At Maidenhead Aquatics we pride ourselves in the fact that all our staff have a keen interest and experience in keeping fish. For this reason we have many years of fishkeeping expertise and are more than likely to be able to answer any questions that you may have. In fact lots of our stores have won awards due to the dedication of our staff and their ability to know how to keep our fish correctly.
Take a look at our growing list of questions and if you cannot find the answer you require here, then please feel free to contact your local Maidenhead Aquatics store where our knowledgeable staff will be more than happy to advise you.
Blame the fish. Most freshwater species inhabit changing environments where they’ve evolved a need to adapt to changing conditions. This makes them far more forgiving than marine creatures and to ensure they thrive, more hardware is required.
Although it couldn’t be any more ‘low tech’, Live Rock is a key ingredient in most set-ups and provides both filtration and decor. As this is sourced from marine environments it has to be air-freighted from its point of origin and this adds to the cost appreciably. Since the high-tech heydays of the eighties, marine aquarium keeping has become simpler but there’s still a range of expensive gadgets to make life easier.
Going back a little further, it was common practice to bleach dead coral and rock decor in order to combat the unsightly algae that inevitably took over. This is also a feature of aquaria where savings are made in the wrong areas and the system lacks the stability that comes with plenty of live rock.
As marine fish are generally considered the aristocracy of the aquarium hobby, it’s only fitting that their accommodation is suitably posh!
This is traditionally a job for goldfish which seem to have gained a reputation for being easy (and disposable!) pets. Perhaps your parents replaced your childhood goldfish when they died to save the heartbreak? Either way, the truth is that these are big, messy fish that need a large aquarium and are far more work to keep properly than more modestly-sized tropical fish. Trying to keep a goldfish in a small un-filtered tank or bowl involves exposing it repeatedly to poor water quality that could easily be termed cruelty. Not many people know that goldfish can easily live for more than twenty years when properly kept.
So, packing away the soap box, what are the best options? Goldfish still have a place but plan ahead and get a large aquarium, perhaps even consider a pond for them to move into after a few months in a spacious tank. A far better idea are small, colourful tropical fish such as Platys (Xiphophorus maculatus) which are domesticated and come in a range of colours, all happy to mix and easy to breed.
Whatever you decide, manage expectations and don’t make the mistake of promising ‘Nemo’ in a tiny Peppa Pig aquarium! Us fish folk are a hard-hearted lot and won’t put the emotions of children above the lives of aquarium fish when asked to deliver the impossible. Key to success is patience and an understanding of the problems that come from a new aquarium that lacks the right conditions to keep fish healthy. New tank syndrome is one life-lesson that children don’t need to learn, let alone pet fish.
From the point of view of the fish there’s very little difference in terms of shelter potential and for some species that eat live plants but appreciate hiding places they can be a massive help. They also serve to create a lush appearance where conditions may not favour the growth of real plants such as dimly-lit tanks or those with strong water-movement. Artificial plants can also be used alongside real plants to add a bit of variety.
It could be argued that artificial plants provide a surface for filter bacteria and like it or not, serve to trap detritus as well. What they can’t do is function in some of the amazing biological ways that living plants do. Healthy plants absorb pollutants produced by the fish population, such as ammonia, as well as the nitrates and phosphates that result from the functions of filtration and promote the growth of algae. Under sufficient lighting they also produce oxygen and remove carbon dioxide but it should be noted that this process is reversed overnight and oxygen levels can fall to very low levels in densely-planted aquaria with significant fish populations and low circulation.
Plants also have requirements and they need feeding to ensure they have all they need to function. Elements such as Iron are vital and a good aquarium plant fertiliser makes a huge difference to the growth of aquatic plants. CO2 supplementation can also help guarantee a healthy underwater garden.
No matter how posh or basic your aquarium, all conventional filtration is powered by bacteria. This has always been the case and although the identity of the organisms responsible has been debated, their importance is beyond any argument.
The maturation process has always been a frustrating time for the hobbyist and a potentially lethal phase for aquarium fish. It’s even been dubbed ‘New Tank Syndrome’ and is the reason why many people lose heart and give up before the fun part begins. In recent times the practice of ‘Fishless Cycling’ has risen in popularity and is by far the best way to mature a new system prior to adding the first fish.
In the early days of ‘bacteria in a bottle’ it could be argued that available products were as effective as a chocolate hair-dryer and many were reluctant to embrace these new methods. The story today is very different and advances in the storage potential of bacteria make them a very efficient way to hasten maturation. Whether you use them together with a bottled ammonia source as part of a Fishless Cycle, or take the manufacturers at their word and add them before your first fish, they can take the suffering out of the equation for your new pets.
For more established systems they can be useful when adding new livestock, after cleaning or replacing filter media, or after using aquarium medications that may damage existing filter bacteria.
As we can see, good bacterial inoculants are a useful addition to most aquaria at one time or another and like test kits, should become a standard fixture in the tool kit of anyone serious about the welfare of their aquatic pets.
We’ve all seen foam on the beach or river banks and this is a natural phenomenon exploited by the technique of ‘Foam Fractionation’. This exploits a property of organic compounds (here comes the science bit...) which have both Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic elements. In simple terms they’re attracted to an interface between air and water such as an air bubble or the water’s surface.
A protein skimmer is a device that brings aquarium water into contact with a large concentration of air bubbles and although most efficient in denser, salt water they can also be used in some freshwater systems such as koi ponds. Standard components of a skimmer include air injection (via air pumps in older models or venturi intakes in more modern units) a contact chamber and a collection cup where foam accumulates and can be removed.
As this process removes organic pollutants before being broken down by bacteria, it has the effect of lowering waste levels and can be made even more efficient by using ozone. By effectively short-circuiting the normal oxidisation of waste it slows the accumulation of nitrates and phosphates which can have many benefits.
The very simple answer to this is gapping. Sterilisers have a chamber that brings water and the organisms within it into very close contact with the lamp – this gives a much higher dose of ultra-violet radiation capable of killing parasites that would survive the lower doses used to kill algae cells in a clarifier.
Because of this difference in exposure, a steriliser will effectively function as a clarifier but may be more susceptible to fouling when large particles of waste are pumped through the unit. This is less of an issue for a clarifier that has a larger contact chamber and less restriction on solids passing through it. This is why most units designed for pond use are clarifiers and better able to cope with a dirtier environment.
On the face of it this is a simple subject but it does have some unforeseen effects. Starting with particle size, large grades of gravel have large void spaces that can trap a lot of solid waste. This means that they will need regular maintenance with a gravel-cleaning siphon to avoid problems such as a build-up of nitrates and phosphates. Heavier gravel is harder for fish to move (or swallow!) and can make very effective decor so don’t let this put you off. At the other extreme, sand and fine gravels are more likely to allow wastes to remain visible on the surface where it can be harder to ignore and again, siphoning is the answer. Aquatic plants are generally adapted to grow in anoxic mud and prefer fine substrates which also serve to keep any growing mediums isolated from the aquarium water.
Geology is another factor in choosing the right gravel and those containing limestone or coral can affect water quality. For this reason, soft water habitats where a low pH is desired, such as discus tanks, rely on selecting a lime-free gravel. Conversely, fishkeepers in soft water areas who keep hard water species such as Rift-lake or Central American cichlids may want to use coral or limestone gravels that help ensure the alkaline water that these fishes need.
The answer to this is observation. By knowing what’s normal behaviour and deportment for your pets you can tell if they’re behaving strangely. For instance, swimming upside-down is normal for certain catfish, reef fishes and cichlids but definitely a sign of problems in goldfish!
Obvious signs of ill-heath are clamped fins, increased gill rates, flicking against decor and lethargic behaviour. The very first response to these symptoms should be a water test and often this will reveal the cause of the problem – after all, your pets will be very keen to die of old age and have immune systems that will combat disease when environmental conditions allow. Once you’ve ruled this out, take a photo on a camera phone and seek advice from an experienced member of shop staff. As treatment can be different depending on the pathogen involved, adding a medication ‘just in case’ can delay the use of a more effective cure after a proper diagnosis.
If you’ve added a recognisable source of food for the species concerned then the answer is usually stress.
The first thing to rule out is water quality, most fishes will quickly lose their appetites when exposed to ammonia or nitrite or inappropriate water chemistry.
It’s also fairly normal for anxious fish to prioritise security over foraging, in other words a new fish will often be nervous of entering open water to feed – especially in the case of reef fish or shy, nocturnal tropicals.
Some wild-caught fish have very firm ideas about what’s edible and at one extreme are the species that only feed on live fish or corals. A bit of homework will help you identify dietary specialists such as Butterflyfish and Filefish that only eat living Acropora corals for example.
Fish are generally quite easy to fit around holiday absence. However it pays to do some preparation first though, and having someone who can pop in once or twice a week can be very useful. Without a doubt, over-feeding is the biggest threat to an aquarium or pond left in the hands of a novice.
If you have a human caretaker available, show them the normal state of the filters and life-support equipment ahead of time and leave the phone number of your favourite fish shop near the tank. Hide the main containers of food and leave labelled portions to make feeding issues less likely. Consider using tablet foods to simplify the quantities offered, or in the case of frozen foods, use an ice cube tray with portions frozen into blocks of water.
Leaving an aquarium unsupervised is also an option and automated feeders can be used to keep home-alone fishes fed. Install such units a few days before departure so that settings can be adjusted and the correct quantities used. If in doubt, under-feeding is far more healthy than over-feeding and intervals such as weekends can be left without any food provision. Old-fashioned plaster-based dissolving food blocks are still available, as are their modern equivalents which tend to have less impact on water parameters such as KH.
Ensure that you carry out routine maintenance such as cleaning filters or performing water changes before you go to avoid any complications or failures due to blocking etc.
There's no shortage of creatures who regard your pond as a feeding station, a bit like a bird table. For species such as herons who have evolved to spend hours hunting brown fishes in murky water, the combination of clear water and colourful fish is a dream come true! Other creatures that pose a threat include cats, foxes, crows and humans to name a few.
Initial pond design can play a factor, such as vertical sides rather than shallows to prevent wading predators but protection falls into two categories - barriers and devices.
In the first category, cover nets are really the beginning and end of the solutions and although not as attractive, they are probably the most effective. If a pergola or other structure is used above the pond, strands of fishing line can be placed at regular intervals to limit the wingspan of any visiting birds.
As you can imagine, more hi-tech solutions are now available including those that spray water or flash and emit scary noises. There's also a range of other solutions including the good old plastic herons, although these are best used by pond keepers with a good aim and a strong throwing arm for best effect.
Gill flukes (Dactylogyrus) and skin flukes (Gyrodactylus) are common parasites that affect fishes. Like popular community fish, they are split between livebearers and egg layers, but that's where the similarities end.
Despite the given names, they are both likely to be found on the gills or skin and although often found in small numbers on healthy fish, large numbers can be very debilitating. Flukes are often the cause of damage that leads to bacterial secondary infections and, being microscopic, are hard to detect.
Like most parasites, controlling background waste levels and maintaining good water quality is important in reducing populations and ensuring fish have a healthy immune system. As flukes are often the root of ulcers and other secondary infections, treat for flukes before treating with antibacterial or antifungal medications. A number of treatments are available for flukes, those containing Praziquantel are the most effective.
In a word: Homework.
It's fair enough to say that your local fish shop is likely to use tap water to fill their tanks and on the whole, captive-bred tropical fish are a hardy and adaptable lot. Some groups of fish are rather less forgiving, though and Rift-lake Cichlids and Discus are examples of these more demanding specialists.
By testing the hardness of your tap water you can easily determine its suitability for use and select your fish to suit. Sod's law generally dictates that hobbyists with hard water want to keep soft water fish and vice versa. If that's the case then using RO water can free you from the tyranny of tap water completely and buffers can be used to make the softest water suitable for even those Mexican natives that are used to swimming in liquid rock!
"Tank busters" are big, powerful fish unsuitable for the average domestic aquarium. If you've seen a species on TV being held by a celebrity angler, it's fair to say it meets the criteria and some of these are all too commonly available. Some of these mighty beasts, such as the big catfishes, are predators with enough strength to crack a tank with the muscles evolved for fighting river surges.
Many of the more commonly encountered tank busters are food fish, mass-produced on fish farms for growing-on in ponds. This means they're very cheap and can tempt the unwary when encountered as cute babies in stores that should know better. Pangasius catfish are a great example of this and can be found in unethical fish shops as well as supermarket fish counters. Like all tank busters, this fish makes a beautiful and long-lived pet in appropriate conditions for those able to provide them. Realistically, these facilities are rare outside zoos or public aquaria and they struggle to re-home fish that may live thirty years and grow a metre or more in length.
Sadly, as our systems include larger stock tanks than many other outlets, we often find these homeless fish on our doorstep, or rescued from customers who either didn't do their research or received poor advice from other retailers. Take a look at the Big Fish Campaign for details of the most common species in this category.
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