Face-to-Face with Catfish

March 31st, 2008

In my 54G corner aquarium, I’ve got quite a few different kinds of catfish. All of them are different looking, and each has a unique character.

The Ancistrus sp. L279 bristle-nose plecos stay around 3-4″, and are usually found sucking on the driftwood in the tank. They’re fairly timid, but do come out often enough to enjoy.

Ancistrus sp. L279

The Siamese Algae Eater, SAE, is a very common algae eating fish. They are commonly confused is the Flying Fox, which is not nearly as effective an algae eater. Becoming popular once they were observed eating black brush algae, they are often recommended to new aquarists as a means of algae control. Unfortunately, most people do not initially realize that the small fish they purchase in the store, turn into 6-7″ blimps. Despite their size, they’re usually lazy enough, lounging around most of the time in their old age, that they do not disturb the aquascape.


The Botia sidthimunki loach is a fantastic little catfish that stays small, is constantly active, and is very social when kept in a group. I have five of these in the tank, and they’re always scurrying around, chasing each other throughout the aquarium. They do not harass other tank mates, however, well, except for snails or shrimp!

Botia sidthimunki

I have a couple varieties of corydoras in this tank. Cories are also very social catfish, constantly searching the bottom areas of the tank. Occasionally, you will see one shoot from the substrate all the way up to the water surface, and then dart back down. Apparently, cories have adapted to be able to breath air from the surface, allowing them to survive in poorly oxygenated water. I’ve also witnessed them playfully swimming upside-down at the water surface for awhile before swimming back down to the bottom.


Overall, I can highly recommend all of these catfish, for different reasons. The A. sp. L279 are great little plecos that eat algae, but don’t overwealm the tank. The SAEs get bigger, but are peaceful, and also eat algae. The “sid the monkey” loaches are a great, active, addition to any tank, and will eliminate snails from your aquarium. And corydoras are just plain fun to watch!

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GWAPA – March 2008 Meeting

March 30th, 2008

Yesterday, GWAPA conducted its March 2008 meeting at Don’s house in Catonsville, MD. In what is becoming a great trend, we had a couple of new members show up, and a record number of current members attend. Don has a 125G aquarium, with a really nice looking fake-rock background built inside. Normally, I don’t care for these kinds of backgrounds much, but this one was one of the most realistic-looking ones I’ve seen.

125G Aquascape

Ghazanfar gave a fantastic, in depth, presentation about the things to consider when setting up an aquascape. He described three types of layouts: concave, mounded, and sloped, with the one below being an example of a sloped layout. Ghazanfar really does have a wealth of knowledge about aquascaping, and I definitely learned a few things from his presentation.

Sloped Aquascape

Afterwards, we brought a few 2.5G aquariums and allowed anyone who wanted to, to try their hand at using Ghazanfar’s aquascaping principles to design a hardscape, and get immediate feedback. It’s fun watching others use similar materials, and come out with hardscape designs that I wouldn’t have thought of myself.

We finished the meeting with a huge auction, containing over 150 items for sale. I came away with another pair of Goo Obo Gudgeons, Cryptocoryne usteriana, Ludwigia peploides, and  Rotala verticillaris. Another fantastic meeting!

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Wormstrate or Soil Substrate?

March 26th, 2008

About a week ago, I started a substrate experiment that I’ve been wanting to try for some time. Having always used commercial substrates, often at high expense, I’ve had a lot of success growing plants over the past few years in my aquarium. Of course, nearly all of these substrates, when used in a light-intensive+CO2 setup require supplemental dosing of fertilizers. Hence, my previous entry about automating the dosing of those fertilizers.

Wormstrate and Soil Substrate Experiment

I watched as both local GWAPA members and other enthusiasts around the world started growing beautiful aquascapes with nothing more than garden soil, and a few additives, at probably 1/10th of the cost of my ADA substrate. Not only that, but they aren’t required to dose additional fertilizers as the soil is sufficiently rich for at least a decade. In addition to these soil methods, I wanted to try something different as well — a wormstrate — that is, a substrate based on worm castings. With two empty 2.5G tanks sitting around, I decided to do a side-by-side experiment of the two natural substrate options.

For the soil substrate, I used a method designed and perfected by a local GWAPA member, consisting of mineralized topsoil, potash, dolomite, pottery clay, and an inert top layer. As mentioned, a number of GWAPA members have successfully run high-tech tanks using this method, with the only downside often being an green water outbreak at the beginning of the process.

For the wormstrate, I used Vladimir Simoes Method, which was used successfully by a number of AGA contestant tanks from Brazil. This is essentially just worm castings, mixed with sand, and topped with an inert top layer. The most appealing thing about this method is that I could use my own worm castings, produced from my kitchen scraps, creating a full cycle of food to waste to worms to aquarium to plants to compost. Can anyone else say that they made their substrate from their kitchen scraps? Nerdy, I know, but cool!

So, I setup both 2.5G aquariums within a few days of each other, fit a 24″ 55W light over top of them, outfitted each with a hang-on-the-back filter, and planted each with roughly the same number and type of plants from my other tanks. I started the tanks using water from the same established 20L aquarium, which I believe has helped me avoid the green-water cycle often experienced. The only thing I have been dosing has been Seachem Excel, since I don’t have two extra CO2 diffusers.

Over about a week and a half, I’ve seen some modest growth, zero algae, and clear water. I’m hoping that the growth will pick up, as the plants adjust to feeding from the roots instead of the water column. I’ll be sure to continue providing updates on this experiment as it progresses. My hope is to have one of these two methods convince me to redo one of my larger tanks with a natural-based substrate, so that I can further lessen my fertilizer use. Comments/suggestions welcome!

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Auto-dosing Fertilizers – DIY Style

March 24th, 2008

DIY Auto Doser In my last post, I explained how I tested for two weeks to determine the proper amount of fertilizers my 40G tank needed to sustain healthy plant growth, and eliminate algae. With that knowledge in hand, I have now automated my dosing routine on this tank using a few readily available items to build a DIY auto-doser. I cannot take credit for this innovation, as I was following Jeff Ucciardo’s design, who adapted it himself from various designs posted on Aquatic Plant Central.

Building an auto-doser is really quite easy. You only need a container, a powerhead to move the solution from the container to the tank, some airline tubing, a check valve, and a digital timer that is accurate to the minute. You’ll also need some sort of a syringe or pipette to convert the output of the powerhead down to the size of the airline tubing.

For the container, I bought a clear container from the kitchen department of IKEA. A container that is taller will be better than one that is short and fat, as the tall and skinny containers will allow you to more easily differentiate how many days worth of solution it can hold — more on that later.


The powerhead you use has a few basic requirements — it needs to fit in the container, is best to draw water from the bottom so that it will run even partially emerged, and should be strong enough to pump from wherever you plan on storing the unit into the tank. I used the 606 Mini-Jet from Aquarium Systems, and have it set to the lowest setting.

Pipette Sawed Off

To attach the airline tubing to the powerhead, I found that a pipette from Seachem’s fertilizer bottles fits perfectly over the powerhead output if you saw off the large end.

As in any case where you have tubing running into your tank, you definitely want to install a check-valve in the airline tubing to prevent a siphon from forming, and overflowing your aquarium out onto your floor — always a bad thing! I used an inexpensive check-valve from Tetra.

Check Valve

All said and done, I spent $2.99 for the container, $16.99 for the powerhead, $1.99 for the check-valve, and $9.99 for the Intermatic digital timer. I had extra tubing and pipettes on hand, but figure about $35 to build one of these.

Once you have all of your basic components assembled, you need to establish how much solution your powerhead moves every minute, thus figuring out how many total days worth of solution your container will hold. To do this, fill the container with water, and set it exactly where you want it to be next to the tank. This is important because the powerhead will pump different amounts of water depending on the height/distance it is pumping. Now, run the powerhead at 1 minute intervals, using a marker to mark the water level on the container at each interval. Once deplete of water, count the number of marks — that’s how many days you can automate your dosing with a full container. For me, it worked out to exactly 14 days — how convenient!

Now, armed with the previously knowledge of how much I should dose over the same period, I calculated my solution amounts. I put in 100mL of Seachem N and K, and 50mL Seachem Flourish, Iron, and Excel. It’s important not to mix P with Iron in the same container as they interact, so for now, I will have to dose Phosphate separately. Also, for the first time, err on the side of caution, and dose slightly less than what you’d expect. You can always increase it later.

It’s been running for 4 days flawlessly so far, so I’m hoping that this will further help me keep my nutrient levels exactly where they need to be in this tank. I’ll continue to do a few tests to confirm that it’s on target, but I’m looking forward to not having to worry about dosing except for once every two weeks.

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Figuring my Ferts

March 22nd, 2008

Recently, after not quite being able to figure out what was going on with the fertilizers and algae in my 40G, I went on a meticulous 2-week testing schedule, where everyday I tested the levels of the two macro nutrients I suspected were out-of-balance, nitrate and phosphate.

DATE N (ppm) P (ppm) Changes:N P K
Day 1 5 .5 0 (WC) 0 (WC) 0 (WC)
Day 2 7.5 .5 15mL 10mL
Day 3 7.5 .5 10mL 15mL 10mL
Day 4 5 1 25mL 5mL 10mL
Day 5 7.5 1
Day 6 2.5 .25 30mL 20mL 20mL
Day 7 10 1
Day 8 5 .5 10mL 15mL 10mL
Day 9 7.5 .5 10mL 20mL
Day 10 7.5 .25 20mL 10mL
Day 11 7.5 1.0
Day 12 0 .5 30mL 15mL 20mL
Day 13 7.5 1.0
Day 14 2.5 .25 30mL 15mL 20mL
DATE What to add
Day 1 4mL Flourish
20mL Excel
4mL Iron
2.5mL N
2.5mL P
Day 2 10mL Trace
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
Day 3 7mL K
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
Day 4 10mL Trace
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
2.5mL N
2.5mL P
Day 5 7mL K
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
Day 6 3mL Flourish
4mL Excel
4mL Iron
Day 7 Water change

I dose my 40G aquarium using Seachem’s full product line of aquarium fertilizers, minimizing my costs by only buying 2L bottles of fertilizer solution, which usually last me some time. Up to this point, I had been following Seachem’s recommended dosing chart, which for a 40G aquarium calls for the dosing schedule on left.

What I essentially confirmed, when comparing the two charts, is that I was vastly under dosing my aquarium, particularly the macro-nutrients. Over the course of my experiment, as I adjusted my dosing levels according to the test results, hair algae disappeared from the tank. The plants really took off, and were looking much more healthy than before, especially plants such as Blyxa japonica that feed mostly from the water column. Although I didn’t document my trace and iron dosing levels, I found that the uptake of N and P are most definitely limited by the availability of those nutrients, as well as K. This was particularly evident between days 9 and 11, as the nitrate levels stayed roughly the same, even without dosing N. By increasing the dosages of the other nutrients, eventually, nitrate went to 0ppm, and I resumed dosing it.

The knowledge learned in this two week test is going to be invaluable going forward with this tank. More to come on that in my next post…

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54G – New Aquascape!

March 20th, 2008

After thinking about it for a long time, I finally got around to re-aquascaping my 54G corner tank in my living room. This tank has had roughly the same aquascape for 2-3 years, and being a low-tech tank, has always seemed to kick along without much intervention from me. It might not be my most impressive tank, but it’s consistently, well, okay.

54G New Aquascape
Click picture for larger version.

With the new scape, I wanted to incorporate some rock into what had previously been a very wood-dominated aquascape. So, I grabbed my largest available piece of porous mossy rock, put it on the left/middle side, and went from there. I kept the plants the same, utilizing tons of anubias, java fern, crypts, and bolbitis. I’m not really happy with the foreground, and may try growing some Marsilea quadrafolia, but I’m unsure as to whether or not it will hug the substrate as this is a tall tank without a ton of light on top (only 110W). All in all, this is a scape-in-progress, but I wanted to document how it looked initially, so that I can keep track of how it progresses. Comments and suggestions are always welcome!

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Beautiful Manzanita

March 18th, 2008

Manzanita WoodGWAPA recently ordered a large box of manzanita wood from manzanita.com to divide up and auction at our next couple meetings. While there are many fantastic driftwood choices available to aquarists, manzanita is one of the most interesting because there is such a variety of different looking pieces, all from the same tree.

Depending on the part of the tree used, the color of the wood can vary from a light tan to a light orange or dark brown color. Native to the coastal regions along the west coast, manzanita is a fast growing evergreen that is a renewable resource in that region. Sometimes more like a bush than a tree, one of the strengths of this wood is that there are usually many uniquely branching pieces available. In addition, the thicker branches are usually gnarled and twisted, providing plenty of natural character to use in your aquascape.

The branchy pieces are perfect for tying moss to, effectively softening them, or nice to invert, creating the effect of a tree limb hanging low over and into the water.

Manzanita Wood

There are a few things you need to know before putting manzanita into your tank. First, you definitely need to soak it, as it does release a fair number of tannins initially, and will float before becoming water logged. Most branches will sink after a few days of soaking, but some are stubborn, and may take weeks to fully water log. Also, when purchasing or collecting manzanita, make sure that you have the bark removed, preferably sandblasted. If you follow these simple rules, manzanita is beautiful and versatile wood to use in a multitude of aquascape styles.

Manzanita Wood

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Cunningham Falls State Park

March 15th, 2008

Today was an absolutely gorgeous day outside, as slowly but surely, spring is pushing winter on its way. To take advantage of the favorable weather, we decided to take a day trip to Cunningham Falls State Park, near Thurmont, MD.

Cunningham Falls State Park

It just so happens that this weekend, the park was having a maple-syrup festival, where they gave live demonstrations of how they tap maple trees for their sweet sap and boil it down into pancake syrup. We stayed around a little while, listening to the demonstration, but soon found ourselves out on the trails, for which we came.
Cunningham Falls State Park

The forest in this park is very rocky, with rock outcroppings all over the place. Even most of the trails are littered with rocks, large and small, and of course, moss is decorating nearly all of the rocks.

Cunningham Falls State Park

I couldn’t have attached the moss on the rock below any better than nature itself. Beautiful, with the full covering, and yet enough gaps exposing the rock underneath. In fact, now I’m going to have to try and actually duplicate this kind of wonderful moss/rock work in my aquarium one of these days.

Cunningham Falls State Park

To start out, we took the trails that everyone takes to get to the park’s main attraction — the falls. Being a series of cascading falls, descending what is probably 4-5 stories, they are pretty impressive. Below is a picture of the bottom two sections of the falls.

Cunningham Falls State Park

Finally, we headed off to some more difficult and less frequented trails so that we could take in the forest, believing we were the only humans around. (For the most of the hike, that was the reality.) While the forest was still bare from winter, many of the trees had buds, ensuring that if we came back in a couple months, the woods would be entirely new.

Cunningham Falls State Park

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Melanotaenia praecox Photos

March 13th, 2008

I just wanted to share a few shots of my Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish, or Melanotaenia praecox. I have a school of 13 fish in my 40G tank right now, and they’re great for photography, as they tend to hover in place against the current. The school I have right now is mostly females, and I haven’t had any fry survive, probably due to the Apistogramma that are also in the tank.

Melanotaenia praecox

Here’s a close-up of one of the males in the tank. These fish are still relatively young, and haven’t fully developed the steep forehead that’s common among adult rainbowfish. The males seem to develop a slightly more pronounced arc than the females do.

Melanotaenia praecox

Below is one of the females, identified by the yellow in her fins, whereas the males fins have a reddish hue. The iridescent blue tint of their scales are even more intense and shiny in person, than in these photos. If you haven’t kept these fish, they’re perfect for planted aquariums, and wonderful community fish — just make sure to keep them happy by having schools of 6 or more.

Melanotaenia praecox

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All-Aquarium Catfish Convention 2008

March 12th, 2008

All-Aquarium Catfish Convention 2008PVAS is once again hosting the bi-annual 2008 All-Aquarium Catfish Convention on October 17-19. If you’ve never been to a fish convention, this is the premier event to do so, renowned speakers and guests traveling large distances to attend.

This year, the theme of the convention is Expedition Amazon, which will cover a wide array of topics, including both fish and habitat in the Amazon River. Workshops and field trips will further the experience, culminating in what should be an enormous auction on Sunday.

Registration is now open, with an early-bird discount of only $30. GWAPA will also be involved in the convention on Friday night, giving a short workshop on what catfish are appropriate for a planted aquarium. And, on a personal note, I’m very much looking forward to seeing Devon Graham, a fantastic tropical biologist, and leader of the Amazon expedition my wife and I took last August. It’ll be great to see him again.

Finally, you can have a 1 in 50 shot of going to the Amazon yourself, as Margarita Tours has generously donated a trip to Peru. $50 per ticket, for the trip of a lifetime. (I know, I’ve been there.)

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