on
the welcome page since day one. She blinked
and, well… the rest is history. I’ve witnessed
just how hard Karen has worked on this magazine over the years, and
more importantly just how close she was to it, emotionally speaking.
It’s one thing to edit, but another to edit with love.
This month also marks the end of the long-lived, much-loved PFK
online forum. It had an amazing run over its many years, witnessing
everything from spats (guilty) to couples finding love and even getting
married after meeting on there – plus a whole lot of fish content in
between! I’d like to thank everyone involved in making that forum
what it was – on one hand, the moderators for their tireless efforts in
its smooth running. On the other, each and every one of you who ever
got stuck in to help answer a fishkeeper’s enquiries.
I’ve not left much space for the ‘usual’ welcome, so I’ll be brief. We’ve
got Cherry barbs, Ember tetra, an amazing Thai biotope, rare African
Killifish, a journey back to the Victorian age of aquatics, and all of
your favourite regular features. It has been a busy last issue from the
outstanding Karen Youngs!
40 Tai’s outstanding Thai
34 Ember tetras for
72 New wild
Nothobranchius found.
Nathan Hill, Associate editor
Get more PFK!
aquascaper. He meets
an amazing German
aquascaper with a
praiseworthy tank on
page 22.
Choose a Marine
or Freshwater
bundle when
you subscribe
to PFK – page 48.
Like us on
Follow us @PFKmagazine
Watch us on
Cover image: Peter Maguire
If you want to colour up a
community tank, fancy starting
a biotope project or you’re
thinking about going down the
aquascaping path, you’ll find the
Cherry barbs extremely hard to
After creating a splendid
biotope inspired by a photo of
the Mekong Basin, one talented
aquarist shows that you don’t
need to be totally authentic for a
tank that feels right.
There are silent battles taking
place in your reef tank, as corals
wage a constant war on each
other. Dave Wolfenden looks at
how you can intervene before
things turn deadly.
With reputations preceding them
like their flowing whiskers, some
catfish need no introduction. Bob
Mehen highlights eight of our all
time feline fishy favourites.
Most marine tanks benefit from a
clean up crew to keep substrates
tidy, but exactly which types
of reef janitors are better than
others? Tristan Lougher gives us
a few options to consider...
The latest on how the aquarium
industry is targeting cyanide
fishing, the deepest-dwelling fish
we’ve ever seen, and details of
this year’s Catfish Convention.
Spotted on our rounds this month
were a cheeky mudskipper, a lithe
Leporinus, and a river-dwelling,
flow-loving cichlid.
Fluval’s new mains-powered
aquarium vacuum, Colombo’s
Marine Test Lab and the new
Eheim streamON+ flow pump
In association with
Pretty, polite and perfectly
proportioned Ember tetras, and
how you should keep them.
Enter the fascinating world of
the Splash tetra and its relatives,
a fish you should definitely try
With all the sections of the PFK
diploma in your possession, it’s
time to look back over what we’ve
Here’s what you need to know to
keep on top of unsightly muck
and keep your tank sparkling.
The effects of phosphate on your
aquarium or pond and how to
keep it under control.
Meet aquascaper Jurijs Jutjajevs,
from Germany, who has turned is
skills into a profession.
All your tank and fish pics,
feedback and letters.
Meet a Yorkshire aquarist with
no less than 30 tanks.
An expedition to Uganda to find
a mysterious banded killifish
results in the discovery of an
undescribed Nothobranchius
Some of the world’s top experts
answer your questions.
Choose a freshwater or marine
goody bag when you subscribe.
An insight in to the early days
of fishkeeping for the Victorian
middle classes.
Nathan Hill embraces the wind
of change in what may be his
last tailpiece.
If you want colour for your community
tank, fancy starting a biotope project
or you’re thinking about going down
the aquascaping path, you’ll find
Cherry barbs extremely hard to beat.
Fish of the month
For such small fish,
male Cherry barbs pack
a lot of colour.
arbs have a bad rep, borne from
the falsehood that they nip. While
retailers and publications have
worked hard to highlight the
reality of the issue — that very few barbs
actually nip – the old myths prevail.
Guilty by association, many folks are
drawn in to the intense red of a Cherry barb,
Puntius titteya, only to be repelled once they
see the word ‘barb’ in the name. Let me send
out assurance here and now — Cherry barbs
are not biters. A more peaceful fish you’re
unlikely to find in this whole magazine.
Male Cherry barbs are showstoppers.
With cerise hues from deep and burnished,
to almost neon-light intense, there’s no
naturally occurring freshwater fish that can
rival them. Perhaps one or two marine fish,
but nothing fresh. Combined with dark
checkering along each flank, and sometimes
with a lighter streak running from snout to
tail tip, they are magnificent.
Females? Not so amazing, but only
comparatively. While the males are garish,
the females are reserved, keeping their
deepest red consigned to the anal fin. Still,
the body is a pleasing enough yellow
nectarine hue, sometimes brighter or
darker pending on the light source.
Newcomers are thrown by the exaggerated
differences between male and female. ‘I’ll
have six of the reddest ones’ is a phrase that
every retailer knows. Listen out for it when
you see someone buying Cherry barbs in
your local store and see if you can hear the
subsequent sigh of the person serving, too.
Six of the reddest fish, aside from giving you
a paltry shoal, will serve up a platter of
males alone, and without females to tease
out their colours, they will soon fade.
For those in the know, Cherry barbs are
prized. The aquascaping world has long
understood their worth in adding a stark
splash of red to offset an otherwise verdant
layout. Biotopes can be made for them —
maybe should be made for them to see them
at peak — but the generic farmed fish we
have access to in stores are mostly destined
for communities, where they fit in perfectly.
Cherry garden
Cherry barbs are common enough in tanks.
It’d be nice to imagine that they flourish in
the wild too, but that doesn’t seem to be the
case. In a pre-aquaculture age, before many
of our aquarium favourites were being
churned out by Eastern farmers, Cherry
barbs were often yanked out of their native
habitats. That, along with deforestation and
the pollution that goes hand in hand with
urban sprawl, all played a part in a
population decline. Yet depending on who
you listen to, the fish is either endangered or
quite safe.
Cynical readers may already be on the
IUCN website, scratching their heads. The
Male Cherry barbs are
showstoppers. With cerise
hues from deep and
burnished, to almost
neon-light intense, there’s
no naturally occurring
freshwater fish that can
rival them.
Fish of the month
This wild Cherry has colours
quite unlike the farmed fish.
G Scientific name: Puntius titteya.
G Size: 4–5cm.
G Origin: Sri Lanka.
G Aquarium size: 60 x 30cm footprint
for a group; 54 l volume.
G Water requirements: Soft and slightly
acidic to neutral. Ideally aim for
6.5–7pH and try to keep hardness
below 12°H.
G Temperature: 20–27°C.
G Feeding: Flake, live and frozen
Daphnia, Artemia, Calanus and
bloodworm. Carotenoid rich food will
really bring out that red colour.
G Availability and cost: Very common;
from around £2.50.
Temp C
54 l+
Keep these fish in
numbers — aim for at
least 12 in your shoal.
IUCN — the International Union for
Conservation of Nature — is the go-to
reference for anyone wanting to know a
species’ wild status. It archives all the fish
we know of and assesses how secure or
vulnerable they are.
Follow the Cherry barb’s IUCN
classification over the years; 1988,
vulnerable; 1990, vulnerable; 1994,
vulnerable, and you’ll see a fish that’s
in trouble. Strange then that the IUCN Red
List published in 1996 had the Cherry
barb down as low risk, albeit on a
conservation dependent basis.
But Sri Lanka, the pear-shaped island
country off of India’s southern tip, and the
Cherry barb’s natural home, begs to differ.
The country has the highest biodiversity
density in all of Asia and a heap of endemic
species – animals and plants that are not
found anywhere else on Earth, meaning the
organisms are vulnerable, and tied to a
narrow range. In 1999 an IUCN report
relating specifically to Sri Lanka classified
the Cherry as “highly threatened” (The 1999
list of Threatened Fauna and Flora of Sri
Lanka). While the report identified as
provisional rather than formal, it rested on
real observations from the field and
assessments by individuals closely
connected to the fish. Those on the ground
told us that Cherry barbs were not thriving.
Yet despite their issues, the Cherry barb
has at least shown that it’s capable of
relocating. While we can’t undo overfishing
in a hurry, we can sometimes swerve fish
away from the worst predicaments and find
them new habitats. As far back as the early
1980s, conservationists were trialling the
relocation of various barb species, including
Barbus titteya as the Cherry was called
then. Within a few years, the Cherries
established themselves within a niche not
dissimilar to the one they’d come from.
Deforestation is a big issue for many fish,
but especially Cherry barbs. Much of their
food is allochthonous, meaning that it
comes from outside the rivers they inhabit,
falling in from the forest above. No forest, no
food. No food, no fish.
The forests they inhabit only occur in the
wet zones of Sri Lanka, across the
southwestern regions, fed by monsoon
winds from the Bay of Bengal and the Indian
Ocean. Rainfall here can be intense,
typically 250cm or more annually. The
north and east of the island remains dry.
Much of the forest clearance was done
under the watch of the old British colonies,
chopping down wood for a global, industrial
machine. Recent years have seen further
damage, especially during the lawlessness
of civil wars — those readers who are savvy
with global affairs might remember Sri
Lanka’s connection to Tamil Tiger activity.
As recently as 2006, little more than 4.5%
of the original forest was still standing.
Since then, conservation efforts have been
implemented, tens of thousands of trees
replanted, and the land once offered for
agriculture is instead under protection. Still,
Cherries aren’t quite in the clear. In 2017 a
huge oil spill was reported in the area, and
the impacts of plans for major river
diversions have yet to be properly assessed.
If you’re panicking at this stage, then don’t.
The fish you see on sale today aren’t wild
caught, or at least not those in the UK.
They’re raised in such numbers on farms
that the labour of sourcing, catching and
transporting them from the wild is a
financial dead-end by comparison. They’re
well managed in the farms, too. Runts are
rare and hybrids not a problem.
Not that the fish won’t hybridise, that is.
Given the right conditions, it’s possible to
cross Cherry barbs with Checkered barbs,
Oliotus oligolepis, but nobody is (to my
knowledge) churning these crosses out.
Deforestation is a big issue for many
fish, but especially Cherry barbs. Much
of their food falls in from the forest
above. No forest, no food. No food, no fish.
Setting up for Cherries
decoration in the form of twigs, branches
and leaves. Despite the leaves that fall, the
water remains clear and mostly free of
acidic staining.
For all the plants above the waterline,
underneath the water things are barren,
though a little marginal growth sprouts up
here and there. Conditions are soft and
slightly acidic, with a range of temperatures
through the year.
We even know the species that live
alongside them. At the extreme end, and not
something you’d recreate at home, you have
the likes of Channa gachua snakeheads –
lurking predators that would no doubt soon
develop a taste for Cherries.
Combtail paradise fish, Belontia signata,
are another neighbour, and although
waspish and untrustworthy in a small
set-up, they might work in a larger one.
The Giant danio, Danio malabaricus, is
another local native which benefits from a
bit of space.
Black ruby barbs, Pethia nigrofasciata, are
another commercially available, farmed fish
that you’d often find in Cherry habitats.
Various Puntius species— keluma and
bimaculatus — may live nearby. Schistura
notostigma loaches may snuffle along the
substrates, while huge (but unsuitable)
Tyretrack eels, Mastacembelus armatus,
wriggle around in the marginal plants.
Setting up a tank just needs to incorporate
elements of the above.
Despite the unavailability of wild fish, you
could still put together a wild tank and the
fish will behave just as they would, had they
been caught in Sri Lanka. Cherry barb
biotopes seem relatively well explored, both
in tanks and in the flesh. In years past,
former PFK editors have even been out
there to see the fish first-hand. Recreating
something accurate is easy enough.
Cherry barbs are stream dwellers, living in
extremely shallow, slow-to-moderate
flowing waters. Look from the air and likely
you wouldn’t spot them — the streams are
shrouded in dense forest canopy making
sunlight exposure minimal at best.
The stream substrates are a mixture of
sand and stones, many of which jut proudly
from the inches-deep water. The forest
canopy supplies much of the natural
The Cherry barbs
available in UK shops
are all captive bred.
in the rear of the tank, that would be a great
way to hide hardware. In a shallow set-up,
filters and heaters become more obvious.
Better still, invest in a natural looking,
resin-moulded tree-root effect backdrop
and hide hardware behind that. By drilling a
couple of holes low down, you can easily
arrange an outlet for a pump and a strainer
to let water through. An internal canister
filter on its side connected to a piece of hose
will give all the flow that you’ll need. Avoid
external canisters here. Speaking from
experience, when they lose their prime, they
can be swines to get running again.
Decorate with coarse sand (fine sand will
be blown about) and rounded cobbles —
river cobbles from a garden centre are my
weapon of choice. Add a few branches and
broken twigs. If you can’t source twigs, get
something like a tangle of Redmoor root and
take a hammer to it. Arrange for some wood
to break the surface, climbing up the
backdrop, and you can use them to hold
Cherry barb habitat in
Sri Lanka.
Try going shallow
For a real project, consider going hypershallow. It may be way outside your comfort
zone if you’ve never tried one, but such
tanks are easy to create.
Getting a tank with a larger than usual
footprint would be an advantage, but not
essential. Because of the reduced water
volume of the shallowness, use something
at least 80cm long. If you can install a weir
The bright red of Cherry barbs comes from carotenoids, an organic pigment found in
foods. They can’t generate it themselves (the only animals that can are aphids and
spider mites) so they need a rich source to stay at their best.
Colour enhanced flake foods will usually contain the ingredient astaxanthin, which is a
rich carotenoid source. However, my own experiences revealed that one of the best ways
to ‘redden‘ Cherry barbs was to use Calanus supplements. Calanus are marine
copepods, bright orange in colour, that carry a huge carotenoid load. If you can source
the frozen varieties, these are taken most readily, but if not, there are Calanus flakes and
powders (great if you make your own food mix) that will do much the same job.
A fish filled with carotenoids has a better immune system, but in Cherry barbs you’ll
see the added benefits of increased displaying and spawning. Even though females are
paler than males, males will choose the reddest females to spawn with.
If you can’t get Calanus, a healthy balance of flake foods, Daphnia, Artemia, Cyclops
and bloodworm will still go a long way to keeping them intense.
The role of carotenoids
Fish of the month
Females in spawning
condition will be plump
with eggs.
Spawning takes place in
the early morning.
Will they spawn?
Breeding Cherries is quite possible, but you’ll need a dedicated
tank. Use a 45 x 30cm all-glass tank with a small, air-driven
filter. Scatter the base with marbles or large-grain gravel,
enough to allow eggs to fall to the base of the tank without the
adults reaching them. Fill it with water that’s slightly acidic and
set it a degree warmer than the main tank.
Condition the Cherry barbs in advance with lots of live and
frozen foods. You’ll see the females becoming distinctly plump
as they fill with eggs, while the males’ red intensities will soar.
Select a couple of pairs and move them to the breeding tank.
Spawning will take place in the early morning, with eggs
dropping safely to the bottom — like other barbs, these are egg
scatterers. When the females are thin again, and you can see
eggs under the marbles, move the parents back out and sit back
for 48 hours until the fry start to hatch out.
Start feeding the fry from the start, with Liquifry and infusoria,
moving on to microworms and eventually Artemia nauplii.
Surprisingly, given their niche
habitat, feral populations
of Cherry barbs released by
aquarists have established
themselves successfully in
Mexico and Colombia.
terrestrial plants. If you really want plants
under the water consider a few small
Cryptocoryne. Personally I’d leave this tank
bare and position ferns into the wood above.
If you can place them so that the roots reach
the water they’ll thrive. Attach a little Java
moss or similar around the waterline of the
decor with superglue — and it’ll grow both
into and above the water.
Provide enough light for your plants, but
don’t go beyond that. Brighter light will just
lead to shy fish, defeating the object.
Go for soft water. Ideally you want a pH
around 6.8, but you don’t want anything
hard. While farmed fish are tolerant of
carbonates, in a shallow tank with a reduced
water level you’ll rapidly develop a line of
scale around the water’s edge, ruining the
effect, so use soft for selfish reasons. Plump
for a temperature between 20–27°C.
Go for a decent group of 12 fish, with one
male per three females. They’ll not shoal
together, but will form loose clusters, with
the most dominant male taking on the
deepest colours and showing off to both the
ladies and the subordinate males.
Or just buy a shoal for a community tank. I
promise they’ll still look amazing in it. If you
do, go for something heaving with plants,
contrary to the suggested biotope layout. As
aquascapers know, they colour up more
when there’s lots of greenery about.
Latest news and events from the world of aquatics.
Aquarium industry targets
cyanide fishing
Scientists are a step closer to ending the deadly
and destructive practice of illegal cyanide
fishing, thanks to new research.
The use of cyanide to stun and capture fish for
both the ornamental and food trades is still a
problem in tropical seas, particularly in the Coral
Triangle region, despite governments
introducing laws against it.
It involves dissolving cyanide in either bottles
or drums and using it to stun fish living within
the coral reefs, making them easier to catch. But
it has detrimental effects on the fish, coral reefs
and the fishers involved.
Now, two separate reports commissioned by
the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association
(OATA) and the company behind the global
chain of Sea Life aquariums have helped to
bring a validated test for cyanide usage
a step closer.
A robust detection test will accurately detect
whether cyanide has been used in a targed way,
distinguishing it from background levels
already present in the environment from
other sources.
Ben Spinks of the Sea Life network’s Marine
Animal Welfare and Development office in
Weymouth, Dorset, said he and his colleagues
were keen to find a way of ensuring no
cyanide-caught fish ended up in Sea
Life displays.
“This is an aspiration we share with OATA,
which wishes to prevent such fish reaching
high-street aquatic suppliers and their
customers,” he added.
Dominic Whitmee, chief executive of OATA
said: “This illegal practice tarnishes our
industry’s reputation. Like Sea Life, we want to
see it ended and to trade only in legal and
sustainably caught fish.”
So the two bodies have collaborated. Sea Life
owner’s Merlin Entertainments has
commissioned a detailed analysis of various
detection methods and OATA has funded a
study on how cyanide is metabolised in fish to
find the best indicator of exposure to test for.
Both reports were carried out by executive
agency Cefas (Centre for Environment,
Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), with the
Fish Health Inspectorate acting as an
independent co-ordinator.
“It was important to have this independent
assessment, and the results give us a clear path
towards our goal of having safe, reliable tests
that are robust enough to stand up in court, that
can help to end illegal cyanide fishing
permanently,” said Dominic Whitmee. “They
tell us what is now necessary to establish
‘baseline’ background cyanide levels for each
region and what the best indicators to test for
are. They also offer recommendations as to
which test methods offer the most promise for
laboratory or field tests.”
OATA and the Sea Life chain will deliver
both reports to industry colleagues and call
for their support, as well as that of key research
centres. “These reports represent the best
science currently available in the field and we
hope they will galvanise all those already
involved in the development of the tests,” said
Dominic Whitmee. “OATA continues to do what
we can to help find a solution to this problem but
we need everyone with an interest to come
together and collaborate to find a solution.”
“The livelihoods of many thousands of
families are at stake,” Ben Spinks added. “There
are 370 million people living in the Coral
Triangle, stretching from Malaysia and the
Philippines to Indonesia and the Solomon
Islands, and most rely on the ocean. It is
important for their futures, as well as for the
reputations of the aquarium trade, that we move
as quickly as we can to eradicate illegal cyanide
fishing and help safeguard the health of the
marine environment in the region.”
Cyanide fishing is a highly
damaging practice for the reef and
the animals that live there — and
also for the fishers themselves.
The Catfish Study Group’s 2018 Convention takes
place over of the weekend of March 23–25, 2018.
The venue will be The Kilhey Court Hotel, Chorley
Road, Standish, Wigan, Lancashire, WN1 2XN. This
is a superb four-star hotel with a conference room
that holds up to 300 people. There will be trade
stands, specialist societies and sales tanks set up
over the weekend.
The speakers for the 2018 CSG Convention
will be:
O John Lundberg: Curator, Academy of Natural
Sciences of Drexel University, USA
O Raphael Covain: Natural History Museum of
Geneva, Switzerland
O Rupert Collins: UK
O Norman Behr: Germany
O Michael Hardman: Finland (ish!)
O Plus a joint talk by regular conventioneers
Steve Grant, Jamie Horne, Allan James and
Richard Smith.
There will also be an
opportunity to visit one of the
best catfish retailers in the UK
— Pier Aquatics in Wigan.
Early bird bookings (by January 21) will receive a
discounted rate on convention tickets (£25 for the
weekend or £20 per day for residents; £35 for the
weekend for non-residents).
If you want to stay for the weekend (b&b and
evening meal included), room rates per night are
£90 per delegate if single occupancy or £70 per
delegate in a shared room.
OYou can find more details and download the
convention booking form at:
Get to meet other
catfish enthusiasts.
Pic shows Corydoras
Didcot aquatic Meet the deepest fish in the ocean
store to close
An aquatic shop in Oxfordshire is closing its
doors after more than 40 years.
Vic Thomas has run the Angel Aquarium and
Pet Centre with wife Cindy in Brasenose Road in
Didcot since 1973, but at 75 years old, he’s
decided it’s time to retire. The shop will close in
the new year, after which the premises will be
taken over by a printing company. Vic says:
“There’s some sadness to give it all up, it’s been
my life for so long. It feels like the right time to
step away from it now. But I will always stay
interested in people’s pets and the industry.”
This little snailfish thrives at depths of up to
8,000 metres/26,200ft — that’s almost five
miles deep! It’s found in the Mariana Trench
near Guam and it’s just been given an official
name by the international team of researchers
that discovered it.
The Mariana snailfish, Pseudoliparis swirei, is
the deepest-dwelling fish that’s been collected
from the ocean floor. Mackenzie Gerringer, of the
University of Washington’s Friday Harbor
RIGHT: A CT scan of the Mariana
snailfish. A small crustacean (the green
shape) can be seen in its stomach.
Image courtesy Adam Summers/
University of Washington.
Laboratories says: “They don’t look very robust
or strong for living in such an extreme
environment, but they are extremely successful.”
Snailfish are found at many different depths in
marine waters around the world, including off
the coast of San Juan Island, where Gerringer
is continuing research on the family of fish. In
deep water they cluster together in groups and
feed on tiny crustaceans and shrimp using
suction from their mouths to gulp prey. Little is
known about how these fish can live under
intense water pressure, which at that sort of
depth would be similar to an elephant standing
on your thumb!
BELOW: Mariana snailfish, Pseudoliparis
swirei. Image courtesy Mackenzie
Gerringer/University of Washington,
University of Hawaii.
All around
This month we look at fish from three separate continents,
all unique and all needing a little extra care if you want to
keep them in the right way.
What a boring name for a fish that’s a living circus. I prefer
the alternative — Boddart’s goggle-eyed goby — but I bet you
won’t see it sold as that.
Mudskippers exploit a niche. You might not know, but
marine sediments are packed with organisms. We all know
about worms, but what about harpacticoids? ‘Harpacs’ are
silt-dwelling copepods and there are thousands of different
types, all wriggling about thinking they’re safe in the
substrates. Well, not when goggle-eyes are about.
Mudskippers munch them left, right and centre.
These fish are euryhaline, able to withstand full strength
marine and completely fresh water, but do best in a
brackish set-up. To keep them properly, you’ll have to have
a tank with deep substrates that they can burrow in. That’s
not exactly straightforward in a tank, so maybe improvise
with catfish tubes or lengths of pipe with the bottom
ends plugged.
You’ll need a tank with a well-fitting hood — these things
can climb vertical panes of glass. And it’ll need to be part
water, part land. Given any chance of a makeshift island,
they’ll be out, as I found when I put my hand in the tank to
move something and had skippers straight up my arm.
They’re territorial as hell, and you’ll want to set them up in
a species tank, but they are so, so fun.
Seen at
Neil Hardy
Fish in the shops
Scientific name: Boleophthalmus boddart
Size: To 22cm.
Origin: Mainly coastal India and southern
China, also found in the Persian Gulf.
Aquarium size: Minimum 120 x 45cm
Water requirements: Brackish water, hard
and alkaline: 8.0pH, >5g per litre salt.
Temperature: 25°C, ensure high air
temperature as well as water.
Temperament: Territorial, not suitable for
Feeding: Live and frozen Mysis, Krill,
Artemia, Calanus and some spirulina and
other algae foods.
Availability and cost: You’ll need a very
specialist store for these. Prices to be
confirmed as these are still at a wholesale
Temp C
Tank volume
240 l+
There’s a big handful of aquarists who are very attached to
Congochromis — and rightly so. If you’ve been around the
block, got tired of Apistogramma, did all you could with
Malawi mbuna and had your fill of Central Americans, then
these Congolese fish could plug that cichlid-shaped hole in
your life.
Congochromis are rheophilic, so they like a layout with a bit
of flow. They’re from shallowish rivers, around 100cm deep
under thick forest canopies and surrounded by dense patches
of marginal plants. So that’s what you’re trying to recreate.
These are blackwater species, living where the environment
has been stained a rich red and conductivity is low. You want
RO water, plenty of leaf litter and a switched on approach to
regular water changes — remember, at an extremely low pH
biological filtration struggles to take place. It probably
wouldn’t hurt to crack the flow up a little, too, if you can do it
without blowing the leaf litter everywhere.
This isn’t one for the everyday community, but if you’ve got
the contacts to track you down some small Congolese tetra
and maybe a few killifish, you’ll have a great communitope.
G Scientific name: Congochromis sabinae.
G Size: Males to about 7cm, females to
about 5cm.
G Origin: Various points around the Congo
river system.
G Aquarium size: Minimum 60 x 30cm
G Water requirements: Very soft, very
acidic water: 4.0 to 6.2pH, hardness
below 4°H.
G Temperature: 25 to 27°C.
G Temperament: Territorial, will leave
non-cichlids alone.
G Feeding: Flakes will be taken, along with
live and frozen Daphnia, Cyclops,
bloodworm and Tubifex.
G Availability and cost: Pop up from time
to time in specialist, backwoods
retailers, starting around £25 each.
Temp C
Tank volume
54 l+
Seen at
Neil Hardy
Fish in the shops
Big(ish) and active, the Leporinus of South
America are related to but not quite the same as
the headstanders. You’ll see fish like these often
appearing in habitat videos online, bumbling
about without a care in the world. Amazing the
difference that an open river can make.
In tanks, juveniles are twitchy and get bolder
as they age. As they get bolder they also get
territorial and will chase off their own kind.
They have a fine array of teeth, well suited to
crunching through vegetation, and in a planted
tank they rip plants apart, seemingly just for the
G Scientific name: Leporinus maculatus.
G Size: To around 18cm.
G Origin: Guyana, Paraguay and Suriname.
G Habitat: Flowing creeks over rocks and sand.
G Aquarium size: Minimum 120 x 30cm footprint.
G Water requirements: Soft, acidic to neutral water:
6.0 to 7.2pH, hardness below 12°H.
G Temperature: 22 to 26°C.
G Temperament: Territorial amongst their own, nippy
with long fins and small fish.
G Feeding: Meaty foods all round: flakes, pellets,
bloodworm, Daphnia, frozen Mysis and Krill, small
river shrimp.
G Availability and cost: Hit and miss, some stores
occasionally get them but most don’t. These were
priced at £7.95 each.
sake of it. You need to watch them with long fins,
too, as their curiosity is expressed through
inquisitive nips.
Yet they have a place. Topping out just under
20cm they are superb alongside a larger
community of fish where shoals of smaller
species aren’t an option. In a six-footer a trio can
be kept together safely enough — in that kind of
community, with large loricariids, heavy-set
cichlids and big barbs, these guys will fit in a
treat. Don’t stick them in with stuff like
Angelfish, though. They’ll probably get stripped.
Tank volume
Temp C
108 l+
Seen at
Fish in the shops
Jurijs’ 60cm Nature
Aquarium style set-up.
Reader visit
Meet aquascaper Jurijs Jutjajevs, from Germany,
who has turned his skills into a profession.
t’s always really great to get invited
into other aquascaper’s homes.
German aquascaper, Jurijs Jutjajevs,
has two stunning Nature Aquariums
in pride of place in his modern apartment
based in Frankfurt, Germany. I’ve known
Jurijs for years and we have spent many
hours discussing aquascaping together.
Jurijs’ tanks are immaculate. Both were
still relatively immature on my visit but still
looked amazing, so I could anticipate how
stunning they would be given a couple more
months or so.
Jurijs is no stranger to high-end kit,
running two of the most expensive
aquascaping lights on the market — the
ADA Solar RGB and Lupyled units. The
colour rendition provided by the new ADA
LED unit was among the best I’ve ever seen
on any aquarium. The smaller of the tanks,
an ADA 60-P was running almost 100%
ADA kit. The larger 120cm aquarium had
more customised options.
PFK: The colours in your aquascapes are amazing! What’s
your secret?
JJ: Intense lighting from the ADA Solar RGB LED unit combined with
lean dosing. Also, the substrate might play a role, it’s the new Amazonia
Light soil from ADA, which again plays into lean dosing.
PFK: How do you come up with an aquascape design?
JJ: The original design I created was inspired by a work from Takashi
Amano or one of the Nature Aquarium Gallery staff. I saw a photo by
Marcin Wnuk (Poland) after his 2016 Japan trip. It was one of the first
display aquariums by ADA promoting the new Solar RGB. However, I
rushed it the first time, because I had focused too much on recording
the setting up on video for this aquarium.
After the layout was showcased in Magdeburg (the new location for
the Art of the Planted Aquarium Contest) on the ADA booth I moved
into a new place and neglected the aquarium for a few months.
The picture of the aquarium that I took at the Magdeburg event was
my IAPLC entry 2017 and I really liked it, but I never was happy with the
So, I decided to rescape the aquarium, and basically reused the
hardscape, but arranged it in a better way. I’ve also made some changes
to the original plant layout.
Meet the ’scaper
Name: Jurijs Jutjajevs.
Age: 30.
Occupation: Aquascaper.
Time in hobby: 20 years.
First fish kept: Kuhli loach.
Favourite fish: Dario sp. ‘Black tiger’.
Fish you’d most like
to keep: Discus.
Favourite plant:
aquascaper: Yusuke
The original 60cm
set-up before the re-scape.
G Tank and cabinet: ADA 60P (60 x 30 x 36cm) with Cube
cabinet (glass).
G Lighting: ADA Solar RGB (130W LED) eight hours.
G Filtration: ADA Superjet ES300.
G CO2: Pressurised system with solenoid.
G Substrate: Full ADA system with Aqua Soil Amazonia Light.
G Fertilisers: Full ADA system.
Takashi Amano (centre)
oversees the setting up of
the Floristas Submersas
aquarium in Lisbon.
PFK: Do you ever experience algae issues? What are your best
tips to help against algae?
JJ: I always have pretty strong diatoms in the beginning, but they go
as fast as they come. My best advice to handle diatoms is: no liquid
nutrients, a short lighting period and introduce algae eaters. Nerite
snails and Amano shrimps are a great combination.
PFK: You use a lot of ADA products. Do you find them better than
other brands in terms of growing plants?
JJ: ADA offers a simple and user-friendly complete system. I mostly
like ADA products for their design — the new fertiliser bottles almost
look like perfume bottles. But it’s not only the looks, I like, it’s also the
nature aquarium philosophy that is in the brand. There are no
unnecessary elements. All the focus is on having the best possible
result inside the aquarium and nothing should distract from it. The
filters are built to last and everything else is the best quality possible.
PFK: You were involved with the construction of Floristas
Submersas (Forests Underwater) in Lisbon — the huge 160,000 l,
40-metre long Nature Aquarium and last creation from the late
Takashi Amano. Can you give us an insight into what that was like?
JJ: It was a once in a lifetime experience — something that I will
probably tell my kids and annoy them with. It was a huge privilege to
be involved in this project and I feel great honour every time I see
pictures and videos of this majestic aquarium. It’s almost three years
on and I can still remember which stones I put in, which driftwood I
attached moss to — everything.
It started like an adventure but on the first day everyone quickly
understood we were there for work and not for fun. Every detail was
planned, sketched and scheduled by the Japanese. They have drawings,
sketches and 3D models of every part of the aquarium. The plants have
been planted with 1:1 sized planting maps showing the distance
between each plant. You can find a written diary of this event with
lots of pictures and all related videos on my German blog (Google Translate can help you.)
PFK: The German aquascaping scene is much larger than ours in the
UK. Any ideas why this might be?
JJ: It is probably because of the historical tradition with aquatic
gardening. Also, the Dutch Aquarium Society was very strong in the
past and probably had a great impact on Germany.
PFK: You’re very well known on social media. What benefits does
social media bring to aquascaping and to you?
JJ: Social media is a great place to connect with other like-minded
people from all over the world. You might be the only one into
aquascaping from your city, but there are thousands in the world and
social media brings people together. I have friends all over the world.
Not just Facebook friends, but people who I have actually met on my
trips to different countries.
Also, social media allows me to share my knowledge and passion for
G Water: Full RO with added minerals.
G Hardscape: Frodo stone and Manzanita wood.
G Plants: Glossostigma elatinoides, Microsorum ‘Trident’,
Cryptocoryne wendtii ‘Green’, Cryptocoryne beckettii ‘Petchii’,
C. wendtii ‘Tropica’, Rotala sp. ‘Vietnam H’ra’, Ludwigia palustris, Persicaria sp.
G Fish: Dario sp. ‘Black tiger’, Gold ram, Green neon
rasbora,Flame tetra, Chilli rasbora, Nerite snails, Bee shrimp.
G Tank and cabinet: Custom (120 x 50 x 40cm) with
custom cabinet.
G Lighting: Lupyled TheONE 0.116.
G Filtration: Oase Biomaster 250.
G CO2: Pressurised system with solenoid.
G Substrate: Tropica Plant Soil.
G Fertilisers: Tropica Specialised, 20ml per week.
G Water: Full RO with added minerals.
G Hardscape: Frodo stone, Ancient Juniper wood
G Plants: Bucephalandra ‘Red’ and ‘Wavy’, Microsorum ‘Trident’,
Cryptocoryne balansae and C. undulata ‘Red’.
G Fish: Ember tetras, Dwarf corys, Nerite snails, Amano shrimp.
aquascaping with everyone in the world. For the aquascaping
community social media also offers a platform everyone can share their
work and get feedback. Ask questions and get them answered.
PFK: You’re a well-known professional aquascaper. Do you find
having your own aquascapes at home too much work sometimes?
JJ: Back in the days when I used to have a dozen plus maintenance
customers, I literally got tired of my own tanks at home and there was a
time I had none at all. Over the years my work situation has changed
and I’m happy to have my own set-ups at home again, although I travel
a lot and so I try to stick with easy maintenance set-ups only. I currently
have two aquariums set up, one empty and another waiting in the
pipeline, so it will be a total of four. And for 2018 I have put together
a tough schedule for myself, such as when I’m going to rescape
each tank.
PFK: What’s your best advice for a beginner?
JJ: Set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and
Timely. Perhaps you want to get the plants growing — or just a specific
plant. Or maybe you want to overcome and master the algae, or achieve
a certain look or a new layout style. Don’t try to go for perfection. There
will always be something you could have potentially done better.
If you follow the SMART formula, you should rescape your aquarium as
often as possible after each goal has been achieved. This is the best way
to learn and improve your skills.
If you are a beginner aquascaper with only one aquarium, this advice
is crucial — you are unable to try out different ideas in different set-ups
and messing about constantly in the same aquarium to try out your
Reader visit
Decor emerges from the
water in this open-topped
My work situation has
changed and I’m happy to
have my own set-ups at
home again now. But I travel
a lot, so I try to stick to easy
maintenance set-ups only.
Ember tetras in the
larger set-up.
ideas is unlikely to lead to success. So, try to completely rescape it two
or three times a year. This way you will repeat certain techniques, like
creating the hardscape layout, going through the cycling period and
overcoming algae issues. You can reuse the substrate, hardscape and
plants if you want, or swap some with friends locally or via social media
— there are plenty of possibilities these days to trade hardscape and
plants for people who seriously want to learn all about aquascaping and
improve their skills dramatically.
PFK: How can readers see your work and get hold of you?
JJ: Thanks to my wide presence on social media, it is difficult to miss
me nowadays. Simply google Jurijs Jutjajevs or Jurijs mit JS and look for
the same on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
More content can be found soon on or with help of
google translate on
Gold ram.
Jurijs’ larger
120cm aquascape.
Planting layout of the
60cm set-up.
60cm set-up
Daily: ADA fertiliser series, check
CO2, check filter, check temperature,
feed fish.
Weekly: 50% water change, clean
glass, trim plants as required.
Monthly: Clean filter.
120cm set-up
Daily: Check CO2, check filter, check
temperature, feed fish.
Weekly: Dose Tropica fertiliser, clean
glass, trim plants if required.
Monthly: Clean filter.
Both set-ups
complement Jurijs’
modern living space.
Reader visit
Black tiger Dario
Scientific name: Dario sp. ‘Black tiger’. This species is now thought to
be a colour form of D. hysginon.
Size: Males to around 3.2cm; females to about 2.8cm.
Origin: Myanmar.
Aquarium size: 45 l for a small group of a male and a couple of females.
Water requirements: Neutral to slightly alkaline water conditions
preferred. Aim for around 7–7.8pH but keep the hardness below 12°H
if possible.
Temperature: 20–25°C.
Feeding: Live and frozen Daphnia, microworms, glassworms and
Artemia nauplii. Won’t usually accept dried foods.
Availability: Not often available — sometimes also sold as Dario sp.
‘Pyjamas’ and Dario sp. ‘Myanmar’.
Rotala sp. ‘Vietnam H’ra’
Type: Stem.
Height: 20cm+.
Origin: Asia.
Growth rate: Medium to fast.
Demands: Low, but stronger illumination and the
use of CO2 will result in a more intense red colour.
Frodo stone and Ju
wood are used to
fabulous effect here.
The place to share your fish, tanks, letters and photos
From the
Tissue cultured plants
will be pest-free.
Find the new PFK chat room at
What fish do you think
is underappreciated in the
hobby? Maybe it’s a stunning
fish that’s so common it
doesn’t get a second glance or
one that should be popular but
for some reason is hardly seen.
Paradise fish, Macropodus
Diamond tetra,
Moenkhausia pittieri.
Massively underappreciated
due to the often drab juveniles
in the shops. Nothing better
than a fully mature male with
their stunning diamond scales
and long flowing violet fins.
When I first saw tissue cultured
aquarium plants in my local
shop — tiny tubs of tiny plants
that cost way more than larger
specimens, I must admit I
couldn’t see the benefit at all.
However, after putting larger
specimen plants in my tank for
immediate effect and then a
few weeks or sometimes days
later, seeing tiny little snails
appear, which then multiplied
over and over, I was beginning to
see what all the fuss was about.
I added an Assassin snail that
eventually got on top of the snail
outbreak, but it took a while, even
when I was removing plant leaves
that had eggs on and some of the
gravel where they were lurking.
The writer of each star letter will win a 250ml pot of their choice
from this quality range of food, which uses natural ingredients.
ONa na na na
The Caped Crusader
may be the scourge
of villains in Gotham,
but the Batman snail,
Neripteron tahitensis,
is far better at
confronting nuisance
algae in the average
community tank.
This one is on patrol in
Rocky Crowder’s tank.
Lipstick barbs, Pethia
Splash tetra, Copella arnoldi.
Ben Barber
Shadow and Debauwi
catfish, Hyalobagrus flavus
and Pareutropius buffei.
Win FishScience aquarium food
The Blind cave fish, Astyanax
mexicanus. Dead easy to keep,
highly unusual, eats virtually
anything, lots of interesting
information on it as it’s the
source of many studies, and
never hides from view. It
doesn’t even care if you keep it
with horrible neon gravel!
Spiny eels — all types
but especially Fire and Tyre
track, Mastacembelus
erythrotaenia and M. armatus.
Now I wouldn’t buy anything
else but tissue cultured plants,
and have learned to have more
patience as some are slow
growing, but boy is it worth it to
have minimal maintenance on
cleaning and water change
days and not spending so much
time removing the little pests.
There are five different ways to get in touch with Practical Fishkeeping: Tweet, like us on Facebook, drop us an
email, join the forum or simply send a good old-fashioned letter: Practical Fishkeeping Magazine
or Practical Fishkeeping Chat Room
Practical Fishkeeping, Media House, Lynchwood, Peterborough, PE2 6EA
OLuscious Loricariids
Loricariid catfish (plecs) are one of the most diverse groups of aquarium fish with dozens
of species regularly available. This magnificent Blue phantom, Hemiancistrus sp. L128,
belongs to Chris Edwards.
Responses to our
question ‘What’s the
best aquarium you’ve
ever seen?’
Jack Heathcote’s
mega tank.
O A Better Betta home
TL Brehm: TheoldBelleIsle
Su Delve: Thegiantkelp
Bradley McGuinness: AAC
Gethin Roberts: Hastobe
Paddy Flint: InAmsterdam
Emily Holden: Florestas
Sophie Washer: Mine.That
Matthew Pederson: I’vebeen
bring my kids to
least that’s what I said whenI
was there (before I even had
kids), and the unique set-upof
DWA is rather enchanting.
While many male Betta splendens spend their lives in solitary
confinement, females tend to be a little less feisty and can be kept groups
in larger ‘sorority’ tanks. This beautiful tank belongs to Sophie Perrett.
Quality control
Is it me or is the quality of fish on sale in the shops
getting poorer? I travel a lot with my job and if there’s
an aquatic shop in the area I tend to pop in. I’ve been
keeping fish for 30 years and what I have noticed over
the past two or three years in particular is an increase
in lacklustre fish and deformed or sickly looking
specimens in many shops.
I’ve also found many of the fish that used to be easy,
downright difficult to keep for more than a few months
these days. Platies, Guppies, Rosy barbs, Neons and
danios are all included in the list of fish I seem to be
unable to keep these days despite regular tank
maintenance and ideal water conditions.
Is it inbreeding that’s creating this weaker stock or
are shops just reverting to the cheapest possible
suppliers? Or is it a mixture of both?
Calming effect
on cats
I recently set up one of my company’s
Somnium Jellyfish aquariums in the cat
section of my local vet’s surgery, and got a
rather unexpected reaction. It has been well
documented and proven over many years that
the health benefits of owning and aquarium
are great for your health and mind, but after
installing the Somnium, vets at the surgery say
they are finding that the cats in particular are
much easier to handle and asses when they
pop in to get treatment.
The effects are not like a sedation by any
means but rather just a calming effect, and a
few cats that hated being seen have now
allowed themselves to be handled and have
full health checks.
Attached are just a couple of quick pics of
the tank in-situ. You can imagine how the
jellyfish really light up and glide in the tank.
(The word ‘Somnium’ means ‘to dream’,
by the way!)
Vet’s surgery
jellyfish tank.
Jimmy Reid: Jack
Are you finding Platies
less hardy these days?
OSweet as Honey
Honey gourami, Trichogaster chuna, are a brilliant choice for smaller, peaceful community tanks. They seldom
reach more than 5cm and can be kept in groups. This ‘golden’ Honey gourami belongs to Carl Baldwin.
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OReefer madness!
Marine tanks can be an expensive addiction,
but Richard Ross’s lush marine tank is packed
with a fascinating and varied selection of
inverts showing that you don’t need dozens of
fish to make a marine tank sparkle.
ADVERTISING Phone 01733 468000
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Fishkeeper: Max Pedley.
Age: 19.
Occupation: Aquatic store assistant.
Whereabouts? Mirfield, West
Time in the hobby: I’ve always been
interested but only been a hardcore
keeper for three years.
Number of tanks? 30.
What attracted you to the hobby?
I’ve always been interested in replicating the
natural environments of animals, and I guess
this leads on to fishkeeping quite well!
What’s your favourite fish?
I think at the moment it would have to be
Apistogramma baenschi (though this changes
weekly!). Other favourites include Channa
andrao, Apistogramma elizabethae and
Ivanacara adoketa.
What’s the most challenging fish
you have kept?
I can’t say I’ve really found a particular
species of fish challenging , though It did take
me a while to finally breed my Apistogramma
bitaeniata, so I guess I’ll go with them.
And the easiest?
Apistogramma panduro! Apart from the fact
that they bicker like married couples, this is a
really forgiving, straightforward species that
makes for an excellent breeding project for
anyone getting into dwarf cichlids.
My current fish
Currently I’m really enjoying keeping
Apistogramma. Species I have at the
moment include pertensis, iniridae,
macmasteri, panduro, trifasciata, nijsseni,
agassizi, bitaeniata, steindachneri,
elizabethae, sp. ‘Nanay’, barlowi, sp.
abacaxis paulmuelleri, cacatuoides,
baenschi and hongsloi .
In my main display tank, I have a large
group of tetras, many of which are
unidentified (newly imported Cardinals
from South America always contain one
or two unknown gems), a few odd dwarf
cichlids including Checkerboards and
Rams and a breeding group of
Rineloricaria parva.
I also have a few other odd bits in the
fish house such as Channa species and a
pair of Ivanacara adoketa.
the appeal of stunning bright colours. You’ll
find that any ’scape I have had influence over
or owned will contain both of those species. I
hope to see suppliers stocking them more
frequently in the future.
Do you have any favourite plants?
Hmmmm, this is a tricky one. I think it has to
come down to either Lagenandra meeboldii
or Nymphaea sp. (red Tiger lotus). I find both
to be really straightforward, while also having
Betta foerschi.
My advice for
Get a handle on how the nitrogen
cycle works and this will give you a
head start in fishkeeping .
Choose fish which will do well
with your tapwater. Get a few years
of experience under your belt before
you begin to alter conditions for
different species.
Save time: Keep your lights on a
timer. You’ll be surprised how long
you spend turning them on and off.
Another tip would be to work out a
way of performing water changes
without having to lug buckets
backwards and forwards.
Max’s plante
d layout.
Things I wish I’d known: Exactly
what I wanted from an aquarium back
when I started fishkeeping. Shop
around and visit stores with good
display tanks. This will help you to get
an idea of exactly what end result you
wish to achieve. When I started out in
the hobby, I thought I wanted a
standard community with fish from all
over. If I had looked around for
inspiration, I would probably have
gone for a more South American
biotope type feel.
Apistogramma hongsloi.
My wish list...
Save money: If you are building a
fish house, insulation is key. Opt for
the best quality you can afford and
this will help you in the long run. On a
more domestic level, I think my best
tip would be to buy pond
dechlorinator — much better value.
Which fish would you like to keep next?
G Apistogramma kullanderi (pictured above). It’s the holy grail of
apistos. One day I hope to own a pair.
G Heckel discus — currently I don’t have the tank space or time I
would need to dedicate to this species in order to truly
appreciate it, but one day I will build an aquarium around a group.
What would be your dream aquarium?
Max is a huge fan of
Apistogramma species.
Heckel discus.
I’m going to have to go back to the Heckel discus. It would be
about 7ft long, rootwood heavy scape with a shoal of Nannostomus
eques cruising the surface. The bottom would be occupied by
catfish of the genus Tatia, with dwarf cichlids roaming the
substrate in search of a tasty morsel (I think A. elizabethae would
look nice). I might even throw in a handful of P. leopoldi angels for
good measure!
Pretty, polite and perfectly
proportioned, the fiery
orange Ember tetra graces
the tanks of fishkeepers
across the globe. Here’s how
to keep this burning beauty.
Once rare, Embers are
now an in-store staple.
Favourite fish
make an appearance. These were the
rarities I desired and one Saturday the
fishkeeping gods obliged in vivid orange. I
had seen the fiery little tetras on a magazine
cover but coming face to face with them in
real life was a seismic shock. The tank label
confirmed it: Ember tetras! These fish were
amongst the first UK imports and came
with a price beyond my spending power.
Sensing disappointment, my big sister
offered a favourable loan and the terms
allowed me to take ten of these glorious new
tetras home.
hile our hobby has been
blessed with some
delightful discoveries over
recent years, few have
since become community tank favourites.
Beyond beauty, there’s a list of potential
hiccups that can affect the popularity of a
seemingly perfect fish. Will it grow too big?
Will it stay too small? Has it got a suitable
temperament? Can it be bred and raised in
commercial numbers? For these reasons,
many species have fallen by the wayside.
Take a walk along the rows of community
fish at your local shop and you’ll be viewing
species that no doubt claimed their position
more than 60 years ago. Having said that,
one treasure that has become established as
an aquarium classic managed to break
through in the 1980s. Pretty, polite and
perfectly proportioned, the Ember tetra
now graces aquarist tanks across the globe.
the thrill of opening that rickety wooden
door and dousing my senses in noise, heat
and smell. This was a world where the
audience were kept in darkness. Every
surface black, every tank a brightly lit stage
for the players.
Despite the abundant supply of money
being fed regularly to his till, I’m sure the
owner of this cavern must have despaired at
my frequent appearances. Most of his stock
became familiar quite quickly but there was
usually also something new to be admired
and appreciated. Unfortunately, funds were
at a premium so I had to content myself
with the lesser creatures. While Neons and
glowlights were pretty, I hankered for
something a little grander.
I travelled with explorer Heiko Bleher
through the pages of aquatic magazines and
on occasion some of the fish featured would
Burning desire
Senses were immediately doused in
noise, heat and smell. This was a world
where the audience were kept in
darkness. Every surface black, every
tank a brightly lit stage for the players.
Some of us become addicted to the hobby
rather quickly and once fishkeeping had
entered my consciousness, finding a cure
became impossible. Every book was
devoured, every magazine purchased. My
theatre was the large damp shed at the rear
of an old fashioned pet shop. The thrum of
an airblower and bubbling tanks would
beckon from yards away, shortly followed by
The perfect resident
This ‘dream’ fish that Heiko Bleher
uncovered has been captivating us for more
than 30 years now. His hope that it would
become a favourite among aquarists
worldwide has certainly materialised and
Despite being tiny,
Embers are still active
Favourite fish
palette. Thankfully, today’s specialist
lighting has improved our fishkeeping
experience no end with a vast choice of
options. If your hood or canopy can accept
several fluorescent tubes I would still look
to deliver a slightly pink hue as this will help
to enhance those orange colours. The full
spectrum offered by LEDs is an impressive
alternative but you may need to tweak the
output a touch as Ember tetras can appear
translucent under brighter conditions.
Setting up home
Adult sizes barely reach
you can now find them in countless shops.
They tick just about every box when it
comes to an ideal community tropical. It
could be argued that a fish growing to little
more than 2cm is slightly small for a tank of
this nature but I’ve kept them with all
manner of similar sized species without
problems. Like many fish of diminutive size,
they will become overwhelmed and lose
impact if you mix them with larger tank
mates, so stick to other small tetras, pencils
and rasboras as companions. Smaller
Corydoras types work well and pairs of
apistos add contrast in the lower reaches.
As with all shoaling species, company is
essential to their wellbeing. How many you
keep all depends on tank size and personal
preference. Although half a dozen would sit
in a nano tank, they won’t be able to express
themselves as nature intended. Ember
tetras may be small but this doesn’t stop
them wanting to stretch their fins and they
school beautifully with space and numbers
allowing. 50 together in tight formation is a
survival strategy for them and a thing of
beauty for us and a traditional 120cm tank
would comfortably accommodate a shoal of
this size. It won’t cost a fortune either - one
of my local shops sells ten fish for £20.
Flowing in a north easterly direction
through Brazil’s Mato Grosso state, the Rio
d M t d ws water from
sources along its
. The network of
ams supplying its
iddle reaches plays
These tetras have a
ost to a diverse range
pleasing effect when set
of fish and one of
them can claim
against a traditional black
Ember tetras as a
background. Couple this with
resident. How these
requirements are
some planting towards the
characins avoided
equally simple and
rear to give them confidence
the twentieth century
around 26°C will suit
until its latter years is
them admirably.
and to encourage them
own to a question of
To get the very best
to gather near the
moteness. Looking
from that uniform
viewing pane.
stream, they appear to
orange, some thought i
ed in a small area
lighting requirements
along the left bank where terrain,
needed. Readers of a certain vintage
habitat and distance between waterways
will remember Grolux light tubes being all
has played a key role in restricting their
the rage when these fish first made an
movements. This environment has also
appearance. Despite limitations in
aquarium conditions, they had a remarkable created tributaries with a slower flow rate
and higher temperatures than those on the
effect on fish tilted towards the red/orange
Embers work well in
small planted tanks.
Illuminating facts
The undemanding nature of these little
characins has played a crucial role in their
popularity. Although soft acidic conditions
occur in nature, they will adapt to whatever
comes out of your tap and with the vast
majority now captive bred, tinkering with
water chemistry is unnecessary.
What’s in a name?
The Ember tetra was described by Drs
Jacques Gery and Andre Uj in 1987. In
a fitting tribute, this new species was
named Hyphessobrycon amandae in
honour of the collector’s mother, Mrs
Amanda Bleher, who had lived in Brazil
for many years and had a great interest
in the aquatic fauna and flora there.
Little Embers
Most of the Ember tetras appearing in
shops originate from breeders and farms in
warmer climes, with a decent sprinkling
from the Czech Republic. Tank bred fish
reared in Europe will usually arrive slightly
larger than those of Far Eastern origin and
are a little easier to spawn. Sexing them is
easy as females are heavier built than males.
While these fish can be spawned quite
readily, raising the fry can prove a challenge.
Their nutritional needs must be fulfilled
with miniscule items for the first week or so
and living organisms are by far the best
solution. Although infusions of various fry
food can be purchased off the shelf, they
can’t compete with creatures that need
hunting down. There is no great mystery to
raising tiny Paramecium and Youtube
videos can show you how it can be produced
in water-filled jars. Once the young fish are
beyond this point they can be fed Artemia
and microworm. Growth isn’t rapid but you
won’t need much space to rear them.
With the convenience of a space heated
hatchery, I was able to spawn pairs of
Embers in 30 x 20cm tanks. This size is
impossible to heat individually so I would
consider a 45 x 30cm more practical with a
50W heater thermostat. Mine were all bred
in rainwater which can still be used if it’s
filtered over carbon first to remove
impurities — an old fashioned air driven box
filter works wonders for this job. After a
couple of days, replace it with floss and add
a few Catappa leaves to the tank. This will
O Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon
O Size: 2cm.
O Origin: Rio das Mortes, Mato Grosso,
O Aquarium size: 45 x 30 x 30cm
minimum for a group.
O Water requirements: The natural
habitat is soft and acidic and these
conditions are best for breeding but
these fish are very adaptable. Aim for
around 6–7.5pH for general keeping.
O Temperature: 25–27°C.
O Feeding: Suitably sized dried foods
along with frozen and live Daphnia,
mosquito larvae and brine shrimp
O Availability and cost: Reasonably easy
to get hold of and usually priced at
around £2 each.
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right bank of the river. With this in mind, I
would be inclined to emulate the natural
flow rates by keeping filter returns turned
White sand dominates the riverbeds in
this region of Brazil and is therefore the only
choice for those wishing to create an
authentic slice of the wild at home. The
downside to this material in aquariums is
that Ember tetras look far better over a dark
substrate. Nature of course knows best but
from an aesthetic viewpoint these fish
appear richer in colour when light doesn’t
reflect beneath them. One solution for
biotope tanks would be a riverbank style of
layout that incorporates plenty of plants
from the region. This clear-water
community could include Echinodorus
martii, Mayaca fluviatillis and the beautiful
Cabomba furcata if you have sufficient light
for its red colour to flourish.
Despite this area being dominated by
savanna shrubland, forests trace the water
courses allowing roots and fallen braches to
form part of the aquatic landscape. This
evergreen tapestry is an essential driving
force for the local ecosystem, providing
homes for a wealth of small invertebrates
that feed into the waterways.
Mosquitos are one beneficiary of this
environment and their larvae are eagerly
accepted by Ember tetras in aquariums.
Live Daphnia are also relished and the
addition of brine shrimp nauplii will really
accentuate that orange pigment thanks to
their colour enhancing carotenoids.
Females become
notably plumper.
Wild Ember habitat, as
recorded by discoverer
Heiko Bleher.
Favourite fish
PFK recommends
Glass tetras, Monkenhausia oligolepis, although not found in
substantial numbers could be included in larger tanks. For
something a little more unusual, Hemigrammus levis and
Serrapinnus piaba might be worth tracking down. Even killifish fans
are rewarded with Melanorivulus zygonectes being present in the
vicinity. You may need some artistic licence with catfish choice as
Otocinclus affinis, Corydoras nanus and C. julii are reportedly found
but are not necessarily the true species.
If you can’t find the similar but deeper
bodied Moenkhausia oligolepis, stock
M. sanctaefilomenae in tanks of 90cm+.
Hemigrammus levis is uncommon in
shops, but it does come in as bycatch
with other tetras.
Gold tetras, Hemigrammus rodwayi,
would look stunning alongside Embers.
The British Killifish Association may help
track down Melanorivulus zygonectes.
Fish sold as Corydoras julii are almost
always C. trilineatus.
There’s an ample choice of tank mates to choose from if you wish to
incorporate them in a regional biotope.
One species that ties in beautifully with the Embers’ palette would
be the Gold tetra, Hemigrammus rodwayi. Wild fish are more striking
due to a trematode parasite accentuating their scales but the farmed
versions shine pleasantly enough. As with many small tetras in the
wild, these different species will occasionally coalesce within
aquariums to produce a delightful mix of colour.
Otocinclus make peaceful tank mates,
but are best added when your set-up
is mature.
infuse the soft acidic water with tannins
before you add the fish four to five days later.
Fed a varied diet, females will soon
become plump with roe. Pick a single pair
and transfer them to your breeding tank in
the late afternoon. The change to sparkling
fresh water will induce their reproductive
instinct and a feisty exchange will normally
preceed egg laying. Look at Java moss or
tight clumps of Hornwort as a natural
spawning medium. When the females begin
to show interest in the plants, males follow
in close proximity and spawning normally
begins within an hour of first light. With
both fish side by side, a rapid flick results in
eggs being laid and fertilised. This will last
for around two hours at which point they
can be removed. Hatching within 30 hours,
the fry will be feeding five days later.
Female Embers deposit eggs in favoured
locations and once hatched, fry will remain
within this safety zone. This allows food to
be squirted into the sanctuary via pipette
over those first crucial days.
This gorgeous set-up was
inspired by a photo of the
Mekong Basin, and it proves
that you don’t have to be
totally authentic for a biotope
to look and feel just right.
Biotope ideas
’m a huge fan of looking at photos of
natural habitats (or if I’m lucky
enough, visiting them) and then
trying to recreate them in an
aquarium. As many of you will know, having
an empty tank in front of you is like looking
at a blank canvas that’s just aching to be
filled with beautiful creatures, decor
and plants.
For me, recreating a piece of habitat in
a glass box in my home is not only a
challenge but incredibly rewarding. A
section of Amazon stream, a Nigerian pool
or an Australian creek in my living room
enables me to transport myself to far off
places while watching the fish go about their
lives naturally. It’s a therapeutic experience.
They don’t care about how bad my day at
work was or the President’s latest tweet —
they also might not care whether I’ve given
them the exact plants that are found on
their section of river in an obscure region
of Borneo or a massive sunken shipwreck.
Having said that, in my experience I’ve
found that giving fish natural surroundings
and what could be described as ‘familiar’
features brings out their best colours and
behaviours. You might scoff and say, “why
would a fish that’s been farm-reared in
Singapore care whether you faithfully
recreate their Peruvian habitat when
they’ve never experienced such conditions
themselves?” Well, all I can say is that
they seem to respond well to accurate
recreations of their natural habitat.
Whether it’s something innate in their
instincts who knows — try it for yourself
and see.
Use your imagination
Attempting to set up a ‘biotope’ tank for fish,
where the aquarist tries to recreate their
natural habitat as best as possible, does not
have to be difficult if you are prepared to
make compromises and use your
imagination. The important thing is to look
at the elements that make up a habitat and
Watching the fish go about
their lives naturally is a
therapeutic experience.
While the plants may
not be right, the look
certainly is!
They don’t care about how bad my
try to recreate them with the resources at
hand. Can’t get hold of that particular lily
from New Guinea? Get one from West
Africa! The fish won’t worry as long as it
provides the cover that they need and if it
helps the viewer to visualise a beautiful pool
with lilies, regardless of the plants’ origin,
then great!
This ability to be flexible is important
because although the hobby has access to
fish and plants from around the world, you
can’t get everything all the time and there is
The real deal habitat
shot of Thailand.
no point in becoming frustrated with a
project and giving up because the seed pods
you’ve added to the tank are from the
Amazon rather than the Congo. Biotope
snobbery is something that really saddens
me; why turn up your nose at someone who
is doing their best to recreate a tank, but has
substituted plants from another area, as
long as the layout and theme is relevant?
A Mekong Basin tank
While browsing the photos of native
habitats posted by a hobbyist from Thailand
on Facebook, I came across one which had a
real impact on me. A bed of low-growing
green lilies stood in front of tall stands of
narrow grasses in clear water. It was crisp,
bright and full of soft textures which were
pleasing to the eye. Straight away I wanted
to recreate it.
There are many plants from the region
to choose from, but sourcing the specific
lilies and Isoetes grasses from Thailand was
near impossible. That was the point where I
had to say, “Okay, what’s the alternative?”
In this case, I went for Nymphoides
hydrophylla ‘Taiwan’ to represent the lilies.
This plant rarely grows more than 20cm
before the leaf sprouts a whole new lily
plant, which in the wild would fall away and
drift off to establish itself elsewhere. In the
aquarium, it can be pinched off and
replanted. These plants grow fast and so a
few can quickly provide you with a near
endless supply of new plantlets. They are
hardy, tolerant of a range of temperatures
and great fillers. Their gentle green colour
and soft textures make them visually very
Biotope ideas
day at work was, or the President’s latest tweet.
Aquatic plant soil is spread out evenly across the tank and water is
added to make it damp. It’s easier to work with damp soil than it is to
try planting in dry substrates.
The plants are carefully planted into the damp soil with planting
tweezers and regularly sprayed to keep them moist. Long spells of
dryness will kill off even hardy aquatic plants.
E. montevidensis is planted from the middle to the back, N. ‘Taiwan’
in the middle to the front and N. gardneriana at the very front. A
single N. zenkeri is planted off-centre in the mid ground.
With the plants arranged the tank is filled and all the hardware fired
up. Take note of the use of glass inlets and outlets (lily pies) for
filtration. These are unobtrusive alternatives to plastic.
appealing and they grow happily without
CO2, but feeding them with
quality fertiliser will
keep them nice and
strong and will stop
them from
For the grasses, I looked to Eleocharis sp.
‘Montevidensis’, a South American plant
found across Southern Brazil, Paraguay,
Uruguay and Argentina. The tall leaves,
up to 50cm, are thick and strong and the
plant readily puts out runners. I have
seen them growing in the wild and they
form dense stands of elegant green
towers, often slowly climbing up the bank
and out of the water. Frequently they sit in
only a few inches of water before being
submerged during the flood season — at
which time their growth slows. Thus, in the
aquarium it is the plant that really benefits
from CO2 injection and though it takes a
little while to establish, once it is happy it
will really go for it! It was the perfect
substitute for the Thai grasses.
I wanted some red to break up the green
and this came in the form of a beautiful
Nymphaea zenkeri. Again, though not
native to Thailand, (it comes from West
Africa), it would still look natural while also
adding something ‘extra’ to the scene.
In order to give the arrangement a more
appearance, I
added a number
of botanicals that I
had been given by Scott Fellman
of Tannin Aquatics. He had provided
a number of seed pods, leaves, bits of
wood and woody-substrate for a previous
tank, all of which originated in the Amazon.
Once added they completed my Thai
biotope perfectly; few habitats will be free
of plant material and detritus and the
Mekong Basin is no exception, full of
waterways stuffed with leaf litter, fallen
branches and other items from the
surrounding forests.
I also added several Brazilian Nymphaea
gardneriana, a low growing, orange-red lily,
to add colour to the front of the tank and
diversify the lower levels.
The fish
From the start, I knew which fish I
wanted to showcase; my school of lovely,
tiny Spice rasboras, Boraras
uropthalmoides — one of the smallest
vertebrate species known to science.
Rarely reaching more than 1.5cm, they
live in large shoals amongst dense
vegetation and leaf litter in a range of
habitats in the Mekong Delta. Records
indicate that they’ve been found in
Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and
G Scientific name: Boraras
G Size: Tiny - 1.5cm maximum.
G Origin: Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand
and Vietnam.
G Aquarium size: 45 x 30cm footprint;
40 l volume or more.
G Water requirements: 6–7pH; hardness
ideally <10°H.
G Temperature: 21–28°C.
G Feeding: Small live and frozen foods
such as Daphnia and Artemia along
with suitably sized dry foods.
G Availability and cost: Relatively
common nowadays, though moreso in
specialist stores. Prices start around
£2.95 per fish. Buy large shoals for
optimal effect, as these are tiny fish!
Tank volume
The little army of shrimp quietly worked
over the substrate and leaf litter,
occasionally parting like the Red Sea for
Moses as a comparatively gigantic
Amano shrimp stormed through
Amano shrimp outsize
their Cherry cousins.
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40 l+
Vietnam. There is a well-known population
living in the canals, pools and ditches that
surround the world-famous temple of
Angor Wat in Cambodia. Photos of them in
the wild show hundreds shoaling through
tall stands of aquatic grasses.
For such tiny fish, staying in large groups
is an important defence mechanism. In a
large aquarium, a group of a hundred or so
could be maintained quite happily. In my
100 l set-up I had 30 and they exhibited
confident behaviour and beautiful colours.
Needless to say, these are not fish that will
thrive in the general community. They are
vulnerable to anything bigger than a platy
and will remain timid if kept in small groups
with other more boisterous fish. They
appreciate dense cover and leaf litter,
through which they dart and search for food.
One of the joys of this underrated species
is watching them tackle live food. A full-size
Daphnia or Artemia is a challenge for these
little fish and the spectacle of the neargladiatorial battles that take place are
incredible to watch — picture Sperm whale
vs Giant squid! I highly recommend that
Scientific name: Trichopsis pumila.
Size: Around 3.5cm.
Origin: Lower Mekong River Basin in
Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and
Aquarium size: 45 x 30cm footprint;
40 l volume or more.
Water requirements: 5–7.5pH;
hardness <12°H.
Temperature: 22–28°C.
Feeding: Small live and frozen foods
such as Daphnia, Artemia and
bloodworm along with suitably sized
dry foods.
Availability and cost: Farmed in great
quantities in Europe and the Far East,
these are readily available in many
Biotope ideas
Scientific name: Rasbosoma
Size: To 3cm.
Origin: Lower Mekong River Basin in
Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.
Aquarium size: 45 x 30cm footprint;
40 l volume or more.
Water requirements: 6–7pH; hardness
Temperature: 22–27°C.
Feeding: Small live and frozen foods
such as Daphnia and Artemia along
with suitably sized dry foods.
Availability and cost: You’ll likely
need a well stocked or specialist store
to find these, but they’re not too
expensive. Expect to pay in the region
of £2.50 each.
Tank volume
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every aquarist set up a dedicated species
tank for these amazing fish at some point.
Lurking in dense vegetation in a nano tank
in my living room I had a pair of Sparkling
gouramis, Trichopsis pumila. These are
another of my favourites — beautiful, full of
character and with interesting behaviour,
Sparkling gouramis are all-round great fish.
Again, they are small and may suffer in a
community tank, although I have watched
an irate male chase a Red-tailed black shark
after it had the temerity to enter the
Scientific name: Crossocheilus
Size: To 15cm.
Origin: Thailand to Indonesia.
Aquarium size: Ideally 120 x 30cm
footprint; 108 l volume for a singleton,
larger for a group. Tai’s specimen will
move to a larger tank when he grows.
Water requirements: 6–7.5pH;
hardness <15°H.
Temperature: 21–26°C.
Feeding: Dried foods containing
Spirulina; fresh vegetables such as
peas, spinach and courgette; algae.
Availability and cost: Common, but
ensure you’re buying the correct fish.
Prices around £3.50 upwards.
Tank volume
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Tank volume
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gouramis’ patch of leaf litter.
I had decided that the tank needed a
clean-up crew and this came in the form of
several Amano shrimp and a group of
Caridina cantonensis, aka ‘Tiger’ Cherry
shrimp. They have been breeding in all my
tanks like mad, are natives of the Mekong
Basin and are great at keeping the tank
clean of detritus. Their subtle
colouration and interesting ‘stripe
patterns’ make them both beautiful
and natural-looking additions.
The creaking stand
I had become worried about the tank stand on the nano set-up housing the
Sparkling gouramis, Trichopsis pumila, as I kept hearing a sort of ‘creaking’
sound. I wondered if it was time to take down the tank and ditch the stand,
thinking I could add these biotope-correct fish to the Thai project. But after
moving them in with the Boraras in another room, I heard the creak again.
Soon I realised that it was the gouramis ‘creaking’ at each other! Such
vocalisations are well documented in Croaking gouramis, Trichopsis vittata and
other fish, but the level of noise produced by these 2.5cm creatures was
incredible. The pair quickly settled in at the new tank, carved out their territory
and continued to noisily argue from time to time.
Spice rasbora are
tiny vertebrates.
However, a rogue population of red Cherry
shrimp also found their way into the tank
and I decided to leave them there because
hunting for them in the leaf litter would
have been a real pain and a disturbance to
the other inhabitants!
I also added a small Siamese algae eater,
Crossocheilus oblongus. These are best kept
singly or in a group (a pair often fight) and
they can grow to 15cm. Juveniles however
are suitable for smaller tanks and make
short work of a variety of algae. The largest
fish in the tank, my SAE has a calm
demeanour and has spent his time cleaning
leaves and resting on lilies and will feed on
JBL Novotabs from my hand.
I had intended not to add any further
species until I walked into Maidenhead
Aquatics @Scotsdales and spoke to the
manager, Max Compton. In a small tank in a
corner was a group of Dwarf scissortails,
Rasbosoma spilocerca, miniature versions
of their big cousins. I’d not seen them in
captivity before. As I began with excitement
to ask Max if I could borrow them for the
Thai set-up he was already sighing and
reaching for the nets (this was not his first
Tai-wants-to-borrow-fish rodeo). I happily
went home with ten of these rare and
underrated little fish.
These fish are also found in the Mekong
Basin (including Thailand) and they
appreciate plenty of vegetation in the
aquarium. They can appear washed-out in
the store and timid at home and it takes a
quiet tank, keeping them in a shoal and
plenty of live food to get them to colour up
and become confident. I added them to the
tank once the N. Taiwan had already
become quite dense and they spent a few
days pretending not to exist, before they
began to emerge for feed at the front of the
tank. Within a week they were charging
about with the Boraras and beginning to
show the lovely yellow that runs along their
lateral line and in their tail fins. They have a
prominent jaw and high mouth which gives
them a slightly thuggish expression.
Tank set-up
Time to sit back and enjoy…
Although I have been flexible in my choice
of plant species, when I compared the tank
to the photo that had originally inspired me,
I could see that in terms of the kinds of
plants, their layout and the overall
construction of the habitat, I had been
faithful in my representation.
All that was left for me to do was to sit
back in my chair and watch my tiny Boraras
battle Artemia, listen to the gouramis
squabble and watch the Dwarf scissortails
switch this way and that in mid-water
before torpedoing a panicked Daphnia. The
little army of shrimp quietly worked over
the substrate and leaf litter, occasionally
parting like the Red Sea for Moses as a
comparatively gigantic Amano shrimp
stormed through.
To heck with the biotope snobs, this is my
creation — my animals are demonstrating
through their behaviour and colour that
they are content and well cared for, my
plants are healthy and I am getting nothing
but pleasure from watching my tank.
I used a custom-made 90 x 45 x 30cm
aquarium. A shallow tank can produce
challenges but also means you need less
light and plants can fill the space much
faster. Many wild habitats are also
incredibly shallow. I’ve found aquarium
favourites such as Laetacara dorsigera and
in only a few centimetres of water.
To simulate the clear waters of my chosen
tropical habitat the lighting is quite strong,
with four 36W bulbs kept low over the tank,
on for eight hours a day.
Filtration is provided by an external
canister filter rated for a 300 l tank and I
used a Hydor inline heater to maintain the
25°C temperature.
CO2 is injected into the tank using a
pressurised system at two bubbles per
second and TMC fertiliser is added
O Thanks to: Dave Pierce
from Aquarium Gardens,
The pH is 6.0 with
who supplied the plants
hardness between
Charming fish if you can
and several bags of
find them!
aquatic plant soil
(1–10°H) to
for the project.
replicate the soft
Max Compton
of Maidenhead
of the Mekong
Basin. I
Scotsdales for
change 50%
the loan of
of the water
the Dwarf
each week,
easily done
on a tank of
this size!
Biotope ideas
Habitats under threat
I feel very strongly about getting more
people interested in biotopes because
many of the habitats we are keen on
recreating are under threat. Deforestation,
pollution, dams, drainage — the list goes
on. If hobbyists researching their chosen
biotope learn more about the dangers the
habitats face, then maybe they will get
involved, spread awareness or act directly
in some other way. We have a huge
responsibility as aquarists to publicise the
threats faced by fragile ecosystems, many
of which are the natural homes of our
beloved fish. I think it is important to know
for example, that the peat forests of
Indonesia, from which your Espei
rasboras, Trigonostigma espei originate,
are being devastated by logging, slash and
burn agriculture and palm oil plantations.
What can the humble hobbyist do? Buying
fewer palm oil products or donating to
wildlife conservation organisations is a
good place to start. If we don’t act, in the
future we may look for habitats, only to
find old photos of forests, rivers, wetlands
and reefs that no longer exist.
Dwarf scissortail
One of the joys of Spice rasbora is watching them tackle live
food. A full-size Daphnia or Artemia is a challenge for these
little fish and the spectacle of the near-gladiatorial battles that
take place are incredible to watch
Wide footprints allow
for dense planting.
Alternative fish
This was an easy tank to create and could be replicated to varying degrees with a whole
range of species from the Mekong Basin. You could try Tiger barbs, Puntigrus tetrazona;
Croaking gouramis, Trichopsis vittata; Dwarf chain loaches, Ambastaia sidthimunki,
Blackline rasboras or Rasbora borapetensis to name a few.
You can find
footage of the tank
featured here at:
Blackline rasbora.
Croaking gourami.
Dwarf chained loaches.
Tiger barb.
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There’s a silent battle going on in your reef tank. Those
innocent looking corals are constantly waging war on
one another and the results can be lethal to the weaker
side. Here’s how to keep any casualties to a minimum…
ook at a coral-festooned patch of
reef, and it appears to be a picture
of harmony. But, in fact, corals are
perpetually engaged in turf
warfare to secure the limited and valuable
space on the reef.
Corals, corallimorphs, zoanthids and even
sponges have evolved a variety of offensive
and defensive strategies. Some of these
(such as the use of specialised stinging
tentacles) are blatant, whereas others can
be more subtle — although sometimes just
as lethal. Accommodating corals while
taking into account the diverse tactics they
might employ can be a challenge but some
planning can help to limit any issues.
Sweeper tentacles
Some corals have specially modified, and
often highly elongated, tentacles which are
used specifically for aggressive encounters.
These sweeper tentacles will often be
deployed when the feeding polyps retract at
night, and are specifically used if the
presence of another coral is detected — so
rather than being randomly cast out, their
use can be highly targeted. The sweepers of
some species can really pack a punch, with
some of the more aggressive corals capable
of easily killing competitors if specimens
are placed too close to one another.
Sweeper tentacles are a feature of many
LPS corals — but by no means all. The Fox
coral, Nemenzophyllia turbida, for example,
lacks them and as such is one of the more
peaceful species. LPS which possess them
may extend these tentacles out just a few
centimetres, but some corals may have
incredibly long sweepers which can make
housing them a challenge, especially in
smaller systems. Hammer corals
(Euphyllia) sweepers, for example, may
extend to 15cm and those of the tooth corals
(Galaxea) can reach a whopping 30cm from
the edge of the colony in some cases.
Incidentally, the reach of the sweeper
tentacles is not necessarily related to the
size of the colony; very small colonies of
some species have extremely long sweepers.
In reality, corals are dynamic in how they
use these lethal weapons, as it appears that
corals can vary their arsenal of sweeper
tentacles according to their current needs.
Studies of species such as the Lettuce coral,
Agaricia agaricites, from the Caribbean
suggest that the coral dramatically
increases the number of sweepers in
response to the presence of competitors.
The development of the tentacles in terms
of reach and concentration is dependent on
the species of competitor encountered and
the distance of the competitor from the
coral. It also appears that sweeper
development concentrates at specific parts
of the colony nearest to competitors and
interestingly, it seems that the coral’s other
tissues may shrink as the tentacles develop.
This flexible approach to sweeper tentacle
deployment suggests that they’re costly for
If corals are being stung,
relocate the victim and/or
aggressor immediately. Be sure
to remove any pieces of sweeper
tentacle still attached to the victim
using tweezers, as they can remain
active for some time after breaking
off. The use of a coral dip on affected
specimens may help to reduce
the risk of necrotic tissue
succumbing to bacterial
Soft corals use chemical
warfare to compete for
space on the reef.
the coral to develop and maintain — so
rather than adopt a strategy of
permanently packing heat, they opt to
dedicate resources to sweepers only when
they’re actually needed.
Where I’m going with this is to suggest
that it’s best to monitor corals (especially
the more aggressive LPS) to watch for
changes in sweeper tentacle production
over time. A seemingly benign coral with
inconspicuous or even non-existent
sweepers could start to develop them if
other corals (perceived as competitors) are
placed nearby or vice versa. So be sure to
provide a suitable ‘no man’s land’ around all
corals —this will vary between species —
but keep an eye out for potential aggression.
‘Lights-out’ is prime time to check for
aggressive interactions.
Mesenterial filaments
Many corals, most notably LPS species,
employ mesenterial filaments — perhaps in
addition to sweeper tentacles. Mesenterial
filaments are white, stringy masses which
are ejected from the animal’s gut. They’re
coiled filaments which give the gut a large
surface area for digestion. They’re packed
with stinging nematocysts, and because
they’re involved with digestion they secrete
a range of enzymes which can dissolve the
tissue of competitors in vicious closequarters combat.
SPS corals aren’t renowned for their
aggressive tendencies, but some species can
sting when needed. If certain SPS colonies
are placed too near other, they may exude
so-called acontia filaments; this
phenomenon is sometimes seen in
Acropora corals. Acontia filaments can also
occasionally be seen in mushrooms and
other polyps, and are analogous to
mesenterial filaments. They may occur in
response to stress and damage, but they can
also be employed for defence when colonies
impinge on each other, so take care even
with SPS. While they’re nowhere near as
aggressive as many LPS and can generally
be placed much closer together, these corals
still need their personal space to prevent
warfare from breaking out.
Chemical warfare
Various soft corals, zoanthids and
mushroom polyps engage in a form of
‘chemical warfare’ through the release of
toxins which can affect the settlement,
growth, health or reproduction of
Sweeper tentacles
can deliver a painful
sting, so don’t touch
them with your
bare hands.
These two stony corals
are competing for turf by
attacking and attempting to
outgrow one another.
competitors. This tactic, known as
allelopathy, employs chemicals including
terpenes which can either be released into
the water or directly applied to competitors
which are invading their ‘personal space’.
The terpenes include hundreds of
bioactive chemicals which have antifouling
and antimicrobial properties as well as
being directly toxic to competitors
(terpentine — used as paint thinner — is
a terpene).
Allelopathy has developed in these
animals because they lack the rigid skeleton
and often powerful nematocysts of stony
corals. It’s been suggested that toxic
compounds originally employed as
antipredator defences have been co-opted
as potent offensive weapons. These
can be used in direct contact to
Those harmless looking
mushrooms are more
potent than you think...
Hammer and tooth corals
are pretty handy with their
sweeper tentacles so watch
what you place them next to.
LPS corals don’t have a
monopoly on sweeper
tentacles. The Caribbean
gorgonian Erythropodium
caribaeorum (an encrusting,
mat-forming species) has
been shown to spontaneously
develop sweepers in proximity
to stony corals. The gorgonian
modifies existing polyps on
the colony’s edge to form
its club-tipped, nematocystladen weaponry, allowing it
to muscle into new territory,
as well as helping it to hold
ground against those trying to
overgrow it.
defend against encroaching colonies or even
emitted in non-contact situations as a kind
of biological ‘Agent Orange’, allowing soft
corals to clear the immediate area of
competitors in the battle for limited real
estate on the reef.
We’ve known for some time that soft
corals can directly harm stony corals in both
contact and non-contact situations. In one
study, Devil’s hand coral, Lobophytum
pauciflorum; Tree coral, Sinularia pavida,
and Xenia sp. were placed next to Porites
and Pavona stony corals in Australia’s
Great Barrier Reef, and the results
compared to sites where soft corals had not
been relocated.
The results demonstrated very variable
susceptibility among the two stony corals to
the transplanted softies. In the case of
Xenia, contact needed to be made to cause
harm to both Pavona and Porites, but few
effects were seen in non-contact situations.
Sinularia pavida had no effect on Pavona,
and needed to be in direct contact with
Porites to cause significant mortality.
Lobophytum pauciflorum was found to
cause significant necrosis in Porites polyps
even when not in direct contact; however, in
the case of Pavona it needed to be in direct
contact to cause any damage.
An ingenious study (also on the Great
Barrier Reef) used tiles placed radially
around Sinularia flexibilis and Sarcophyton
glaucum as a settlement substrate for stony
coral larvae. The study revealed that the
number of larvae (spats) settling on the tiles
was reduced in the presence of the soft
corals compared to sites tested without soft
corals. Interestingly, the greatest reduction
in spat numbers was noted on tiles
downstream of the soft corals, suggesting
the softies were releasing chemicals which
negatively impact stony coral settlement.
In this case, it’s not clear if chemicals
emitted by the softies were directly toxic to
the coral spats, or if the stony coral larvae
simply avoided downstream sites in
response to some chemical cue and settled
elsewhere — although clearly something
was happening to reduce settlement.
The bottom line is that the situation is
very complicated and we are nowhere near
to fully understanding how allelopathy
plays out between soft corals and other
invertebrates due to the range of speciesspecific interactions possible and the
complex cocktails of terpenes they produce.
However, it’s clear that direct contact
between softies and other corals should be
avoided, and precautions taken when
attempting to mix soft and stony corals as
allelopathic chemicals emitted into the
water can cause problems.
Essential steps for mixing
hard and soft corals
Excessive soft coral growth can cause poor
growth or even mortality of stony corals, so
many aquarists consider softie-dominated
systems to be a no-go area for stony corals.
But if you are going to keep a mix of soft and
stony corals, then there are some steps
which should minimise any issues. In any
case, these should also be considered for
softie-only tanks as well:
O Avoid placing soft corals in direct contact
with one another, and allowing them to
touch stony corals is a definite no-no.
OEmploy aggressive skimming to help
export allelopathic chemicals which may
be emitted.
O As these chemicals are organic in nature,
granular activated carbon (GAC) will help
to adsorb them; it could also pay to augment
GAC with another organic-adsorbing media
such as Purigen. Unfortunately, we can’t
measure terpenoids or other
allelochemicals present in the water to
determine when GAC needs to be changed
and it’s hard to suggest an alternative
measurable parameter which could be used
as a ‘proxy’. Therefore, it’s best to err on the
side of caution and change carbon
frequently (every two weeks or so). If the
health of corals in the system appears to be
taking a dip, consider changing carbon more
frequently to see if things improve.
O Water changes will help in some way to
dilute accumulated toxins which have been
released by soft corals into the water.
Sponges secrete chemicals
which affect the health of coral
symbionts, and even cause
The high potency and diverse
effects of coral terpenes means
they have medicinal potential,
and there is increasing interest
in soft corals such as Sinularia
as a source of
anti-inflammatory, antibiotic
and even anti-cancer drugs.
Hard and soft corals in this magnificent
reef set-up have grown to fill the spaces
between them and some now pose a
danger to their neighbours.
Xenia has been shown
to cause problems only
when in direct contact
with stony corals.
species appeared to inhibit
photosynthesis by the coral’s
zooxanthellae; some species also
appeared to initiate bleaching
in the coral, suggesting that
their alleopathic chemicals are
more potent than others.
This study involved direct
contact between the sponge
extract and the coral, but we
don’t yet know whether the chemicals
involved can be released by the sponges
into the water.
In any case, it makes sense to space out
any sponges you are adding to your
aquarium to prevent them coming into
contact with other sessile invertebrates.
It’s also a good idea to run chemical
filtration such as activated carbon as
a precaution.
Galaxea fascilcularis
can have extremely long
sweeper tentacles.
It’s not just corals…
Many species of sponge employ allelopathy
to allow them to compete with reef-building
corals. A study of several Caribbean sponge
species used extracts from the animals
combined with gels which were placed
against coral heads of the Grooved brain
coral, Diploria labyrinthiformis on reefs in
the Bahamas.
The results demonstrated variability in
the allelopathic effects of the sponges
tested. For at least one species of sponge,
little effect was noted, but in many cases
there was a clear impact on the health of the
corals subjected to sponge extract.
Specifically, the metabolites of many
relatives. This is definitely a fish to try breeding —
just ensure you keep a lid on your tank!
Copella sp. in their
natural habitat.
Community fish
he Splash tetra belongs to an
exclusive club, as it is often used
to demonstrate the weird and
wonderful in the freshwater
fish world, and the diversity in the fishes of
the Amazon.
Its common name comes from this fish’s
extraordinary breeding technique — pairs
leap up out of the water, cling to an
overhanging leaf and lay eggs on it. The eggs
are then splashed by the male from below to
keep them moist.
The reason for this evolutionary
adaptation? Predation, or rather their
attempt at avoiding it, as Amazonian waters
are filled with literally thousands of fish
species which would put Splash tetra eggs
on their menu. Every year the mighty
Amazon River and its tributaries flood into
the rainforest, providing an abundance of
space for fish to feed and breed. With it then
comes abundant overhanging vegetation (or
at least there used to be), and the Splash
tetra found its survival niche while at the
same time cementing its place in natural
history books and TV documentaries.
Copella arnoldi is the Splash tetra’s correct
scientific name, although it may also be sold
and listed under its synonym of Copeina
arnoldi. Copeina is actually a related genus
of similarly shaped fish, as is Pyrrhulina, yet
despite looking superficially similar, and
mistaken for the true Splash tetra at times,
only Copella arnoldi, named after
ichthyologists Edward Drinker Cope and J.
Paul Arnold, uses the extreme terrestrial
breeding method.
Natural habitat
Splash tetras, Copella
arnoldi. Males are longer
and more slender, with
elongated finnage.
Like many fish of the lower Amazon, C.
arnoldi is adapted to warm, soft, acidic
water, stained with tannins from the tree
leaves and branches. Warm acid pools, rich
in organic matter, also suffer from low
oxygen levels, so laying eggs up in the air
may have a second advantage — oxygen. The
pH can be as low as 4 and never above 7, and
water temperatures can approach 30°C.
The Splash tetra likes archetypal
Amazonian water conditions for sure,
and will be seen at its best in aquariums
which replicate those water parameters
and decor.
Tank set up
The male Splash tetra grows larger
than the female, yet is still a small
fish at just 5cm fully grown.
Despite their diminutive size I
prefer to see mine swimming in
the upper layers of aquariums at
least 90 x 30cm and would
never consider them as nano
fish for tiny cube tanks. Water
movement should be kept at a
minimum, and if you want to
keep it strictly biotope correct
then use leaves and wood, over
a substrate of sand or soil. True
aquatic plants are rare in acid
pools as the dark water blocks the
light and lacks nutrients. Floating
Splash tetras leap from
the water to spawn on
overhanging leaves.
Splash tetra eggs laid
on the underside of the
aquarium coverglass.
plants could be an option if you crave
greenery, or some Philodendron house
plants growing above the water line, with
their leaves and stalks draped in the water.
A modern take on the Splash tetra habitat
could be a paludarium — a glass vivarium
set up with water in the bottom and jungle
vegetation up above. A very natural,
environmentally rich tank in which to
house Splash tetras, and in theory, the ideal
place for them to spawn as you can control
the humidity and temperature above the
water line too.
Don’t be afraid to keep Splash tetras in
shallow tanks like the water areas in
vivariums. In nature, they inhabit the upper
water levels only, and my anecdotal
observations are that most small surface
dwelling aquarium species inhabit only very
shallow waters in the wild. If they ventured
out across the surface in deep, natural
waters they would be picked off by
predators from below.
Splash tetra fry.
Tank mates
My OCD would flare up if I mixed Splash
tetras with anything other than small
Amazonian catfish, cichlids and characins,
although the choice there is still vast.
Apistogramma, Corydoras, banjo catfish,
and the hundreds of tetra species would all
make perfect Splash tetra companions. But
as soon as I stray towards Splash tetras I like
to mix them with other interesting small
stuff. There are the Splash tetra’s cousins to
consider — other Copella, such as C.
Being so adapted to
jumping and surface life,
Splash tetras aren’t suitable
for over-filled, open-topped
tanks. Always fit a
lid or coverglass — and
with luck they’ll
spawn on it!
Community fish
These fish are surface
feeders, so ensure you
offer floating foods.
would consist of tiny terrestrial insects
falling onto the surface from above, tiny
insects hatching at the surface from aquatic
larvae, as well as the microscopic life that
can be slurped from the still surface film.
In the aquarium small flakes can make up
the staple diet, but get creative and offer
aphids from the garden, or first instar
crickets, fruit flies and springtails from the
reptile shops. They aren’t difficult fish, but
offering them a jungle diet feels right, and is
so easy to do these days.
Provide the above water conditions and
Splash tetras will breed. My first fish bred
on the glass condensation covers of the
aquatic shop I worked in. Just make sure
you have true Copella arnoldi (take picture
along with you for reference) and ensure
you purchase both males and females. The
males are larger, but they also have long fins,
whereas the females are small, shorter
bodied, and with much shorter fins.
The male entices the female over after
picking an overhead, suitable site, before
embracing as the two of them leap out of the
water and cling to the leaf, or more usually
in aquariums, the cover glass. They lay up to
200 eggs depending on size and maturity,
and the male hangs around for the next
three days, splashing water up onto the eggs
until the fry have hatched and dropped into
the water. The female takes no part, other
than the actual spawning, and once the
hatched fry drop into the water the male
demonstrates no parental care after that.
Feed the fry on infusoria or strained,
steamed egg yolk, and if you want them to
survive, move them to a separate tank with
gentle or no filtration, and regular partial
water changes. If you can raise them you
should find a ready market in shops, clubs
and online for the adults, as they are by no
means commonly available fish.
G Common name: Splash tetra.
G Scientific name: Copella arnoldi.
G Size: To 5cm.
G Origin: Lower Amazon.
G Aquarium size: 90 x 30cm footprint
minimum; 80 l volume.
G Water chemistry: Soft and acidic;
G Temperature: 26–30°C.
G Feeding: Floating flake foods, fruit flies,
springtails and first instar crickets.
G Availability and cost: More likely to crop
up in specialist stores. Price around
£3.95 each.
Temp C
Tank volume
80 l+
Taeniacara candidi likes things soft and
warm and doesn’t do well in hustle and
bustle communities. Splash tetras make
great tank mates for this delightful cichlid.
Marbled hatchetfish are rather timid in
nature and tend to fare better in biotope
tanks. A Splash tetra set-up is ideal.
With its upturned mouth and slung back
dorsal fin, the Splash tetra is a surface
feeder, so feed floating foods. In the wild this
carsevennensis, C. nattereri, C. compta or
C. meinkeni; or the similar Copeina and
Pyrrhulina species. Or how about the
fascinating, beautifully delicate pencilfish?
Plenty to study there.
Hatchetfish would make ideal tank mates.
Or what about those more delicate dwarf
cichlids such as Biotoecus or Taeniacara
Both like it super soft and warm, and do best
in more specialist set-ups.
Avoid large, boisterous tank mates. With
the exception of the banjo catfish I’d avoid
anything with an adult size much over 5cm.
Beckford’s pencilfish make colourful
and active additions to a Splash
tetra community.
In association with
With all sections of the PFK diploma
in your possession, let’s look back
over what we’ve covered, and make
sure we understand the basics...
ow that you’ve read all five parts of the PFK
diploma, you’ll be preparing for your online
test, so to help you, let’s revisit some of the
key pointers for each section. The important
thing to remember is that you are aiming to pick out the
specific facts of each area. The test, when it comes, is not
the kind of test that requires hundreds of words – no
part of it runs as an essay. Instead, it will be conducted
in the form of multiple-choice answers to a series of
questions. To succeed, you’ll need to be able to
identify the correct answers from a selection of
possible responses.
The layout below is a selection of practice questions,
each of which probe your knowledge on key areas
explored. Though they’re not laid out as multiple-choice
questions and answers, they are designed to stimulate
your mind to re-explore some of the main areas you’ll be
tested on.
] Answers can be found on page 78
www.practicalfishkeeping. and at the
end of the course we’ll send
you a link to take the free
online exam. Pass the
exam to receive your
Revising part one: Water
quality and chemistry
calcium carbonate?
1a) What are the five aspects of water?
1g) How many mg/l of calcium and
magnesium ions make up 1dGH?
1b) How much more acidic is water with a
pH of 5.0 than water with a pH of 6.0?
1c) What effect does biological filtration
have on pH?
1d) What effect does carbon dioxide have
on pH?
1l) Why are tall, cylindrical tanks
inefficient at gas exchange?
1h) Which two forms can ammonia take in
aquaria, and what are their chemical
1i) What effect does salt (NaCl) have on
nitrite toxicity?
1e) What is KH a measure of in aquaria?
1j) What effect does photosynthesis of
plants have on oxygen levels in a tank?
1f) Is rainwater rich or deficient in
1k) What is the OATA recommended
concentration for oxygen levels at 25°C in
In association with
Fishkeeping Diploma Part 6
Revising part two:
2a) What are the three main
categories of filter function?
3d) What will happen to the chemistry
of rainwater that passes over calcium
rich rocks?
2b) What is the main purpose of a
mechanical filter?
3e) In which fish organ do you find the
bulbus arteriosus?
2c) Which two pollutants are
biological filters designed to
3f) Which kind of fish typically have a
labyrinth organ?
2d) What are the three necessary
criteria for a surface to become
biologically active?
3g) What is the correct name for the
tail fin?
organism’s cells to produce more of itself?
3h) What is the function of the Weberian
4h) At which stage of the life cycle is it
possible to treat white spot parasites?
3i) Which way does a terminal mouth
4i) Which nutritional disease leads to
kinked spines?
2f) How do autotrophic bacteria mainly
develop in aquaria?
3j) If a fish cannot osmoregulate properly,
what usually happens to it?
4j) What’s the usual course of treatment
for an intestinal blockage?
2g) How quickly can heterotrophic
bacteria double their population?
3k) What is the correct term for a
livebearing fish?
Revising part 5: Maintenance
2h) What does an ion exchange resin
media do?
Revising part 4: Disease
2e) What is the collective name of bacteria
that can utilise organic carbon as a food
2i) How often is it advised to replace
carbon filters?
4a) Is a colour change and a fish’s refusal to
feed a specific or non-specific sign of an
2j) Is fish-in cycling safer or more
dangerous than fishless cycling for fish?
4b) Would a sudden drop in temperature
cause acute or chronic stress in a fish?
2k) All things being equal, will filters
mature faster at 28°C or 15°C?
4c) ‘Yawning’ in fish is sometimes
associated with which type of
environmental disease?
2l) What effect will a pH of 4.0 or lower
have on biological filtration?
Revising part 3: Habitat and
3a) Roughly what percentage of all
freshwater on Earth is found in all rivers
and lakes combined?
3b) What is brackish water?
5a) What is the danger of positioning a
tank near a radiator?
5b) What is the purpose of a ‘drip loop’?
5c) What is the term used to describe the
combined mass of fish in a tank?
5d) Using the cm (fish) per litre (water)
method, what is the maximum combined
length of fish an 80-litre tank with external
canister filters could hold?
4d) What damage can CO2 dosing do to a
fish’s kidney?
5e) What should be the maximum depth of
a coarse, gravel substrate in a typical
community tank?
4e) Which bacterial infection can become
so bad that a fish’s organs are exposed?
5f) What type of decoration can discolour
aquarium water?
4f) What is the name for an illness that
can transmit from fish to humans?
5g) Cheap ornaments with harmful paints
may affect which type of fish mainly?
4g) Which kind of pathogen hijacks and
5h) Which type of fish produces a more
constant stream of ammonia — a grazer or
an opportunistic predator?
3c) What is the term used for a habitat that
contains still or very slow water,
like a lake or pond?
5i) Which is more expensive to use for
waterchanges RO or tapwater?
5j) Why
should yo
not cap te
tubes for
water test
with your
Go to and register for the
free online exam. You will later be sent a link to take the exam (there
will be a paper copy option for readers without online access). If you
pass the exam, you will receive your Fishkeeping Diploma, to show
that you have successfully completed the course. Open to UK
residents only. The Fishkeeping D
and should not be confused with the type of diploma presented by
colleges, universities and other educational establishments.The
Fishkeeping Diploma is awarded by PFK in association with
Fluval. For more info on Fluval, visit
Let the cat
out of the bag!
Some catfish need no introduction — their reputation
precedes them just like their flowing whiskers. But there
are many more beautiful community catfish that barely
seem to get a look-in. Here are eight of our favourites...
hen it comes to catfish, who doesn’t know or
appreciate the ubiquitous Bronze cory,
Corydoras aeneus, the ‘go-to’ first ‘cat’ in
countless community tanks? Similarly, there
are few ofBOB
us who
haven’t kept the hirsute Bristlenose
(Ancistrus sp.), that familiar fuzzy-faced suckermouth catfish
that won’t grow to a foot-plus long monster and will have a good
nibble at nuisance algae for you.
And who hasn’t been wowed by the sleek, silver and black
spotted beauty of the Pims, Pimelodus pictus, as it restlessly
patrols the tank
floor at pace?
But for every one of these show stealers, there are dozens of
beautiful, underappreciated catfish that seem to slip under the
radar, despite offering everything a fishkeeper could hope for in
a be-whiskered community citizen...
Corydoras are the first
catfish for many.
1Peppered cory
We all know Corydoras make brilliant community catfish. They’re small, peaceful,
generally hardy and come in a wealth of attractive patterns. Most of us will cut our catfish
teeth with either Bronze, C. aeneus or Peppered C. paleatus, but it can be easy to overlook
these stalwarts once you become a more seasoned fishkeeper.
Take a closer look at the Peppered cory — Corydoras paleatus in particular and you may
realise that you’ve forgotten that these really are beautiful fish. While many appear to be
adorned with just a selection of grey colours and the occasional dark spot, the best
conditioned specimens are magnificently lustrous and burnished with metallic blue.
Females are wonderfully chunky, plump fish while the smaller, slimmer males boast a
higher, sharper dorsal fin.
G Scientific name: Corydoras paleatus.
G Origin: South America.
G Size: 7cm/2.5in — females bigger
than males.
G Tank size: 60 x 30cm minimum
G Water requirements: Very adaptable
— pH 6 to 7.5, soft to moderately hard
water. Aim for somewhere in the
middle of all these parameters for a
happy medium.
G Temperature: From 15 to 26°C.
G Availability and cost: Extremely
common, from £2.50 each.
Temp C
54 l+
As a first breeding
project, Peppered corys
are hard to beat. Wellconditioned adult fish only need
a cool water change to trigger
spawning and the resulting
fry are easy to raise and
sell on.
2Pyjama catfish
Synodontis were once the ‘go-to’ catfish if you wanted bold
pattern and colour. In the last 25 years they have fallen from grace with
the onslaught of similarly marked plecs from South America. At the
same time, many man-made hybrid ‘Synos’ have muddied the waters
for many of us, lessening their appeal. Despite this, Synos can make
wonderful aquarium
subjects and Synodontis
flavitaeniatus (the Pyjama
catfish) is a great
G Scientific name: Synodontis
community choice.
As the common name
G Size: Around 15cm/6in.
suggests, they are marked
G Origin: Africa; Congo river.
with striking horizontal
G Aquarium size: 90 x 30cm minimum
yellow and brown stripes.
They can look a little faded
footprint for a lone specimen.
G Water requirements: Adaptable as
in brightly lit shop tanks,
but they’ll soon deepen in
long as the water isn’t too acidic. Aim
tone once happily
for a neutral pH with soft to
ensconced in calmer
moderately hard water.
G Temperature: 24–26°C.
surroundings. As Synos go
G Availability and cost: Less than
they’re relatively small and
are generally happy to be
common, around £20 upwards.
kept in a group.
Temp C
Ensure that any tank for
them has plenty of caves,
and if you position
decoration right, you’ll see
them swimming along the
undersides of wood and
rock as they traverse the
Be wary of stocking
Pyjama catfish alongside
larger, more armoured
catfish such as plecs,
especially if hiding places
are at a premium. The
Synos’ soft, scaleless
bodies can take a
81 l+
The generic name
‘Mystus’ is thought
to be derived from the
Latin mystax, (meaning
‘moustache’), in reference
to the long barbels of
these catfish.
3Two-spot Mystus
With their sleek body shape and impressive whiskers, Pimelodus pictus catfish are a
regular sight in most shops and they do make great aquarium subjects, as long as you don’t
put them in with most smaller community species because they’ll promptly eat them the
moment they’re big or hungry enough to do so. However, there is an overlooked Asian
species that shares many of the features that make Pims so sellable, without the tank mate
snacking tendecies. Introducing the Two-spot Mystus, Mystus bimaculatus. Two-spots are
beautiful little fish with a gorgeous mahogany red body, marked with, as both its common
and scientific names suggest, two large black ‘eye’ spots ringed with flashes of creamy
yellow. With a maximum size of 8cm/3in they are safe with all but the smallest tank mates
and even these are generally ignored if kept well fed. Like so many catfish they are bolder
and more settled when kept in groups and will welcome shady nooks in the form of wood
and other decor. They will show their best colouration in a blackwater aquarium, but are
adaptable enough to tolerate less tannic conditions as long as the water isn’t too hard or
G Scientific name: Mystus bimaculatus.
G Origin: Asia; Sumatra.
G Size: 8cm/3in.
G Tank size: 60 x 30cm minimum
G Water requirements: Soft and acidic.
G Temperature: Warm with a
temperature of around 28°C.
G Availability and cost: Uncommon,
starting around £5 each.
Temp C
54 l+
4Clown plec
Plecs, plecos, sucker-mouth catfish, Loricariids... they
dominate the catfish hobby like no other family. But as a
seemingly never-ending line of such new and exciting species
arrive, old school classics fall by the wayside like the Clown plec,
Panaqolus maccus. The lovely chocolate brown fish are marked
with fine yellow stripes, squiggles and spots, making each fish
truly unique. Young fish are especially striking and though their
colour lightens with age and maturity they are still handsome
fish. Unlike so many of the cheaper, commonly encountered
plecs, Clowns don’t become massive and even modest-sized
aquariums can house a small
In the wild, Panoqolus
maccus is a whitewater
species, found in
Add plenty of wood
rivers flowing
when keeping Clown plecs
through the
as they are a wood-eating
Orinoco. This is a
fish that
species, although they still
appreciates some
need to be offered veg such
flow, so don’t be
as cucumber and peas
afraid to rig up some
alongside commercially
circulation pumps
and get things moving.
prepared foods.
G Scientific name: Panaqolus maccus.
G Origin: South America; Venezuela.
G Size: 8cm/3in.
G Tank size: 60cm x 30cm minimum
G Water requirements: Soft water, with
a pH around neutral and a
temperature of 25°C.
G Temperature: Aim for a temperature
of around 24–26°C.
G Availability and cost: Quite common,
starting at £8 for juveniles.
Temp C
54 l+
5Emerald catfish
Everyone loves a cory don't they? Those winking eyed, true community catfish that
come in a wonderful array of bold patterning. For some reason, many of their closest
cousins seem to get the short end of the stick and are largely ignored. Chief among these
is the gloriously green Emerald catfish, Brochis splendens, which as the second part of its
scientific name suggests, really does shine.
They are basically a bigger, chunkier Corydoras, with a
longer dorsal fin. Care is more or less identical to the
commonly kept corys - keep them in groups of five or
more on a soft sand substrate and provide a few shady
Especially lovely
places to rest up in the form of plants and wood.
juvenile Brochis splendens
occasionally appear, covered
in dark spots and with an
oversized bright orange dorsal
fin. Less scrupulous dealers
mark these as ‘Sailfin’ or
‘Hifin’ corys.
G Scientific name: Brochis splendens.
G Size: 9cm/3.5in.
G Origin: South America; Brazil,
Ecuador, Peru, Colombia.
G Aquarium size: 60cm x 30cm
minimum footprint.
G Water requirements: Hardy and
adaptable but the best colour is shown
in soft, acidic water.
G Temperature: 25–27°C.
G Availability and cost: Requires
specialist stores, starting around £6.
Temp C
54 l+
Marbled talking catfish
This oddball catfish is the sort that makes an
occasional appearance during daylight (often triggered
by food), only to disappear for the next couple of months.
These fleeting cameos offer glorious glimpses into the
often nocturnal world of our bewhiskered charges.
Talking catfish (Doradids) are a fairly common sight in
dealers’ tanks, particularly the boldly striped Humbug
catfish, Platydoras armatulus, and the polka-dotted
Agamyxis pectinifrons. However, these tempting
youngsters can grow into impressively sized adults
(20cm and 15cm respectively), with equally impressive
mouths that can make short work of small fish dozing
near the substrate. Less commonly seen, but a little more
suitably sized, is the Marbled talking catfish, Amblydoras
nauticus (often erroneously labelled A. hancockii). While
not as distinctive as its black and white relatives, it has
its own subtle aesthetic, marked with a palette of brown
and tan spots, bars and blotches over a cream
background. They have the same saw-tooth sides and fin
spines as their larger kin and as their name suggests are
capable of ‘vocalising’ when disputing territory or when
removed from the water.
7Porthole catfish
While Corydoras are undoubtedly the kings of community Callichthyids, they have
some fantastic armoured catfish cousins that really don’t get the exposure they deserve. The
handsome Porthole catfish, Dianema longibarbis, is just such a fish, often passed over in
favour of its slightly larger, more showy relative the Flagtail catfish (D. urostriatum) or the
bulky, comical Hoplos (Megalechis sp.) This is a real shame because they make wonderful
community fish and a group can offer something really different. They are happy to flutter
energetically in the mid-waters or rootle enthusiastically in the substrate, nose down and
tail up in a quest for food. At rest on the tank floor and among plants they can often look like
a group of poorly moored airships.
Growing to around 10cm/4in they are completely peaceful and only ask that any tank
mates have a similarly relaxed demeanour. Their colouration is a warm pinkish hue marked
with black speckles and a line of larger black spots along the
lateral line.
G Scientific name: Dianema
G Origin: Brazil and Peru.
G Size: 10cm/4in — females a little
larger than males.
G Tank size: 75 x 30cm minimum
G Water requirements: Very adaptable
once settled — pH 6 to 7.5, soft to
moderately hard water.
G Temperature: 24–26°C.
G Availability and cost: Not overly
common, starting at £7.
Temp C
68 l+
All the Porthole
catfish in the trade are
wild-caught, and as a
result they can be a little
delicate at first. But once
settled they are hardy
and long lived.
The fin spines and
body scutes of doradid
catfish can become tangled
in nets and are sharp enough
to puncture the skin. Use a
jar to catch these fish in
if possible and don’t
handle them!
G Scientific name: Amblydoras nauticus.
G Origin: Peru.
G Size: 9cm/3.5in.
G Tank size: 75cm x 30cm minimum
G Water requirements: Very adaptable,
but aim for around neutral pH and soft
to moderately hard water.
G Temperature: Aim for a 24–26°C.
G Availability and cost: Reasonably
common, starting around £8.
Temp C
68 l+
Catfish eh? They’re all brown and live under a rock, only coming out when
the lights go out, right?
Catfish have a reputation that can be hard to shake but in such a vast group of fish
there will always be noteworthy exceptions. The Three-striped African glass
catfish (Pareutropius buffei) is a great example, swimming against the tide of
sedentary, nocturnal brownness that most people see in their heads when catfish
are mentioned. Great little mid-water swimmers and constantly in action, a shoal
could fill the same gap that a tetra species such as Penguin tetra (Thayeria
boehlkei) could.
While sometimes a little pale in shop tanks, these lovely catfish soon darken up
once settled into suitable accommodation with reasonable water movement and
plenty of open space for swimming (and dense planting to offer security). Then
they should display a lovely blue sheen to compliment their black horizontal
stripes and pale background.
Pareutropius buffei
are often sold as
‘debauwi cats’, which is
inaccurate as the
P. debauwi is rarely if
ever imported.
G Scientific name: Pareutropius buffei.
G Origin: Africa; Benin, Nigeria.
G Size: 8cm/3in.
G Aquarium size: 90cm x 30cm
G Water requirements: pH around
neutral, soft to moderately hard water.
G Temperature: Aim for a temperature
of around 24–26°C.
G Availability and cost: Increasingly
common, from £4.95.
Temp C
8Three-striped African glass fish
80 l+
potty forthe
ack in Victorian times,
aquariums were a must-have
fixture for many middle class
homes. Whether these often
elaborate pieces of furniture could be
considered beautiful depends very much on
your taste — perhaps ‘wacky’ is better word
for some of them.
Unfortunately, few of these extraordinary
aquariums have survived. Those that have
are more often used as display or
‘conversation’ pieces because their rusted
metal can be dangerous to fish. And
although ‘Steampunk’ designers
incorporate examples into industrial art
— online firms reproduce old aquariums,
and do-it-yourselfers turn new ones
‘Victorian’ by attaching vintage-style trims
— few match the nuttiness of the originals.
Leading the way with ferns
While goldfish were first brought to Europe
around 1600 and were being kept in glass
bowls by the late 1700s, their low survival
rate was a problem until the role of plants
was properly understood.
Englishman Nathaniel Ward led the way
in the 1820s when he showed how ferns
could be kept alive indefinitely in properly
established glass receptacles called
Wardian cases. In that nature-crazed era,
the Wardian case hit a middle class nerve so much so that a mass circulation
magazine stated: “a drawing room without
its fern case would now be considered
scarcely furnished.”
Aided by the industrial development of
cheap glass, cases might have pagoda-like
tops or ornamental ironwork around their
edges, imitating Gothic cathedrals. Ward
even put a miniature version of Tintern
Abbey’s ruined arch into one of his, paving
the way for the aquarium’s future look.
Briton Robert Warington’s 1849 discovery
of the symbiotic relationship in his water
tank between plants and aquatic animals
made the modern aquarium
possible. Aquarium builders were
soon introducing water newts,
mussels and turtles — even
ladders so the turtles and tadpoles
could exercise, cautioning that “all
should be covered with a net to
prevent escape”.
Working at the same time as
Warington, Philip Henry Gosse
coined the word ‘aquarium’ in a
popular 1854 book that appealed to
Victorians already fascinated by
tales of the lost city of Atlantis, the
new natural history museums and
modern seaside resorts.
Fish on display
The first public aquarium appeared
in London Zoo in Regent’s Park in
1853. But the largest (for decades)
was Brighton’s, opened in 1872. Alon
with fish-watching, it offered
thrice-daily band music, concerts
every Saturday afternoon and visits
during the evening.
The aquarium exhibit at the 1900
Paris Exposition included a replica o
wrecked ship and moving (artificial)
‘mermaids’ and the first Le Havre
Exhibit’s aquarium reproduced (in scale)
Scotland’s Fingal’s Cave. The second
featured the Israelites fleeing Egypt via the
Red Sea — high waves included.
Fascination with nature
With all this inspiration, Victorians were
quick to add home aquariums to their
growing collection of natural items so that
soon, “hardly any middle-class drawing
rooms did not contain an aquarium, a
fern-case, a butterfly cabinet or a shell
collection.” One enterprising home
workshop enthusiast even combined an
aquarium with a fountain, a fern-filled
basket and a birdcage, prompting a critic to
This ‘two-in-one’ design has similarities
with the paludariums of today.
Take a look at some of the
elaborate aquarium styles that
were popular with the nature-crazy
Victorian middle class.
Aquarium history
The public aquarium at
Brighton opened in 1872.
The largest aquarium was
Brighton’s, opened in 1872.
Along with fish-watching,
it offered thrice-daily band
music, concerts every
Saturday afternoon, and
was open at night.
BELOW: ‘Window gardening’ Victorian-style.
RIGHT: Multi-tank households are catered for here.
The earliest home aquariums were
essentially reversed bell jars and glass cake
covers. Home enthusiasts also tried wash
basins, milk pans, foot baths and even a
glass vase: “This will make a handsome
ornament for the dining table and may also
be used to hold a bouquet.” But instructional
articles often suggested starting with a glass
jar, since “much about managing an
aquarium can only be learned by practice.”
Early manufactured aquariums were
(logically) available from the same sources
that supplied Wardian cases but their glass
was often too fragile to withstand the
weight — or cold temperatures — of water.
Yet the brave (or foolish) continued to hang
BELOW: Marine aquarium illustration
published in Cassell’s Household Guide.
Combination pieces
Very soon it struck the buying public that
combining their parlour’s nature preserves
into one piece was a good idea. At first there
were improvisations — like a fish bowl
mounted above a birdcage, supposedly so
the canary inside could be entertained by
the swimming fish. There were also insect
aquariums for aquatic spiders and
paludariums where plants and rockeries
rose above the water level for tiny frogs and
turtles to enjoy.
But by the 1870s combinations were big
business. In 1875, one major aquarium
producer sold an octagonal model whose
central pedestal held a glass dome for ferns,
and which had plant pots filling each side
support. In fact, plant holders sprouting
from the finials of octagonal tanks became
so popular that some manufacturers began
to alternate candle holders with them, or
substitute fountains or cherubic figures for
the pedestal.
The 1872 book Window Gardening
featured four aquarium combinations
among the Wardian cases. According to the
author, one that replaced an entire window
and contained rockwork and a fountain
along with fish and plants was “a great
curiosity,” that required “great pains of
preparation.” Another, with a fish bowl
suspended over a plant and flower basket,
was described as “cheerful to look at”
because it was “charming to see the lively
little animals swimming about.”
Meanwhile, a similar contraption
shown in a woman’s magazine at the
time was described as a “unique and
“hardly any middle class
drawing rooms did not
contain an aquarium, a
fern case, a butterfly
cabinet, a shell collection.”
Antique aquarium on
display at the
Horniman Museum.
Aquariums as furniture
fish tanks on walls or from the ceiling,
suspend fish bowls from cord to mimic
hanging flower baskets and use aquariums
as room dividers with unfortunate and
messy results.
As a piece of parlour furniture — and for
those concerned with nature — aquarium
designs often found obvious inspiration in
the Wardian case, especially with its ornate
cast iron trimmings and stands. Many
Victorian aquariums were rectangular (like
most ferneries). An especially elaborate
example had a cast iron border of soldiers, a
dog, women in period dress and a tree
containing a squirrel. Its four finials were
shaped like cranes and its base was molded
with shells and water lilies. The octagonal
shape was also very popular. An 1870 colour
plate in Cassell’s Household Guide shows a
typical octagonal aquarium set upon an iron
base with molded dolphin heads. London’s
Horniman Museum also has a fine
octagonal example on display in its large
aquarium exhibit.
Rustic-style aquariums were a perfect fit
for the conservatory and with the era’s
popular rustic-style parlour furniture. A
cabinet photo, taken in the 1870s, shows a
young woman resting her arm on an
aquarium bordered with branches and set
upon a tree stump. Another example had
tree motifs on its stand where an iron stump
seemed to be sprouting leaves.
write: “All that seems to be missing is
a dog kennel.”
At first, aquarium accessories only
consisted of stones for holding down plants
and sheltering fish. But soon there were
cement and terracotta castles, followed by
ruined columns and arches. Daniel Carter
Beard, co-founder of the Boy Scouts of
America, encouraged the young readers of
his two nature books to create aquariums
but discouraged them from using
accessories inside since “such things are in
bad taste…ruined castles are not found at
the bottoms of lakes and rivers, and china
swans do not swim on stream and ponds.”
Aquarium history
Aquariums with integrated
plant holders were
particularly popular.
tasteful ornament for the sitting room.”
Perhaps the aquarium that would seem
silliest to modern aquarium lovers is the one
which had a fish globe positioned above a
dolphin-shaped stand, hidden (in the
drawing) by a jungle of plants and further
ornamented with a fabric valance
embroidered with fish. It was described as
“suitable for a bay window, though so
highly ornamental that it would appear
as a rich and beautiful elegancy wherever it
is placed.”
Recently, the Antiques Roadshow’s
American edition featured an 1886 ‘combo’,
made by an ironworker in his spare time. A
very large bird cage topped an equally large
aquarium, both originally lit by gas. Later
on, he added electricity to work the
aquarium’s water pump. While respecting
their ancestor’s ingenuity, his family had
long referred to the creation as ‘The
TOP RIGHT: Aquarium incorporated into
a two-tier flower basket.
BOTTOM RIGHT: Rustic furniture was
popular in Victorian studio photos. Here
the subject leans on a rustic aquarium.
Around 1890, when electricity provided a
way to heat water and keep it flowing freely,
aquarium plants became a matter of choice
rather than necessity. But although novelty
aquariums — especially combination
aquariums — became less common, they
were still made. House-shaped aquariums
were popular, as well as those with Egyptian
themes and fish bowls flanked by pottery
figures of children or bathing beauties.
Even if you don’t use them for fish, these
old treasures would still make a fun addition
to your aquarium room if you can find one.
¼ Butler, Henry D. The Family
Aquarium; or Aqua Vivarium, a “New
Pleasure” for the Domestic Circle,
etc., 1858.
¼ Damon, William E. Ocean
Wonders, 1879.
¼ Gosse, Philip. The Aquarium: An
Unveiling of the Wonders of the Deep
Sea, 1856.
¼ Hibberd, Shirley. The Book of the
Aquarium and Water Cabinet, 1856.
Humphreys, H. Noel. Ocean Gardens:
The History of the Marine Aquarium,
¼ Mulertt, Hugo. The Goldfish and its
Culture, 1883.
¼ Williams, Henry T. Window
Gardening, 1872.
Collecting locality Apapi UGN
17-9, habitat of an undescribed
Searching for
in the
An expedition to Uganda to find a mysterious banded
killifish results in the discovery of an undescribed
Nothobranchius population and a close
encounter with a lion…
No ordinary safari destination
In early June 2017 I landed at Entebbe’s
International Airport with my friend Gábor
Petneházy, with whom I had collected
killifishes in Chad and in the Democratic
13 Moyo
Madi Opei
12 11 10
Republic of Congo on previous
occasions. From the moment you
land at this airport, with its
breathtaking equatorial location
15 16
on the forested shore of islandUGANDA
strewn Lake Victoria, it’s clear that
Uganda is no ordinary safari stop.
Victoria Lake
With its unique blend of savanna
17 Nile
8 Old Nariam
and forest creatures it is simply
dazzling even for the seasoned
African traveller.
After our arrival, we
enjoyed the hospitality of
Kaj and his family at the
Iganga 1
Fort Portal Mubende
beautiful waterfront
house overlooking Lake
Victoria and then left for
our collecting trip early
the next morning.
Uganda is a landlocked
country in eastern Africa
and the equator passes
through the southern
third of its territory. It
takes its name from the
earlier kingdom of
Buganda, which
encompassed a portion of the south
of the country including the actual
here is an annual killifish in
Uganda which has only been
known via preserved museum
specimens that date back to
around 50 years ago. Since then, several
collecting expeditions have failed to find it,
including a trip I made myself a few years
ago. It seems that this fish represents one of
those mysteriously elusive species that
often escape our grasp. It would be very easy
to recognise it if we could find it — the nice
banded pattern on the fins is a unique
feature among annual fish in Uganda and
distinguishes it from other killifish
in the area.
So I thought it was time again to try to find
this rare fish, especially sice Kaj Østergaard
from Denmark, a pioneer discoverer of
several killifish populations as well as an
enthusiastic birder, had settled down in
Uganda and kindly offered to organise the
trip with me.
Our objective was to collect killifish and
pay special attention to the genus
Nothobranchius. The life expectancy of
these annual killifish barely spans one
summer. These amazingly colourful fish live
in seasonal ponds in the East African
savannas. Their life cycle comes down to
just a few frantic months in the rainy
season, until the water dries up. During this
time, they hatch, grow, reproduce and die,
leaving their eggs buried in dry mud to
hatch with the rains of the following year.
“For magnificence, for variety of form and
colour, for profusion of brilliant life —
bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale
— Uganda is truly ‘the Pearl of Africa’.”
Nothobranchius sp. Apapi UGN 17-9,
male photographed in the field.
Nothobranchius sp. Apapi
UGN 17-9, wild-caught male
photographed in the aquarium.
capital Kampala.
It is unlikely that any of the unexplored
regions of the world have awakened more
fascination than the sources of the Nile. The
upper course of the stream has long been
impenetrable. Over the centuries, all the
continents were discovered and oceans
were charted but still in the mid nineteenth
century, the centre of Africa remained
largely unknown. Waterfalls, huge swamps
and marshlands, as well as hostile tribes
prevented all kinds of exploration.
However, this time we were expecting a
smooth and uncomplicated journey. From
the capital Kampala we drove eastwards to
reach Soroti by the evening, from where we
planned to reach the area of our mysterious
striped friend the day after. During the first
day, we found several populations of a
Lacustricola species, which potentially
represent an undescribed species, as well as
a population of Nothobranchius ugandensis.
This latter species of annual killifish is
found in most parts of Uganda.
The next day, we aimed to explore the area
along the road from Soroti to Moroto, where
the explorer Tait had collected the elusive
killifish in 1969 and 1971.
Where were the adults?
During the day we explored many promising
sites but we found only young specimens of
the widespread Nothobranchius ugandensis.
Locals often gathered around us to watch us
while we were collecting. They explained
that the rainy season in this particular area
was somewhat strange that year, as after the
first rains there had been a sudden drought
period and most ponds had dried out. The
rains had only started a couple of weeks or
so before our arrival. This was the reason
why we hadn’t found anything — or at least
only very young fish — in these hopeful
habitats. We diligently continued to explore
all potential biotopes, even though walking
The collected fish specimens are
bagged individually in plastic bags Photo Kaj Østergaard.
in the deep mud of the pools took up a lot of
energy. We tried our luck in every pool we
saw, hoping for a breakthrough.
Tait recalled that his collection location
had been 43 miles from Soroti. By that point
in the day, we had explored the area very
thoroughly — just like so many collecting
teams over the past decades.
We also investigated the habitats along
smaller crossroads. We were at a place
where several branches of the seasonal
Apapi River crossed the road, and we
stopped for an umpteenth time at another
promising habitat. Despite being tired, I told
my companions: “I would regret it my entire
life if we didn’t try”. We entered the water
and after the very first scoop I had two adult
Nothobranchius females in my net. This was
a good sign, and in this pool we finally found
some adult fish.
Then, after the first move with his net, Kaj
managed to catch the mysterious banded
killifish and we could finally prove that the
species exists. We were around Tait’s
original location and this new species was
found together with Nothobranchius
ugandensis. The latter was certainly more
abundant in the habitat, but luckily we had
managed to capture several specimens of
the banded Nothobranchius too.
Interestingly, this habitat was just a couple
hundred metres from, and on the same
floodplain as, one of the locations of my
previous collecting trip back in 2009. On
that occasion, I had captured 50 fish at that
place and another 100 at a second location
close by — but the banded species had not
been amongst them.
Mane event
After our successful catch, we moved on to
the north-eastern part of Uganda. We
travelled through the relatively isolated
Karamoja area. This region borders Kenya
on the east and South Sudan in the north.
The Karamojong people living here are
proud of their traditional nomadic shepherd
lifestyle, which they keep to this day. The
Karamojong fighters have practically always
lived for their cattle, believing that their god
gifted all the cattle in their known world to
them. The only problem was that
neighbouring tribes maintained the same
belief, leading to conflicts that made the
entire region dangerous and impenetrable
for travellers for many years. Fortunately,
circumstances have changed and our trip
passing through the area was pleasant and
Our next stop was at the Kidepo Valley
National Park in the north-eastern corner
of the country. Due to the isolated location
of this amazing wilderness and its diverse
fauna, many people consider it to be one of
the finest African national parks. Kaj had
been here several times and he arranged our
accommodation. We were lodging in
individual bungalows at a campsite situated
within the boundaries of the park and spent
an exciting couple of days exploring. We
organised safari rides in the mornings and
afternoons, then had our dinners in the
open-air restaurant at the campsite, where
the waiting jackals devoured our leftovers
with gusto.
One night, we could barely sleep due to
the noise being made by a lion roaring
somewhere nearby. Looking out the
window, we saw a group of zebra running
through the camp, followed by the beast
himself! Before we knew it the lion was
walking among our huts, and for a long time
we could do nothing but sit and listen to
him breathing. What an experience.
Nothobranchius robustus Kalisizo
UGN 17-20, wild-caught male
photographed in aquarium.
After the exciting safari adventures, we
headed west along the South-Sudan border.
Still in the north-eastern part of the country,
we stopped in a promising area and Kaj
showed a photo of a Nothobranchius species
to the local children. The oldest of them
immediately recognised the fish and offered
to show us a place where we could find what
we were looking for. When we at last arrived
at our destination, we soon had killifish
jumping around in our nets and smiles on
our faces. We also collected superb adult
specimens of a Nothobranchius ugandensis
population — proof once more that local
people know their environment very well.
Adventures along the border
During our trip across the northern part of
Uganda, we were heading north in the area
of Madi Opei when we saw a larger pool
near the road, where road building workers
cleaned the platform of the trucks into the
water. The site looked like a promising
Nothobranchius habitat, so we decided to
try fishing and found another interesting
population. This species also had a striped
pattern, similar to the fish caught previously
in the Soroti area, but this one had a
generally darker body colour. Despite the
relatively large size of this biotope we
managed to collect only a few pairs of fish
over a relatively long period of time. It took
considerable effort, especially under the
strong African midday sunshine. We were
finding specimens about every half hour
or so, so it was a pleasant surprise when
Gábor suddenly claimed four in a single
miraculous scoop with his net. We bagged
each fish individually, which is our normal
procedure, and continued on our way.
After the day’s exertions we spent the
night in the city of Kitgum, where the heat
Collecting locality Busunju UGN
17-19, habitat of Lacustricola
in my hotel room was unbearable. In the
evenings I’d made a habit of changing the
water in the bags of fish we were keeping
with us but here there was nowhere to carry
this out in the open air, and as a result I was
forced to work in the very hot room. Later
however the heat was somewhat relieved by
a short thunderstorm, and as I lay on my bed
under the window I was pleasantly cooled
by rain dropping on my back.
Continuing our journey along the frontier,
we needed to cross the Nile. Kaj found out
that the only bridge had been destroyed, but
we were able to cross with a ferry. Then we
arrived at Moyo, where we found a Catholic
mission that could provide accommodation
for us.
During our journey, we passed by many
crowded refugee camps. News reports
suggest that there are more than a million
refugees from South Sudan — it’s no
wonder, as the political situation is very
unstable and the living conditions are
difficult on the other side of the border. In
addition, almost everyone has a weapon,
including children.
“Looking out the
window, we saw a
group of zebra
running through
the camp — then a
lion came walking
among our huts…”
Rainmaker’s services not required
In Uganda, people traditionally practise rituals for everything, including rainmaking.
Rain is important because abundant rainfall is necessary for a good harvest. Generally,
each tribe has a god that is believed to bring rain. When it is badly needed, the elders
approach the medicine man with a gift and demonstrate the necessity of the rain. The
rainmaker then instructs the elders to find a black bull, which will be slaughtered and
the meat roasted, and the rainmaker carries out a solemn ceremony.
Luckily, the weather was favourable at the time of our journey and we found good
conditions for the seasonal fish at most places. So fortunately there was no need to
sacrifice a black bull on this occasion.
The next day we continued our journey to
reach the extreme north-western corner of
Uganda. After leaving from Moyo, we found
a couple of Nothobranchius ugandensis
populations in a nearby marshy area before
turning to the border. When looking at the
maps during the preparation for our trip, I
had seen promising swampy areas close to
the border - parts of river systems running
in the north into South-Sudan.
Getting closer to the border, local people
confirmed the existence of these marshy
areas and that the Nothobranchius species
shown on our picture was known to live in
the ponds.
However, approaching the border was not
easy. Roads were narrowing and it seemed
that cars did not really use the route. When
we reached the border it was closed and the
guards warned us that the South Sudan
army was waiting on the other side, so we
took some photos and quickly turned back.
From there we headed south towards Kaj’s
place — a journey of about three days.
North of Pakwach, still on the west bank of
the Nile, we collected a nice population of
Lacustricola kassenjiensis, then bagged a
few specimens of Nothobranchius
Spectators following the fishing
activity of the author - Photo by
Gábor Petneházy.
ugandensis at a subsequent site. The males
of this latter population had not completely
coloured up yet, and their current colour
pattern seemed somewhat different from
other populations in Uganda.
In the final part of our journey, we
collected some Lacustricola bukobanus
in a papyrus swamp. After returning to Kaj
and his family, I moved again into the very
comfortable guesthouse. The terrace of
the house provided the perfect place to
carry out the usual daily water changes
for the fish.
The next day — our last day for collecting
— took us to the south, where we collected
Nothobranchius robustus near Kalisizo.
This southerly population seemed to be
more colourful than the variants in the rest
of the country. It was living together with
Lacustricola bukobanus and the lovely
cichlid species Pseudocrenilabrus
After we achieved this last goal, there was
nothing much left to do but prepare for the
journey home, take some pictures of the
amazing bird life at the lakeside and chat
about our adventures with some nice food
and a couple of drinks.
Pseudocrenilabrus multicolour has
also been collected at the locality
Kalisizo UGN 17-20. Wild-caught
male photographed in aquarium.
In association with
Below are the answers to the test questions we gave you
on page 60. See how well you did — are there any areas
you need to brush up on before you take the real exam?
1a) Gas content, movement, temperature, chemistry, quality
1b) Ten times more acidic
1c) It lowers pH
1d) It lowers pH
1e) Water hardness
1f) It is deficient
1g) 17.86mg/l
1h) Free ammonia, NH3 and ammonium, NH4+
1i) Salt lowers nitrite toxicity
1j) It increases oxygen levels
1k) 6mg/l
1l) They have a low surface area to volume ratio
2a) Mechanical, biological, chemical
2b) Removal of particulate waste
2c) Ammonia and nitrite
2d) Access to oxygen, access to food, omission of light.
2e) Heterotrophic bacteria
2f) Through binary division
2g) As quickly as 20 minutes
2h) Swaps one chemical for another
2i) Every 4 to 6 weeks.
2j) Fish-in cycling is more dangerous to fish
2k) Faster at 28°C
2l) It will inhibit biological filtration
3a) 0.01%
3b) A mixture of fresh and salt water
3c) A lentic habitat
3d) It will increase hardness
3e) Within the heart
3f) Anabantoid fish
3g) Caudal fin
3h) Sound detection
3i) Directly forwards from the fish
3j) It is unable to regulate mineral content and dies
3k) Ovoviviparous
4a) A non-specific sign
4b) Acute stress
4c) Nitrate poisoning, or generic poisoning
4d) It can cause calcification
4e) Ulcers
4f) A zoonotic illness
4g) A virus
4h) The theront, or free-swimming stage
4i) Vitamin deficiency
4j) Feeding food with indigestible content, using Epsom salts
5a) Overheating or fluctuations in temperature
5b) To stop water running into electrical points
5c) Stocking density
5d) 144cm of fish in total
5e) 5cm depth
5f) Wood and/or leaf litter
5g) Suckermouth catfishes
5h) Grazers
5i) RO water is more expensive
5j) This is a health risk and will contaminate tests
Improve your
Practical advice and great ideas to ensure you get
the most from your hobby.
The deeper clean
ere’s what you need to know to
eep on top of unsightly muck and
ut the sparkle back in your tank.
Deal with phosphate
The effects of phosphate on your tank or
pond and how to keep it under control.
Fishkeeping Answers
Your problems solved by our
team of top aquatic experts.
Improve your Fishkeeping
To keep your aquarium looking great, you should be invested in
cleaning it regularly. Here’s what you need to know to keep on
top of unsightly muck and put the sparkle back in your tank.
Algae wiping
This is a job you really can’t avoid. The longer
you leave your glass between wipes, the more
resilient the algae on it will get. You’ve a few
tools at your disposal to help you clean it.
O CREDIT CARD – any kind of rigid-edged,
plastic card will do the job, but old expired
store or bank cards do the job nicely. Hold at
roughly a 45° angle to the glass and scrape.
Excellent at getting algae out of shallow
scratches in the glass. Useless for decor and
plants. Usually safe for plastic tanks.
ORAZOR – a sharper, harder version of the
plastic card, razors in a dedicated, aquarium
safe handle are amazing at getting the most
stubborn types of algae off of glass. Useless
for decor and plants. Use cautiously at tank
and then rinsed between uses, especially if
used for multiple tanks. Good for removing
algae on smooth decor as well as glass, and
from the leaves of some tough plants.
Firm pads are good at
removing all types of algae.
Algae-free and
sparkling clean.
Now that’s a tank
to be proud of!
edges as razors cleave through silicone. Never
use on plastic tanks.
O PAD – firm pads are good for all kinds of
algae on glass, though stubborn algae may
require extreme effort. Soft pads (for plastic/
acrylic tanks) are good for the mildest (green
or brown) algae. Pads should be rinsed, or
ideally bleached in a 5–10% bleach solution
cleaners come on a long handle for extra reach.
This can come at the expense of some of the
downforce that can be applied to them.
O ALGAE MAGNET – you need to get these
the right way around. The magnet with the
rough surface goes inside the tank, the smooth
and felty surface goes outside, and then it’s
pretty obvious how it works. Beware that an
overzealous connection with a side pane of
glass can cause a breakage. Also beware
that if a single bit of sand or gravel gets
trapped between the inner magnet and the
glass, you can get a lot of scratching done
before you realise.
Black brush algae (sometimes
abbreviated to ‘bba’) growing
on a rock.
Make sure you get the side
of the algae magnet with
the rough surface inside
the tank.
OROBOT – the ultimate in ostentatious and
lazy, a ‘robot’ is an automated glass cleaner
that periodically runs up and down the front
pane of glass. Note that it can only clean one
pane, and all designs usually struggle to clean
close to the substrate, leaving long algae ‘rims’
along the bottom couple of centimetres. Also,
very expensive.
O TOOTHBRUSH – invaluable for precision
removal of stubborn algae types on all
surfaces, though cleaning glass will be
laborious this way.
Green ‘cyano’ algae.
‘Soft’ algae types
to hell! Cyano is a green ‘skin’ — actually
photosynthetic bacteria rather than true algae
— with the texture of thick spiders’ webs. It
coats everything and is associated with direct
sunlight hitting the tank, poor flow, low oxygen
and dirty substrates. It comes away from
surfaces easily, then settles as small
fragments that will start growing again.
Its control requires not just removal
of the cyano itself, but rectifying the cause.
Note that killing it with medications (which is
really hard to do) could potentially release
toxins into the water.
O GREEN ALGAE – this is the generic green
skin that most tanks eventually develop on
glass and decor. Routine wiping and water
changing will keep this algae in check, but in
unplanted tanks, high nitrates and phosphates
are implicated as a major cause of problems.
Test for both of these parameters and deal
with them if they’re high. The higher they get,
the faster it’ll return.
O BROWN ALGAE/DIATOMS – a light brown
skin, looking like a layer of dust, that’s almost
always associated with a new tank. Easy to
wipe off but returns quickly. It will eventually
go away on its own once your aquarium
reaches a certain stage of maturity.
Slow-growing plants
such as crypts are prone
to problems with ‘green
spot’ algae.
O THREAD ALGAE – rare but annoying, long
strands of brown algae that form anywhere.
This type of algae is sometimes associated
with new tanks, or tanks with excess iron
fertilisers, and usually in tanks with poor flow
and low oxygen. Remove it by winding around
a toothbrush or a pipe cleaner. Rectify problem
outbreaks with water changes, increased flow
and removal of excess nutrients.
Improve your Fishkeeping
Turn filtration off again and remove the
water for your weekly water change, with
emphasis on gravel cleaning.
Remove media from your filters (it’ll now
have algae trapped in it) and rinse
thoroughly in the waste water to flush out dirt
and algae.
Replace filter media, refill with clean water
and switch everything back on.
Plastic plants and decor can be cleaned of
‘soft’ algae types by removing them, rinsing
with warm water and wiping with an algae pad.
‘Firm’ algae types may require the decoration
to be soaked in an off-the-shelf ornament
cleaner, usually mixed with warm water and
left covering the decor for ten minutes or so.
The algae can then be wiped with a firmbristled toothbrush before being thoroughly
rinsed and returned to the tank.
Extremely stubborn algae can sometimes be
shifted by soaking the decor in a 10% bleach
solution for five to ten minutes, and then
wiping carefully with a toothbrush (to avoid
bleach flicking everywhere). Bleaching can
also degrade colourful ornaments quickly, so
be highly cautious, and remeber to rinse the
decor thoroughly before replacing it in the
For decoration that’s affected with tufts of
black beard algae, you can remove the affected
pieces and apply some algaecides (such as
Easylife Alg-Exit) directly to the growth. After
several minutes, the algae will turn a light pink
colour (indicating that it has died) and you can
brush it off with a toothbrush.
Glass cleaning to
remove algae is a fact
of life when it comes to
tank maintenance.
Substrate cleaning
Green water in aquaria is
usually caused by excess
sunlight. It’s not common —
but may take weeks to clear.
‘Firm’ algae types
O GREEN SPOT ALGAE – pernicious little
‘dots’ of dark green algae that form on glass,
decor and plants. Associated with tanks where
CO2 is low, and tricky to remove when it gets a
foothold. Razor blades or plastic card edges
are needed to get under it and lift it off the
glass and toothbrushes will be required to get
it off of decor. It will ruin plants if it starts to
grow on them, so cull leaves when it appears,
and address it the moment it begins to show
up on surfaces.
O BLACK BRUSH ALGAE – the bane of
aquascapers, this is a tough, short, dense, very
dark and tufty algae (it’s actually a red algae
type). Remove at first sight. Plants will need
affected leaves trimmed off. Fluctuating CO2 is
the main culprit, but excessive KH is also
implicated. More abundant in tanks with poor
‘Free’ algae types
O GREEN WATER – free swimming algae cells
that turn the whole aquarium green. Rather
rare in aquaria, and stubborn when it comes to
any remedial action. Direct sunlight is one
cause, along with excess ammonia and other
nutrients in the water.
Remedy green water problems with a
combination of water changes and removal of
the underlying cause. It may linger for weeks
at a time.
Below is our preferred maintenance regime
for algae wiping:
Turn the filters off and algae wipe the glass.
Remove any heavily soiled decor and clean
outside of the tank.
Turn the filters back on and leave the tank
for ten or 20 minutes.
An aquarium substrate is a sink for a lot of
nutrients in a tank. It’s where fish faeces and
uneaten food goes, where snails go to die, and
where a cornucopia of life abounds.
How you clean your substrate depends on
what it’s made of, and crucially what its role is.
How you deal with plant substrates or biotope
substrates is profoundly different to
community tank substrates.
regular d
cleans. T
grain siz
that part
down be
the gaps
up near
you pus
Cleaning decoration
the substrate. Don’t just skim the surface.
Don’t feel you need to clean the entire
substrate in one sitting, as you may lose too
much water in doing so. Focus on a third or
half of the substrate at each sitting.
Get experience in controlling the flow. A
gravel syphon needn’t be an all or nothing
affair. If you experiment with kinking or
pinching the hose as it is running, you’ll soon
learn to slow or stop the water flow, without
losing the syphon action. Once you have that
down, you can practice lifting gravel into the
cleaner at full flow, then slowing it down to stir
the gravel and lift the muck away. When you
get good at that, you’ll find you can clean the
whole tank without removing more water
than necessary.
A gravel cleaner is one
of the most important
pieces of fishkeeping kit
you can own.
Sand substrates benefit from regular
‘skimming’ and periodic airings. Being
compact, debris tends to gather on top of it,
instead of being concealed. But compaction
also reduces water and air flow, leading to
dead anaerobic patches where oxygen
cannot reach.
When you start to see waste forming, skim
with a syphon (with or without a gravel cleaner
attachment) or a submersible vacuum by
lifting the waste from the top of the sand. You
will lose a little each time to the vacuum filter
or when flushed out with waste water, so
replace as needed. Don’t push the gravel
cleaner into the sand as you will lose most of
the substrate.
Weekly or fortnightly, it is wise to rake
through any sand deeper than 1cm to turn it
over, and then follow up with a skim once
debris has settled back down.
Look out for bubbles or black sand, or both. If
these appear when you are raking, you have
anaerobic patches, suggesting your sand bed
is too deep in those areas.
Specialist planting substrates (below, left)
are usually designed to be left alone, as they
store and slowly release many of the nutrients
required by plant roots. One benefit of
aquascapes is that they usually have a low
biomass of fish compared to other types of
tank set-ups, and their waste is managed
mainly by the plants present.
Weak vacuum gravel cleaners (such as some
battery powered types) can be used to skim
debris collected on top of it, and even pushed
in to mats of carpeting plants to lift waste that
has fallen over them.
In hard to reach places, use a turkey baster
to ‘puff’ debris from crevices or behind decor.
Depending on your precision, you can also use
it to lift waste directly out.
Biotope substrates vary from setting to
setting, but in the case of thin sand substrates
covered in leaf litter, these are often left alone
for the most part. Rather than flush waste out
of the substrate, the aim is to develop colonies
of micro and macro-organisms such as
copepods, ostracods and worms that feed on
the organic debris that forms.
In the event of excess debris collecting in the
tank, skim it using a syphon hose without a
gravel cleaner attachment (for precision).
Improve your Fishkeeping
Deal w
Tetra’s Dave Hulse looks at the effects of
phosphate on your aquarium or pond and
explains how to keep it under control.
The fish and plants that you keep in your
aquarium and pond have a significant effect on
your water quality. One of the biggest
chemical changes that occurs is the
accumulation of waste products. These may be
in the form of toxic compounds such as
ammonia, which must be converted into a
non-toxic form or other compounds such as
phosphate. Unfortunately, while it isn’t
toxic, phosphate can cause other problems by
encouraging the growth of unwanted algae.
or pond will increase
is also excreted into t
your fish as they met
Another significant s
phosphorus is the ru
cells. Fish and plants
constantly shedding
cells and tissue into t
water, where the cells
again rupture and rel
their contents.
What is phosphorus?
Phosphorus i
natural habita
Phosphorus is a vital biochemical. It is not just
found in your fish’s body, but is also found in
numerous other vital biochemicals.
One of the main inputs of phosphorus in
your aquarium and pond is fish food. Artificial
diets like flake and pellet foods have a
phosphorus concentration in the region of one
per cent, so after each feeding session the
amount of phosphorus cycling in the aquarium
In the natural environ
sources of phosphoru
primarily the weathe
rocks and breakdown
sediments. These rel
phosphorus into the
and account for most
global concentration
urces are agricultural
mal manures and
wage which find their way
tems and the sea where it
en surface water and the
d sediments.
y is it a
phorus will cycle through
erous forms in the water.
olved Inorganic
phorus (DIP) is the most
dant form (it is also
n as Orthophosphate,
ive phosphate and
phate). Another form of
phorus in water is
olved Organic
phorous (DOP), and this
unts for the phosphorus
nd to organic compounds
Water quality
freshwater environments, freshwater algae and
plants (macrophytes) have evolved to be able
to store phosphate inside their cells as
Condensed Inorganic Polyphosphates. This
enables the plant or algae to use the stored
phosphate when levels of DIP in the water
have dropped to growth limiting levels. This
phosphate storage is known as ‘luxury
consumption’ and may help to explain why
controlling algae in ponds or an aquarium is
so difficult.
In marine environments, phosphorus levels
tend to be more stable. The level in natural
seawater is around 0.07 mg/l, with higher
levels recorded inshore due to pollution and
river inputs.
Consequently, nitrogen tends to be the
limiting nutrient in marine environments and
marine algae are not quite so thrifty with their
phosphorus. Marine seaweeds are known to
excrete DIP and DOP into the water. The level
of phosphate in marine aquaria is generally far
higher than natural seawater so marine algae
such as Caulerpa may be adding to the overall
phosphorus level as well as lowering it.
How to keep it under control
The inputs of phosphorus in a pond or
aquarium are primarily fish, their food and
plants. So surely the best way to keep
phosphate levels down is to reduce the
amount of fish, plants and food — but
where is the fun in that? The key to
controlling phosphorus is to increase the
outputs of phosphorus in the system so
they are more balanced.
Freshwater aquariums and ponds where
higher plant growth is encouraged should
show a reduction in levels of DIP in the water
as the plants assimilate and grow. If the
phosphorus demands of the higher plants
leave a surplus DIP then algal growth can
be expected.
Another way phosphate can leave the water
is through aeration. When water is aerated,
orthophosphate becomes bound to dissolved
organic compounds (DOC) in the water. This
DOC is attracted to the surface with air
bubbles and as these rise to the surface and
burst, the orthophosphate leaves the water via
minute airborne droplets of water known as an
aerosol. One study showed how 90% of the
orthophosphate was removed from a sample
of seawater after 24 hours of aeration with an
aquarium air pump.
Liquid additives can also be very effective at
the removal of phosphates from aquarium
water. Tetra PhosphateMinus can remove
2 mg/l of phosphate when used as instructed
and will cause no water clouding, KH reduction
or pose any threat to aquarium inhabitants.
Phosphate accumulation in fishkeeping
systems is inevitable and significantly
increases the risk of troublesome algae
growth. It should be tackled on numerous
fronts, such as limiting inputs through sensible
feeding regimes of quality fish foods and using
phosphate removers. Higher plant or
macroalgae growth will also help lock up
phosphate out of reach of the algae.
Caulerpa may add to the
overall phosphorus level in
your marine tank as well as
helping to lower it.
dissolved in the water. Finally, a significant
proportion of the phosphorus will be bound to
particulate matter in the detritus and
sediment, and this is known as Particulate
Organic Phosphorus (POP).
None of the forms of DIP, DOP or POP are
directly toxic to fish. The problem with
elevated levels of phosphate in aquarium or
pond water is that it encourages algae growth.
Phosphorus is required for plant growth, but
excessive levels of phosphate can mean
increased growth of plant life.
In lakes and rivers, the enrichment of the
water with nutrients is termed ‘eutrophication’
and this can lead to heavy growth of algae or
aquatic plants. These nutrients are mainly
nitrate and phosphate, with phosphate being
the limiting factor in freshwater environments.
In other words, it is the presence of phosphate
that triggers the plant growth, and it is
phosphate that most commonly runs out first.
Because phosphate is a limiting nutrient in
Every time you feed your fish, the
amount of phosphorous in
the water will increase.
Dave Hulse is Tetra’s Technical Consultant. He has 20 years of experience within the
aquatics industry, and has been involved in education and training for
the last 15 years, having taught at both Sparsholt and Reaseheath
Colleges. He is currently based at the School of Life Sciences at Keele
University where he turns his hand to other subjects in the biological
sciences — although he usually manages to crowbar a piscatorial
reference in at some point! With such a varied
nd rich background in aquatics, Dave brings a
ealth of experience to support Tetra and its
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works in aquatic retail
and has sold marines
for 15 years. He has
written books and
taken part in research
projects. Tristan works
at Cheshire Waterlife.
has been keeping fish
since the 1970s and
has a particular passion
for catfish. He helps to
moderate the PFK
website forum and
excels at advising and
guiding new keepers.
Q. What can I do about this
powdery substrate?
A year or so ago, my local aquarium store
advised me to use JBL ProScape plant soil
to improve plant growth in my 280 l tropical
community tank and suggested placing it on
top of the existing gravel to avoid dismantling
the set-up. This worked well for the plants,
but now much of the substrate has
disintegrated into a fine dark dust which coats
the leaves and the hardscape. Every time a cory
or loach moves around large clouds are
released. They are unsightly and I’m concerned
they could clog the filter.
Can I cover this powder with a layer of sand
or fine gravel? Or can you suggest another
solution? The tank is well planted and the
substrate ‘sandwich’ is already 6–8cm deep
in places.
substance, which is perfectly fine for the plants,
but — as you’ve experienced — can be a
problem if you have bottom dwelling fish. For
this reason I always recommend avoiding these
soils if you have types of fish that constantly
move the substrate.
You can top the soil with another layer of
gravel or sand but because it’s lighter (not as
dense) the soil will usually rise above it again
and then you will be back to square one.
My long-term solution would be to either
re-home your catfish or invest in a new substrate
system, such as Tropica Plant Substrate or
Dennerle 9-in-1 underneath inert quartz gravel
with 1–3mm rounded grains.
Unfortunately, this is a common issue with
all of these commercial soils. They degrade
over several months into a soft mud-like
is a world-renowned
aquascaper. He
co-founded the UK
Aquatic Plant Society
and now works as a
freelance aquatic
is PFK’s features editor.
He’s worked as a public
aquarist, managed
a number of aquatic
stores and has
lectured in aquatics.
has kept fish for over
20 years. He has
authored a number of
fishkeeping books and
has a particular passion
for brackish species.
has kept fish most of
his life. He’s managed
an award-winning
store and is a former
PFK editor. He’s now
Evolution Aqua’s
business development
Soil substrates are ideal for plants
to root into, but they can be stirred
up by bottom dwelling fish once they
start to degrade.
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Fishkeeping Answers
Q. What’s causing this stalking behaviour?
My Elephantnose fish has started chasing
one of the Clown loaches about. He seems
to be stalking it and won’t leave it be
except to feed. The Elephantnose has been
in my tank for over a year but the two
Clown loaches are new. They are quite
small, at about 7cm each. The tank is 340 l
in size, so I think it should be big enough.
It also includes some Bleeding heart
tetras and Giant danios, both of which the
Elephantnose ignores completely.
The Elephantnose is a mildly territorial
species and once settled in and well fed
they will throw their weight around. This
comes as quite a surprise to people who
think that they are delicate fish because of
their dismal survival rate in community
tanks. The fact that you have kept yours for a
year is actually really impressive, and
presumably that means it is feeding well and
growing nicely.
That being the case, its behaviour is quite
normal for the species and not easily fixed.
Sometimes they ignore dissimilar fish
entirely, only going for their own kind and
other electric fish (such as some of the South
American knifefish).
Unless you have space for a very large group,
Elephantnoses are best kept singly, and only
ever alongside non-electric fish species like
barbs and characins.
Quite why your Clown loach has been
targeted is hard to say. Perhaps they are
competing for hiding places or food? Both
species are bottom dwellers, both forage at
Clown loaches ideally
need to be kept in groups
of at least five — and that
means a big tank.
Everything you need for healthy fish
Elephantnoses do best
either kept singly or in
large groups.
night and like to sift sand for insect larvae,
worms and tiny crustaceans, so there’s a lot
of overlap in requirements.
Adding more Clown loaches to the
aquarium might help to spread out the
aggression, but that’s hard to recommend
for a tank your size.
In fact, I’d be tempted to rehome the two
Clown loaches as they’re going to get pretty
big eventually and a decent school of five to
six will need more space than your current
aquarium can provide.
Apart from dither fish like the danios and
tetras, the best bottom dwellers for life
alongside Elephantnoses are things like
L-number plecs and Synodontis catfish that
will be all but immune to their aggression.
But do also make sure that any such
catfish have hiding places of their own,
because competition for caves and
burrows will certainly be one possible
source of friction. There’s not much an
Elephantnose can do to a Panaque or
Synodontis of similar size, but there’s also
no need to actually make life difficult for
either species!
Q. Should I
switch my pond
off completely
for winter?
I recently read an article which
recommended that I should switch off
pond electrics such as filters and
fountains during the winter period.
In my small 1000 l pond I have an
internal filter which returns its water
direct to the pond (there’s no fountain or
waterfall), and an outdoor air pump. I
was thinking of switching off the air
pump for the winter to save on electricity
and wear and tear — assuming that the
oxygen demand in the pond is going to
be less in the winter — but can I
continue to run the filter throughout the
year? I’d like to keep the bacteria on
the biological media going over the
winter if possible.
Yes, you can keep the filter running,
although I recommend moving it up
out of the deepest part of the pond, to
enable a thermal layer of 4°C water for the
fish to hibernate in.
The bacteria in your pond filter will stay
alive, but the population may shrink over
the winter. This is due to decreases in the
fishes’ metabolism — less gill movement,
less ammonia and less waste as a result
of little or no food being given over the
winter period.
You are right about your air pump. Cold
water holds masses of dissolved oxygen,
so additional aeration won’t be necessary.
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Pond filters can be left running
over winter, but the numbers of
beneficial bacteria will fall due to
the inactivity of your fish.
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Fishkeeping Answers
Q. Why are my Angelfish hiding?
Angelfish naturally inhabit shady rivers
with little overhead lighting and in the
aquarium they will be quite nervous in open
tanks with bright light. Simply allowing the
aquarium plants to cover the surface a bit
will help. You could choose tall plants such
as Vallisneria species with leaves that help
to cover the surface of the water, or else opt
for low-maintenance floating plants such as
Indian fern, Ceratopteris thalictroides or
Amazon frogbit, Limnobium laevigatum
which will do the job nicely.
Another trick is to switch the room lights
on for a few minutes before turning on the
aquarium lights. If you switch the tank
lights on while the room is still dark it can
shock and stress your fish. Since your
Angels are still small they will be feeling
quite vulnerable, and the fact they’ve only
been in your tank for a few days will be
making things worse.
els are
Give them a couple
Young Ang sex.
more weeks to settle
in and it’s also likely
your Angels will become
a lot bolder as they get
bigger too.
A couple of other bits
of advice though: Angels
aren’t really suitable for a
45 l tank much beyond
about half their adult size.
Your standard issue
farmed Angelfish should
reach about 10–12cm in
length, and you’re going to
want a tank upwards of
90 l for fish that size.
In addition, juvenile
Angels can’t be sexed at all
and even adults are
extremely difficult to sex
outside of spawning, so
pairs, or in groups of at least six specimens
when shopping for juvenile
that allow aggression to be spread out
fish, you’re just as likely to get two
relatively harmlessly.
of the same sex as you are to get one male
Adult Angels can sometimes view Neons
and one female. Two females isn’t a problem,
as food, by the way. While this depends on
but two males will likely squabble, so
their relative sizes, you have been warned!
observe and act accordingly. Generally,
Angels are best kept either singly, in mated
I’ve recently introduced a pair of juvenile
Angelfish into a 45 l aquarium where they
live alongside some Corydoras catfish and
Neon tetras. But whenever I turn on the
light they hide and they only seem to come
out when the lights are turned off. Is this
normal? How can I make them come out
during the daytime?
The leaves of vallis will
grow to spread over the
water surface, offering
security for your fish.
Everything you need for healthy fish
Q. Will my stand
take the weight
of this tank?
Q. How can I get my pH down?
Shrimp will do well in
a wide range of water
chemistries but won’t
tolerate sudden changes.
It’s always easier to keep fish that suit
your local tapwater rather than trying
to adjust the water to suit the fish you’d like
to keep. As you are seeing, trying to balance
water with various additives and mixes can
become confusing and it’s hard to maintain
a stable environment when there are so
many factors at play. I’m not familiar with
the products you ‘ve mentioned, but it is
possible the two different supplements
you’re using are working against one
another, or at least affecting the stated
properties of each.
You filled your tank initially with local
tapwater and despite six weeks of water
changes with the remineralised RO, you’ll
still have a significant volume of the original
tapwater in the tank — which might explain
the KH reading you are getting despite
adding freshwater with no measurable KH.
You don’t mention the GH and KH readings
for your tapwater but if high, these could be
a factor in buffering the water against
change. The minerals you are using are
intended to remineralise RO water, so you’d
probably have been best off filling the tank
with this to start with, although eventually
your water change routine should dilute the
remaining tapwater so that it no longer has
an effect on chemistry.
Hopefully at this point you should be able
to get the water to maintain the chemistry
you’re after. With fish, and often more so
with inverts, stability is key. Many can
tolerate chemistries far removed from
the ideal if gently acclimatised and kept
stable — it’s sudden swings and extremes
that are dangerous. However, clearly your
current stock will do best in the kind of
conditions you are aiming for, rather than
hard, alkaline water.
I’ve recently bought a Fluval Flex 57 l
fish tank and I’m wondering what the
weight of it will be when it’s set up and
how strong a base I will need to support
it. I am hoping that a 12mm solid wood
base will be okay. The supporting sides
of the stand are 71cm apart and it also
has a back support but nothing at the
front. Should I add some extra support?
I am struggling to attain a target pH of 6.5
in my 90 x 45 x 45cm aquarium. I set it up
10 weeks ago using dechlorinated
tapwater of 8pH. After noticing the high
pH at set-up I’ve been performing 20%
water changes every week using RO water
with added Shrimp King Bee Salt and Salty
Shrimp Blackwater powder. The water I
add has a pH of 6.5–6.8, hardness of about
6°H and a usually unrecordable GH.
Despite this, the lowest pH I can achieve
is 7.4 (6°H, 2KH) but it seems to creep up
to 7.8 between water changes. I added
Fluval peat to my external canister filter
but it hasn’t really done anything. The
substrate is natural white Dennerle quartz
gravel and I have a large amount of red
lava rock in the tank (I am told neither of
these affect water chemistry). I attached
plants and mosses to the rocks with
aquarium-safe superglue.
I became impatient around four weeks
ago and starting adding fish despite the
high pH. I now have Cardinal tetras, Dwarf
chain loaches, orange Sakura shrimp and
Amano shrimp. All the inhabitants are in
good condition, feed well and are definitely
thriving. Ammonia and nitrite have never
been recordable and nitrate is <10 ppm.
I am not really keen on adding chemicals
to adjust the pH and was considering using
almond leaves but I’m trying to avoid
tea-coloured water. Any advice
would be greatly
It’s always a good idea to check the
strength and suitability of any piece
of furniture that you’re planning to use as
a tank stand unless it was designed for
the purpose — fish tanks can be
surprisingly heavy.
Working out the weight of your tank is
relatively straightforward: one litre of
water weighs one kilo. While your tank is
sold as holding 57 l, this is often the
volume of the tank if it was filled to the
brim with nothing else in it. You can
seldom (if ever) fill a tank to the very top,
so you generally lose a percentage of
volume and weight due to this. However,
sand, gravel and rocks obviously take up
some potential volume and are heavier
than water (or they’d float!) and you have
to allow for the weight of the tank itself.
But taking all this into account for a
small tank like a Fluval Flex I’d be
surprised if it weighs more than 70
kg/11st. That’s the same weight as the
average UK adult woman, so if you know
one it could be worth asking her to
carefully sit on the stand to see how it
fares before filling the tank! If seated
tanks should
spread their
evenly. The
back support
will certainly
add to its
but if you are
concerned it
may be worth
bracing the
top panel
with some
extra timber
A dedicated stand
to prevent
will be designed to
any bending.
take the weight of
the full aquarium.
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Fishkeeping Answers
Q. Can I keep these filefish?
I have been away from fishkeeping for
about nine years but I’m in the throes of
setting up a reef tank again. I’ve noticed
that even in the time I’ve been away things
have moved on, on the marine front.
I’ve seen a couple of Harlequin filefish,
Oxymonacanthus longirostris for sale —
which used to be a big ‘no’ back in the day
— but it’s a fish I always fancied keeping.
Are they any easier to keep now or would I
do well to steer clear? Is there another
filefish that would be suitable if not?
My tank holds around 180 l and there are
no fish stocked in the system so far — so I
could limit future stocking choices to tank
mates that are compatible with a filefish if
needs be.
In the wild, Harlequin filefish are
obligate corallivores and they
preferentially feed on Acropora millepora.
This strong dietary preference for Acropora is
the reason they are such a challenge to
maintain in the aquarium. Traditionally
they’ve been a real no-no in the hobby as
survival rates have been dismal. Previous
successes with maintaining the species have
tended to come from aquarists with huge
systems packed with SPS which could cope
with the frequent munching of polyps by the
filefish. The idea is that because SPS grows
quickly, if there is enough established coral
then the damage is spread out and the
overall health of the aquarium’s coral
population isn’t compromised.
However, the current thinking is that
Harlequins can be maintained with prepared
diets. In fact, marine expert Matt Pedersen
has managed to wean Oxymonacanthus
longirostris onto frozen feeds on several
occasions and has actually bred the fish. He
suggests that initially the fish should be kept
adopts a headstanding posture to complete
on Acropora while being offered a range of
the effect. While opportunistic and
frozen foods such as Mysis, adult Artemia
and fish eggs as well as pellet and flake. After potentially capable of nipping at corals,
this is a reasonably reef-safe species if kept
a while they should forgo Acropora entirely,
well fed.
allowing them to be maintained solely on the
This fish also has the very useful ability to
prepared diet.
munch pest anemones, hence its common
However, this is potentially a tricky process
name of Aiptasia-eating filefish. Admittedly,
requiring huge amounts of dedication and
it’s not the prettiest fish you’ll ever see, but it
you’ll need to ensure there’s a constant
grows to a manageable 12cm and at least
supply of coral on which the fish can feed
earns its keep!
until they’re fully ‘weaned’. You’re also facing
the issue of what do if they can’t be
successfully trained to
accept artificial diets —
Despite recent advances,
can you realistically
the Harlequin filefish is
provide a diet of their
still a very demanding
specific coral as feed
species to keep.
potentially indefinitely? It
can be done (and Matt
deserves a huge hat tip for
his work) but Harlequins
still fall into the ‘very
demanding’ marine fish
Because many filefish
simply grow too large or
are too opportunistic to
live in a reef — posing a
threat to corals and other
invertebrates — they’re all
a risk to some degree.
Many of the smaller, more
colourful species are
delicate and difficult to get
feeding. With that said, one
very interesting species to
consider is Acreichthys
tomentosus. It’s not strictly
a reef species. Instead it
inhabits seagrass beds —
in fact, its cryptic looks
mimic fragments of
seagrass and it often
The Aiptasia-eating filefish
mimics seagrass in its
natural habitat.
Everything you need for healthy fish
Q. How do I save these baby Banggais?
It definitely sounds as though your
male is mouthbrooding, which is good
to hear — but obviously something is
happening to the offspring and it’s possible
that one of the adults is eating them.
Realistically, males tend to eat the eggs
early on — just a few days after fertilisation
— if they haven’t been adequately fed prior
to mating, but they tend to be good parents
once the young are fully developed. Females
are more likely to eat fry but it’s hard to say
definitively. Considering that the incubation
period of Banggai eggs is around 21 days,
it’s likely from your experiences that the
young are being incubated to full term, but
one or both parents are eating them as the
male ejects them. Occasionally, some young
can survive if there are enough nooks and
crannies for them to hide away in; a
Long-spined urchin can help in this regard,
but it’s best to remove the male to a
separate tank.
Just prior to the time the male is ready to
release the offspring (roughly 21 days from
the time he starts to refuse food), very
carefully catch him and transfer him to a
small aquarium.
Some people ‘strip’ the male of offspring at
around day 21 or when they are clearly fully
formed, but this can be difficult and stressful,
so I’d wait for him to eject them himself, at
least on the first attempt to see how he
behaves. You should end up with 20–30 fry.
When you’re sure all have been ejected by the
male, move him back to the main aquarium.
The young can feed straight away and should
be given newly-hatched Artemia nauplii from
the get-go. It’s very important that this is
enriched with a HUFA (highly unsaturated fatty
acid) supplement to prevent so-called sudden
fright syndrome (SFS), which can result in
large-scale mortalities. After a while, the
babies will accept frozen feeds — again, it’s
best if these are enriched prior to feeding out.
Adding an inline dechlorinator to
your hosepipe can make pond
top-ups much simpler.
I have what appear to be a pair of Banggai
cardinalfish on their own in a small tank
with live rock and a few soft corals. Every
few weeks one of them (the male I assume)
stops eating and his lower jaw gradually
expands. I assume he is carrying eggs but
he then resumes eating after three or so
weeks with no sign of any young. I assume
the parents are eating them. Do I need to
isolate the male or is there anything else I
can do? Would a Diadema urchin help if I
could obtain one?
Long-spined urchins
provide a safe haven
for young Banggai
Banggai cardinals make an
ideal intro into marine
fish breeding.
Q. How can we top our
pond up more easily?
We have a pond with about 80 goldfish. It holds 10,000 l of water
and we top it up by filling a tub with 40 l of water, adding the
appropriate amount of Tetra Pond AquaSafe and tipping the mixture
into the pond. It’s a lot of work for two 72-year-olds! Can we put a
dechlorinating pre-filter on the garden hose? Or is there another
easy way of dechlorinating the water? MARILYN BLENKINS, EMAIL
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Yes, you could attach an inline dechlorinator to your hosepipe.
You can fit it anywhere between the tap and the pond and for best
results you should hang or mount the unit vertically.
Inline dechlorinators work by passing chlorinated tap water through
a special carbon granulate. The slower the water passes through, the
better they work — 4 l per minute is recommended. As a guide, adjust
your tap until the hose takes 10 minutes or more to fill a 40 l bucket.
Then remove the bucket and put the hose straight into the pond with
the same water speed. You won’t need a liquid dechlorinator as well.
Tetra UK
Fishkeeping Answers
Q. Do freshwater puffers need a clean-up crew?
Pufferfish don’t need a ‘clean-up crew’
so the ideal tank mate in this regard is
nothing! Freshwater pufferfish are acutely
sensitive to nitrate, and as carnivores for the
most part, protein-rich foods like snails and
bloodworms will make up the bulk of their
diet. Regardless of the pufferfish species
being kept, you’ll have to work hard to
balance their considerable appetites on one
hand with their sensitivity to nitrate on the
other. Adding tank mates of any kind simply
makes things more difficult. And because
pufferfish tend to view tank mates as either
meals or territorial threats, you’ve got a
compelling case for a single-species set-up.
For sure some people keep Dwarf puffers
Floating plants like this
Amazon frogbit, will help keep
nitrates in check.
I’m setting up a 45 l tank for Dwarf puffers.
I hear they are messy, so what fish do you
recommend for cleaning up after them and
how many? Also, there will be some wood
in the tank which I would like to keep clear
of algae. Will Amano shrimp work, or will
the puffers eat them?
For the substrate I’m planning on having
25% pelleted soil and 75% silver sand
with leaf litter, wood, pebbles and rocks
added. Do you recommend any plants for
the set-up? The lights are good and there is
soil available for planting, but there will be
no CO2 injection. Floating plants will be
added and the tank is open-topped. The
water will be 20% RO water and 80% tap
and I’ll be doing frequent 15% water
changes. How many Dwarf puffers would
you recommend for this tank set-up?
with Otocinclus, but these catfish are
sensitive and need plenty of fresh green
algae, so unless you’re going to optimise the
tank to their specific needs, they aren’t likely
to enjoy their full lifespan in the aquarium
anyway. So, I’d avoid them as tank mates.
Dwarf puffers aren’t messy compared to
plecs or Oscars, but it helps if your set-up
is well-filtered and easy to clean. I’d
recommend having epiphytic plants if
possible, grown on bogwood roots or lava
rock — both of which are ideal for creating
the complex, three-dimensional habitats
that Dwarf puffers need. The more vertical
structures and line-of-sight barriers, the less
likely the males are to attack each other. The
standard epiphytes of the aquarium trade
are Java moss, Java fern and various Anubias
species, all of which tolerate a broad range
of environmental conditions without
complaint. Avoid excessively bright light or
algae might be a problem. Ideally add some
floating plants such as Indian fern or
Amazon frogbit because they will further
enhance your puffers’ living environment.
Best of all, floating plants absorb
nitrogenous waste from the water too. On
the other hand, epiphytes and floating
plants get no benefit from fancy soils, the
former because they grow so slowly and the
latter because they get minerals from the
water instead — and in fact rich soils will
probably spur algae problems more than
anything else. I’d go with a thin layer of sand
or gravel here, something easy to stir and
clean as needed.
A gentle water flow is fine for these puffers
and for all the plants mentioned (though not
for Otocinclus, which prefers cool, fastflowing water with lots of oxygen). Water
chemistry is relatively unimportant, just
avoid extremes and keep it stable — 5–15°H,
pH 6–7.5 is fine.
For stocking I’d recommend 20 l minimum
for the first Dwarf puffer and 10–15 l for each
additional specimen. A single male plus a
couple of females sounds about right to me.
Dwarf puffers are sensitive
to nitrate so ensure the tank
is easy to clean and don’t
neglect maintenance.
Everything you need for healthy fish
Yellow tangs are
sensitive to ammonia.
Q. What’s wrong with
my tang?
My Yellow tang looks like he has done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson.
My water is spot on apart from a very low trace of ammonia, which
I am doing a water change for. He is in a 400 l tank with eight
other fish, three Cleaner shrimps and a varied clean-up crew. I
have a sump with Miracle mud and Caulerpa, a nitrate reactor,
carbon reactor and a protein skimmer.
Q.Can I keep a
cow in my tank?
I spotted a gorgeous little marine fish at
my LFS at the weekend, called a cowfish.
How would I keep one of these, what size
tank would I need and what could I keep
with it? Are they reef safe?
Cowfish are perhaps the most
improbable-looking fish you’ll ever
see, and it’s easy to see why they have grab
factor. They’re imported as tiny juveniles
and with their cute demeanour and
inexplicable looks they have huge appeal.
They can make for a pretty poor impulse
purchase, however, because they can be
quite a handful.
There are two species of cowfish you’re
likely to see in the trade: most commonly
the frankly bizarre Long-horned cowfish,
Lactoria cornuta, and occasionally the
(only slightly less peculiar) Hovercraft fish,
Tetrosomus gibbosus. These species present
issues with their overall size. The Hovercraft
fish can reach around 25–30cm and the
Long-horned cowfish tops out at a whopping
50cm — so don’t expect them to stay as
manageable as the cute little thing in the LFS
because they grow a lot and quickly too. As far
as tank size is concerned, you’re looking at
up to 1000 l to keep an adult Long-horned
cowfish happy.
Cowfish are also a risk for any fishy tank
mates. When they become stressed or injured
they can release a toxin (known as pahutoxin),
which discourages predators on the reef. In the
closed confines of an aquarium, pahutoxin can
potentially cause a wipe out of tank mates. To
be fair, the risk is small in a peaceful
environment so there shouldn’t be much
worry on this score providing the fish is kept
with non-aggressive species, but it’s
something to consider.
They’re also not particularly reef safe. While
small individuals could be maintained without
causing too much mayhem in a reef aquarium
(although they may munch feather dusters and
other small invertebrates), as they age they
become increasingly destructive and may
eat sponges, brittlestars and shrimp and
nip the mantle of clams. They may sample
the odd polyp but will generally leave
corals alone.
On balance, the best system for these
fish is a very large fish-only aquarium,
containing live rock (known as a FOWLR
set-up) and peaceful inhabitants.
Hovercraft fish.
From the photos you supplied, it looks like the fish is suffering
from some kind of secondary bacterial infection, but a specialist
fish vet would need to diagnose that and identify the bacteria
involved. There can be any number of causes. Yellow tangs are very
sensitive to ammonia, so this could be one. It’s also possible that the
fish has had some sort of trauma and this has created a site for a
bacterial infection to take hold. Either way, if the fish gets stressed
by a dip in water quality it may exacerbate the problem. It’s worth
finding out what caused the ammonia issue in the first place and
sorting it out. The water changes will help, but you could also use
something like Ammo-Lock or AmQuel Plus. They
as binders so the ammonia stops being toxic
he aquarium. It’s a temporary approach but
Rob Edw
rth considering.
Yellow tang.
d move the fish to a quarantine tank and feed a
ried diet including plenty of nori and other algae.
vet needs to diagnose whether this is a bacterial
fection or not, but the use of a broad-spectrum
ntibiotic in quarantine won’t hurt. To aid recovery,
inimise stress to the fish and maintain excellent
water quality. DAVE WOLFENDEN
Expert aquarium care with our digital water test app, download here:
Many marine fishkeepers employ a clean-up crew to help
keep their substrates clean. But are some types of reef
janitor more beneficial than others? Here are some of the
options to consider…
ost marine fishkeepers prefer to have a layer of
coral sand or gravel at the bottom of their
aquarium. It has a natural appearance and
reflects light, resulting in a brighter vista.
Well-managed substrates can also enhance an aquarium
through the release of pH-buffering carbonates, assist in the
removal of waste products and provide a habitat for a
range of fascinating creatures. However, they can also cause
potential issues because they accumulate detritus and act as a
surface for various forms of algae, mostly undesirable, to
develop on.
This is where the deployment of a specific ‘clean-up crew’ is
necessary . There are many different creatures to choose from
— you just need to find out which one is best for you.
Pink hot dog sea cucumber
Scientific name: Holothuria edulis.
Size: Around 30cm total body length.
Origin: Widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific .
Aquarium size: 180 l minimum.
Sea cucumbers are fascinating animals that can keep the sand clean
by removing detritus, uneaten fish food and other organic material
as they feed. The edible particles are digested and the inedible parts
are ejected from the other end in much the same way as a terrestrial
earthworm feeds.
The greatest issue to be aware of with sea cucumbers is that they
can release a particularly nasty toxin when they are in a stressful
situation. It’s called holothurin and it’s lethal to fish. For the species
outlined here such events are rare — I only know of one confirmed
instance with an aquarist I know personally, although there are
many references online to the so-called ‘cuke nuke’ mass die-offs.
Therefore it is difficult to recommend these animals for any aquaria
where fish are present but there are many aquarists who have kept
these echinoderms for years with no issue.
Strawberry conch
This snail is a shifter, moving sand about as it travels around the aquarium and also when it
buries itself in the substrate as a refuge. It loves the brown diatoms that often grow on the
surface of the sand and will happily graze them all day long. It will keep it aerated and
turned over by pushing through it in hop-like movements. Unlike sifters and some other
sand movers, the conch has little or no interest in the organisms that colonise the sand
naturally. They don’t fare well in aquaria with abundant cyanobacteria (slime algae) on the
sand and tend to bury themselves to escape it which can lead to starvation. Also, if it starts
climbing onto rockwork or stretching its long, trunk-like proboscis to reach algae growing
on the glass then this is usually a sign that its preferred food is in short supply. Offering dried
algae is worthwhile — many will accept this alternative and you will still benefit from its
shifting behaviour.
Black sea cucumber
Scientific name: Holothuria atra.
Size: 20–30cm length in the aquarium.
Origin: Widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific
ranging from the Red Sea to Australia.
Aquarium size: 180 l minimum.
The same warning about the potential for toxin
release applies to this cucumber as it does t
edulis. The Black cucumber has longer feed
tentacles with which it ‘mops’ the substrate
picking up edible morsels along with partic
from the substrate itself. These inedible bit
sand and gravel are ingested and pass throu
the gut before being expelled from the anus
loosely packed pellets that soon break apart
leave the sand clean. Keeping one or more o
these animals can result in a very clean
substrate but will reduce the overall diversi
life present in it.
Scientific name: Conomurex luhuanus.
Size: Around 5-6cm.
Origin: This species of gastropod mollusc is widespread in
the tropical Indo-Pacific.
Aquarium size: Stock one conch per 45 x 45cm aquarium
footprint and add them one at a time. Assess the impact they
are having and then add more if necessary.
Mini mud snail
Scientific name: Nassarius sp.
Size: Around 8-10mm.
Origin: Indo-Pacific. These specimens originated from Cebu
in the Philippines.
Aquarium size: Any size provided they can find enough to eat.
Another favourite sand shifter is this diminutive little mollusc. By
itself it will have little impact on a sand bed, despite being an able
burrower. However it is one of the few molluscs in the hobby with
an entire life cycle that can be completed in the average reef
aquarium. Populations grow and become sustainable without any
help — uneaten food, detritus and fish waste is enough. These
snails also have an acute sense of smell that enables them to seek
out and eat leftover fish food. Note that small individuals may be
targeted by many wrasse species including Peacock wrasse
(Macropharyngodon spp). and their relatives.
Sand sifting sea star
3 things you may not know about
your sand bed
Coral sand is not an inert substance. Usually resulting
from the natural weathering (wave action, water currents,
boring organisms, excretion by parrotfish) of hard skeletal
material deposited by marine invertebrates, it might consist of
calcium carbonate as the mineral aragonite, which is derived
from stony corals, or have its origins in the shells of molluscs
or even tiny single celled organisms called foraminiferans
(forams for short).
The sand or gravel can act as a site for the precipitation of
calcium carbonate — it’s present in the water column and
reefkeepers strive to keep it at an optimum value for the sessile
invertebrates in their care. Without repeated agitation of the
substrate it can cause concretions, where sand grains bond
together to form stony lumps in the sand.
The respiration of organisms in your aquarium and the
accumulation of detritus in the substrate results in the
production of carbon dioxide. This gas is acidic in solution and
will break down the calcium carbonate of the sand or gravel,
resulting in a decrease in particle size (the carbonate liberated
in the process can help to buffer the pH which is beneficial to
the system). This means your sand bed changes over time. If
not moved about or ‘turned over’ regularly, compacted areas
can emerge and detritus and bacteria can proliferate. These
dead spots can facilitate anaerobic bacteria and the production
of hydrogen sulphide — the ‘bad egg’ gas.
This nocturnal species of echinoderm tends to bury itself during
the day and emerge at night to forage for food, which in itself is
enough to turn over sand and keep it free of detritus. But it will also
repeatedly push into the sand, looking for edible morsels within
the substrate.
For some aquarists this scavenging, opportunistic foraging of
Astropecten works beautifully to create a clean substrate. For
others, it can prove to be a nightmare because useful animals within
the sand bed become threatened. Many are stocked to deal with
unsightly sand and proceed to feed on the naturally available food
and then starve to death. Target feed by placing meaty foods such as
shellfish beneath the animal — this embraces the sand moving and
detritivorous activity of the sea star.
Cerith snail
Scientific name: Cerithium atratum.
Size: 3–5cm shell length.
Origin: Tropical and Sub-Tropical Atlantic including the Caribbean.
Aquarium size: 30 l for a single specimen but larger systems are better.
This marine mollusc is a shifter that buries itself in the sand when
it’s not feeding. The substrate will get moved as it feeds but typically
it grazes films of algae that grow on the surface of the sand or gravel
rather than in and among it.
There are a few species of cerith available for the aquarium trade
of which C. atratum is generally accepted to be the hardiest. Each
species has its own characteristics and degree of resilience, which
may explain why aquarists have had such varied experiences with
these snails. Some prove particularly hardy or consume a wide
variety of sand-based algae but others don’t. As
with so many species of herbivorous mollusc
they’re difficult to wean onto alternative
diets once they’ve fulfilled their purpose, so
start with less and build up.
Scientific name: Astropecten polyacanthus.
Size: 10–12cm arm span is typical for this species.
Origin: Widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific.
Aquarium size: 100 l upwards.
Dwarf red-legged hermit crab
Scientific name: Paguristes cadenati.
Size: Around 3cm.
Origin: Tropical and Subtropical Atlantic including Florida and
the Gulf of Mexico.
Aquarium size: 15 l minimum.
Essentially these hermits will go where the food is,
whether that be on rockwork, behind the rockwork or on
the sand or gravel substrate. With such an opportunistic
omnivore, it would be optimistic to stock only one or two
individuals in a system and hope that they decide to hang
around on the sand. Here you need to build up stocks
gradually with pauses of a week or more in between,
always monitoring the impact of the population on the
environment. They can do a good job keeping the sand
surface clean as they move over it and pick up morsels of
organic material and algae, but their impact is likely to
affect only the very upper surface of the substrate.
White-barred goby
Scientific name: Amblygobius phalaena.
Size: Around 15cm total body length.
Origin: Western Pacific including Australia and the Philippines to Micronesia.
Aquarium size: 150 l minimum but better in larger systems, especially when kept
in male-female pairs.
Although not the most beautifully coloured of marine fish, this little goby can
justify its inclusion in many aquaria simply because of its sand-sifting
behaviour. Like Valenciennea, A. phalaena removes edible particles from the
substrate by taking large mouthfuls and sorting it inside the oral cavity.
Rejected particles are ejected through the gills.
As a largely monogamous species there is scope for maintaining pairs.
Aquarium spawnings have been reported, usually occurring in burrows dug
out by the parents. Males have a distinctive crescent of black dots on their tail
fin while females have a single spot. This fish can drop substantial amounts of
sand on corals so it’s best for fish-only-with-live-rock systems or with corals
that can withstand regular sand showers.
Pistol shrimp and their partner gobies
are entertaining and fascinating, but if
you’re adding them to an established
system, be aware that the burrowing
activity of the Alpheid shrimp can
liberate large amounts of fine detritus
that was hitherto locked away in the
sand. Although mechanical filtration
and protein skimming can deal with
this, when it’s suspended in the water
column much of it will settle back
down on the sand and this can lead to
outbreaks of slime algae.
Court jester goby
Scientific name: Koumansetta rainfordi.
Size: 8.5cm total body length.
Origin: Western Pacific including Australia (Great Barrier Reef/Coral Sea) and
Philippines to Fiji. The Red Sea to the Eastern Indian Ocean is populated by
the similar K.hectori, Hector’s goby.
Aquarium size: 60 l minimum.
This is a wonderful little fish that can be easily overlooked due to its
small size. Up close its colours are exquisitely beautiful and it can
have a useful role to play in assisting with sand cleanliness in a
peaceful aquarium, even picking at filamentous algae if it’s present.
This is a sifting species but in comparison with other gobies that use
their mouths to dig into the substrateits mouth is small
and will therefore have a limited impact on a large
expanse of sand.
Occasionally, tank-bred individuals are
available in the hobby and these are
worth seeking out as they are usually
better feeders than wild-collected
specimens. In an aquarium context
they need to be seen feeding and
also given time tofeed — don’t
keep them with greedy feeders.
Peaceful and sedate aquaria
suit this fish best. Husbandry
is similar for
Hector’s goby,
the only other
member of
the genus.
Watch the slime!
Most sand shifters and sifters see slime algae as something
best avoided — it is toxic to most after all. Therefore, when
stocked in a tank with very dirty sand (likely with a mat of
cyanobacteria growing over its surface), your substrate movers
may become reclusive and hide in a corner or beneath the sand.
In some circumstances it can be better to remove the offending
sand and replace it. This will usually eliminate existing issues
with cyanobacteria.
Glider gobies
Scientific name: Valenciennea spp.
Size: Around 15cm total body length.
Origin: Indo-Pacific: A widespread genus of around 15
species of marine goby of which at least five are regularly
found in the hobby. Other species may occur but more
Aquarium size: 100 l minimum.
Valenciennea gobies can prove excellent sifters of sand and
can transform a diatom-covered, detritus-stuffed
substrate bed into a pristine environment in a relatively
short period of time. However, they are not without their
issues. They remove beneficial organisms from the
substrate as well as liberating detritus and have a
reputation for losing weight in the aquarium. Whether this
is due to internal parasites or lack of suitable food is the
cause of some debate in the hobby. Perhaps the greatest
problem encountered by aquarists with members of this
genus is their ability to jump out of uncovered aquaria. and
they can be nervous especially when first stocked into
their new home.
Make sure you see them actually feed — not simply take
food into their mouths — because it might be subsequently
rejected through the gills.
sh — the drawbacks
Twinspot goby
Scientific name: Signigobius biocellatus.
Size: 7.5cm total body length.
Origin: Western Pacific: Australia and Vanuatu to Micronesia.
Aquarium size: 60 l will accommodate a male-female pair.
A truly wonderful fish for a very peaceful reef aquarium. In the
lagoons and silty areas where this species lives it sifts mouthfuls
of sand for edible morsels.
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the long-term care of this fish is
providing sufficient food long-term. Some individuals will simply
refuse the frozen diets widely available in the hobby and others can
be extremely picky about what sized morsel they are prepared to
ingest. Although they can undertake a useful role in sand
maintenance, this is a small fish even when fully grown and is
therefore limited with how much it can sift. As such, they are best
stocked for their interest and beauty, with a ‘support team’ of benign
shifters such as small mud snails and Strawberry lipped conches.
The former can be highly useful in seeking out and consuming any
food missed by the gobies. Stocking pairs of this species can
increase the chances of success.
y and potentially effective sand sifters
, like depositing rejected sand particles
upon corals in the aquarium, which is something that most don’t
enjoy and some can’t tolerate. There is little you can do to stop
this behaviour and the only way to deal with it is to place corals
carefully — ideally not on the substrate at all.
Sand sifting fish such as the larger Valenciennea species also
strip the sand of beneficial life forms. For many this is
outweighed by having a clean sand bed, but if you enjoy seeing
the varied organisms it may be best to seek alternative cleaners.
Valenciennea gobies are
excellent sifters of sand. In a
short period of time they can
transform a diatom-covered,
detritus-stuffed substrate
into a pristine environment.
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tank: £159.99
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To shop online for click & collect into your nearest Aquael stockist or for
Nathan Hill reviews the latest fishkeeping products.
Fluval Provac
Former vacuum efforts from a range of companies ha
met with a certain trepidation that often turns to out
disappointment as soon as the things are switched on
powered vacuums can sometimes be a paradox — the
precisely because they don’t suck.
The Provac has forgone the one advantage that batt
gravel vacuums have — while they require no power
does. It plugs straight into the mains. The payoff for t
that does what many don’t. It pulls water through its
respectable rate. Even with the return raised out of th
good 10cm, it churns out flow greater than a lot of int
I’ve owned.
For its highs, it has one annoying low. The low is the on/off button.
That little tyke sure is stubborn. You can press it and the flow stops,
but unless you push it right down until it clicks, it pings back on a
fraction of a second after you lift your finger away.
A high is the built-in LED that illuminates the substrate, because
we all do the correct thing and turn our lights off for safety reasons
when we work on our tanks, right? Well, I know I do, and this thing
really helps find my way about, until the chamber fills with mulch
and then it all goes dark for a moment.
Well, buy some more. They come in packs
of four (actually packs of three plus one
free — not sure I get that either), and I
can’t really give you a lifespan per
pad. If you’ve got a sandy tank
with leaf litter, probably
not that long. If you’re
a ’scaper trying to
get a few particles off
of your Glossostigma
carpet, it’ll last years,
I’m guessing.
What’s that funky thing?
Pull off the red filter chamber, and look in the Provac packaging, and
you’ll find this little black nozzle. It pushes on to the water return nub
that juts from the Provac’s body, and on to it you can attach a length of
hose — the gravel cleaner just became a motorised syphon for a gravel
clean and water change.
Depending how much water
you’re taking out, it’s pretty
good. If the water is really
low though, it struggles. If
you’re doing a 25% water
change on a 35cm deep
tank, it’ll cope just fine.
If you’ve got one of those
six-foot column tanks,
then you’re barking up the
wrong tree.
At full retail, I’d be on
the fence — £65 is a big
ask, and I’d have to weigh up
if it’s really introducing
enough help into my life to
warrant it. With a bit of
online rummaging, I see that
they’re mainly selling around
£10 to £15 below that, which
takes the edge off a bit.
If I had just one tank, it’d
be a luxury. If I had a fish
house with dozens of tanks,
it’d be a valuable tool.
O Ease of use: 4/5
O Features: 5/5
O Value for money: 3/5
O Overall: 4/5
O Price: RRP at £64.99
O More info:
What about when the foam
gets too filthy to clean?
What about the filter?
This red part is where the water is returned, and where
the waste is collected. That means this is the bit that
needs regular cleaning or changing, and the fine foam medium
in there can clog pretty quick (based on how dirty the tank is, of
course ). There’s no awkward catches or buttons, the red filter
housing just slips right in and out of the body. Knock it when
you’re cleaning and there is the chance it’ll come off, as I found,
but for the best part it holds okay.
See the black bit on the bottom of the red chamber? That simply
pulls out and then another inner chamber slides out and you can
get to the foam. It’s easy.
Eheim streamON+ 6500
Opening up
Removal of the outer
casing involves pressing
down two holding clips on
either side, then wriggling
until the device separates
into two. Getting the
impeller out requires no
special tools, it just pulls
straight out. Eheim
suggests giving the
impeller an occasional
once over with citric acid
(lemon juice) to remove
any scale.
Is Eheim the company to watch again? Here’s hoping. It had been off
my radar for years until it reappeared with some vibrant late-2017
offerings. This one’s probably my favourite. The feel of it is
somewhat more industrial than I’m used to with flow pumps.
Usually, they’re all ergonomic curves and futuristic looking, but this
one is angular and brutalist. Reminds of the old Volvo cars of the
1980s, for some reason.
Out of the box you get your pump and a magnetic holder. You need
to screw the pump in to the internal holder, which takes about five
seconds, then it’s good to go. There’s only 6W of power consumption
at full pelt, so running costs aren’t going to be an issue.
Adjustable flow
Flow is not controlled remotely, so if you want to plug this into a controller or wavemaker, only
the on/off types will work.
Instead, flow is regulated by a screen controlled by a tiny lever on the outer housing — that little grey
nub at the top. There are three settings for it, which it clicks in to — fully open, fully closed and mid-way.
The flow rate ranges from 6500 lph when fully open, down to 3500 lph closed. The visual difference in
output is pretty striking. The midway point obviously sits somewhere between these flows. Eheim
suggests that these flow rates make the streamON+ 6500 suited for tanks between the 150 and 350 l
capacity range. I’d say it depends what you’re doing with it. For the freshwater heads out there, a couple
of these would go great in a 80cm Tanganyikan goby cichlid biotope, with a surge device creating a
back and forth wave action. Just tossing that one out there.
It’s gutsy, straightforward and
easy to work with. It doesn’t have
much in the way of frills, but in my
world that means there’s less to go
wrong. I’ll be using this for all sorts of
projects over the coming year.
Hopefully the price will be in the right
ballpark, too.
OEase of use: 4.5/5
OFeatures: 4/5
OValue for money: Unknown
OOverall: 4/5
OPrice: TBA
OMore info:
Low vibrations
The magnet holder is one of those
pokey, skin-pinching strength magnets,
so watch yourself when attaching, but
it’ll cope with glass from 6mm to 12mm
thick. To reduce the noise of the pump
resonating through your tank (and isn’t
it annoying how some cabinets can act
like amplifiers for that?) there’s a ‘double
holder’ design, with the magnet housing
connected to the pump holder via four
rubber dividers.
Colombo Marine Test Lab
I’ve got a friend who constantly borrowed my
Colombo Testlab freshwater test kit, right up
until the point where he didn’t give it back. I
have a few different kits, but that was the one
he always wanted. It was the easiest, he found.
If he had a marine tank, he’d be delighted to
hear that I now have the Colombo marine test.
It’s a smart, sassy little bundle, and tidily
presented in a black case, which (like my other
kit) gives absolutely no indication which
way is top and which is bottom. I honestly
think I’ve yet to open it the right way up, which
is annoying.
The kit tests five marine specific areas —
nitrate (0.25 to 4.0mg/l), phosphate (0.03 to
0.80mg/l), KH, magnesium and calcium.
While some of the tests may require more
reagent than others, Colombo proudly states
you’ll get 40 tests of each.
What do you get?
The tray inside houses all of your
reagents, syringes, testing cups and
powders. You get a 5ml syringe for filling
cups with water, and the smaller syringes
are needed for the Calcium, Magnesium
and KH tests. The powders are used with
the Calcium and Nitrate tests,
As well as the tray, there’s a package of
spoons, syringe tips and powder
measures. Keep them safe, as the kit is
useless without them. Alongside them are
the instructions and the colour charts for
the nitrate and phosphate tests.
How easy is it to use?
Look for yourself. If you’re familiar with the usual ‘add reagents, shake about, leave ten minutes and
compare to a chart’ types of kit, then the nitrate and phosphate tests you’ll pick up right off the bat.
The KH, Calcium and Magnesium tests are the titration type, which means that you add water to the
testing cup (5ml in each case), followed by a few drops of the first reagent for that test (and powder, if
needed). This will turn the sample in the cup one obvious colour.
Then it gets trickier.
Next you fill the 1ml syringe (with the fine tip attached) all the way to exactly the 1ml mark, with the
final reagent. Now, slowly adding the reagent to the cup, you’re waiting for a sudden colour change.
So, in the case of testing KH, the sample starts blue, but once you add enough of the last reagent, it’ll
turn yellow. At that point, you stop and calculate exactly how much reagent you just used. The amount
that has gone in is critical to work
You then take the measurement for how much reagent you used, and find its place on the provided
chart. The number next to the measurement will be the KH concentration of the water. For example, if I
used 0.4ml of reagent to initiate a colour change, then my KH according to the chart is 8°KH.
Trust me when I say that it’s a lot easier than I’ve made it sound there. Oh, and full UK retail price is
£42.99, but as it’s new very few stores might be carrying it yet.
Colombo Aiptasidol
Ah, a nice simple product. Aiptasidol is Colombo’s answer to
nuisance Aiptasia in a reef set-up.
If you’ve never used any kind of Aiptasia control before, then it’s
more hands-on than you might think. In the package, you get a
100ml bottle of Aiptasia ‘poison’ (sodium hydroxide based), a 1ml
syringe and a curious long needle set at a jaunty angle.
First things first, keep this whole package away from kids. You
should be keeping all of your potions and test kits well away from
kids, but this is the one aquarium staple you have that could do
real damage.
Killing the Aiptasia sounds easy, but isn’t always so. You fill the
syringe, with the needle attached, from the bottle, giving the bottle a
brisk shake first. 1ml of fluid can be used in up to 50l of water in
your tank, per day.
With the syringe now loaded it’s time to get in the tank.
Turn off any flow pumps, because you don’t want any
spilled treatment blowing about the place. Now, the
awkward bit. Slowly creep up on an Aiptasia with the
needle end of the syringe, place the tip right over the
mouth, and gently drop a bit into its disc. Try covering the
whole disc for best effect. Get it wrong, and the anemone
will feel you coming, freak out and retract, then you can’t kill it. It’s a
bit of an acquired skill, along with actually spotting the things in the
first place.
That’s it! The Aiptasia, now smothered with Aiptasidol all over its
tentacles will shrivel and die. Really big Aiptasia may need more
than one dose to finish them off, so if it looks like it’s recovering a
couple of days later, give it another blast.
If you do spill some, then it’s no worry as it’ll just
biodegrade naturally.
OPrice: Most retailers are pitching 100ml at around £8.49.
OMore info:
Compact skimmer from Eheim
Eheim has launched a new protein skimmer for marine tanks
up to 300 l.
The Eheim Skim Marine 300 is a compact skimmer powered by
highly efficient needle wheel technology. It has an adjustable air
intake which sucks in air independently and determines the skim rate.
It is easy to attach the skimmer to the aquarium glass using the
magnetic holder or it can be installed in a sump if preferred.
Eheim says that the skimmer is quiet in operation and has a low
energy consumption while offering a high skimming performance. It
can be completely disassembled for cleaning.
The Eheim Skim Marine 300 also comes with a three-year warranty.
O More info:
Tetra expands its problem-solving range
Tetra has added new Phosphate Minus and pH/KH Minus solutions to its popular
problem-solving range for aquariums.
Aquarium life relies on a balance of various water parameters, and phosphate
concentration is one of them. Phosphate is a plant nutrient that arises naturally
over time from contributing factors such as fish waste, food residues, and dead
plants. However, a high phosphate concentration can stem plant growth and lead
to an increase in algae growth.
Providing a fast-acting solution, Tetra PhosphateMinus naturally reduces
excessively high levels of phosphate in aquariums without clouding the
aquarium water or leaving any residue on the substrate. What’s more, Tetra
PhosphateMinus is even suitable for soft water so there’s no need to test
carbonate hardness before using.
For those looking to also regulate carbonate hardness levels, Tetra pH/KH
Minus provides a controlled reduction of this, alongside pH value, leading to
improved plant growth from the release of CO2.
Tetra PhosphateMinus and Tetra pH/KH Minus are suitable for all fresh water
and marine aquariums and are available in 100ml bottles with an RRP of £4.85
and £4.30, respectively.
O More info:
Vitalis flake food for Rift
Valley cichlids
Following on from the success of Vitalis Rift Lake Green
Cichlid Pellets, aquatic nutrition specialist, World Feeds, has
launched a new flake food for the herbivorous cichlid species
of the African rift lakes, including Tropheus and many
mbuna species.
New Vitalis Rift Lake Green Flakes boast the same tailored,
spirulina rich formulation as the pellets, but they are designed
to provide a method of feeding small and juvenile cichlids with
lower protein requirements. Importantly, the latest cichlid
flakes have the added versatility that they can be left large for
feeding bigger fish when required.
The balanced flakes also deliver key nutrients from a blend of
high quality algae, and incorporate natural pigments to achieve
healthy fish colouration.
O Available in three pot sizes: 30g, 90g and 200g.
O More info: or
High Te
254 Portland Road
BN3 5QU Hove East Sussex
Phone: +44-1273-700460
m Ecol
autom erforma
1,321 US gal./h air
5.000 l/h air
58 W
The dynamics
TOP of the
Top shops
Retailer of the Year
Lincs Aquatics, Alford, Lincs.
Runner up: Charterhouse
Aquatics, London
Yorkshire &
of Ireland
AllPond Solutions
Runner up: Charterhouse Aquatics
Small Retailer of the Year
Octopus 8 Aquatics, Brough, East Yorkshire
Runner up: Aqua Design Aquatics,
Online Retailer of the
TOP 40
Shrimp Retailer of the Year
Seahorse Aquariums, Dublin
Runner up: Wharf Aquatics, Pinxton, Notts.
South east
Maidenhead Aquatics @ Windsor
Runner up: Crowder’s Aquatics, Hampshire
South west
Emperor Tropicals, Devon
Runner up: The Aquatic Store, Bristol
Marine Retailer of the Year
Lincs Aquatics
Runner up: Seahorse Aquariums, Dublin
Cichlid Retailer of the Year
Wharf Aquatics, Pinxton, Notts.
Runner up: Seahorse Aquariums, Dublin
Catfish retailer of the Year
Seahorse Aquariums, Dublin
Runner up: Wharf Aquatics, Pinxton, Notts.
Maidenhead Aquatics @ Wenvoe
Runner up: Maidenhead Aquatics @
Charterhouse Aquatics, London
Runner up: Wholesale Tropicals, London
East Midlands
Lincs Aquatics, Alford, Lincs.
Runner up: Wharf Aquatics, Pinxton, Notts.
Abacus Aquatics, Kent
Aqua Design Aquatics, Skegness
Aquahome, Leyland, Lancs.
Aqualife, Leyland, Lancs.
Aquatic Finatic, North Yorkshire
Bow Aquatics, Devon
Carrick Aquatics, Co Monaghan
Charterhouse Aquatics, London
Clearly Aquatics, Co. Down
Crowder’s Aquatics, Hampshire
Cuddra Aquatics, St. Austell, Cornwall
Discovery Aquatics, Dundee
DL Discus, Co. Durham
Emperor Tropicals, Plymouth, Devon
Ferrybridge Aquatics, Wakefield
FishCove Aquatics, Wimborne, Dorset
Fishkeeper Braehead
Fishkeeper Coatbridge
Fishkeeper Inverness
H2O Habitat, Surrey
Innovation Aquatics, Southampton
Lanchester Aquatics, Co. Durham
Lincs Aquatics, Alford, Lincs
Maidenhead Aquatics @ Mere Park
Maidenhead Aquatics @ Shirley
Maidenhead Aquatics @ Wenvoe
Maidenhead Aquatics @ Windsor
New Concept Aquatics, Bonnybridge
Octopus 8, Brough, East Yorkshire
Pier Aquatics, Wigan, Lancs
Real Reefs, Gloucs.
Riverside Aquaria, West Lothian
Seahorse Aquariums, Dublin
Sweet Knowle Aquatics, Warks.
Tank Terror Aquatics, Cornwall
The Aquatic Store, Bristol
The Waterzoo, Peterborough
TriMar, Cornwall
Wharf Aquatics, Pinxton, Notts.
Wholesale Tropicals, London
North east
DL Discus, Co. Durham
Runner up: Lanchester Aquatics, Co.
North West
DL Discus, Co. Durham
Runner up: Devotedly Discus, East Sussex
Plant retailer of the Year
Emperor Tropicals, Plymouth, Devon
Runner up: Seahorse Aquariums, Dublin
Discovery Aquatics, Dundee
Runner up: Fishkeeper Inverness
The Waterzoo, Peterborough
Runner up: Amwell Aquatics, Soham
Pond retailer of the Year
Republic of Ireland
Yorks and Humber
Lincs Aquatics, Alford, Lincs.
Runner up: Seahorse Aquariums, Dublin
Seahorse Aquariums, Dublin
Runner up: Carrick Aquatics, Co.
Octopus 8, Brough, East Yorkshire
Runner up: Ferrybridge Aquatics,
Northern Ireland
West Midlands
Clearly Aquatics, Co. Down
Runner up: Exotic Aquatics, Belfast
Maidenhead Aquatics @ Mere Park
Runner up: Maidenhead Aquatics @
Discus Retailer of the Year
Aquahome Aquatic Centre, Lancs.
Runner up: Pier Aquatics, Wigan
Oddball Retailer of the Year
Wharf Aquatics, Pinxton, Notts.
Runner up: Tank Terror Aquatics,
in the pril issue of
On sale February 14th 2018
The temperature tolerant Paradise fish are colourful
divas with a long hobby legacy. Find out how to keep
an old-school fish in a modern set-up.
Chris Sergeant gives
us the lowdown on
the Warty frogfish, a
species that
walks about and
traps its prey
with a lure.
Chris Englezou goes on the hunt for an
obscure Pupfish in Cyprus, in a quest to aid
Pest anemones can be a
reefkeeper’s headache, but
with the correct control
methods they’re not the
pain they once were.
O An Opsarius
river set-up,
OFish in the
ONew products,
OAll of your
answered by
our experts
The Fish Bowl Ltd
From plants to
Cichlids, Stingrays
to Snakeheads
Really does have it all! 01179 639120
28 North Street Bedminster Bristol BS3 1HW
Retailer of
the year
North East
The only true aquatic Superstore, with over 250 stock tanks
specializing in community, rare and unusual cold water, tropical
and marine fish inverts and corals. Largest range of aquariums,
dry goods, frozen and live foods and Tropical plants.
Opening hours weekdays 10.00 - 18.00, Saturdays 10.00 - 17.00, Sundays 10.00 - 16.00, Closed on Wednesdays
0116 2709 610
Leicester Aquatics
Huge range of
livestock in more
than 600 tanks!
Open 7 Days - 65-67 Wharf Road, Pinxton, Notts. NG16 6LH (near M1 J28)
Voted one of the Best shops in
the UK for the last 6 years
For more details about the
shop and our opening hours
please visit our website
01773 863991/07773186198
168 Halfway Street, Sidcup, Kent, DA15 8DJ
020 8302 8000 /
The simple solution for skin
flukes, gill flukes & tapeworms
Easy and effective
Fish Treatment Ltd.
New 50g Sachet
House of Pisces ~ Scotland’s largest aquatic superstore by far
With over 1000 aquariums full of tropical, marine and cold water fish
Huge range of aquariums, aquarium furniture and equipment at discount prices
Hanger1 • Strubby Airfield
Woodthorpe • Nr Alford • LN13 0DD
Unit B/G, 207 Strathmartine Road, Dundee, Scotland, DD3 8PH
01507 451000
01482 898800
Great North Rd
Doncaster • DN10 6AB
01302 711639
• Koi & Ornamental
Pond Fish
• Marine Fish & Invertebrates
• Tropical & Fancy Cold
Water Fish
• Pond & Tropical Plants
Come & feed our friendly fish
• Discounted Pond Liners
• Lighting
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• Tropical & MarineMix
• Treatments
All fish are packed to travel anywhere in the UK
r all your
Thank you fo 1967!
support sinc
, London, E2
l Green Road 0 77292444
220 Bethna
Tel: 020 7739
01382 832000
Hedon Road • Burstwick
East Yorks • HU12 9HA
To all our customers – thank you for your support with the PFK Awards
• Aquariums
• Fibreglass ponds
• Working Water
• Waterfall Display
• Pumps
Here at DKP we specialise in producing bespoke
fibreglass fish tanks for the discerning customer
who wants the BEST for their fish.
The DKP product range includes Filters, Bakki’s and
Tanks 400, 450, 900 & 1500 gallons in rectangular
with 700 & 800 gallons in circular but any bespoke
size can be catered for including viewing windows.
Now open on Sundays
Six-time winner of top UK aquatic retailer
Tel: 01773 861255 Marine direct: 01773 811044 Reptile direct: 01773 811499
Classified To advertise here please call the sales team on 01733 366410
Aquatic and Pet Shop.
Open 5 days a week 10am to 6pm. Closed all day Thursday and Sunday
Units 10 & 11, Dragonville Retail Park, Durham DH1 2YB
Phone and fax: 0191 3843590
Tel: 020 7385 6005
The Aquatic Store
Fish Alive
133 Dawes Road,
London. SW6 7EA
FRI 10.30-6.00
● SAT 10.00-6.00
● SUN 10.00-2.0
01480 450572
Barlows Aquatic Trading
AQUARIUM MANUFACTURERS..supplying direct to the public at trade prices
To advertise
please contact
James Belding
on 01733 468410
Tropical & Coldwater Live Fish Wholesalers
Unusuals inc Rays, Turtles, Crabs, Shrimps, Lobsters
Tel: 0121 331 1212
Fax: 0121 331 1414
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C:L##EaZXdÆdliVc`h!WgZZY^c\XjWZh di]Zgh^oZh
Ring: 01254 388815
e mail:
or call in and see us at:
Brisol Works, Mount St., Accrington, Lancs BB50PJ
2016 PET FIS
Amazing fish and how to keep them
Grow your own
November 17 Issue 12 £4 40
on test
Discover the fishy
equivalent to
garden seeds!
Be inspired by nature &
the great outdoors to
To advertise here please call the sales team on 01733 366410
a fancy for ponds!
to add contrast
ty aquarium
ghting for
Get spawning!
Banish winter blues
with our breeding
project ideas
All the colours of
the rainbow
Discover the
dazzling Micro Lord
— the coral every
reefkeeper is after!
The arguments
for and against
keeping these
remarkable fish
Discover what makes
Keep the
gloriously laid back
Mesonauta cichlids
Why Aussie
run rings
around other
OCTOBER ‘17 ISSUE 11 £4.40
Discover the tiny,
colourful and
fascinating relatives
of the rainbowfish
16 simple ideas
for happier,
healthier fish
Get your very own
Find Part One
of our exciting
new home
course inside
Colour your reef tank
n a s c a i n w th
Buy eye-popping
corals — and keep
them that way!
You can now buy single issues
of practical fishkeeping
magazine online with
More details at
with Nathan Hill
s you’ve seen from the welcome
page, Karen is off, moving to
another title within the media
machine that is our employer,
Bauer Media. The editor has left… long live
the editor! Karen has, in her time, sailed a
fine ship and handled a difficult job, striking
a balance of content that appeals to a wide
range of readers. Not every fishkeeper is
entry level. Not every fishkeeper is a
focussed expert. As far as I’ve seen on
Karen’s watch, there’s always been an
article for both.
If I was in your position, dear reader,
I might ask what editorial changes mean
for the future of PFK. When a new person
takes on an existing role, it’s tradition that
they put their own stamp on it,
unintentionally or otherwise. Will the
mag look different? Will it stay the same?
In true cop-out style, I’m going to say it’ll be
a bit of both.
If you like my own writing — and I am ever
grateful to each and every one of you for
taking the time to read it — then fear not. I
shall still have page presence, just not as
much. If I’m your least favourite writer,
then good news! In my place, we will have a
new staff writer joining us. A real
fishkeeper’s fishkeeper of a staff writer, too.
Each and every applicant for the job was
tremendous, though, and it made the
ultimate decision difficult.
Tell us if we made you smile
One of my favourite aspects of this
magazine is how all of you, at home, have
ownership of it. If we make an error, we are
corrected. If we write something you don’t
Getting out to see
you, dear reader, is
our prime focus.
We want to see your
tanks, we want to
see your ponds, we
want to see the fish
you’re breeding...
Karen is off to
pastures new in 2018.
like, we get letters and emails telling us so. I
value this close relationship of editorial team
and reader and keep this door wide open,
with an invite for anyone. Tell us if we made
you smile. Tell us if a page didn’t hold your
attention. I’m precious, for sure, but not vain.
PFK is yours — is ours — so own it with us.
The greatest difference for the foreseeable
future will be with interaction. We were
so darned busy this year that we didn’t get
out on anywhere near as many visits as we
wanted. We’ve already agreed — my
mysterious new staff writer and I — that
getting out to see you, dear reader, is our
prime focus. We want to see your tanks, we
want to see your ponds, we want to see the
fish you’re breeding, and by golly we’re going
to. We want our faces at more club meetings
and event days, and we want to chat fish with
each and every one of you until all our voices
are hoarse. So that’s one change.
There’s a great deal that I really like about
the magazine. I love featuring new fish as
they appear in stores. I love hearing about
habitats from people who have visited them
first-hand — nobody writes with as much
passion about a biotope as a person who’s
seen it from a snorkel and goggles
perspective. I love to see tanks coming
together, step by step. My inner ‘geardo’
loves to fiddle with new products, as and
when I can get my mitts on them. In
particular, I love to see your questions and
the suggestions our team of aquatic experts
have for resolving them. These are solid
features and they are very safe.
I also want to see a return to the hands-on
approach. I want more breeding reports. I
want the magazine to be a resource with
tricks and tips for all those areas where
aquarists ask, ‘how?’ This means anything
from rearing your own foods to making
your own equipment for niche tasks. In
short, I want to make Practical Fishkeeping
more… practical! And with your feedback
and involvement, we can make that happen.
It falls to me to thank Karen immensely,
and on behalf of the whole team, for the
work that she has put in over her many
years in PFK editorial. Price’s Law states
that the square root of people in a business
provide 50% of the output. In a team of 100,
10 people do half the work. In our own small
team, it often felt like Karen was doing 99%
of the work, while the rest of us just plugged
the tiny gaps in her prodigious output.
I hope you join me in wishing Karen all the
best in her new role and raise a glass to toast
the blood, sweat and RO that she’s put in to
make PFK the publication it is today.
Nathan Hill is still technically Practical Fishkeeping’s
features editor and he’s really going to miss his long
mornings of sitting back and searching for fishy news
stories online.
Parting is such sweet sorrow, so they say.
Not for me — it means I get a promotion.
Go small in a
AQUARIUM SIZE 56 cm L x 38 cm H x 29 cm D
Compatible with Fluval EVO
aquarium kits (Sold separately).
Beginning your journey into the wonderful world of marine aquatics
has just got easier, with the small but perfectly formed EVO
saltwater set from Fluval. Its reef capable LED ensures healthy coral
growth and a stunning view of your underwater paradise and the
Create your own, personal coral reef with the Fluval EVO saltwater
kit, available from all good aquatic retailers.
Available while stocks last
Fantastic discounts
on the Elite range of
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