You here us ramble on and on about seed pods, "aquatic botanicals", "substrate enrichment", and "environmental enhancement.”
What ARE "aquatic botanicals" that you hear us talk about?
Well, they're natural products (generally leaves, bark, wood, and seed pods) that are used for both decorative and environmental enrichment purposes in our aquariums. "You sell twigs and nuts!" as one of my reef keeping friends profoundly declared! I suppose he wasn't too far off, although I think that was a bit over-generalized!
Many fishes (particularly South American fishes like Tetras, Cichlids and catfishes), as well as numerous African and Southeast Asian species (Gouramis, Bettas, etc.) benefit from the tannic acids and other substances released by these products into the water.
It has long been understood that there are actually some antifungal and possibly even antibacterial benefits to so-called "blackwater", resulting in healthier fishes and more viable spawns. Some animals, such as Plecos and even ornamental shrimp, service supplemental nutrition from grazing on these materials.
And of course, creating areas of "leaf litter" and microhabitats of seed pods, etc. create areas for these fishes to spawn, forage, and shelter- much like in nature. They flat-out look cool!
The bottom line for you as a hobbyist, is what varieties do you need?
Great question, actually.
Deciding which seed pods and other botanicals are appropriate for you aquarium is largely dependent upon what types of fishes and other animals you’re keeping, and what type of aquarium you’re trying to create. For our discussion, I’ve broken down the aquarium types into three categories:
*Biotopic Representations- You’re trying to replicate an Amazonian “blackwater” stream, a Southeast Asian swamp, or a temporary pool in Africa.
*Breeding Setups- You need to manipulate environmental parameters to encourage, enable, or support breeding behavior in your fishes. No emphasis on aesthetics- it’s focused on a purpose.
*Specialized Situations- In other words, you’re using aquatic botanicals as a means to support animals like ornamental shrimp, or to act as a substrate on which to attach aquatic plants/mosses.
We’ll examine the varieties of botanicals that you could use in these situations, and give some recommendations. Of course, this very brief article is not the comprehensive treatise on the subject; rather, it’s a brief rundown of some things you can do. tannin offers a variety of botanicals for many different situations, and we’ll constantly update our offerings to reflect the diverse interests of aquarium hobbyists.
Today, we’ll examine one of my favorite biotopes- the “Leaf Litter Zone”.
Leaf litter zones comprise one of the richest and most diverse biotopes in the tropical aquatic ecosystem, yet they are seldom replicated in the aquarium. I think this has been due, in large part- to the lack of continuous availability of products for the hobbyist to work with. My company,Tannin Aquatics, was founded to help make that scarcity a thing of the past!
The thought behind this biotope can best be summarized in this interesting except from an academic paper on Blackwater leaf-litter communities by biologist Peter Alan Henderson, that is useful for those of us attempting to replicate these communities in our aquaria:
"..life within the litter is not a crowded, chaotic scramble for space and food. Each species occupies a sub-region defined by physical variables such as flow and oxygen content, water depth, litter depth and particle size…
...this subtle subdivision of space is the key to understanding the maintenance of diversity. While subdivision of time is also evident with, for example, gymnotids hunting by night and cichlids hunting by day, this is only possible when each species has its space within which to hide.”
In other words, different species inhabit different sections of the leaf litter, and we should consider this when creating and stocking our biotope systems...Neat stuff!
How would you construct a leaf litter zone in your tank?
As hinted at in the excerpt above, you should use a variety of materials. For reference, I will recommend “aquatic botanicals” from our collection, as these will be ( I hope!) the most readily available materials for you to work with!
In the aquarium, consider both practicality AND aesthetics when replicating this biotope. Much like in nature, you also want a diverse mixture of botanicals, some which may decompose rather quickly (such as Catappa leaves and Guava Leaves), and others which have "duration" and last much, much longer (like Loquat leaves, ”Frita Pods", "Mariposa Pods", "Terra Sorrindo" Pods, "Encontro Pods", etc.).
You should also include some pods that last indefinitely, such as the "Tapete Pod", Coco Curls, and perhaps some "Lampada Pods" for good measure, to serve as permanent "anchor pieces" for your litter zone.
This is such an interesting biotope to recreate- and that's why we have the widest selection of aquatic botanicals in one place- to help you replicate and appreciate it's natural beauty and fascination!
Next time, we’ll take a look at how to use “aquatic botanicals” in breeding setups, to take advantage of their unique and beneficial properties!
Should you have any questions regarding these biotopes and recreating them in our aquaria, please feel free to contact me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Editor's note: I first met William Garden on Facebook as Tannin was starting up. He was an "early adapter" to our company, and a kindred spirit regarding biotope aquariums, husbandry, and his love of Apistogramma dwarf cichlids. Okay, his obsession Apistos (and his knowledge) goes way beyond mine, and it shines through in everything he does. As any obsessed fish geek would do, he recently started an online business, The Cichlid Garden, which I hope becomes your online source for some amazing Apistos! We've been fortunate at Tannin to have William's unique point of view and beautiful pics and videos grace our blog, Facebook, and other social media, and I'm thrilled to have him sharing this cool piece and his pics with us today! Enjoy!- Scott F.)
(Apistogramma sp. Winkelfleck male)
Apistos, oh the wonderful Apistogramma. Did you know there are over 340 currently known species / collection-location-specific morphs? Maybe you did, or maybe you didn’t, but that’s a huge amount. So, what do I mean when I say "collection-location-specific morphs?" That’s really just a fancy way to say that fish from one location are different enough from some in another that that they shouldn’t be lumped together. For example, A. bitaeniata “Rio Tigre” and A. bitaeniata “Rio Pastaza” look dramatically different. An untrained keeper may even consider them different species.
(Apistogramma bitaeniata "Rio Pastaza" male)
So why is this possible? Well, Apistos don’t like fast moving water. (already your first note to keep in mind when building them a tank) At some point a few A. bitaeniata got washed along with too strong of flow, and down the river they went. They were from that point separate from their kin and Darwin’s theory took hold. This contributes to why this genus is so rich in its amount of species. There are very few genera with more species in them than the genus Apistogramma. It is one of the largest in South America. These fish are not like tetra, they don’t swim up and down fast moving rivers. They get separated from the main location, and suddenly they are off on their own and begin to evolve separately, eventually creating a completely new species. The group is so large it’s been separated into several complexes (large groups of fish that likely have a common ancestor) and then those large complexes were divided into groups (smaller groups of fish that are much more closely related). You could read up on these fish for years and still not be an expert, I know, because I’ve already done just that! There is just too much information out there to learn.
So, since they don’t like fast moving water where do they live? In general they live in small drainage ditches, canals, streams, shallow pools, tiny ponds, and puddles. Places you don’t think have enough water for fish are some of the best Apistos collecting spots! They call these igarapés.
(Apistogramma atahaulpa pair. )
Ok so enough with the introduction already, let’s talk about setting up a biotope for these fish to live in. Now keep in mind these fish are from nearly the entire northern part of South America. Their range is huge and there is no one setup is a biotope for all. What I will discuss is merely guidelines.
First, you need to decide what you think a biotope should be for you. My own personal tanks are not really biotopes in the most formal way of thinking. A formal biotope is one which will contain only plants and fish from a very specific location in the world. The sand will be the same color , the leaf litter will be from a tree of the region, or at the least something that looks the same, and if you were to go there in person you could scoop the fish in your tank out of the water there. These are not the biotopes I create. They are an amazing challenge to recreate, and very rewarding, however it was never my goal.
("Ammo" and "Nitro", who happen to be Apistogramma cacatuoides "Triple Red" males doing what rival males do...)
My version of a biotope is a tank that looks and feels like a piece of nature. Most Apistogramma biotopes do not have any submersed plant growth. This would leave you with a missing link in nature’s circle of life. Some people choose to fill this hole with floating plants. Others choose terrestrial plants native to the location, and allow their roots to grow down into the tank. I personally probably break the rule worse than any. I take any old plant I like and stuff it in there if it will grow. I use floating plants as well as submersed plants. Plants play a critical role in nature. They remove nitrates, waste, and even toxins from your water. I personally don’t want to risk this, so I use lots of plants, both floating and submersed. So decide what biotope means to you, and let’s proceed from there. Don’t be held down by a formal definition of the word, do what you deem best and if people want to say it isn’t a biotope, who cares? Call it something else if it suits you better.
So what do I feel is crucial to a good Apistogramma biotope? The tint! Does this mean your water needs to be brown? No, not really, it isn’t uncommon for Apistos to be found in clear water without the stain of tannins. However with or without the stain tannins are still there to some degree. I do not recommend using any form of mechanical filtration to remove tannins. Although some species are found in clear water, it is still beneficial to all species. If you want to remove some of the coloration (I refuse to use the sinful word of DIScoloration) than do a water change. A proper biotope will contain as much wood, leaves, seed pods, and sticks as you can muster. Use as much or as little as you deem fit.
So what don’t you put in? For the most part you won’t find rocks in an Apisto biotope. There are a few scattered around on occasion, maybe a small pebble here and there. In general, however, it’s more likely they won’t be there. In addition Apistos are found in very soft water that is quite acidic. Soft Acidic water eats away rocks and dissolves them. In your normal aquarium, a rock may not leech anything into the water column, but in an Apisto tank that same rock may raise the pH. Just avoid them.
Your tank size is important. A newly introduced male and female will often fight quite a bit. When they have not yet bred the male gets pushy and will beat on the poor girl, but once she lays eggs the tank will belong to her. Too small of a tank can really put a damper on things. Keeping a new pair in too small of a tank will often result in you being left with only 1 fish. Since Apistos don’t use vertical swimming space I give my recommendation in the floor plan of the tank. For every fish, you need about a 12” by 12” area of floor space. This means a tank 24” by 12” could house 2 fish. A 24” by 24” tank could house 4 fish. With this being said, I don’t recommend keeping 2 males in any tank that does not have at least 4 feet of width, regardless of depth. My go to tank size for a pair of Apistos is a 20 gallon long tank. For a trio I use a 30 or 40 gallon breeder, or often times I will keep only a pair in them. I prefer pairs over trios, however most species are highly polygamous, or at the least polygamous at times when the opportunity is there.
(Apistogramma sp. Abacaxis male)
Use fine grain sand! This one is important, even if it doesn’t seem so. Apistos like to sift sand through their gills. They do so to collect food, but it serves another purpose. It is thought that to an Apisto, sifting sand is the same as brushing teeth is to a human. It cleans their gills and keeps them parasite free. Maybe it even helps their breath, who knows? Either way make sure it is a very fine grade, as Apistos are small, and a large grain won’t go through their gills. If you’re trying to keep it natural, brownish colored sand is the most likely candidate. However I like black so it’s what I use.
Let there be light. Now that the horrible joke is out of the way, you’re actually better off without much light. They are surrounded by lots of leaf litter right? Where there are leaves, there are trees. Where they are trees, there is shade. Apistos live most of their life in the shade. They don’t need much light.
I’ll touch here on temperature. You want to keep your temp anywhere from 76°F to 80°F. I keep my tanks all at 79°F because I breed them. Temperature plays a pivotal role (among other things) in determining the sex of young Apistos. At 79°F you have the best odds of getting an even sex ratio.
(Some like it hot..Apistogramma cacatuoides "Triple Red" male)
The eternal scourge, algae! Algae isn’t a bad thing. We’ve grown to hate it, but it provides an important function. It does the same thing plants do, cleans your water, and it harbors microscopic life that fry and even some adult Apistos like to feed on. Don’t be afraid to let your algae grow a bit. Surprisingly, if you keep the glass clean you can actually grow some in a very visually pleasing way. If your dead set against it, try incorporating a moss into the scape somewhere.
Water chemistry is a fickle thing. There are no set parameters for the genus Apistogramma, because of the huge amount of species, and range. One thing in general though, they like the water very soft and acidic when possible. All my tanks run at a TDS of anywhere from 20-60 and a pH of about 5. Some species can however be found in mildly alkaline conditions or even medium hardness. If you aren’t planning on using RO water, find out which species can stand a bit higher mineral content in their water. Two examples I know of are A. cacatuoides, and A. sp. Winkelfleck.
In closing, this is merely a guide, not a rulebook. Don’t feel tied down to what I say. If you want to recreate an exact replica of the portion of river these fish come from, than do it! Find out what lives there and stick to it strictly. It can be a huge amount of fun. If not, get creative, get weird, and break a few rules. Do your homework, and learn about the areas your fish come from first. If you want contact me and I’ll help you out!
William Garden (Chance Peragine)
Everyone who is married and keeps topical fishes understands what my friend, reef aquarium author/lecturer Tony Vargas, calls "The Spouse Factor!"
You know, you need to get the "approval" of your significant other to move ahead on your plans for that new aquarium, fish room expansion, re-configuration project, etc. Oh, there are those of you who say that you don't need it- but let's be honest: When you re-do the rock work on your 125 Mbuna tank, your allegedly fish-disinterested spouse will make note, perhaps with just a causal comment, like "Hmm..I noticed the rocks looked a bit different." Or, if your spouse is more engaged than you might think, a comment like, "I though that you wanted a cave towards the CENTER of the tank?" Not a bad sign, because it indicates that your spouse perhaps sees the aquarium as more than just a "placeholder" in the otherwise orderly living room!
It's important to engage your spouse in the decision-making process, even if they seem to have little interest. Example, if you're selecting between two very different looking fishes that will play a big role in your tank- run it by your spouse first! Trust me, he/she will have a surprisingly strong opinion one way or another! If you're adding a piece of equipment (pump, filter, protein skimmer, etc.) that could potentially make sounds- you MUST run it by the spouse.
And an observation. Why is it that the ONLY time you spill water on the hardwood floor is the ONE time your spouse happens to walking by the tank while your doing a water change? "Honey, if the siphon hose is in the bucket, why are your feet getting wet?"
Smart aquarists know that a spouse who's at least semi-on board with your aquarium project is the best ally that you have- so do your best to be understanding, accommodating, and appreciative of the tolerance your spouse shows for our wet hobby!
If you're really lucky, like me, your spouse might play a more active role. This was exemplified the other day when my wife told me, "You really should get a couple of new tanks in here! I mean, you own a coral facility and a freshwater company!"
Wow. Pinch me, I'm dreaming.
Stay wet...ur, dry..
I was talking to a non-fish person the other day, and she asked what it really meant to be a "fish person", and what the differences are between the cichlid people, reefers, freshwater planted types, Guppy breeders, etc. I thought that maybe we are all the same- fish people...Well, we are, to some extent...but there is one distinction…Really "serious" hobbyists are a bit different.
So I left with the nagging question of "What makes serious fish people so...different?" in my head. I had this bunch of thoughts as to how I'd describe myself...and it made me think about just what makes a "serious hobbyist" different than other fish people...
I'm a serious hobbyist.
I don't dabble in aquariums. I'm obsessed with them.
I know that keeping aquatic life alive requires understanding, skill, patience, and good habits.
I know that keeping a successful aquarium long term requires me to take certain steps that many other fish people aren't willing to do.
I regard my aquariums as microcosms of nature; learning tools, an experience..their main function is not to provide a piece of decor in my home.
I have procedures for every scenario, every problem playing out in the back of my head. I have other obsessed hobbyists to share these thoughts with. We are a community.
I obsessively maintain my tanks based on husbandry methods that work for me; skills learned and honed from years of practice, towering successes, and humbling failures. I listen to other aquarists, then do whatever I darned well please, if I feel my way is better...And then I try theirs, when my ideas fail! I'm stubborn..and proud.
I don't chase down every hot trend, obsess over every new gadget. I try things that work for my animals. I geek out over obscure stuff, however.
I'm not afraid to try new stuff, but I always consider the impact of any new practice, procedure, or piece of gear.
I support those who are propagating fishes, plants and corals, because I understand that the world's rivers, lakes, streams, and eefs need our help. As a serious hobbyist, I know that the future of the hobby- the future of the world's aquatic environments- is in part dependent upon how successful I am at keeping my animals healthy, and sharing my stories with others.
I screw stuff up all the time. And when I do, I share my errors with other aquarists, get up again, over an over, and try to learn from them.
I am eager to hear about what my fellow hobbyists are doing, because that seemingly crazy idea might be the basis for massive success.
I realize that learning is a lifelong process in the hobby. I want to be doing this for the rest of my life.
I know that aquarium keeping is not just a hobby...it's a lifestyle.
I am part of a tribe; a community, which grows and nurtures and shares ideas, concepts, experiences, and animals.
I am a part of a larger whole, which is much greater than the sum of it's parts.
I am a serious hobbyist. And so are you.
And I'm pretty darned proud of that.
Why are you proud to be a serious aquarium hobbyist? What do you feel makes us different than the rest of the casual fish keepers out there?
Let's hear it!
If you're a geeky hobbyist like me, you're always thinking of different ways to do stuff we seem to take for granted, or have down a certain way for years.
One great example of this is the substrate materials that we use in our aquariums. Traditionally, we've used stuff like gravels, sand, clay materials, etc. These all work quite well, and there are substrates for virtually every application. Many look pretty cool, and are both functional (as in the plant "soils") and practical (like the many different sizes of sand/gravels offered for aquarium use).
I'm really into substrates. Specifically, creating substrates that are a reasonable representation of the bottom of streams, tributaries, and garages, as found in the Amazon basin. Each one of these has some unique characteristics, and each one presents an interesting creative challenge for the intrepid hobbyist. Until quite recently, the most common materials we had to work with when attempting to replicate these substrates were sand, natural and colored gravels, and clay-comprised planted aquarium substrates.
If I have something to say about the matter, you'll soon be incorporating a wide variety of other materials into your biotope aquarium substrate!
If you've seen pictures and videos taken underwater in tropical streams (again, I'm pulling heavily from the Amazonian region), you'll note that there is a lot of loose, soil-like material over a harder mud/sand substrate. Obviously, using an entirely mud-based substrate in an aquarium, although technically possible- will result in a yucky mess whenever you disturb the material during routine maintenance and other tasks. You can, however, mix in some other materials with the more commonly found sand.
So, exactly what materials am I referring to here?
Well, you could start with a thin layer of aquarium-grade sand, and build from there. We will soon be offering a really cool coconut-based substrate supplement material (called "Fundo Tropical") that looks and behaves very similar to the material that you see on the upper layers of the bottom of many streams and other aquatic environments. You'd mix a very thin (like 1/2"-3/4") layer of this material into the uppermost layer of your sand or gravel. It has a great color and texture, with interesting fiberous structure. It has the added advantage of staying "down" nicely once you prepare it for use (boiling is the preferred method). It also lasts a very long time, becoming essentially inert after it releases it's initial tannins into the water column. The intricate matrix it forms will become a very useful foraging area for many fishes, hosting small benthic life forms, just like natural stream bottoms do.
The next step in building a realistic bottom would be to add some harder, heavier leaf-like materials. For this, we suggest aquatic botanicals like our "Frita Pods", "Encontro Pods", "Terra Sorrindo", "Mariposa Pods", Banana Stem Pieces, Coco Curls, "Teardrop Pods", "Tapete Pods", and "Helix Pods." All of these materials will last an extremely long time, and help serve as a "top boundary layer" for the "Fundo Tropico" material. In addition, you could add some of the more "permanent" types of pods, such as "Heart Pods", "Estalo Pods" and others to add some interest, texture, and height.
Finally, you'd add some leaves, such as Catappa, Guava, and Loquat. Catappa are probably the most "expendable" leaves, as they tend to decompose relatively quickly, followed by Guava leaves, and finally, Loquat. Mixing several varieties will create a diverse assemblage of natural materials that will break down, much as they do in nature, providing tannins, organics acids, and of course, imparting a brownish tint to the water that we find really attractive!
"Wait a minute, Scott. Your proposing that I add a whirl lot of stuff that may trap detritus, uneaten food, solid fish waste, etc.- and some of it will break down in the process! Sounds like a recipe for a lot of debris in the system!"
(Oh, say it- you wanted to tell me it's a maintenance liability and sort of a mess if you're not meticulous and diligent in maintaining it).
Well, yeah. This kind of combination of natural materials can create a potentially messy substrate area if you are not a careful feeder and tend to let things go. So, being the diligent aquarist that you are- just be conscientious about maintenance!
This is one of the challenges in creating a truly realistic biopic simulation in your aquarium. It's absolutely not impossible to do this..It just requires some discipline, care, and prudent maintenance to make sure that you don't create an aerobic swamp in your system!
It's important to have adequate water movement, creation, and overall good husbandry when attempting such a substrate.
The rewards are a)the most realistic-looking stream bottom you've ever seen in an aquarium, b)water conditions similar to those found in many natural aquatic environments, and c)more natural behaviors- including feeding, foraging, and yes- breeding- of your fishes accustomed to this type of environment in nature.
Seems worth exploring further, doesn't it?
As you know, we test everything we offer- before we offer it! One of my favorite tests is what I call the "long term submersion test"- a really fancy way of saying that we like to leave our aquatic botanicals submerged for a few weeks to see how long they last.
Well, before we released the Tannin Dried Loquat Leaves, we put them through this test.
One of the "test subjects", known as "LL4", has been down just about 4 weeks. This leaf has shown no signs of decomposing. Other than recruiting a slight biofilm, this leaf looks essentially like it did the day it went down...And it was not boiled, BTW (perhaps this contributed to it's longevity?). It sank on it's own within 48 hours.
This bodes well, because it makes these leaves candidates for a longer-term part of a mixed leaf litter bed in your tank! Sweet!
Amazing what gets me excited these days...
We were looking for a botanical to help fill what I call the 'transitional" range- a pod that looks good in a mix of leaf litter, which still having a bit of "heft" to it like a seed pod...And, we found it! The "Teardrop Pod", named because of its distinctive look- is a real "melange" of characteristics: Some specimens look on one side a lot like the "Lampada Pod", which the inside bears a fleeting resemblance to the "Capsula Pod", with a touch of "Concha Pod" thrown in for good measure. On the other hand, it also looks sort of like the "Encontro Pod" in some superficial respects...in other words, it's a very "mixed-up" aquatic botanical!
It would look great as a more permanent component of a "leaf litter" bed, or even standing alone..Shrimp seem to love munching on the inside of the pod, which is a bit softer, but not quite as soft as a "Capsula Pod"- as it slowly decomposes.
Looks, utility, and affordability- a great combination...We're excited about this one!
As you can see, there are many different types of plants that may be used in our displays- and many different display types from which to choose!
In upcoming blogs, we'll take a look at what plants you should use in each type of system, how to grow them, and what they'll do for your system!
Stay Wet! (And green!)
I was talking to a customer over the weekend, and he was excitedly relating to me the plans for his newest aquarium, a 300 gallon mega community tank display. He told me all about the cool lighting, the crazy pumps, the fancy gear and water change systems and all kinds of cool technical aspects of his upcoming mega-budget super tank. As I listened, I couldn’t help but reflect that the basis for the phone call was an issue he was having with keeping some very basic fishes and plants alive. In fact, the customer said that almost everything he bought for his 55 gallon tank died within a few weeks after getting the animals in his system. He performed “some” water changes, and tested “some” parameters (most of his water parameters were “perfect”, according to him…oh boy…I knew what I was dealing with now.)
And this guy was about to embark on a five-figure, mutli-hundred gallon mega aquarium system. Does he have a clue at all? I thought. I mean, his assumption was that his troubles with fishes would simply vanish if he built a larger tank. Magically, all of the skills and experience he lacked in 55 gallons would be remedied by increasing his tank by 245 gallons….And this was after I (and a couple of other people) talked him out of going “reef” for this new tank!
I did what any responsible seasoned aquarist would do: After I told him how cool all his gear sounded, I asked him if he was up to the challenge. Well, the retort was a bit angry, actually. I mean, the guy was ready to drop around 25 grand on the tank, so therefore, he felt that this meant he knew what he was doing. “I’ve been researching this reef for MONTHS,” he proudly retorted.
I was like, “Seriously? But you can’t keep a darned fish alive?”
Somehow, in his head, he felt like he felt like he “paid his dues” with his smaller aquarium, and that he was ready to go “to the next level” (his exact words) with this sparkling new mega tank. I did my best to gently dissuade him fro making such a huge commitment with his limited experience and skills. I’ve seen this type of looming disaster before- we all have…And the ensuing train wreck that is likely to emerge will not be pretty. It will suck mostly for the animals that will die because of his incompetence and arrogance. It will suck for the people that built the fine quality components that he will no doubt misapply. It will especially suck for him, because he will not get the joy you get from progressing naturally in the hobby and building carefully upon successes. It will suck for the hobby in general, because, although he’ll add to the hobby economy for a short time, his failure will cost it in the long-term. It will NOT suck for the predators on the forums that will snatch up his equipment at volume prices when he calls it quits and sells everything at a huge loss.
I may be a a bit cynical, but I’ve been a round the block a few times, and I can smell a disaster when it is looming.
In the aquarium hobby, much like in life, we're often led to believe that "bigger is better." A large house is better for your growing family! The large bottle of pasta sauce will make 3 nights of lasagna! And of course, the large can of paint is a better buy, right? Well, more often than not, the reality soon sets in'¦The larger house means a larger property tax bill, the large bottle of pasta sauce goes bad after a week or so, and that large can of paint hardens to uselessness before you ever get halfway through it!
Okay, our aquariums are not bottles of pasta sauce or cans of paint, yet there are some useful analogies we can draw from the comparisons. Much has been written abut how larger aquariums are a better way to go for most hobbyists. But are they really the best for everyone?
Let me start of by stating that I have nothing against large aquariums. In fact, until very recently, the smallest aquarium I've kept in the past five years is 150 gallons. Before I blast the whole institution of "Bigger Aquariums Are Better", and anger everyone who owns a deluxe aquarium, let's look at the true advantages of larger aquariums.
Let's define what I call a "large aquarium". As far as this "fish geek" is concerned, a large aquarium is anything over 100 gallons. Or you could look at it from a more practical standpoint: "large" is any size of aquarium that will result in chiropractic bills if less than three people attempt to lift it. "Large" is any aquarium that will result in weather patterns forming in your living room as a result of the moisture. "Large" is'¦well- you get the picture.
Just what are the advantages of keeping larger aquariums? To begin with, larger aquariums aquariums do offer a more stable environment. Larger water volumes retain temperature better (acting as heat sinks), hold more oxygen, maintain chemical balance longer, and dilute metabolic waste easier, by virtue of volume (provided the aquarium is not overcrowded, and that common-sense husbandry techniques are employed).
Within reason, larger volumes of water (especially of greater surface area dimensions) allow you to keep greater numbers of fishes, or larger specimens. Again, common sense must prevail. If your fishy "career" includes a legacy of overcrowded 50 gallon tanks, there's a really good chance that you'll repeat the same thing with your 200 gallon aquarium. It may take a little longer (and cost a lot more), but it happens.
Of course, larger aquariums provide more space to develop dramatic aquascaping schemes. You can utilize those huge pieces of rock and wood that look absurd in smaller aquariums. You could actually build up a 6 inch substrate and still have room for rocks, water, and livestock.
Finally, there is the topic of aesthetics. A large aquarium can become a dramatic focal point in the room in which it is situated. Relaxing on your comfortable couch in front of that enormous tank stocked with colorful fishes and plants is an activity that never gets old.
Yep- big tanks are pretty cool. They're also expensive to purchase. And they're a bit tougher to work with. And they cost more to operate. And they take longer to stock. Wait, where am I going with this? Let's take a look at a few of the "cons" of purchasing and managing a large aquarium.
Wow, the darned things are expensive! It sure takes a lot of glass or acrylic, of proper thickness, to construct a large aquarium. It also takes experience and craftsmanship to construct one safely. That experience and quality comes at price. You don't want to skimp and try to save a few bucks by using thinner materials or lower quality workmanship. Imagine 200 gallons of saltwater spilling onto your new hardwood floor in the middle of the night when your "bargain" tank splits its seams. That's not a fun experience.
If you're purchasing an acrylic aquarium, remember that acrylic is a petroleum-derived product, and as such, is subject to the price fluctuations of the global petroleum market. Thus, acrylic prices tend to soar in "bear" markets.
Glass, too, is subject to price fluctuations and availability. Have you priced a 250 gallon aquarium constructed of "low iron glass" lately? Sit down before you do, because we're talking about some serious money.
Of course, large aquariums require large stands, or more precisely, stronger stands, capable of bearing the tremendous weight. If you want nice, decorative hardwoods or other "designer" materials, the price escalates. Sure, you can save some cash and make one yourself it you've got the DIY gene and a sharp mind for calculating loads. Unfortunately, most of us don't, and our wallets are a bit thinner as a result.
When placing a large aquarium in your home, you want to make darned sure that that your floor can support the immense weight. If your home is built over a crawl space, or if you're locating the aquarium upstairs, you'll definitely want to consult a structural engineer before settling on a resting place for your new aquarium.
Once you have your tank in place, you're probably going to want to fill it with water at some point, huh? I thought so. Wait a second. Did you think about the equipment that you'll need to properly outfit this monster aquarium?
Large aquariums generally require large water pumps to move significant volumes of water. They also need properly-sized sumps and filters to handle the system, not to mention, appropriate protein skimmers, calcium reactors, and lighting systems. You simply can't run a large tank with a small or under-sized filter. Large filters are pricy items, as are large heaters and other gadgets.
Lighting a large aquarium can be another very expensive proposition (are you sensing a pattern here?). I know marine aquariums hobbyists who run thousands of dollars worth of LED lighting over modest-sized tanks. Have you priced these lighting systems lately? It's a whole new ball game when you require 6 to 8 pendants over your tank.
Of course, with all of these fancy (yet necessary) gadgets, there's that other ongoing expense- electricity. Running a large system can literally cost hundreds of dollars every month in some areas. I know more than one hobbyist who spends over $1,000 per month on electricity for their large systems, and I'll bet you could find a few without too much effort.
Electrical costs are a very serious consideration when running any tank, but they can be "deal breakers" (and they can trip circuit breakers) with large aquariums. Speaking of circuit breakers- you'll probably have to do some modifications to your home's electrical system, such as adding a new sub panel, to accommodate all of the gadgets in your new tank. Consult an electrician familiar with local codes and safety requirements during your planning phase. Your life- and your family's lives depend on it.
Be sure to purchase the larger sizes of your favorite additives, foods, etc.- you'll need 'em! How much water do you go through in a 200 gallon tank every month? Well, if you change 10% per week, that's 80 gallons. An ongoing expense that adds up. I mean, how many showers is that?
Deep substrates are pretty cool. "Conventional aquatic wisdom" (I love saying that-as if there is such a thing.) suggests a 4" plus sandbed in a 72" X 30" tank would require a minimum of 450 pounds of substrate material. How much that will cost depends upon the material you choose.
Yeah-But What About The Fish?
The best part of a large system is that you can keep more fish in it. Usually, that is. Think about it. If you really like big mean cichlids, you can finally get that large one that can reach 12 inches long. The problem is that, in a large aquarium, this guy will reach this length! And, in the process, he'll give off a lot of metabolic waste. By the way, he's unlikely to be any friendlier at 12" than he was at 3", so think about that when contemplating keeping some of these big guys.
Ah, you like smaller fish, right? You're in a better position. Of course, if you like really small fishes, like I do, you'll spend a whole lot of time just trying to find them in a large aquarium. Trust me- I do. This is actually kind of fun, but to the casual observer, it's kind of weird (Well, so are a lot of the things that we do in this hobby.). So, you'll probably want to put more fishes in the aquarium to help "fill" the space. You'll be surprised how many Cardinal Tetras at $2.00 a pop it takes to accomplish this.
Wood and rock is an integral part of most marine systems. Depending upon your goals, you'll probably need a significant amount of these materials for a large aquarium. In some instances, I know guys who spent so much on these materials that you could purchase a small car for the price of the rock and wood it would took to fill their mega-sized aquariums.
If you're a plant geek, you'll spend a lot of time and money stocking your new system. Patience can help, because those small cuttings that you get from your friends can and will grow into large, impressive specimens given time and space. Of course, this is true with any sized system, but it is a key to keeping this aspect of large aquarium keeping more affordable.
It's Your Call:
All of this seemingly negative talk about the challenges of setting up a large aquarium is not presented to discourage you from setting one up. However, it is presented to give you a sort of "reality check" as you contemplate a large system. It's easy to fantasize about the huge aquarium that you're going to build when you win the lottery. It's quite another to actually set it up if you're of more modest means. In reality, it's usually necessary to compromise somewhat based on budget, space, time, etc.
Remember, despite what you might see and hear, having a large aquarium does not brand you as a "success" in our hobby, any more than maintaining a smaller system brands you as a novice. It's not like you crossed over some imaginary barrier and arrived as a "serious" hobbyist. Success in the hobby is about creating and maintaining a vibrant, healthy aquarium, regardless of size, for the long term growth and prosperity of its inhabitants.
Yes, large aquariums are impressive. But I've seen plenty of large aquariums that were downright unremarkable (in fact, I've set up a few, myself). Many hobbyists set up huge systems as the "next phase" in their aquarium career, and some end in disappointment- or even disaster. If you're not able to master the art and science of aquarium keeping with a small system, a large tank will likely not be any different for you. Think before you leap.
Large aquariums can be visually arresting, beneficial to their inhabitants, and just generally add a new dimension of fun to your hobby. However, the time, money and commitment to maintain them are a serious consideration. Keeping a large aquarium is not an endeavor that you enter into lightly.
Enough said...for now!
My father started me in the aquarium hobby when I was about 3 years old. He bred fancy guppies, and my first fish were some of his fry, along with a goldfish bowl, food, and some great advice. “Feed them small amounts often, and change some of the water every few days. Watch them carefully, and you’ll be able to tell if they are having any problems.”
Good advice..Great advice, actually. Some of the best aquatic advice I ever received. To this day, I apply those simple bits of advice to my aquatic efforts, with fantastic results. I will always be grateful to my father, not only for his love and compassion; not just for the advice he bestowed upon me - but for simply being there. He started me on this lifelong adventure in the aquatic realm. An adventure that would take me from the kid with a fishbowl to an owner of a truly amazing online livestock company and a speciality aquarium products vendor.
How funny that the most simple advice I've ever received has guided my aquatic passions far more than some of the complex directives I've been given by well-intentioned aquarists over the years.
Or is it?
My dad knew something that was pretty remarkable: If you have a passion, share it with your children. Teach them what you know, nurture their dreams, answer their questions, and encourage them in every way.
Give your son or daughter their first fishbowl, nano-tank, baby clownfish. Allow them to feel the excitement when they add that new coral, find that cool Angelfish they’ve been looking for, or create that perfect aquascape. Embrace their geeky enthusiasm. And most of all, treasure them.