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FAQs on Freshwater Community Tanks

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Big community tanks (filtration; stocking); Serrasalminae (behaviour, compat.) 8/18/08 Hello There, I have been reading over and over your website for close to 4 years now, and I can't tell you how wonderful you guys are at educating people... and for free... This will be my first post to you and I just want to be sure on what I am getting into next. But more praise first... One could probably earn the equivalency of a masters degree in aquatic biology from the information accumulated here along with references of others... If only we could study major after major... Doubling in Sociology and Music performance took up a bit too much of my time to consider anything else, and what a shame! <Ah, your education doesn't end when you graduate! I've known people who've published in the scientific press despite their science being a hobby: their day jobs were completely different!> A little about me: I have worked at 2 different aquatics related businesses in the past and have been steeped in the hobby for about 20 years now. I maintain 4 aquariums; a 75 gallon mixed species rainbow fish and gudgeon biotope (river rock, driftwood, Vallisneria nana [where might I find some v. caulescens?], sand), a planted 125 gallon with a quintet of (Peruvian) Rio nanay wild discus cha ching!!!, a school of black morpho tetras (Poecilocharax weitzmani... [once one understands Latin vowels it's not so difficult he-he.]), some cories, 2 Farlowellas and a pair of ramirezi, some nice chunky driftwood, peat/sand substrate, and sword plants (e. tenellus, e. ozelot, and e. bleheri, with a bed of jungle Val), an iwagumi style 30 gallon with Kuhli loaches, celestial pearl Danios (trying to breed them) and an SAE, plants include blyxa japonica, Hemianthius calichitroides, and Rotala wallichi. And finally a 20 gallon low tech crypt tank with only crystal red shrimp. Maybe a Betta bowl/java moss :-). I use Eheim filtration and t5 lighting on all these systems, I conserve rainwater, and supplement that with R.O. during dry times along with my additives. I go through lots of water... So, I will quit my introductory rambling for now. <Well, does sound as if you've kept more fish than me...> I have just purchased a 300 (6"lx36"w25"h) gallon glass tank, and I am in the process of building my stand (and wreaking havoc on my basement). (4x4 hardwood beams framed with 2 x 4s on each side w/ plenty of bracing) and filtration system. My question is about my entire filtration idea, as I have not ever tried to maintain a system this large, I bought this tank used in great condition, and I am too afraid to attempt drilling it and installing an overflow. So, I am using an overflow box with 2 U tubes. Water will be prefiltered and run through carbon bags in the outflow box. My sump is going to be a chambered 75 gallon aquarium; first through filter pads then into a chamber overflowed onto a drip plate. Then the water will drip into a chamber with bio-balls atop egg crate with air stones underneath. This will be overflowed into a vegetable chamber, [what is the best plant I may use here for nutrient export? <Most anything floating and fast growing. Floating because it's closer to the light, and fast growing because that's where the nitrate/phosphate goes. This said, freshwater fish are generally fairly tolerant of nitrate, and water changes are comparatively inexpensive compared with marine systems. So I'd tend to view plants more as tools for algae control than water purification. Mind you, "vegetable filters" have been done, and I'd direct you to the book 'Dynamic Aquaria' for a scientific review of the subject.> I was thinking a larger type of Vallisneria or Watersprite, although I have read that emergent plants may be even better... I am just not too familiar with this...] <Emergent plants receive even more light than floating plants, hence growth rate is even more rapid. Hygrophila polysperma and especially Hygrophila corymbosa for example do very well like this, and growth of both species is astonishing if they're getting natural sunlight or intense artificial light.> Then water will be run through another filter pad, through another drip plate and pumped back into the display. I am going for around 1500 gph with the return pump here. Also, I am going to run 2 emperor 400's on the display to help out with large waste that might not be overflowed. I'd really like your take on this idea. <For reasons I've discussed here many, many times I don't think much of hang-on-the-back filters. Advanced aquarists certainly shouldn't be looking at them. In short, I don't like the fact the inlet and outlet are close together; I don't like the very poor mechanical filtration characteristics; I don't like the fact you're "locked" into using proprietary filter modules such as useless carbon and Zeolite. Infinitely better to use a standard canister filter, internal or external, depending on your tastes (external canister filters being better value but less easy to maintain). If you're keeping a bunch of big fish, it would be insane to go with some Chinese-made hang-on-the-back filter, and you'd be better off investing in a super-reliable Eheim filter that will keep these messy, sensitive fish in good health. Eheim make some great "pro" filters if you're deep of pocket; otherwise multiple "classic" filters like the 2217 will provide a good value alternative. With big fish, you're after 8-10 times the volume of the tank in turnover per hour. Arrange the inlet pipes and spray bars all around the tank to produce strong current working all the way around the tank.> This tank is going to house, for now, 6 3" cichlid orinocensis( I want a pair, and I plan to sell the rest once I grow them), <Nice fish.> some rotkeil Severums, <Gorgeous fish: marine quality colours, if you can get some decent stock.> a royal Pleco (L-190). a goldy sunshine Pleco (L-014) <Do not underestimate the territoriality of large Plecs. Also Panaque spp. MUST eat wood, and they produce masses of chippings in the process. Hang-on-the-back filters will be totally overwhelmed and simply won't remove the woody debris from the substrate, lacking the "suction" required. Again, canisters are the way to go, ideally combined with a reverse flow undergravel.> and maybe a tigrinus catfish if I can find one small enough and in an acceptable price range. <A "small" Tigrinus? No such beast. Adults quickly get to 45-60 cm. Not tolerant of other catfish and markedly territorial. Would perhaps recommend slightly smaller, more easy going species like the excellent gregarious species Sorubim lima. But given you have 300 US gallons to work with, you should find lots of options in the 30-45 cm range that will work in this community. But do always remember big catfish not only demand good water quality but also put a huge strain on the filtration system. Before spending any money on big cats, it's always worth balancing the impressiveness of a catfish in a photo with the fact many species hide away all the time and get pretty boring. Since you're stuck with a big catfish for something like 20 years, you may as well choose a species that is entertaining!> Nothing is in it now, so my options are open, I have already got the ball rolling on the peacocks as soon as the tank is cycled they are a definite. <OK.> One more question and I'll get out of your hair, he-he. I ventured to the public aquarium close to my home in Chattanooga, TN a couple weeks ago, and I noticed that they are housing their peacock bass with piranha species. the tank is not too humongously big and it seems fairly crowded. <Do remember their may be water capacity out of view, so the size of the tank you SEE can be misleading in terms of water volume. In any case, public aquaria have the luxury of moving fish around from one big tank to another, or even selling on unwanted livestock, and that's something you may not be able to do.> I don't understand how they can do this in captivity without major major aggression, the peacocks and piranha both have amazing color and all seemed to be in decent finnage. <Cichla and Serrasalminae have a complex relationship in the wild. Adults of each species compete for the same resources, but there's more to it than that. Many piranhas feed on the fins of large fish, and Cichla have evolved behavioural characteristics that allow them minimise such attacks. Furthermore, the eyespot is believe to be a way to confuse fin-eating fish. Conversely, adult Cichla eat juvenile piranhas. What these all means for aquarium maintenance I couldn't say, but it's interesting to speculate that a "stand off" might exist where specimens of similar size were kept together. How stable that would be in the long term or within the confines of a home aquarium is up for debate though.> Everything I have read about piranha has warned they should only be kept as a solitary species, <Does depend on the species: some are gregarious at certain times of the year, and only become markedly territorial when breeding. The size of the school makes a HUGE difference, and that's where aquarists come a-cropper. It's really a case of the more, the better, and successful displays in public aquaria often include dozens of specimens. Hobbyists often try with five or six fish, and end up with just the one male at the end.> and for some more aggressive species only as solitary animals I would like to know about how they achieve this... I took a behind the scenes tour with a great friend of mine, even got to see young weedy sea dragons that were hatched there at the facility, but most of the questions in regards to husbandry I had, the guide couldn't answer. Although, being feeding those massive sand tiger sharks and the green sea turtles was well worth the extra money. <I'm not a huge piranha fan, and consider them among the least exciting fish in the hobby. That said, if you're prepared to keep 10+ species of Serrasalmus spp. of moderate size, you can get lucky and create a stable group. Experienced keepers tell me the very small specimens (coin-sized) you see in shops are often much more nippy than the sub-adults, so one mistake is buying a bunch of babies hoping to rear them together. While that approach works with many fish, apparently it doesn't with Serrasalminae. For most aquarists, Exodon paradoxus is a much better piranha-like fish for maintenance in groups. It's smaller, forms stable schools more readily when kept in large numbers, and is far prettier (in my opinion). Does the same feeding frenzy thing, but eats anything, so can be easily maintained on chopped seafood. I'll also make the point that there seems to be a relationship between aggression and the use of live foods. Fish fed dead/frozen foods are consistently less aggressive than ones fed live foods. Unfortunately many people who buy piranhas choose to feed them live animals, particularly goldfish, and apart from being a death warrant in terms of healthcare, that habit likely makes maintaining a stable school less easy.> Hope you have a good one, Adam
<Cheers, Neale.>

help! FW Fish losses... troubleshooting, data     -- 10/02/08 Hi crew! Thanks for taking my email, and thanks in advance for your advice and guidance. <Thanks for the kind words.> I've emailed you in the past about my new 46 bow front, and life has been great until a few weeks ago. My water is terrific, but I recently added some new fish to my family, and I've had disastrous results! I've lost three 7-month old male guppies, two rainbows, about 10 neon tetras that I've had for at least 4-5 months, my beloved 5-year old African dwarf frog (he joined the community in May), several Endler's and two blue rams. <Hmm... when you lose this many fish, and those fish are all of unrelated types, it is almost 100% certain that the problem is with the environment rather than disease. Now, while you say your water is "terrific", the problem is that this doesn't convey much to me. Lots of people think low levels of ammonia (e.g., up to 0.5 mg/l) are fine, but the reality is that fish need zero levels of ammonia and nitrite. Likewise, Guppies need basic water (ideally pH 7.5-8.0) whereas Neons much prefer soft water around pH 6.0. So water that is "terrific" for one species certainly won't be for the other. Again, Blue Rams (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi) can't be kept in community tanks because they need very warm water, between 28-30 degrees C (82-86 F). The problem is that while Guppies will tolerate water that warm, Neons will not, because Neons come from relatively cool, shady rivers where the water temperature is around 22-24 C (72-75 F). In other words, water warm enough for Rams is dangerously overheated for Neons, or conversely, the optimal temperature of 25 C (77F) for standard community fish is too cold for Rams, and consequently Rams become very disease-prone under such conditions and usually die within months. So, it is absolutely critical to state the pH, hardness and temperature of the tank up front, so that we can decide which fish might be ill, and which fish are simply stressed to death because you were keeping them in the wrong environment. It is crucial to understand that while you pet shop might have a "community fish selection" that they say will all live happily together -- this is absolutely not the case in reality!> What I think might be the problem are the Chinese algae eaters I added to the tank at about the same time. I've never seen them behaving aggressively towards the other fish, but I have absolutely no explanation for the rapid and sudden loss of fish, and I've now started to read that they can become aggressive or territorial. <Yes, they become dangerously aggressive when mature, upwards of 15-20 cm. When smaller they are territorial but basically harmless, and not likely to kill fish.> I understand the new additions; the rams and Endler's, but why my well-established guppies, Neons and FROG!? I've seen no sign of disease, distress or water instability. Do you have any suggestions? <See above before we can answer this.> My remaining, guppy, tetras, platys and dwarf Gourami's are just fine and dandy. <So far...> It just seems odd to suddenly start losing fish. <Not really; lots of people make the mistake you've done of mixing incompatible fish, with inevitable results...> I'm running two 200 penguins, do partial water changes monthly and check the water quality weekly. My temperature is about 80 degrees. <Far too warm! Please do review the specific needs of all the fish you are keeping. Some tropical fish come from cool environments, some from warmer ones. Very few species come from places consistently as warm as 27 C/80 F, the Mikrogeophagus ramirezi being obvious exceptions, along with (most) gouramis, Discus and Angelfish.> I just don't know what to think. The current head count is around 32 fish. I've bought fish from two quality and reputable aquarium specialty shops, so I think I'm buying healthy fish. <Ah, but are you choosing wisely? Cheers, Neale.>

Re: help! (Community tank stocking; environment) 10/2/08
Hi again, thank you for responding.
<Happy to help.>
My water is 80 degrees, and I will lower that gradually to about 77-78 if you think that will be compatible with the remaining fish.
My ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are all 0 ppm and have been for months. pH
is about 7.0 and stays there.
<Far too low for Mollies and indeed livebearers generally: these fish come from calcium-rich waters in Central America and need hard, basic water to survive any length of time. Consider pH 7.5 the minimum, and a hardness upwards of 15 degrees dH the minimum for Mollies, and ideally pH 8, 20 degrees dH is what you want.>
By the way, I have no idea how to determine the hardness/softness of the water! We are city dwellers, so I know the water is soft from the tap, and I always treat it before adding it to the tank with Prime. What are your thoughts?
<Well, if all else fails, take a sample of water into your local fish retailer and ask them to test it; most will. Specifically, you want to know at the very least the general hardness, and ideally the carbonate hardness as well. "Dip strip" test kits that measure both these along with pH and nitrogenous waste concentrations are inexpensive (if not terribly accurate) and well worth having. In any case, do always remember not to use water from a domestic water softener (lots of people make this mistake). Soft water (if that's what your drinking water supply is) is fine for barbs, tetras, gouramis and a variety of other fish. Just not livebearers!>
So, do you think if I lower the temperature a couple of degrees slowly over
the next few days, it will balance things out for everyone?
<No; it'll fix some things, and the tetras in particular will be healthier and live longer. But warm water species like Blue Rams will weaken and eventually die. They need "hot" water for their immune and digestive system to work properly.>
I have the 3 dwarf Gourami, 4 Pristella tetra, 3 blood fin tetra, 2 serpae tetra, 4 golden tetra, 1 sad male guppy, 3 young platys (born in this tank), 12 neon tetras, 1 zebra Danio and the 2 Chinese algae eaters. The algae eaters are only about 2-2.5 inches long.
<A year from now these Gyrinocheilus aymonieri will be nasty, territorial monsters...>
What are safe algae eaters for this type of tank?
<Since this tank uses plastic plants, I wouldn't worry too much about algae. Bristlenose catfish (Ancistrus spp.) are the best bets, but otherwise consider Cherry Shrimps and perhaps Nerite snails, though I suspect your water will be too soft for snails to be happy.>
If I can get things stable, I would love to add back a few more Neons and
male guppies, but not if the risk is too high.
<Not considered a good combo: Neons are generally well behaved, but sometimes nip at male Guppies. All things considered, I'd recommend Platies as the best livebearers for most community tanks, but that said, your water is all wrong for them.>
I am sad. I thought I researched and took good care of my sparkling tank and provided lots of safe cover and hiding places (I've attached a picture)!
<It's a beautiful tank! Don't feel saddened for too long: learn from your mistakes and experiences, read around, and build on what you're getting right.>
The idea that I brought fish home to die makes me feel terrible.
<It happens. Don't worry about it too much now. Move on. Now you understand the limitations set on fish choice re: water chemistry and temperature, you can select species more carefully. Good luck, Neale.>

Re: help! (Community tank stocking; environment)
So there is no way to keep guppies and tetras together?
<Sure there is. Mixing Guppies with hardwater-tolerant tetras such as Pristella maxillaris is perfectly possible if you ensure the water is moderately hard and slightly basic. The thing is, if you're not familiar with the topic of water chemistry, let alone the practicalities, you absolutely DO NOT want to get bogged down in this just yet. Read, learn about the issue, and then decide if the extra workload fits your idea of a fun hobby. For most folks, sticking with that thrive in their "on tap" water chemistry is a million times easier.>
How do I raise my pH?
<Do see here:
I'm a nurse, so I know how to change pH with respiration rate, but not in an aquarium! Ha!
<And I'm a doctor of rocks who gets to write books on fish... go figure.>
I will increase my pH, lower my temp and get some mollies and platy, and maybe more tetras.
<Strongly advise against this, at least until you've read, understood the theory...>
Will the Gourami's tolerate the lower temp and higher pH as well?
<Assuming they're healthy now, then yes, should be fine.>
Thanks, I'll quit bugging you now! I really appreciate your guidance.
<We're happy to help. Cheers, Neale.>

Double check I'm headed in right direction, FW set-up, community  9/5/08
Good day crew
Thank you once again for all your hard work. It is greatly appreciated. I am setting up my first large freshwater aquarium for me and my family and wanted to double check with experts that I'm going about this in the right way.
<Thanks for the kind words.>
I have a 70 gallon tank (48x18x19) that I plan on setting up in the basement, using 2 Emperor 280 power filter for filtration and flow. If reasonably stocked is this enough filtration and flow or will a additional small power head be needed?
<My recommendation for standard community tanks is turnover rates of 4-6 times the volume of the tank per hour. For a 70 gallon tank, that's 280-420 gallons per hour. So in theory your two 280 gallons per hour filters should be fine. But I have to admit to being less than impressed by "hang on the back" filters. I known they're popular in the US, but I think the reason they never caught on in Europe is their inflexibility. Because the outlet and inlet are close to each other, you can't do what you can with external canister filters and have the "suck" at one end and the "blow" at the other. So creating good water circulation is difficult. This might not matter in a 20 gallon tank that's only a foot deep, but your 70 gallon tank is a completely different kettle of fish, if you'll pardon the expression. These filters also seem to be based around proprietary filter media "modules", limiting your range of options (and locking you into buying from a single manufacturer). For example, they often devote a significant amount of space to carbon -- one of the most overpriced, and overrated things in the freshwater hobby. You don't need the stuff if you're doing adequate (25-50% weekly) water changes, and for it to actually do what it's meant to do, you need to replace every 2-4 weeks! Ditto ammonia remover; equally overpriced and equally expensive to use. Unless you have a very particular reason to go for these Emperor filters, you'd be much better off with a reliable external canister filter or two. Eheim are the best in the business, and something like the Eheim 2217 offers you an empty bucket into which you can stick whatever media you want. Eheim filters also have a far better reputation for longevity than any other filter manufacturer in the business.>
With this tank being in a cool basement will 2 150 watt heaters be enough to maintain proper temperature?
<Should be.>
I plan on using natural gravel for a substrate at 1 to 2 inches deep with some rock caves and silk plants for decor.
<Sounds great. This being so, you might consider a hybrid filtration system: reverse flow undergravel. Nothing beats this in terms of performance. You connect the outflow from a canister filter into the pipe feeding into the undergravel plate. Water is pushed upwards through the gravel. The gravel becomes biologically active, removing nitrate, and the current LIFTS debris up from the substrate into the water column so it can be sucked into the canister filter. This method works amazingly well. Because it's cheap and simple to set up, this was THE filter of choice during the 70s and 80s for people keeping big or delicate fish. Much pioneering work was done in the marine side of the hobby too using this system. The main reason it isn't widely used nowadays is that undergravel filters and plants don't mix (plants hate their roots being in oxygenated, mobile water). But that's not an issue here.>
As for my stocking plan I have a interest in a multitude of fish including Bettas, Barbs, Tetras, Mollies, Guppies and Loaches.
<Not all of these will mix. Bettas don't really mix with anything save shrimps and snails. Fancy Guppies are easily harassed by tetras, even Neons. Some Barb species can be notoriously nippy (Tiger barbs especially) while other Barbs are very shy and retiring and need to be kept away from anything bullish! Mollies are, in all honesty, best kept in tanks where the addition of salt to the water is an option. What I'd STRONGLY recommend you do is make a note of your ambient water chemistry, and then draw up a list of species that enjoy those conditions. Once you've done that, you can cross-check the species in terms of social behaviour. Get back to me if you want help here, but any fish encyclopaedia will give the key facts. I happen to treat "Baensch's Aquarium Atlas" as my book of choice for this sort of thing, and for any freshwater aquarists buying this book will be the best $20 they ever spend.>
My research tells me that these all can require slightly different water conditions and may not all get along.
I plan on setting up my tank and doing a fishless cycle with store bought ammonia and then testing my water and matching which fish best suit this water condition. Any help or suggestion for a first time aquarist in creating a stocking list would be much appreciated.
So in closing, am I headed in the right direction?
<Right direction, yes; are you there yet? Not in my opinion!>
Thanks again for a great site and all your hard work.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Double check I'm headed in right direction   9/6/08 Hi Neale Thank you so much. The thought of a reverse flow undergravel never accrued to me. That in conjunction with the power filters so work great. Thanks again. <Hello! Glad to help. Reverse-flow undergravel filters are indeed wonderful things, and I'm sure you'll be impressed with the excellent balance of cost against performance. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebindex/fwugfiltr.htm http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebindex/ug5proscons.htm Cheers, Neale.>

FW easy setup 2/1/08 Dear Bob, <Neale actually.> Thank you for supporting us for these past 6 years in keeping a saltwater aquarium. With a 2 year old, I can't maintain it adequately and I'm looking for something VERY easy and fresh water. I can't find a section on your site for VERY beginners and the most resilient fish. <Do start here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwset-up.htm Various other linked articles will help.> What is absolutely the easiest fish to keep? <No question here: the two best fish for absolute beginners are Zebra Danios (Danio rerio) and Peppered Corydoras (Corydoras paleatus). Both will tolerate pH 6 to 8, hardness 5-20 degrees dH, and temperature from 18-25C/68-77F. Both are peaceful schooling fish, and a tank with six danios and six catfish will fill out a 20-gallon tank nicely and put on a very lively, entertaining show. Both are tolerant of ammonia and nitrite, at least in the short term, so they are ideal for new aquaria (though add only a few at a time so the filter can mature, not all at once!). Both eat anything and do fine on flake and pellets. Both are easy to breed if you want to, but won't produce masses of babies if you don't want them. Both are good with a variety of other fishes, so they will "grow" with you as your skills increase.> I was thinking a betta but I'd be open. <Nope.> She also asked for a purple fish and a yellow fish so when you get past one you can't do beta. <Doesn't really work if you just look for colours. Much better to choose fish that will thrive in the conditions you have. Besides, children quickly get bored with something like a Betta that just sits there. Corydoras for example may not be colourful, but they are cute, they wink (yes, seriously) and they have funny little whiskers. Danios are playful and constantly on the move. Their colours shimmer in the light, so they're never the same thing twice.> We could do a tank divider but I'd hate to be cruel if the two will feel threatened. <Not a good way to do things.> I'm looking for a general page on cichlids but there's nothing ranking them on ease of care. <Cichlids are NOT easy. They're excellent fish for the second aquarium or for when you want to experiment with breeding. But they get sick easily in tanks with varying water quality, and most species are more or less disruptive once sexually mature. I adore cichlids, as do most aquarists once they've kept them, but they are to fish what German Shepherds are to dogs -- intelligent, beautiful, but not for everyone!> General advice on filtration systems? <For a basic tank anything providing 4 times the volume of the tank in turnover per hour is ideal. Lots of beginners start with undergravel filters which can work well though they aren't really compatible with live plants. I happen to like external canister filters because they're so efficient and offer good value for medium to large aquaria. But cut according to your cloth - no single filter is ideal for everyone, and even a basic filter can do a great job.> Do we have the cotton and charcoal setup? <Filter wool is nylon not cotton. It's for mechanical filtration and to a less degree biological filtration. It's a good idea to have some, but it isn't essential if your filter has sponges or ceramic noodles instead. Cotton is a waste in freshwater tanks, for the most part. Money is much better spent on other filter media.> We also want a small tank because we're moving to a small place. <A 20-gallon tank would be ideal. Smaller tanks are difficult to stock and hard to maintain.> Can't do anything with salmonella (like turtles). <I've swallowed more mouthfuls of aquarium water while siphoning tanks than I care to remember and never yet got sick from it! But still, it is simply good practise to clean your hands after handling any animals, whether fish, turtles, cats, or dogs. The actual risk of getting sick from an aquarium is very small, but if you are concerned, or think you or family members may have a particular issue with their immune system that needs consideration, discuss with an MD. I may be a doctor, but I'm a doctor of rocks, which doesn't actually help here!> If there's a general starter section on your website or a book to recommend, I'd appreciate it. With deepest thanks, Allyson Oops. I just found this. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwset-up.htm Thanks. <Ah, seek and ye shall find. Good-oh. Neale.>

Re: easy setup 2/1/08 Thanks so much Neale! <No problem.> Purple is a big deal for her since she could say the word...is there anything purple? <Try Pearl Danios (Danio albolineatus); these have a metallic iridescence that shows every colour depending on the light. The best purple fish for small aquaria is the Emperor Tetra (Nematobrycon palmeri), but it is hardly an "easy" animal. After your aquarium is settled down (3-6 months time) and provided your water isn't too hard, these fish are definitely worth keeping. They'll get along well with Danios and Corydoras. But I wouldn't recommend you keep them right away; they're simply too delicate. While I appreciate a parent trying to play to a child's interests, the problem is that for the animal, being plopped into the wrong aquarium can mean a swift demise!> She's two years old. I'll take her to see those fish and try to sell them to her. <Quite possibly Albino Corydoras might appeal. They're pink rather than purple, but they're still Corydoras paleatus and generally do well in aquaria, even if they are a bit less hardy than the basic model. Cheers, Neale.>

Two general questions... Fish-TB, and "easy fish" 2/1/08 Hello all, <Neale> Two quick questions, germane to some FAQs I've done tonight. (1) Fish-TB. For real, or a myth? <Mycobacteriosis in piscines? Real> My books seem to suggest it's more an issue with marine fish, which is probably why I've never seen it in the flesh. The old Fish-TB suspect in gouramis turned out to be the Dwarf Gourami Disease iridovirus. <Yes> (2) What are the easiest freshwater fish to recommend to people? I plumped for peppered Corydoras and zebra danios. Any others? <Mmm, for "most" general water conditions about the world... likely the small danios, rasboras and barbs... Perhaps Platies would score high... given local acclimation... The more "cultured" Corydoras I'd agree with as well... C. aeneus, paleatus as you mention... Given the proviso of numbers/keeping in groups... BobF> Cheers, Neale

Community tank recommendation 1/29/08 Hello, <Ave,> Thank you for providing this wonderful service to people. I have a 40 gallon tank (with driftwood and gravel it is probably 35). I use a magnum canister filter with a micron cartridge to keep the water clean and a penguin to filter peat into the water. My ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are 0. The pH stays between 6.8 and 7.0. The temperature is 79 degrees. I have several Anubias plants (that are growing beard algae, but then that's another topic). <Absolutely normal for Anubias when kept in direct light. These are shade-loving plants that need to be planted below something that filters the light a bit.> Now for my question. The tank is occupied by 8 glow light tetras (2 are very fat), 5 rasbora hengelis (2 are just babies), 7 brilliant rasboras, 6 Amano shrimp and 1 albino bushynose Pleco (without a bushy nose). <All good. The Ancistrus will develop its bushy nose once its mature, though males more so than females.> I am wondering if I should stop with just these fish. <In a 40 gallon tank? There's a bit more space, certainly.> I am torn because my main concern is the health and happiness of the fish, however, I would like to add 5 - 6 diamond tetras because they are pretty and slightly bigger than the others. <Would work nicely. One of my favourite tetras. Try not to get too many males though: in small groups, the males sometimes play rough, and you eventually end up with just one male! That's exactly what I have now... bought six, they bumped each other off, and for the last 2-3 years, just the one male who mostly schools/fights with the Glassfish!> I have read extensively about the diamond tetras and can find nothing that suggests that they would pick on or terrorize the other fish. <Hmm... watching mine now, and yes, he's chasing the Glassfish. Not in a serious way, and definitely not to the point of nipping or stressing the other fish. But they do view similar-looking fish as rivals, I guess. Different fish -- such as your Rasboras and Glowlights -- will be completely ignored. I've mixed Diamonds with Cardinals and so on, and never had problems.> However, if you know something about them that I don't please educate me. I don't want to overcrowd my tank because I want everyone to be comfortable. It is so hard for me to figure out the 1 - 1.5 inches of fish per gallon because I can't judge what constitutes an inch of fish. <It's a pretty rubbish rule. Surface area is a better guideline in my opinion: one inch of small fish to every 10 square inches of surface area. But anyway, these guidelines are all rather vague and not like calculating how much paint you need to cover a wall. At the end of the day you have to do things slowly, check the nitrite level, and if everything is OK, and the fish are behaving normally, you're fine.> So if you can find a moment, please offer me some guidance. I have made so many mistakes so far trying to learn about fish I would like to do the right thing. <Very good.> Thank you so much and bless you, Stephanie <Cheers, Neale.> 

New Tank Community, FW    1/3/08 Hello. I would like to request a recommendation on a good community of freshwater fish for my new 20 gallon tank - now about 1 month old. I currently have three neon tetras, two Serpae tetras, one Burmese Botia, and one black molly (appears to be ailing). All appear to be doing fine (except the molly).
<Mollies are not compatible with this selection of fish. They need very hard, alkaline water, and ideally a tank with some marine salt mix added at a dose of 3-6 grammes per litre. When kept without salty water Mollies are notoriously prone to disease for a variety of reasons. Characins (mostly) cannot tolerate brackish water, and your species certainly can't.> What additional fish would you recommend to get along with these folks.
<Serpae tetras and Neon tetras are schooling fish, so start by adding enough of both so you get at least 6 of each. Remember, your job as an aquarist is above all else to provide good conditions for the fish you buy. Keeping fish in a too-small group is very cruel.> I would particularly like fish that are beautiful and interesting to watch (I have two small daughters I would like to get interested in the world of nature). <To be honest, six Neons and six Serpae tetras plus a loach are pretty well filling out your community tank. The only other things you might add would be a small group (4+) of Corydoras, such as Peppered or Bronze Corydoras. Do bear in mind Serpae tetras are NOT GOOD community fish -- they are semi-parasitic fish in the wild that eat the fins and scales of other, usually larger, fish. I would NEVER keep them in a community tank, though some people have gotten away with them in tanks with fast-moving tankmates. Any decent aquarium book will provide warnings about this sort of thing, as well as the need Mollies have for salt, so I STRONGLY suggest buying a book before obtaining new species.> Can you tell me what the recommended parameters are for this fish community (i.e. temperature, pH level, nitrate and nitrite level, anything else I should be testing for). <Neons and Serpae tetras prefer soft, acid water. Something around pH 6-7, hardness 5-10 degrees dH is ideal. Loaches are similar, but are also sensitive to low oxygen concentration. Mollies want pH 7.5+, hardness 20 degrees dH upwards, and a salinity between 10 and 100% normal seawater (SG 1.003-1.025). Temperature should be around 22C for Neons, 25C for the Serpae tetras, 24-28C for the Mollies, and 22-24C for the loach. In other words, the water will be too warm for the Neons (shortening their lives) at the temperature Mollies prefer. As should be obvious from all this, you likely picked "pretty" fish rather than fish that will actually live together for any length of time. A common mistake best prevented by reading...> I hope this question is not too basic, I have searched your website but have not been able to quite put it together. <Hmm... do read the species reviews for all the fish you want. The article on Mollies for example labours the point that they need VERY SPECIFIC water chemistry conditions to do well.> I had an aquarium for twenty years as a child - at that time we just went to the fish store and picked out whatever fish were pretty. <Oh dear.> Once a year when the tank got too dirty to see the fish we caught all the fish and put them in a bucket, then dumped out the water, refilled the tank, and poured all the fish back in. Things are a lot more complicated now! <Hmm... not necessarily more complicated, but we do better understand the demands fish have for water quality and the right water chemistry, so are able to keep, breed a wider selection of livestock.> And yet, some of our fish lived for years... <Old school fishkeeping largely depending on the fact the species being kept were very hardy, and people often viewed fish as short-term additions, to be replaced as required. The hobby has moved on, thankfully. Anyway, welcome back to the hobby. Cheers, Neale.>

Community stocking scheme: food for thought  10/26/07 Hi, <Hello,> Following Neale's advice on filter cloning, it took around 10 days to fishlessley cycle my ~73g tank; I added a little flake or a cube of bloodworms every other day. <Very good.> My first fish, 13 Melanotaenia praecox and an Ancistrus pleco (longfin), have been there two weeks and all is well. I'm still measuring, pH, ammonia and nitrites daily. pH tends to the high side, 7.5-8, I think due to the substrate, which has a few pieces of shell in it. I'm not too worried as it will provide buffering capacity when more fish are added. After cycling, ammonia remains at zero reading according to my kit, nitrites rose a little to 0.3-0.8 but now after a couple of 50% water changes are <0.3 (the lowest measurement on the test card). <That pH is just fine for most aquarium fish. So long as the high pH is concurrent with a relatively high hardness (rather than, say, excess ammonia) you're fine. Indeed, hard, alkaline water is wonderfully stable and in some ways the optimum for basic fishkeeping. Soft, acid water comes into its own when breeding water chemistry-sensitive fish, but otherwise it's lack of stability can make it more trouble than it's worth.> While everything has been settling in I have been reading through WWM FAQs and have emerged better informed, VERY cautious, and a little overwhelmed! Having seen the neon rainbows in situ, I want to pursue an 'iridescent' theme for this community and have therefore decided against moving the 4 blood parrots to the 75g tank. They are too big and gawky for what I have in mind. I take Neale's point that their 20g won't be enough as they get bigger and am boosting the filtration meantime. <Very good.> Now I'm pondering how to complete the community. The tank is 23 inches tall, 42 inches wide and 18 inches deep, and I would like to add 5 or 6 Pterophyllum scalare (platinum), and Xiphophorus hellerii (wild-type green colour, 1 male and 3 or 4 female). I could stop at that, but I'm tempted to have a final pair of top-dwellers, possibly gouramis. <Check out Moonlight gouramis (Trichogaster microlepis) -- they're completely silver. Silver hatchetfish (Gasteropelecus sternicula) might be another option, though they are not "easy" fish and need good conditions and a rich, varied diet to do well. But in terms of sheer iridescence, it's hard to beat characins such as Congo tetras (Phenacogrammus interruptus) or Niger tetras (Arnoldichthys spilopterus). Their big, metallic scales catch the light reflecting shades of green, violet and blue.> However, I'm aware that with a water surface area of 5.25 sq feet, the bio-capacity of my 75g is not much more than some 50-60g set-ups, so I'd like your advice on how far that plan would be pushing the limit. <As it stands, sounds fine. Depends a lot on the size of the fish. Angels become territorial when mature, so you're likely going to have to remove all but one pair from the tank anyway. In which case, you can trade the surplus adults in for some more fish.> I'm also concerned about disease (I live in Singapore, ground zero of dwarf gourami disease) and potential aggression with larger gouramis. I was wondering how sparkling/croaking gourami might fare, or whether these would be too small and be intimidated by the angels? <Trichopsis pumila, at up to 4 cm, is too small. Even if it doesn't get eaten by the angels (by no means a certainty) its small size and shy disposition would make it difficult to feed and observe. Trichopsis vittata is bigger, around 7 cm, and consequently that bit more robust. The two species are quite similar in looks. Perhaps better bets might be some of the larger Betta and Colisa spp; Colisa labiosus for example, or Betta bellica.> Which gouramis, if any, would be most suitable for both this theme and community, or is there another 'iridescent' middle-to-top-dweller which might be a better choice? <A lot of the "wild" Betta species are iridescent, typically bluish or greenish, as in the case of Betta bellica. Wild-type Kissing gouramis are a nice metallic green, especially when mature. From Africa, some of the Climbing perches might be pressed into service. Ctenopoma fasciolatum is a species that changes its colours seemingly at will, and at times is dark steel blue, at others metallic grey. It always has shiny pearl spots on its flanks. In a planted tank, it's altogether a very attractive fish, and unusually for Climbing perch, is a good community fish.> Or should I call it quits at the angels and swordtails for now? <Up to you. In your tank, you should comfortably be able to house half a dozen rainbows, half a dozen medium-sized tetras, a pair of adult angels, four or five swordtails, and a couple of catfish without any problems at all. By my reckoning, you have 792 square inches of surface are, and at 1 inch of fish per 10 square inches, that's almost 80 inches of fish. You need to be more conservative with bigger fish, so let's say 40-60 inches of Dwarf Gourami-sized fish.> Dave <Hope this helps, Neale>

New Community Tank Setup, FW stkg.  9/20/07 Hello, <Good Morning, Terri, Andrea here.> Great informative site, thanks for all the wise advice! <Thanks, I agree.> I am planning to start my first ventures into keeping an aquarium as a hobby and wanted to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I have done lots of research <Excellent! Keep up the research and good work.> on fish compatibility and have so far come up with the following for a 30 or 33 gallon tank. 6 Neon Dwarf rainbowfish, 3 yoyo loaches, 4 angelfish and 3 red honey gourami's.<The gouramis, while small, may nip the angels and like a slightly higher pH, KH than Angelfish. Likewise, the Angels, unless you cull down to a mated pair, will quickly outgrow a 30-33 gallon tank.> The questions I have are: 1) I have tried to come up with a suitable number of each species to suit them, but I am concerned that I might be overcrowding the tank (and I even read that angelfish and gouramis should be kept more than 3 to reduce aggression.) Are these numbers ok for my tank? <I'd say you are pushing it. I'd suggest starting out with the yo yo loaches and Angels. Get 6 juvenile angelfish and wait for a pair to form. Once one does, return the remaining four. Then stock accordingly from there. I feel the dwarf rainbows would be a good addition at that time.> 2) Also I am quite excited to have a heavily planted aquarium. Do you have suggestions for types of plants that would suit these fish species? <In this tank, the Angels are more or less the centerpiece fish. Choose wisely, and choose healthy, nice specimens. Read http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwangelfishes.htm and the linked articles at the top of the page. These are South American Cichlids. I'd suggest plants from the Amazon/Pantanal region, where these fish are native. They create a lovely biotope. Have you done your research on what a heavily planted tank entails and are prepared with the proper lighting, substrate, pressurized CO2, and fertilizers? You might look into some planted tank sites online. Try http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com and also the articles on WWM.> 3) I would like to have a fish group that are aware of their outside surroundings and have interesting behaviour, do you recommend replacing the gouramis with 2 of either German Blue Rams or Bolivian Rams? Would they be compatible with this group? <My main concerns with the gouramis is that despite their small stature, they are nippers, and will go after the angelfish. Likewise, they tend to prefer solitary life, and will sometimes turn on each other. This is less common with dwarf honeys, but not unheard of. Also, gouramis are an Asian fish, and I tend to suggest people stay within the same continent when choosing stock. The German Blue Rams and Bolivians however are a good choice for pairing with angels, as they are also peaceful South American cichlids from the same region. But I feel the breeding behavior of both groups (Angels v. Rams) would eventually result in conflict. Choose either Angels or Rams.> 4) Is their a particular order that I should stock my fish after I have cycled the tank or just add all the fish right away? I read that yoyo's can be sensitive so wondering how long (if any) I should wait before adding them. <General rule of thumb is to introduce the most "shy" and "peaceful" fish first. I encourage you to research the behaviors of your stock selection and go from there. I'd start with the yo yos.> <In closing, with Angelfish (a fantastic choice for a 30 tank if you go with just a pair, also for planted tanks), make the pair your "centerpiece" fish, then stock one or two small groups of schooling fish in a planted aquarium. Stay away from tiny fish, however that will fit easily in an angels mouth. Neons Tetras, for example, are their natural food in the wild. However, the six dwarf rainbows, and perhaps a small school of other, slightly larger, tetras would make a stunning display.> Thank you very much for your time and I look forward to hearing from you guys. <Most welcome.> Cheers <Back at ya.> Terri <Andrea>

Re: FW Angelfish, Stocking plan, planted tank start up.  7/21/07 Hi Andrea, <Hi Terri!> Thanks for responding so quickly! <No problemo.> This website is great and lots of helpful advice. In regards to your reply about stocking my 30 or 33 gallon tank, I have a few more questions: 1) You suggested getting 6 baby angelfish and wait for 2 to pair up after a year or so, and then take the 4 extra out of the tank. I don't have anywhere to put the 4 extra and the pet store does not take specimens back. Can I just try to buy 2 directly from the store and see if they get along? I know its hard to sex juvenile angels, so also assuming I got 2 males, will they display territorial aggression in a 30 gallon space? <You can always give it a shot, and keep a close eye on them. You want to try to get a mated pair, which is why it is suggested to start with a larger number, and cull down once a pair forms. Also, I'd ask the pet store why they won't take fish back. That is unusual, except with (gah!) the large chains. Do you have an aquarium specialty, local, fish only store anywhere near?> 2) After considering your advice I will not get gourami's and rams since I guess my tank would be too small for them to be compatible, but what about 2 Apistogramma fishes? I really would like to get Apisto bitaeniata in particular. I realize they too like rams are South American cichlids but still wanted to know what you thought if there might be a difference if I changed the rams for the Apistos. <Good choice on the Gourami/ram combo. However, Apistogrammas and Angelfish aren't going to get along well either. You'd be better going with angels and gouramis if you must have one of the three (Gourami, ram, or Apisto), but I encourage you to investigate another, non-cichlid, non-nipper option. Angelfish are generally slower moving, slightly nervous, and long finned fish. This should be your consideration when choosing the tank mates.> 3) In addition to the Rainbow neon dwarfs, what about adding platies to the mix? I would like red fish in the tank to contrast against the blue of the dwarfs and shape of the angelfish. It doesn't matter to me if the angelfish eat platy spawn as Im not interested in breeding fish. <I don't see a problem with platys.> 4) If the platies are not a good mix can you recommend another pretty red fish that would go will with my setup? <Platys should be fine. Another good choice would be something like a Serpae or Von Rio Tetra.> 5) I have been reading a lot that clown loaches and angelfish go well together, but I don't want to get clowns as they grow too big. Would a different loach species be better suited compared to the yo yo loach? I am also concerned that loaches are from India and like gentle currents and angelfish are from S.A and like still waters, will this be a problem if I put them together? <The loaches would be just fine. I suggest going with something smaller, such as a small school of Botia Sidthimunki or a trio of Botia striata.> Possible revised setup, 30-33 gallons: 6 neon dwarf rainbows <-- Fine.> 2 angelfish <--Fine.> 3 yo-yos <--See above about the loach question.> 2 Apistogramma <--Swap for a pair of dwarf gouramis (preferably honeys) with close attention, or other non-cichlid fish> 5 platies (or less?) <--Fine, but this would be your maximum limit.> <You would be FULLY stocked. Go slowly, and keep up your water changes weekly. Plenty of plants and excellent filtration will be of great help.> Thanks so much again for your help. <Sure thing!> Cheers, <Yep!> Terri

Community Tank Water Chemistry. 9/5/07 Hi Neale, <Lisa,> I'd appreciate your advice on "community tanks" concerning water chemistry. <OK.> I am "fostering" a 29 gallon tank. In the tank are 3 albino Corys, 3 black shirt tetras, 3 glowlights (I tried to identify them last night - their bodies are pinkish/flesh color with a red marking on the dorsal fin), 3 very pretty orange and red mollies and 1 pleco (plump and about 5-6 inches in length). <Those don't sound like glowlights. Glowlights (Hemigrammus erythrozonus) are transparent with a coppery band from nose to tail along the midline. Need a photo to identify them, as they don't sound immediately recognisable to me.> Due to the tap's very soft water (which I understand is preferred by Corys), my pH swings (as noted from my established community tank). I am not sure how to buffer it as in this situation it doesn't make sense to buffer using peat or crushed coral on either sides of the spectrum to stabilize. <Corydoras couldn't really care less about water pH or hardness. Anything from pH 6-8 and hardness 5-20 dH is acceptable, particularly with tank-bred forms (which is what you have). I've said this repeatedly on WWM in answer to many other questions -- the exact pH and hardness almost never matters: what matters is stability. So, if you have very soft water, then adding some crushed coral to the filter DOES make sense. Maybe you won't need much -- experiment! Perhaps half a cup to start with. Measure the pH and hardness each day for the following week, and plot a little graph. Once you've seen what effect it has, you can raise or lower the amount of crushed coral so that it meshes with the amount of water you change each week. What you're after is around 10 dH and a pH around 6.5-7.5. That's the "sweet spot" for virtually all tropical community fish.> Similarly, where does one draw the line in stabilizing pH and hardness/softness in a community tank where for instance guppies (tank 1: 5 guppies, 5 Corys, 2 bumblebee cats, 2 Plecos, 1 giant danio) and mollies (tank 2: combo mentioned above) prefer more alkaline water and Cory's like neutral, soft water? I also understand mollies prefer brackish water (no salt has ever been added to their tank). <Except for the mollies, what I suggest above will suit all of these. The guppies might prefer harder water, and certainly not a pH less than 7.0. Mollies, unfortunately, just don't do well in regular community tanks with 100% reliability. I know some people are fine with them, and that's cool. But 5 times out of 10, the mollies just don't thrive. So there's no way, ever, you're going to get me say "this set of freshwater conditions is ideal for all your fish, mollies included". Mollies just plain do better in brackish/marine aquaria. End of story.> Also, as you can imagine the pleco in the 29 gallon barely has room to turn around. I'd like to move him to the 55 gallon Mbuna tank. I have not yet moved my other pleco from my established tank to the Mbuna tank because I have not finished aquascaping it yet (I'm in phase 1). The 55 gallon has 11 2-3 inch Mbunas and the nasty CAE. Will both Plecos be okay in the 55? <This is a "suck it and see" situation. If you have two male plecs... don't bank on them getting along. Two females, maybe. One of each... who knows?> At least they'll have room to swim (I watched the video on YouTube you referred to about the Plecos in the wild!)...? <Isn't it cool!> One other question please! Can a tank have too much aeration? I'm running 2 powerheads in the 55 and a "full length" airstone - I have two filters that break the surface with the water flow. I'm trying to equip tanks according to biotope - I haven't been able to find if the Rift Valley Lakes have strong currents or are rather still... <Realistically, no, in freshwater tanks over-aeration and over-filtration aren't usually a problem. Yes, you can supersaturate water with gases, and these bubble out inside the fish, causing tissue damage. But this happens more in marine than freshwater aquaria, I think because of differences in gas solubility between fresh and salt water. Regardless, to get to this point you need A LOT of aeration and filtration, and freshwater fishkeepers rarely run systems with even 50% the water movement of comparable marine tanks. As for water currents in the Rift Valley lakes... it depends! Some parts of the lakes have strong currents, with some cichlids even living in the surf zone. But other parts are relatively still, particularly where there is a thick growths of plants (Potamogeton and Vallisneria, mostly). But provided you're aiming for about 6-8 times the volume of the tank in turnover per hour, you should be fine.> Thank you Neale! <Hope this helps, Neale>

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