Friday, November 14, 2008

Success with Telmatochromis sp. 'Red Cheek'

Telmatochromis sp. ‘Red Cheek’ is an intriguing cichlid native to Lake Tanganyika. This species, although on the aggressive side, can add some great character to a tank. Although their coloring isn’t as spectacular as some of the other cichlid species from Lake Tanganyika, they make a great addition to any mid sized tank with similarly aggressive species. They also provide for a great breeding experience.

I first acquired a pair from a local shop where they had spawned in the tank, keeping close to 10 other aggressive fish at a distance. Showing their die-hard parenting skills. The pair was young, with the male only 2 inches, with the female close to 1½ inches. The female laid around 15 eggs on the roof of a cave that had been dug out under a rock. While the female guarded the eggs, the male guarded the area, occasionally digging to keep the cave in proper order. At this point, I witnessed increased aggression from both the male and the female. I also noticed the eggs were a white coloring, giving me the implication that either due to inexperience or the male’s infertility (still too young) the eggs were infertile. At this point, I took the pair, and the rock they had spawned on home. The eggs were lost a few hours later.

Once in my aquarium, they settled in and remained sub-dominant fish for close to 3 months before they gained dominance in the tank. At this point the male was close to 4 inches, while the female is around 2 inches. When dominance was gained, spawning began. They were fed a varied diet, with an abundance of protein. Their preferred spawning site has been large shells, such as conch shells. Profuse digging by the male was observed before/during spawning. The pair were provided with a large rock pile, and three shells large enough for the female, but too small for the male. Spawning took place on and off over the period of a day. The male would begin by dancing and enticing the female towards a shell. Once she was ready, she entered and laid her eggs, while the male waited at the entrance releasing his milt.

Little aggression was witnessed between the pair, but I found the male to be very defensive and aggressive towards other fish in the tank. Once spawning was complete, the female tended to the eggs while the male guarded the territory similar to the activity I witnessed before.

This activity proceeded for around 10-12 days, at which point the free-swimming fry emerged from the shell. The fry were a little less than ¼ of an inch long, and had already absorbed their yolk sacks and were ready for food. The parents did not show any fry care after this point. They began the spawning process again typically 3-5 days later. The parents seemed to ignore the previous brood, which may represent colonial abilities, although I have witnessed cannibalism between fry of different broods and sizes. Brood sizes from my pair started around 20, and were close to 45 by the 3rd spawn. Fry that are left with the parents won’t stand much chance surviving, although a few may. I have found it is best to remove them to a separate, bare bottom aquarium equipped with a soiled sponge filter. Daily water changes, and once daily feedings of Baby Brine Shrimp kept the fry healthy and growing well. At one month of age, they are a little over ½ inch and can be slowly weaned off live foods onto prepared foods such as crushed flake and pellets. The fry grow at a slow-moderate rate. Fry from my pair were raised in a standard 10 gallon aquarium, with a bare bottom. I chose to use a bare bottom for ease of cleaning and to save money. The Ph and hardness were kept similar to that of the parents’ tank, temperature was kept at around 73 degrees. Water changes consisted of a 40% change daily. As mentioned growth was at a slow to moderate rate, although growth rates could be increased if reared at a higher temperature and fed smaller more frequent feedings throughout the day versus one large feeding daily. For the first two weeks, the fry appeared to remain rather inactive, remaining near the bottom for a great majority of the time, including during feeding time. After these two weeks, the fry began to develop more coloring and began being more active and venturing higher away from the substrate during feedings and occasionally during daily activities.

The water in which breeding began was medium hard, with a Ph of around 7.8. Weekly 30% water changes were performed on the 40 gallon tank the pair were housed in. The water was maintained at a steady 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

I have found this species to be quite enjoyable, and the colors not often seen at first glance are quite beautiful. This species is a wonderful, and recommend addition to any aquarium with similar sized species that sport a similar temperament. Their breeding patterns and habits are an intriguing and spectacular sight to witness.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Live Rock

Live rock is used in many modern saltwater tanks for several reasons. It is home to many different organisms, hence the name “Live Rock”, including the microscopic bacteria responsible for the nitrogen cycle. Live rock acts as a medium for many different beneficial systems that are essential to the health of the system, including the filtration. It also hosts a number of alga and crustaceans for the tank’s inhabitants to feed on.

Filtration provided through live rock is effective and simple, a tank with a sufficient (at least ¾ Lbs per gallon) live rock and sufficient water movement through water pumps will completely extinguish the need for a filter on the tank. Mind you, the live rock has no way of removing particles from the water column, so the addition of a small filter may be desirable specifically for this purpose.

This picture shows the growth that is often seen on live rock. The purple coloring is a type of calcareous algae called Coralline algae.

Live rock is a calcareous rock that is formed from the skeletons of corals, among a number of other organisms that sport calcareous skeletons, likes mollusks.

The main downside to live rock is that because it is mainly collected from the ocean, it is often home to a large number of organisms, some of which are very undesirable to have in your tank. Lice rock often brings in a great number of beneficial critters that help your tank in a number of ways. Unfortunately it only takes one of these bad hitchhikers to ruin the balance in a system.

In this picture, you can see how the live rock has the shape of a large hard coral colony, the small holes that protrude in some areas of the rock were once the corallites (areas where the polyp is attached to the skeleton) of the coral. On this particular piece you can see two different groups of hitchhikers. In this case, the hitchhikers were welcomed; they are the Brown and Green Zoanthid sp. corals.

Often fetching high prices even for the high prices even for the lower quality rock, it is still a desirable investment in a marine tank, especially a reef tank. There are a number of Do It Yourself recipes for creating your own live rock using a concrete, and sand mix. This allows you to avoid the bad hitchhikers and also allows you to create your own shapes. Using this DIY method does save lots of money, but it lacks the beneficial bacteria and other organisms that are needed for a stable system.

Pest Anemones

There are two different pest anemones that typically show up in a saltwater tank, both usually come in as hitchhikers on live rock. Both are typically only considered a pest if kept in a tank with corals or other sessile (immobile, can’t move) invertebrates as both will sting and invade these other organisms.

Aiptasia Anemone, is also known as the Glass Anemone.

The first is what is called an Aiptasia, or Glass Anemone. They are considered a pest due to the fact that they reproduce at astonishing rates, their strong stinging capabilities, and because of how difficult they are to eradicate. Many methods to get rid of them often result in causing them to spread even more. There are a number of marine invertebrates and fish that do eat them.

In this photo, you can see the Aiptasia stinging the smaller Mushroom coral, causing it to shrivel up and become irritated. If left to sting this Mushroom coral, it will likely kill it.

The number one most reliable Aiptasia control method is the Berghia Nudibranch, mainly because unlike the other animals its diet consists completely of Aiptasia. Berghia can be difficult because they often fall prey to other organisms while being introduced to the tank. Various fish such as the Copperband Butterflyfish, and the Emperor Angel will eat them, but both are questionable about how “reef-safe” they are. Peppermint shrimp will eat them occasionally, as will the Red legged hairy hermit crab.

There are a number of chemical means of attempting to control Aiptasia including Aiptasia-X by Red Sea, and Joe’s Juice. The problem with these is that when disturbed the Aiptasia actually emit spore-like offspring. Therefore, if not done right, it can make the problem worse. Another downside to using these chemicals, is that since they must be administered directly into the mouth of the Aiptasia, you can’t get the ones hidden away in the cracks and up behind all your rockwork. Essentially, with chemicals, you will only be able to get the ones in sight, and will never be able to fully rid your tank of them. I recommend, if possible, a natural method such as getting one of the animals listed above, as they will be able to get all the Aiptasia within the rockwork.

Majano Anemones are much more attractive than Aiptasia. In this photo, you can see the orange foot of the Anemone extending out, this extension will eventually break off and develop into an entirely new anemone.

The other pest anemone is known as the Majano anemone. It is much less of a pest due to the fact that it doesn’t reproduce at such a fast rate, and they are rather nice looking, ranging in a number of different colors from yellow to purple. Although they do look nice, and would blend into a reef tank or would add some color to a fish only display, they do still have the potential to sting other organisms. Some particular specimens can be quite beautiful and really only become a pest when they begin to propagate and invade other organisms.

There seems to be some skepticism into what methods work against these anemones. With Joe’s Juice receiving high praise.

In conclusion, both can be a pest, but only if allowed to get out of control or if they are bothering a sessile invertebrate. Ridding a tank of them can be a frustrating journey if you aren’t cautious and don’t do it correctly. There are many natural methods along with many chemical means of eliminating them. In an effort to do more research, and to test some of these methods, I have introduced both into my aquarium, as both were nowhere to be seen. I have already tested the Peppermint shrimp, and it worked wonderfully. Unfortunately, according to a number of sources, the peppermints shrimp’s willingness to eat the Aiptasia depends more on the individual, some loving them, some ignoring them. The next method to test will be the Berghia Nudibranchs, which I will be receiving later this week. So expect more on this subject in the future.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Nitrogen Cycle

Many will agree that understanding the Nitrogen cycle is one of the most beneficial pieces of information that a fish keeper could know. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood aspects of the hobby, especially by beginners. Its quite understandable, the Nitrogen cycle can be a hard concept to understand with all the different types of bacteria, the different process, byproducts and effects that it has on the fish and other aquatic creatures. The Nitrogen cycle is important because it is the basis for balance within our mini ecosystems, without this balance, the system will likely fail. In simple terms, it transforms the toxic levels of Ammonia (NH3) and Nitrite (NO2-) into a much less form of Nitrogen known as Nitrate (NO3-).

The cycle begins with fish waste, excess food, and other dissolved organics decomposing and creating the byproduct Ammonia. Ammonia is toxic to fish, especially at higher Ph levels, and high temperatures. Keep in mind that, although less toxic at a lower Ph, it is still a very deadly element to fish. At this stage in the cycle, two things can happen to the Ammonia. The first being that is it taken up by plants, being that it is the easiest form of Nitrogen for plants to consume, the plants will take advantage of any source of ammonia present. The second path that the Ammonia can take involves a bacterium called Nitrosomonas. Nitrosomonas consume the Ammonia and when in aerobic (the presence of oxygen) conditions, converts the Ammonia into a similarly toxic substance known as NO2- or Nitrite. Nitrite, unlike Ammonia is toxic to plants as well as fish. The Nitrite is then consumed by a bacterium known as Nitrospira, creating a byproduct known as Nitrate. Nitrate is a much less toxic form of Nitrogen than Ammonia and Nitrite. Although it is less toxic, it still poses a threat to fish if the levels are allowed to accumulate to high levels. Ideally, Nitrate levels should be as low as possible.

Removing water on a regular basis and replacing it with new, clean water is an excellent way to keep the Nitrate from reaching toxic levels. Another method is to include live plants in your setup, whether they be directly in the main tank or in a sump/refugium. A medium to heavy planted tank shouldn't show a significant (>5 ppm) Nitrate reading.

Cycling a Tank

The process of cycling a tank is defined in simple terms as providing a constant source of Ammonia to the tank and waiting for the beneficial bacteria to build up. A cycle can take anywhere from a week to several months to complete. There are several methods used by Aquarists to cycle tanks, some of which are outlined below. Water changes is something that should be avoided during the cycling stages. By replacing water, the Aquarist could be disrupting the processes that are going through, lengthening the amount of time the cycle will take. A cycle consists of a spike in Ammonia, followed by a spike in Nitrite, and then a rise (sometimes considerable) in Nitrates. The cycle is complete once the Ammonia and Nitrite levels have settled at 0.

Cycling with Fish

Cycling with fish is likely the most common way that a tank is cycled, especially in new hobbyists. This method is considered unethical, and is not supported by many Aquarists including myself for a number of reasons. For the sake of this article, which is intended to inform those on the science and methods of cycle I will not go into detail about ethics.

Basically, the Aquarist stocks the tank with a small number of rather hardy fish. These fish produce a steady and consistent amount of ammonia each day (One of the few upsides). After the tank has cycled, these fish are often removed and replaced with other fish. The first and foremost downside is that the fish are subjected to toxic levels of Ammonia, and Nitrite. Some recommend doing daily water changes to keep the levels low and the fish alive. Unfortunately, by removing the water, they are also removing the Ammonia that is needed to cycle the tank. This method is very simple, but subjects the fish to stress and puts them in deadly situations.

Fishless Cycling

This method is really catching on with hobbyists as one of the best ways to cycle a tank. Rather than adding fish to create an Ammonia source, the hobbyist adds it through other methods. Some of these methods include adding pure ammonia at a consistent amount daily (enough to create around 4 ppm) everyday, or adding a dead prawn. These sources of Ammonia will start the cycle, and continue to feed it throughout the process. Again once ammonia and Nitrite levels reach 0 (Measure more than 24 hours after your most recent dose of ammonia, measuring before this will clearly give you an ammonia reading) the tank is cycled. This method is better because it doesn’t subject fish to undue stress, it is also cheaper but equally as effective.

Silent Cycling

Silent cycling is a method of cycling that involves using a large amount of plants to handle the cycle. Since Ammonia and Nitrates are readily consumed by plants, this allows the Aquarist to stock the tank with a fair amount of fish very early on. It is called Silent cycling because the plants consume any Ammonia that is produced by the fish, causing no further spikes in any of the compounds. To perform this is simple, simply plant a tank at least with a moderate amount of plants (Plants appear to take up more than 40% of the tank) and add some of your planned fish. Essentially, the plants act as the bacteria, while the actual bacteria are colonizing.

Instant Cycling

Instant cycling is possibly one of the best ways to setup a new tank, it’s the fastest, cheapest and most efficient way of getting the bacteria colonies established. To instant cycle a tank, simply introduce either some filter media, or substrate that has been in a fully established system for at least 2 weeks. These “soiled” medias will be hosting a sufficient number of bacteria to start and stock your new tank almost instantly. I recommend using this method whenever possible.


Cycling a tank is the single most important part of setting up a tank, and should be done with care and done correctly. If done incorrectly, it can lead to death, disaster, and money out of your pocket. Mind you, when using any of the methods listed above, it is not recommended to fully stock the tank with all the fish that have been planned for it, instead the Aquarist should always take it slowly, adding only a few fish at a time. Of course some methods will allow the Aquarist to stock a larger amount of fish initially, it still should not be the full amount. As you can see, each method is only briefly outlined, in the future, Aquatic Revolution will feature more in depth articles on each of these methods.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

DIY Co2 Yeast Recipe

The supplemental injection of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is beneficial to the aquarium in many ways. When plants photosynthesize, one of the most important nutrients needed is Carbon, when carbon is lacking one will see considerable decline in plant growth and in some cases in the plants health. The addition of CO2 is essential in many planted tanks, to achieve full and lush growing healthy plants. Unfortunately, the high dollar price tags on the pressurized "professional" CO2 injection systems complete with tanks, regulators, solenoids, and diffusers/reactors along the complications that can come are more than enough to steer any prospective newcomers away. Luckily for those with a budget in mind, there is a recipe for generating CO2 along with several DIY methods of diffusing it into the aquarium water.

Here is what you will need:
  • 1 plastic bottle of any size with the fitting cap, 2 liter soda bottles are popular and effective.
  • 1 Electric drill, this can be replaced with a hammer but will not be as efficient.
  • 1 Drill Bit (or nail if you are choosing to use the hammer), Be sure the bit/nail is slightly smaller in diameter than the airline tubing.
  • Several feet of airline hosing, most if not all types will work fine.
  • One tube of Aquarium safe silicone.
  • Scissors.
  • Pliers, may not be needed.
  • 1 pack of Baker's yeast.
  • 2 and 1/2 cups of sugar.
  • 1 tsp. of baking soda.
  • Luke warm water.
The science behind this recipe is rather simple. The yeast consumes the sugar as it multiplies, creating a CO2 by-product. This CO2 is released as a gas and can then be diffused into your aquarium. The baking soda is an aspect of the recipe that is not necessarily needed but will help to keep a steady output of CO2. Without it, the yeast will produce CO2, causing the hardness of the solution to drop, and a major ph swing making the solution very acidic. The acidic environment causes a die off of yeast, lowering the amount of co2 that can be produced. The baking soda raises the carbonate alkalinity of the solution, keeping the ph fluctuation and drop from being as dramatic.

Step 1: Get the drill and bit ready, along with the bottle cap. Make sure to drill on a surface that is allowed to get damaged in case you accidentally drill too far. Place the bottle cap on the work area so that the top is down, this will keep the top from cracking in case you apply too much pressure. Carefully drill a hole in the center of the cap. If you are using the hammer and nail, place the cap as instructed above. Place the nail in the center of the cap where the hole will be. In one strong and sturdy swing with the hammer, hammer the nail through the cap, making a nice hole for the hosing to fit through.
Note: the hammer and nail method are much less effective and run a greater risk of making an error than using a drill to create the hole.

Step 2: Take the scissors and airline tubing and cut the airline hose at a slant near the end so that it is pointed, this will make it easier to pull it through the small hole in the bottle cap. Push the pointed tip of the airline hosing through the hole, if needed grab it with the pliers and pull it through (it should be an extremely tight fit) . Don't worry about mangling the airline hose, you can always pull it through more and cut off the section of disfigured hose. Take the silicone and apply it around the airline hosing on the cap to create an airtight seal. Use it very sparingly on the inside as too much may affect how the bottle will screw on. Allow this to sit and cure for the time indicated on the silicone package (usually 24-48 hours).
Note: Do not cut the hose to length yet, there are few things worse than have a hose that is too short.

Step 3: Test the seal by screwing the cap onto the bottle and blowing as hard as possible into the hose. Listen for leaks, if any are present, remove the silicone and reseal it.

Step 4: Next up is to mix the recipe. Take your bottle, and pour 2 and 1/2 cups of sugar into it (you may save yourself some frustration and some time by using a funnel). Add 1/2 a tsp. of baker's yeast. Add 1 tsp of baking soda. Fill the bottle with luke warm water until it is 3/4 full. Shake the mixture very well.

Step 5: Screw the bottle cap onto the bottle making sure it is tightly fitted. Take the airline hose and attach it to your method of diffusion. This is a good time to cut the hose to length.

Step 6: Shake the mixture well every few days to ensure to keep the mixture going strong consistently and to keep any undissolved sugar from settling in the bottom of the bottle. After the mixture's CO2 production has slowed considerably, it is time to empty it and mix up a new batch of mixture. Simply follow the instructions again, making any adjustments that are needed to suite your situation.

This recipe is only what has working for my systems, I recommend altering this recipe to accommodate your needs or preferences while taking the following into consideration. The amount of yeast that you mix into the recipe will effect the speed and amount of CO2 that is put out, but this will mean that length of time it lasts for will decrease as it will intake the sugar much faster. On the other hand, mixing less yeast will result in slower CO2 production but it will last much longer. The amount of sugar mixed is a determining factor in the length of time that it will take for the mixture to run out. The more sugar, the longer it will last, the less sugar the shorter its life will be. Of course, there is a limit to the amount of sugar that can be dissolved into the mixture, so after a certain point, adding more is just a waste and won't make much difference. Therefore a balance between the amount of sugar, yeast, and what your needs are must be made to ensure that you get the most out of your mixture.

Diffusion is one the most important aspects of this DIY project. Irrelevant of the amount of CO2 your mixture is creating, without an effective method of diffusing the CO2 into the water the mixture will be wasting precious carbon and will not be very effective in aiding your system. There are several ways of diffusing the CO2 into your water, all ranging in effectiveness and complexity. My personal favorite method is to attach the hose to the intake of a filter or power head, this way the Co2 gets sucked in and mashed into hundreds of tiny bubbles that can then be dissolved, creating a very effective way of diffusing. I like this method because of its simplicity, its effectiveness and for the fact that it can easily be hidden from the casual observer. Other methods include complex and simple reactors that keep these bubbles in contact with the water for longer periods of time until they can be completely dissolved. Although these methods are more effective, they can be difficult to create and manage. Other ways are pumping it through air stones or commercial glass diffusers to create tiny bubbles. Both are effective, the latter being the most effective method. I plan to discuss these methods of diffusion in future articles.

In conclusion, this recipe will provide you with the ability to create and diffuse CO2 into your aquarium. As stated above, you may need to alter this recipe to fit your needs or preferences and to match your selected method of diffusion.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Echinodorus Amazonicus - Amazon Sword

Echinodorus amazonicus

Amazon Sword
A large E. amazonicus in the author's tank.

The Amazon Sword is one of my most favorite aquarium plants. Its large, lush green leaves make this giant, reaching over 20 inches tall, and the perfect candidate for being a centerpiece plant in larger aquariums. Although it’s a relatively easy, undemanding plant to have, its not suitable for all aquariums due to its tank busting size. My current specimen was a mere 6 inches tall when I obtained it, with 2 months it has grown to over 22 inches tall. The Amazon sword is a popular aquarium plant that has earned its place in the aquarium hobby as being a large, hardy, and beautiful plant.

The leaves of the Amazon sword are light green in color and when observed closely, three “veins” can be seen that run along the length of the leaf. The center vein being the thickest of the three, the other two are approximately ¼ the thickness of the main vein. Hair-thin veins interconnect these three veins by running perpendicular to them. The Amazon Sword easily grows to massive proportions, exceeding 20 inches in height if conditions permit. Often growing to the point of overshadowing other plants, eventually choking them out. The leaves range in thickness of about 1.5-2 inches in thickness at the middle of the leaf, and can reach a length of up to 24 inches, sometimes more under proper conditions.

A close-up of the leaf structure of the E. amazonicus. Notice the 3 main veins, and the numerous veins interconnecting them.

Sword plants typically are root feeders, meaning that they prefer to take in nutrients from the substrata rather than from the water column like other plants such as stem plants, and the Amazon sword is absolutely no exception. Its benefits, and prefers to have a rich substrate in which it can thrive. I have managed to grow mine in a sand substrate that is relatively low in nutrients, but I added fertilizer tabs to the base of the crown every couple of weeks and have seen wonderful growth from it. In my opinion, a deep substrata is also a beneficial factor in the growth and development of this plant, on my specimen, the root system is over 10 inches long. A deeper substratum will allow for proper root growth and will lead to a healthy plant, my substrata is about 2.5 – 3 inches deep. An Amazon sword that is doing poorly will discontinue growing new leaves, begin turning yellow around the edges of leaves especially younger leaves that are still in development, and the excess growth of nuisance algae on the leaves. The two main causes of these symptoms are often a lack of certain essential nutrients or a lack of proper or sufficient lighting. Amazons generally grow rather slowly but when given proper conditions, it will flourish and can quickly get to the point of choking out other plants. They prefer medium to high lighting, but will “survive” at lower levels. I keep my specimen at 2.3 WPG, with CO2 injection and it has thrived. The addition of CO2 is another factor that will increase the well being of the sword, but in my opinion, substrate nutrients and lighting are more essential to getting good growth with CO2 only helping the plant along.

Propagation of Echinodorus amazonicus is through two methods, runners and seeds. When submerged and in very a highly humid emerged environment, the Sword will send out runners, on which small plantlets will develop. Plantlets that develop on emerged plants will not develop roots until they are completely submerged. Once the plantlets have become of a good size, remove them from the runner while avoiding any damage to the runner because even after the plantlet is removed the runner will continue to develop more plantlets. The second method, by seeds, is a little more difficult to accomplish. Echinodorus amazonicus will develop small flowers when both submersed and when emerged. Only when the plant is emerged will the flowers open, at which time the fertilization process can be initiated by using a feather to spread the pollen. The seeds will begin to develop, often taking long periods of time.

In conclusion, the Amazon sword is a wonderful addition to any larger sized aquarium that harbors the appropriate conditions. Its size permits it to be both an accenting addition to an aquascape or the centerpiece. Providing the proper conditions for this beauty will give you the opportunity to enjoy one of the best aquatic plants in the aquarium hobby.