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FAQs on Aquascaping Freshwater Aquariums

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

Related FAQs: Rock and Wood Use in AquariumsAbout Faux (Plastic, Silk...) FW Plants,

You need to investigate the range of water conditions, temperament/compatibility of all the species you intend to house together... BEFORE their purchase. Stigmatogobius sadanundio (Hamilton 1822), the Knight Goby.

Making custom decorations      11/24/16
I’m curious on making my own custom decorations that’s safe for fish like a dragon or something. What can I use to make it that’s similar to molding clay?
<Mmm; can use this even... if it's fired completely in a kiln after>
If molding clay will work then what kind and after it’s made what can I do to make it waterproof and safe for fish?
<There are various glazings that are chemically inert again once baked. See the folks who supply such re.
Over the years there have been regional producers of such ornaments, mainly fanciful... like frogs in various poses.
Bob Fenner>
Re: Making custom decorations      11/25/16

<Certainly welcome. Do search on WWM re others input on this topic. Bob Fenner>

Custom Decorations/White Skirt Tetras       12/11/15
<And you Steve>
My wife and I are plan to get a 36 gallon bowfront. She absolutely loves the look of Glofish tetras, and although I'm a bit hesitant since I've heard multiple sources say the bloodlines are inbred,
<They are indeed>
I plan to keep her happy. As far as care for what are actually white skirts, I intend to have a long term plan of tank setup (read: preparing and buying months in advance of setup). I also will only keep a school of 6-7, since I want to deliberately understock the tank. I know white skirts are a considered a "novice" fish, and I've kept tanks in the past, but if you have any good advise that applies to keeping a "lower" stock of these fish, I'll eagerly heed said advise.
<Mmm; simple general care... unless your water is very aberrant a middling pH, hardness will do; quarter volume gravel vacuuming water change outs weekly, twice daily feeding with standard commercial foods....>
My second question is a bit...unusual from what you may typically be asked.
I have long been a fan of a video game series called Dragon Quest. It is exceptionally popular in Japan, but niche here in the US as well as in Europe. Obviously I couldn't locate any DQ aquarium figurines on English speaking sites, but I also could not locate such a thing even in Japanese sites (even going so far as to copy-paste Hiragana, Kanji and Katakana). I decided to search for a service that make custom aquarium safe figurines, but to no avail. I am wondering if you know of such a service or have any advise to accomplish a theme of this nature without access to professionally manufactured decorations.
Many thanks!
<I don't directly, but would contact the makers of such figurines in other lines, perhaps some local "pottery"/ceramic clubs, programs in colleges re the possibility of someone making them custom for you. The latter, once fired are non-toxic, and very sturdy. Bob Fenner>

Sculpting aquarium decor     11/23/14
First, I'd like to say I love you guys ever since discovering WWM years ago. I worked in a little pet shop at the time, and it was nice to be able to back up our advice with good, down to earth info and FAQs like that provided on WWM.
<Ahh; you can imagine the intense gratification/validation your words bring>
I've always been something of a dabbler with fine arts, and decided quite recently to consider making custom aquarium decor. However, like most (if not the vast majority) of home hobbyists, I do not have access to a high temperature kiln.
<Mmm; Craig's List comes to mind... to borrow time on another's... Maybe an institution has one as well... many J.C.s do here>
I have tried to look into polymer clays like Sculpey and Fimo brands, but the information online seems to be rather conflicting about polymer clays and any long term leaching affects in freshwater aquariums. I figured I would turn to the experts and see if you had any information that could point me in the direction of a product or products that can be easily used in the average kitchen to make custom aquarium sculptures.
Any thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated-
That Fish Chick
<Wish I knew more (I don't)... WOULD def. be firing; coating... Bob Fenner>

decorations      3/9/14
I have some items I want to use as decoration in my fresh water tank, one is a huge castle, I want to paint it and put it in the tank.
what kind of paint can I use, or what can I use to coat it so it wont harm my fish.
<Acrylic epoxies, latex.... have proven safe>
I have spent time trying to find an answer to this and have found no results can I use simple hobby enamels or acrylics, I was told I can use automotive clear coat lacquers to seal it, but it doesn't seem right to me,
<If the clear coat will hold up underwater, one/you/we might be able to use any coating under it>
Thanx for your help
<Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Ornaments in a FW aquarium.  2/14/12
Greetings and a pleasure to be asking you this question!
<Hello to you, too!>
By all rights I am a fairly new player in the game of aquariums and I have a quick couple of questions that I am having trouble pondering. I recently upgraded to a 55-gal tank and cycled it perfectly, and I am proud to say I have not had a single denizen die on me as of yet! However, me being a college student, I have a  very small budget and I desperately want to decorate my tank. Its current occupants are a Fire Eel (1), a Grey Bichir (1) Rummy nose tetra (15),
<These will be Fire Eel food before long, if the Bichir doesn't get them first€¦>
a lone Pleco, and a Rainbow shark. In this tank, I also have three plants which all are bottom spreading moss types. My questions are as follows, if you would be so kind€¦
1) I read that cement block with the square holes in them are porous and me being in S. Florida, it is made of limestone, as is the rocks  I have put in there previously. In that regard, no fish have died, except for a ghost shark and 2 tetras, however, I suspect foul play with either the Bichir or Fire Eel, presumably the former. Anywho, I was wondering it would be fine if I soaked the cement block in vinegar for a day or so and then introduced it to my fish tank? I feel that it can work as the vinegar should neutralize most of the lime, not to mention they have been weathered in my back yard for at least a year, perhaps more and even during torrential rains as well as extreme heat and cold. So, will it be okay? I would really like to have them in there as they would provide ample cover for by far my favorite fish, the Fire Eel as well as the Pleco and Bichir, but still leave room for my siblings and I to enjoy them.
<This is a terrible idea. If you neutralised all the lime, the cement would disappear, so the vinegar won't work. Cement inevitably raises the hardness and pH of the water unless thoroughly varnished with some sort of durable, non-toxic coating. This was quite often done in public aquaria decades ago, but is tedious, time consuming and not really practical for the home aquarist. There are MANY better options here. Terracotta pots and urns sold in garden centres are readily used by aquarium fish, and you can find PVC pipes that work just as well in any home improvement or plumbing store. Terracotta and PVC are both non-toxic, durable, and readily accepted by aquarium fish.>
2) I also wish to know about the Fire Eels feeding habits.
<They feed at night, from the substrate, and are poor competitors for food when kept with catfish and loaches. Bichirs should be okay though. It's as well to get your Fire Eel trained to take food from long forceps. That way, you can monitor how much he eats and what he eats.>
I regularly feed him bloodworms and everyone, including the Bichir, excluding the Pleco, eat the worms no problem,
<Bloodworms are a fine treat but limited value as a staple for fish as big as these. Earthworms are a good food for both bichirs and spiny eels. Live river shrimp are good, too. Among fresh and wet-frozen foods, look to things like cockles and tilapia fillet as staples, with mussels and prawns as occasional treats (they contain Thiaminase so need to be used sparingly, unless fortified with marine aquarium vitamin supplement).>
but my Eel stays timid as ever inside an existing rock. I also stock the tank with roughly 120 shrimp a month.
<Shrimp are okay, but see above about Thiaminase.>
I feel that maybe my eel feeds on them at night but fear that the Bichir may be getting to them more than the Eel. Please advise me on anything that may help me out here, for I am clueless as to the remedy.
I really appreciate all of you taking the time to keep this wonderful depot of knowledge running smoothly for the benefit of aquarist the world over and hope to hear a response as soon as is convenient for all of you!
Thanks so much!
<And thanks for the kind words. Cheers, Neale.>

Coconut shells 7/20/11
I was wondering if coconut shells for decor are ok to use in a hardwater aquarium with platies?
<Yes, though this assumes the aquarium is reasonably large. For Platies, you'd be using a tank at least 60 litres/15 gallons in size and no smaller, and one or two coconut shell halves should do no harm in such a tank.>
If so how long do you have to boil them to get out the tannins and how many times should it be boiled?
<No need. Just clean out the white flesh, rinse the shells under a tap, and then cut into whatever shapes you want. While some tannins will soak out, provided you do regular water changes these shouldn't cause any serious pH changes in the hard, alkaline water Platies require.>
Thank you!!!
<Cheers, Neale.>

Ceramic Ornaments Query   7/19/11
Dear sir/madam,
Hi, I hope you and all the hard working and kind volunteers at WWM are well. My name is Lucy and I am a ceramic artist. I am passionate about my art and am looking for ways of expanding its production into different ranges, and creating a small business. For a while now I have been looking into creating a contemporary, quirky and stylish line of aquarium features and sculptures.
There seems to be a gap in the market for cool and modern pieces, and I have also been advised that pet stores from where I'm from are crying out for interesting decorations to sell.
<There have been periods of time, places where there was such a demand. I do agree that now is one of those times... I do hope you have a website or one planned, the capacity to make images, create and mass-produce such works>
I am wondering if you could possibly be of help to me with a few questions I have about ensuring the safety of ceramic aquarium ornaments. I have been reading through some of the questions on a similar topic, and I am still not 100% sure, and would greatly appreciate if you could point me in right direction.
As you would imagine I cannot afford to take any risks in this kind of production, and the safety of the product is paramount. In some of the replies I have read it says ceramics are generally safe to place in the tanks.
<This is so>
I hope to fire the pieces to a high temperature (1240-1260 degrees Celsius), this is when the particular clay I use vitrifies. I have read that vitrified ceramic is safest,
<And this>
but I still would have concerns of the toxins that may still be on the piece from being inside a kiln that has fired many other different artworks that have had all kinds of glazes, oxides etc., painted on them. To completely get rid of any risk, would it be best to place all pieces in (boiling?) water for a period of time?
<Mmm, not as far as I know. I would do "bio-assays" to check/make sure that the materials used (after completion) are non-toxic>
Also, because firing costs, if I'm going to add colour I plan to paint the pieces instead of glazing (which involves firing the kiln twice). You have said that acrylic paint is safe,
<Generally yes>
would this be the best option do you think? I would imagine the paint won't last too long (due to chipping, wearing away), so if you have any other suggestions in ways of colouring that are safe I would greatly appreciate it.
<Integral coloring, double firing is better/best by far>
Thank you for taking the time to read my email. If you have any words of advice at all, I would be very grateful. Kind regards,
<Congratulations on your resolve to become a content producer in our interest. Do make it know how we might be of further assistance. Bob Fenner>
Re: Ceramic Ornaments Query 7/20/11

Hi Bob, many thanks for your help with my queries. I have a website and plan to add the range to it when completed. I will be working with molds, as to whether I can mass produce as an individual artist remains to be seen!
<Sounds/reads very promising Lucy. Shades of Alice Fountain here in San Diego... she had a huge aquarium useful collection of ceramics... A showcase really. I do hope to see yours in time.
Cheers, BobF>

Do you know where I can get...   7/1/11
Products to make a freshwater tank look like saltwater. ...sand, coral...thanks for any info you might have. Craig
<...? As in keeping it still freshwater, or? For the former one needs to be careful to not use materials that will change water quality too much, or be too sharp... Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/fw2mar.htm and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>

Prob1... A dingo ate my... Actually a Red Devil ate a polyethylene plant    10/15/10
Hello there!
Attached is a picture that shows my friend's fish's problem pretty clearly.
:-) Can you give us any suggestions? This is a mature, male red devil of approximately 13" in length that has eaten part of a plastic plant decoration. Will this just pass? I assume she should remove all such
decorations so this won't happen again?
Thank you!
P.S. You can stop laughing now! ;-)
<Wow, I'd laugh, but it looks REAL painful. Anyway, yes, it should pass out the anus in time. The use of Epsom salt at 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons will help a good deal by loosening the muscles and acting like a laxative. So that's a cheap and easy way to help. Other than that, don't pull, because you'd likely tear something delicate inside the fish. If it doesn't pass out within a day, then there's a very real risk of faeces compacting within the rectum, and that will soon be fatal. So if things are still looking bad tomorrow morning, call a vet. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: FW: Prob1   10/15/10
Thanks Neale! You guys are always great! I did try searching the site first, but didn't find anything specific to this problem.
Take care!
<Glad to help. Would be very interested to know how things go. Good luck, Neale.>
Re: FW: Prob1   10/15/10
I'll be happy to let you know. She's a really nice lady who started out as a customer of mine, and has become a friend, but she sure gets into some weird situations with her fish! LOL
<Doesn't get much weirder. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: FW: Prob1   10/16/10
The comments below are for Neale. Thanks again! You're a hero!
"That is very nice!!! I have awesome news!!! I put the Epsom salt in and within 10 min the blockage was gone!!!! Whew!!!!!! Please thank him for me as well! What a relief!!"
<Oh, what a great result! I'm very pleased. Often it's all doom-and-gloom by the time people write to us, so happy endings are always welcome. In the meantime, do recommend floating Indian Fern as greenery for cichlid tanks.
Because it floats, it can't be uprooted; and because it's edible and rich in fibre and vitamins, it's a great supplement to their diet. Cheers,

Re: FW: Prob1  10/18/10
I know how you feel, good news is rare, especially these days! I work Customer Service for a large aquatics manufacturer, and most of my customers have fish in dire straits when they need my help. Luckily, she called immediately, LOL.
Take care!
<I plan on doing so! Thanks for your message. Cheers, Neale.>

Plastic plants     8/12/10
I was just curious if plastic plants are bad to have in Betta fish tanks?
<Soft ones designed for fish tanks are fine.>
I have heard that plastic plants can injure the Beta's delicate fins.
<Certainly some of a cheaper ones with sharp or serrated edges aren't ideal. I'd always recommend live floating Indian Fern over plastic plants for a variety of reasons, but if you must use plastic, good quality ones are fine.>
Is it ok to just have a few plastic plants and some silk?
Or should I ban the plastic all together?
<No need.>
Thank you for your time. I really enjoy your website. Sincerely, Michael
<Glad to have helped and entertained! Cheers, Neale.>

Dear Crew I recently noticed that one of my aquarium decorations' paint began to chip    7/3/10
could this hurt my aquarium and fish? I took it out the minute saw it. Thank you for the advice, Dante
<It's almost certainly nothing to worry about. Provided the object was designed for use in aquaria, the paint is purely decorative, and the plastic or ceramic used to make the ornament is harmless. Cheers, Neale.>

Safe gardens for Goldies   3/26/10
Thank you in advance for your help. Hopefully! I just finished reading the page on DIY decorations.
I need help badly. I have been researching but getting mixed messages.
Very confusing out there!
I want to start a small business doing freshwater gardens mainly for goldfish.
I was a landscape designer in my past life
<And I a waterscape contractor>
and as I was searching for plants I thought of this idea. To put a full garden together so people just have to place that one piece in the aquarium. It would have a mixture of plants in it already. I will be using aquarium safe silk plants. ( I had originally spent $80.00 on silk plants from Michael's but could not get definitive information if they were aquarium safe so I am not using them.
<As far as I'm aware they are safe. There may be some brand/makes that are not... Particularly I'd be leery of any that have encased metal stems>
I stared out using Terra Cotta coasters as my base. I ordered silk plants and cut the original base off of the silk plants. When trying to attach the thin silk plant stem to the Terra Cotta base with silicon it took too long for the silicone to set so the plant flopped over.
<Try a "hot glue gun" here>
Then I tried cutting up plastic tubing, attaching, the tubing to the Terra Cotta base and then filling the tubing with silicon and then putting the stem of the plastic plant inside. Too time consuming and restricted the aesthetic look. So then I tried attaching the stem of the plant with a glue gun
first and putting the silicon over the "glue gun" glue after it dried. That worked well, however, I read where that was not a good idea because it could leach toxins into the water.
<I think you are very safe here>
I called the manufactures of glue sticks and they told me to use a 236-110 glue stick and it would work in an aquarium situation. I just need a dab to secure the plant quickly to the Terra Cotta.
Is that a safe application?
Would I still need to cover the "glue-stick"
glue with silicon?
<Likely not... unnecessary and takes a day to cure>
Will that application be secure enough so the plant does not detach?
The other idea was sculpting the base with Sculpey instead of the Terra Cotta coaster???
<Mmm... is safe to use>
That way I could make the holes deeper, have more shapes to use other than the round coaster. I could sculpt a kidney shape base and so one. Maybe I could poke the holes into the Sculpey form prior to baking and then insert the silk plant stems in them once it was dry. and secure with silicon or ?????
<The glue gun>
What would be the best Sculpting clay to use?
<Sculpey, or other similar polymer clay>
I have been trying all kinds of applications but have not come up with something easy and fast that I can still get creative with. I also tried drilling holes in the Terra Cotta and using silicon to secure.
<I would not use Silicone/Silastic... too messy, takes to long to set up and cure>
Still this is problematic because the stem of the silk plant does not stay secure and in place while the silicon dries and I have to drill.
Any ideas, would be soooooo appreciated. I am frustrated but determined to make this work!!!!! Gardens for Goldies' trudges on!
Laura Tierney
<Congratulations on your new enterprise! Bob Fenner>
Re: Safe gardens for Goldies   3/27/10
Thank you Bob. Wow that was fast!!! I am so wanting to get started doing this. Can I ask you if any hot glue will do or should I get the industrial strength glue as the company suggested?
<I would get the industrial strength. Our olde company was amongst the first to sell "painted wooden fish", from Indonesia and the Philippines...
We bought broken coral pieces from a friend's business and mounted these and a nice tasseled descriptive tag... With hot glue...>
Also just to clarify, the silk plants I got from Michaels should be okay?
<I do think so. I have seen such employed in freshwater systems on several occasions>
They are just greenery and I took all metal and traces of glue out of them. I have a fern like plant that did turn
the water a little green when I soaked it in alcohol. I don't know why I did that but I had a moment and thought it may bring something bad out of the plant. Good thing I am not a frustrated doctor.
Thank you again for all your help. Very much appreciated. I can sleep now until my next dilemma. Take care
Laura Tierney
<And you my creative friend. BobF>

Re: Safe gardens for Goldies  3/28/10
Many, many thanks to you. I have finally reached a level of serenity. For the time being. LOL Have a great day.
Laura Tierney
<And you. BobF>

Ceramic flower pot in a tank   1/31/2010
I have a 20 gallon tank with 6 Danios in there. I was thinking of getting some stuff for the fish to hide in.
<Danios don't hide in stuff. They like open water, and they LOVE floating plants. But that's about it.>
I have this small ceramic terra cotta flower pot. I was wondering if that is safe, if there is anything that could leach off it over time?
<Plain clay or terracotta pots should be fine, and I use such things all the time in breeding tanks and the like.>
I believe ceramic is just hardened clay. Would that last in the water?
<Pots made for houseplants and use in the garden won't dissolve under water no; firing clay is a bit more than just hardening clay, and the object fired does become essentially insoluble.>
Thank you
<Cheers, Neale.>

Non Planted Tanks... design, stkg...  1/23/10
I am looking for some guidance on non planted tanks. I currently have a 55 tank that is generously planted. I have had this for some years now and am tired of the look. I am thinking of going in the opposite direction with a sparsely decorated tank.
<OK. Now, the key thing here is what you mean by "sparse". Most of the fish we keep are small, and in the wild do not stray far from cover. It doesn't much matter if we're talking about plants (as would be the case with Gouramis), or submerged tree trunks (as with Angelfish and Discus), cobblestones on the bottom of a stream (as with Loaches), or reefs made up from limestone rocks (as with Mbuna cichlids). But in all cases small fish stay near some type of shade or hiding place that offers them security from predators. If you stick a bunch of small fish in a big, empty tank, they won't be happy. If nothing else, you'll not see their proper colours.
Almost always, these fish fade their colours when stressed so that they don't attract attention to themselves.>
My question is are there any fish (other than cichlids) that would feel comfortable in a tank that does not have plant cover for them?
<Actually, very few cichlids are happy without some type of cover. Only exceptional fish kept by hobbyists are true open water ("pelagic") fish; about the only group that springs to mind are the Cyprichromis sardine cichlids of Tanganyika. Species associated with open sand, such as Whiptail catfish and brackish water Soles also prefer wide open spaces, but in their cases they simply hide in the sand, so while fun to watch and well worth keeping, you wouldn't keep them just for themselves!>
I am not willing to sacrifice happy fish for a 'look'.
<Indeed. What I'm suggesting here is that you think about alternatives to the cover normally provided with plants. If you look at a marine reef, and then translate that into a freshwater system, you'll have one possible answer. A wall of Tufa rocks along the back of the tank can create lots of nifty hiding places for small to medium sized Tanganyikan cichlids. Since Tanganyikans rarely stray far from their nests, the fun comes from watching them dart into one cave and pop out another, as they chase rivals and shepherd fry. With bright light this rock quickly gets covered in attractive green algae (as opposed to the brown slime that tends to grow under dim light). With some algae-eating cichlids in the community, such as Chalinochromis, the green turf will be kept in check with little extra effort on your part. Alternatively, you can think about the "flooded forest" of the Amazon, which is where Angels, Discus and numerous tetras such as Cardinals come from. There aren't any green plants below the waterline here, and instead the fish live in between vertical tree trunks.
Big bits of bogwood could be pressed into service here, and with spotlights rather than strip lights, you can create amazing patterns of light and shadow in such tanks. The fish will mostly lurk in the shady areas, but schools of tetras will dart through the lighted areas as well, catching the eye. Done like this the water becomes tea-coloured very quickly, and the colours of Cardinals and Glowlight tetras really come into their own. Yet again, you can create an oyster reef habitat almost like a tide pool, with boulders and barnacle clusters, augmented with some home-made reefs built with oyster shells and silicone. Such a reef would be surrounded with a mix of coral sand and silica sand, and then a few nondescript shells scattered about for effect (nothing too marine-y, otherwise it'll look like a failed reef tank). What would you put in here? All kinds of nifty brackish water species. Gobies and "freshwater" blennies would claim the rocks, while Mollies and other livebearers would play about at the surface, darting into the rocks when alarmed. The open sand area would be great for Violet Gobies and "freshwater" soles. Perhaps you'd risk a Figure-8 puffer for fun. Add some Nerite snails and (if no puffer) Algae shrimps for algae control, and you'd almost have a reef tank for a fraction of the cost! A last approach is to go post-modern or some other sort of artificial layout. I've seen stunning tanks with open sand and big piles of terracotta urns in the centre. Stick some submersible lights and airstones inside the urns, and you have a cracking display of light and movement. Not all fish would be happy with this, but Loricariid catfish and friendly fish like Oscars and Severums would certainly be possibilities, perhaps even a group of colourful Malawians, like Aulonocara spp. Goldfish are wonderful fish for "funky" tanks because they're so thoroughly domesticated they don't really care, so long as they're kept in groups and their owner interacts with them.>
I would have rocks and maybe some wood, but I just want a 'cleaner' look. I also like the look that come from the bubble wands etc... and cannot have those in planted tank obviously.
<Up to a point, yes, because water turbulence drives off carbon dioxide.
But my favourite plants for algae control couldn't care less about bubble wands: floating plants. When it comes to stopping algae in tanks, nothing can beat a big clump of Indian Fern. Because the greenery hangs from the top down, it's a great approach for surface-dwelling fish like livebearers, minnows, Danios and predatory characins, because they have shade and hiding places. This frees up the bottom of the tank for either plants or, if you prefer, as many rocks and bogwood roots as you want. This is precisely how I run my biggest community tank.>
I understand my algae control will be an issue and I will have to do more maintenance. I cannot find info on unplanted tanks as when I put in my search terms I get endless articles on planted tanks!!
<Planted tanks are the subject-du-jour at the moment. Thank Mr. Amano for that!>
Thank You for your time!!
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Non Planted Tanks 1/25/2009
Wow Neale,
Fabulous Reply!!!
<My pleasure.>
So many things I had not considered. I will start researching some of those possibilities.
It is always exciting to do a new set up.
Question. When you were discussing the Tufa rock you mentioned bright light, I currently have a little more than 2 wpg. Would that be enough, or would I need to go brighter?
<Should be ample.>
Thank you guys soooo much for answering our questions!!
<Happy to help. Cheers, Neale.>

Apoxie Clay in Aquarium (RMF, please check) <did so>  10/27/09
I have long wanted to create my own aquarium ornaments for my small 2 1/2 gallon Betta tank, but I've always been at a bit of a loss when it comes to materials that are safe to use. I am a sculptor, and I was considering using a 2 part sculpting epoxy called Apoxie Clay
I don't know if this sort of epoxy is safe to use around fish as pourable epoxies can be. Is there any way to tell?
<If it says "safe for aquarium use" then it's safe; otherwise, no, there's absolutely no way to tell for sure. While the stuff itself might be harmless, you also need to think about other chemicals added: dyes, preservatives, curing agents, etc.>
Likewise, I'm not sure what to use for paint. 2 part epoxy paint is far too expensive, and comes in too large a quantity, for a small decoration like this. I have Liquitex and Jacquard acrylic paints, but I keep hearing
conflicting advice as to whether or not acrylic paints such as these are aquarium safe. Some people very adamantly say that they are harmful.
<Likely depends on the paint.>
So I could use some advice on these fronts, please?
<I'm not a big fan of sticking anything into an aquarium not explicitly designed for such use. That said, if you completely coated a ceramic doodad in a polyurethane varnish, it should be perfectly safe (assuming the
varnish covers the whole thing and is given time to harden). However, I would make the point that some fish (especially Panaque catfish) and quite possibly those grazing snails with robust teeth (like Nerites) could wear down the varnish over time. So you'd need to be careful with regard to what you added to the tank. In your case, likely not an issue, since a Betta won't scrape at anything, but for anyone else thinking about this sort of thing, it's something to bear in mind. Cheers, Neale.>

Question re Freshwater Aquarium Ornament -- Health & Safety!  10/15/09
I truly hope you folks can advise me, since it seems I may have found a real humdinger of a question very few ever consider!
I am brand new to this whole aquarium business, like two weeks tops!
<I see.>
My girlfriend has been at it for years and years, with experience (by her account) in all kinds of freshwater aquaria including at least one of several hundred gallons capacity -- but she has no answer for my question!
Two weeks ago I got bitten by "the bug"... after voracious reading (and much discussion with my girlfriend), I have set up a small (three-plus gallons) tank, to showcase a beautiful Betta which I carefully selected at my local PetLand Store. My aquarium is spot lit 8-10 hours each day by a 35-Watt halogen fixture, and is "planted" inside with a small bamboo and some Anacharis sprigs -- there is no true substrate, just about six lbs. of glass marbles and maybe four lbs. of "river-rock" pebbles.
<The bamboo will die, ruining water quality. Pull it out. Unless you know something is a true aquatic plant, don't add it to your tank. At best, it'll pollute the water, at worst, it'll bring in various insecticides sprayed on the plant that can now kill your fish.>
An internal filter rated at 45 GPH turns over the water, which is quite clear and relatively clean-smelling.
<That's a fairly stiff current for a Betta; tend to recommend air-powered filters for Bettas.>
My tank is a glass cylinder, 7½" diameter and some 24" tall. The math with tell you that, filled with water to within an inch of the brim, and with all those marbles and pebbles, this aquarium has a water-volume of nearly four gallons.
<A small tank; just about acceptable for a Betta, but don't add any more fish.>
Its temperature stays night and day at the air-conditioned temperature of my apartment, maintained by thermostat at 72-74°F (and verified by two small digital strip thermometers affixed to the tank, one each at its base and its top).
<Too cold. Bettas need warmer than average water; aim for 28 C/82 F. A very common misconception among newbie aquarists is that Bettas will live at room temperature. Unless you live in the tropics and the air is as warm indoors as out, then no, they can't survive at room temperature for long. Eventually, they sicken and die. So, buy a heater.>
I've not yet checked my water chemistry for levels of Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates, Acidity/Alkalinity and so forth, but I've taken such due precautions that I am fairly confident that AT PRESENT this tank is quite healthy for my Betta.
<How are you cycling the tank? Let's be crystal clear on this: without a source of ammonia, and empty aquarium is just a bucket of water.>
[With all this detail, you can just tell how enamored I am with my new aquarium -- not mention proud... I hardly want to go anywhere anymore!]
Final (and perhaps irrelevant details), this aquarium is currently stocked with eight Rosy Red Minnows while its prize occupant, Maximus -- my Betta -- waits nearby in an aerated holding jar. For some three days, Maximus shared the tank with some nine Neon Tetras, and all was well at first, until he started stalking them... then, first one vanished (lost at the bottom), then I watched with my own two eyes as Maximus shredded the caudal fin off a second Tetra as it fought vainly to escape his relentless jaws. Nature red in tooth... I intervened then, rescued the remaining Tetras and consigned them to my girlfriend who has plenty of Betta-free tank-space in aquaria at her home. I also gave Max a time-out (now going into day-three) in his current well-monitored jar, and brought in the eight Minnows to "cycle" the tank. In another week or so I will check the levels of by-products in the water and bring the Betta home, aware that he well may then start slaughtering the Minnows... at that point (should it occur) I would rescue the surviving Minnows resign myself to keeping Max as solitary lord of the watery domain I've built.
<You cannot possibly keep the Minnows with the Betta in just 4 gallons.>
So... what is my problem? Well, this afternoon, browsing my PetLand Store, I found a beautiful fragment of shank-bone from some mammal (cow? sheep?), three inches long and hollow where the marrow was, packaged as a chew-toy for dogs. As such, I know it is disease-free if not sterile. My thinking is it would make a superb submarine tunnel for my Betta and his fishy companions, should he permit any... my only question being, could this bone-fragment perhaps introduce some kind of bovine-originated viral/microbial organism to my aquarium that would render it a death-trap for Maximus or any other fish placed in its presence?
<It's a bad idea. While bone itself isn't toxic, and I have to admit, I've added the odd seabird skull to a brackish water aquarium, this does assume there is nothing on the bones but bone. Any meat will rot, and in doing so, push the ammonia and nitrite levels upwards. One dead guppy in a 100 gallon tank isn't a big deal, but a cow bone rotting in a 4 gallon tank could be (will likely be) a disaster! So, for now, stick to things designed expressly for use in aquaria.>
So far my web-searches have yielded no answer to this, and so I am depending upon your experienced guidance to move forward -- or not.
Thank you ever so much.
...Michael, proud sponsor of Maximus the Betta.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Silk Flowers, /FW decor   9/21/09
Hello Crew, hope all is well with you.<Indeed> I would like to know if you would consider it safe to use a silk flower sold in a department store inside an aquarium. <It mostly depends on if the plant contains flexible wire for arrangements. If it does, there could be potential rust/ metal toxicity issues> I know a lot of artificial plants made for aquariums are made of silk, but I didn't know if these were different or not. <Not
really.> I had thought if I cleaned it real well it would be OK, but wanted to check with you before I took the chance of losing any fish.<Not a bad idea to clean it too, but silk is essentially inert/ harmless> Thank you, James Hall <No problem. Have fun decorating your tank!>
<WillN... he's new. RMF>

Idea for creating a cave  8/8/09
Dear WetWebMedia,
Thanks for this site and your work. I have learned a lot on here, and I believe that's why my tanks have done well.
<I am glad you have benefited from our efforts>
I have 10-gallon tank with a male Betta (not sure of his age, but he's been fine for months and has healthy-looking fins and color). He shares the tank with five leopard Corys, a pair of Otos, some Watersprite and a potted Swordplant. The tank has several rocks and light gravel (large pebbles, really) covering most of the bottom of my tank. I have an idea to create a cave by laying a small glass jar or clay pot on its side and tying java moss to it until it takes and grows on its own. What do you think?
<A clay pot will be better looking and functionally than the glass>
Would java moss grow on a jar or pot?
<Perhaps on the latter; not at all on the former>
Thanks so much.
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Safe sealant for aquarium decorations  7/7/09
Hello! Your website has been a great deal of help in picking up the aquatic hobby.
<We're glad you've found it of use>
I would like to know what sealants are safe to use with DIY aquarium decorations. I know aquarium silicone is safe.
<Yes... any 100% make actually>
This option ends up a bit expensive and a pain to apply for the project I have in mind. I am planning
to coat large pieces of bamboo in some sort of sealant to extend their life and keep their dry appearance.
<Mmm, I have found that most bamboos can be dried, placed sans any coating... that adding anything doesn't add to longevity>
This is probably a dumb question but will MinWax Polycrylic work for this application?
<Perhaps worth trying... I have used their and other companies polyurethanes over the years w/o incident>
I have also read that shellac can be aquarium safe. Is this true?
<I do think so... I have also employed this material many years ago>
If so what brand is safe for aquariums?
<Don't think the brand has much to do with it...>
Thanks for your help,
<Just make sure and wait for any/all to cure completely. Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Re: Aquarium Decoration Sealant  7/12/09
I contacted you the other day. I just want to make sure. If I use Minwax Polycrylic on a decoration that will be submerged in the water, will there be any adverse effects?
<There should not be... as long as the material has completely cured...
Let's say for a day or so. Bob Fenner>

Sealant, for FW decor and SW tank f's  7/7/09
Dear Mr. Fenner,
In the Daily FAQ's today I noticed a question about aquarium safe silicone. While 100% silicone is most often perfectly safe, I'd like to point out that trace ingredients and curing agents do not factor into this analysis (pigments also may leach into water). In my experience, GE Silicone 1 Clear WITHOUT Bioseal is the fastest-curing, strongest, and safest silicone (no, I'm not paid by GE). I believe this is a slight variant of the All-Glass tank silicone, which is contracted out to GE.
Just my 2 cents,
Will N.
<Thanks much for this input Will. Will post, accumulate. BobF>

Aquascaping and other Topics, rock, mech. and chem. filter media   12/31/09 Hello Crew, Hope all of you had a very merry Christmas and are preparing for a great New Year! I have a question on aquascaping, please. I have read that when using rock in the aquarium it is best to always use the same type and not mix them because it ruins the effect. <Mmm, can, but not always... or not necessarily. Have seen more than one size, texture, color in tanks, the wild....> I wanted your opinion as to whether or not it would be OK to use different colors of the same rock, such as red and white. <Sure> Also, in a power filter, please tell me what kind of mechanical filtration is best for trapping smaller particles without decreasing the water flow a great deal constantly. <Mmm... no "one answer" here... I like cheap "blue batting" from the yardage store, or the equivalent you can buy Dacron polyester labeled/packaged for fish tank use in a good deal of settings... but the re-use-able Ehfi- flockens from Eheim et al. are excellent in canister filters, the ceramic and sintered glass beads can be of use... even pre-packaged GACs....> The filter I have comes with sponges for this purpose but I have never used them and don't know how well they work. <Try them out> Also, I have seen sheets of padding that can be cut to any size that are supposed to work well, but have no experience with those either. <Are what many aquarium service co.s use...> And lastly, please tell me if you are familiar with the PuraPad and if so is it really as good as advertised? <Some folks have stated great satisfaction...> If so, would it make sense to use it along with Purigen or would that be overkill? As always, thanks for doing such a great job. James <I would just use one or the other... with the cautionary notes and rationale I've posted/archived on WWM. Bob Fenner>

Aquarium Decor, FW sel.  4/9/08 I have been reading previous questions related to mine, but I want to be sure. I have a 125 gal freshwater. I want to make a wall of bricks along the back, leaving spaces for hiding fish. Bricks are OK?? How about the prick pavers in the garden supply stores? Thank you so much for your time! Anna <Don't use anything from anywhere that doesn't come with a guarantee that it is safe to use in ponds or aquaria. Simple as that. If your brick supplier has told you they're lime-free and not otherwise chemically treated in some way, and provides an assurance that they're safe to use in ponds and fish tanks, go for it. I've certainly seen aquaria ornamented with bricks. But if they cannot assure you this is true, then steer clear. You will find your garden centre well supplied with inexpensive, pond-safe rocks such as granite and slate. Use those instead. Cheers, Neale.>

Freshwater Decor ? Goldfish sys.   3/12/08 Hello... Would a product made of alabastrite (not painted) be safe for a goldfish tank? And would a concrete type statue be safe with enough water circulation and oxygen? Lisa <No, none of these things is acceptable. Unless an ornament or material is explicitly sold as aquarium safe, don't assume that they are. Concrete for example contains lime, and that can raise the pH of the aquarium very quickly. You can get coatings that prevent this, allowing its use in ponds for example, but why bother? The variety of aquarium-safe rocks and ornaments is huge and wide ranging in price as well, so there's really no reason not to use them. Granite and slate can be bought from garden centres and used to create all manner of "terrain" inside the tank, and there's also bogwood, ceramic ornaments, terracotta, etc. Anything pond-safe should be aquarium safe. Cheers, Neale.> Re: Freshwater Decor ?  3/12/08 Thanks again Neale...... I asked about ceramics before and see that you mentioned that they would be safe as well but I'm getting so much different feedback from others. Some say ceramics are not safe unless they are marked "dinnerware" safe. <Ah, you misunderstand. When I say "ceramic ornaments" I mean the stuff sold in pet stores for fish tanks. Ceramic mangrove roots, castles, and the like.> Well, no statues or things of that nature would be marked dinnerware safe. Someone suggested buying "bisque" ceramics and then painting it ......but where would I find the right type of paint for inside the aquarium. <Wouldn't bother. Running an aquarium is difficult enough sometimes without adding unknown variables.> And some have said that ceramic can be glazed but needs to be fired a certain temp to make it "safe". I know I'm being anal here but I have yet to find one single aquarium decoration that I really like. <Hmm... I tend to go with what I know -- granite, slate and other stones sold as pond safe. Cheap, easy to obtain, safe. I don't really care much for ceramic castles and temples and shipwrecks, but I know some people like them. To be honest, Goldfish couldn't care less about ornaments save plastic plants, which they like for the shade. So why not go for a "jungle" style with thickets of plastic plants surrounding an open area for swimming? Bamboo is another great material, especially the super-thick stuff, for creating "oriental" scenes. The downside to bamboo is it rots and needs replacing every couple of years. But it is so cheap, who cares?> I'd be willing to buy someone from another country even if it was what I was looking for....don't mind shipping it in for the right product. Lisa <Some books on aquarium decor out there... 'The Inspired Aquarium', 'Aquarium Design', 'Aquarium Displays Inspired by Nature ', 'The Complete Aquarium' and others. Track down, consult. I happen to like 'The Complete Aquarium' a lot, and on Amazon.com it goes for about a buck second hand. Do also visit a garden centre and see what they have for decorating ponds and rockeries. Factor in the use of submersible lights and airstones -- these make dramatic additions, and will turn something humdrum into sheer magic if used right. Cheers, Neale.>

Safe for aquarium, Aquarium Safe Decor 2/20/08 I have a 3 part question. <Ok> 1) Is a large Amethyst Geode safe to use in an aquarium as a decoration. <I would not, I would worry about what else is the rock made of besides quartz.> 2) Is a rock painted with "Behr Latex mildew resistant" indoor paint safe? <No, the anti-microbial properties of the paint will cause problems.> 3) Could I cover the above rock in a thin layer of silicon to render it safe to use as a decoration in a fish tank. <I would not, not worth the risk and effort.> Thanks, Kevin <Welcome> <Chris> Ps Can you please email me a response as well as posting. <We always do.>

Aquatic Ornament and water flow within 1/29/08 Hello at WWM, I appreciate your site and all the information you provide. I have an ornament that I purchased for my tank a few years ago at a fish store for fish tanks. It's an artificial wood structure but looks more like a mountain. It's about 14 inches by 14 inches or so and is hollow inside. It is hollow so that water fills it up and it doesn't float. There is a hole on the bottom (that sits on the gravel) and two small holes on top. My question is: Can this cause a problem in the tank whereas there is no water flow within this thing? <Should be fine. If it's an aquarium ornament and not something designed for pot plants or whatever, it should be safe in fish tanks.> It's pretty big and I'm wondering if there could be a problem if the water filling it up doesn't have much movement (and filtration) within it - could it therefore cause problems to the water quality in the rest of the tank (slowly leaking out). I don't think it would be a problem but thought I'd ask if you have heard of any problems regarding this. I could put and air stone in there if need be I suppose. <Provided your aquarium has a decent water current, there shouldn't be any dead spots. An aquarium with small fish (guppies and Neons) should have a filter providing 4 times the volume of the tank in turnover per hour; make that 6 times for big fish (Plecs, big barbs, cichlids etc.).> The reason I ask is that in the past I had it in a fancy goldfish tank and did have some problems in the tank, but didn't verify if this was the problem - I believe it was parasitic, and treated it thus - but I just wanted to see if you have any opinion on this. I'm thinking of using it again for a Cichlid tank. <Never heard of diseases being caused by aquarium ornaments.> P.S. Tell Bob that I bought and read his book "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist" and appreciated what he said about feeding feeder goldfish. Every book I read that advises against it do so solely due to the introduction of parasites, but Bob's was the only one that gave thought and mention to the "hapless" goldfish as well. Very good to hear someone speak up for these guys unashamedly, being the goldfish fan that I am.<<Ahhh. RMF>> <Bob isn't the only one of us against the use of feeder Goldfish. In fact I think the majority of *professional* fishkeeping writers are against them. To be honest, it seems to be mostly immature aquarists of the male persuasion with too much testosterone and not enough brains who like watching one animal dismember another.> Thanks Richard <Cheers, Neale.>

Tank layout, FW bricks of some sort... for aquascape... inside...     01/13/2008 Hello WWM, I've been thinking about a new layout for my tank over the past week and I really like it, there's enough room to set it up in there, so yeah, here it is: I'd been thinking on getting some small bricks- or something that shape- from a local hardware store for the effect of basically building a wall/cliff on one end of my tank My tank contains several guppies, platys, a dragon goby, and two fiddler crabs, so I wanted to use this as a land space and plant some sort of moss on the top with some rocks for hiding. It would be about three inches or so wide, and cover the whole end of my 29 gallon tank. It's currently filled to about 2/3rds with the only "land" being some bogwood above water level. I thought that this might make a more stable alternative to the rock wall I attempted a while ago, which I could never build up high enough safely. My question to you guys is would this work with regards to filtration? Would the bricks trap too much fish poo, or would it provide a nice hiding spot for some of the smaller guppy fry which seem to pop out of their moms all the time? <Mmm, likely will be okay... am given to suggest leaving an inch or so space" behind the "wall", but nothing much on the "sides" to prevent the fish getting in...> If this is a good idea, would you happen to know of any good substances which would make a nice, aquarium-safe brick that I might be able to find around town somewhere? <Most all fired brick products should be fine... I might soak a piece in water for a few days... measure for changes in pH... some materials are able to be cut more easily then others... there may be merit in silicone/mortaring them together/in-place...> If not, would you be able to suggest an alternative, or at least point me in the right direction? Thanks a bunch, Collin. <This is largely a realm of experimentation... you want matter of no or gently positive chemical properties... Bob Fenner>

Concealing aquarium equipment I have a 125 glass aquarium that I'm setting up for discus, I wanted to know other than foam backgrounds, is it possible to conceal aquarium equipment inside the tank, for example I am going to use two Eheim 2215 filters. <Yes, using plants, rocks, bamboo, etc. Eheim (and perhaps other brands) make thermofilters, which have the heater in the external canister filter. These are very good for creating a "clean" look.> ( it is an unplanted tank). Do they make corner towers that I can hide the equipment behind? <Some all-in-one tanks come like this anyway (e.g., Juwel tanks). Not aware of any after-market units that you can add to a tank.> I've been doing a lot of research on your site regarding overflow towers, but I would rather not drill the tank. It doesn't appear that pvc (I was hoping on trying to find some form of black plastic that I could drill holes into to help with water flow), will adhere to the glass. <Aquarium-safe silicone sealant will help you glue anything to the glass you want.> I'm also concerned about having good water flow behind the concealed equipment. Do you have any suggestions. <Not normally an issue, but just make sure you don't create completely static pockets of water.> Thanks, Laina <Cheers, Neale.>

Futuristic Underwater City  1/8/08 Hello <Michael> We are looking to create a futuristic (Jetson type buildings, etc) underwater city in our 125gal tank. Do you have any ideas where we might find or how we might create such structures & scenery? Thanks! Michael Szromba <Neat idea... I don't recall seeing any article, nor much of a mention of such a novel project... But visions are coming into my head... are you going to cut the bottom of the tank and install a permanent "dome" over the cut out, such that you can add, manipulate, electrify the area underneath? I would be searching catalogs, online sources for miniatures... likely the model railroad biz is a good place to start. Do send along pix when you have them. Bob Fenner>

Re: Futuristic Underwater City 01/08/2008 Didn't think of the dome. This is something to keep in mind for a layout that wouldn't be submersible. We were more thinking of a "fish functional" futuristic city in the water in the center of the tank & then creating the illusion of an abyss on either side & the back. <Maybe a lighted diorama...> We would then use color & lighting to further enhance the effect...haven't gotten into thinking about how to make that work yet. We've tried the areas of model railroading, plastic modeling, etc, and have so far come up short on any futuristic structures. <Mmm, may have to fashion yourself... of chemically inert materials> Even looked in to molding our own, but all I've read on this is about molding from some existing object. Doesn't seem to be a feasible DIY method of molding from drawings, etc. The research continues! Thanks! <To petfish, and beyond! BobF>

Croc head in freshwater tank 11/18/07 Hi. Can I bleach a croc head I have in my freshwater tank? I needs really cleaned! Thanks. LISA C. YOUNG <I assume you are talking about a ceramic or rubber aquarium decor type. You can bleach it, about ¼ cup per gallon of water will do fine. Just be sure to rinse it thoroughly afterwards and let it dry completely (ideally 24 hours), making sure there is no bleach smell afterwards. Have fun, Scott V.>

Re: Croc head in freshwater tank 11/19/07 Thanks for the info about the croc head. But....it's not plastic or rubber. It looks like Bone to me, or something like that. I am attaching a photo so you can see what I'm talking about. Thank you. Lisa <Hello again Lisa. This croc head is indeed a casted resin. http://www.drsfostersmith.com/product/prod_display.cfm?c=3578+6635+16789&pcatid=16789 Bleaching it will be just fine. Have fun, Scott V.>

Re: Croc head in freshwater tank 11/20/07 Hi. Thanks so much....feeling more confident. I didn't want to kill anything. LISA C. YOUNG <Your welcome, glad to be of help, Scott V.>

A model...

Poly underlay floor leveler for fw aquarium structure  5/17/07 Hi Guys My name is Brian, this is my first time writing to you guys. I'm trying to find out if I can use "Poly" underlay floor leveler to make my own fw aquarium decorations and if yes <Can> what do I seal them with? Your help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks Brian <Polyurethanes, latex enamels (for a time), resins of various sorts are all possibilities here. Bob Fenner>

A few questions... Mmm, mainly FW Aquascaping Ideas   2/20/07 Hi guys - your site is great.  I've been doing a ton of research over the past few days, a bunch on your site, but have a few specific to my setup questions I was hoping you could help me with.  15-20 years ago I was big into freshwater fish.  This was in the pre-internet days, so I didn't have access to the great knowledge that's out there now.  Reading everything nowadays makes me wonder how I ever had successful tanks. :) <Mmm, there were, are books...> Anyway, after a very long hiatus, I've decided to get back into the hobby.  I picked up a 47G tall/column tank the other day, dimensions 20x18x30.  I've seen setups in the past with column tanks that are really stunning, so I figured why not.   <Indeed!> Of course, I'm anticipating a tank of these weird dimensions possibly having 'issues' I need to know about and deal with.  First question - with a tank this particular size, are there any 'gotchas'/issues I should know about right off the bat? <Mmm... a couple of the "stock" issues with less surface area per volume (compared with flatter, wider aquarium formats), and all they imply, impress... less dissolved oxygen per time, restrictions on livestock density... coupled with psychologically less horizontal space/territoriality... A bit harder to aquascape with rock let's say, and maybe a little harder to get into, work on... but as you state, stunning in appearance...> I anticipate having a few live plants, not many, and as for fish, I really don't know what I want yet.  I'm not set on anything, so I'd rather my filter preferences dictate what fish and how many I'll end up with.   <I see> Next question - I'm not planning on doing an UGF.  I also would prefer to have as little hanging off the back of the tank as possible, meaning I would prefer to not use a powerfilter or bio wheel, and the quieter the better.  You guys seem to like the Eheim canister filters -- would I be able to realistically get away with one of these for all my mech/bio/chem filtration? <Yes> If so, what model would you recommend -- the 2215 (164gph) or the 2217 (264gph) (or something else)?   <The 2217 is my choice here> Also, assuming this would work, what type of fish load do you think it would be able to handle (obviously in very broad terms here)? <All sorts... tank-bred specimens, species would be better... I like Angels, Gouramis, small catfishes... but you could have any number of "themes", biotopes here> Last question - I'm having trouble figuring out how I'd like to aquascape this tank given the fact that it's so tall.  I've been looking and looking for pictures of peoples' setups with column tanks to get ideas, but haven't really found much.  Do you know of any places with good examples or ideas specifically for column/tall tanks?   <The Takashi Amano books... are spectacular... see the library, the Net if you want to buy... Tropica's site, Dennerle... on the Net. Look about for a key piece of "driftwood", or rock... build around it/these> Specifically, I'm not really sure *what* to use to aquascape in the first place to get height in a tank like this.  I'm thinking I'd like some kind of rock wall built up from the ground - spanning most of the bottom back half maybe, and then tapering up to a point about 3/4 of the way up the tank (if that makes sense - like a triangle). <Man... what are you wearing? We're thinking alike...> But like I said, I don't really know what I could/should use to build something like that.  I know for reef tanks you just build up a wall however you want with live rock -- are there good rock pieces I should expect to find at shops similar to this but for freshwater tanks? <Mmm, maybe... this and "rock and concrete" sort of landscape suppliers... look in your "Yellow Pages"> (I haven't looked super hard, but the few places I've looked the last day or two I haven't really seen anything - just the standard run of the mill fake arches/formations, etc...).  Also, I'd like to be able to add live plants in this 'wall' (rather than be in the gravel at the bottom), and I'm not sure how that would work either, <Can be made to... maybe Anubias (potted or no), Java Fern... many possibilities> as far as anchoring them and getting them to root or whatnot.  Anyway, any ideas you could give me in this regard would be greatly appreciated.   Thanks for listening.  I hope to hear from you soon.   Sincerely, Jeff Mueller <As stated... see the Amano books... very inspirational. Bob Fenner>

Ornaments turning white   8/21/06 Hi, < Howdy! > My name is kylie and I have a 20 gallon tank with two ornaments one is a seahorse and the other a large castle and the color on both of them is coming of to the point that the seahorse is almost white. My question is, is there something in the water making this happen? < The water itself is making this happen. Water is the universal solvent, and will dissolve and dissolute nearly everything given enough time. Think about the Grand Canyon! Unfortunately, not all ornaments sold in the aquarium industry are truly "water-proof". Generally speaking, if the ornament looks like it has been painted, it is most likely not safe for long term exposure. > Thanks, < You are welcome! RichardB > -Kylie

Superglue and FW (all aquatic) systems   8/16/06 I was hoping that someone could tell me if superglue is safe to use on structures inside of my painted turtle's aquarium??? There are also some Zebrafish and Chinese algae eaters in the tank.. Would it be safe for them too? <Is very safe once cured. Bob Fenner>

Need Clarification about Sculpey sealers   8/3/06 http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwaquascapfaqs.htm   I read the article about using Sculpey to make tank decorations, but I'm not sure if the sealer I have is safe to use. The article said   "What sealant is safe to use? <For Sculpey, I use acrylic media (the stuff that's just the acrylic polymer). I haven't tried either plaster or concrete.>"   I don't know how to tell if my sealer meets those qualifications. I use (for all my other Sculpey projects) Folk Art's Clearcote Hi-shine Glaze by Plaid. It doesn't have a list of ingredients, but it does say on the back "Contains: Acetone, Toluene"   Can I use this product to seal my fish's Sculpey decorations? If I can't, can you tell me a product that can? Not just the chemical make up, but like a brand name or something more specific? Because I can't seem to find something that's label 'acrylic polymer' I haven't had enough chemistry classes yet to know by heart : )   I love your site, it's been a wonderful help to my roommate and I, who now have some 20 odd fish, spread across fifty gallons in various tanks. We've become quite the little fish fans with your help! Thanks again! <Mmm: Sculpey: http://www.sculpey.com/... the solvents listed should "all be gone" through evaporation within a day of their application here. I do think you'd be okay using this, submersing the products in a biological system once they're cured. Otherwise, coating these sculptures with epoxy paint, latex based acrylics should also be chemically inert. Bob Fenner>

Re: My Oscar, Sys., seashells best at the seashore   8/1/06 Hmm.. I sent you an email earlier today, asking about my new Oscar. I know on your web page it says read and you'll more than likely find what you're looking for, and I think I found one of the answers to one of the questions I had asked. (the one about why my new Oscar lays at the bottom of the tank) I still am curious as to whether sea shells are good for the tank or not. <Generally not useful for freshwater systems on two counts: they too-likely change water quality by dissolving... to conditions you don't want. And secondly, the shells sharp edges are too likely to physically damage the fishes> they're pretty, but If they are harmful I'll take them out. I have two in there. so there's not that many. Anyways...one more question, and sorry for the bother: I currently have a 10 gallon tank with a two inch or smaller tiger Oscar. I know that is probably two small. <Yes, will need more room... soon> but it's all I can have right now. When should I upgrade to a larger tank? <ASAPractical> What size of Oscar is considered too large for my tank? Thanks. <Likely at 3 inches or so... Bob Fenner>

Aquarium Deco    4/14/06 Hi,   I have a 58 gal tank.  I have not set it up yet. I am looking for an authentic looking shipwreck.  Approximately 12 to 24" long.  A two piece or one piece that looks broken in half with holes in the hull.  I have not been able to find anything like this.  What I have seen on the web are ships that look toyish.   I like " Top Fin " decor with its detail, but have not seen any ships etc.  Can you help me locate a vendor that may have what I am looking for?            Appreciated, thanks for replying <There are some really neat, authentic-looking, large shipwreck decor items made for aquariums, but most retailers don't carry them as they're perennially poor sellers. It may be that you'll want to "cast your net" a bit further, and ask for some European aquarist BB help here to locate a source in W. Europe... have it shipped to you. Bob Fenner> Corals in freshwater aquarium   2/23/06 Hello,  I'm new to fish and have kept a 30gal freshwater aquarium for about a year now. Just bought a couple large pieces of coral that I was intending to clean before putting in the aquarium. Was looking around for info on how to clean, but I keep on seeing info about putting corals in saltwater. There were a few statements about not using coral in freshwater.   Is that really true?  Is it a question of chemical interactions or the fish not interacting well physically with the coral? <Both> One piece I have is quite smooth, the other has sharper ends.    Should I forget the idea completely, or is it ok to try the corals in freshwater aquariums? Thanks. <There are some groups of fishes (that like hard, alkaline water)... e.g. some of the African Great Lakes residents, some livebearers, that can tolerate, even like the presence of calcium carbonate skeletons... from dissolving corals... but most freshwater, no. Bob Fenner>

Adding Sea Shells To a Freshwater Tank   2/1/06 Hi, I would like to know if it would harm my goldfish if I put sea shells into their freshwater tank. The shells were collected in Venezuela and have been soaked and the water has been changed continuously. Thanks for your help, < Generally adding shells to a freshwater tank is a bad idea. The shells will dissolve and cause the pH to rise. -Chuck>

Painting an aquarium decoration  - 01/12/2006 I purchased a XL Sewer Pipe decoration distributed by kandaimports, unfortunately I didn't notice the incomplete paint job.  The insides of the pipes are exposed as light grey material and it is very noticeable as the pipes opening are about 4inches in diameter.  the piece is not cement but maybe a plastic composite of some sort.  They suggested I use a 2part epoxy paint and then coat it with a 2part clear epoxy when done.  Problem is I can only locate a 2part epoxy that is for bathtubs (white or almond) no dark colors.  Any suggestions on a different kind of paint? <Most water-based latexes will work... though not as durable and color fast as epoxies. Bob Fenner>

Artificial Plants 1.5.2006 Hey Crew, I bought some plastic plants from a store in order to save some money. I was just wondering if there would be any chance that these plants would cause any harm to my fish. I cut the bottom of one of them off because it was too tall and notices metal wires in it, so I didn't use that one. Are the uncut ones alright to use? thanks for all the help <Are these for aquarium purpose?  If so, and none of the metal is exposed, I'd feel OK about using them.  If they're for other uses, I'd decline, as the adhesives and glues used are likely toxic.  Hope this helps!  Ryan>

Aquarium brands/backgrounds  11/24/05 Hello. I've got a question regarding fish tanks and backgrounds. I'm interested in purchasing a 100+ gallon aquarium for a Tanganyikan community tank, but I'm not sure which brand aquariums are best. <Opinions vary... but all the major brands are warranted, worthy. For glass I like the Perfecto, All-Glass and Oceanic lines... for acrylic, the SeaClear/Tradewind/CASCO, TruVu/Aquaplex and Tenecor lines...> One of the LFS sells Jebo aquariums. Do you know anything about them? <Yes> Do they have a good reputation? What other brands might you recommend looking at? <Mmm, more mixed than others listed above> I haven't yet decided between glass and acrylic, so I'm open to suggestions. <Mmm, see WWM re: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/tksstds.htm and the linked files above> My second question is about Pangea backgrounds. <Gorgeous> They look beautiful, but I'm wondering whether you've heard positives or negatives about them. Thanks so much for your feedback! <Have seen these at trade shows and set-up around the world. Quite sturdy, stunningly beautiful. http://www.aquarium-background.com/ Bob Fenner>

Lead And Foam Weights On Plants - 11/05/2005 Hi Robert <Actually, Sabrina here, in his stead.> I was just wanting to know if it was ok to leave the lead and foam weights on my Whisper (faux) plants, as I have a few fish that love to toss the rocks around in both my tanks. <If these are weights that are "built into" the plants, I would leave them. If not, if this really is lead, I would not use it. Instead, I would silicone the plant to an inert rock large and heavy enough to weight it down.> I have a 3 and a half foot tropical fresh water tank and a 2 and a half foot cold water tank. Thanks a lot. <You bet.> OZ P.S. I looked on the previous questions and answers pages but could not find  anything that said yes or no. Thanks again <Wishing you well, -Sabrina>

Aquarium Decorations 10/10/05 Hello, I have found your website very helpful as a beginner. I have searched for information on my particular question, but haven't had any luck finding the answer. Five or so years ago I found a small antler in a forest and I am wondering if putting this into my aquarium as a decoration will be toxic to my fish? Will the antler break down over time or should I be fine. The aquarium temperature is held at a constant 74 degrees.  Thank you for your time and your help.  <Yes, I'm quite sure you wouldn't find anything about antlers as decorations in aquariums on our site. But, to be on the safe side, I wouldn't. James (Salty Dog)> 

Ornamental Background Inserts are Pricey  9/28/05 Chuck, two questions: what price is "really expensive", and what price do you think is reasonable? < One hundred gallon backgrounds from Europe were costing 600 to 700 dollars US. Two to three hundred would be better but it all depends on the quality and workmanship.-Chuck>

Burping Hippo  9/26/05 I found your article on aquarium decorative accessories at WetWebMedia by doing a google search. I'm looking for a ceramic hippo that is operated by air and releases bubbles. You call it the burping hippo in the article. There is no mention of where, if anyplace, this burping hippo can be purchased. Is this no longer in production or can it still be found? Do you know of anywhere I can order this? I'd love to get this for my Dad's aquarium. Thank you, <Mary, we don't sell burping hippos.  The article may have talked about it but we are not an on-line store as such.  Thank you, James (Salty Dog)> Mary <<Is the original Penn Plax (001) ornament... very out of production... You might find this, and many other interesting "old aquarium artifacts" on eBay... BobF>>

Natural Looking Background Inserts  9/25/05 Hey guys, love your website! I am in the process of starting up a company manufacturing poly-resin (I guess the most common & cost effective as opposed to ceramics)  aquarium inserts. They are really habitats designed to bring out the natural behavior of the animal concerned. I have put a great deal of thought into and consulted with experts on designs and created one for amphibians, one for small reptiles, and several for fresh and salt water fish. They are not silly Ferris wheels with bubbles but look quite life-like rock formations, mangrove roots, etc. They have numerous overhangs, caves, and arches, (like you would find in nature) so will not be easy to mass produce ( I.e. make a mould of). Any suggestions on where to go to have a mould made? I am nervous of going to China in that the intellectual property I.e. my mould and source of production would be over there and hard to monitor. Any thoughts? < This project comes up numerous times over the years. Old World Exotic was importing them in from Sweden but the were very expensive. You can see the creation process in the Cichlid Yearbook #1 by Ad Konings. China would be a logical source but the tend to copy everything. The are a couple of problems with these backgrounds. They are expensive. They take up valuable tank space. Fish get behind them. Tanks bigger than 30 gallons or acrylic tanks have dividers across the top or very narrow openings that will not allow the placement of an insert. The backgrounds soon become covered in algae so all of your painting becomes obscured under the algae. I have one in a 50 gallon tank and have a love /hate relationship with it. Love the way it looks with plants and discus but it has its problems.-Chuck>

Keeping Background clean 8/28/05 The plastic background I am using always accumulates deposits between the background and the aquarium glass.  This becomes a maintenance hassle.  What's the best way to attach the background to avoid/minimize the accumulation of deposits? <I would imagine this would be quite annoying and frustrating.  How about attaching the background to the outside of the aquarium glass? I would think that would solve the problem.  Best of luck, Jorie> <<Mmm, a slight smear of Silicone sealant (with the glass, acrylic absolutely clean) all around the edge of the background's edge is best here. RMF>>

Paints/varnishes for use inside fw aquarium Dear most knowledgeable folks, <Okay...> I'm working on a 3D background for a 135 FW tank, carving tree roots and rocks out of EPS (Styrofoam), and wondering about paint that will be durable and nontoxic. I had originally planned to coat the whole thing in an epoxy marine varnish, but all available seem to be high-gloss, which looks unnatural. I've read one DIY-er who says he's used a matte-finish clear spray with no ill effects on his fish. I know that Pangea ( http://www.pangeashop.com/) makes painted foam backgrounds for use in aquariums, and even supplies touch-up paints, so I'm guessing there are paints which are safe to use. Any advice, other than subjecting some hapless Danios to a test? Thanks Melinda Johansson <Water-based latex and acrylic epoxies will cure non-toxic, but I don't know re their ability to last, weather underwater... Bob Fenner>  
Re: paints/varnishes for use inside fw aquarium
Thank you! I think I'm going with artists' acrylic, coated by a coat of clear matte acrylic. My biggest concern is whether the clear coat will eventually cloud underwater, but we'll see. <Agreed> Thanks again. Your site is awesome. It makes fishkeeping a very different venture than when I started in it 30 years ago. <Again... we are in confluence... am very happy to see more and more content added to the Net, some reasonableness forthcoming in getting accurate, significant, useful information to folks expediently... Bob Fenner>

Concrete paints ..... Firstly , you guys are great, thanks so much for all of your help. After reading as much as possible I still have a couple of q's. I have constructed a cement background for a 150 G FW. I used Styrofoam as a base. I used a common cement mix before I was a aware of plastic cements (thanks to WWM), as far as I know it will be highly alkaline once water is added. <Yes... but will leach out... and you can speed up the removal of the high pH components... use of dilute acids... like vinegar> I also used an acrylic fortifier throughout the building process. I am not pleased with the look, the texture is fine but I would like the color to be brown. I would prefer a coating that I could paint onto the cured cement that will not get darker in the water (like all cement does when its wet).   1. Should I acid wash to remove alkaline causing agents first, or should I acid wash after applying a paint? <I would do this before> 2. What paint should I use....epoxy based, water based latex, acrylic....keeping in mind the surface is cement based with an acrylic fortifier?    <Mmm, actually, either Dry Lok or Thoro... colored with oxide... like used for stucco... would be my preference. Please see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/PondSubWebIndex/thoroselart.htm and the linked files above> 3. Will I be able to have a normal ph level (7.8-8.2..Tanganyikan cichlids) once the curing process is complete? <Yes> I am prepared to also cure the piece for a couple of weeks using a water softener or softener salt (does this make sense at all) dissolved in the full tank. <Read through WWM re acid use... much faster> Thank you... In Advance Adrian Seepersaud <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Fossil in fish tank Dear WWM, In addition to keeping pet fish as a hobby, I also collect fossil shark teeth (Large C. Megalodon teeth). I thought it would be fun to combine these interests, and put teeth inside my tanks, as a decoration. However, I am unsure if they would affect my tanks chemically. These teeth are found in rivers in South Carolina, and are composed of FLUORAPATITE [calcium phosphate fluoride - Ca5F(PO4)3] . Would this be safe to add to my tanks (A 29 gallon freshwater and a 10 gallon brackish)? Will it affect my PH, GH, or KH? What about phosphates? Thanks for your assistance. Sincerely, Wesley P. Hermann  <This material IS very safe in aquarium systems... virtually insoluble as you might guess. Bob Fenner> 

Malawi aquascape I'm looking to create a small Malawi aquascape for my 75 gallon using the recipe for Aragocrete (GARF), but substituting silica for aragonite. My question is how do the pros at zoos create such incredibly realistic backgrounds for their aquariums? Are these made from polyester resins, or from concrete? <Have been made from both, and other materials... if concretes, materials including cements, these are "plastic types" generally, and even then, need "curing" (can be sped up with mild acid washing.... to remove the bulk of excess alkalinity> How do they create a substructure and what are some ways to scale this down to the aquarium size for a realistic DIY background?  <Mmm, no under-structure likely needed... large constructs have welded, tied re-bar, wire/cloth... sometimes other support... but for an aquarium size background... can be made in sections... for removal... or cast in place... with the tank laid down on its back (unless this is to be a diorama... with it outside the tank> It's main goal would be to cover the equipment (overflow box, return pipe, heater...) while not looking too manufactured. <Stand-offs for inserting this gear later can be made of piping, Styrofoam that can be melted out (with solvent) later...> I'll cure it all in an empty 55 before adding it to a 75 to make sure pH isn't affected. Thanks, Steve <In this case, making (likely wood) forms and pouring your material into these is likely what you will do... in at least three sections (this stuff is HEAVY). Bob Fenner> 

90-gallon tank background Hello, Crew! <Bob, it's... Bob!> I have greatly appreciated your insight in the past and hope you don't mind if I pick your brain again. <Not much left... but go ahead!>   I am getting ready to set up a 90-gallon tank in my office and am trying to figure out what to do with my background.  I'd like to do something other than paper, just because I am worried about try to clean any drips that may occur. <Mmm, a couple of things here... a good idea to coat/line such backgrounds that may be damaged by water... and either use a good water-proof tape over the entire edge of the background and tank to seal it, OR even silicone sealant!> That won't be an easy tank to reach behind, if you know what I mean. <I do> Anything you have seen that was pretty neat and semi-easy to create? <All sorts... from appliqués like paints, mothball combo's (remember Crystal Craze? Man, I'm getting old!), photo-quality prints and others... dioramas (almost all home-made), and inside (some are fabulous) constructs of modern materials to slate...> I know I can go with painting the back a flat color, but that just seems rather dull.  My plans in the tank are to set up a south pacific environment with live sand and about 50-60 pounds of live rock in order to leave lots of swimming room.  Any creative thoughts or resources I should consider? <Let you mind swirl here... don't stare too long in a lava lamp however... maybe a Styrofoam sheet of thickness that you can paint (I like blues) and first melt out some 3 D relief in (most any solvent will do... outdoors!)... Take a look on the Net re what others have done... and when you're "just walking around", keep your eyes open for possible textures, colors... Like burlap material... cork board...> Thanks for your time and energy.  You are a great resource for all of us! Bob <Glad to share. Bob Fenner>

Decor contamination hi, I was wondering if there is any way to find out if a rock or object is safe for your aquarium.  I am going to buy a 55g tank and want to put some small pieces of flag stone in the aquarium to create a decorative hiding space for my FW Moray eel.  How can I find out is the flagstone is safe or not? < Usually rocks and sand  that leach minerals into the aquarium are to be avoided. Add a drop of Muriatic pool acid to a rock and see if it fizzles. This is the calcium in the rock reacting to the pool acid. This rock will leach minerals into the water and raise the pH. Try soaking the rock in some distilled water and check the pH often and see if the minerals leach off the rock into the water and raise the pH. IF the pH changes avoid the rock.-Chuck>

Question about rocks in Fresh     This was a question about White Keystone rock.  I have recently had problems with bad cloudiness in the tank.  Is "white keystone rock" not good for a fresh water tank?       Thank you take care. < I don't know exactly what white keystone rock is but I can give you a few do's and don'ts when it comes to rocks. Don't use rocks or gravel that is made from a sedimentary rock like sandstone, siltstone or conglomerate because calcium/lime deposits have created a cementation that will dissolve over time and increase the pH of your water. Geologists use weak acid solutions to test the rock and see if it will sizzle when the acid is applied. If the rock is making your water cloudy then don't use it. If it is a quartz time material then it should be fine but there may have been some rock dust on it that wasn't washed off that clouded the water. If the pH has increased and the cloudiness persists then I would definitely get rid of the rock.-Chuck>             -al-

Foreign decorations in an aquarium Hi My name is Angela and my friend just got a 55 gallon tank.  I really want to get him something that suits him well and he loves Aerosmith, Scarface, and Kiss.  I was wondering if you know of a site that might have custom figurines?  or if I just buy a figurine what is water safe and what is not (ex. plastic, ceramic, glass) << Well I've never thought of that.  I'd say anything that isn't metal is safe.  Painted items may be of concern as well.  But plastic, glass, ceramic, are all safe for the aquarium.  Odd looking.... but safe. >> <<  Blundell  >>

Using ceramic glazed objects in freshwater aquariums Dear Bob, <Julie> I have read your FAQ about DIY objects for your aquarium. I saw two different answers. One said that you shouldn't put glazed objects in your aquarium. The other answer said that you can add glazed objects in an aquarium. Can you pleases help me out here. I like to add fire glazed objects with my tetra's, thanks for the help, Julie <All ceramics that have been glazed that I have ever heard of are safe for aquarium use. The glazing process renders the pieces chemically inert... so they do NOT influence water quality. Bob Fenner>

Clay Pots Hello, Just wanted to ask if it was safe to use clay flower pots that you can get from any garden center to use as decoration in a freshwater aquarium setup?  The fish will require soft to medium soft water and I didn't know if the clay would harden the water any. If it is alright to use the pots what is the best way to clean them??? Thanks for your help, Frances Gray <<Frances, yes, assuming you mean the regular, reddish terracotta pots, they are fine. To clean them just rinse under tap water and scrub them with some baking soda. If you want to cut the pots in half lengthwise, you can soak them for a few days in a bucket with water to soften them, this will make it easier to saw them in two without them chipping. Do not use pots with paint, glazes, etc, for obvious reasons. Have fun :) -Gwen>>

Coral... from HI? Cleaning, using in freshwater? We just received dead coral from Hawaii and would like to know how to clean it and then can we put it in our freshwater tank? Than you,  Shelley Lundberg <Dead coral from Hawai'i? Not supposed to be collected, shipped from the 50th State. An "action plan" on how to clean coral skeletons can be found here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/clnornart.htm but not a good idea in general to use coral skeletons in freshwater systems... for the chemical changes to water quality and danger in scratching livestock they present. Bob Fenner> --- Kim Lundberg

Safe store bought tank decor? (03/05/04) Hi and thank you for your wonderful web site. I just discovered it today! I hope you can help me with my question!      <Hi! Ananda here to try!> Until now I have always had my small 1 1/2 gallon tank set up with a few plastic plants and some rocks but,... since my Betta of 3+ years recently went the great fish bowl in the sky I decided to change things up a bit with a new Betta. New Fish new decor! <Yay! It's always fun to redecorate the tank.> Last night I went and purchased a new Betta and some tank architecture and when I got home I set up the tank. I soaked the architecture in treated water for about 2 hours and gave it a thorough scrubbing.  After I completed the tank set up I noticed the water faintly smells of ???? My best guess would be resin or some sort of compound the decoration is made from. <Or something that was sprayed on the decoration as a "fixative", or something similar.> Needless to say I am unsure if it's safe for the new Betta and so my new Betta is still sitting in the plastic container he can home from the store in. Help what do you think? <I would put the Betta in the tank with the old stuff, and keep the new stuff in a bucket -- dump the smelly water, refill the bucket, let sit several hours or overnight. Rinse and repeat until the water in the bucket does not stink. At that point, it should be safe for the fish. If you are uncomfortable with how long it may take to get to a non-smelly state, you might bring it back to the store and explain the issue to them and try for a refund. --Ananda>

DIY decorations for FW tank Dear WetWeb crew-- Hi, I read your site everyday, and haven't been able to find my answer in the google search.  I want to make my own decorations for a FW tank. The pieces I plan will be fairly large.  I've done mold making/casting, but does the poly-resin have to be FDA approved? <No, but would guarantee their safety for human use/ingestion> Can you tell me a specific type (brand) of material can safely be used in tanks? <Polyurethanes> What about cured Sculpey;  plaster, or concrete after sealing?  <Can be used... need to be acid-washed or soaked for a long time (weeks, months) to leech their alkaline exteriors> What sealant is safe to use? <100% silicone, methacrylates, many marine epoxies> Are regular acrylic craft paints safe to use? <Epoxy based ones are better, but acrylics will do> I read the 'bioassay' article, and everything archived about decorations, but was hoping you might have a specific type of material that would be a good place to start experimenting. Thanks for your time and great advice! Kate <I say start your work! Bob Fenner>

Making decorations for freshwater tank (1/23/04) Dear WetWeb crew-- <Hi! Ananda here tonight...> Hi, I read your site everyday, and haven't been able to find my answer in the Google search. <Check the forums, too -- http://wetwebfotos.com/talk ... cause I've talked about this on the forums! :-) > I want to make my own decorations for a FW tank. The pieces I plan will be fairly large. I've done mold making/casting, but does the poly-resin have to be FDA  approved? <It's definitely safer that way. You need to get a resin that won't leach *anything* into the water.> Can you tell me a specific type (brand) of material can safely be used in tanks? <I've shied away from using resins because I'm not sure the stuff I have on hand is tank-safe. If you do find out a specific brand, I would be *very* interested in hearing about it!> What about cured Sculpey;  plaster, or concrete after sealing? <Sculpey: Once you bake it, it's safe. I've been using that in my tanks (both freshwater and brackish) for two years. You can use acrylic matte medium as a glue to attach gravel etc. to a base and create your own fake plants using silk plants from the craft store. 100% pure silicone (from the hardware store) works as a glue, also; just make sure you get the kind that has nothing but silicone in it. Plaster or concrete: Both of these will send the pH through the roof if they aren't totally sealed. I'd be very, very careful. Check out the forums for topics about "gravelcrete" or "gravocrete" and "aragocrete" for comments about using cement-based substances in tanks. You have to cure them for weeks before they're safe to put in the tank.> What sealant is safe to use? <For Sculpey, I use acrylic media (the stuff that's just the acrylic polymer). I haven't tried either plaster or concrete.> Are regular acrylic craft paints safe to use? <They should be, if they're well-sealed or worked into the Sculpey and the baked pieces sealed.> I read the 'bioassay' article, and everything archived about decorations, but was hoping you might have a specific type of material that would be a good place to start experimenting. <Hunt out a ceramics shop. Poured ceramics, once fired and glazed, are safe in the tank. I haven't done ceramics in years, but I suspect they may have matte-finish glazes by now.> Thanks for your time and great advice! Kate <You're quite welcome, and I'd love to know what you come up with! --Ananda>

Adding the Ocean to Your Tank 11/06/03  Hi :)  <Hi, Pufferpunk here>  I have a cichlid tank that is very well established. I love to change the tank display. In the past I have put coral in the tank that I have gotten while snorkeling in the Caribbean with no problem. I have a very large conch shell that I feel apprehensive about displaying in my tank, but think it would look awesome in it! Do you think it will be okay?  <You're not going to like this answer, but I feel I must scold you a little here. As an avid scuba diver (I'm actually leaving for the Caribbean on Saturday), I need to educate you about taking things from the ocean. We have a saying, "Take only pictures & leave only bubbles". Everything in the ocean has a reason for being there. That conch could be used for a hermit crab or octopus home. It is never good to help yourself to these things. Enough said about that. ;) If there is no smell to it, you could soak it overnight in a light bleach solution, rinse well & then a few hours more in dechlorinated water, before adding it to your tank.>  Thanks for your help. Susan  <You're welcome, Pufferpunk> 

DIY tank decorations? (10/24/03) <Hi! Ananda here today...> What kind of resin can I use to make ornaments for my freshwater aquarium and where can I get it? Tony <I've done some resin casting, but your email address seems to indicate you're in the UK, so I'm not certain the stuff I've used would be available to you. You might try a Google search: resin casting site: UK The "site: uk" will restrict the search results to sites that have ".UK" in their top-level domain name, i.e., sites based in the UK. It looks like some of those sites should have some of the info you want. Once you decide on a specific resin, you can cast a piece and test it in dechlorinated tap water. Make sure to wash off any mould release first! While the resin *should* be inert, I would leave it in dechlorinated water for a few days, then test the water. If anything comes out abnormally, change the water, wait another few to several days, then test again. If the resin is still leaching chemicals, you can either wait longer to see if it stops, or try another resin. --Ananda>

Shells and coral skeletons, use in FW aquariums I currently own a 65 gallon freshwater tank with a selection of fish in it (Gouramis, Plecostomus, Chinese algae eaters, Cory cats, cichlids, one female Betta, a couple snails and a tiger barb). <Just one comment - tiger barbs are schooling fish, and should be kept in groups, as they'll be healthier/happier - but they become nippy and may cause harm to long-finned fish.  Also, 'cichlids' encompasses an enormous group of fish, so from just that, I have no idea whether they're compatible with the rest of your fish.  Since you're not mentioning any problems, I'm going to assume all is well and happy in your tank.  Sounds great.> I have recently been given some coral and some seashells from my father, who harvested it from the waters around Jamaica over 30 years ago.  He has kept them clean, dry and isolated since, but recently offered to give them to me to use in my tank.  My question is whether or not I can use these items as decorations in my tank.   <Unfortunately, since your tank is freshwater, I'm afraid the answer is no.  They would be absolutely fine to use in a freshwater rift lake cichlid tank, a brackish tank, or a saltwater tank, but in your tank, they will raise the pH undesirably, and possibly harm your fish as a result.> I am concerned that since they came from a saltwater source and have not been "sanitized" that they could affect the fish in my tank either by disease or death.  Can you provide any advice on how to use these to enhance my aquarium, or if I should even use them at all? <Should you ever choose to have a rift lake, brackish, or saltwater tank, it's all a go - I'd recommend boiling the items in a pot of water first to kill anything that they might be harboring.  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Paint for Aquarium Figurines I bought a couple decorations for the tankeroo, and hated the color they were, so... took the liberty of painting them. Well, didn't really dawn on me till I was almost finished that I probably shouldn't put that in my tank since I painted it with Acrylic paint. What should I do? Can I coat it with something that will make it safe for my tank? <Acrylic once cured (dried, in a day or so) should be fine> How about Polyurethane? <You could coat the items with this but likely unnecessary. Bob Fenner> If I let it cure forever before putting it in. Or where could I get a clear epoxy, latex paint, or resin? Also, what is two part urethane? Thank you soooo much. Chelsea

-Overloading the bottom glass?- Hi guys, this is the first time I have sent you a question. I am a newbie, I have recently bought a 34gal tank and I plan on putting African Cichlids in it. I aim to decorate the tank in a more marine looking tank than a freshwater tank using imitation corals and such. my question to you is how much rock can the bottom glass take? Is there a rule of thumb on the weight capacity for this? I can't find a calculator on any site that will tell me what the capacity of rock weight my 36" X 12" tank bottom will carry before I run the risk of breaking the glass. <No worries, I don't believe it's possible to overload your tank bottom, as scary as that sounds.> It is a concern of mine because I am thinking about making my own rock using concrete and cichlid substrate mix. what do you think? I see some marine tanks just loaded with rock and I wonder if those tank's bottoms are 3/4" up from the bottom edge of the tank or have some additional support for the bottom like the glass being in total contact with the surface of the stand. <Nope, as cheesy as these aquariums and stands appear to be built, they can really hold a tremendous amount of weight. You should be all set!> I hope you can help put me at ease before I load the tank up and have a problem in the end. <Good luck, Mike, you can finally sleep easy again! -Kevin> Cheers. Mike.

In the beginning, there was a tank... Hi Wet Web, <Hi Samantha, PF here tonight> I am a beginner fish owner with several questions.  I recently purchased a 29 gallon tank package (tank, heater, filter, thermometer).  I set up the tank properly, washing it, the gravel, the plants - everything.  The tank was filled, water conditioner and salts were added, and I let the tank run for one week.  A friend recommended we purchase pH and ammonia test kits, and test the water before purchasing feeder fish for starting the initial tank-water cycle. So we did. <You wouldn't have any kind of nitrate or ammonia without something there to decompose, no surprise there was no change> The pH tested very basic, so we added the pH down solution....actually we added several rounds of it over a period of 5 days. <This stuff can take a while to take affect> The ammonia test, we did not attempt at this time.  No changes occurred. It still showed the basic blue color to test.  Ok...off to the local fish shop.  They instructed me that pH isn't something to be overly concerned about. <That all depends on what kind of fish you are keeping, some less, others vital.> Ok.  They sold me three cute feeder fish, and off home we went.  I introduced them to the tank slowly and all was well for about two days.  Then the tank started to become cloudy - I could actually see the coloring in the water swirling about! <This is bacterial growth from fish food/excrement> It got so bad that I couldn't see fish nor plant.  Everyday it got more and more yellow and cloudy  So I put the fish in a pail, and completely emptied, washed and re-did the tank and let it run.  However, foolish me almost killed the poor fish in the bucket I had them in.  As soon as I saw them wobbling on their sides I panicked and put them back into the tank.  They survived, thank goodness.  But it is now happening again. The water is turning yellow and cloudy slowly.  Why is this happening? <Your tank is still cycling> I did not use any chemicals to wash the tank and supplies, no pH solutions were added the second time, just the salts <I assume salt supplements for FW tanks?> and conditioners.  The fish appear to be happy.  They swim, eat and have periods of floating, where it appears they are resting. I keep the tank temp at 74 degrees F.  I hope to have a community tank with tetras, mollies, a bottom feeder, an algae eater and the 3 feeders.  But I don't want to rush into anything until I can get this under control and running properly. <Tetras, as I recall are Amazonian black water fish, be sure and research any fish before making the purchase. Your time spent will pay in healthy/happy long lived animals you don't have to replace.> 1.  Why is the water turning yellow?  (I have town water, used water conditioners and salts as directed)  Could this be a disease?<Much more likely it's bacteria, see above> 2.  Should I have an air-rator device of some kind? <Not necessarily, you filter will provide aeration> 3.  I've read on your website that small frequent changes are best.  Is once monthly sufficient for a 29 gal tank?  I have 22 gal of water in the tank right now. <twice a month would be better, weekly better yet. A 4 gallon bucket (most home repair/supply stores have them) with an airstone in it would be a good place to condition water.> 4.  The pH test kit and the ammonia test kit have no expiry dates on them, they are a no name type brand.  Can these kits become expired? <Yes> Is there a widely known, reliable brand you can recommend?  <I'm not an expert on FW testing, you might want to go over to the forum and post this under the Equipment & Dry Goods section. Here's the link to the forum: http://wetwebfotos.com/talk /  I do know Salifert makes a very good test kit, but bear in mind they are priced to match. AS I recall, they're are test kits you can get that include pH, ammonia, nitrate, etc. for about $35> 5.  Is it necessary to have a test kit each for pH, ammonia, nitrates? <Yes> Should these tests be used frequently? Once a week or more? <Once a week would be a good routine> 6.  I would like to add real rocks to my aquarium to create neat living areas for the fish.  How can I safely go about this?  I have checked my local pet stores, but none sell anything but gravel. <Ok, there rocks you can get at a home supply store, or garden shop. You might want to see if any of your local greenhouses also do ponds ( a growing hobby ) they may be able to point you to some good local rocks to use. Also check here for some advice from Bob: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/PlantedTksSubWebIndex/rkwdscapeag.htm > 7.  During the initial cycling for a tank to get it started, should I be doing any water changes? <Small, regular changes won't hurt> How will I know when to do one?  If so, should the water changes be less than those of the monthly maintenance type changes? <No, biweekly would be better, say 5% (4 gallons) 8.  How do I know when the cycling is done and it is safe to start introducing other fish? <Test for ammonia and nitrate, when you have 0 ammonia, and the nitrates are dropping, there you go. Add fish slowly> 9.  I am suspicious that my filter is of poor quality.  It is an Aqua-Tech filter that hangs off the side of the tank.  It sucks water up into a bucket area and it passes through a flat cartridge like filter before pouring back into the tank.  The filter is a black plastic sheet with a pot-scrubber like foam attached to it.  Between the two is a small amount of charcoal pieces.  No matter how many time I try to shake it to even out the charcoal, they settle to the bottom of the filter cartridge. <Not really an issue, most charcoal becomes "full" in a few days anyway.> I am worried that this is not filtering enough, or efficiently.  Could this be the case?  The force of the water pouring back into the tank is very strong.  It pushes the fish all the way down to the bottom when they swim through it.  Should a filter do this? <Not a problem really. The biggest problem with your filter is that when you change out the media, you remove a big chunk of your biological filter. You might want to look a unit with a BioWheel instead. Now, if you go that route, don't ever replace the BioWheel unless it breaks. Even if it looks cruddy and barely rotates, leave it on - it will keep your biological filter intact.> 10.  Is there a method for feeding fish when you will be away for a couple weeks? <There are feeder blocks you can buy> I am new to my area, and know no one.  I do not want strangers in my house. <And I don't blame you.> 11.  Can I add water to the tank in between water changes, if the level appears to be low due to evaporation? <Yes, you should be topping off your tank> Thanks for any help you can provide to me on these topics, Samantha <You're welcome Samantha, welcome to the hobby and have a good night, PF>

Coconuts?  In My Tank??  3/30/03 Hi, it's me again!<Phil with you this morning.>  Is it true that using coconut shell halves as caves in your aquarium is bad because they leach phosphates into the water?<I believe I've heard something like that.  I would leave the shells out of the aquarium because they will start to decay and foul the water.> Can high levels of phosphates irritate fish?<In ways yes.  High phosphates cause algae to grow at lightning speed.  Hope this helps!  Phil>

- Locating Products - Where can I get a sand waterfall for my aquarium I have been looking for them all over? <I'm not familiar with the item you describe, but I would do two things: first, check through our list of aquatic links to find what you are looking for - http://www.wetwebmedia.com/WWMAdminSubWebIndex/general_links_pg.htm Secondly, you should also enter the phrase "sand waterfall" into your favorite search engine and follow the links that show up. Good luck in your search. Cheers, J -- >

- Sand Waterfalls, a Description - Crew: <Hello - JasonC here...> Saw the post about "sand waterfalls." Just though I'd let you know what these are. They are cutesy fad FW aquarium decorations that use an air stone to cause sand to pour out of the upper portion and land in a collector at the bottom to be swept back up and through again. They come in may different types (e.g. lion's mouth, mountain). I bought one at PetSmart a few years back. I haven't seen them there in a long time, probably because they are absolute junk. Threw mine away a long time ago. The currents in the aquarium would sweep the sand stream away so that most fell outside of the decoration. Pretty soon one has a pile of sand next to it and no sand running though the "waterfall." Steve Allen <Thank you for this input - will make sure it makes it onto the dailies just in case anyone else was wondering what these were like I was. Thanks, J -- >

Re: seashells Is it safe to put seashells into fresh-water aquarium for deco?  I have a 55-gal. tank. <It would depend on where you get the seashells. If they are purchased at your LFS they should be safe. It's not recommended to use any that were gathered somewhere or ones purchased from non-fish stores. Ronni>

Re: plant cover for Gourami in quarantine Hi! I was just wondering if it might be ok to float a leaf of romaine lettuce in a quarantine tank with a single Golden Gourami jut to give it some cover.  I don't have a plant to put in at the moment. Thank you, Steve <Hi Steve.  This may be more trouble than it is worth.  The leaf would have to be rinsed really well to make sure there were no pesticides on it.  It would not take it long to start decaying so it would have to be replaced frequently.  I would probably just pick up some plastic plants next time I was at the fish store. -Gage>

Wood log and copper Hi there!  I have a quick question about a log...I used to keep this log in a 10 gallon freshwater aquarium that I have treated with copper before.  This tank has since been taken down and set up again.  It was only bare for a month or so and now it is running again and fully cycled.  My question: If I reintroduce the log will it disrupt or destroy the cycle because of the copper it probably soaked up?   <no worries here. After a good rinse of the log, the impact will be slight if any. Use Poly filters for the first few months to sop up residual copper.> A huge thanks for your time! Rachael <best regards, Anthony>

Driftwood plants To Robert, could you please tell me what plants can attach to driftwood. I know that java fern, java moss, Anubias nana can. Could you please tell me all the plants that you know that can attach to driftwood? <Hmm, well other aquatic ferns and mosses do... Am trying/typing to think of a reference I have or somewhere to send you that might list these... What books on general aquarium gardening do you have access to?> Preferably the easy ones! Could you send me a link if you know where I could find pictures of them. <I wish. Would gladly even post my images on part of our site: Home Page if/when have time/general resources to sort them all out.> 1) Can spathiphyllums attach to driftwood? Someone told me that they can but they need to be 'very young', when they are still growing. Is it possible for it to attach to d.wood even when 10cm tall? <Spathiphyllums? Not really. These are "short timers" in submersed settings... Really bog plants at best, terrestrial ones for a certainty.>  Thanks  >> <Be chatting... I do encourage you to consider actually writing articles, making photographs to go with writing/selling articles about your above insightful questions... Bob Fenner>

Driftwood with live plant Dear Robert, I recently purchased some driftwood and the pet shop said to soak it in water for 2 weeks, changing the water every day. They said that doing this gets rid of the 'tannin' that the wood releases. <Much of the tannins... among other potentially discoloring, damaging compounds...> I'm worried as my wood is not sinking. I am also equally concerned as I read your notes that driftwood could still release harmful properties into my tank-I wouldn't want to harm my trop. fish. I have a Aquaclear 300 and Clearflow undergravel filter.  <I hear you... Take a look at the site: Home Page and Freshwater Index piece and FAQs on the "sinking" issue of driftwood... you may need to boil the material, maybe use some chemicals with it... even attach something chemically inert (like slate) to its base to get the overall density high enough to weight it down> 1) Do you recommend that I continue with preparing the drift wood? and if so, what should I do to make it sink? 2) Will it release harmful chemicals that may affect my fishes' breeding patterns? if so, what can I do? <What sorts of fishes, other livestock? Many are not mal-affected by such exposure...> 3) The piece of driftwood is very long and I cannot keep it fully submerged in a bucket and I can't use the sink either, mum won't let me! Does it need to be completely submerged to 'sink'? <Yes... as in to waterlog the whole mass... and prep. it... and get it, keep it down!> Thank you I would really appreciate it if you could send me a reply at your earliest convenience. Keith >> <Be chatting my "unsinkable" friend. Bob Fenner>

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