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FAQs on Freshwater Substrates: Selection

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 Physical Properties, FW Substrate Chemical Properties, FW Substrate Amounts & Placement, FW Substrate Changing, Moving, Adding To, FW Substrate Cleaning, FW Substrate Issues, FW DSBs,

Substrates are both functional (bio-filtration, habitat for livestock...)and aesthetic. They need to be considered in terms of type, chemical and physical make up, as well as amount, placement, and looks

Clown Pleco substrate safety question       8/28/16
Good evening,
I've found myself in a dilemma after following the advice of a local fish supply store (with a good reputation) and purchasing a Clown Pleco for my ex-Betta tank.
<Do double check what species you actually got. The "true" Clown Plec is a Panaque species called Panaque maccus (sometimes called Panaqolus maccus).
It's a herbivore more than anything else. It isn't fussy about the substrate because it prefers to spend time on rocks and especially bogwood.
However, a lot of aquarists (and some older books) use this Clown Plec name for a Peckoltia species, Peckoltia vittata. Like all Peckoltia, this species is a micro carnivore that roots about for worms and such. This species will be more upset by the substrate if it can't dig easily.
PlanetCatfish.com has nice photos of the two species if you need help telling them apart.>
My Betta had passed away after 4 years and I hated to get rid of the mature 5 gal tank, but wasn't ready for another Betta so soon. The store convinced me Clown Plecos stayed small and would do fine in a small tank. Ha! I now
know this size tank is inadequate for him for many reasons, so I want to move him out of there before it stunts his growth.
<Understood. Both the catfish mentioned are relatively small, around 8 cm/3 inches or so in length. The Panaque species is marginally bigger perhaps, but there's not a lot in it. Anything upwards of 20 gallons is fine, and you could probably get away with a 15-gallon tank at a pinch.>
The problem is I only have one other tank option and I'm not sure the substrate will be ok for him. I've read some conflicting information online. The current 5 gal tank has a nice sandy bottom (smooth sand, not the sharp kind I've read about) with driftwood and he really seems to like it.
<Panaque species are wood-eaters, and will spend all their time, if they can, on bogwood, rasping away. They also consume vegetables like courgette/zucchini, as well as algae wafers and the odd bit of something meaty.>
My other tank is a 75 gal planted tank with large pieces of driftwood with lots of places to hide from the 2 goldfish occupants. But the substrate is Seachem's Fluorite gravel.
<Not a major problem for Panaque maccus. As noted, this catfish prefers to stay on solid surfaces, especially bogwood, and rarely comes down onto the substrate except to eat things like algae wafers put out for it.>
It doesn't seem sharp to the touch, but it's not really as smooth as other traditional gravels, so I'm worried it isn't a safe fit for the Pleco. I hope I'm wrong because otherwise I think he'd really love the tank. I'd appreciate any advice you can offer. Thank you in advance for your time!
<Hope this helps, Neale.>
Re: Clown Pleco substrate safety question       9/5/16

Good evening, Neale.
Thank you very much for the reply. It has helped ease my worries! After researching the two species you mentioned on PlanetCatfish.com, I found I do indeed have the true Panaque maccus Clown Pleco. Although I don't see my
little guy much during the day, when I do glimpse him, he's always rasping on the driftwood. And he leaves numerous piles of "wood dust" all over the sandy bottom. It still amazes me how much debris such a tiny thing can create so quickly!
<For the last 20 years I've looked after one of his bigger relatives, Panaque nigrolineatus, a truly wonderful fish. But this thing poops like it's an Olympic Sport! Absolutely standard for the genus, as you've seen, but since it's mostly wood chippings, the effect on water quality is nil.
Probably a useful soil improver too, but can be unsightly, and easily siphoned out, or "spot cleaned" with a turkey baster. Do have a read here:
Plenty of info on this really interesting group of catfishes.>
We are undergoing a renovation project (hence the reason for my delayed reply), but as soon as that is over, I will be moving him to the 75 gal tank where he will hopefully enjoy many happy years.
<Should do. Panaque are notoriously sensitive the first few weeks, and getting them feeding well is crucial. But once settled they are VERY hardy and long-lived.>
Thank you, again!
Sincerely, Jennifer
<Most welcome! Neale.>

Re: More re: Removing silicone (RMF, anything to add?), now substrates, learning to use WWM 9/29/10
Oh, had another question I meant to ask. I'm intrigued about this sand idea of yours. I think it would look so much nicer than the painted rocks. What type of sand do I get? Play sand? Or do I need some sort of special pre-cleaned sand or something?
<... Mmm, please read here:
and the linked files above. BobF>
Re: More re: Removing silicone... and sand again
Thanks, Neale! I got impatient and did the test fill last night. It had been 24 hours. Used the GE 1* W&D. SUCCESS!!!! :D My very first repair job and no leaks!!
<Well done!>
Granted this has to have been a much easier repair than an all glass aquarium, and I also have the benefit of water pressure pushing the joint tighter instead of threatening to pop the seam.
I've been looking at sand, and I think play sand will be the best I can afford as I'll need over 50lbs of it.
<Many people have indeed used play sand, pool filter sand, and various other types of sand.>
I see it mentioned as safe on many sites, do you concur? It also looks like Natalie (if memory serves) uses it regularly?
<The bottom line is that is if it is [a] non-calcareous and [b] smooth rather than sharp (technical terms that mean precisely what they sound like) then any sand should be fine in an aquarium. You can test the lime-content of sand easily enough yourself by adding some vinegar and seeing if the sand fizzes; if it does, then it's not non-calcareous and will raise the carbonate hardness and pH over time. That may or may not be a deal breaker depending on the types of fish you're keeping. As for sharpness, if it feels smooth and silky rather than abrasive, then it's probably smooth sand, and therefore unlikely to scratch burrowing or bottom-dwelling fish. I have to admit that I resolutely stick to recommending only horticultural smooth silica sand precisely because you can guarantee it'll be lime-free and non-abrasive. Other types of sand may or may not be safe, but there's no copper-bottomed guarantee I can offer you via e-mail. For what it's worth, a 25 kilo (~50 lb) bag of smooth silver sand from my local garden centre costs about £4, or about $6. Whatever sand you plan to use, be sure to clean it thoroughly before use. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: More re: Removing silicone... chatting
Oh, wow! Thanks for the tip on the silica sand and the lightning fast response!
<No problem.>
There is a nursery just 2 miles from my house. I'll check it out.
Right now I have 2 red flame Gourami, 2 zebra Danios, 2 mollies and a sunburst wag platy. I plan to add red wag platies (wow is their color amazing!) over time once the bigger tank has cycled properly. I'll be using my Penguin Mini as well as my new Penguin 200 in the big one for a while to assist in bacteria growth before moving the mini back to the smaller tank and then getting some GloFish for that tank. No telling where I'll go from there. I'm so excited to get this new one going! Who'd have ever thought my
son coming home from daddy's with a 12" goldfish would kick off such a passion. :D I got a whopping 3 hour notice on that massive goldfish.
Fortunately I was able to convince the junior homo sapiens that "Nemo" would be much happier back in his pond.
<Quite so. Goldfish generally make quite poor aquarium fish unless given really big tanks. Do review the needs of these tropical fish of yours.
Mollies tend to be finicky fish if kept in plain freshwater, though hard, basic water helps a good deal. Dwarf Gouramis are ridden with viruses and bacterial infections, so I tend to recommend people avoid them in favour of Banded and Thick-Lipped Gouramis (Colisa fasciata and Colisa labiosa) which are both much hardier and long-lived than Colisa lalia. If Danios are your thing, I'd nudge you towards Danios, Platies, Peppered or Bronze Corydoras, and perhaps something like Flag Acara for the midwater: all of these are healthiest if kept slightly on the cool side, 22-24 C/72-75 F being ideal.>
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: More re: Removing silicone, more chatting... bb-referral please
Had to look up the Flag Acara and Corys,
<In fact almost all Corydoras will work, the exceptions being Corydoras sterbai which prefers warmer water. Acaras are cichlids that tend to prefer slightly cooler conditions than the average tropical fish, with the Flag Acara and Keyhole Acara being very peaceful community fish. The Port Acara isn't as pretty, but extremely hardy, even bullet-proof, and becomes very tame.>
but I think I could be happy with that assortment.
<We aim to please.>
Will definitely keep that in mind as I add fish. Thanks yet again! :D Will be going for platies and Danios first. ;)
<Good move. Do watch the Danios though: they can be bullies, and will nip smaller species like White Cloud Mountain Minnows. Zebras and GloFish are the same thing species-wise, so they get along okay. Pearl Danios are a good choice too. But if you hunt about, there are some cracking species out there, for example Leopard Danios, Glowlight Danios, Ocelot Danios and Queen Danios.>
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re Silica Sand, was Removing silicone 01/10/10

I tried one of the local nurseries today and the guy acted like he didn't know what I was talking about. The one closest to my home closes before I get home from work. Will try them Saturday.
<When searching in Google I did find that the names "silver sand" and "silica sand" do seem to be more in the UK than the US; in the US, it seems terms like "quartz sand" are used more often, quartz and silica being the same thing. Essentially you want a lime-free sand from the garden centre, which they should sell because it's a widely used as an additive to soil, particularly houseplants where it improves drainage. There are two grades, here in England at least called "sharp" and "smooth" depending on the smoothness of the grains. For aquarium uses, you want smooth sand.>
Some friends of the family own a pool supply business. I see some people use pool filter sand, what is your opinion on it? With the walls of the tank being so dark I wonder if a white substrate might help lighten the tank and make the fish more visible. What are your thoughts?
<Pool filter sand is widely used. Provided it's quartz or silica sand, and therefore lime-free, and also feels smooth rather than sharp, it should be fine. As for the colour of sand, that's argued over. Bright substrates tend to cause some fish to lighten their colours. You'll notice this with cichlids and tetras especially; not so much with fish like Platies that have been bred to have colours they can't change. Anyway, if the tank is
densely planted, those fish that like shady areas, such as cichlids, will stay close to the plants so all will be well. But there's no getting away from the fact fish colours tend to look more dramatic against a dark
substrate, whether plain gravel or black sand. The problems with black sand come from its much higher cost and, in some cases, its abrasive texture which means it can't be used with fish that live on the substrate, such as catfish and loaches. Manufacturers like Carib Sea state as much on their web sites, though some aquarists choose to ignore this, and then wonder why their catfish has no barbels. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Silica Sand, was Removing silicone 01/10/10

I've called nurseries, landscapers, hardware stores, DIY stores, no one has silica sand, regardless of what you call it. *sigh* I think what I'm going to do is get the pool filter sand ($7 for 50#)
and then get a couple small bags of sand from Petco or Bob's Tropicals to add over the top if I can't find it cheaper over the next couple of weeks.
<Why? It'll all get mixed up anyway. Sand doesn't sit in nice layers!>
A 5lb bag of CaribSea sand at Petco was $15. Absolutely outrageous!!
But, I really want to get this tank going! I'm getting very impatient. LOL
<Do read our articles about sandy substrates.
Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Silica Sand, was Removing silicone 10/2/10

<and then get a couple small bags of sand from Petco or Bob's Tropicals to add over the top if I can't find it cheaper over the next couple of weeks.>
<<Why? It'll all get mixed up anyway. Sand doesn't sit in nice layers!>>
Just so it won't be stark blinding white, no other reason at all. ;) I don't care how it winds up settling, in fact, I think it mixing well would probably look nice. Especially if the current in the tank made it wind up looking kind of marbled like you often see in stream beds. :D
<Hmm'¦ okay. Cheers, Neale.>
RE: Silica Sand, was Removing silicone
I FOUND SOME!!! I called a sandblasting company and asked who their supplier was and was referred to Williams Equipment. They have 40/95 grade.
$9.75 for 100lbs. Is that grade going to be ok?
<Honestly Amanda, I don't know. I've never used sandblasting sand. But if it's smooth, lime-free silica/quartz sand, it should be fine. Do bear in mind sand sold for sandblasting is unlikely to be washed. So you'll need to do a lot of cleaning to make it suitable for the aquarium. Otherwise you'll find the water goes cloudy and there's floating debris and silt everywhere.
Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Silica Sand, was Removing silicone
Will be adding more plants as time goes on, including the ones in their present tank. I am loving it so far!!
<Looks nice. Try adding some hollow ornaments for cichlids and catfish to
hide in. Some species will hide in the sand -- for example whiptails -- and
that's very cool to see. But others prefer more solid caves. Halved
coconuts with "mouse holes" cut in the edges and then some Java moss on top
make excellent caves for small cichlids. And before Bob blows a gasket, do
remember we have a very friendly forum where you can share photos and get
comments from other fishkeepers. Much as I like chatting about fish, Bob is
keen to keep the Daily FAQs focused on emergencies, and the more sociable
stuff over on the forum.
Have fun! Cheers, Neale.> <<Thank goodness. B>>

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

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.>

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.>

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.>

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.>

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.>

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.>

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.>

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 we're 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 didn't 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 shouldn't be under-emphasized, I might add.) Now, to what I think you're really getting at, no, you don't '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 don't like bare-bottom tanks. Fish couldn't care less, by and large. Yes, there are some fish that lay eggs in 'nests' in hollows in the substrate but I don't think that's 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 won't '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>>

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>

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>

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. I've had it running for 15 years with various stages of success. Your website has been a great help. I've read books, but you only get one opinion with a book. My question involves substrate for the planted tank. My head is spinning. It's 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 Fuller's earth. It is intended for Pond plants. Anyone had any experience with this stuff? If it has a suitable particle size wouldn't 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

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.

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>>

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 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. <You're welcome and it's certainly OK, that's what I'm 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?). <That's correct. I believe there's now a UG filter designed for sand but I've only heard rumors of it and have not seen it so I don't know if it works or not. But with a traditional UGF the finest you're 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 it's 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)? <Shouldn't. 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 haven't had any problems.> Thanks! -- Larry <You're welcome! Ronni>

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. <You're welcome. --Ananda>

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