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Freshwater livestock selection

Bob Fenner

The appropriate selection of freshwater livestock, both as species and individual specimens determines from the outset whether you will have a low/no trouble arrangement or ongoing troubles, perhaps even deaths. Utmost care should be exercised in “putting together your livestock assortment” — carefully make working lists of what you might have, particularly as regards each species initial size, growth rate and likely maximum in your setting, its foods and feeding, water quality preferences and ranges, temperament (at least likelihood of all getting along), as well as issues of what type and part of the aquarium each will likely occupy. Looking about our planet and its varied freshwater environments, it's not surprising to find that there are many and varying type habitats...Some colder, others warmer...where the water has more/less dissolved solids, oxygen, is softer/ harder, of high/low to middling pH, there are places where light is bright, the water clear and not...
waters calm and briskly moving...There are many other factors that one might list to differentiate the many diverse habitats of freshwaters...but these stated identify the principal characteristics in helping us decide which fishes, invertebrates and plants
we might keep together. None of these aquatic worlds is “peaceful” either... with most all life found there seeking to eat, and avoid being eaten by others... All of this must be borne in mind... indeed investigated by you, to determine what sort of habitat you'd like to provide or alternatively what mix of life you can likely apply to having a successful aquarium

Travis fabulous

Pantodon buchholzi Peters 1877
African or Freshwater Butterflyfish. A great
favorite, and fabulous jumper... To four inches
in length. Feeds on live crustaceans, insects
and fishes.

Gnathonemus petersii (Gunther 1832)
Elephantnose. The most (actually only)
common species, perhaps along with the "Baby
Whale", West Africa, where it grows to some
fourteen inches in maximum length. Here in an
aquarium showing the back reflection of "flash"
light from their tapetum lucidum, light
amplifying structure of the eyes.

Xenomystus nigri (Gunther 1868)
African Knifefish. Western Africa. To eight
inches maximum length. Vies with the Clown
Knife as most popular aquarium species of the
family. Easy going, intelligent addition to
peaceful tanks.

Synodontis nigriventris David 1936
Dwarf Upside Down Catfish. Central Africa;
Congo Basin. Conditions: pH 6-8, dH 5-12,
temp. 22-26 C. To nearly four inches total
length. The most popular/common species of
the family in the aquarium interest.

A Plan

Ideally, you will be able and willing to study up ahead concerning the aquarium hobby to where you knowledgeably choose both the system and the livestock you intend to keep,
instead of "ending up" with a tank of certain size/shape, filtration/aeration/circulation gear, lighting et al... that impinge on your ability to choose and suit the life you intend to keep. In this ideal circumstance, you would know the quality of the part of the water world you
intend to mimic... and the livestock's' needs specifically.

System information:
    • The size/shape of the tank needed... how much it
       weighs, where you'd place it.
    • What sort of stand/support you're going to need/want...
    • The type of gravel for the fishes, invertebrates,
       and possibly plants... what color,
       make-up chemically, physically... the depth/amount...
    • What sorts of lighting; brightness, quality... timers
       to aid in creating a steady light/
       dark cycle.
    • Filtration and circulation...

 And for the proposed livestock:
    • Best initial purchase size range, growth rate, likely
       maximum size.
    • Water quality preferences and ranges... e.g.
       temperature, pH, water hardness, water
       movement, light brightness
    • Foods and feeding.
    • Temperament; likelihood of bullying, predation.
    • Habits of swimming/location, space needs.

Another Approach: Centerpieces

Most folks will be finding themselves already in a "fixed"
position of having a set-up in hand, or at least the principal components. Given this perspective, or starting point, you can work out what you might want to keep in a few ways...
My favorite approach involves building a collection around a "must have" organism...Something that I really want to
keep... and working from there in making sure the conditions that my "number one" piece of livestock enjoys are amenable
to my secondary et al. choices.

As an example, let's say I have a 29 gallon aquarium...  nominally 30 wide, 12 deep front to back and 18 inches tall. For my must have centerpiece I want to keep an African Butterflyfish, Pantodon buchholzi. Doing a bit of looking up I have an idea of its likely purchase size... about 3-4 inches, it's maximum size, without the tail, is about four inches...And what sorts of water conditions this fish likes: Softer, acidic, tropical... and not too much light as it lives near the surface, nor current... Oh, and a completely covered top... so it doesn't leap out of the tank!

Note that you really don't need to be overly concerned with "how" hard or soft your water
is, nor usually with whether it's tropical or cold water...
Just the general matter of whether this is so for the species you intend to keep. Similarly,
some freshwater fishes will tolerate some salt content in their water, but by and large, it is
best to keep freshwater systems fresh, brackish as so, and marines in turn as full-strength saltwater.Now, as to the issue of the other livestock... obviously, with that trap-door like mouth, any small fishes will likely become food... Likewise, this fish doesn't care to share the surface area... so top-dwelling tankmates are out... as are too fast-moving ones that would spook it badly (e.g. tinfoil barbs or silver dollars)...What sorts of fishes might be good choices then? One way of figuring this out is to consider what other fishes et al. are found (and collected) from the area where Pantodon makes its life... Some definite good choices here are the Mormyrids, like the Elephantnose and Baby Whale; the African Knifefish; and the Mochokid Catfish (the "squeakers" mainly of the genus Synodontis). Some "mid-size" tetras you might like are the Congo, and the genus Alestes.


As previously stated, the African Butterflyfish doesn't like too-bright lighting, and you want to keep it feeling safe and secure to discount it jumping and injuring itself... Live plants do all sorts of good things for freshwater systems. Some good "biotopic" selections include slow-growers of the genus Anubias, fast-growing Crinums, and Bolbitis heudelotii.
Another excellent choice and personal all-time favorite aquarium plant choice is the "Indian Fern" (it is found in Africa), Ceratopteris thalictroides, or the congener C. cornuta. African butterflyfish love the shade this genus supplies (grown floating... it can be rooted as well), and they do very well in low-current settings.

The Value of Lists

I can't state emphatically enough just how important list-making as a tool can be... There is no better way for you to gather and absorb useful information than applying your mind, hand, pen and paper... A table of the qualities you're looking for, species to mix can be easily constructed and the "boxes" filled in with simple (and fun!) searching. Believe me, finding out all this before spending good money on life
that may not be compatible... is the way to go.

Finding Out About All This?

Resources abound for a curious mind... the Net has a myriad of sites, BB's... and there are a plethora of in-print books and magazines... that are easy to search with a little help from a librarian. Again, I urge you to take good (written) notes re what you want and its specific needs... and to record the sources of this information. Unfortunately, a good deal of what is posted on the Net is a bit "noisy"... not often in total agreement. It is best to take all you encounter with "a grain of salt", and remain speculative re single source, personal accounts.

How can you find out what comes from the same area? Use the Net! Put search words like "Plants from Africa to use in aquariums" in your engine... and go!


A hodge-podge approach to stocking ones aquarium system is to be guarded against... These "garden variety" mixes of supposed "community" organisms rarely work out satisfactorily... With unneeded tension, extra maintenance and poor showing, growth and behavior of specimens as
consequence of slipshod, inadequate investigation ahead of their acquisition. Do be a conscientious consumer and look into the needs and compatibility of the life you intend to keep before buying it. To the extent that you know what you're doing, so much more will be your enjoyment and understanding of your aquarium world.


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