Full Fish Ahead: Part 3

The new aquarium is full of life and it’s all adorable. Let’s check in with Avalus.

Part 3 – Cuties and Questions

The tank on Tuesday 28th of March. Bought a filter, forgot blue paper. ©Avalus, all rights reserved

The new filter arrived and now the Daphnia’s reign over the tank is due. They can swim but they cannot fight any stronger currents. So I fished as many as I could out, thanked them for their service … and fed them to the inhabitants of my main tank. Ah, the circle of life. I will try to get access to a microscope and try my hand at video editing and then do a post about them. You need to see them move and you need to see them up closer than I can do with my Magnificator (notr). So today there will be some random photos with blurbs.

Hello there! Are you food? ©Avalus, all rights reserved

A cute tiny platy (xiphophorus maculatus) in the new tank! It is about 8-10 mm long and the photo was taken just after feeding, you can see its full belly.

No? K, thx, bye! ©Avalus, all rights reserved

It is amazing, how the behavior patterns of schooling fishes change when they exceed a certain number. The one lonely platy hid in the plants all the time, only came out to nibble at food after it set to the bottom and fled at the slightest disturbance back to the hiding place. Now they are a group of nine and they are curious, bold and nibble anything that enters the tank, be it food or my arm (the piranhas). The white shrimp are the same, clinging to my fingers even when I (very carefully) poke them off. The prize is taken by endlers guppys (poecilia wingei), they are inquisitive to suicidal levels. I can catch them accidentally by just placing my hand in the water and lifting it up again.

A snail hunting snail, to lower the snailsplosion. ©Avalus, all rights reserved

They also burrow through the soil, mixing it and thus helping the plants. I had to dig this one out of my old tank.

©Avalus, all rights reserved

©Avalus, all rights reserved

Shrimp mama in the old tank, an Amanos shrimp, Caridina multidentata! ©Avalus, all rights reserved

The orbs are her eggs, they will be released when she moults. I will most likely not get tiny shrimps from her, because her young need to be grown in seawater or at least brackish water, they perish in normal water after a few days. And they are about 1 mm long and transparent, so good luck finding some the fish did not spot and eat. Breeding them would require another tank…

A white pearl shrimp (neocaridina davidi) in the new tank, being sneaky. ©Avalus, all rights reserved

But I got you in my sights! ©Avalus, all rights reserved

Note the size difference, the pregnant amano above is about 8 cm long (and near 10 years old!), this white one is now 1.5 cm long and will stay around 3 cm. They breed without problems by the way, spawning three to four tiny copies of themselves in one go every month or so.

A big Ramshorn going for a swim. ©Avalus, all rights reserved

Thoughts on Starting an Aquarium

This time I don’t have a ramble. Instead I thought about the comments of Giliell, rq and Nightjar about taking up the hobby and decided to write a bit about starting an aquarium. This is also of course for any other reader who thinks they may enjoy having an aquarium of their own. This is in no way an in-depth analysis but rather my own experiences from 21 years of fishkeeping, people like professional fishbreeders, vendors and keepers of zoo aquaria have a much deeper understanding. If you can, ask them for advice. Read some books.

First and foremost: There are many ways to do fish keeping right! “Don’t Panic” paired with some basics gets you a very long way.

Take your time.

Before you go out and just buy something, see how many convenient sources (if any) you have for fish, plants and equipment, talk to the vendors for options.*

Also consider where you put it at home, you need space and the ground needs to withstand the weight, 1L of water is 1 kg after all! It should not stand in the way, consider heat in the summer and cold in the winter. Proximity to a water tap and a water “exit” are other factors. As is your budget, of course. I have a tight one, so I spread my purchases for the new equipment over several (at this date: four and a bit) months.

The tank is set up in a way so that in the afternoon the sun shines in the side of it which results in these beautiful rainbows. So positioning matters! ©Avalus, all rights reserved

So, what do you need? Essentials are a tank, artificial lighting and a filter. The cost of fishkeeping is hard to generally quantify. Starting costs are on the higher side if you buy everything new but once the system runs and the creatures have settled in, maintenance is pretty low. Many vendors sell full hardware-kits that cover all basics and are reasonably priced. If you have the option, you should get a largerish tank. A 60 cm/56 L tank is a recommended minimum, 80 cm/112 L or larger are better. That’s because a larger volume of water gives you a more stable bio system and forgives mistakes. Ask your water provider for the analytics of the water (see below).

With soil and decoration it’s mostly down to your preferences, you can take many things from nature: wood, sand, fine gravel. With the advent of nano-aquaria that stuff has become surprisingly expensive in shops. Then there is optional tech stuff like heaters, coolers, CO2-sources, but you usually do not need those right away. How you fashion your underwater landscape is completely up to your imagination. Look at tanks in zoos, take inspiration from other tanks. It is your space, shape it in a way you want. As long as the conditions are good, your nurslings don’t mind their habitat.**

I recommend having one or two books about general fishkeeping at hand, specialist books about specific fishes or plants are for later. I can recommend Mergus Aquarist’s Atlas and the books of Gina Bailey and Gina Sandford. Have a look in your library and local bookstores. Much useful information can also be found on the web, look at many sources before deciding.

Then to plants and fishes and invertebrates. If you want a low maintenance tank, go for slower growing plants and a school of small fishes maybe with a few shrimps. Usually you get snails with plants as a hidden ‘extra’. Rather go for fewer fishes and more plants and you can have a tank, which you only need to clean once a month or so when it has developed. Before buying, ask where the animals come from, are they imported from far away, or a neighbouring country or locally bred? Same goes for plants.

It is important to understand that an aquarium is not really a natural habitat, only an approximation. It is a biological system but it is way too small to support even a tiny community of fishes in a closed cycle. You need artificial lighting for all but the hardiest plants and a filter to deal with the waste the fish produce. Let’s dive a bit into water chemistry (Yay, chemistry!). Most important here are the different nitrogen compounds. Fish excrete ammoniac (NH3 or rather NH4OH in water), which is pretty toxic. Fortunately it is converted to ammonia ions (NH4+ with a negative counter ion) in acidic conditions, which is a lot less toxic. Soil bacteria oxidize the ammonia to nitrite (NO2, another rather toxic substance) which in turn gets oxidized by other bacteria and becomes nitrate (NO3, pretty non-toxic). In the tank these bacteria grow most importantly in the filter, where the water stream brings them fresh excretions and takes away the nitrate. In nature, this becomes a circle, as nitrate is food for plants and so again enters the food chain through plant eaters. In the fish tank, the plants still use some of the nitrate but it’s usually overabundant. The accumulation of NO3 and other salts that are excreted by the fish like phosphates are the reason you need to regularly change parts of the water to keep the conditions stable.

In tap water you can have some unhealthy chemicals as well. Of these chlorine (Cl2) is the most important, it may be added by the provider to kill bacteria in the plumbing. In that case you need to let the water sit in an open vessel for a few days and let the chlorine evaporate.

And that’s basically it. Take time, inform yourself, maybe choose hardier plants and few animals for the start and let your imagination run wild. A good tank can run for years and give you lots of joy. I can watch my creatures for hours, swimming, sprawling, bickering for food, burrowing, climbing … .

Sooo … are you by any chance food now? ©Avalus, all rights reserved


*Larger chains or parts in hobby/home builders stores are not necessarily a bad place!

** Really! They can thrive just all right in bare glass tanks, but that’s not very pleasing to look at.


Link to Full Fish Ahead: Part 2


  1. avalus says

    I just saw that I forgot to write down a sentence after “asking the vendor where the fishes come from.”
    “Locally bred fishes have the advantage that they are bred in similiar water to the one you have. So they usually don’t have to adapt to changed water conditions as much. They are also less stressed by several transports, so they appear more hardy.”
    Without that sentence, it reads to me, as if I would condemn imports, which I don’t really do*, as long as these are fish bred in captivity and not wild caught ones (-> plundering of habitats issue).

    *Well I do a bit acutally. The further away, the longer the transportation route required and with that there are the carbon emissions to consider. What I don’t mean is that fish breeders in other countries are bad/produce bad fish!

  2. lochaber says

    Looks like the plants are growing in nicely.

    Thanks for the posts/updates, I always enjoy seeing a new setup and it’s development.

  3. Nightjar says

    OMG, that inquisitive tiny platy is the cutest thing ever!

    Thanks for the all the information, Avalus! Now is not the time for me to get involved with new hobbies, but this is certainly something that has been in the back of my mind for many years and it sounds like it may not be as time-consuming as I imagined. Maybe in a few years I’ll have better conditions and give it a try, who knows. For now I can enjoy your lovely photos and learn a few things!

  4. voyager says

    That little platy is adorable and your captions are perfect.
    I’m intrigued by all the life that’s taken hold already. It’s like an underwater city. Fascinating.

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