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FAQs on Aquascaping Freshwater Aquarium Backgrounds

Related Articles: Aquascaping for Beginners; Twenty Tips for Realistic Aquaria by Neale Monks, Aquascaping the Freshwater AquariumsAdventures in Aquascaping By Timothy S. Gross

Related FAQs: Rock and Wood Use in Aquariums

Is there any better background than live plants?

question regarding filters behind 3D <internal> background    6/17/12
Hi, First of all thanks for this great website. I'm a frequent reader of the dailies, and there's always some interesting stuff in it, no matter whether it be something for use now or in the future, or just some information to satisfy my general curiosity for anything which has to do with fishkeeping. Not the first time I write, unfortunately I move around for work which often results in selling set-ups, moving and being without a fish tank for a while, but if it looks like I'm to stay where I am for a couple of years, then I never can resist to get a new tank. I'm planning a set up for a single species colony of Tropheus (most likely Tropheus moorii Mpulungu). Tank will be 6ft*2ft*2ft, about 170 gallons. I plan to install a 3D background, and there will be a powerhead inside the tank to provide some water circulation. Regarding filtration, a sump with wet/dry is not really an option I consider at this point, so I basically have to choose one or more of following filtration systems: external canister (Eheim 2260), an overtop trickle filter (they are available here with stackable drip boxes, to be stacked as high as needed (basically a wet/dry on top of the tank), or a DIY filter behind the 3D background.
<I'd go w/ two of the Eheims>
 As to the canister filter and the trickle filter, I believe I understand the drawbacks and advantages of each system. My question is regarding the efficiency of a filter installed behind a 3D background. On the internet there are several (great looking) well-stocked cichlid tanks posted which claim to be solely filtered by a (mainly biological) filter behind a 3D background. They report good water parameters with a standard water change regimen, and very low maintenance on the built-in filter, usually mainly operating with filter sponges cut into small cubes, an intake on one side of the background and an output on the other side, with a single pump drawing water through the filter. I don't really doubt this kind of filter can break down ammonia and nitrites quite well, I just wonder, in this kind of set-up, with the sponges behind the background being almost never cleaned (maybe with exception of one coarse sponge placed first), would such filter, in theory, not cause a significant build up of nitrates due to decaying material in the filter sponges?
<I'd rig up the intake/s in front of the background myself... the discharges to run horizontally from the top side to circulate the water in a gyre/loop across the top to the other side, down and back up the other>
 If such low-maintenance/low-cost filtration system would function that well, wouldn't it be applied more frequently?
<Mmm, other moda more popular to some...>
So basically my question is whether such kind of filter is viable long term for a cichlid tank, whether it is really as low maintenance as is claimed, and if so, how nitrate build up is avoided.
<More regular gravel vacuuming... 25% weekly or more frequent...>
 Many thanks. Henk 
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Diorama lights?   8/29/11
Hello:
<Hey Jude>
I am making a diorama for the back of the aquarium. It is basically a painted piece of wood that is curved to fit the back, nailed on to a piece of hardboard and sitting on a stand with a background taped to it. I was wondering what type of light could go in front of the wooded piece.
<Above it...>
I have a clip on LED light, but depending on where I am in the room the shaded light can be really bright unless it is angled perfectly. Is this the best lighting option??
<You'll have to experiment a bit here; happily your current lighting choice is easily maneuvered. If it proves to be too low in illumination power, there are a myriad of other choices. Generally I've used similar technology to that employed in the tank itself... e.g. boosted fluorescent, w/ less watts in the diorama... same lamps... so the background doesn't "stand out".>
Thank you!!!
Judy
<Welcome! Bob Fenner>

Glare in the aquarium   8/2/11
Hello:
<Judy>
I have a 46 gallon bowfront in the living room backed against a window.
This is the only place that I have for it in the house. I have a background, but of course I still get some algae. The other day when I was doing a gravel vac I decided to clean all the plastic plants and glass. The tank has seven platies and it seems the light is giving them a lot of algae to snack on and they are always um...pooping. I decided to get one of those curtains that give 99% light reduction to cut down on the algae, but when I put those up there was a lot of glare in the tank. You can now really see the reflection of the plants in the back of the tank, so I switched to the lighter blue background and that helped some. Some of the platies are light blue and they do not look as good up against a lighter background. I was wondering if there is a way to reduce glare aside from moving the tank. Are there any backgrounds that could be put inside the tank that would help???
<Sometimes putting a "diorama" or light/ed box behind a translucent
background or inside the diorama itself is the best recourse here>
I noticed the DIY Styrofoam backgrounds made to look like rocks, but they seem to take up volume in the tank. Thank you!!!
<I really like these as well. Again, they can/could be mounted inside a "false back" diorama... with its own supplied lighting if desired>
Judy
<Bob Fenner>
Still not getting it :(   8/3/11

Are there any backgrounds that could be put inside the tank that would help???
<Sometimes putting a "diorama" or light/ed box behind a translucent background or inside the diorama itself is the best recourse here>
I noticed the DIY Styrofoam backgrounds made to look like rocks, but they seem to take up volume in the tank. Thank you!!!
<I really like these as well. Again, they can/could be mounted inside a "false back" diorama... with its own supplied lighting if desired>
Judy
<Bob Fenner>

Gravel and Undergravel Filters, FW, Neale's go    2/1/11
Hello Crew,
I hope all I going well for you there. I have several questions, please.
I am fixing to make some modifications to my 75 gallon FW tank. First I am taking the sand bottom out and replacing it with gravel. I have used gravel before but this time decided to try the sand but all the detritus shows up too clearly on it.
<A turkey baster is good here. But also it's a reminder that your water circulation is probably not that good. If dirt accumulates on the sand, then you need more or better mechanical (i.e., silt-removing) filtration!>
The last time I used gravel It was recommended to me by a LFS to used 1 pound per gallon (75) so as to have a substantial surface for my "good" bacteria.
<For an undergravel filter the weight of the gravel isn't really that critical. Instead, concentrate on the depth. Assuming you use a medium-grade gravel, 8-10 cm/3-4 inches is correct.>
Right now I am relying on media in my power filter for that and have had no problem. Would it be OK for me to use less gravel so I won't have as much to clean?
<If you aren't using an undergravel filter, then you can have the gravel as thin a layer as you want. But if the undergravel filter is being used, you MUST have above 8 cm/3 inches for results to be worthwhile.>
Also, I have had tanks with and without under gravel filters and have read both pros and cons on their use. Please tell me what your feelings are about using them.
<Undergravels are great, and reverse-flow undergravels are superb because they "push" solid waste into the water where the canister filter can get it. But the chief drawbacks to undergravels are these: [A] You're limited to floating and epiphytic plants for the most part, because plants that are buried in the substrate rarely grow well. [B] You're limited in landscaping because the gravel MUST be more or less flat across the bottom of the tank, otherwise most of the water will go through the thinnest part of the gravel bed (water flows down the line of least resistance). [C] You can't have too many rocks or roots because anything below them is essentially dead so far as filtration goes. [D] You can't keep fish that dig too much otherwise the undergravel filter will be short-circuited. On the plus side, undergravels are quite easy to maintain except for cleaning under the gravel plate every 1-2 years; they are extremely efficient as biological filters; and they're very cheap to set up and run.>
Lastly, I want to get one of those in the tank background inserts that look like rock and fit against the back glass. Could you please recommend a particular brand that looks realistic as well as allowing for the intake tube on my power filter to hide behind it?
<They're all good, and once algae is grown on them a bit, they can look extremely realistic. Here in the UK, the Juwel brand is particularly popular. But there are some cautions. Firstly, you need to almost always cut them to size yourself unless they're pre-set for a particular aquarium model. Secondly, they need to be Siliconed in place at least 24 hours before you add water. Thirdly, Panaque spp. catfish (and perhaps some other big Loricariids) will scrape away the paint, revealing the epoxy or polystyrene behind the paint.>
Thank you for all you do. You are appreciated. James
<Thanks for the kind words. Cheers, Neale.>
Gravel and Undergravel Filters, ala RMF    2/1/11
Hello Crew,
I hope all I going well for you there. I have several questions, please.
I am fixing to make some modifications to my 75 gallon FW tank. First I am taking the sand bottom out and replacing it with gravel. I have used gravel before but this time decided to try the sand but all the detritus shows up too clearly on it. The last time I used gravel It was recommended to me by a LFS to used 1 pound per gallon (75) so as to have a substantial surface for my "good" bacteria.
<Mmm, yes... a couple/three inches... of depth... functionally, depending on grade et al. considerations. Read here:
http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsubstrates.htm
and the linked files above...>
Right now I am relying on media in my power filter for that and have had no problem. Would it be OK for me to use less gravel so I won't have as much to clean?
<Mmmm, yes, to extents>
Also, I have had tanks with and without under gravel filters and have read both pros and cons on their use. Please tell me what your feelings are about using them.
<All posted... do learn to/use the search tool, indices... For here:
http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwugfiltr.htm
and the pertinent linked files above>
Lastly, I want to get one of those in the tank background inserts that look like rock and fit against the back glass. Could you please recommend a particular brand that looks realistic as well as allowing for the intake tube on my power filter to hide behind it?
<Oh! There are some really spiffy ones available (differentially) around the world. Rather than referring you to something you won't be able to secure, DO take a look on the major etailing petfish websites in the country you live in... U.S.: Dr.s Foster and Smith, Marine Depot... .coms>
Thank you for all you do. You are appreciated.
James
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>
Gravel and Undergravel Filters, Now James    2/1/11
Under Gravel Filtration / Artificial Background
Hello Crew, I hope all I going well for you there. I have several questions, please. I am fixing to make some modifications to my 75 gallon FW tank. First I am taking the sand bottom out and replacing it with gravel. I have used gravel before but this time decided to try the sand but all the detritus shows up too clearly on it. The last time I used gravel It was recommended to me by a LFS to used 1 pound per gallon (75) so
as to have a substantial surface for my "good" bacteria. Right now I am
relying on media in my power filter for that and have had no problem.
Would it be OK for me to use less gravel so I won't have as much to clean?
<The key to an under gravel filter is to keep the substrate even over the filter plates. Water takes the path of least resistance. It will go through the area with the least amount of substrate covering the plates. A pound per gallon has always been a standard for a very long time. If you plan on having fish that dig, like cichlids, then this filter may not be the best option.>
Also, I have had tanks with and without under gravel filters and have read both pros and cons on their use. Please tell me what your feelings are about using them.
< They were a very popular filter in the 60's and 70's, because they did indeed provide the biological filtration needed to break down toxic ammonia into nitrites and then nitrates. Then wet dry filters and Biowheel filters became popular and more efficient and the under gravels started to go away.
I keep cichlids so they tend to dig down to the filter plate making it useless.>
Lastly, I want to get one of those in the tank background inserts that look like rock and fit against the back glass. Could you please recommend a particular brand that looks realistic as well as allowing for the intake tube on my power filter to hide behind it?
< I have an artificial background on a 50 gallon tank It is both a blessing and a curse. They look beautiful. That is the plus side. Now the con. side.
Installation can be a nightmare. They will not fit an acrylic tank unless you do some modification to the top. You are limited on the size of a glass tank you can put them in. I found a heavy duty glass tank with no partition in the middle. Any bigger tank than a 50 gallon and you need to remove the center brace, install the background and then replace the center brace. They are usually made of a poly foam material that tends to float at first, so it needs to be anchored down. Once installed you see that it displaces from 1/4 to about 1/3 of the available aquarium space for fish. Now the 50 gallon is a 35 gallon tank. You can now place the heaters and the filters in the back but now you have another problem You need to pump the water from behind the background to the front of the background where the fish are. You can use a powerhead or a canister filter to do this. If the water doesn't flow around the sides or under the background you will need to cut some holes or slots to let the water get to the back of the background. You will then need to glue some screen over the holes to keep fish from getting behind the background. Now that it is all set up and running it will look great for awhile until it gets covered with algae. You will need some algae eating fish to get the algae under control. Razor blades and scrubbing pads may damage the background. Just get the background that you like the most.
Brands really don't matter as they are all the same. Hope this helps.>
Thank you for all you do. You are appreciated. James
< Thank you for you kind words.-Chuck>

DIY backgd.s, Loricariids  5/15/10
I have been doing plenty of research on DIY aquarium backgrounds. Looks like a large Pleco is out of the picture if I do one.
<In some cases, yes. Panaque especially will strip the coating from 3D backgrounds.>
I have also been extensively researching water chemistry and PH. I will probably buy an RO unit and test getting a stable ph with premixed water.
<RO water by definition doesn't have a stable pH, and the more RO water you mix with tap water, the more carefully you will need to monitor and likely "fix" the pH with buffers.>
I wish to house primarily blackwater fish and would like to provide the most natural yet stable environment possible.
<Indeed.>
I have read that mixing tap water with RO water will add some alkalinity to the water to prevent acid crashes and ph fluctuations.
<It isn't the tap water as such, but the carbonate hardness in hard tap water that helps. Do read:
http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fwsubwebindex/fwsoftness.htm
>
However, even with a de-chlorinator that "makes tap water safe" wont I be simply putting back other harmful chemicals into my water that I took out with the RO unit?
<Tap water is, by definition, safe for fish. The hardness may not be ideal, but provided you dechlorinate the water and remove any copper and ammonia present in your tap water, what you're making is completely safe. The idea tap water is dangerous to fish is erroneous.>
I could also use RO reclaim treatments, but this may get pricey for a 500 gallon tank.
<Indeed.>
Will mixing RO water with tap water do the trick or is the reclaim treatment the better option?
<For soft water fish, a simple mix of RO and hard tap water usually works fine. If you're after blackwater conditions, then RO water is typically buffered with "Discus aquarium salts" which stabilise the pH and provide the minerals essential to making usable water. You have to remember, pure water, i.e., RO water, isn't healthy for fish.>
In the emails below you mentioned that below a PH of 6, bio-filtering bacteria are non-existent.
<Correct. Nitrifying bacteria prefer pH 7.5 to 8.>
If I go about trying to recreate blackwater how do I manage nitrites and nitrates?
<Well, nitrate is easy, since that's handled via water changes. In low pH systems, true blackwater systems, the usual protocol is to stock the tank
very lightly, to incorporate floating plants that use up the ammonia, and most importantly, to use Zeolite to remove ammonia directly.>
Do I do water changes every day?
<In blackwater tanks this is often the case.>
I am having a hard time finding information on this as it seems few people get this involved in aquaria. And finally, for Arowanas, Oscars, shovelnose cats and possibly some freshwater rays, am I better off just keeping a low ph but not so low as to recreate true blackwater conditions?
<None of these fish needs blackwater conditions. Indeed, they'll all be perfectly happy at around 10 degrees dH, pH 7.5. When keeping stingrays,
yes, low nitrate is crucial, but the pH isn't, and moderate hardness is perfectly acceptable. Before you do anything else, do purchase Richard Ross' excellent stingray book published by Barron's. Costs a few dollars on Amazon.>
Thanks for the help! Your site is amazing!
<Glad to help. Cheers, Neale.> 

Aquarium Background 5/10/10
Hello all,
<Hiya - Darrel here>
Love the website,
<You show a great deal of taste, style and intelligence for noticing!>
very interesting to read and informative.
<We try. Thanks for telling us that it works!>
My question may seem a little silly.
<A silly question would be: WHY IS ABBREVIATION SUCH A LONG WORD?>
I recently upgraded from a 55 to a 150 gallon tank. It is a glass tank that is drilled for use with sump/wet dry trickle filter with overflow boxes in the rear corners of the tank. Anyway, my question is in regards to the typical plastic sheet backgrounds you can buy in any pet store. I was planning on buying one that is black on one side and blue on the other; so that I can cut it to size and use the cut pieces on the inside of the over flow boxes to hide the plumbing.
<uh '¦.. no.>
Since the tank has corner over flow boxes you can see the PVC plumbing on either side of the tank. I think it'll be fine, but am trying to make sure that the plastic sheet being in the water won't somehow leach chemicals and/or ink into the tank over time and can't seem to find any info in regards to this. Thoughts?
<Lots of thoughts. Most of them random '¦ and WAY off topic. Gimme a second here to focus'¦>
<'¦>
<OK. The typical backgrounds sold in stores, the ones on rolls, are a plasticized paper product that is, at very best, resistant to water but by no means water PROOF. If you immersed it in water, you'd have wet, soggy junk within a few days. ON TOP of that you have a very valid concern about chemical contamination. Paper production and printing both use some fairly nasty VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) that can last for a very long time.>
<So there is the 'no.' Now lets see what we can do: The picture in my mind is a typical overflow box, made out of black Lexan/Plexi-glass with the slots drilled along the top edge. What I'm getting at is that you want to cover the side of the tank glass itself that otherwise would be visible when looking at the tank from the side, correct?>
<Assuming I have the picture, there are several easy ways to do this. A) You can get some thin pieces of black plastic from a local plastics shop and simply place in on the inside of the overflow box with a small dab of silicone sealant at top and at bottom to hold it to the glass. Without going to a plastics store you have this: Even though most plastic tubs sold in the building supply stores are shaped material you can almost always find one that has sides that are large enough and flat enough to get two pieces the size of that visible pane. A dark blue piece from the side of a Tupperware 18 gallon storage tub would also work -- and they're cheap! The down side is that anything you place on the INSIDE of the glass will get wet and grow algae and get dirty and have to be cleaned periodically. B) You could simply paint that outside section of the glass will a gloss black enamel paint from your local hardware or building supply store. The preparation involves just a light bit of sanding of that glass, but as you can imagine there's very little to see in there anyway.>
<I have more thoughts, but they're about putting double-faced tape on the cat's feet>
Thanks,
Jamie

3d background -- 04/07/09
Hello Dear Neal,
<Ali,>
I hope you will be fine there, Neal my fish are fine (Allhumdulila) and happy. I have two different flavors of pellet and one box of blood warms. I am used to give them twice a day, they finish their food with 1-2 min.s. I just want to ask that how many time should I feed them?
<Doesn't matter, but do try and leave several hours in between each meal.>
Another thing I want to ask that what is 3d background and aqua-habitat? I try to study them I didn't understand it. What is this all about?
<The 3D background is just plastic or foam used to create a decoration.
Sometimes as rocks, sometimes as tree roots. Can look very pretty. Not sure I know what you mean by "aqua habitat".>
I heard that in this type of tank you do not need change the water every week.
<No; all home aquaria need water changes.>
Please help me to understand that all.
Thank you,
Ali
<Cheers, Neale.>

Backgrounds  11/19/08
Hello all, hope things are going well for you today. I have a question on a background please. I am currently debating on purchasing a Hagen Marina 3D Background for my freshwater aquarium. I know Juwel has better ones, but more expensive. I know that once I silicone these pieces to the inside of my aquarium I will not be able to get them off so I wanted to know if you were familiar with the Hagen Marina 3d backgrounds, and if so if they looked fairly realistic. Thank you so much. James
<Hi James. If I recall correctly, the main difference between the Hagen Marina backgrounds and the Juwel ones is in the composition: the Hagen ones are made from Styrofoam and the Juwel ones from some sort of fibrous, epoxy resin. If the Hagen one gets scratched, you're going to see bright white spots, compared to the much more neutral colour of the unpainted Juwel resin. On the other hand, once covered with algae, they both look pretty good. I'd encourage you to look at both in the flesh, or at the very least, if you mail order, confirm with the retailer that you can return/change the product if you don't like it when it arrives. The only caution I'd make is that both will be damaged (i.e., destroyed) by "rasping" fish such as Panaque spp. catfish, and that should be borne in mind before purchase.
Cheers, Neale.>

Question about polyurethane in aquarium... Foam backgd.s   8/31/08
Hi Crew,
First off let me tell you what an amazing site you guys have! I have referred to it numerous occasions for answers to most of my aquarium questions. Thank you for having such an informative site, its a life saver, or should I say a fish saver.
<Thanks for the kind words.>
Now on to my question. I am in the process of building my own 90 gallon FW aquarium and stand. Not being one to rush things, I am being very meticulous in the construction and want to make sure I do it correctly. I have decided to build my own background for the tank. I am using Styrofoam for the "rocks" and backing, and have applied three layers of concrete to achieve a "natural" look. I need to know what products will be safe to use for sealing the finished background. I have purchased a polyurethane spray product, can that be used or is there a better and safer option?
Thank you,
Chad
<Polyurethane foam can indeed be used in aquaria, and various manufacturers (such as Jewel) produce 3-D inserts for tanks that look like rocks and tree roots. However, you do need to check with the manufacturer that the product is aquarium-safe; most should be, but you'll want to take this precaution if possible. Once painted and varnished the thing should be chemically inert. The only practical problem is that certain fish -- particularly large Loricariid catfish such as Panaque -- will rasp at the stuff while grazing algae, in the process removing the paint and exposing the foam. Hope this helps, Neale.>

Making Fake rocks, BGs    7/23/08 Hello WWM, <Hello,> I am setting up a 150 gallon aquarium for a Mississippi turtle and some U.S. native fish (some pumpkinseed sunfish, a white sucker and some fathead minnows). My question concerns the artificial rock background I am planning to make. I was planning to use the pink foam insulation boards with a coat of grout with some of the sand that will be used as the aquariums substrate mixed in. The only grout that my local home supply store carries has an anti-mold agent premixed into it. Their grout companies website (http://www.mapei.com/BioBlock/english/advantage.htm) states (or rather implies) that the anti-mold agent in their grout is not water-soluble and will not leach into water. Do you think it would be safe to use? <Not safe; the same anti-mould chemicals are in silicone sealant not designed for aquaria, and known to be toxic, hence the requirement to use aquarium silicone sealant rather than the generic stuff.> Do you know of any other alternatives to grout? <Polyurethane foam (e.g., "Great Stuff") has been much discussed (and used) to make 3-D backdrops for aquaria and appears to be non-toxic. But you'd need to cover it with sand or something to make it look realistic. Never used the stuff myself, and I'd heartily suggest a bit of time online Googling to find first-hand experiences. Will also make the point that some fish can destroy the stuff, notoriously Panaque catfish but likely anything big that likes to scratch or scrape.> I would really like to use something with sand or gravel in it (meaning no concrete), as I plan to mix the some of the substrate sand into it, so it appears that the sand in the substrate is made from the rock. Would plaster of Paris work or would it just dissolve? <Would dissolve, albeit slowly.> Thanks for any insight you can offer on my situation. Rick <Cheers, Neale.>

Can you help please ????? Backgrounds in tank and FW algae eaters   4/19/08 Hello crew, I recently bought a Jewel 300 litre tank to replace a 100 litre tank which cracked . I also bought a Jewel 3d background of some rocks, which was very nice. However over a period of a couple months the design on the 3d background started coming off !! So I called the petshop I bought the tank from and they said they would replace it , the owner off the shop said it happened because I have a small algae eater (approx.10cm.). I have never seen the algae eater on the background and thought that the reason for the design came off was because of a faulty pair of background tiles . I would appreciate your opinion on this matter , have you heard of this before ? Could it be my flow off the pump is flowing wrong direction (water getting pushed to back off tank)? Hope you can help as I'm waiting to find out if I should put in the new tiles or take out my algae eater first . Happy Xmas. <Hello Andre. Some algae-eating fish can, will destroy textured backgrounds. The Juwel ones are made from expanded polystyrene or epoxy foams. The basic material is one colour, but there is paint applied to the outside to make it look more attractive. In any case, Panaque spp. catfish for example simply shred them. So what you report is not at all surprising. They cannot be used with Panaque spp., and probably not other medium to large Loricariidae. Cheers, Neale.>

Background Tiles, FW... Loricariid sys.    1/5/08 Hello crew, <Hello,> I recently bought a Jewel 300 litre tank to replace a 100 litre tank which cracked . I also bought a Jewel 3d background of some rocks, which was very nice. However over a period of a couple months the design on the 3d background started coming off !! So called the pet shop I bought the tank from and they said they would replace it , the owner off the shop said it happened because I have a small algae eater (approx.10cm.). I have never seen the algae eater on the background and thought that the reason for the design came off was because of a faulty pair of background tiles . I would appreciate your opinion on this matter , have you heard of this before ? Could it be my flow off the pump is flowing wrong direction (water getting pushed to back off tank)? Hope you can help as I'm waiting to find out if I should put in the new tiles or take out my algae eater first . Happy new year <Yes, algae eaters of all types can be hard on 3-D backgrounds. The problem is the scraping teeth these fish have. My Panaque nigrolineatus has literally covered every piece of plastic in my Juwel 180 with scratch marks. She'd shred any 3-D background in no time. The result is any paint or dye applied to a 3-D background quickly gets worn off. If you want to use a 3-D background, your best bet is to use plants for algae control rather than fish. Plants do a better job anyway. If you want fish to spot clean the odd tuft of algae, switch instead to nibblers rather than scrapers: Florida flagfish, Platies, Cherry Shrimp, Amano Shrimp, and so on. In any case, once your Gyrinocheilus aymonieri gets even a little bigger, it will start hammering any fish kept with it. They are seriously unpleasant fish that should only be mixed with heavy duty cichlids and Loricariids able to fight back. Adult Gyrinocheilus aymonieri don't clean the algae from the tank anyway, and prefer meaty/wormy foods along with soft vegetables, algae pellets, etc. Cheers, Neale.>

Turtle Tank Molded Background 11/19/07 Hi Crew <Hiya Alex> Do you guys know of where one can purchase one of the molded backgrounds for a turtle tank? I've seen them before where they look like a rock wall, and sometimes I'll see where someone has worked a waterfall into the mold, etc. I'm not sure what they're made of, but I know there is a place in the UK that sells them. Just wondering if there is anywhere stateside that offers them for a 55 gal. tank? <Nothing comes to mind, Alex, beyond the Google searching that you're already doing -- but here's an idea you might consider: Make one yourself! It doesn't have to be a molded plastic to be effective. Start with a piece of cardboard painted to a background color and then attach anything that interests you in various places. It has the advantage of being very cheap and easily changed. Currently, my son has one behind is 55 gallon marine aquarium that has fake plastic plants and hidden around them is a crushed coke can, three pop-tops (that's an old age memory), an obviously crashed Hot wheels car and an empty can of Star-Kist Tuna (that last one may be a cry for help!) and he changes them on a regular basis. Just a thought> <Regards - Darrel>

Freshwater Aquascaping Question, backgd.s    3/27/07 Hi Crew: <Greetings!> I hope this spring weather is adding a bounce to your step :)   <Here in England it's been very nice indeed. Clear blue skies, flowers starting to appear all over the place, but there's still a chill in the air.> I have some questions about what I can add into my tank that will be safe for its citizens! <Good advice: nothing not sold in an aquarium shop.> I'm upgrading from my 30 gallon to a 55 gallon tank and splitting up the current inhabitants.  In the 55, I was hoping to do a DIY background out of Styrofoam, concrete, etc, but have had a very rough time locating a sealant. <Fun projects, if you have the time.> Some friends from the UK suggested a concrete pond sealer that I seem unable to locate in Canada. <Eek. In an aquarium, I'd favour silicone sealant, which you can buy from any hardware or glass store. It is nasty while curing, producing ethanoic (acetic) acid, basically vinegar, but after 24 hours is harmless. Useful stuff!> I decided to simply paint the back of the tank in black and do the decor in pieces.  My idea was to put a curved area of java moss on the back wall after using a black granite type paint to mimic moss growing off the back wall of a dark rock/cave.   <Hmmm... first check the paint is fish-friendly; most aren't. Even with a coating of safe varnish, some fish, like plecs, will scrape away that coating while eating algae, exposing the paint.> For the decor: I want to modify some ceramic pieces for hiding areas, etc before firing them.  I know that fired they are aquarium safe (I read this on your site :) ) <Terracotta pots can look amazing, especially with airstones and coloured lights placed inside them. Not "natural", but very dramatic, and great with big, show-quality fish.> I further saw that I could use epoxy paints (which I can't find here) or water-based latex paints.  Are these available at craft stores or do I have to purchase the huge quart/gallon amounts available at the hardware store?  Do you have any brand names?  If not, if I use a non-toxic acrylic craft paint, what can I coat it in (if anything) to make it safe for the aquarium. <No idea. I personally wouldn't use any paint unless the manufacturer had confirmed that it was fish friendly.> My other choice would be to use the carved wood masks my parents sent me from South Africa.  Again though, these would need to be sealed as I am not sure what the stains are made from nor the topcoat.   <I don't know what your fish are, but I can tell you large plecs, especially Panaque spp., will strip off the sealant and stain to get at the yummy wood inside. Probably not a good idea.> I really can't find anything I like at PetSmart to put in the tank.  I'd like something big and bulky, not tiny, cute and whimsical as there will be some larger fish in this tank (not Oscar large..haha..but large enough!)  A sunken city idea is cool as long as it doesn't look fake. tiny buildings, etc.  Any help you can give, is greatly appreciated. <Try your local garden centre, or shop online for rockery (garden) aggregates. Igneous rocks like granite, and metamorphic rocks such as grey-blue and plum slate, are usually safe (but avoid anything with iron or copper in it). In hard water aquaria, you can use limestone, too. Substrates of slate mulch or silica sand provide nice alternatives to gravel. Use silicone sealant to stick bits of rock together to prevent avalanches! Do not underestimate the impressiveness of really, really big bits of bogwood. Money well spent: a piece two or three feet across and tall looks amazing in the right tank, and really suggests the 'flooded forest' better than anything else. There's a great book called 'The Complete Aquarium' by Peter Wood, now out of print I think, that is chock-full of ideas for biotope aquaria using a variety of different stones, plants, and substrates. Worth tracking down on the Internet.> Thanks, Barb <No problems, Neale>

Freshwater Aquascaping Question, backgd.s    3/27/07 Hi Crew: <Barb> I hope this spring weather is adding a bounce to your step :)   <And yours> I have some questions about what I can add into my tank that will be safe for its citizens!  I'm upgrading from my 30 gallon to a 55 gallon tank and splitting up the current inhabitants.  In the 55, I was hoping to do a DIY background out of Styrofoam, concrete, etc, but have had a very rough time locating a sealant. <Mmm, epoxy paints likely are your best choice here>   Some friends from the UK suggested a concrete pond sealer that I seem unable to locate in Canada. <These are actually epoxies... see above or Chlorinated Rubber paints... very hard to get to cure properly...> I decided to simply paint the back of the tank in black and do the decor in pieces.  My idea was to put a curved area of java moss on the back wall after using a black granite type paint to mimic moss growing off the back wall of a dark rock/cave.   <Okay> For the decor: I want to modify some ceramic pieces for hiding areas, etc before firing them.  I know that fired they are aquarium safe (I read this on your site :) )  I further saw that I could use epoxy paints (which I can't find here) or water-based latex paints.  Are these available at craft stores or do I have to purchase the huge quart/gallon amounts available at the hardware store?   <They should have smaller quantities...> Do you have any brand names? <Mmm, vary regionally> If not, if I use a non-toxic acrylic craft paint, what can I coat it in (if anything) to make it safe for the aquarium. <This should be fine, once cured thoroughly>   My other choice would be to use the carved wood masks my parents sent me from South Africa.  Again though, these would need to be sealed as I am not sure what the stains are made from nor the topcoat.   <Mmm, I'd leave these hanging on your walls... Will be ruined underwater> I really can't find anything I like at PetSmart to put in the tank.  I'd like something big and bulky, not tiny, cute and whimsical as there will be some larger fish in this tank (not Oscar large..haha..but large enough!)  A sunken city idea is cool as long as it doesn't look fake..tiny buildings, etc.  Any help you can give, is greatly appreciated. Thanks, Barb <Gosh, there are many other choices... Do take a look online... on tropica.com, the krib.com... Ozreef.org... Bob Fenner>

Is Vinyl Cement same as Plastic Cement... backgrd. adhesion     1/17/06 I am starting my own DIY backgrounds and have read the comments about using "plastic cement". <Yes...> No one so far has any idea what I am talking about when I ask for "plastic cement" (except hobby stores whose "plastic cement" is NOT what I need) I have found buckets of Vinyl Cement. Are they the same?   <Mmm, no... And I would not use the Vinyl... see here for an MSDS: http://www.joewoodworker.com/veneering/MSDS.htm has too much solvent (MEK, Toluene...) that you don't want to breathe much... or have around aquatic animals... "Plastic Cement" refers to a whole bunch of chemical mixes evidently... I like to use "Rubber Cement" as from hobby shops/businesses for many types of background applications myself... easy to apply, relatively non-toxic... and the best... easy to remove at some later date. Bob Fenner> Tim

Re: Is Vinyl Cement same as Plastic Cement  - 1/18/07 Hi - thanks for the response - but I think even we are talking about different things :-) I am talking about using cement to build rock like background - concrete mix. <Oh... I thought you were referring to appliqués... to the back... In this case, Acrylmix can be used... just as long as it is cured completely... best to acid wash all such constructs anyway...> I was reading about some DIY projects on another site where the used concrete over Styrofoam to create backgrounds. <Mmm, for very large systems maybe... in sections... and non-metal "wire"...> On WWM search there are numerous mentions of 'plastic cement' being less caustic, less alkaline etc  than regular Portland cement. <Yes... much less caustic/alkaline... Highly preferred here... easier to work as well> Problem is I can't find "plastic Portland cement' only bags labeled vinyl concrete or vinyl cement. Vinyl and Plastic are sometimes used to describe the same material - so my question was is what they call vinyl concrete/cement the same as what is being referred to on WWMedia as plastic cement? <Not to worry here re the common appellation. This designation is not toxic once cured. Bob Fenner> In other words - I am not trying to glue anything - but build my own rocks :)

"Spectacular Background" and Fish Death - Coincidence?  Don't Know - 05/17/2006 Hi, <Hello.> Three days ago I purchased a 'Spectacular Aquarium' background. It's made from foam to look like rocks. When we put it in all the fish were fine but I came home today to find all 8 of my tiger barbs dead! I've checked the water pH, KH, GH, nitrate, ammonia and CO2 levels and there all fine. <What, specifically, are the levels?  And what about nitrite> All the other fish seem healthy and are eating. Do you know why all my tiger barbs would have died in the same day?  Please help  -Alex <I would recommend contacting the manufacturer and asking if they have any specific instructions for cleaning or preparation that may have been overlooked somehow.  Beyond that, there's just too little information here for me to go off.  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>  

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