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FAQs on Freshwater Substrates 1

Related Articles: Freshwater Substrates, Nice bottoms; Choosing the right substrate for your aquarium by Neale Monks, Freshwater Deep Sand Beds Work by Deirdre Kylie, Setting up a Freshwater Aquarium, Tips for Beginners

Related FAQs: Freshwater Substrates 1, FW Substrates 2,
FAQs on: FW Substrate Selection, FW Substrate Physical Properties, FW Substrate Chemical Properties, FW Substrate Amounts & Placement, FW Substrate Changing, Moving, Adding To, FW Substrate Cleaning, FW Substrate Issues, FW DSBs,

The choice, depth and arrangement of substrate can be important to your livestock. Atyopsis species, Wood, Bamboo, Singapore Shrimp.

Hi again! FW subst., sel., cleaning    2/25/10
Hi again!
My band concert went too long and my Local PetSmart was closed so tomorrow I will go and get it then Tell you the results oh and I have another question :) I have a Sand substrate and all this stuff I don't even know what it is and when the catfish swim on the bottom it makes it float And makes it look even worse ( on top of the cloudy water.) yes that's it I will go to PetSmart tomorrow have a nice night!
<Is this sand you bought from a store? What kind of sand is it? Did you rinse the sand prior to putting it in? Once sand is rinsed, and it's been in the tank for a while, the fishes' movement may stir it up, but the particles sink quickly back to the bottom. If there are particles of sand suspended in the water, then that sort of brings me back to the filtration question, because any type of fine-grade filter floss can catch those particles, and then you'd wash it out, put it back in, and let it collect more. However, sand in the tank can cause problems with the filter's impeller, so it's a good idea to take the filter apart, if possible, and clean the impeller regularly during this process, as well. Overall, when you purchase sand, even if it's from the pet store, it's a good idea to put it in a five gallon bucket, stick a water hose down in the sand, and let the water run for a while until it runs clear out of top of the bucket in order to rinse the sand. In addition, you've got bottom-dwellers in this tank, so it's important to verify that this sand is safe for those fish.
Some sands are too sharp, and scratch the tummies of soft-bellied bottom dwellers. I hope this helps. Talk to you soon!
<Hi, Jordan!>
I just re-read one of the answers from before and I need to answer some questions about placement lights and etc. . My tank is placed in my room and no sunlight reaches it ( I have curtains and it's on the other side of the room)
<I don't think this is an algae bloom -- I do believe this is as a result of the system being not yet ready for fish.>
and .how do I siphon sand?
<I like to stir the sand up a bit and siphon out what floats up. Fish waste sits on top of sand, rather than falling into the cracks, as it does with gravel, so it's actually (in my opinion) easier to clean.
Thank you!
Sand, Siluriiform facultative aerial respirators

<Hi Jordan>
Te type of sand I ordered online and it has Already been washed and I got it because it had some Important bacteria and it was made for catfish actually.
<Okay, so there are a couple of different companies who are producing this live sand they claim has beneficial bacteria already in it. I have not used this sand, as I am cheap and have large aquariums to fill, and always end up using cheap sand from the Ace Hardware! I'm glad that you made sure it was fine for catfish, since that's all you seem to be collecting -- and it's certainly understandable, as I enjoy all of my catfishes thoroughly.>
I also have another question I just noticed my fish have been getting air from the top of the tank and I have a bubbled but I don't want to put it in :) should I put it in ( I know the Hoplos are air breathers to make bubble nests)
<Yes, your Corys are air breathers, as well. This only leaves the Raphael, who shouldn't be making a lot of trips to the surface, like the others. There's more dissolved oxygen at the top of your tank, because oxygen comes into the water at the surface. This means that there may not be enough oxygen at the bottom of the tank for the Raphael, if he's one of the ones struggling to get air. This is where filtration comes in... we'll discuss that in a sec!>
and the filtration I have is a tetra 30g filter I don't think it's a good quality though.
<This filter claims to move 150 gallons per hour (I checked PetSmart's website), so it's turning over your tank 7.5 times per hour. This should be enough to provide oxygen to all areas of the tank, so I'm wondering if by "all the fish" you mean just he Hoplos and the Corys, you're doing okay, but if it's the Raphael, as well, then I worry. If this catfish breathes air, I am not aware of it (Bob or Neale, please correct me if I am wrong!). So, it could be considered "abnormal behavior" for him, which means something's going on. In any case, I look forward to the test results tomorrow, and am hoping that, though I am not trusting of any product which is left on a store shelf for an indeterminate amount of time and claims to still have live bacteria still in it (!) the Seachem product and the sand you've purchased have cycled this tank, for the fishes' sakes.
I've tried a lot of products in my time fishkeeping, and very few have impressed me. Though others may feel differently, "Stability" was not one of them, and as I said, I have never used this freshwater "live" sand.
I'll speak to you soon!>
Thank you! Have a nice night!
<I'm getting back to you rather late... so I can affirm that it was a nice night!
<I'm going to combine these two e-mails...>, more re filtr...
Sorry I am sending so much, but I said the wrong name of the filter I have a TOPFIN 30g filter have a nice night Melinda and again sorry for sending so many emails!
<No problem, because I like to help. Otherwise I wouldn't be here! You seem to be extremely motivated to do things right, and I want to help you achieve what you've got in mind. I've discussed this filter above. I've been able to identify some filters as wonderful, and others as useless, during the time I've kept fish. I don't care for hang-on-back filters with these carbon-laden cartridges at all. You have carbon, which becomes spent after three weeks to a month. Then you have some meshy material on the outside of the cartridge. During the time this cartridge is in the system, the mesh and the carbon inside begin to become biological media. That is, bacteria grows on it. When your replace that cartridge, you're essentially removing the majority of your beneficial bacteria, and leaving your system at risk for a mini-cycle (think serious ammonia spike). In addition, as I said earlier, carbon "wears out" and stops absorbing chemicals fairly quickly, and you don't even need it at all in most systems. I only use it to remove medication from the water if I've had to use it. So, these aren't my favorite. Please read here:
http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwfiltrmedart.htm. You want a filter which will provide biological and mechanical filtration, and still have room for chemical filtration (like carbon, phosphate-removing pads, etc.) if you happen to need them. One of the reasons I'm mentioning this is that you stated earlier that you do plan on a 55 in the future. If you choose to upgrade, I'd go with a 75 -- not much more room, way better footprint, more gallons. In any case, I'm rambling, but there are some nuances to filtration not often understood by beginners, and not understanding ends up costing money in the long run -- I figured I'd broach the subject now!

Re: ??? on Lace rock, subst. Hemichromis, Brichardi incomp.  2/23/10
Hellooo Neale !
<Hello again,>
I can't give you a picture of the bubbles on the rock as it's been taken out of the tank and boiled. I can send a pic of the rocks out of water if that would help.
<By all means do so.>
I chose the Black Tahitian because my water runs at a naturally high PH and don't really need it too much more than what it is.
According to the bag, this sand is supposed to be PH neutral so, it won't hinder the PH, am I correct?
<Yes; the thing with Tahitian Moon Sand is that it's chemically neutral because it's made from glass (or at least, a byproduct from glassmaking).
Anyway, it's "sharp", so anything that sits on the sand will find it abrasive, and burrowing fish will find it abrasive and impossible to tunnel through nicely. This is on the Carib Sea web site.
While these cichlids aren't major burrowers, so you should be fine, if you want to add catfish, it's not so good.>
I've had these Brichardis for 14 months and they were born and raised in this water, they appear fine albeit the mouth deformities discussed with you in a previous e-mail. (too much inbreeding.)
I know the Jewels will kill the Brichardis...you told me so, aye ?
<Can't remember. Certainly, Hemichromis spp. are both piscivorous and highly territorial.>
These lovely little Jewels, you might remember them as Rhett and Scarlett, had babies hatch Jan 1 and I thought all were eaten... save for one, which I caught and , - now don't forget to keep breathing, Neale - put in the playpen with some baby Gups of the same size. It turned out well.
The baby Jewel , now named Spunky, has grown and has eaten the two wee runts and so it was time for him to get his own pad.
<Ah yes... a fresh fish dinner.>
So last weekend he got his own place.
He just started showing his spangles the week before last. In a few weeks his bigger tank will be available and he will then go there to grow and after that I don't know.
<Perhaps a local fish club? Usually a good way to sell, rehome unwanted fish.>
Scarlett is back to hating Rhett again.
<Yes, happens. A temperamental genus. Pair bond is strongest if they have a common enemy, like a big, fast Shark Minnow of some sort, but that can create whole new problems.>
Their new tank will be ready by March the 15th providing all goes well. I can send you a pic of the rocks if it would help.
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: ??? on Lace rock
Thank you, my friend !
<A pleasure. Enjoy your fish. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: ??? on Lace rock
Hi Neale, This is Spunky.
<Just a pup! And already killing stuff. How very Hemichromis. Cheers,
Re: ??? on Lace rock
Hi Neale,
<Hello again,>
Just went over to Carib Sea's web site to check it out. Most interesting.
This will open up yet another can of worms for me to digest. Can't wait.
I'm so, I guess, glad, you said something as I had thought about moving the Banjo to this tank when I put the Brichardis in. You saved him, Neale !
<He certainly wouldn't have been happy there.>
I don't see the Brichardis nosing around in the rocks or moving them so I think they'll be fine.
<Likely so.>
I am more concerned with those Lace rocks.
Yes the Checkered Barbs I have are indeed Puntius oligolepis. They and some expensive Danios (long ago digested , by Scarlett ) were the first occupants of my -now- Mbuna tank. Next came Rhett and Scarlett ( the Jewels ) Next came a pair of Albino Yellow Labidochromis, a Pictus cat and a Banjo cat....Everything was cool until Rhett and Scarlett's eggs hatched...All heck broke loose...
<This is how Hemichromis operate. They're fairly amenable to tankmates when immature, but once spawning, become very aggressive.>
I took out the Pictus. The Labs were hiding so I moved them. They didn't like their new house ( way too small ) So, I got another tank, discovered Spunky, moved The Jewels to the new tank, moved the Labs back to the 29 , then one Lab started picking on the other Lab so I got more Mbunas. This did the trick. Although I have one Hap ( Red Empress) in there that I thought was an Mbuna. So far, so good and they don't seem to even notice the Barbs are even there. They are all too busy digging everything up.
Now I know why I don't see many plants in Mbuna tanks !
<Does depend on the Malawian; some species, like Dimidiochromis compressiceps, actually prefer tanks that mimic their habitat and have stands of Vallisneria.>
LOL And you've already yelled at me about the Banjo. He is doing fine.
Nobody bothers him.
He even comes out every now and then after I turn the moon lights on.
Most of the time I can find him in a plant doing his famous leaf impersonation.
<Not the most exciting fish in the world. The big brackish/marine banjo catfish like Aspredo are, I think, rather more interesting.>
Sooz V
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: ??? on Lace rock, substrates
OHHH ! The Tahitian is 'glass" ? !!! 2/23/10
<A by-product from glass manufacturer, I believe.>
Didn't know that. I could tell it was different than this other black sand I had. I had some black sand a while ago and I could never get it to settle. A lot of it would just rise to the surface and float until I tap it with two fingers, then it would sink. It was too much of a pain so I got rid of it.
I have 4 Checkered Barbs that I may put in with the Jewels when its time.
<Puntius oligolepis? Too small, gentle. Will be dinner. Targetfish (as Paul Loiselle calls them) need to be big enough to fight back, fast enough to avoid trouble, but not so predatory or so aggressive they terrorise the cichlid pair. In a big tank, something like Gyrinocheilus aymonieri might be the sort of thing. Obviously, if the tank is too small, the Targetfish could be killed. So this is an approach not without risk.>
Scarlett allowed them to live when they were together before. Wonder if I'll get lucky twice. I'll put the Barbs in first. That's the way I did it before. When I added -new- Checkered Barbs, Scarlett killed them but left the old ones alone. The Checkers are in with the Mbunas right now.
Nobody bothers them. These Mbunas are more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
If I'd known this I would have got them sooner. These are some In Yer Face fish !
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: ??? on Lace rock
HA HA LOL ! You are way too cool, dude, LOL !
<I like to think so.>
And he is appropriately named, too !
<Cheers, Neale.>

Tahitian Moon sand, Laterite, and Corydoras 2/18/10
"Right now I have regular aquarium gravel in my tank. Is there any special type of gravel/sand I should use to prevent the Corys from getting injured and that is also good for the plants? Is Laterite a good option?
<Corys seem to relish a sandy substrate, and so they're so much fun to watch as they sift through the sand! Also, it seems that Corys kept in tanks with gravel can suffer from broken barbels. I have about fifteen Corys in my community aquarium with "play" sand, and have had no problems with my Corys, so that's another option -- just be sure the sand you use is smooth silica sand, as I'm not sure how many different sands are called "play" sand. I think CaribSea is doing a lot in the way of freshwater sand substrates now, and they offer a variety of natural-looking colors, as well, so that may be something to look into (I have considered changing my plain old vanilla sand to their Tahitian Moon -- the black sand really brings out fishes' beautiful colors). I am not familiar with Laterite, but
from what I've read (you've got me doing my research!) it seems the Corys should be fine with it. I didn't read anything that stated it was sharp, which is the only thing I'd look out for. (Bob, is this a correct summation?)
<<Yes... is physically soft-enough, not chemically harmful. RMF>>
 This sounds like a great set-up, and one I think you'll really enjoy. The Corys are such characters, and you may even find yourself able to add a few more Neons after the aquarium is established and you've gotten a good feel for how heavily-stocked (Nitrate-wise) the tank is.>
<You're welcome!>
<--Melinda> "
 Hello Melinda,
Before recommending people swap one type of sand for another, it's a good idea to have them look over the Carib Sea web site. It rates sands depending on two key things, whether they're safe with soft bellied fish (like catfish) or burrowing fish (like gobies). Tahitian Moon Sand for example gets a "no" on both counts. The problem is that sands made from the glass production industry (like Tahitian Moon Sand) is too abrasive, and scratches the mouths, whiskers and bellies of fish like catfish.
I'm not sure about Laterite. The real stuff is mud rather than sand. I've only used real Laterite as a supplement to pea gravel underneath a layer of smooth silica sand, the two separated by a gravel tidy. I can't really see why anyone would want a substrate made entirely from Laterite mud; it's so darn expensive, and makes a real mess! But the Laterite-enriched "complete" substrates are something else, and I don't know if they're made using glass or not.
Cheers, Neale
Am accruing on WWM. B
Re: Tahitian Moon sand, Laterite, and Corydoras
Hi Neale--
Thanks for the information. I have read that folks have had success in using Tahitian Moon with soft-bellied fish, including rays, so is why I mentioned that I was considering changing my own substrate to the Tahitian Moon. Now, I'll reconsider, and it's good to know that even CaribSea doesn't recommend its use in tanks with those type of fish. I was not aware of the page you linked me to, and will look it over prior to suggesting sand or re-aquascaping my own tank!
As for the Laterite, everything I found on WWM in my research to respond to the query did indicate it would be safe, but I did see in the process of reading that most folks don't use it as their sole substrate. However, I figured this individual may not be planning that, either, but wanted to know whether the Laterite itself would be harmful. It's good to know that it's not, especially considering that this isn't a product I'm familiar with.
However, as I indicated with the "play" sand, it can be difficult to go on the name of a product in determining its safety -- for example, by Laterite, was the querier referring to plain Laterite, or these mixes you're referring to? I honestly don't know. I assumed plain, because nothing else was indicated, and based my response on that. Overall, I think as long as the querier takes care to avoid sharp substrate and moves toward soft, smooth sand, he or she should be okay, and I indicated that this was the reasoning behind my approval of the Laterite.
Thanks again for taking the time to respond to my query-within-a-query! I had helped this person thus far, and wanted to continue helping, but since I was in unfamiliar territory with the Laterite, with nothing to go on but what I found on WWM, definitely wanted to be sure I was providing accurate information.
Re: Tahitian Moon sand, Laterite, and Corydoras
I don't know either, Melinda.
This might be one of those times where you recommend "consulting with the manufacturer" rather than risking your own reputation. For what it's worth, you're probably right, but I've never used a Laterite-enriched synthetic substrate, so can't speak with any authority at all.
Cheers, Neale

Garnet Sand as Substrate
Garnet Sand In an Aquarium - 2/7/10

Hi, There's a location nearby where sand was laid down for a forest service
dirt access road long ago. In one section the sand is 80-90% garnet, and is a beautiful dark purple color. I've been considering using it in an aquarium, most likely as a top layer on Eco-Complete, but I haven't found any references online to people using it. I wouldn't take enough to compromise the road, and could even replace it with sand similar to what was used everywhere else.
Chemically it seems close enough to normal silica sand to not be too abrasive, and it feels smooth enough to not being a problem. Average particle size is three or four times larger than play sand. I was curious if you'd heard of anyone else using it, and if you could foresee any problems beyond the standard anaerobic bed/hydrogen sulfide and diatom bloom problems sand can have.
If I do end up using it the plan is to wash it like crazy with a bucket and hose to get rid of all the organics and small particles, then bake it to sterilize.
Thank you, and thank you for excellent help on a previous question.
Matt Williams
<Most gravels and sands sold for the construction trade have a pretty good durability index and are really hard. These usually don't break down with heavy traffic driving on them. I would recommend washing it in a bucket until the water runs clear. Fill a glass with half of the material and then fill the glass with distilled water. Measure the pH of the water in the glass to see if the material reacts with the gravel. If there is no change after a week I would say that it is good to go.-Chuck>

What the heck? --sand balls/hydrophobic sand? Happy New Year crew! 12/31/09
<And you Sara>
Sorry if it seems I must be asking more queries than answering them, but anyway...
I'm setting up a tank for my boyfriend's son and thought I'd use this sand I'd never used before. The brand is "Estes." Well, when I started rising it, I noticed that some of it was floating in balls. I thought this phenomenon might resolve itself if I put it in the tank.
But it just balled up even more! What's going on here? It almost looks like the sand is partially hydrophobic... could that be? (pics attached)
Sara M.
<I think so... but will likely "un-clump" in the next day or two. BobF>

Re: What the heck? --sand balls/hydrophobic sand?   1/1/10
It's better today... but still baffling. What would give aquarium sand this apparent subtle hydrophobic property? Is it from Mars? or sprayed with trimethylhyroxysilane? :-P
Sara M.
<I don't know what the composition of the Este's gravel products are, how they're processed, but have encountered this "stickiness" issue before.

Will Synthetic gravel contaminate water quality and affect Flowerhorn 12/12/09
Hi there
I have 2 Short-Body Flowerhorn in 40 gallon tank. Recently I have bought synthetic colored gravel to décor my fish tank. Unfortunately color of the gravel is fading. And also small particles of the colors are floating.
<Sounds very cheap, very badly made gravel. Remove. Ordinary lime-free gravel is by far the best substrate. Coloured gravels stress the fish, so their colours are less good. Cichlids adjust their colours: the darker the substrate, the stronger their colours. Silly red and blue gravels might appeal to (some) fishkeepers, but fish HATE them.>
Could you tell me it will cause any problem to my baby Flowerhorn.
<Cheaply made gravel may well leach dyes and other chemicals into the water. In theory at least, cheap paints could be toxic (see for example the lead paint issue with Chinese toys). This will not be a problem with generic, lime-free gravel.>
So far My Baby FH is very active and eating normally. Please give me your suggestion. Im so worried of it.
Thanks in advance
<Cheers, Neale.> 

Filtration and substrate upgrade  11/29/09
Hi, Neale
I have 55 gallon tank on metal stand with 2 parrots hybrid (mated pair- 6 inch male and 3.5 inch female), 2 male (I think) Severums (7 inch each) and gibbiceps Pleco (11 inch). All fish live and grow together for almost 3 years.
My filtration is 2 hang on the back Aquaclear 50.
<Sounds fun.>
Soon, when my fish grow, I realize that my fish tank is very heavily stocked and my Aquaclear filters are doing nothing for mechanical filtration.
<Indeed; with "messy" fish, by far the best approach is to use a reverse-flow undergravel filter. This automatically lifts the gunk out of the gravel, into the water column, where the canister filter can get it.
Every other type of filter -- to some degree -- leaves the gunk in the gravel, and ultimately, this makes the water cloudy.>
I do ridiculously big water changes (60-70% weekly), but my water is becoming slightly cloudy next day after water change.
<Classic sign of insufficient mechanical filtration.>
My nitrite is always 0 and my nitrate, surprisingly, is never above 20 ppm (or at least I've never seen it is higher). But, sometimes, I can detect ammonia (0.25 ppm). This, probably, the reason for mild fin rot cases for my Severums (parrots and Pleco never were affected), which healed in few weeks, after I did big water changes and stopped feeding.
<It's very likely your overall mix of filtration isn't adequate. Get rid of stuff you don't need -- carbon and Zeolite for example -- and beef up the mechanical and biological media.>
I decided to add third!!! filter (Eheim 2215) to improve mechanical filtration.
Do you think, adding Eheim canister filter, will improve my water quality and clarity? Will I still see bunch of fish waste floating around the tank?
<If you make the slightly more complicated stage of adding an undergravel filter, yes, it should help significantly. On its own, a canister will help, but proportional to its "suck" -- the more circulation, the more gunk it'll remove from the water. This is a less efficient approach to a reverse-flow undergravel, but it can work.>
In order to install this filter, I need to replace aquarium stand: instead of metal, I'll put wooden stand to have place to put Eheim filter. So I need to reset my aquarium completely.
<I see.>
This means, I have a good opportunity to change a substrate from gravel to sand.
<If that's what you want.>
I know, Neale, you are a big fan of the sand as a substrate, but do you really think it is worth to try for this kind of big and messy fish?
<In this instance, wouldn't be instinctive choice. A reverse-flow undergravel with an inch or so plain gravel will be much cleaner. Sand is excellent, and keeps itself fairly clean in the sense gunk can't sink into it, but at the same time it doesn't make it any easier for the canister (or hang-on-the-back) filter to keep the water clean.>
Why you are using mixture of sand and gravel in your tank?
<I use a mix of sand and gravel simply for its look. It's a nice combo.>
Overall, in your opinion, is it possible to keep these fishes healthy in 55 gallon for life?
<It's borderline, to be honest. 55 US gallons is 210 litres, slightly more than my 180 litre "big" tank here next to me. That tank contains a variety of fish in the 5-10 cm (2-4 inch) size range but including one 15 cm (6 inch) Panaque Suckermouth catfish. It's clean and usually algae free, but that's with an Eheim 2217 and a Fluval 104, a total of about 1500 litres/hour, or a turnover 8 times the volume per hour. For me, this is the sort of aquarium size and filtration rate needed for a mix of predatory and messy fish. Now, I may be going for overkill here, but I'm simply making the point that a big, well-filtered tank is the one most likely to be algae-free and with clear, clean water. The more you step away from the ideal, the bigger the management problems become. There's a difference between a safe tank -- one with zero ammonia and nitrite -- and an easy tank -- one that gets by fine with occasional water changes and stays clean in between. So, 55 gallons may well be viable, but it wouldn't be my recommendation. If you get a good offer on a 75 or 100 gallon tank, jump at it!>
Thank you for your time.
<Happy to help. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Filtration and substrate upgrade  11/29/09

Thank you very much for quick response.
I actually never used UGF before, and I did quick search and found that it is not recommended to use UGF with extensive diggers. I believe, parrots are a good example of the fish that like to dig. Is it safe to use UGF with parrots?
<Indeed, I didn't comment on that. A plain vanilla undergravel will indeed be short-circuited by fish that dig. Parrots aren't especially bad, compared with, say, Oscars, but they do dig. The solution is simply. You lay an inch or so of the substrate on top of the undergravel plate, then lay something called a gravel tidy, and then scatter a thin layer of gravel on top. The fish can dig as much as they want without getting through the gravel tidy. You can buy ready made gravel tidies, but I'm cheap, so I use pond-safe plastic mesh from a garden centre. Costs very little. Cut to size with scissors, and off you go. Choose a mesh small enough to stop gravel falling through, and strong enough to hold its shape, but not so fine it'll slow down the flow of water. Something about the grade of a colander like
you'd have in the kitchen should be fine. Note we're talking about reverse-flow undergravels here, not standard undergravels, which *such* gunk into themselves. Reverse-flow UGs do the opposite, so are essentially self-cleaning, almost like Jacuzzi in keeping the water circulating upwards.>
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Fish flashing and having spasms (RMF, any better ideas?). FW substrate choices    11/3/09
<<I don't have any better ideas... You have done an admirable job of summing up possibilities, actions to consider. But do want to state that there are other "suitable" types of FW substrates other than silicates; and often Silica sands are too sharp for many (e.g. Corydoras) use. RMF>>
<Bob, you are quite right about sand, which was why I stressed "smooth" silica sand, which *is* safe with Corydoras, as opposed to "sharp" silica sand, which isn't. But the point is an important one, and worth restating.>
I note that Carib Sea do describe their sands as "burrower friendly" or "soft belly safe" on their web site; wish other manufacturers of aquarium-grade sands and gravels would do likewise. Cheers, Neale.>
<<I certainly agree! BobF>>

Re: Well Established Tank 7/9/09
Thanks Neale
So, if I have a 40 tank that meets all these parameters but I want to add Kuhli Loaches but want to replace some 1/5 of pea gravel for more sand ... would that set me back as far as when I could introduce the animals?
<Shouldn't be a problem at all; provided the gravel is not part of an undergravel filter, you can replace some or even all of it without harming biological filters elsewhere in the system (e.g., in canister,
hang-on-the-back filters, etc.). Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Well Established Tank 7/9/09

And if I wanted to add a few more taller, flowing plants with the sand exchange? Still okay after a bit?
<Still fine. The point is that 99% of the filtration goes on in the place where water flows; filtration bacteria needs oxygen, and won't live in places where there isn't a current of water bringing them all the oxygen they need. Without an undergravel filter, water only flows across the top of the gravel or sand, so there's almost no biological filtration going on except on the very top few millimetres. This is a trivial amount compared to your canister filter (or whatever). So you're free to change whatever you want in terms of sand, gravel, rocks and plants. I do this all the
time! Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Well Established Tank   7/11/09

At what point would you throw away sand and/or gravel? Would you clean and reuse for years?
<Pretty much, yes. Stir the top of the sand or gravel every month and siphon away any gunk that emerges. If you use an undergravel filter, you'll need to give the whole bed of gravel a good clean every 1-2 years, and that involves stripping down the whole filter. This isn't required otherwise, and gravel or sand can be left in place -- apart from periodic cleaning as mentioned -- for the lifetime of the tank. The only exceptions are situations where the substrate is being used to chemically alter the water; for example crushed coral and coral sand for the purposes of hardening water in Malawi tanks, brackish water tanks, etc. In such aquaria the substrate will probably need to be deep cleaned with hot water, and possibly replaced, every year or two, or sooner, if you notice the pH and
carbonate hardness levels dropping. Cheers, Neale.>

Pool Sand, as subst.    6/29/09
hi wet web media crew, I have been looking everywhere and have been unable to find if it is ok to use pool filter sand as a substrate in an aquarium?
<Is this for a freshwater or saltwater aquarium? For a freshwater aquarium at least, you can use pool sand, *provided* that the sand is chemically inert (i.e., won't change the pH) and "smooth" rather than "sharp" (so it won't scratch the fish). If you can be 100% sure that the sand you're looking at satisfies those two requirements, use whatever sand you want.
Personally, I find smooth silica sand (sometimes called smooth silver sand) from a garden centre cheap and safe. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: FW Sand, part. Callichthyid sys.  4/27/09
In your last response to me you said something about using sand as a substrate for my aquarium, because the Corys love it and stuff. But I've read numerous places that sand is a pain to clean and you have to kind of move it around frequently.
<Garbage. In fact, the issue with sand is that it doesn't HIDE dirt, and so people imagine it's dirtier. It's like when people say white clothes get dirty faster. No, they get dirty just as fast as any other clothes, you just see it more quickly. What happens with sand is that fish faeces and other remains don't sink into the gravel. On a bed of sand, they sit on the top of the sand. If you have a good filter, this means it gets sucked up, but if it doesn't, it collects usually in one corner. To be honest, it's actually easier to keep a sandy aquarium clean because you can see the dirt and siphon it out easily. A turkey baster is a good tool for "spot cleaning" if you don't have time to do a water change. No, you don't need to stir the sand all the time. Your Corydoras will take care of that!
Melanoides snails are also great additions, behaving like earthworms and keeping the sand spotlessly clean. Plants also play a role, and besides doing extremely well in sand, if there's some nutrient rich aquarium soil underneath, their roots oxygenate the sand slightly as well. Do see here:
Instead of using sand, though, I read that quartz sand is a really good choice.
<Provided the sand is smooth (not sharp) and lime-free, use whatever sand you like. Silica (silver) sand is what I use because it's so cheap and easy to buy.>
I was wondering if you knew anything about it, like if it's too sharp for Corys and if live plants are able to be planted in it (with something like Fluorite or Eco Complete underneath, or something along those lines) Here is a site with some of the quartz sand that I like
<Looks far too sharp. And hideous. Bright white substrates will make your fish "turn down" their colours, so they'll all look washed out. Trust me on this: plain "smooth" silver sand from your garden centre is (extremely) cheap and effective, and once you have some plants growing above to create some shade, fish love the stuff. A 25 kilo bag (a bit over 50 lb) costs me about 3-4 UK pounds, around 5-6 US dollars. Using it seems a no-brainer to me. Just make sure you don't get "sharp" silver sand, the alternative stuff
sold in garden centres.>
Once again, thanks :)
<Cheers, Neale.>

55 gallon FW Stocking
Sand , Jurupari and Rainbow Questions   4/9/09

Hello Crew and Thank You for a great job.
I'm going to set up 55 US gallon FW tank and have some questions about this.
I want to put sand on the bottom. Home Depot sells sand for "playground".
They do not specify, what kind of sand is that. Do you have any idea if this sand is safe for a fish tank?
<In different areas of the country the sand may be different. Get a small sample and place in it some distilled water. If the TDS or pH changes then the material is leaching minerals into the water and is generally not good for use in an aquarium.>
I'd like to keep in the tank 2 Geophagus jurupari.. I do not see a lot of information about this fish. Some of the internet sites say they are very touchy and require very soft water. I assume my water is very hard (pH=8).
Are they really need soft water like discus or rams?
< Wild Satanoperca jurupari do come from areas of soft acidic water. Most of the fish today are tank bred and do much better in harder water. They may be maintained in harder water but will probably not breed.>
If that the case, I better choose different species. Please let me know, if they will adapt to a hard water.
Also would it be aggression problem between 2 Geophagus jurupari?
< They are not an aggressive species. Keep in mind that any eartheater type of cichlid will constantly be sift food from the sand. If the sand is too coarse or has angular edges then it will be abrasive and cause disease problems.>
I also want to keep 6 boesemanni Rainbowfish. If I buy 6 juveniles, would it be a problem, if I will get more males than females?
<Rainbows will be fine in a group. Males will show their best colors with some females around.>
I want to plant the tank with different kinds of Anubias, and I want to add gold nugget Pleco. Is it safe to keep this Pleco with Anubias?
< There are many types of gold nugget Plecos with different requirements.
Go to Planetcatfish.com and research the species of Pleco you are looking to get.>
What do you think about this stocking overall? Will this system work?
< The Pleco will probably be wild and may need soft acidic water. The rainbows on the other hand like hard alkaline water. Maybe look at something like Congo tetras if you are going to soften the water or get a common Pleco that will tolerate the harder tap water.-Chuck>
Thank you, Mark

Substrate Help, FW   12/11/08 Howdy Again, Now it's time for FW Tank, version 4. My little Eclipse 12 has been completely torn-down after my last round of fin-rot struck, resulting in my Betta going back to the Hospital he seems to love so much. I have removed the 25 lbs of gravel out, rinsed, dried, and bagged it for future use, replanted the 2 Java Ferns and 1 Anubias in my small 3 gallon tank temporarily, cleaned out the scum, and gone back to the drawing board. <This is a 12 US gallon system: not a lot of space. Stock very carefully, and under stock rather than overstock. Have an article on stocking small tanks in this month's CA; recommend you have a read, especially the bit on 10 gallon systems. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/ca/volume_5/volume_5_3/stocking.htm And no, the extra 2 gallons in yours makes no difference at all.> The new set-up will have a bed of Eco-Complete, 1-1.5 inches deep, 3 rocks, and a centrally located piece of driftwood. The driftwood will be planted with Petite Anubias Nana, The background with the Java Ferns, Corkscrew Val.s, and Aponogeton fenestralis. The large rock will have 3 stems of Deep Red Ludwigia, the foreground will have a few stands of Baby Tears, some Banana Plants scattered about, and maybe, if I can find it, a few stems of Purple Bamboo. It will have my Betta Splendens, at least 6 dwarf Corys, and then....well, here is where I am stuck. <No your really not stuck. What you're describing is ample. I'd actually suggest getting three or four more Corydoras hastatus, so that they feel happy and swim about in midwater. The only other things I'd add are shrimps and snails. Corydoras hastatus is most fun when it's the subject of an aquarium rather than the token bottom feeder. When it's happy, it is super-active and swims about at all levels, more like a tetra than a catfish.> I keep reading about gas buildup in substrates and am trying to figure out the solution. <Doesn't happen in tanks with plants or as small as yours. Don't worry about it.> I read about clams, then read the drawbacks and ruled them out. Read about Malayan Trumpet Snails, but am concerned about the reproduction rate getting out of control. <Melanoides only a problem if your overfeed your fish. They turn excess food and decaying organic matter into baby snails; in a clean tank, there's too much for them to eat, and they breed at about the rate they die. Forget about clams altogether. They don't survive in aquaria.> Manually turning the substrate is undesirable (I really want to have a minimal maintenance requirement on the tank). Then there is the articles about DSB's. AHH!! Stop the madness! <Honestly not a big deal.> So, do I get the Trumpet Snails, then introduce Assassin Snails to control the population? Is there a small fish that would work to turn the substrate better than the snails? Do I forget about turning the substrate in favor of a deep bed to actually reduce O2 in the bed. <Clea helena are great scavengers and burrowers in their own right, so by all means use them instead. They breed, but slowly, and sharing excess snails with other aquarists is easy because these snails are pretty, uncommonly traded, and expensive.> Also, there is the issue of algae eaters. If I go with snails, will they suffice? I really like watching shrimp, but worry they might get eaten by my Betta. Ghost Shrimp have been recommended, and are relatively inexpensive, but how effective are they in keeping the tank algae and slime free? I also have been considering Red Cherry or Bumble Bee Shrimp. <Nerite snails are by far the best algae eaters for any tank.> The more I read, the more questions I have, to the point I'm so confused now I don't even know what I should be asking. Please help Frank <Cheers, Neale.>

Do I Really Need Substrate? 11-13-08 Hello, <Hello! Merritt A. here today!> I recently stumbled upon your site and was reminded again of how little I know about fish keeping. I purchased a male Betta a few months ago and kept him a 1 gallon bowl with no heater or filtration system (terrible, I know). After about a week of changing the water every couple of days I decided he really needed more space. I purchased a 20 gallon tank and set the whole thing up, then tried to cycle the tank with the Betta and a few Guppies. Unfortunately the Betta became aggressive after a week or so and he now has his own separate 5 gallon tank. I have been using smallish river rocks ranging from .5cm to an inch or so in size but I am beginning to think that this is not the ideal type of substrate. From what I have read most often substrate is small gravel, is this necessary? I currently only have plastic plants in the tank, I would like to try my hand at some live plants but would I need a smaller substrate so that the plants could put down roots? I apologize if this question is already answered on the website; I tried to search for it but couldn't find a concrete answer. <Mainly gravel is for decorative looks or for anchoring plastic plants; you can easily have a bare bottom tank if you like how it looks. I know some argue that not having any substrate can stress fish out but, it wouldn't bother guppies. If you want to try live plants, the smaller substrate would be best with some additional plant fertilizer. The plant fertilizer is a tad expensive but worth it when your tank looks like a miniature forest (I love the stuff!). The smaller substrate allows for the roots to anchor the plants in the water and the river rocks will not work very well.> Thank you for your help. Heather <You are welcome! Merritt A.>

3m colorquartz sand   10/19/08 Hi Crew, Hope things are going well for all of you. I have been doing some reading about people having good results using 3m colorquartz sand in their aquariums. The 2 grades mentioned are "S" grade and "T" grade. I heard that the "T" grade was more coarse which kept it more settled and less likely to have dead spots. <Most hobbyists have not the foggiest idea how substrates work. Dead spots are not a bad thing, and in fact can help "close" the nitrogen cycle by providing habitat for denitrifying bacteria. Do see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fwsubwebindex/nicebottoms.htm > But I also read that the "T" was too coarse for bottom dwellers such as Corys. <Coarseness isn't the issue, sharpness is; only use "smooth" grades of sand with catfish and other burrowers. If the bag doesn't safe "safe for burrowing fish" then avoid. The sand should feel round to the touch, not jagged. CaribSea explicitly state that their Tahitian moon sand isn't safe for such fish, and I'd be checking with the manufacturer of any sand prior to use. I'll make the point that the BEST sand is plain vanilla "smooth" silica sand from your garden centre. Quartz sand comes in two flavours, "sharp" and "smooth", and if it doesn't say "smooth" on the bag, don't use it.> Please give me your thoughts on both grades of this sand. I will be using a 75 gallon freshwater with no live plants or UG filter and I definitely want to use Corys. I have never used sand before and am worried about it not staying on the bottom and getting into my filter intake. <Your fears are unwarranted. A 1-2 cm depth of sand will be completely safe and very clean. Dirt doesn't sink into the sand, and in my (substantial) experience this substrate is EASIER to clean than gravel.> Also, I want to use some Malaysian trumpet snails. How many would you recommend to start off with? <Hardly matters: they breed quickly, especially if overfed. I'd add a dozen. If you find the numbers are out of hand, cut back on the food and clean your tank properly! Also, you can add the predatory snail Clea helena that effectively controls Melanoides populations.> And if I have about 10 Corys how many of the sinking wafers do I use and do I wait until night time when I turn off the aquarium lights to feed them? <I have ten Corydoras paleatus in my community tank and they get a couple of Hikari algae wafers most (but not all) nights. Seems to work fine, and they're constantly breeding.> Thank you for all you do. Skipper <Thanks for the kind words. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: 3m colorquartz sand   10/19/08
I know a while back you mentioned to me that I would need some floating plants to help the fishes colors from fading out from the glare off the sand. I did not want to fool with live plants. Do you know of a company that makes very realistic artificial plants? <I think we're getting out of WWM FAQ territory here! You're asking me questions about taste and judgment, to which I don't have easy answers. Go visit your local aquarium shop, check out the plastic plants on sale. Most of the modern types are pretty good, especially once they have a bit of algae on them. Plastic plants look best used in quantity and where only one, at most two, "species" are used. They look (I feel) crummy where people buy a dozen different types and stick them all in the same tank. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: 3m colorquartz sand
OK, well let me ask you this. I just read an article about java moss being easy to grow in an aquarium. Do you agree? <I've never found it *that* easy to grow, no. If you want zero effort plants, here are my three easiest plants in the hobby: Anubias is number 1. These plants will put up with almost anything, and can thrive even under poor lighting conditions. Buy them ready attached to bogwood and arrange them as required. Number 2 is Cryptocoryne wendtii. You buy this in pots filled with rock wool. So long as you leave the plant in the pot and push it into the gravel, you can't go far wrong. Does well under any light. Give a pellet of fertiliser every month or so and you'll have happy plants that will gradually spread out across the tank. Number 3 is Java fern. Again, don't bother with loose plants, in my experience they often fall apart; instead buy "mother plant" specimens already attached to lava rock or bogwood. Just add water! Take care with both Anubias and Java fern never, EVER to bury them in the sand or gravel. They're "above the sand" plants, which of course means they couldn't care less about what sort of substrate you use. These three plants will give you the "tools" to decorate any tank. Arrange as required, and basically leave them to it. Bob Fenner would also want me to mention floating Indian Fern, a very adaptable species that's easy to look after. For whatever reason I haven't seen this plant in England for years. But the other three species mentioned are all extremely common. While a little more expensive than bunches of Vallisneria or whatever, because they're all virtually unkillable, they're better value. That said, Vallisneria usually does well in most tanks, it just needs fairly bright light to thrive, so tends to look unhappy in tanks with much less than, say, 2 watts per gallon. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: 3m colorquartz sand   10/19/08

Thank you for the suggestions. Do you have a recommendation for an easy plant that floats that can help my fish maintain their color when using silica sand?
<Re-read my last e-mail. Answered this already. Cheers, Neale.>

Live Sand, FW... chatting   10/17/08 Please tell me if live sand can be used in a fw aquarium and if so does it come in dark colors? <Live sand will become dead, decaying sand in a freshwater tank. Don't use. Instead, go visit the garden centre a get a bag of smooth (not "sharp") silica sand. Fish love the stuff!> I know fw fish colors show up better with darker substrates. <It is true that midwater fish of certain types, such as red-coloured tetras, may fade their colours when maintained in tanks with a light-coloured substrate. But not all fish do, in fact most don't, and things like Gouramis, Guppies and Corydoras will be just the same colours as otherwise. A thick growth of floating plants makes a huge difference, as do plants with tall leaves, such as Vallisneria. You can also mix in a certain amount of pea gravel to "darken" the sand somewhat. Do note that there are some black sands on the market. But some are made from a by-product of glass manufacture and are too sharp to mix with catfish; if you look for example on the Carib Sea web site, they list substrates as specifically not suitable for "burrowers" or "soft bellied" animals. http://www.caribsea.com/pages/products/super_nat.html > Does live sand require less maintenance such as the removal of detritus? <I find silica sand requires less cleaning than gravel. Because dirt can't sink into sand, it is easy to siphon out as soon as it becomes annoying. Adding catfish to clean the sand (they plough through it) and some Malayan livebearing snails as well will help.> If I can use live sand what is the minimum depth I can use? I assume less means less maintenance? <Don't use live sand. The depth of sand required varies with the situation. I recommend for planted tanks you lay down 4-5 cm of gravel mixed with aquarium soil, and then put down a gravel tidy. This will stop the soil getting into the water. It will also prevent rocks from hitting the glass, the layer of soil and gravel acting like a cushion. Then top with 2-3 cm of sand. Plants will quickly root themselves in and because they carry oxygen down the roots, they keep the substrate healthy. I use this method with all my tanks: http://homepage.mac.com/nmonks/Projects/myaquaria.html If you are not using plants with roots, and aren't using heavy rocks, then simply use enough sand to cover the glass and give you scope to decorate; 2-3 cm should be ample.> I have heard of black Tahitian moon sand. Is it a form of live sand? <No.> Is it safe for Corys? <No.> Sorry for so many questions. Thank you, James <Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Live Sand........
I have been thinking of a tank with rainbows and Corys. Will a light substrate cause their colors to fade? <Not in a well planted tank, no. (Plastic plants will work fine, as will floating plants, if you're not good with plants.)> What kind of catfish were you referring to that plough through the sand? <All of them! But Corydoras do this very nicely, pushing their heads through the sand and spewing the sand out their gills. It's very sweet.> And do these snails you mentioned require any special food or attention? <Nope. Melanoides spp. snails are virtually indestructible.> If I use the silica sand you mentioned do I need to stir it sometimes to keep dead spots from building up? <The snails will do this. If you don't have the snails then yes, it's a good idea every couple of months to take a pencil and gentle stir any bits far away from the roots of plants. Plants keep the sand clean around themselves just fine.> And if I have rocks in my tank how often do I need to remove those to clean the sand underneath?. <Once a year, if you feel like it. It's really not a big problem provided you keep the tank clean at each water change by siphoning out any muck with the hose pipe. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Live Sand
How many of these snails do I need for a 75 gallon tank moderately stocked with fish? <Add half a dozen; they will breed quickly enough, especially if you overfeed the fish!> Do I try to make sure that they get food at feeding time? <No; the Melanoides snails consume algae, waste food, rotting plant material, etc.> You said the fish would not fade with light sand if I used plants. Should they be a darker green or brown? <Makes no odds; it's the shading of the sand that's important. Fish "fade" if light is bouncing off the bottom of the tank. It isn't specifically the colour of the sand that matters, but how much light it reflects. Since pale sand reflects more light, you want to make sure the tank is more shady to reduce this. Vallisneria, Amazon swords, potted Cryptocoryne spp., and floating plants like Indian Fern will help dramatically.> I will definitely use artificial one, I just don't like to use too many because of the cleaning. <Irrelevant. I have planted tanks that require almost no care at all. I have no idea where you're getting the idea planted tanks are high maintenance. In fact quite the reverse: the plants keep the substrate clean and remove nitrate from the water. I've used plastic plants and while useful in many ways they can become algae- and silt-magnets, and need a lot more work to keep clean.> I am getting lazier as I get older! <Then get a big tank, a high performance external canister filter, and keep a variety of relatively small fish. Stock with lots of fast growing and hardy plants (Vallisneria and things like Cryptocoryne wendtii), install bright lights, and let nature run its course. Seriously, I have a 180 litre tank done this way and other than water changes every week or so, it's zero maintenance, even with a very messy Panaque catfish.> And also, If I go with gravel, do I then have to move out all heavy rocks for cleaning unlike I would for sand? <All depends on how much food you put in, how healthy the plants are, and how frequently you siphon out detritus during water changes. Fish tanks are only hard work if you build them to be so; done properly, they're less work that cutting your fingernails. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Live Sand
I will not be using live plants. If I have a black background on the tank will that help? <To some degree, dark backgrounds to make fish feel more settled. Obviously it does nothing about light bouncing off the substrate. Cheers, Neale.>

For Neale: Follow-questions. Stkg. FW, substrates...  7/10/08 Dear Neale: I am working on TWO aquarium projects, and much of what I'm trying to do is based upon previous suggestions/ideas that you provided. I was sort of "challenged" by your suggestions, so I'm stepping out of my comfort zone to get my feet wet (hee hee) in some areas of aquaria that I've not previously entered. The current stocking plan for my 125-gallon (72" long) freshwater aquarium is: --School of tiger or ruby red barbs, (or OTHER small barb, if necessary to make this work). --Three or five South American Pufferfish. --Unsure about bottom-dweller(s). --AS A RULE, I'm trying to follow your suggestion for choosing a top-water species, a mid-water species, and a bottom-dweller species. I have never kept puffers. If they are considered to be mid-water-dwellers, then I realize that I have chosen TWO mid-water-species, as I desire to have the barbs AND the puffers, if possible. <Puffers aren't really midwater fish; they swim at all levels, and more specifically, close to solid objects that they scan for food.> I am struggling over the issue of substrate, as I like the attributes of the sand that YOU use in your aquarium, but I would truly prefer DARK-colored substrate. You made the comment that the black Tahitian Moon Sand is "sharp" and not suitable for certain bottom-dwellers. Taking that into consideration, I'm wondering if I may use the Tahitian Moon Sand, and simply avoid those "certain bottom-dwellers". <This is precisely what the manufacturers of this sand state: unsuitable for bottom dwellers. For midwater fish like barbs and tetras, Tahitian Moon sand is just dandy.> That idea raises a couple of questions: --You mentioned that your puffers curl up, on the bottom, to sleep at night. Is this sand too sharp for them to do THAT? Are there any other reasons that puffers would not do well with sharp sand? <Hmm... not sure it would do them much harm. They tend to just rest on the substrate in my tank. That said, other aquarists have reported Colomesus burrowing into the sand itself. So it's a bit of a gamble.> --Is this sand too "sharp" for fish to touch it while picking up morsels of fallen food, that are laying upon the substrate? <Should be fine for this. The problem is more for fish that go into the sand (e.g., Spiny Eels) or constantly push it through their gills (e.g., Corydoras).> --Are you able to suggest any bottom-dwellers that would be FINE with this sharp sand, or if using this sand, is it best to simply avoid bottom-dwellers altogether? <I'd concur with the manufacturers and simply avoid bottom dwellers. I don't want to be blamed for secondary bacterial infections on your fish any more than CaribSea!> --*As an alternative*, I saw a suggestion on a discussion board for using dark colored "sand" that is intended for sand blasting. This stuff is smooth/round. Do you happen to know if that substance is inert? <I think you'd have to research whatever sand is being sold for this purpose. There's no blanket recommendation that I'm aware of. As always, you can test for lime using an acid to see if the sand bubbles (if it does, there's lime in the sand, and it's no use for a neutral/acidic aquarium). Personally, I prefer to use safe silica sand, and then rely on adding gravel and/or low level plants to reduce the brightness. Seriously, with a bit of gravel and a thick jungle of Cryptocorynes, the sand is much less objectionable (and much more realistic) than you'd imagine.> If I can work through these few issues, I believe I'll be prepared to purchase the balance of my supplies, and proceed with this project. I have a couple of questions about my other aquarium project, but I don't want to "clutter" this message with that, so I'll send it at another time. AS ALWAYS, I am very grateful. Oh yes -- I almost forgot. Have you authored any (freshwater) books that include information for intermediate and advanced aquarists? At this point, I am particularly interested in YOUR approach to things, as my appetite has been wetted by W.W.M. articles that you've written. Thank you. Jake <Jake, all my freshwater stuff has been online and in magazines. I haven't yet authored anything on freshwater tanks. Plenty of excellent authors out there already! Best wishes, Neale.>

Re: For Neale: Follow-questions, sand...  7/10/08 Dear Neale, Thank you for your excellent input. With these alternatives, I'm prepared to give up on the "sharp" sand. (I had a difficult time letting that one go!) Onward and upward! Jake <Suspect your decision here is a good one. Cheers, Neale.>

Substrate questions 06/28/08 Hello W.W.M. Crew! I will try to keep this short, as I know you are busy people. I am setting up a new 125 gallon (72" long) freshwater aquarium. I plan to use two large Rena Filstar canister filters, plus a H.O.B. power filter that has a surface skimmer. The aquascape will be made of faux wood and plastic plants -- NO real plants. My desire is to keep a school of approximately 18 to 24 tiger barbs, 5 silver dollars, and a smaller school of another species, plus a few "community scavengers". This is not my main question, but could you make a suggestion or two for the third species -- something that would likely school? I have kept this quantity of tiger barbs in the past, and when I did so, they did not harass any of the other tank mates. Here is the big question: In all of the dozens of tanks I've ever had, I've used dark-colored, medium-sized gravel -- generally the best brand that I could find, without sharp edges. I could use that same thing again, but for a change, I thought I should try a different substrate. I'm not talking about a different COLOR, but an entirely different TYPE of substrate. I would like to know what would be a good [alternative] medium or dark-colored substrate to use for this setup. And my final question is, when people use the substrates that are made up of small/fine particles, how do they vacuum the substrate, without sucking it up? THANK YOU very much for your advice, and I hope all of you are on your way to enjoying a great summer. Jake <Hi Jake. I use smooth silica sand ("silver sand") in all my tanks, and don't find it any more difficult to maintain than gravel. Catfish and cichlids definitely prefer it, though a bright substrate doesn't bring out the best colours in midwater fish like tetras. So make this decision with care. In any case, cleaning sand is easy because dirt doesn't sink into it, as happens with gravel. Instead dirt collects on the surface, usually in one corner of the tank thanks to the slope of the substrate and the filter currents. All you need is to siphon out the dirt when it becomes annoying. For "spot cleaning", a turkey baster is great. When using the hose to siphon, you simply take care not to suck up too much sand. Simple as that. Do review what sand you will use carefully: not all are suitable for bottom-living fish. Things like Tahitian Moon Sand (or whatever it's called) is a by-product of glass production and too sharp. Smooth, as opposed to sharp, silica sand is obtainable from garden centres and is cheap and chemically inert. As for a third schooling fish, here's my take: with schooling fish, if you have too many types in one tank, they jumble up and none of them look great. So think carefully about this. I'd tend to go with one schooling species at the top (e.g., Celebes Halfbeaks or Silver Hatchetfish), one schooling species in the middle (e.g., Barbs or Characins or Rainbowfish), and one schooling species at the bottom (e.g., Corydoras or Brochis spp.). This way each would do its own thing, and in a big tank you'd have three completely different types of fish to observe. Halfbeaks for example fight a lot, so you'd get to watch them chase each other and engage in threat displays. Corydoras or Brochis on the other hand plough through the sand, spewing the stuff behind them. They're great fun to watch. In the middle, choose something with colour and lively behaviour. I happen to adore Bleeding Heart Tetras because (in anything other than very hard water) they are hardy, nicely coloured, a decent size, and very playful, constantly chasing one another and flicking their fins. You might also review some of the new Glassfish in the hobby, such as Parambassis pulcinella: in a big tank with a strong water current these are show-stopping fish. Glassfish generally are lively and constantly chasing each other, and form gangs rather than schools so far as I can tell. Very hardy and easy to keep, although they don't eat flake/pellets. You might even consider one of the gregarious carnivores. Needlefish (Xenentodon cancila) are peaceful, schooling fish rarely kept properly because people keep them singly. In a big tank, a group looks amazing, and being peaceful they can be combined with any gentle midwater or benthic fish too big to be eaten. Brochis spp. catfish for example would be ideal. Contrary to myth, Xenentodon aren't fish-eaters in the wild, and are easily maintained on insects (crickets for example) as well as frozen foods. Some pufferfish are gregarious too: I keep a bunch of South American Puffers, Colomesus asellus, and these make a completely different sort of "schooling fish" combining puffer intelligence with nice colours and a hyperactive disposition. They mix well with a variety of fish, provided those tankmates hide (e.g., catfish) or are too fast to be eaten (e.g., glassfish or tetras). Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Substrate questions - 6/30/08
Wow Neale! You taught me EVERYTHING that I hoped to learn, and more!! Now, with these new suggestions for fish, I'm all fired up to get this aquarium going. But, AS USUAL, I have some HOMEWORK to do. (hee hee) I need to study up on glassfish and South American Puffers. I would love to tell you two things, quickly. I've been keeping "large" schools of barbs, based upon YOUR barb article on W.W.M., which led to me having several opportunities to show fellow aquarists how to solve their fin-nipping troubles. Excellent, and thank you for that. Next, you are now contributing to "marital bliss" at my home. You see, my wife is enthusiastic about this aquatic hobby, and has been pestering me FOR A LONG TIME to bring home some pufferfish. Every time I inquired about combining some freshwater pufferfish with some OTHER freshwater species, some L.F.S. employee told me, "There is no way that you can have those puffers, unless they are ALONE in the tank!" Finally, I just quit asking. Now with your suggestions, I'll be able to bring home the puffers, and win some big points with my wife! Who knows where this could lead? REMEMBER: A happy wife, makes for a happy life! Thank you so much! Jake <Hello Jake, and thanks for the kind words. My 180 litre mixed species aquarium contains two pufferfish species: a trio of Colomesus asellus (the South American Pufferfish) and a pair of Carinotetraodon irrubesco (the Red-eye, Red-tail Puffer). Both these species are non-aggressive, though Colomesus asellus does nip the fins of slow fish like Corydoras. It doesn't seem at all dangerous to fast tetras or Glassfish, and by extension I'd expect barbs and rainbows to do fine with them. Catfish that hide away (like Synodontis) seem to be ignored, and fast cyprinid/loach types things (I have a Garra species for example) seem to be too quick to be nipped. Colomesus asellus are wonderfully sociable amongst themselves, to the point where they curl up together at night time on the sand. Extremely cute fish. Carinotetraodon irrubesco is a species that usually turns out to be shy and rather harmless, but there are occasional stories of vicious specimens. Whether these are misidentified fish as opposed to the real thing I cannot say for sure, but other Carinotetraodon species are much more nippy and/or territorial. For some reason the female of our species does indeed have some genetic affection for pufferfish. Possibly because they have cute, expressive faces? In any case, these are two pufferfish that mix well together, look very pretty, and aren't difficult to obtain. Better yet, Colomesus asellus at least is a very hardy species, and I'd put it forward as perhaps the single easiest pufferfish to maintain, except with regard to its fast-growing teeth. These usually need to be trimmed a couple times per year, but this is very easy and nothing to worry about. It's a two minute job with a net, a litre of water with 4-5 drops of clove oil, and cuticle clippers. Catch the fish, place in the clove oil solution until it becomes dozy, gentle handle the fish, and trim off the beak. Put in the net, put net in the aquarium, and once the fish is back to its normal hyperactive self, release. Cheers, Neale.>

Oscar turning grey. 4/15/08 I have an Oscar cichlid. We were given the Oscar in a 3-gallon tank, and while I didn't measure him, he was obviously too big for that tank, so I got a new 20-gallon tank and put him in there. He has so much space now and was moving all around. He rapidly turned a bit grey and red from his original black and red. I was wondering if this is just because he's getting used to the change of environment? Or because I have white gravel instead of colored gravel? <Well yes, white gravel will often make cichlids "fade" their colours. Most fish DO NOT like substrates that are brightly coloured. Use plain gravel. It might not be to your taste, but it will suit your fish so much better. And, after all, it's the fish who has to live in the aquarium -- not you! Anyway, you can't keep an Oscar in a 20 gallon tank. No way, no how. Let's be crystal clear about this: Oscars are big fish that produce a lot of waste and are easily prone to diseases like Hole-in-the-Head when kept in unhealthy conditions. You absolutely MUST upgrade his aquarium to at least a 55 gallon system within the next few weeks. This is non-negotiable. If you don't have space for a 55 gallon tank, you don't have space for an Oscar too, and sooner or later this fish will be poisoned by its own waste and die a slow, painful death. There are some lovely dwarf cichlids better suited to tanks 20 gallons in size. Do please research them as sensible alternatives. Cheers, Neale.>

South/Central American cichlids set up   2/17/08 I want to set up a 55g tank with some Jack Dempsey, Black convict, Rams, Firemouth and other south/central American cichlids. <All fine fish, but few of these can be kept together. Rams need warm, soft, acidic water with minimal nitrate; Central American cichlids want cooler water that is hard and alkaline. Jack Dempsey cichlids are incredibly territorial, and will beat the heck out of most South American cichlids. And so on. Please choose ONE cichlid that appeals, and build the aquarium around that species.> I would like to use eco complete as substrate but was wondering which other type can I use in order to provide a sandy bottom as well. <Eco Complete is a total waste of money. Most cichlids will destroy plants.> I want to arrange the eco complete to the back and sides and sand/other substrate in the middle, so I can plant on the sides and create like a corridor. <Some hope! Really, there's a reason why people only keep Angelfish and Dwarf Cichlids in planted tanks.> I know some of these fish like to dig, so could you suggest some hardy natural plants that I could use as well as which other substrate will be a good mix? <Plastic plants glued to rocks are really the only options for a mixed cichlid community. Firemouths, for example, are "earth eater" cichlids, and even though they don't uproot plants outside of spawning, they produce so much silt and mess that only very robust plants will survive. Convicts, Severums, and various other cichlids will either dig the plants directly or view them as food.> I have an Emperor 400 for the tank, do I need other type of filtration or another Emperor? Any other comments for the set up or fish species selection? <Please go back to the drawing board. Choose either [a] a planted aquarium or [b] a robust cichlid community, e.g. a mix of Firemouth and Convict cichlids. Nothing else is likely to work.> Thanks. Mauricio <Cheers, Neale.>
Re: South/Central American cichlids set up 2/17/08
Oh ok, so yeah I was way off! Then if I want to keep a planted aquarium with angels and dwarf cichlids what would be a good substrate? <Yes, Eco Complete is widely appreciated as being one of the better substrates for aquatic plants. Obviously doesn't make any difference what substrate you use if you opt for floating plants of epiphytes.> And if I decide on the cichlid community tank, which substrate will be a good choice? <Entirely depends on the cichlids. If you went Central American, a mix of coral sand and smooth silica sand is good because this raises the carbonate hardness. But South American cichlids don't want hard water, so plain smooth silica sand is better. If your budget runs to it, black volcanic sand brings out the best colours with dwarf cichlids such as Apistogramma.> I was doing some reading and it seems a fine sand substrate will be good, but if so where can I get that? My LFS has just sand for SW tanks. Thanks for the help and advice <Apart from shopping online, gardening centres are usually good places. Smooth silica sand is used to make potting composts, and is very inexpensive; here in England, a 25 kilo bag costs less than £5. Cheers, Neale.>

Sand beds in Freshwater tanks    2/16/08 Hi Bob, Amy here I have the Oscars with "HLLE" I have been writing you the last couple of days. So much information on this sight. It's really great. I haven't really seen that sand beds are that common for freshwater fish. <Mmm, no... for a few "reasons"... mainly just perceived as being too hard to maintain> I just yesterday cleaned all the rocks and sand in my upper aquarium 220 gal. I never told you I had a partial sand bed. I have very fine rocks and about 80 pounds of Moonlite sand total of about 4 inches deep. It seems to be enough sand to fill the gaps between my fine gravel. Maybe that's why I have those little white worms. I also see air bubbles in my rocks at times. That should be good. Maybe not now that I cleaned them, no more bubbles. My Aquarium has been set up for about 1.5 years now. I do clean my gravel bed in my upper tank, but not very often. Normally I just get the loose debris off the surface. The last couple of days, I really cleaned all my rocks because of my problem with "HLLE". Did I just remove all the good bacteria from my tank? <Mmm, assuredly not> The sand / gravel really wasn't that dirty, probably because it is so dense. I did not move my stationary rocks and caves to clean. They cover about half of my aquarium floor. So there should still be bacteria there. In the future how should I clean the sand / gravel in my upper tank? <... this is posted as well... Please learn to/use the indices and search tool on WWM> Is a sand bed beneficial to freshwater fish? <Can be if maintained adequately> When I set up I thought " more natural" is better, right. I know sand beds are great for saltwater and I may change over some day. I want to do the best for my fish. Thanks for all your advise. Amy <Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsetupindex.htm the second tray, FW substrates, the linked files above...> Oh one more thing. I am going to feed my fish food with Metronidazole in it. I also think I'm going to start treating for fin rot today, with Pro Series Fungus Cure. Let me know if you think that might be a bad idea. When the fin rot treatment is completed I was going treat my water again with Metronidazole. <Please... read re on WWM. I would only treat once with Metronidazole...> Just so you know, I always remove the charcoal when I treat with medications. Thanks again for the help. I'm going to try feeding peas and crickets today. I hope they like it. Thanks again, Amy <Keep reading my young friend. BobF>

FW Blk. sand, Callichthyid/Corydoras sys.    2/13/08 Hi Guys. Do you know of any black sand that is safe for Corys? I've heard mixed reviews about the Tahitian Moon Sand and I love these little guys too much to just put something in because it looked cool. I'm setting up a 225G so I don't want to make the wrong decision. I'm pretty new to this, though I'm already smitten. Great work. Best, John <I can't offer any specific brands of black sand. Tahitian Moon Sand is apparently made from glass, and that's presumably why it isn't recommended for catfish. In theory any smooth, non-calcareous sand should be suitable. I use silica sand with Corydoras and it works great. Over here in England such sand is quite widely sold, though expensive. I must confess to being cheap and using the plain yellow stuff from garden centres. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: black sand  2/14/08
Thanks Neale. <John,> Nice to know you're from England. I'm a defected Scouser living in Los Angeles. <Move all that distance to get some peace and quiet, and then the Beckhams follow you! No justice.> Thanks for the info. John. <Good luck, Neale.>

Black Sand....The search continues - Attention Neale 4/29/08 Hi Neale, <Amanda,> I do hope all is going well with both yourself and all your fish. <Pretty much; thanks for asking.> As you can probably tell from my subject heading I am still searching for black sand (previous correspondence is attached because I'm sure you don't remember every e-mail you've ever answered). It's never taken me so long before to set up an aquarium, stock it maybe, but never just set it up. I've collected a dusting of black sand from my LFS (they're great, very helpful). Apparently about 6 years ago black onyx (??) sand was all the rage here in Australia and they still had a couple cups left from setting up display tanks that they kindly gave to me. However, the supplier they got it from has gone out of business. So now I have the finest dusting of black sand over the bottom of my tank and the search continues. I am now certain that 'proper' black sand exists nowhere in Queensland. I have found several things that claim to be black sand but one thing I can guarantee....it is not sand for aquarium use. I have found a couple stores in Victoria that stock 'CaribSea Tahitian Moon Sand' (for an astronomical price) but all they show is a picture of the bag. <Never used this sand personally, but is said to be safe to use in freshwater tanks. However, CaribSea themselves do not recommend using it with burrowing fish, likely because the grains are rather sharp (it's really a type of glass by-product from some industrial process). http://www.caribsea.com/pages/products/super_nat.html So personally, I wouldn't use it with Corydoras.> I've called the stores and asked them about it but they've been less then helpful with describing it to me and I am loathe to spend $100 to buy the sand (9kg is the only size bag I've been able to find here) and have it shipped (for an additional $50) to me only to find out it's not what I'm chasing. I have no issues spending the money if it's what I want. So my question is: Have you ever seen this CaribSea Tahitian Moon Sand and if you have is it the type of sand that I've been searching for (specifically something my Corydoras will enjoy foraging in)? <I have to say Corydoras seem to be among the fish that *don't* change their colors, and my specimens absolutely love plain vanilla silica (silver) sand from the garden centre. The smooth grade of this stuff (as opposed to the "sharp" sand) is sold here for about £3 per 25 kg. It is very widely used by gardeners and should be cheap and easy to obtain.> Thank you for you're help. After all this I might have to send you a picture of the final setup. I am thinking a school of Pseudomugil mellis, or possibly P. gertrudae may look rather stunning with a school of one of the more heat tolerant Corydoras species. <Pseudomugil are indeed lovely fish. Only occasionally do they get to the UK, but I have seen Pseudomugil gertrudae here recently. As for heat-tolerant Corydoras, Corydoras sterbai is the species of choice. As you seem to realize, most Corydoras are happiest at relatively mild temperatures, typically around 21-24 C.> Cheers Amanda <Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Black Sand....The search continues - Attention Neale
Hi Neale, <Amanda,> Thanks for the reply and the link. I'm not quite sure how I managed to not think of looking up CaribSea directly to find out more about it. <Indeed!> It's good to know that the sand colour won't make a difference to the colour of the Corydoras. That having been said I've been imagining some species of Pseudomugil which could potentially look stunning with a black substrate. That combined with the fact that I quite enjoy the antics of Corydoras and would love to see them happy in sand is keeping me on the black sand search (might have something to do with my slightly obsessive compulsive nature as well). I have not ruled out the possibility of importing it (I know probably seems a bit excessive to most people, but hey, got to keep the fish happy, plus my husband hasn't said no....yet.....) my brother lives in the DC area in the States and he could have better luck finding something then I am. <Hmm... I think importing sand will be insanely expensive. Quite possibly collecting some river sand and making sure it doesn't have much lime content might be easier. If you're already collecting your own fish, finding a nice substrate shouldn't be difficult. On the other hand, do remember that the colour of silica sand depends quite a lot on the arrangement of the tank. If you have a lot of plants that cover the surface (such as Vallisneria trailing up and across the surface) the sand looks a lot darker. When I use this sand in planted tanks, I find the colour becomes far less objectionable than you might assume, especially once there's a bit of algae covering the grains as well. I'd suggest trying that approach for now, and simply replace the sand as and when you find a dark sand you like.> Pseudomugil are indeed a lovely fish. I fell in love with them the first time I saw them. I have a small collection but would love to get a few of the less common specie. I have a breeding tank of P. gertrudae (which was why I was thinking I might put some in the new tank, see how they colour up). I also have schools of both P. signifer and P. tenellus in two other tanks. Collected those ones myself. I've been waiting for an opportunity to get some P. mellis (they can be a bit harder to come by) but the ones I really want are the P. cyanodorsalis. Unfortunately they've been a bit scarce in the supply lists of late. I've been toying with the idea of going up north to Darwin or out west to Broome on a collection trip haven't decided yet though if I'll keep them fresh or brackish. I've heard of people having success with both but want to talk to a few more people about it, see which way I'll have the most success. <Do try and read Bruce Hansen's chapter on Australian Fishes in my brackish book. He does discuss Pseudomugil alongside lots of other small species that would work well. Not all Pseudomugil need brackish water, as you appreciate, but species like Ps. signifer really do well in it. If you're into native Oz fishes, chances are you've come across Bruce's work already; he knows his stuff, and my conversations with him are always very rewarding. Do also consider getting in touch with ANGFA; they may well have information on native sources of sand and other decorative materials suitable for this sort of aquarium. http://www.angfa.org.au/intro.html To be honest, I'm pretty jealous of Australian fishkeepers: there are so many wonderful species. I just hope all those "accidental" releases of goldfish and the like don't cause too much damage in the long term. The Australian fish fauna is amazing: with a couple of exceptions (lungfish, Arowanas) its made up entirely of brackish/marine fishes that have secondarily adapted to life in completely freshwater environments. We only very rarely see these fish here in the UK, mostly Rainbowfish and occasionally a few gobies, blue-eyes and glassfish.> Look at me go on about blue-eyes. Thank you for your help. Will continue on my search. Cheers! Amanda <Best wishes, Neale.>

A few questions for Neale... Silica sand use in FW, Goldfish sys.   1/25/08 Hi Neale, <Nicole,> Hope you are doing well! <Yep.> I thought I would ask you, since I have heard you say before that you use silica sand (aka silver sand, aka pool filter sand) in your tanks...have you ever heard of any problems arising from goldfish being kept in an aquarium with such a substrate? <Goldfish love sand! Your main problems are these: [1] Sand doesn't hide faeces the way gravel does. Faecal matter in tanks with gravel sinks between the grains, where you can't see it. It doesn't go away, but at least you can't see it until you stir the gravel. In a tank with sand, faeces sit on top of the sand. If you have a strong filter, they'll get sucked into the filter, but otherwise it can look messy. I find "spot cleaning" with an old turkey baster a great solution. If something looks too yucky, suck it up, and dump onto a houseplant. Problem [2] is that Goldfish can kick the sand about when they root about for food. They're happy as the proverbial pigs, but if the filter inlet is too close to the bottom of the tank, you can end up getting sand in the filter.> My friend tried using sand but missed his undergravel filter, so he's giving me 50# of silica sand, and I was considering using that for my future 30 gallon semi-planted goldfish tank. I have read - admittedly, on forums of questionable repute - that this can be problematic, causing intestinal impactions in the goldfish due to swallowing mouthfuls of sand when they are rooting about in the gravel, and have also heard it can irritate their gills as it passes. <Neither of these sounds likely. For a start, these fish live in muddy environments where they routinely throw all kinds of muck through their gills. But from my personal experience I've see smaller fish such as Corydoras and gobies thriving in sandy tanks, let alone massive great things like Goldies.> Would you know if there is any truth to this? I suspect there is not, but if so, my next choice would be organic potting soil with a layer of fine gravel on top, since I have read that soil can be a fine substrate for a planted tank. <Potting soil is rich in nitrate and phosphate, so tends to cause problems with algae. I do use pond soil in aquaria, which is formulated to be nitrate-free, but plain vanilla loams and soils tend not to be recommended. A better choice is coir (coconut fibre) which is relatively inert but looks very nice. Your problem here is that as much as the fish love this stuff, it makes the water completely cloudy *unless* you have teeny-tiny fish such as killifish that can't root about.> I have silica sand on two of my tanks, and I notice that (for me, anyway) it does seem to encourage smudge algae, or brown algae or diatoms - whichever it may be! This is fine since both tanks have a trio of Otos, and they seem to relish the stuff, but I am nervous about keeping Otos with goldfish, so I'll just have to step up on the water changes and do two 30% changes weekly. <The jury is out on whether silica sand genuinely creates a diatom bloom or not. Here's the issue: silica sand is basically glass, and both are effectively non-soluble. The amount of silicon coming out of silica sand will be completely negligible if the chemists are to be believed. My thinking is that silica sand is more difficult to clean than gravel, so perhaps more silt gets in, and *this* promotes algae. Perhaps also the brighter colour of silica sand makes algae more obvious. Finally, it's worth mentioning that all new tanks get diatom blooms; it seems to be part of what happens when you set aquaria up.> My plan is to keep 2 shubunkins, and a Synodontis eupterus together in the 30 gallon tank. I know this is woefully small for the Syno, but he is still "only" 6 inches and he is moving to a 55 gallon tank by the end of the year. If the shubunkins ever get too large where maintenance becomes impossible, the same friend who is giving me the sand has a natural clay lined pond that already has a couple of full grown comets in there. <Hmm... some Synodontis are confirmed fin-nibblers, so do your research here carefully.> I plan on massively over filtering the tank: hang-on back, 330 gph filter rated for 60 gallons, plus a Penn Plax 115 gph canister filter rated for 30 gallons, with a spray bar, and chock full of sponges and ceramic noodles. The hang-on back filter will contain filter floss contained in 800 micron media bags. The floss I plan on rinsing weekly and replacing monthly. Does this sound all right? <Sounds great. The more you rinse the floss, the less often you actually need to replace it, by the way.> The plants I intend to keep are a few of the inedible kinds - Java fern, Java moss. Some regularly thinned Salvinia on the top, and Water Wisteria in the substrate. I plan on trying Elodea/Anacharis but I suspect it will be chomped on heavily. <Elodea = goldfish food.> Is there any benefit to adding a thin layer of Laterite (20 oz.) and pouring the sand on top? (That is, if the silica sand is acceptable, of course.) <Laterite mixed with fine gravel, and then topped with sand (with a gravel tidy between the two layers) works very well. It's a trifle old school, but serviceable.> I would really appreciate your comments, and any advice, since I am a planted tank newbie. I have never had luck with plants; I do realize now that lack of lighting has been the reason, along with being sold houseplants. I know better now! My water is very hard and alkaline (alkalinity is off the charts at 300 ppm on my test kit) and I am lucky enough to be on a well, so no need for dechlorinator either. <Goldfish love this kind of water.> The city water I had before this was dreadful, very low in alkalinity. Fishkeeping is loads easier now, it almost felt like you were speaking to me directly when I read your hard water article! I've been meaning to try some fish that would really appreciate the hard water and plant combination, I am hoping that the goldfish will. <You get it! Yep, everyone thinks hard water is a bad thing. It's actually a blessing in disguise, once you understand how aquaria go wrong, and what it is water hardness actually does to help.> Thank you so much for your time. Also, your article about fish for a 10 gallon tank was superb! I suspect you had lots more to say, but had to keep it concise due to space constraints. I am definitely keeping it sandwiched in my aquarium books for future reference. <Glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, there is a lot to say about the topic of choosing the right fish for a given aquarium.> Take care, and thanks again! Nicole <Happy to help.> P.S. By any chance, do you remember what kind of Synos these were? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram_cichlid I noticed you were the author of this stunning photo! The sand looks beautiful, I've never seen such a lovely yellow color, although I am guessing it's a trick of the light and it's really silver sand... <The sand does look very yellow under certain lights, especially if you have some bogwood in the tank tinting the water brown. Those cats are Synodontis nigriventris, a nicely-behaved small, schooling Syno ideally suited to community tanks although it is one of the fin-nibblers, so you do need to watch it carefully if mixed with slow-moving fish.>

Black (Silica) Sand grain size? 01/21/2008 Hello crew member. <That would be me, Neale.> I hope you're having a good morning/afternoon/evening (which ever it is in your part of the world). <Hmm... just about lunchtime here in Blighty.> If I have overlooked the answer to this I am sorry and please feel free to direct me to the link as I am more then happy to research/read for myself. <OK.> I have read several times where it has been stated that black sand (I think specifically black silica sand) is good, not only for bringing out the colour of freshwater tropicals, but also for certain bottom dwelling fish such as Corydoras. <Absolutely. Sand (actually mud) is what Corydoras like best. They stick their heads right into it, and spew the stuff out of their gills, trapping organic materials in the process. My Corydoras spend the summers in a small pond filled with mud, and they love it! Almost all freshwater fish live in places where the substrate is dark. But in aquaria we often use light- or brightly-coloured gravel or sand. The fish try to adapt their colours to this, and effectively mute the colours so they are less obvious to predators. The result is that we rarely see freshwater fish in their full colouration. (At least, for wild-type fish; fancy varieties of things like Goldfish are different.) Use a dark substrate and the colours on most fishes, but especially cichlids and tetras, really come alive.> I am currently in the process of setting up a new 45G freshwater tank (when I say in the process of setting up I mean it is currently sitting on a stand in my living room, empty and bare of all things including lights, filters, heaters, substrate etc... whereupon I come home from work every day and stare at it trying to decide what I want to ultimately do with it). I have used gravel in all my previous freshwater tanks and I like the idea of trying something new. Recently black sand has peaked my interest (I think Neale might have mentioned it to someone in the past week or so in one of his answers to a question). <Black sand is indeed the best. It can be a bit pricey, so shop around for the best deal. Also, don't forget only the surface needs to be sand. The bottom layer can be fine gravel, and you separate the two with a "gravel tidy". Surprisingly enough, the sand behaves itself and stays at the top. Mostly, anyway!> Well it would seem that none of the aquarium shops here carry anything other then calcium carbonate sand, so as Neale suggested in his "Nice Bottoms: Choosing the right substrate for your aquarium" I went to some garden centres. I finally found one that stocks black silica sand. <Cool!> So here's my question (finally). What grain size is best? They carry 5mm, 3mm and 1mm grain size, and I have to say even the 1mm grain size seems pretty big to me. I had envisioned something quite a bit finer then what I have actually found. Is the 1mm grain size what I'm looking for in my quest for the illusive "black silica sand" or should I continue my search for something finer and if so how fine (e.g. 0.5mm). <It actually shouldn't matter much. Finer sand looks really nice, but depending on the fish you're keeping, it does have the downside of getting everywhere (e.g., inside the filter) if the fish move it about too much. Corydoras and tetras aren't a problem here, but things like Plecs and Clown Loaches would be. So if you're likely to keep robust fish, then a coarse grade of sand would be perfect. But as a default, I think the 1 mm sand is definitely worthwhile. Your catfish will thank you! You haven't lived until you've seen a Corydoras with its nose buried in the sand and it's little fins quivering with delight.> Thank you Amanda <Happy to help, Neale.>
Re: Black (Silica) Sand grain size? Attention Neale 1/23/08
Hi Neale, <Amanda,> Sorry to bother you again. Thank you for your last response, I amused myself for a while imagining my future Corydoras sticking their heads into my future sand and spewing the stuff out of their gills. My last correspondence is attached below so you can pretend that you remember your previous e-mail to me :) <Very good.> I can see this black sand thing is going to be a headache for me (in a good way, sort of, well for my husband at least, as it seems it will keep me busy with this tank for a while, which means I won't be wanting another one....for a while). <Heh!> This black silica 'sand' that I found, I am now not convinced is what you were talking about or even what I thought it was. I am now even debating if they should be calling it sand. I bought a small bag (didn't want to jump in all at once), took it home and opened it. I had read earlier that day (apparently black sand is all the rage at the moment here on WWM) that I wanted to make sure the sand wasn't sharp, which means if I feel it; it feels silky smooth...not scratchy. Well this is about the un-smoothest (I know it's not a real word) 'sand' I've ever felt. <Sounds as if this is "sharp sand", used in horticulture to improve drainage. Good for plants, not good for fish.> Secondly, I'm not convinced it's sand, and it's certainly not 1mm (would really like to know who was doing the grading for that and what they thought a mm is). It's all irregular looking, with sticky outie bits all over it and I'm sure I could poke my own eye out with it if I wasn't careful. Then there are the needle like bits I can honestly envision the needle like bits in the bag impaling a small fish. <Doesn't sound like what you want. Save it for the houseplants...> Now to me sand is the stuff you find on a beach or in a river bed, stuff that's fairly fine and gets stuck in uncomfortable places and drives you insane because the more you brush it to get it off the more places it spreads to. It's not some rough pokey outie weird stuff that you couldn't imagine a Corydoras burrowing through without impaling itself on or getting it caught in its gills and suffocating to death. Am I just being woefully ignorant of what type of 'sand' I am searching for? <You're correct: the sand suitable for use in an aquarium needs to be of the type called "smooth sand".> Should I be looking for beach type sand (imagine the beaches in Australia and the type of sand there) or is this sticky outie stuff "it". <Beach sand is normally a mix of silica sand and pulverised seashells; while it looks really good in aquaria, the problem is that it raises the carbonate hardness of the water, which in turn raises the pH. These two changes are not always acceptable. Corydoras and tetras, for example, prefer water that's on the acidic side and soft to moderately hard. So beach sand tends to be a better choice for fish that like hard water conditions, such as livebearers. Mbuna and brackish water fish. River sand is variable: some river sands are identical to beach sand in being a mix of silica and lime, but others are purely silica and work great in aquaria.> I just really don't want to get something that will make my Corydoras (when I finally get the tank set up and decide what specie to get) unhappy, or even potentially hurt them. <Correct. Which substrate you use has a huge impact on how an aquarium looks. Although one of the less expensive parts of the set-up, the differences in terms of aesthetics between different substrates are huge. If all else fails, plain smooth silica sand (sometimes marketed as silver sand) works fine, and it's what I use in my tanks. Yes, it is bright and very reflective, but if you tint the water with blackwater extract (or put peat granulate in the filter) this can be toned down a bit, and once the plants and algae have done their thing, it looks very nice. The fish don't really care about the colour of the sand; it's more how the fish look to our eyes.> I get frustrated at times as things that seem to be quite common in the States and the UK are just about impossible to find here in Australia (don't even get me started on how long it took me to source Selcon....and then the price....I hope my fish appreciate what I go through for them). <I'm sure the right sand is available (and cheap) in Australia. Silica sand (silver sand) is such a basic commodity that you'll eventually find it. It's used a lot in indoor and outdoor gardening. Some people have apparently also got this kind of sand as "play" sand. So garden centres are usually places to find it. Black aquarium sand is always more difficult to find and much more expensive, at least here in the UK, where the price is something like 5 or 10 times that of bulk silver sand. For what it's worth, there are some superb fishkeeping clubs in Australia, such as ANGFA, and they may be able to help you as well. I'm always incredibly jealous of my Australian fishkeeping friends because of the terrific stuff they get to keep. Your native fishes are amazing, and only very rarely sold in Europe.> Thank you. Amanda <Cheers, Neale.>

Freshwater silica sand/substrate question(s) 1/19/08 Mates, <Hello,> Thanks for the all the help in the past and, generally, for keeping this site active and (extremely) useful. <Cool.> I am setting up a 120g freshwater tank, to house rainbows, Congo tetras, various Plecos and a few Corys. <Hmm... be careful with the "various plecs" idea -- not all of them play nicely together.> I've got them all in a 50g right now, with HOB AquaClear (way oversized for current application), silica sand substrate from home depot, healthy amount of Mopani wood and some lace rock. A few freshwater plants for decoration...java moss and water lettuce. Everyone is happy. No casualties at any time...been good for about 9 months now. Plecos have been much less nocturnal recently...to me, a good sign they are starting to feel comfortable in their current home. <Indeed.> On new tank (don't know if it matters, but I'll give it out anyways), planning on dual internal overflow boxes from glass-holes.com with 1.5" holes on both, sump below with filter sock for mechanical filtration, FBF for biological (don't want bio-balls/bio-bale...too much commotion and trying to avoid as much CO2 loss as I can...it will be moderately planted with primarily low input plants...FBF just seems like the best fit), return pump either an Eheim submersible or pan world external. 240w t-5 full spectrums. I am planning on keeping plants on Mopani driftwood (like Anubias, java moss, java fern) and in pots, probably not going to drop anything directly into the substrate. <My feeling here is CO2 is a waste with very slow growing plants like these. Their growth is slow enough the ambient CO2 in plain water will be adequate. As you probably know, CO2 is something you need to add to brightly-lit tanks because the fast-growing plants need the CO2 for photosynthesis to keep up with amount of light. Your selection of plants live in shade and don't like a lot of light (Anubias tends to get covered in algae). Java fern also seems to thrive in hard, even brackish, water and likely removes carbon from bicarbonate in the water anyway. Since CO2 is toxic to fish if not dosed carefully, I'd balance any benefits against the potential risks.> This tank will probably be converted to reef tank in a few years...trying to plan for that during freshwater set up, but treat the freshies appropriately now. (Any other suggestions/warnings on the set up are appreciated). <Above.> Anyhow, I realized this week how much substrate it was going to take to fill up the tank. It is about 8 square feet...at 3" deep, that's about 2 square feet of substrate. That is a ton (well, not literally). Probably in the neighborhood of 150lbs of sand. For river sand/cafe sand/beach sand, that is going to be around $160 at the local LFS. <Yikes!> Now, as mentioned above, I've used the #30 silica sand from home depot. it is just listed as industrial sand, but states on the back purity in excess of 99.?% silica sand. I've used in two tanks with Corys, Plecos, aquatic dwarf frogs, and never had any issues (no casualties, no evidence of barbel/gill/skin/scale damage of any kind), other than it takes for ever to rinse and about a week to clear up once it is in the tank. I read in the Neale Monks article (great name by the way - "Nice Bottoms") that you have to watch out for 'sharp' silica...I have no idea how to tell if it is sharp or not. Can you help me on this? <Sharp sand is a specific grade of sand used in horticulture at least for providing good drainage in potting compost mixes. It's also used in building work of various kinds. The grains are angular rather than rounded, and it feels sharp or scratchy to the touch. Smooth silica sand, the kind used in aquaria, has a lovely silky feel.> As well, there are two different grades - #20 and #30. I combed through the internet (got to love Google) but couldn't really find an explanation as to grades and granule sizes. From what I could gather, #20 granule is bigger than #30 granule. Is this right? <No idea. Provided the sand is smooth, the size of the grains couldn't matter less really. I suppose bigger sand grains would be better in some ways, since they're less likely to get swooshed about into the water column when fish swim by. (And big fish really do kick the stuff up into the tank!)> Obvious, I'd want to go with the largest granules I can get to minimize dangers of compacting/anaerobic decay/nasty gases. <This issue at least is largely irrelevant. Anaerobic decay is a bit of an exaggerated problem. If you're not planting anything, then you don't really need much sand anyway. In deep sand beds, any anaerobic decay mostly breaks down nitrate (a good thing, encouraged in marine tanks!) and any H2S produced reacts virtually at once with oxygen should it get into the water column and has little real impact on fish health. Go visit a pond and see how much anaerobic decay there is there... and yet the fish are fine.> Last, and off topic but something I've always wondered, would a protein skimmer provide any benefit to a freshwater set up? <Generally no. A standard skimmer requires a certain amount of salinity to work at all. Brackish systems at SG 1.010 seem to be about the minimum. If the salinity is too low, the bubbles don't stick together and you don't get the froth. There are freshwater skimmers, but they're rather different (and bigger) and used primarily for ponds. Besides, in a freshwater system, water changes are so cheap that you may as well use them for nitrate control. Few freshwater fish are particularly sensitive to nitrate, so provided you keep things below 20 mg/l, you're fine, even with Discus or Tanganyikans. By contrast, marine aquarists generally want to maintain much lower nitrate levels than that. Bottom line, there's no particular need for skimmers in freshwater tanks.> Thanks. Paul in San Diego. <Cheers, Neale.>

pH Level While Using Red Sea Floralbase 11/07/07 Hi, I have recently set up a new 72gal FW tank. I have had water in it, Rena xp3 filter, heater, and Corallife 65watt x2 for lights. I presently have 15 goldfish in it to help with the cycling. <<A poor idea. Too much stress and likelihood of parasitic infestation... RMF>> My ph level has been at 6.0 from the start. I am using red sea Floralbase, that's all, as I have a planted tank. I am wondering how to raise the PH level to at least 7.0 for the types of fish I want (I have a 10gal that has been established for 2 years now & I would like to take those fish and move them over to the new one, that PH has been 7.0 - the fish in the 10gal is neon tetra, black skirt tetra, 2 Danios and 1 Chinese algae eater). Is there some sort of PH up that I can use safely? I do have several kinds of plants. My ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are all within the proper range & are great. Thanks Kim <Hello Kim. Two things here. Firstly, what sort of fish do you want to keep? An acidic pH of 6.0 is actually very good for a wide range of species. Most South American fish will thrive here, as will most of the fish from Southeast Asia. Secondly, you need to clear up the difference between pH and hardness in your head. Fish don't "feel" pH directly and don't really care about it all that much; what matters is how much mineral content the water has, because this is what has an impact on osmoregulation (how they balance salt and water in their bodies). So, what you want to check first is the hardness of your water now, and the preferred hardness of the fish you want to keep. I'm guessing your water is quite soft (i.e., a low hardness around 5 degrees dH). That's fine for tetras, angelfish, Gouramis etc. But if you want to keep livebearers or Rainbowfish, they need a higher level of hardness, at least 10 degrees dH and ideally well above that for livebearers especially. Once you take care of hardness, then the pH will adjust itself pretty well automatically. Hard water tends to have a high pH, and that high pH is pretty stable. There are various ways to raise the hardness. The simplest is to incorporate some calcareous material into the filter. Crushed coral is one such medium. As the water washes past, the coral dissolves, raising the hardness. Periodically you clean the coral to wash away slime that coats it, and maybe once a year replace it with a bunch of new coral. There are other methods too; any aquarium book should discuss them, but if you want some more ideas, let me know. Cheers, Neale.>

Just a question... Rocks from the beach, use/FW  09/14/07 Hi I own a ten gallon tank and I found some stones on the beach and was wondering if I could put them I the tank? I have platies and tetras. If I can put them in what are the procedures for doing so? <Depends on the stones. If they're non-soluble, non-porous things like granite or flint, then simply washing well with hot water should make them adequately safe. Anything soluble, like limestone or coral, is less useful because these will change the pH and hardness of the tank (to test, add some a cid: if there's fizzing, the rock contains lime). The platies won't mind, but the Neons will. So these sorts of rocks shouldn't be used. Porous rocks, like pumice, are generally best avoided because anything dead in the holes can decay in the aquarium and pollute the water. If in doubt, leave the stones out and just use ones bought from a tropical fish store. In a 10 gallon tank especially, hollow ornaments would displace less water and create hiding places for your fish, particularly baby platies. As such, they'd be much better value. Cheers, Neale>
Re: Just a question... testing FW substrates  09/14/07
Thank you Neale, but how long should I soak them in the vinegar for? I tried and only one to three bubbles came up, so I put them in the tank is it alright? <No, you don't soak in acid. You add acid (like vinegar) and if there are bubbles, that means the stone contains lime. Lime + acid = carbon dioxide. The conclusion is you CANNOT use this stone in a freshwater aquarium. If you put it in the aquarium, it will slowly dissolve raising the pH and hardness. Cheers, Neale>

Coarse Sand VS. Course Sand 9/5/07 Hi there! I like that you are sticklers for proper grammar and spelling, but I would like to point out something that I have repeatedly run across the last few weeks as I am thoroughly researching before setting up a 92-gallon corner tank. Many times when I read about sand size, the mention is for "course" sand. This is not only in your articles (sorry Anthony and others), but also in several books and magazines. However, my understanding, esp. after verifying this in a dictionary, is that it should be "coarse" - or am I missing something new in aquarium technology? I thoroughly enjoy all the articles on your website, and am thoroughly impressed with the breadth and depth of everyone's knowledge...so I hope either I am wrong in this term or it will correct some incoming questions' spellings. Thanks tremendously, Kerstin DeRolf:-) < According to the United Soil Classification System Method ASTM D 2487 the correct spelling is "coarse". Soils are classified and sold based on the size of the individual particles and percentage of each. The local fish store buys coarse sand from the quarry and should call it the same when it is sold to aquarists.-Chuck>

Changing Substrate in a 75 gallon FW 7/15/07 <Hi, Pufferpunk here> I am wanting to change the substrate from my 75 gallon FW from gravel to sand. <Why? Do you have burrowing fish? Sand in a tank that size is a real PITA, as it needs to be thoroughly stirred weekly, to prevent anaerobic pockets (toxic gasses) from forming & killing your fish. In a tank that large, it would become tiresome after a while.> I am wondering what the best method would be to do this, and I am also wondering what the best type of sand to use is? I have that play sand is the best to use because its sterile. Is that true? <Many folks do use play sand for their tanks. Like I said before, I wouldn't bother. Just my opinion. But if you insist--move everything out of the tank & remove all the gravel. Then slowly pour in the well-rinsed sand. It will cloud up for a while. You can try removing the floating particles but adding filter floss to the filter & changing it after it gets clogged. Keep an eye on the parameters. You will be removing a huge chunk if nitrifying bacteria, which may cause a mini-cycle. You can add Bio-Spira to replenish the bacteria. Do not add any other product, than Bio-Spira! Good luck with whatever you decide. ~PP> Thanks in advance for your response.

Freshwater deep sand bed experiments   7/2/07Your website alludes to some experiments that were to be done about nitrate reduction using deep sand beds in a freshwater system. Any results available? <Mmm, w/o a "trip" to the/a large library here with access to computer bibliographic search... I can only state from vague memory (nothing in my hard files) that I have seen articles in other languages (German, French, and likely Italian and Japanese) re this phenomenon. There are discernible "effects", practical implications of DSBs, use in FW aquariums> There are a couple of problems I could see. The marine sand beds are dependent on sand sifters and burrowers it sounds like, <To a larger extent... the variability in the make up physically, chemically, biologically... of such disparate "habitats", marine, freshwater and otherwise is huge... Suffice it to state that many FW bodies have significant infaunal populations. I suggest perusing a limnology text...> to move material around and prevent excess stagnation and hydrogen sulfide production, according to some web site sources. Maybe no such organisms are available for freshwater systems. <Mmm, perhaps not yet... but like marine "live substrates" these can be made pretty easily...> Do the sand beds really work for freshwater? Particularly for a soft water (Amazon) tank.... <Mmmmm, interesting thoughts... IF one could receive a starter inoculum... or even just some "muck", what have you, from an importer of... plants from this region... Bob Fenner>

Freshwater deep sand bed  7/5/07 I was wondering if the "experiments" outlined below by Magnus (a previous WWM discussion) have had any results yet. The deep sand bed idea in freshwater seems questionable, partially because of the lack or less sand sifter organisms available. Some sources, including the freshwater substrate article on your WWM site, caution against anaerobic pockets causing poisonous by-products. <Greetings. I can't comment on Magnus' work, so I'll leave Bob to fill in there. But I do have some thoughts of my own. Freshwater aquarists are quite well served with sand-sifting organisms. At the top level you have fish: catfish, spiny eels, loaches, etc. that will continually sift or burrow through the top few cm of the substrate. Going a little deeper are things like Malayan livebearing snails. Oligochaetes like Tubifex could potentially work, but the problem is most fish would eat them. Finally, you have plant roots. Aquatic plants transport oxygen down their roots via special air channels. This allows the cells in the roots to survive even in the anaerobic mud where plants extract the minerals they need. So while it is potentially possible for anaerobic conditions to develop in a freshwater aquarium, in practise it is relatively uncommon. I've used relatively deep sand substrates (up to around 15 cm) in freshwater tanks on and off for 15 years, and never yet seen any signs of toxic anaerobic decay. This isn't to say it can't happen, but in a well-maintained planted aquarium it seems to be a low risk problem.> The Deep Sand bed does have the same ideas in freshwater as in SW, the dense area is devoid of O2 so the bacteria can set up home, and start working on the waste. And it seems having that and a nice mechanical filtration on a freshwater tank does seem to be as beneficial to the health of the tank as it does in the world of salt. In fact I'm dealing with a aquarist in PA who is currently trying to study the benefits of DSBs and other properties in the freshwater world. Hopefully we make some nice findings with our studies, and help the freshwater world.>=>(I have a pond in the garden that is heavily grown with algae and water lilies, and teaming with guppies and rams for almost a year already. The substrate is about 3 inches thick. Could this be considered a DSB?)<I really wouldn't consider it a DSB, I consider anything over 4-5 inches deep as sand beds go. In freshwater ponds, the sand is a great host for many insect larva, that act as the clean up crew in oceans... The only problem is that these larva grow up, and turn into large stinging/biting/scary looking adult flying insects, so we can't bring them into the home aquarium. Sounds like you have a healthy pond there! Good luck. -Magnus> <Your observation of the pond situation is important. In practically all freshwater habitats, anaerobic conditions exist below the surface of the substrate. In lakes, anaerobic waters exist below a certain depth because of the lack of water current. (In the sea, by contrast, water currents exist at deep levels because of the cold water flow from the Arctic and Antarctic, reaching as far as the equator.) Anyway, aquatic plants *depend* on the anaerobic conditions and cannot do well without them. Oxygen-rich mud converts mineral ions such as iron from the reduced to the oxidised state. Plants can't absorb the oxidised state. This is why plants have evolved that oxygen transportation system mentioned earlier. If you look at aquatic plants under a microscope, you will see they are very spongy, and its those holes that allow the oxygen to travel down to the roots. As is so often the case with plants, their solution to this problem is simple, elegant, and very efficient.> Versus these cautions elsewhere on your site: The use of deeper and or finer grades of substrate are used to anaerobically ("without oxygen") convert nitrates back to gaseous nitrogen for removal from the system. There are definite benefits and dangers in these approaches versus the use of live plants, water changes, and chemical filtrants to alleviate nitrate accumulation. The potential downsides of this anaerobiosis are production of noxious by-products like hydrogen sulfide gas (rotten egg smell), which can be deadly. <My gut feeling about nitrate removal in freshwater tanks is that attempting to use a DSB is probably not really worth the effort Admittedly, I haven't yet seen H2S develop in a freshwater tank. Furthermore, while I have seen gas bubbles in deep sand substrates, these seem to be harmless, so are presumably nitrogen or possible oxygen from the plant roots. But there are simply much better ways to remove nitrate in a freshwater tank. Water changes for one thing are so much cheaper and easier. If you have fish adapted to your local water chemistry (the ideal situation) then you can do water changes as often as you have time! Secondly, plants are fantastically efficient nitrate and phosphate removers. If you have fast growing species like Cabomba, you are cropping them back weekly, so effectively running a "vegetable filter". Finally, freshwater fish are largely nitrate tolerant. The oft-quoted but still instructed statistic is from lab work on trout, which are 1000 times more sensitive to ammonia and nitrite than they are to nitrate. For a standard community tank without nitrate-sensitive species nitrate level of 50 mg/l is fine, and even up to a 100 mg/l is unlikely to cause problems. In special cases, as with discus and mollies, you need lower levels, and Tanganyikan cichlids especially are very intolerant of nitrate. But Neons, Corydoras, angelfish, gouramis, etc. are indifferent to all but the highest levels of nitrate. This contrasts with the situation in marine fishkeeping where nitrate is more or less toxic to the species being kept. Even a fish-only system wants something less than 20 mg/l, and reef tanks practically no nitrate. The Zooxanthellae in the corals don't use up nitrate at anything like the rate of fast-growing plants, so coral growth isn't a significant nitrate dump. Hence the value of DSBs in marine tanks. Anyway, those are my thoughts. I'm sure Bob and others may have ideas as well. Cheers, Neale.> <<Scant few. RMF>>

Question about sand and filter impellers 06/11/07 Hello everyone, <Hello.> I have a question about sand's effect on hang-on filters. I added some extremely, extremely fine sand to my tank (it's by Zoo-Med, called "Repti-sand"). It's made of quartz and is very, very fine and light, so much that it took about 2 days until the water was clear after I added it to the existing tank. Really, it's more like dust than sand. Anyway, I have four emerald Cory's in there now, and they love scooting around in it and it's very soft so it's easy on their bodies. It also hasn't affected my pH. I've had it like that for about a week and a half, and then last night the filter started making some grinding noises, so I pulled it out, rinsed it out (some sand came out) and tried to get it to work a few times. Then I looked online and read about impellers, and I saw that the impeller was broken (its blades go around and around). Do you think it's the sand that caused it, or my jiggling it around and taking it apart a few times trying to get it to work, perhaps not being gentle enough, that did it? That one was a Penguin Bio-wheel, and I got a new one today, an Aqua Clear with the different style of filtration. This one's making kind of a gritty noise as well, and I'm afraid it will break, too. Is this a common problem? Do you think I should get rid of the sand, or at least get some heavier sand that isn't so easily disturbed and sucked up into the filter? I do want to keep some sort of sand because I want to get Kuhli loaches later on. <Sand can damage the impellers of pumps. It isn't common though. I use silica sand in all my aquaria, and while sand sometimes gets stuck inside the filter canister, it doesn't seem to do any harm. But your own mileage may vary! Silica sand in particular is quite heavy and settles very quickly. The only time it gets into the water column (and thus into the filter) is when a big catfish decides to swish into the sand and dig herself a burrow. Small things, like Corydoras, simply don't push the sand far enough off the substrate to cause problems. Now, if sand gets inside the impeller, it can quite possibly cause some rattling noise. In the long term, anything that clogs filter media forces the impeller to work harder, and puts all its components under more stress. You probably want to make sure the filter inlet is far enough above the substrate that the fish can't swoosh the sand into the filter. Adding a decent pre-filter layer to your filter system (such as filter floss) is also a good idea. My gut feeling is that while silica sand has been used for many years by many aquarists without problems, finer sands like your Repti-sand might be just a bit too fine for safe use.> Thanks for any and all help you can offer! I really appreciate it! Allison Evans <Hope this helps. I'm a BIG fan of sand in aquaria, and agree with you that loaches and catfish really benefit from its use. But it does need to be handled properly. Cheers, Neale>

Reefbase Coral Sand for FW use?    5/14/07 A friend of mine just got a new saltwater tank and it came with a starter kit Sand, chemicals, etc. The sand is Reef Base (made by Red Sea ) Crushed Coral and I was curious if I could use that in a freshwater tank. Thanks, Tony Zucarelli <Can be... if the livestock you intend to keep likes/tolerates hard, alkaline water... the CaCO3 will continuously dissolve... Useful for some types/biotopes... Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsubstrates.htm and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>

Quick questions about recovering from ammonia poisoning, and necessity of gravel  (Neale's go) 04/22/07 Hi Crew, <Hello!> I have two quick questions--I had an ammonia problem a month or so ago (100% taken care of now) and I was wondering how much this has reduced the life span of fish that have survived...is the damage permanent or can they recover completely? Do the damaged cells regrow or are their gills permanently compromised? <In theory I suppose its possible that some damage was done, but don't worry about it. Fish are surprisingly good at healing damaged tissues, certainly much more so than humans. They routinely grow back fins and even quite substantial flesh wounds.> Also, do you have any resources I can look at regarding whether gravel is necessary for a fish tank? <Interesting question. Gravel as such isn't essential, and it is quite common not to use gravel at all in certain aquaria, such as breeding tanks and quarantine tanks. However, most fish object to having no substrate underneath them *if* the glass is left shiny and bare. Fish *do not* like light coming from underneath them.> I have a bio-wheel and bio-balls for the bacteria, but does your average Cory catfish need it to feel at home in the tank? <Corydoras far prefer soft non-calcareous sand. That's how I keep mine. They keep it spotlessly clean, and you only need half an inch depth. They plough into it, spewing the sand out through their gills while they hunt for food. It's adorable!> I think it's easier to keep the tank clean if you have no gravel to get the food stuck in, but I'd put it back if the fish actually miss it. <If you have a thin substrate of sand it won't get dirty. Sand is too compact for faeces and food to sink into, and the catfish will turn it over constantly removing any live foods that might wriggle into it. I find sand actually easier to keep clean than gravel. The downside is that it can get sucked into the filter if you have large fish swishing the sand into the water column with their big tails (my Panaque catfish does this all the time!).> Thanks for any help you can offer! <No problems. Neale> Allison
Quick questions about recovering from ammonia poisoning, and necessity of gravel (Tom's go) 04/22/07
Hi Crew, <<Hi, Allison. Tom with you.>> I have two quick questions--I had an ammonia problem a month or so ago (100% taken care of now) and I was wondering how much this has reduced the life span of fish that have survived...is the damage permanent or can they recover completely?  Do the damaged cells regrow or are their gills permanently compromised?   <<Good question, Allison. First, fish can certainly recover from a tangle with ammonia exposure/poisoning but, to hedge my bets here just a little, it would depend greatly on how big the problem was that were talking about. A minor exposure would likely cause the gill tissues to become irritated and, perhaps, somewhat swollen. Stressful, of course, but not irreversible. Moderate exposure would certainly cause the gill tissues to swell resulting in hampered breathing and reduced excretion of ammonia through specialized gill tissues from the body. Skin, eyes and gills would likely be irritated to the point of potential damage. If concentrations of ammonia were to build up to significant levels, internal organs would be irritated/damaged. A major episode would render the question, pretty much, moot. The fish would either die of suffocation or internal poisoning from ammonia build-up. Even if the fish didnt succumb immediately, the damage could be so severe that it would be best to euthanize the animal.>> Also, do you have any resources I can look at regarding whether gravel is necessary for a fish tank?  I have a bio-wheel and bio-balls for the bacteria, but does your average Cory catfish need it to feel at home in the tank? <<Sure! Us. To start, remember that nitrifying bacteria inhabit all parts of the tank and the substrate is no exception. Gravel will, of course, provide more surface area for the bacteria so, from that perspective, it does provide a useful service. (One that shouldnt be under-emphasized, I might add.) Now, to what I think youre really getting at, no, you dont need gravel/substrate in your tank. Corys are non-stop scavengers and will do so with, or without, gravel in the aquarium. In large part, its use is for aesthetic reasons only. People typically dont like bare-bottom tanks. Fish couldnt care less, by and large. Yes, there are some fish that lay eggs in nests in hollows in the substrate but I dont think thats your point here.>> I think it's easier to keep the tank clean if you have no gravel to get the food stuck in, but I'd put it back if the fish actually miss it. <<Your fish wont miss gravel, Allison. Corys will stay just as busy in a bare-bottom tank as they will in a tank with gravel in it.>> Thanks for any help you can offer! Allison <<I hope did help, Allison. Any more questions? You know where to find us. Best regards. Tom>>

Changing rocks in an established tank  - 03/10/07 Thank you so very much for your time and help with my occasional questions. My fish and I appreciate it. Hopefully this one is a very quick one. I'm bored with the current color of the gravel rocks in my aquarium, so I bought enough bags of a new color to replace the old ones with. Are there any concerns I should be aware of before making the switch; i.e.. Remove the fish temporarily into a container while doing the change? <<Catching on your fish may prove more stressful than working around them, especially if it is pebbles and not cloudy.  My only concern might be the amount of your bio-filter that will be removed with the substrate.  Might be prudent to remove in smaller amounts over time.>> When opening the bags of gravel rocks, should I wash them first? <<Rinsing will do.>> Should I put a new filter in my tank (old one is okay, but just want to be safe)? <<Not unless you want a new/additional filter.>> Are there any additives or extras needing to be put in the water? <<Aside from dechlorinator, no.>> This is my first ever tank which I set up about one year ago so is well established, no unusual deaths (not counting the live fry eaten by the parents). Been using a product called Nitraban, <<No need to use this in an established tank.>> Do partial water changes regularly to keep from nitrate build up. <<Partial water changes are key to a healthy tank. Keep it up.>> and about once a week drop in an anti-ammonia dissolving tablet just in case. <<This is not beneficial to your tank.  Nitrifying bacteria feed on ammonia, and your tank is well cycled, so no ammonia should be readable; these tabs arent necessary.>> The youngest fry are currently 2-3 months old -unless I have more hiding somewhere since I keep abundant decor so everyone can hide if they want. Also, my tank is in a room in an underground basement, so it's impossible for any outside light to get in. I don't have a bad problem with algae, but noticed it builds up faster the longer I have the tank light on, often for several hours per day. Tank is by the computer and I really enjoy them, and named most of my fish. I've read that using anti-algae formulas will do something that "starves out oxygen" in the tank. Is this true? <<Can be, are often hard on biofiltration, and ignore the source of the problem. I am not a fan at all.  Try limiting the hours the aquarium light is on.>> I do have an aeration pump.  I've just been cleaning the fake plants and decor by hand and discarding the filthiest of rocks, hence a part of the reason I want to dump the white rocks and put a new color in also. I've already read mollies are a vegetarian type of eater, so am I right to assume it's okay to leave some algae on plants to allow them to peck at? <<Not strictly vegetarians, but certainly need lots of vegetation in their diet.  It is best to leave some algae for them to pick at.>> My Corydoras I read are carnivorous and blood worms are healthy for them. The mollies enjoy them also. Are blood worms healthy for mollies? <<Can be part of their diet certainly.  Do be sure to offer all of your fishes as varied a diet as possible for optimum health. Lisa.>> SK

Sand as a substrate for a FW Sys.  12/23/06 Hey there, <<Hi. Tom with you.>> First I want to say how thankful I am for all the information I have received from you all.   <<More than happy to help.>> Here's my question. I am setting up a 55 gallon fresh water community tank and I wanted to use sand because I have used it before and am still using it in my other 55.  I have been told that it can ruin your filter.  Although I have not had any problem, I dont know if it was true or not.  Could you tell me if it will. I am using two penguin 330 bio wheel filters they are both pumping 150 gallons per hour each. <<The rationale from the detractors of using sand as a substrate material is that it might be drawn into the impeller section of the filter causing it to wear out prematurely or fail outright. Considering the draw that the suction tube would need to suck sand from the bottom of your tank into the filter, I find this highly unlikely under normal conditions. As a simple precautionary measure, you might shut down your filters when cleaning the tank during water changes to prevent drawing in sand being stirred up from the bottom. Other than this, Id say to enjoy the look. Tom>>

Deep Sand Bed for Fresh water aquarium.   11/8/06 Hi Guys, <Oooh, what about the XXs?> I am new to this site but I used to keep marines - then I got married, had kids, got a proper job - pretty much in that order... <Let's see... in the not so wild west, "First comes... then comes familiarity...> Now I return, but have decided to keep Malawi Cichlids (Haps and Peacocks). <I keep these... and Mbuna in another system> I am still researching the species and bringing myself up to date with latest filtration techniques etc. I am space limited and so I know that the size of the tank is fixed at around 90G. I am interested in using a sump - for various reasons, but it has a lot to do with requiring a low maintenance, stable system because I am away from home 4 days a week. (That's what a proper job does to you). I am interested in incorporating a NNR refugium type compartment in the sump, and have read around the subject a little. However, I have a couple of really basic questions that I can't find answers for. This is why I write. My first question is how do they work? <Mmm, NNRs? Basically they harbour, foster anaerobic microbe populations... mild circulation delivers system water to the hypoxic bed, and chemical substrate (e.g. Nitrates) that are reduced (as in Reduction/Oxidation) to component molecules> Ha! Don't get upset. 6 inches of sand directly on the bottom of the tank with no forced water flow through it leaves me confused. How is the water that had nitrates removed replaced? How does water exchange work in the filter bed? <Is the same water... recirculated with/through the system en toto... and the water exchange is purposely very slow, gradual to keep oxygen tension low> My second question is this. If I set it up with a plenum, an uplift tube and a very low flow rate (say a few gallon per hour) will the efficiency of the sand bed be increased or destroyed? <This depends on still other factors/circumstances of how much substrate, its "grade", chemical/physical make-up... slow as you go is the route to go here... no uplift tubes, the "holes" for these plugged... No aided circulation through the bed other than simple diffusion, Brownian motion> (This is of course just a UGF with a low flow rate). When I was keeping marines the accepted wisdom at the time was that aerobic processes occurred in only the top inch and a half of substrate. Therefore it seems to me that with a deep sand filter some forced water movement could be acceptable without dragging oxygen too far into the bed. <Ah, yes... I remember those days/years> In any case it could be possible to increase the depth of the sand to compensate. <Yes, to some/an extent> I should add that the reason I am tempted to do this is again due to lack of space. The entire sump needs to be 80LX40WX40Dcm max. Any help you can offer would be very welcome. Thanks, Tony Baxter <The same rationale, design, operation... of such filtration, filters as per marine... Please use the search tool and/or indices on WWM to read about Plenums, DSBs for marine/SW set-ups... http://www.wetwebmedia.com/deepsandbeds.htm http://wetwebmedia.com/Plenums.htm and the linked files above... and apply this to your application. Bob Fenner>

Amazon sand   8/18/06 Greetings Bob and Staff, <<Hello, Ed. Tom>> I appreciate any info you folks may find. <<We find it the same way everyone else does, Ed. We do our homework.>> What is the composition of the white sand in the Amazon basin? <<Limestone.>> Why is it so white? <<Pure limestone is white, Ed, or very nearly so. 1,100 tributaries feed the Amazon and those that feed the catches "rich" in white sand are run-offs from areas/mountains predominated by limestone deposits.>> Any suggestions on how to replicate the sand? <<This one I don't have an answer for. Sorry.>> I don't want to use a coral /aragonite mixture. I know that ADA Japan offers a version for purchase, but not sure how close to actual origin. <<Being silly between the two of us, unless they pulled it from the Amazon basin, it isn't of "actual origin". Frankly, I'm not familiar with ADA's product here so I can't give you anything definitive.>> please advise, <<You might try contacting ADA but I don't think you'll have much luck with your question. They're not likely to give out any "trade secrets".>> your friend in fish, <<And, yours as well, Ed. Good luck with your search.>> Ed Fernandez California <<Tom>>

Beach sand in a fresh water tank   8/11/06 I've rinsed and soaked it for hours.  Can it be used with/for fresh water fish. <Mmm, maybe... "beach sand" is not the same place to place... some has appreciable soluble (mainly carbonate) component... and if your FW livestock don't appreciate hard, alkaline water they won't "like" this substrate...> I created a diorama of sorts in a 5 gallon, and like the set up--want to move little fish from little tank into this one--but don't want to take it apart. It has shells, and sand and some spongy sea weed. <... Uhh, the seaweed portion has got to go for sure. The short answer here, no, this sand is not appropriate for this use here. Bob Fenner> I gathered all from the NC coast. Thanks.  

Blue <Navy, Blue Army...> Sand   5/26/06 I've been looking around for a while trying to find an authoritative answer on this.  In my tank I use artificial blue sand.  I notice online that I don't see anyone else using this.  Is there a water quality/health issue with using dyed sand?  Or is it just because its tacky? Thanks Mike <Most dyed aquarium substrates are sealed to make them chemically inert, though there have been brands over the years that were more "natural", that do/did leach carbonate, alkaline earth materials into water... Soaking a bit of yours in freshwater, shaking vigorously, testing the water after for such qualities as pH should reveal whether yours is un/reactive. Depending on the types of life you keep, source water quality... such chemical activity may be an issue or no. Bob Fenner>

Snails and Sand - 05/10/2006 Hello, I have learned so much from the information you provide on you website.  Learn something new everyday they say.  Wow!!....that's an understatement. <Excellent!  Thank you for these kind words.> My question is this... I came across a bag of Bone Aid Calci-Sand, T-Rex brand, pure natural calcium carbonate substrate.  Would this be something I could add to my snails tank?   <I wouldn't.  This will significantly change the pH and alkalinity of your water.> It appears to be for reptiles.  If it is alright for my freshwater tank, how much should I add and how would I add it to the tank? <Unless your tank's inhabitants want/need a very high pH and alkalinity, this is not a good plan.> I have a very handsome Golden Apple Snail, Dale.  I take very good care of Dale and his 10 gallon aquarium.  Dale has a heater, filter, bubbler (which he plays on), and a pump.   <Sounds great!> His shell is growing so much, I'd say about a half inch of new so far.  He amazes me. <Sounds like he's a pretty happy snail.> I'll look forward to hearing from you. <For now, I'd suggest to leave well enough alone, and not add this to your tank.  Sudden changes in pH are not good for your critters.> Thank you for your time and expertise,  -Jill <And thank you again for your kind words!  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Height of sand - 27/04/06 I searched for a formula to show how many lbs you need to equal so many inches of thickness in a certain area.  I can't find that formula, can you help? <Hi Keith. It's easy to do this sort of thing if you use SI units as opposed to inches and lbs. Volume = mass/density, and Volume = tank area * height. Hence The height of the sand in your tank = mass / (density * tank length * tank width). Here, all lengths and widths are in metres, and mass is in kg. You'll need to search for the average density of the type of sand you wish to use, in kg/m^3. "density of sand" should be a fairly straightforward Google search. Best regards, John.> Thanks

Switching From Gravel To Sand  - 02/25/06 Hello! Thanks for such a great site! You have already answered tons of my questions. I have one I'd like help with though. I have an established 29 gallon FW tank with gravel. I have a couple critters (an albino Cory cat and a freshwater flounder) which I've read prefer sand. I would like to switch to sand but would like input on the best way to do this. I have a BioWheel but I'm concerned about losing too much beneficial bacteria if I remove all the gravel and then replace it with sand. Also, will this substrate change totally freak out my fish? Should I do this in stages or all at once? Your input is greatly appreciated! Very Respectfully, John Tarr < Move all the rocks and ornaments to the right half of the tank. Use a hose and siphon out the gravel on the left half of the tank. Wash the new sand well and place it on the left half of the tank. Now move the ornaments to the left half of the tank now on to the new sand. Fill the tank up with water. Now repeat on the right half of the tank. This way your fish always have somewhere to hide. Bio-Wheels can handle a pretty good bio-load. If there is a lapse in the cycling then just add Bio-Spira to get things back on track , but I don't think you will need it.- Chuck>

Crushed coral... washing for African Cichlid system  - 2/21/2006 Hello, After many years without a tank, my son decides he would like to get one. As the story goes, I now have myself a new 125G. This will be used for African Cichlids (Malawi) and was looking for information on the crushed coral. I did a quick search through the FAQ and without spending 10 days reading and getting bug eyed - thought I would just ask this question that has no doubt been answered a million times. Does the crushed coral need to be rinsed before using and if so, how much? <Do rinse (otherwise, snow machine!) in a bucket... plastic... the "pickle" type that has not had toxins in it... in five, ten pound batches... with a running garden hose... till it runs pretty much clear> Thanks for a great site - wish I had this info last time I had a tank. Len <I'll bet! Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Cleaning fine substrate ... marine... FW?  2/8/06 I am just starting a 55 gallon tank and would like to use fine sand as the substrate rather than coral.  First question: How do I clean the  sand?  I have a Python vacuum, but I think it is mainly for gravel and not  fine sand.  <Mmm, can be used... by pinching the syphon tube... so the water flow is lessened... and not so much that the sand is sucked out... Or you can elect to simply "stir" the sand occasionally... half a side per routine...> Second question: Should I use an undergravel filter?  Or  is this even necessary? <... posted on WWM: http://www.google.com/custom?q=undergravel+filter+marine&sa=Google+Search&sitesearch=wetwebmedia.com> I will be placing fresh water fish in the tank  probably without the help of tank cleaners like clams, shrimp, lobsters or  crabs, as I am new to this and really don't know what I am doing yet. Thanks, Michele <Oh... freshwater? Please read here: http://www.google.com/custom?q=freshwater+substrates%2C+sand&sitesearch=wetwebmedia.com Learn to/use the WWM indices, search tool. Bob Fenner>

Sand or gravel? UGF or not? Loricariid sel. 9/13/05 Subject pretty much asks it all. Is sand better than gravel? <In some settings yes, in general, no> (or gravel better than sand?) I've read that sand is bad and is much more difficult to clean. I can understand the difficult to clean part - since it's smaller grain the gravel cleaner would be more likely to suck it up along with the garbage. I got a bag of Flipro #4 natural color 'gravel' (50 lbs) but I haven't opened it yet since I'm still undecided on the color. The LFS didn't have any of the 25# bags of SpectraStone I've been using recently (blue). I'm concerned about the #4 being too fine for a UGF to properly work. <A valid concern> Anything larger seems to build up algae too easily and would be harder on fry should they appear in the tank before I move 'mom' to the delivery tank. Anything smaller would be even harder to clean. This is about 1/2 the size of typical aquarium gravel. I'm leaning toward staying with dark blue (what my current tank is using) since most of my accessories are lighter color (clear plastic or glass / white ceramic / light blue ceramic) and look better against the dark blue (light colors would 'wash out' against the natural gravel). Also, I think it would be easier to see Guppies against the darker background - especially the females - when they are near the bottom. They may be able to see the food more easily as well (as would I when cleaning). Comments? I know the color is more of my preference, but I'm looking for other opinions on my practical reasoning. <Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsubstrates.htm> Another consideration is that the dark blue tends to reflect less light. Would using a lighter color gravel (which reflects more light) make the guppies' colors stand out even more? <If too light, will wash them out> One more point: My stand is light oak. I was thinking that the darker gravel would add more contrast. But, would darker gravel make the stand stand out more than the tank? I need a good aquatic designer's opinion! :-) <Mmm, unfortunately you've crossed over into an area of subjective evaluation ("taste"), of which I am bereft> I've read that UGF (Under Gravel Filters) are bad since they essentially store harmful bacteria. Is there any truth to that? <Mmm, some...> I have one for my 30 Gallon tank, but I haven't added any gravel or sand for it yet, so this is the time to decide to leave it in or remove it. How do you clean the UGF debris that is sucked to the bottom? <Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwugfiltr.htm and the linked files above> BTW, I was going to buy some plants, but the only tanks I saw with plants had snails. I refuse to buy plants in tanks with snails since you're no doubt buying snail eggs along with them. I don't want snails. (nothing against them - I just want guppies and the Pleco) Sabrina suggested a Ancistrus "Bushynose" Plec that would only get 4-5" long rather than my current standard Plec (I was looking for a smaller size Pleco). I asked a LFS but they only had a "rubberlip" Pleco. They said it too would only grow to be 4-5" long. Is anyone familiar with that one? <Yes... a bit different, not as hardy as many other Loricariid choices> I couldn't find any that wouldn't get to be 12" long when I was buying one :-( so I bought the regular one. Thanks yet again, Joe M. (my post #5 for reference) <Take a look under the family name on WWM, fishbase.org Bob Fenner>

Setting up a 90 gallon freshwater 7/31/05 Dear Bob,         I have recently been given a 90 gallon fish tank which I plan to set up with freshwater fish. My father and I used to have several tanks when I was younger but that was several years ago. This is my first go-around in some time. My question is about gravel.         I bought "Filpro Sands and Gravel", which is not quite sand, yet not quite big stones. A little of a mixture. Before putting it in the tank I rinsed it with warm water in a bucket. There was a ton of brown, dirty debris that came out of the gravel. Should I be worried that this dirt will be present in my tank? <Mmm, not really... if most all rinsed out> Will it harm anything if not all of it was rinsed out? <Likely not... most all should settle out, be filtered, w/o livestock for a week or two>          Thank you for your insight and I look forward to your response.                                                                                                            Dan <Enjoy that new system! Bob Fenner>

Appropriate freshwater substrate recommendation? 7/26/05 Hi crew! I am interested in using a sugar-fine substrate for my new freshwater tank. What would you recommend for such an application? Most of the sugar-fine recommendations I read (at least around WetWebMedia) are for Southdown play sand (and I remember at least one zoomed reptile sand recommendation). But since this is soluble for its buffering capacity and tendency to increase pH (which I don't suppose I need for my Arowanas), I would much prefer something that is non-reactive, insoluble, and doesn't need maintenance in the ways of periodic replenishment. Are there any inexpensive substrate options out there for me? Any recommendations, or even further suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks, Phil <There are some pretty fine "natural" gravels of various sorts available in different parts of the U.S., world... I would ask at your local fish stores re, the "sand and gravel" outlets (check your phone book "Yellow Pages" re), and test them for chemical activity. Bob Fenner>

Moving Gravel to a New tank 7/4/05 Hello, Great site. I have a few questions on upsizing my current aquarium. I currently have a 29g and 55g, both community tanks. Fairly light fish load, heavily planted. I am going to move everything into a 125g tank. My questions is about moving the gravel to the new tank. Should I rinse the excess waste from the old gravel? Should I rinse it at all? Should I rinse it in tap water? I want to keep the biomass and the water and the live plants to reduce cycling time. Any suggestions? Thanks, CW < If you have a Marineland filter with a bio-wheel , then you can rinse the gravel with out any loss of beneficial bacteria because it lives on the wheel as well as in the gravel. If you don't then I would gently rinse the gravel in dechlorinated water before placing it in the big tank. I think I would fill a 5 gallon bucket up half way with dechlorinated water and place a few handfuls of gravel from the old tank. The lose stuff should float up in  the water and you can transfer the old gravel to the new tank a few handfuls at a time. Tim Hovanec from Marineland has actually done tests and found the beneficial bacteria was lost when the gravel was agitated too much during cleaning. To cover all the bases it wouldn't hurt to use some bio-Spira from Marineland after the new tank is set up.-Chuck>

How Much Gravel? Mike, It's me again.  I forgot to ask......what would one consider the optimal thickness or layer of gravel to "house" my bacterial friends in this 29 gallon (roughly 30" wide x 12" deep) tank? Thanks, David < For optimal bacteria growth they need oxygen to complete the process. Any more that a couple of inches doesn't do much good if the oxygen can't penetrate.-Chuck>

Is All Sand Alike? Hello, after spending about 2.5hrs reading the FW substrate FAQ I still couldn't find a decent answer to my question. Q. I want a sand/sandy looking substrate, that is, I want a substrate that is fairly pale/white with particles of small diameter, for a community tank, mainly South American. The info I did find was a bit conflicting and thought you may want to change some of it. In one FAQ a person from WWM says that sand blasting sand is not the best for FW substrate, about three articles down the page another person from WWM says that it is good to use? Personally I don't think its good but I was getting confused. Ok, sorry about the gripes but it really annoys me. So, about the substrate, here is what I know. Coral Sand/Coral based Sandy - Not good if after a slightly acidic PH. < That is correct because the calcium will leach into the water.> Sand blasting sand or High mica/silica sand - Also not the best due to it having sharp edges which can cut your tank inhabitants. <Correct. The entire purpose of sand blasting sand is to be erosive and remove paint and rust when blown against metal objects. The material is silicon dioxide (Quartz rock or glass) so it does not chemically react with the water. If you have tetras or something that stays in the mid water then it would not come in contact with the sand. If you kept Corydoras catfish you would soon find him without whiskers because they would be worn away. So it depends on the fish you are keeping. I personally am against it.> So, what other options are there? < Zoomed puts out a very fine, very white reptile sand that they are currently looking at for aquariums. Take a look at it and see if that will work for you. It is rounded and should not be too abrasive.> I saw a fella called Takashi Amano using crushed marble but he balances pH using CO2 which will cost me approx $500, way too much. I have seen many, many local creeks and rivers with a sandy substrate, a lot of it is fairly coarse. Can you help? All I want is, if possible, a two word answer; yes and "name" of the good substrate.  Thanks, Josh. <Coarse is not a problem. You could go down to the local creek and take a sieve and get your own sand. Creek materials have become well rounded over years and years of being worn down by the action of the water. Try the zoomed sand. If it is too white then you could tone it down with a commercial aquarium sand to the color you would like or local creek sand.-Chuck> 

FW substrate Merry Christmas!  I am revamping my 55 gal freshwater aquarium.  Ive had it running for 15 years with various stages of success.  Your website has been a great help.  Ive read books, but you only get one opinion with a book. My question involves substrate for the planted tank.  My head is spinning. Its starting to slow down a bit, though.  I get the idea that a somewhat porous, somewhat sandy (but not too), somewhat inorganic (but not too), somewhat organic (but not too) substrate is desired.  Schultz makes an expanded clay they call Aquatic Plant Soil  and it seems to be baked Fullers earth.  It is intended for Pond plants.  Anyone had any experience with this stuff?  If it has a suitable particle size wouldnt this do for the aquarium?  From what little information they have on their website I imagine this product would be close to Laterite and/or Fluorite in actual use.  What say ye? < When it comes to substrate it is best to avoid extremes. Too small a sand and the pore space between the sand particles quickly clog and choke off any fresh water from reaching the plant roots. Too large a gravel and the pore space becomes too large and everything falls into the spaces including uneaten food where it can sit and rot thus contaminating the tank. I have also seen this stuff for aquatic plants as a light brown/ tan substrate for aquatic pond plants. It works pretty well as a plant medium for aquarium plants if you like the color. It doesn't seem to modify the aquarium water so is safe for fish too.-Chuck> David L. Bragassa

Gravel, UG Filters Hi There, Another question from an eager listener....  ;) With my current set-up:  125 gallon tank, 2 baby Arowanas (jardinii and yellow tail), and 2 Emperor 400 power filters......I am wondering if I can put gravel to cover the bottom of my fish tank???   I usually just scoop up every morning and night the "poops" of the fishes and 20% water change every week to avoid ammonia and toxic build up. <<Hi there. First, you should buy extensions for your Emperor intakes, that will help a bit with circulation, the filters will be able to suck up waste from a lower level.>> What are the disadvantages of putting gravel in my tank?  How will I be able to clean it and remove the "poops"? <<You can buy a gravel siphon at any decent Local Fish Store. (LFS).>> Will just stirring the gravel and using a vacuum do the trick to clean them? <<Gravel vacuuming will do the trick. Vacuuming with your siphon should be done weekly, when you do a water change. Not only does a siphon remove detritus from the gravel, it removes water at the same time. Use a good thermometer, take it to the sink with you when you start filling buckets to re-fill the tank with...the water should be the same temp! Add dechlorinator to each bucket as you re-fill. Better yet, buy yourself a Python. Ask for these handy hose kits at your LFS.>> Will I be needing an undergravel filter for this set-up?  Or will my 2 Emperor 400 power filters be enough?  What if I make it 3 Emperor 400's? <<Undergravel filters are more trouble than they are worth, IME. Your two Emperors should be sufficient for the time being, you only have two small arows in this tank. You should keep in mind that with a larger bio-load, you may need to add filtration later. In other words, if you add more fish, or when your arrows are about 6-8 inches or so you may need to upgrade. You should keep an eye on their growth and on the tank, an overly dirty aquarium means insufficient filtration, not enough water changes, and/or inadequate maintenance is being done. You will realize it IF the time comes.>> It is just a laborious duty to have an undergravel filter.....plus in time, a build up of wastes...will lower the ph of the tank......are some of the reasons why I am hesitant using undergravel filter. <<I agree. There are many filters out there that are much easier to maintain, and do a great job. No need for UGF's at all.>> Thanks, Antonio <<Welcome. -Gwen>> 

Silica sand Hello, I am new to this site and I am sure you have already encountered this question before, but please bear with me.  I currently have a 75 gallon  with 3 small Frontosas, 3 clown loaches, 1 Synodontis catfish, and 1 Pleco. I had aquarium gravel in this tank but upon reading articles about these fish I found  out they prefer sand substrates.  Many sites have said that you can use  pool filter sand as a substrate and I bought some. <Mmm, pool filter sand? I don't agree... siliceous materials are bad to use on a few counts... they're too sharp (hard on your loaches), too slick/smooth and pack down due to their two-dimensional structure (bad for biological filtration), and do naught for alkaline buffering (unlike carbonaceous materials...)> After cleaning it really well stirring it with my hands, I noticed little cuts on them. <Bingo> Finding more  sites, I now read that silica is actually sharp and will injure my fish,  yet  you said at one time you used sandblasting sand.  Isn't silica the same thing? <Maybe in some localities, yes... but not in all> Is there a sand more suitable that isn't as costly  as what my LFS is charging? Thanks, Wanda <All sorts. Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwsubstrates.htm and check out your local rock and gravel, landscape suppliers. Bob Fenner>
Silica sand for FW systems? Hello, I am new to this site and I am sure you have already encountered this question before, but please bear with me.  I currently have a 75 gallon  with 3 small Frontosas, 3 clown loaches, 1 Synodontis catfish, and 1 Pleco. I had aquarium gravel in this tank but upon reading articles about these fish I found  out they prefer sand substrates.  Many sites have said that you can use  pool filter sand as a substrate and I bought some. After cleaning it really well   stirring it with my hands, I noticed little cuts on them.  Finding more  sites, I now read that silica is actually sharp and will injure my fish,  yet  you said at one time you used sandblasting sand.  Isn't  silica the same thing?  Is there a sand more suitable that isn't as costly  as what my LFS is charging? Thanks, < When you write to this site many of the questions are answered by different members of the Wet Web Media Crew.  I personally have never recommended silica sand or sand blasting sand for the exact reasons you have mentioned. Others may have but I doubt it. This sand is made from silicon dioxide (Glass). It is crushed so the individual particles are sharp and abrasive. You want a sand that is rounded and smooth.  Beach sand has been weathered over hundreds of years and most of the sharp edges have been worn away. Check at the local landscape supply yards for better materials. Take a magnifying glass to examine the individual grains and see if they are smooth and rounded and they all should be the same size. Particles of different sizes become easily clogged with fish waste.-Chuck> Wanda

Freshwater Sand <Hi, Mike D here> I read FAQ on Freshwater Substrates and found it very informative, thanks.  I want to use sand in my new FW aquarium but I cannot find any that is suitable.  The LFS has about a 1000 display tanks and about 1000 different substrates but none look good for me.  There are sands labeled for use with African cichlids (not what I will be stocking the tank with).  I know that  sand will increase the pH.
<The tank pH will either acidify or become more alkaline, but usually because of many factors, only becoming more alkaline if it's calcium based, such as aragonite sand>  
I am either going to do something with a SE Asia river or South American river.
<You'll likely want to end up with a low pH for these, but keep in mind that when you first purchase fish they are adjusted to your local water source, thus if you've already created the "ideal" home for them, it'll be a shock to their system to readjust back to what they originally came from, and if captive bred, there's no way of telling what that was.>  
I see you mentioned that sand was ok in a Discus aquarium, do you have any idea where I could find this?<Sure. Anyplace but a fish shop as a general rule. Lawn & Garden centers, Home Improvement stores, and sand and concrete companies. Sand sold for the purpose of sandblasting seems to be almost ideal and is available in most areas with a little homework and the Yellow Pages.>  Thanks.

Chuck Clowns Around with the loaches I have a 90 gallon show tank with discus, clown loaches and Bushynosed Plecos. It is decorated with wood and single piece of holey stone which gives the loaches many hiding places. The substrate is typical natural colored aquarium gravel. I was considering removing the gravel and leaving the tank bare bottomed so I could keep it very clean. Is that going to be a problem for the clown loaches?  < I would not remove all the gravel. I would leave about 1/2 inch to 3/4 of an inch of gravel or fine sand. There are bacteria living on the gravel that help break down the fishes waste. If you removed all the gravel you would probably encounter big ammonia spikes every time you changed your filter and that would affect the entire tank. I would service the filter once every two weeks and then gravel vac the substrate on alternate weeks.-Chuck>  James Nyman

Buff My Stones! Hi, I am setting up a new 33g tank, and wanted something more exciting than aquarium gravel, but was unable to find anything at the pet store. In speaking with the pet store guy, I inquired about the possibility of using polished rocks ( the kind one might use for decorating around candles etc.). On the package it says "not for use in aquariums" but he said you can use anything as long as it is sterilized first. Is this true? Can polished mean with a buffing machine or can it mean sprayed with a chemical? Also, they are probably 1" long and 1/2" wide. I would consider them to be rocks rather than gravel. Are they too big? Also, once my tank is cycled, I have a male Betta I would like to have with other community fish. Can you recommend compatible fish? We just lost our Piranha after 11 years :o( and are excited to get colourful, friendly fish in our tank. Thanks in advance, Angela <<Dear Angela, I am not sure if your pretty rocks will have chemicals or not. Some are sprayed with clear lacquers to make them look, and stay looking, shiny. That "wet look" is great for decor. Also, the rocks may not be aquarium safe if they affect your pH. Certain types of rock can raise your pH to high levels. Like marble, Tufa, reef rock, etc. You can try using a couple of the rocks in a small bowl with a feeder goldfish, and see how it goes. Wait a week or so to see how the fish responds, guinea pig style. If it lives, you can also test the pH, to see if it has gone higher than your normal pH. One problem I do have with large rocks and/or pebbles is that they are so difficult to keep clean. Large pebbles mean large spaces in between them, where excess food and waste get trapped. It is hard to siphon them. I have tried this, and won't be doing it again any time soon. Just my two cents worth :) For your Betta, there are any number of good tank mates, you need to see what your LFS has available, and ask their advice when shopping. It depends somewhat on your pH, as well. But in general, you can keep some species of tetra, like Pristellas, Neons, and harlequins, all Corydoras, Plecos, guppies, also cherry barbs, white clouds, etc etc. Avoid Danios, gouramis, tiger barbs, most cichlids, yo-yo loaches, black skirt tetras, Columbian tetras, puffers, and paradise fish. In other words, avoid all the bitey fish :P HTH -Gwen>>

Fluorite and Corydoras I am planning to start a 37 gallon tank with angelfish and Corydoras. I have the plants planted in fluorite. Is the fluorite okay for the Corydoras or will it hurt their barbells?  Marc <Hi, Marc - it's not so much their barbels I'd be worried about, but their soft, scaleless bellies....  Fluorite is pretty sharp stuff, and I think that is a good concern.  Would you consider covering the fluorite with a thin layer of smooth gravel?  If you get gravel of a slightly larger size, it should primarily stay on top of the fluorite, even when you siphon/vacuum.  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Deep Sand Beds in a freshwater aquarium Hello! <Magnus at your service> I'm a saltwater aquarist who has recently been enlightened on the beauty of freshwater fish, especially dwarf cichlids. <Very fun and active fish!  definitely some of the more colorful and interesting fish to have.> Currently I have a mini-reef aquarium utilizing the live rock and DSB system that has been running for 6 months already, and I am planning to set up another aquarium - this time freshwater. DSBs are wonderful, as I see no need to vacuum the substrate for debris, and the biological filtration is performed altogether. <I agree completely, my reef tanks have DSBs and they are going amazingly well so far.> Could I use a DSB coupled with some form of mechanical filtration system in a freshwater setting if I were to keep rams (Microgeophagus ramirezi) only, or a DSB is only meant for saltwater aquariums? <The understanding of DSBs on Freshwater tanks is only now being studied.  after all the idea of a deep sand bed on reef tanks was only really "discovered" in the past 5-10 years.  I do know of many people quite happy with sandbeds in their cichlid tanks.  The best thing it seems to have on your freshwater tank if you have a deep sand bed is a clean up crew.  Containing snails (like apple snails, gold Inca snails, or mystery snails.)  Some people also have crayfish in their tank... though caution is needed cause crayfish will eat a fish if it can get it's claws on it.  The Deep Sand bed does have the same ideas in freshwater as in SW, the dense area is devoid of O2 so the bacteria can set up home, and start working on the waste.  And it seems having that and a nice mechanical filtration on a freshwater tank does seem to be as beneficial to the health of the tank as it does in the world of salt. In fact I'm dealing with a aquarist in PA who is currently trying to study the benefits of DSBs and other properties in the freshwater world.  Hopefully we make some nice findings with our studies, and help the freshwater world.> =>(I have a pond in the garden that is heavily grown with algae and water lilies, and teaming with guppies and rams for almost a year already. The substrate is about 3 inches thick. Could this be considered a DSB?) <I really wouldn't consider it a DSB, I consider anything over 4-5 inches deep as sand beds go.   In freshwater ponds, the sand is a great host for many insect larva, that act as the clean up crew in oceans... The only problem is that these larva grow up, and turn into large stinging/biting/scary looking adult flying insects, so we can't bring them into the home aquarium.  Sounds like you have a healthy pond there!  Good luck. -Magnus>

Sand and Balas Hi guys and gals, <A gal for ya today - Sabrina here> I found your site looking for info on Balas and got sucked in.  Here it is three hours later and I'm still reading, wonderful site!   <Thank you for the kind words!> I have two questions.  1. What is the growth rate of the Bala if there is one?   <Depends upon health, feeding, etc.> I've had one for about a year with some silver tip cats and a Pleco in a 20g tall.  He is doing fine and has grown to about 3.5 inches and I want to put him in his own tank with some other Balas. I read they should be in groups of at least four.   <'Tis a good idea, they are definitely schooling fish.> I want the tank to last at least three years, what size should it be <I would aim for 75 gallons or more, if you can swing it, for a handful of these fish> and how big can I expect him to be by then?   <In three years?  Again, depends upon several factors, but assuming all is well, I would think that he may be fully grown by then, at or around a foot in length.> Secondly, this may sound dumb...I love the look of sand but don't know much about it.  Would the average play sand at Home depot stay on the bottom of the tank and not cloud the water?   <I don't know that I'd trust just any average play sand....  Talk to a good fish store in your area and ask if they carry sand in bulk.  I know one of the sands that I used to use in Kansas was marketed as a sandblasting sand, but was ideal for aquarium use, strangely enough.  Steer clear of aragonite sands, as that will alter your pH.> Balas are pretty quick and I'd imagine with the filter's currents and all sand would easily get blown throughout the tank. <Well, depending upon how large of a grain it is, that could be a huge issue, or none at all.  In your case, I'd probably try to find a sand that's very large.> Is it a hassle? <It can be.  It is my substrate of choice for planted aquaria (along with some other stuff), but in an unplanted aquarium, it will compact and create some water quality issues if it's not well stirred occasionally.  Try to find something that suits your tastes and is a large enough grain size that you can vacuum it easily.  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina.> JayS

Sand for FW stingrays? (10/19/03) Hi, <Hi! Ananda here tonight> I have had a hard time finding sand substrate for Fresh water stingrays. Right now it is bare bottomed. I know it has to be silica free sand. It also can't raise the Ph of my tank.  I called some companies that make play sand. They all have silica in the sand just not in a free dust form. I read about silver sand on a UK website but no one states has heard about it. What do you recommend. <Not silver sand. It's silvery due to mica, which could scratch the ray's stomach. You will probably need to look for sand from a specialist fish store. You might also check with some of the companies that package sand for aquarium use, and have your local shop order some for you (since the companies are unlikely to sell directly to hobbyists).> thanks, john <Sorry I couldn't be of more help! --Ananda>

- Crushed coral raising pH? - I'm sorry to bother you, but I am totally lost amidst the bewildering array of contradictory information I'm receiving regarding my freshwater tank. Here's my situation: My pH is high and I'm not sure what to do about it. I have a 37 gallon Oceanic tank that has both fish and plants. My substrate consists of gravel/rock and crushed coral for color. <Ding ding ding!> For plants, I have two Amazon Swords, a pygmy Sword, Anubias, Rotala Indica, and Apon. bolivianus. I have 8 Danios (4 leopard and 4 zebra), 15 Neon Tetras, 5 Golden White Clouds, 2 German Rams, and a Gourami. Today I did a 20% water change that brought the pH down to about 7.8 from a high of 8.3. <Ironically the proper pH for marine aquaria> Since I'm a newbie, I hesitant to do anymore water changes for fear of ruining a newly cycled tank. I would rather not force the pH down by using chemicals. I've got conflicting advice. Some say remove the coral, others say leave it, and still others say everything will be fine. <It's the coral that's doing it. It is slowly dissolving and increasing both your carbonate hardness and pH. You'll have a hard time getting it down with chemicals since it will just jump back up. I guarantee you, if the new water you add for water changes and top-off has a neutral pH, once you remove the coral you will have no more problems. Enjoy! -Kevin> Please help! Tom

Freshwater DSB? Hello- I was wondering if you could use a deep sand bed on a freshwater tank, say for discus. Thanks mucho <yes... you can, but with the understanding that it will not be as diverse as a marine substrate. More for NNR (natural nitrate reduction). Also serves well for plants being kept with discus. Kind regards, Anthony>

Changing the Gravel...Good or BAD? Good morning, I have a recently-cycled 6 gallon Eclipse tank which has held fish for a couple of months.  I have two dwarf gouramis, and a couple of small (<1 inch) albino Cory cats. My question is regarding how to replace the approximately 3-inch gravel substrate I initially put in the tank.  It is the fairly large grain, standard fare that is available at all local fish stores.  After watching my Corys try to extract their food, and other scraps that fall down between the cracks of the gravel, however, it seems that the gravel poses a problem since they can't get to it.  So my question is two-fold: does it make sense to try and replace the gravel with a finer sand that the Corys can operate on more effectively (and how would I best do that)?  and will that affect the bacteria levels in my tank negatively? <Good Afternoon, I would not be too concerned with changing the gravel. I would be afraid that if you did that the beneficial bacteria levels would decline.  The extra food that the Cory cats can't reach should be siphoned out every time a water change is performed. If there is a lot of remnants of their meal remaining I would cut back on the amount of food that's fed to them. IanB> Thank you Matt

Can something poisonous have grown inside the gravel during the 4 years of "no fish"? Hi, <Hello> My aquarist asked that I inquire here about my dying algae eaters that has even him stumped. <Well, Ill certainly try to help!> Problem: My Plecos and Chinese Algae Eaters (herein ae's) die after 5 days, but all other fish including Cory cats are fine. <Hmm> Question: Is there some strange algae or gravel bacteria that could be killing these Plecos and ae's? Symptoms: 1. Both the Plecos and ae's happily suck on  everything for about 4 days. Then they start swimming lethargically and bump into things as if blind. The ae's will dart full speed into the glass bleeding from the impact. On day 5, both species float around the tank half dead with their gills barely moving. Day 6 there dead. 2. I've gone through 13 ae's since last December and 3 Plecos since March. 3. They consistently die the same way. <Strange. Are you following a strict QT with these fish when you bring them home? If not, try QTing them in a different tank to see if the same thing happens. This will at least allow you to narrow it down to something either with the fish themselves or something within your main tank.> Possibilities: 1. Poisonous algae? From 1996 to 2000, I kept the tank with no fish. I kept the filtration running, but never changed out the water. When I added my discus and neon's in late 2000, I put in new water and cleaned the rocks and gravel, but didn't take them out of the aquarium. Discus and neon's have been fine since then, but is there a chance something grew inside the gravel during the 4 years of "no fish"? I have taken about 80% of the gravel out and bleach-cleaned it, but this cleaning didn't seem to affect anything. <This shouldnt be a factor.> 2. Lack of food? I keep my tank clean, but always drop a Spirulina disc in the tank when I put in the new fish. However, neither the ae's nor the Plecos will eat these discs. <If theyre hungry enough, theyll eat the disks so this shouldnt be it.> 3. Old food? I use Wardley Spirulina Discs. The can is about 7 years old. <This is possible. Try getting some new food and see if it helps.> Not Possibilities: 1. Shock. The last batch (3 ae's and 1 Pleco) I transitioned to my tank over 6 hours, slowly adding my tank water and monitoring the chemicals. The store water was at about 6.5 ph and had moderate nitrates. <Very good.> SPECS Fish spec: 3 Discus, 40 neon tetras, 2 Cory cats - all about 3 years old and healthy. Tank specs: Type - Tropical freshwater Size - 75 GAL. Age - 11 years Filtration - Magnum 350 + dual bio wheel Landscape - white gravel, plastic plants, driftwood, petrified wood. Temp - 78F Ph - 6.8 constant Chemicals - All consistently appropriate for Discus and Neons. <This all sounds good.> Any help is much appreciated! <Do check the food and try a QT period. If these fail then you may have to tear your tank apart and start from scratch with new gravel. Ronni> -Chris

Sand in Freshwater Tank Hi guys. <And gals, Ronni here with you this afternoon> I have a 125 gal freshwater tank, with river rocks instead of gravel on the bottom. I just started a 10 gallon tank and have nothing on the bottom yet while I decide what to put there. I was wondering...can I use sand? If so, must it be a specific sand (from the LFS), or could I even use beach sand? Thanks! - Larry <A lot will depend on the color and how fine a grain you want. If you want very fine then the stuff you get at the LFS will be best. If a little coarser and natural color is OK then you can use well cleaned play sand which should be available at home improvement stores like Home Depot. There is also finely crushed granite available at farm supply stores. This has a blue-grey color and should be available in a fairly coarse sand.>
Re: Sand in Freshwater Tank
Hi, Ronni, and thanks for your quick response. Unfortunately for you, that leads me to a couple of follow-up questions, if that's ok. <Youre welcome and its certainly OK, thats what Im here for and questions give me a chance to learn too!> First, regardless of which grain of sand I use, does that mean I can't use an undergravel filter (because it will clog it?). <Thats correct. I believe theres now a UG filter designed for sand but Ive only heard rumors of it and have not seen it so I dont know if it works or not. But with a traditional UGF the finest youre going to want to use is a medium coarseness. The crushed granite I referred to in the last message comes in 3 different grain sizes, I buy the medium and it works fine with UGF but its definitely a gravel, not a sand, the fine grade would clog a UGF.> Second, will using sand cause a problem with my power filter (for the same reason)? <Shouldnt. I use very fine sand in one of my tanks with a power filter and it works fine.> Finally, I will likely use this 10 gallon tank as a livebearer breeder tank (therefore lots of molly and swordtail babies). Is sand OK for them? <Yep, should be fine, this is what I have in the tank I just mentioned and I havent had any problems.> Thanks! Larry <You're welcome! Ronni>

FW substrate depth Hello all you Wonderful WetWebMedia Warriors. <Hello, just finished up an attack on a Corallimorph.  Next stop the LFS for battle royal.> I have a 29g FW with a Powerhead402-driven UGF under an Eclipse 3 hood. Tank is populated to about 1.25 inches/gal, and is over 5 years old with 1 fish of that age and most others over three years old. Assuming I can't be doing anything too hideously wrong, I'd still like to create the best environment for my wet friends. As a result of combining tanks a while ago, two things happened:- 1) I have a little over three inches of gravel substrate. Is that too much (i.e. detritus trap?). The powerhead output is certainly significant. <Under gravel filters by nature are a detritus trap especially if they have been running for a while.  Be sure to vacuum the gravel during water changes.  3in is fine as long as it is consistent throughout the tank.  If the power head is on one of the uplift tubes and there is something less powerful on one of the other ones (i.e. an airstone)  the power head could be sucking water down through the other uplift tube instead of through the gravel.  Path of lease resistance and all that stuff.> 2) Fully realizing this is not an optimum situation, I have a 4" pink  albino Cichlid in with my community fish. His two buddies passed away over time, one when they were together in a 20g long, about a year ago, and another about 6 months after moving the two remaining fish to the community tank. I can't easily justify a larger tank just for him, but I'm really not sure he's happy.  Do you have any recommendations for either of the above situations? <I'm not sure what is in your community tank besides the cichlid, but it would be good to examine the water quality needs of each of the fish, chances are the cichlid has different needs.  Cichlids are also known to wreak havoc on undergravel filters with their love of digging.  Maybe you could justify a bigger tank for the community and let the cichlid keep the 29gal?  Best Regards, Gage> Thanks!

Crushed coral in freshwater tank? (03/02/03) <Hi! Ananda here today...> I am setting up a 55 gal. tank that was used sometime in the past for saltwater. The guy that I bought it from said that he used it a couple years for FW, and took it down when he acquired a larger tank. Not having any aquariums for several years, I was eager to get started, but having found your website I quickly learned how much I didn't know about a former hobby! <Yep, a lot has changed in the past few years....> I thoroughly cleaned everything with bleach/water, and soaked the gravel (which I now know is crushed coral) in bleach-water overnight, followed by a fresh water rinsing & picking out of many snails. I have the tank test filled, filtering and aerating while awaiting arrival of test kits, etc. Having found your invaluable site while scouting for needed supplies, I spent hours (literally) reading the FAQ's, and perhaps saving my future sanity while avoiding some expensive mistakes already. <I wish I had found this site before I got started! Glad it's saved you some money already. But I think sanity is over-rated.> I now have a 10 gal. set up for future use as a quarantine tank, and will concentrate on getting it properly cycled first. <I wish more people would quarantine their freshwater fish. Kudos to you.> I have not been able to find any reference to using the crushed coral in FW, but after reading advice on saltwater ornaments, I see a red flag. <Yup, big red one, unless you want to keep African cichlids -- in which case it's a big green flag. Crushed coral will raise the pH in your tank as it dissolves. If you have enough crushed coral in the tank, your pH can go above 8.0!> Your thoughts and comments would be much appreciated. <Keep researching and reading, and we have a couple of freshwater forums on the WetWebFotos discussion boards -- I check those frequently, as do others with more freshwater expertise.> Thank you. Jess <You're welcome. --Ananda>

Sand substrate for freshwater tank - 02/24/03 Hi All, <Hi. Ananda here tonight....> I hope everyone is doing well.  I have what I hope is a quick question.  I am hoping to upgrade to a  larger tank soon (20G currently) to properly house my snow king Pleco (still little).  I've been using larger-sized gravel but would rather use sand.  So, that's the first part of my question...it is advisable to use sand?  And then, the question would be...what kind would be preferable? <Most of the aquarium sands available would be fine. I would avoid the ones that are aragonite-based or that are intended for use in a saltwater system.> I appreciate your advice. Thanks, Dana <You're welcome. --Ananda>

Smoke in the Fish Tank - 02/22/03 Dear crew, <Hello! Ananda here today...> I recently set up a 110  gallon tank for my Oscar and Pleco.  I also bought a 4 inch red bellied Pacu.  I know they can grow to be three feet in length, but I have the 500 gallon wood tank on the list of things to be done.   <Those guys get to be almost as tall as they are long -- you'll need those 500 gallons!> Anyway,  I used play sand for substrate in my tank and forgot to wash it.  When I filled the tank I laid a small sheet of plexi- glass on the bottom to keep the sand from stirring.  After a couple of days I noticed very fine particles of sand/dust in the water that gave it a smoke effect.  I was wondering if I can use a micron filter pad to pull these out?   <Should work. If it doesn't, try a diatomaceous earth filter.> If not is there anything else I can do?   <I used some very densely-woven filter felt used in a power filter to remove a "miraculous mud" substance from some live sand I acquired. I needed to check and rinse the filter frequently -- about every ten minutes at first.> It's been close to a month now and I can't stand the smoke. Thanks for the help. Holden   <You're welcome. --Ananda>

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