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FAQs on South American/Amazon River Biotopes

Related Articles: Biotopes - Part 1 by Alesia Benedict, Biotopic Set-Ups, Aquascaping for Beginners; Twenty Tips for Realistic Aquaria by Neale Monks, AquascapingAdventures in Aquascaping by Timothy S. Gross pH, alkalinity, acidityTreating Tap Water, Freshwater Aquarium Water Quality, Freshwater Maintenance

Related FAQs:  FW Biotopic Presentations, Freshwater Community, N. American Natives,  & Treating Tap Water for Aquarium Use, pH, Alkalinity, Acidity, Freshwater Algae Control, Algae Control, Foods, Feeding, Aquatic Nutrition, Disease

South American tetra tank (stkg. mostly)     12/29/16
I have a few questions about making some changes to my tank. My current set-up:
My tank is about 10 months old. It is a US 29 gal.(approx. 100 litre?) tall bow front. I want it to be primarily for small tetras. I am lucky to have soft slightly acidic water straight from the tap. The substrate is a layer of organic soil (3") with a 1" cap of smooth sand. However, my plants (mostly Anubias) have not done well. I douse them every second day with
Flourish Excel, but this causes more algae growth than plant growth, although I do see new leaves coming.
<You do not need to 'feed' Anubias. Certainly not every second day! Anubias grow extremely slowly, and nine times out of ten they'll get all the minerals they need from the tap water and fish wastes. Possibly add a bit of plant food if you get one or two yellow leaves. But if growth is all green, don't feed! Simple as that. As you observe, any plant food you add
will be used by algae. Also note that Anubias need shading from overhead light, or their leaves get covered by algae. They don't seem as good at resisting algae as most true aquatic plants (Anubias naturally occur in bogs and marshes rather than underwater).>
The lighting is OptiBright 24"" LED 15VDC, 0.5A max. My water temperature is minimum 78 F. My fish consist of
the following:
4 emperor tetras
9 neon tetras
3 checkerboard Corydoras (each about 3.5") <? RMF>
3 yoyo loaches (each about 3.5", and brought in to control an outbreak of pond snails)
The loaches and corries don't seem to bother each other; there are lots of hiding places created by terra cotta pots and driftwood, but the corries hide in daylight. I've lost a couple of dwarf rams, dwarf gouramis, and a school of rummy nose tetras mostly from an outbreak of Ick.
Much as I love the dwarf rams, I now I just want to concentrate on peaceful schools of tetras.
My questions:
1. Are my loaches and cories too big for this tank?
<Borderline. While they're unlikely to overload the filter, Yo-yo loaches in particular are boisterous and active, so I'd certainly be keeping an eye on them. I'd also want to add a few more Corydoras, because the loaches might push them about a bit otherwise.>
2. Is my school of emperors too small; would they be happier with another four?
3. Can I mix Neons and cardinals, or am I better to double the school of Neons?
<They actually prefer/need different conditions. Neons are from cooler areas, so their correct water temperature range is 22-24 C/72-75 F.
Cardinals are hothouse flowers, and really are happier around 26-28 C/79-82 F. While you might split the difference and keep them both at 25 C/77 F, I suspect you'll find Neons rather shorter lived than you would like.
Cardinals are generally less plagued by disease than Neons these days, and tend to live longer, assuming you have soft water and keep them reasonably warm.>
4. I'd like to reintroduce a school of rummy nose tetras. Are these four species of tetras compatible, and would you recommend as the total maximum load for this tank?
<I think you'd be pushing your luck a bit with these. They're highly social, and you really need at least a dozen for them to school properly, and they're also very sensitive to poor water quality. They seem to do better in spacious tanks where they can swim about freely. I'd be looking at either X-Ray Tetras or 'False' Penguin Tetras (actually the default Penguin Tetra of the trade) if you wanted something stripy and easy to keep. Both of these species are tough and undemanding.>
I don't think I'll pursue any more submerged plants; just keep those I can keep alive, increase the bog wood, and possibly add a floating plant, though I don't want anything that takes over.
<Amazon Frogbit would be ideal.>
Thanks so much for your advice.
<Most welcome. Neale.>
Re: South American tetra tank      12/29/16

Thanks so much, Neale! What a great service you provide!
<As volunteers, we're always pleased to know our help is useful and welcome. So cheers, indeed! Neale.>

Asian river and Amazon     6/11/14
Hi guys,
Just wanted to share with you my final setups for my 40 gallon Amazon and my son's 20 gallon Asian river. Some of the plants still need some growing and are recent adds but you get the general idea. Thank you to Neale
<Sent to him>
especially for making this a very enjoyable hobby for my son and I!! I tried to make the tanks as pure as possible but some of the plants were admittedly disputed as to area of origin but hey....can't take all the fun out of it can I :)
Asian river

Cryptocoryne Wendtii
Blyxa japonica
Heteranthera Zosterofolia
Nymphaea Zenkeri
Betta splendens (Betta)
Kryptopterus minor (Ghost Catfish)
Trigonostigma heteromorpha (Harlequin Rasbora)
Stiphodon semoni (Cobalt Blue Goby)
Pangio semicintus (Black Kuhli Loach)

Vallisneria Americana Gigantea
Sagittaria Subulata
Echinodorus 'ozelot'
Cleithracara maronii (Keyhole Cichlid)
Pterophyllum scalare (Angelfish)
Hyphessobrycon columbianus (Blue/red Columbian Tetra)
Gasteropelecus sternicla (Common Hatchetfish)
Mikrogeophagus altispinosus (Bolivian Ram)
Ancistrus cirrhosus (Bristlenose Pleco)
<Ah, very nice. Bob Fenner>
Re: Asian river and Amazon     6/11/14
I'm not sure how I forgot but thank you as well Bob! I've definitely gotten your help more than a couple times.
Phill Shubert
<Ah, cheers. BobF>

Amazon tank and Lotus plant question       1/24/15
Hi Crew!!
Hope you are all well and relaxed. Just reaching out to you with a thought on my never ending Amazon plant issue lol. As you can see my 7 year old's S.E. Asian tank is thriving.
Nothing dies in that tank and everything lives at least a year past expectancy. Including the beautiful Chocolate Gourami that he picked out. I have actually removed the filter and am just running on a powerhead to circulate with regular water monitoring and it has performed beautifully.
<The sign of a "balanced" tank. Effectively the top layer of substrate is home to the bacteria, and presumably very low stocking means that this is sufficient to remove ammonia as produced. Comparable to the use of live rock in marine tanks, but rarely achieved in freshwater systems because we tend to more heavily stock such tanks.>
My Amazon tank still struggles with the plants (I know...shocking right lol) which my son likes to point out and tease me over. Thus I am replicating his setup. I have removed the dual T5HO 24" lamp for a single 36" T5HO lamp with a smaller reflector. I am going with my gut that the light is causing the plants to grow at such a rate that they are out-competing each other for nutrients and the older leaves are showing nitrate deficiency.
<Possibly, though iron is more commonly limiting. Either way, use of root tablets can work wonders.>
I have also ripped out everything aside from 2 swords (Ozelot and Bleheri compacta) and added a ton more driftwood for a more natural and authentic SA river look. I'm even considering hanging some branches from the above framework into the water for a "tree root" look. I've added some water lettuce just to balance the system with the absence of the other plants and monitoring frequently. Any thoughts on my pathway??
<Sounds good to me. Floating plants are the most authentic additions to most aquaria -- rooted plants are more often than not marginals or even amphibious plants that wouldn't normally be submerged 12 months of the year. I'm hugely fond of using floating Indian fern plus Anubias below the waterline. For a more South American feel, Ceratophyllum and Vallisneria
are probably the two most authentic genera of true aquatics (Echinodorus being amphibious bog plants, not true aquatics, even though we treat them as such in aquaria). Alternatively, an open topped tank stocked with Water Hyacinth could work, or for that matter, a suitable Lily Pad species (the biggest lily pad in the world being South American, I believe). If you can
find it, Amazon Frogbit is amazingly easy to grow, and its long feathery roots provide a lovely deep green canopy below the waterline. Weirdly enough there's a Java Moss (a Vesicularia species, perhaps Vesicularia montagnei) called Christmas Moss from Brazil, so that's an option too.>
The Lotus picture I have attached is of my son's Nymphaea Zenriki. I have allowed the leaves to reach the surface for awhile now which has eliminated the plant from putting up submerged leaves. Now it has sent out this red stem as opposed to the normal brown variety. This stem has white roots which you can see in the picture and what appears to be many tiny leaves coming off it. Any idea if this is a runner and new plant or the Lotus flower I have been hoping to see?
<Likely a daughter plant. Resist trying to wedge it down into the ground until the roots are a decent length, otherwise what happens is the runner snaps and the immature plant ends up being washed around the tank on the water current. Once settled, Nymphaea tend to produce daughter plants quite freely. Cheers, Neale.>


Asian river and Amazon      6/11.5/14
Hi guys,
Just wanted to share with you my final setups for my 40 gallon Amazon and my son's 20 gallon Asian river.
<Looks good! A wipe of the front glass might be a plus before taking photos, though! Squirt the window cleaner onto a paper towel (not at the tank!) then wipe.>
Some of the plants still need some growing and are recent adds but you get the general idea.
<Indeed. Abacus aquatics in Sidcup recently got some Vallisneria nana. Like all Vallisneria it's relatively easy to grow, and spreads well once settled. It's an easier alternative to Hairgrass type things, having the
usual Vallisneria tolerance providing you DO NOT bury the white crown under the substrate.>
Thank you to Neale especially for making this a very enjoyable hobby for my son and I!! I tried to make the tanks as pure as possible but some of the plants were admittedly disputed as to area of origin but hey....can't take all the fun out of it can I :)
<Pretty much the idea.>
***Asian river***
Cryptocoryne Wendtii
Blyxa japonica
Heteranthera Zosterofolia
Nymphaea Zenkeri
Betta splendens (Betta)
Kryptopterus minor (Ghost Catfish)
Trigonostigma heteromorpha (Harlequin Rasbora)
Stiphodon semoni (Cobalt Blue Goby)
Pangio semicintus (Black Kuhli Loach)
Vallisneria Americana Gigantea
Sagittaria Subulata
Echinodorus 'ozelot'
Cleithracara maronii (Keyhole Cichlid)
Pterophyllum scalare (Angelfish)
Hyphessobrycon columbianus (Blue/red Columbian Tetra)
Gasteropelecus sternicla (Common Hatchetfish)
Mikrogeophagus altispinosus (Bolivian Ram)
Ancistrus cirrhosus (Bristlenose Pleco)
<Well done. Neale.>

Re: Asian river and Amazon     6/13/14
Lol good call. I was excited after adding my driftwood and didn't notice the spots. I'll get you a better one. I feel after all your input you're essentially part creator of these anyway.
<Kind of you to say so! Neale.>
Re: Asian river and Amazon

Hi Neale,
As promised...sans water marks.
<Ah yes, "clearly" superior! Cheers, Neale.>

marine-to-fresh; S. Am. biotope 11/8/2013
I currently have a 72" 165 gallon tank with a single overflow
<Wish there were two>

 with two drains & returns, that's connected to an Eshopps 3 section wet/dry filter, with crushed live rock, mechanical filtration and the protein skimmer. I would like to try a fresh water system now which would mimic a slow moving  Amazonian river.
<Do take out the crushed carbonate substrate>
My question is can I use this tank for that purpose?

 I was thinking of using pond filters in the wet/dry and of course change the lighting. Any advice you can give me with this setup would be appreciated.
<Perhaps a read here:
Bob Fenner>

Biotope build outs, ex.s      1/16/13
Hi guys,
I wanted to thank you for your input and send you some updates as to how the Asian and South American biotopes are coming. I have attached pictures of both.
<Phill... hundreds of Kbytes, not Megs of pix/files please>
The Asian tank is a 20 long with the following:
Harlequin Rasbora
Celestial Pearl Danio
Red Cherry Shrimp
Christmas Moss
Cryptocoryne Wendtii
Hygrophila Sunset
I have 1 T5HO 24W bulb about 10" above tank and dose with Seachem comprehensive, Excel, and Nitrogen. Very pleased with this tank so far.
<Looks nice>
The South American tank will be going into the attached build which I thank you for all your input. The doors are going on tonight. The T5HO dual 48W will hang in that open space above tank 10" above. There will be a door hiding the light and filter. I will send an updated picture when it is done. It will contain:
Blue Acara
Bolivian Rams
Emperor Tetras
Bristlenose Pleco
Ozelot swords
Dwarf swords (parviflorus)
Dwarf Hairgrass
I just really wanted to thank Bob, Neale, and the rest of the crew who helped me with this. My family and I are truly enjoying this experience and it would not have happened without your aid. Truly appreciate your site and what you guys do for us hobbyists.
<Thank you for sharing. Bob Fenner>

Biotope build outs   1/17/13
Hi guys,
I wanted to thank you for your input and send you some updates as to how the Asian and South American biotopes are coming. I have attached pictures of both.
The Asian tank is a 20 long with the following:
Harlequin Rasbora
Celestial Pearl Danio
Red Cherry Shrimp
Christmas Moss
Cryptocoryne wendtii
Hygrophila Sunset
I have 1 T5HO 24W bulb about 10" above tank and dose with Seachem comprehensive, Excel, and Nitrogen. Very pleased with this tank so far.
<Indeed, looking good. Do wonder about the Hygrophila though; looks a bit leggy and while it's nice to see the red colour on the leaves, pale green to red plants are often very light-hungry. Would expect them to look bigger and bushier if they've been there a couple months or more.>
The South American tank will be going into the attached build which I thank you for all your input. The doors are going on tonight. The T5HO dual 48W will hang in that open space above tank 10" above. There will be a door hiding the light and filter. I will send an updated picture when it is done. It will contain:
Blue Acara
Bolivian Rams
Emperor Tetras
Bristlenose Pleco
Ozelot swords
<A nice plant.>
Dwarf swords (parviflorus)
<Never had much luck with this…>
Dwarf Hairgrass
<…or this! Both need more light than I've ever provided, I think.>
I just really wanted to thank Bob, Neale, and the rest of the crew who helped me with this. My family and I are truly enjoying this experience and it would not have happened without your aid. Truly appreciate your site and what you guys do for us hobbyists.
<Sounds like you're having fun; we're glad to help. Cheers, Neale.>

Amazon Basin, share    3/30/12
Bob, Neale and crew,
Anyone who keeps South American fish from the Amazon basin and has never been there should probably take a look at this to get a feel for the environment their fish come from.
Click the square in the upper right corner of the image to expand to full screen.
<Real good. Would be even better if we could travel *under* the waterline!
Cheers, Neale.>

Amazon tank    1/14/12
Hi Neale,
Hope you had an enjoyable and pleasant holiday season! This is a quick preference question. I am in the middle of setting up that aforementioned 29 gallon Amazon tank (cockatoo Cichlid, keyhole, black phantom tetras). I am either planning sand with some dwarf sag and crypts or small pebbles with sag and Val.s. In either case I will have plenty of driftwood and floating Anacharis. Which of these is a better setup in terms of the fishes needs.
Thanks again Neale for all your help.
<Greetings! Yes, Christmas was nice and the New Year started off well.
Let's hope it lasts. Anyway, to answer your question, all the plants should work. To be honest, I think you'll find standard Vallisneria spiralis may get a bit big for your aquarium, so do look out for the dwarf variety of Vallisneria americana. For some reason, aquarists have reported that Vallisneria and Sagittaria don't grow well together. Never tried this out myself, so can't comment, but you may want to research this apparent allelopathy and choose one genus over the other. Either way, I'd definitely include Cryptocoryne wendtii or something similar in this tank -- it provides lots of low-level shade that dwarf cichlids really appreciate.
Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Amazon tank    1/14/12

Thanks very much Neale. Do you think this tank and its inhabitants would thrive better with pebbles or sand.
<Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Apistogramma are sand-sifters and appreciate soft substrates. Keyholes couldn't care less. Apistogramma like caves and will do small amounts of digging around coconut shells and the like, so again, sand helps. Gravel is easier to buy in darker shades, and this helps enhance cichlid colours. It's also easier to keep out of filter inlets, and the cichlids can't uproot plants so easily. In short, either substrate will work, and both have benefits. FWIW, I use sand by default.>
My apologies. I wrote that very awkwardly in my previous email.
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re Amazon tank    1/21/12

Hi Neale,
Wrapping up purchasing what i need for my tank and I have a rather specific and hard to research question. 29 gallon Amazon tank.
1 cockatoo Cichlid
1 keyhole Cichlid
12 black phantom tetra
1 Bristlenose Pleco
2 Ozelot Amazon swords
Some sparsely planted Pygmy chain swords (unsure if this will be included)
Anacharis (either planted or floating)
I will be using plain pea gravel with natural dark colors and nothing painted or fake.
Would you recommend laterite?
<Have used it, and it can work extremely well. But far from essential.
Nowadays I use much cheaper garden pond soil mixed with gravel or sand to stabilise it, and then top it off (not essential) with a plastic mesh and then a layer of gravel or sand.>
If I use a 40 watts full spec bulb how many hours would you leave this on per day to mimic the flora and fauna's natural biotope?
<10-12 hours is usually adequate. Some folks fine 6 hours on, 2 hours off, 6 hours on works well at preventing algae.>
Thanks Neale. You guys are extremely generous to provide this advice for the rest of us to learn from and I want you to know that it's greatly appreciated by myself, my children, and especially my fish! All the best Neale.
<Most welcome, Neale.>
<Do consider visiting the WWM Forum; that's the best place to chat about stocking and planting, and showing off the progress you make. It'd be nice to see a few photos of your tank there.
Cheers, Neale.>

Lighting    2/1/12

Hi Neale,
Hope you are well. Just wondering if you had any input on lighting. I know the Amazon River is not littered with plants
but I'd like to have a few.
I plan on doing Eco-Complete mixed with Silica Sand. Keeping some swords in there and maybe some pygmy chain (though I am afraid it will take off and cover the whole floor with the light and Eco-complete).
<I have always found this quite a demanding species.>
My aquarium is ~20 inches in height.
<So quite a deep tank.>
Would a dual T5 fixture be sufficient?
<Would be very surprised if this was sufficient. You're probably after about 2.5 watts/gallon for this species to do well in a tank this deep, if not more. I have never found Pygmy Amazon Swords "easy". Given ordinary levels of lighting the plants sort of sit there, sending out the odd daughter plant, but not really doing much otherwise. They need strong lighting to form that thick green "turf" effect people see in aquarium books. By all means try it out, and you may be okay. But don't be surprised if it doesn't work out.>
I will not be using CO2 so will the plant leaves get burned?
<Echinodorus tenellus is one of those species that really benefits from both nutrient feeding through the roots and CO2 fertilisation.>
Will I see increased algae production?
<Probably. If you up the lighting level, but don't have fast-growing plants to use up that lighting, algae tends to fill the gap.>
Do you guys recommend Malaysian Trumpet Snails to aerate the soil and prevent pockets?
<I think they're useful, but not essential. Some people object to them very strongly and it's true they breed extremely quickly. Once introduced, they can become a pest if not somehow managed. I think Clea helena is a better bet; it burrows, but breeds slowly. Otherwise, don't worry about the substrate too much; catfish and shrimps will do almost as good a job keeping not clean. Whiptails in particular are effective burrowers.>
Thanks again Neale. I'll be sure to get some pictures up on the website once I get it done. I hoping it will look amazing with all the input I have from your team.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Amazon Tank (Hmm… Bob might call this chatting before too long!)<<Heeee!>>
Hi Neale,
<Hello Phill,>
Thank you again for your advice with my new Amazon endeavor. I know I have bugged you more than what is acceptable but I am trying to be perfect on the first shot here. I've been going back and forth and I think the more "pure" approach would be much more enjoyable for me.
<Pure in what sense? Amazonian rainforest habitats are normally plant-free!
But there are some South American habitats that do have plants, like the Llanos habitats from whence come Ram Cichlids.>
With that said I am sticking with the Amazon swords with a ton of driftwood for my 29 gallon (specifically Pygmy chain, Ozelot, and Rosette "Tropica" planted in Eco-complete). I will have more plants then what one would see in the Amazon river basin but I really enjoy the look of a carpet of pygmy chain and I don't really see myself creating a foot deep pile of dead leaves in the tank.
<Surely, though Indian almond leaves plus bogwood can recreate fascinating habitats, especially with blackwater extract to tint the water. Glowlights, Neons, Lemon Tetras and Apistogramma would be a revelation in this sort of dark, gloomy habitat.>
The bigger change is the stocking which is now as follows:
8 Marbled Hatchetfish (I will have floating Amazon Frogbit)
8 X-ray tetras
1 clown Pleco
1 or 2 Cockatoo Apistos.
Now here is where I would like some direction. I would love to set up 2 bottom level cichlids. Would it be better to have a pair of cockatoos or 2 individual species. I would rather do the male/female pair but I want to be ethical in handling the fry. I don't want to depend on local stores to purchase them and I will not bring life into the tank that I can't be responsible for handling once it arrives. What are my options?
<Add a predator? Seriously, if you crank out fry, then keeping another fish that eats those fry can be one solution.>
If not the breeding pair then what would be an acceptable tankmate for the cockatoo? I was going to go with a Bolivian as mentioned prior but have heard they can be feisty. Any other mild Apistos or medium sized cichlids that can room with the dwarf?
<Laetacara curviceps would be an obvious choice, or Keyhole cichlids.
Checkerboard cichlids are lovely, but might be bullied by the Apistogramma.
Nannacara anomala is a beautiful little cichlid, much under appreciated. Last but not least, one of the rarer Angels could work, such as Dwarf Angelfish (Pterophyllum leopoldi) if you're space-limited.>
Also are my 2 schools ok or would I be better served to have 16 of 1 species instead of the 8 of 2 separate groups?
<One big school of tetras is always better than two smaller schools, but you have sensible numbers of both, and frankly, upping either to 10 shouldn't much affect water quality in a tank this size, if filtration is robust.>
My LFS has re-checked my water now that I am cycling the tank. They have changed their previous assessment of my water to 7.6 pH and hardness of 150ppm. I suspect this should not affect my choice in fish.....am I correct with this thinking?
<Most South American species should adapt to this, even if not as soft and acidic as would be ideal.>
Thanks Neale and hope you are well.
<Quite so.>
<Cheers, Neale.> 

Fwd: final setup   3/14/12

Hi Neale,
No reply needed on this one buddy. Just sending you a photo of the final setup.
<Looks nice.>
Thanks for all your advice and input. Apisto agassizi pair have already made a condo out of driftwood on left which is completely hollow with entry hole at bottom, middle, and top.
<Real good.>
Also in tank are 1 cobalt blue angel and 9 black phantom tetra.
Ammonia/nitrite/nitrate all at 0. Ph 7.4 with 150 ppm hardness.
Eco-complete substrate. Will be adding Frogbit and Pygmy chain sword soon.
Dual T5HO 6" above top. Thanks Neale. You've been great!
<Most welcome.>
<Cheers, Neale.>

Tetras for South American Cichlid tank   1/2/12
I am wondering if there are any suitable tetras for my South American Cichlid tank.
I currently have some Silver Dollars but kind of like the idea of a large school of tetras instead.
<There are quite a nice variety of Silver Dollar-type things. Have you looked at Myleus schomburgkii? This is a schooling species with nice colours and a maximum size of about 12 cm/5 inches.>
My current setup is a 120 gallon tank stocked with 6 Severum, 8 Eartheater cichlids, 6 Pictus catfish and 1 Rhino Pleco.  I was thinking of Buenos Aires tetras but reading thru the FAQ I seen they can be fin nippers.
<And subtropical, too.>
Could you suggest a schooling fish that won't fin nip and is big enough to exist with my cichlids. Thank you for the wonderful site!
<Congo Tetras and Bleeding Heart Tetras are two others that would work and are widely traded. Cheers, Neale.>

Setting up a south American cichlid tank   9/26/11
Hi All,
<Hello Andrew,>
I hope you're well and thank you for the education and support you all provide. It's fair to say I've spent a good few hours reading on this site.
<Thanks for these kind words.>
My question is this: I've been back in the hobby for about six months and have two (140 litre and 120 litre) tanks with community fish which are going well after a few early deaths and cycling issues (Mainly my own lack
of knowledge which this site has been invaluable at rectifying). I am about to purchase a 240 litre tank and would like to dedicate it to breeding two types of south American cichlid.
Would I be able to keep a pair of Apistogramma Apache
<More widely called Apistogramma sp. "Masken".>
with a pair of Blue Acara (Aequidens Pulcher?)
<Potentially, but do bear in mind that this cichlid is fairly large and somewhat more aggressive.>
or would you suggest a different combination with the priority on the Apache.
<Yes; Apistogramma are most easily bred in small tanks with lots of plants and middling temperatures. Very soft water is often essential, as are low pH levels, potentially 5-6 in the case of some species, and at best no higher than 7 with things like A. cacatuoides. By contrast, Blue Acaras are boisterous fish that do better at low to middling temperatures and aren't fussy about water chemistry but do best in neutral water conditions.
They're more omnivorous, and can uproot some plants while foraging for food. Again, whereas Apistogramma often benefit from maintenance alongside small surface-swimming dither fish such as Hatchetfish, Blue Acaras are best bred as pairs in their own aquarium in the same manner as things like Angels.>
I have the opportunity to get these fish wild caught which means they will be pure fish but also very sensitive.
<Yes; again, the low pH level means biological filtration will be operating at very low efficiency, so an understocked tank is an advantage, potentially with more reliance on floating plants for ammonia removal than filtration alone.>
Which leads me to my next question. From my research on this site I believe these fish will be extremely sensitive and will require superb water quality with a hardness of around 5. Is this correct?
<Yes. Very few Apistogramma do well above 10 degrees dH, pH 7, and most will want 1-5 degrees dH, pH 5.0-6.5 depending on the species.>
Also is mixing 4 parts rainwater to 1 part tap water (My tap water is precisely Ph 7) and adding conditioner the correct way to achieve this?
<Potentially, but you may find using rainwater with Discus Buffer easier, though a 4/1 mix may work if you also use a pH-down buffer and keep a close eye on pH stability.>
(Not necessarily the right ratio as I can research the exact ratio on this site as long as I have the correct hardness). The setup will contain lots of rock caves and slate.
<Don't underestimate the value of floating plants with Apistogramma; they appreciate the shade. But otherwise yes, their habitat is mostly leaf litter and sunken wood rather than plants.>
Finally, as I've only been back in the hobby a short time do you feel this project may be beyond me at this stage.
<You may want to try A. cacatuoides before anything more challenging. That species is almost certainly the "easiest" Apisto thanks to its tolerance for hard water and community aquarium life. Apistogramma borellii is another good species that isn't too picky about water chemistry or tankmates. Apistogramma agassizii is a bit more challenging in the sense of being fussier about water chemistry, but is otherwise reliable. All three are widely traded and inexpensive. But with all this said, if you have a reasonably large aquarium for your Apistos, can control water chemistry as per the species requirements, and understand how to maintain low nitrate levels as well as zero nitrite/ammonia, none are insanely "difficult" fish per se.>
The last thing I want to do is purchase wild caught fish and condemn them to a brief unhappy life.
Many thanks for your help, hopefully in this matter but also for all the other things I've learned and will continue to learn.
<Hope this helps. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Setting up a south American cichlid tank   12/3/11

Hi Neale,
Thanks for your reply and advice. I've finished cycling the tank and was hoping to be ready to start stocking but unfortunately the pH and hardness are (I believe) a bit too high for Apistogramma (7.7 and 14 degrees respectively).
<Not really too high on either count. Remember, pH is largely irrelevant, so unless wildly high, 8 or above, don't worry about it, and certainly don't try and change it directly. Fish don't "feel" pH is any meaningful sense, though pH does have impacts on things like bacteria levels in the water and whether some fish eggs mature or hatch properly. So adjusting pH tends to be an issue only when keeping blackwater fish (e.g., Ram Cichlids, where a pH between 4.5 and 6.5 is required) and where sex ratios or hatching rates are proving problematic. Now, hardness can be an issue, but for the hardier Apistogramma, like A. cacatuoides, a hardness of 14 degrees dH is acceptable, if not ideal.>
I've researched a remedy for this and would just like your advice/opinion.
I have six panda Cory in another tank at pH 7.0 which I would like to move to my south American tank. I plan to use peat balls to lower the pH to 6.5 in the new tank along with a couple of almond leaves however I know this could require some experimentation to get right but I believe a slow and steady approach with frequent measuring would be the best way.
<I'm very worried by your talking about pH rather than hardness here.>
Is it best to introduce the panda Corys once the pH drops to 7 or should I wait until its down lower and move them from pH 7.0 to 6.5 in one go?
<Forget the pH. Unstable pH levels have killed many more fish than pH levels that aren't textbook values! If you have a hardness of 14 degrees dH in your tap water, then the ideal thing would be to lower that to about 7 (i.e., by mixing 50/50 tap water with rain or RO water) or, if that is too expensive, 10-11 degrees dH (i.e., about two parts tap water to one part rainwater or RO water). You can keep most, if not quite all, South American fish extremely well at 10 degrees dH, pH 7.5.>
I hope to stock this tank with a school of 15-20 tetras (Not sure on type yet, recommendations welcome!)
<Select according to water temperature. Neons prefer cooler water, Cardinals warmer water, for example. Lemon Tetras are excellent all-rounders if the water isn't too hard and there's subdued lighting.
X-Ray Tetras are very hardy tetras and good choices if you want trouble-free fish you can add and then forget about. Hatchetfish are excellent dither fish, but shy and easily bullied, and sensitive to poor water quality. Various other options too. Peruse Baensch's Aquarium Atlas for some ideas.>
and up to 12 panda Corys
<Remember these don't like being kept above 25 C/77 F; if you must keep the temperature higher, then go with C. sterbai.>
to go with the Apistogramma cacatuoides (2 of) as well as an L177 gold nugget Pleco. The tank has a small piece of bogwood and will soon have some floating Indian fern to create (I hope) a nice dark Amazonian atmosphere to bring out the best colours in the fish. Am I heading in the right direction to achieving this?
<Yes. But do remember the Amazon largely lacks "planted aquarium" type biotopes. Mostly, it's leaf litter on silica sand, with lots of tree trunks. Overhead shade may very well be provided by floating plants, such as the excellent Amazon Frogbit. The Amazon water level goes up and down with the seasons, so much of the year it's a sunken forest with terrestrial plants partly submerged. Despite their name, Amazon Swords aren't especially characteristic of the rainforest.>
Many thanks,
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Setting up a south American cichlid tank     12/4/11

Hi Neale,
Thanks for the swift reply. Don't be too worried about my talk of pH. I have some knowledge of chemistry (not used for a few years though)
<Real good.>
and I believe I understand how it all fits together in the aquarium (after much reading).
My concern was that lowering the carbonate hardness via rain water will cause the pH to become unstable which as you mentioned below has killed many a fish!
I believe the peat balls will provide a buffering ability to stabilise the pH at 6.5 with the right dosage.
<Sort of, but I would trust them. Use a Discus buffer instead. Peat is extremely unpredictable.>
Will the Corydoras be better off moving to similar water conditions (Chemically) at which point I would begin to lower the hardness via water changes over a couple of weeks using the peat balls as a buffer, or would it be better to do the adjustments before moving them and then move them in to a tank with different water conditions?
<Ideally, introduce the fish to the tank with whatever water chemistry the fish have experienced up to now, and then slowly change the water chemistry over the following weeks.>
I hope this makes sense.
Thanks for your help.
<Cheers, Neale.>

SA or W African River tank   10/19/11
Hi Crew,
I hope you are all well! This is more of a compatibility/best experience question. I have tried to research this to the best of my ability before coming to you.
I want to put together a 20-30 gallon aquarium. My water has pH of 6.8 and 100 ppm straight out of the faucet. I would like to do some combination of the following:
Either 1 keyhole Cichlid with 1 cockatoo Cichlid or 1 African butterfly Cichlid with 1 Kribensis
With either 6-8 flame tetras or 6-8 black phantom tetras Later: 1 Bristlenose Pleco and a couple Otocinclus.
Maybe 1 bamboo shrimp depending on stocking and bio-load.
In your experience do you see any negatives here? Any cool ideas you have are also greatly appreciated. Thanks guys for all your help. Your experience and guidance are amazing.
<These combinations sound workable. The cichlids are the jokers in the pack; while singletons shouldn't cause problems alongside catfish and tetras, two cichlids of different species might have problems cohabiting in a relatively small tank. Of the two options, the South American one seems the most likely to work, neither of those species being particularly aggressive. The West African options are more interesting in some ways, with some nice colours and more outgoing personalities. Anomalochromis thomasi is very peaceful, but Kribs can sometimes throw their weight around, so do watch them. I think worth a gamble, but keep an eye on them.
Small, schooling fish for African communities can be difficult to find.
Nannaethiops unitaeniatus is a lovely fish, but not often sold, and tends to hide away a lot. African Glass Cats might be a good alternative. There are some lovely African barbs, notably Barbus fasciolatus as perhaps the most widely traded and a lovely little fish. Do also look for Ladigesia roloffi, the "Jellybean Tetra", and the superb Butterfly Barb, Barbus hulstaerti. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: SA or W African River tank    11/22/11

Hi Neale,
I hope you are well and thank you for you insight and advice. I have decided to go with the south American tank. I will use the black phantom tetra as the schooling fish. Would 3 small SA cichlids be too much ( keyhole, cockatoo, Bolivian ram)?
<Given space, sure. Pairs tend to cause more problems than singletons. But still, I'd allow 10 gallons per cichlid.>
If not which 2 would you recommend.
<The Keyhole and the Apistogramma are both shy, retiring fish. The Bolivian Ram is quite pushy and outgoing. I think I'd perhaps go with the Apistogramma and the Keyhole, provided the tank was well planted, and that there were other midwater fish to add action. They'd be sufficiently mellow they'd get along without requiring exactly the same hiding places, so they'd not compete.>
I've tried diligently to search for advice on these combos with no luck.
Some say do not mix any cichlids in anything less than 40 gallons while others say three 3 are fine due to their relatively calm personality.
<The problem is about guarantees. While dissimilar cichlids should get along, the more space, the more certain things become.>
Thus I came to the experts. On a side note I enjoyed Bob's Q&A article in December issue Tropical Fish magazine about the salt water nano. I've been looking at nano tanks and it was a good read. Thanks guys.
<Thanks for the kind words. Cheers, Neale.><<Ditto, RMF>>

Reef to Amazon Biotope/Discus Conversion   7/13/11
Greetings Wet Web Media Crew,
After many years enjoying my 120 gal. reef, I've decided to move on to a new challenge. I've always wanted to try out a Discus tank and after many hours of reading on your site I am pleased to find that my home source water parameters are well suited to them, both soft and slightly acidic. I have cleaned all calcium deposits from the tank and filtration system (sump and wet/dry) and am interested in your thoughts on my stock selections. Tank temp will be targeted at 82 degrees Fahrenheit My goal is to populate the top, middle and bottom of the tank while still allowing the Discus the ability to compete for food successfully. I would start my stocking with 15 Black "Neon" Tetras which my research shows like the top of the tank.
Next come 15 Rummynose Tetras, which may prefer the lower to middle portions of the tank. I'm sure that these rules are more like guidelines and my fish may not stay in the zones indicated, but do you think the Rummynose will school with the Black Neons or will they stay separate?
<Likely a bit of both... more separately at first>
Next I would like to add 7 Bleeding Heart Tetras, 7 Hatchet Fish and 7 Corydoras Sterbai, with at least 7 juvenile Discus to be added last. The tank would have no plants in the substrate, but instead would be filled with driftwood and bogwood, with a cover of Amazon Frogbit floating on the top. I have already purchased 3M Colorquartz fine-grained substrate in black, which is very smooth and should work great with the Cory's.
Eventually I may add a Bristlenose catfish or two to help me scrape algae.
<I would add a few Ancistrus to this sized volume>
Filtration on the tank will be a wet/dry filter with two 1" supply lines draining from the Mega Flow overflows installed in the display. The wet/dry is located in the basement under the tank and will drain into a 29 or 40 gal sump, whichever I can find. I have two options for my return pump, I can run up to 1100 gph total from my Iwaki MD70 but I do not like to run any drain this close to capacity, which should be around 1200 total.
I would throttle this down to about 800gph I think. I could also run about 240 gph with a Pan World 50px-x, obviously a much gentler flow but I am concerned that I would not be turning the tank water enough at this rate. Do you have a recommendation here?
<To use the "throttle" as you suggest, gauge from the behavior of the Discus whether this is okay>
Do you think the stocking load is too heavy or could I add more Discus?
<I think you're right about right numbers-wise... IF/should two pair off you may need to move them elsewhere>
Will any of the Tetras mentioned school or shoal together or will they stay in their own distinct groups?
<Mostly the latter>
Finally, will the Discus be able to get fed with this many other species in the same tank?
<Yes; their food items will be larger in time>
I anxiously await your thoughts on the above and offer my gratitude for the countless hours of discovery provided by your website.
Best Regards,
Bart V
<And you, Bob Fenner>

Book Release: Amazon Below Water, Oliver Lucanus   3/12/10
> > HI All,
> > My book is finally out, can be ordered from the website,
> > Best Wishes,
> > Oliver Lucanus
> > Montreal, Canada
> > Web: http://www.belowwater.com
> > Book: http://www.amazon-below-water.com
> > Blog: http://belowwaterfish.blogspot.com/
Congrats Oliver. Will post on WWM. BobF
Re: Book Release
> Great, thanks. Sorry I have been absent, with the book coming out the last 2 years every free minute have been taken up.
<Certainly understandable>
> Will try to be back and more helpful the moment I can. If there is any questions I can answer by email let me know.
<Ah, I thank you>
> Thanks,
> Oliver
<Cheers, BobF>

Planning an Amazon setup; some questions -- 10/22/09
Hi Crew,
Finally setting up a tank again after about 5 years with no fish. It's good to be on WWM again --- I've missed your excellent resources. I'm in the planning stages for an Amazon habitat focused on small tetras. I'm also trying to use the gear I have to minimize buying new stuff.
<Fair enough.>
I have a choice between a 55 gallon "tall" tank with 576 sq. inches of surface area or a 46 gallon tank with 720 sq. inches surface area. More water vs. more surface area. Of course I want more fish; but which tank
would serve small tetras better?
<There's really not much in it either way. "Tall" tanks can't hold as many fish as "wide" tanks of the same volume, but the extra volume of water in the 55 gallon tank means water chemistry and water quality issues will be less. So it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. If this was me, I'd get the 55 gallon tank assuming cost was the same, but would simply be careful about how many fish I added to the tank.>
I'm planning to build the environment around a school of Cardinal Tetras (love them; have done well with them in the past.) The advice with Cardinals is always "lots of plants" but the actual Amazon seems to be a little light on the plants according to Neale.
<Something like that, yes. A lot of the Amazon is either seasonally under water (flooded forest habitat, with marsh rather than truly aquatic plants)
or else simply open sand with no plants of just floating plants. So things like Amazon swords actually spend half the time above the waterline, in marshy ground, only being covered with water for a few months.>
Do Cardinals really do well with subdued light and rocks/driftwood?
I was planning to do only low-light plants if any, because I only have about 80 watts of light with my current equipment.
<Try this: lots of bogwood for sure, dark substrate or silica sand (this latter is actually 100% authentic), and then floating plants for shade.
Lilies for example look fabulous, and make good use of limited lighting because their leaves are at the surface. Floating Amazon Frogbit would be another great addition, if you wanted some greenery. They have long, long
roots that form a wonderful midwater habitat for tetras, and many tetras actually spend their entire lives under the roots of floating plants.>
I've done well maintaining an undergravel filter in the past, planning to use it again. (Obviously I'll be potting any plants.) How is reverse undergravel for South American fish?
<Just fine.>
My first choice of substrate is some fine black gravel, which worked with traditional- flow UG in the past. (Can't remember if I bought this stuff from Tideline, but it looks just like it.) I love the dark background, but also have some silica sand (too fine for UG) and some "natural" color fine gravel that looks like this, if those are better choices.
<Sounds cool. Floating plants obviously couldn't care less about UG or Reverse-UG filters; lilies are a bit more finicky, but in pots, they should be happy *if* you stick a fertiliser pellet into the root ball every month or two.>
UG then will be my main biofilter and I'll leave a cheesy Top Fin 60 HOB running for a little additional filtering and for specialty media if needed. For weekly maintenance I do 10% water changes and stir 1/3 of the gravel bed with a Magnum 350 running to clean up the gunk. Would I be better off just using the Magnum as the main filter? I've always thought of them as vacuum cleaners more than permanent bio filters. For that matter should I just set up a couple sponge filters and put them behind a rock?
<If you wanted. A properly maintained UG should be fine though.>
Those have worked well for me also, but I've only used them in small tanks.
<They can work well in big tanks.>
In addition to a dozen (or more?) Cardinals I'm considering Pristella tetras, Rummynose, Black Phantoms, and especially Emperor Tetras. (All subject to space available and healthy inventory at the LFS, of course.)
<All excellent fish, but do review their temperature requirements. Black Phantom Tetras for example prefer somewhat cool water. They're great companions for most Corydoras, which also like cool water. But they'd be
bad companions for Cardinals, which need very warm water. You wouldn't keep Corydoras with most Cardinals, but Corydoras sterbai -- the "warm water Cory" -- would be a good choice.>
Assuming a good fully-cycled filter bed, hopefully some plants, and allowing breathing room, what's a good stocking level? I do want multiple species, but probably better off with fewer species/more of each. I'd love some Corydoras sp. also, but wouldn't that black gravel be too rough for them?
<Depends on the gravel. They certainly prefer smooth silica sand, and they're a lot of fun to watch when kept with it. But black sand, such as Tahitian Moon Sand, is too sharp for them. Smooth pea gravel is fine, but heavy gravel or sharp gravel wouldn't be so nice.>
Obviously I have some options here. It's a pleasant process! Thanks in advance for all your help, and meantime I will keep reading.
Thanks, CK =)
<Hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: Planning an Amazon setup; some questions -- 10/22/09
Hello Neale,
Thanks so much for the speedy reply!
<My pleasure.>
It pays to do a little math. I knew that a "55 gallon" fish tank is nominal, like lumber, but imagine my surprise when I carefully measured the *inside* of each tank and re-calculated. Turns out they hold almost exactly the same volume of water (fraction of a gallon difference) but the broader tank offers over 100 square inches more surface area. I was going to use the tall tank on your very sensible recommendation re: water *volume*, but since that's the same... the broad tank is a no-brainer!
<Indeed. I'm actually surprised that they hold the same amount of water.
While you're right, tank sizes are somewhat nominal, that a 55 gallon tank would hold the same as a 46 gallon tank sounds extraordinary.>
I've decided to go with the black sand and some of those lovely plants you suggested. And I promise to check my fish specs carefully to get some truly compatible species.
Off to make room for setup. Thanks again!
CK =)
<Happy to help. Good luck, Neale.>

Re: A host of things: substrates, water parameters, stocking options   8/22/09
Alright Neale,
Your response got me thinking about a lot of different options. I may go for the Amazonian set-up as planned, swapping out M. ramirezi for M. altispinosus.
<A good idea. Since these cichlids, plus many tetras and most South American catfish thrive in both soft and moderately hard water, it's easy to create an Amazonian set-up without the expense of creating soft water.
With moderately hard water, pH stability is easy to ensure, and your filter bacteria will operate optimally, since these prefer hard, basic water.>
I'm starting to be drawn more to doing either a hard water or low-salinity brackish set-up (around SG 1.003). Then, I can still take advantage of a live plant set-up, while using my area's water chemistry more easily, and also keeping some very interesting species. That all being said, I have a few more questions, based on our previous discussion, as well as other articles I've read on the WetWebMedia site:
1) The CO2/CO3 issue: I've read about hard water plants that can utilize carbonate salts as their carbon source rather than CO2. Would it still be beneficial to supplement these plants with CO2?
<Yes; while such plants can use carbonate, if given CO2, they photosynthesise that bit better. Equally, the removal of carbonate allows pH to change, creating variable pH conditions when day is compared to night. Note that in places like ponds and lakes, such pH changes happen and animals adapt to them, so in themselves, pH rises and falls on a daily, cyclical basis are not intrinsically lethal.>
It seems to me that adding carbon dioxide would simply use up the water's carbonate buffer reserve more quickly, making the desired hard water less hard. Thus, to add CO2 to any useful effect in an aquarium with high KH would unacceptably change water chemistry. Is that how it tends to work, or is it not that simple?
<It's complicated, but has been thoroughly worked out now. Do see here:
I'm not an expert on CO2 fertilisation -- have never used it -- but would direct you to those good folks at The Krib who really know about this stuff.>
2) I've got a few different ideas for stocking arrangements for fish for the hard water set-up, one of which I'd like to run by you: a school of *Melanotaenia *praecox, two Kribensis (probably female, to decrease territoriality and prevent breeding--desired for the time being), perhaps one other which I would carefully research/choose, and lastly, *Colomesus* asellus. That's the particularly question-mark fish of the group, of course. I'd really like to keep about three of them. I know that it is debated whether a puffer even as peaceful as this one should be kept with other fish, whether it would be a healthy fit in general. I read the article you wrote, "The Nice Puffer," and you offered a few words about this topic. I'm wondering if you can tell me a little bit more of your opinion on the matter.
<Will depend on the size of the tank: my SAPs are largely well behaved in a 180-litre system with rocks and floating plants to provide cover. In smaller tanks, your degree of success may well be less.>
With the Kribensis, my reasoning is that the SAP won't be as demanding of the caves as other puffers might be, and thus won't compete with the Kribensis, and that the cichlids can defend themselves against nipping.
<Have kept SAPs with a different Pelvicachromis species, P. taeniatus, and they worked pretty well except for the occasional nipped dorsal fin.>
I'm hoping the M. *praecox *are active and fast enough to evade harassment by the puffers?
<Might be, but again, will depend on the amount of swimming space. Some rainbowfish species tend to sit about in midwater rather than actively patrol the tank, so think about that when shopping. Big groups and strong water currents should tilt the odds in favour of the rainbows.>
Also, are there other fish that would fit into this arrangement well?
<Pretty much what's written in that article! Have subsequently found Ameca splendens works well with them, and by extension, you might consider other feisty Goodeids, such as Xenotoca eiseni.>
I don't know about the puffers. I'm really interested in having one of the interesting hardwater/brackish oddball groups for the variety they provide, and I'm very drawn to these SAPs.
<They are great fish. However, Carinotetraodon irrubesco is perhaps that bit easier to slot into community tanks, and with floating plants available, spends much time in the open and at the top of the tank, begging for food.>
Let me know what you think.
Once more, thanks for your help,
Joey E.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Amazon tank compatibility check and substrate question 05/21/09
Hey crew,
first of all, I'd just like to compliment you on your well-designed, innovative, and extremely useful website.
Now to get down to business: I've got some moderate experience in fresh and saltwater tanks, including my current 20 gallon S.E. Asian tank and 29 gallon nano-reef. I recently purchased and refurbished an older 55 gallon (200-odd liters?) tank with a brand new AquaClear 300 filter, rated at 270 gallons per hour or so realistically. I originally had this tank planned as a Mbuna community environment, but have become love struck with a beautiful gold/ light brown angel my local fish store has agreed to reserve for me until I get my tank cycled. I plan on using some established sponge media and water from my 20 gallon, as the water parameters for it and the Amazon biotope tank I am interested in are obviously similar. I'll most likely add some blackwater extract to lower the ph. I've had some small experience with live plants in the past and am planning the 55 as a heavily planted tank (swords, Java fern, Java moss, possibly Anubias and various crypt species).I will most likely use the DIY yeast method for co2, along with some sort of diffuser (recommendation?)
<Swords are the only ones here that really need CO2; none of the other plants grow quickly, and hence get by fine on ambient CO2 levels, though Crypts certainly will prosper uncommonly well given CO2.>
My first question is one of substrate: I happened upon some high-quality, but relatively large, pebbles from a southern tributary of the Brazilian Amazon (got to love those adventurous friends). I'd love to use these in my tank, probably under some sort of plastic webbing. What, however, should I put on top of this?
<If burrowing fish such as Corydoras and dwarf cichlids, then you can't go wrong with plain smooth silica sand; this also happens to be exactly what you find along the bottom of the Amazon.>
I'm looking at laterite, which would be especially nice for the plants, mixed with peat and possibly a small amount of silica sand. Now for the all-important stock list: besides the plants, I'd like to run this by you all:
The angel and a mate for her/him (Scooby, as I've named it, is about 3 inches in diameter).
<Fine, provided they actually are a pair; you can't sex them, and males will be aggressive.>
6 cories, most likely aeneus variety.
6 (?) marbled hatchets as dither fish/ surface dwellers
<Delicate; approach with caution, and certainly keep more than 6.>
8 or so cardinal tetras, or black Neons if I can get my hands on them. I'm guessing that if they are semi-adults when the angels are juveniles and they grow up together, there will not be an issue of aggression.
5 or so black widow tetras.
Possibly a discus once the tank is established and cost-permitting.
<Don't mix Discus and Angels for various behavioural and healthcare issues.>
Possibly a dwarf Pleco.
Possibly transparent shrimp (not sure of the species).
<Angelfish food, if too small... also, do bear in mind shrimps tend to prefer neutral to alkaline conditions.>
Possibly the clown loach from my 20 gallon. He is very peaceful.
<Not really authentic, but Clown Loaches (plural!) work well with Discus or Angels.>
A breedable pair of natural-looking (not neon-orange!) but mildly colorful livebearers. Suggestions?
<Wouldn't; for a start, Poeciliids need different water chemistry, but mixing stupidly colourful fish with a subdued planted tank will really create a mash that doesn't look like one thing or the other. Have a plan, and stick with it.>
The aquascape will be of the "Shore Slice" genre, consisting of a drastic slope on the right-hand third of the tank, habitated by the Echinodorus.
The center third will consist of tank-safe rocks as hiding places and the Anubias and Cryptocorynes. The left-hand third will be draped over with bog roots and be planted with the Java ferns and mosses.
<Done this, can look very good.>
Overall, this is a very loose plan, and I'd appreciate any advice or criticism. Also, 3 T12 tubes of 40 watts each should be fine for lighting, as well as some indirect sunlight, correct?
<Not sure about "T12"; only used T5 and T8 tubes, in which case 2.5-3 watts per gallon will be need for Echinodorus, which like most amphibious plants, are fussy about light quality. Does vary with species though; certainly aim for "high" light intensity.>
Will N.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Amazon tank compatibility check and substrate question 05/21/09
Thanks for the advice! But to clear up a few misunderstandings, I meant "dye-ing" fish, not ones close to death.
<Ah, the importance of spelling! Dyed fish I don't like. As well as being cruel and stressful (whatever the retailer might suggest about anaesthesia, which isn't used, and fish not feeling pain, which isn't true) dyeing reduces the health of the fish. Glassfish, for example, have been demonstrated to be much more vulnerable to Lymphocystis when dyed compared to in their undyed condition.>
And I wasn't planning on keeping rams with the Apistos, it's an either/ or scenario. And would a larger shoal of black widows reduce their fin nipping, as it does with tiger barbs?
<Wouldn't bank on either species being reduced to 0% chance of nipping, though I do understand that this is often the case with Tiger Barbs. As for Gymnocorymbus ternetzi, it isn't a species I'd personally combine with Angels, Gouramis, etc. Perhaps not so nippy as Serpae tetras, but still a species that does misbehave with some regularity.>
And on a happier note, my tigers spawned for the first time yesterday.
<Cool! Have fun rearing the babies!>
Will N.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Tank mates - numbers, sex and Compatibility for South American Tank 3/25/2009
Hi - looking at Sth American tank (4ft/280 litres)
Proposed stock -
3 peppermint Bristlenose catfish (already have 2 - 1M/1F)
5 Sterbai Corydoras
<Add one more; Corydoras are schooling fish, hence 6+ specimens recommended/required.>
6 Angel fish
<Suspect you'll end up with one dominant pair and four others eventually. But by all means see how things go.>
10 Endler's guppies
<Angelfish food.>
3 Apistogramma - either agassizi or cacatuoides &/or3 Bolivian butterflies
<Bolivian Rams (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) would be the species of choice here for many reasons: hardiness; lack of aggression (Apistogramma have been known to bite the eyes off Corydoras); and outgoing behaviour.>
From what I have read they all seem to share a preference for slightly acidic, soft water @26 degrees.
<Not the Endler's, they do best in hard, basic water. Would skip them anyway since they'll be eaten. But otherwise, yes, soft to moderately hard, slightly acidic to slightly basic, moderately warm water will suit Ancistrus, Corydoras, Angels, Bolivian Rams well.>
I have read here that Apistos eat the eyes out of Corys - which concerns me greatly.
Is there enough room for all?
I dearly love all these fish - but prefer them with their eyes!
<So would they.>
I plan a fairly complex tank - planted driftwood, rocks, latex "shelf" rock with lots of ledges to try to provide territory's
<Angelfish only use VERTICAL territories, so caves and whatnot are irrelevant. Instead look for things like tall bogwood roots, upright slates, and other such things. In the wild, they lay their eggs on tree trunks. The Mikrogeophagus will use all kinds of things for shelter, but they are open spawners that use flat rocks or sandy pits. A mix of caves, water worn pebbles, silica sand, and plants would suit them well.>
Some Amazons, crypts, Anubias with sand substrate.
<Nice. But do add some floating plants such as Amazon Frogbit to moderate light and use up nutrients. None of these fish likes bright light, so the shade offered by the floating plants will make them feel more secure. Because floating plants tend to grow rapidly, they absorb nitrate, improving conditions for nitrate-sensitive species like cichlids.>
Please advise on Compatibility, numbers, sex and any other stock suggestions
<Would swap out the Guppies for surface dwelling dither fish. Hatchetfish would be ideal, but you could also go with a surface-swimming tetra such as the Splashing Tetra (Colella arnoldi). Ideally, avoid tetras that swim in middle or lower levels because these won't act as dither fish. Dither fish encourage cichlids to swim about in the open -- what you want!>
Many thanks
<Cheers, Neale.>

Invertebrates for a loose Central/South American biotope 3/2/09 Hello Crew, I hope you can offer me a bit of advise. I'm planning on setting up a loose Central and northern South American biotope using some hardy species in a 50 l. <Fifty litres? That's not a lot of space. At best, we're talking a harem of Apistogramma and perhaps a few surface swimming Carnegiella hatchets or Heterandria formosa.> The problem is I can't seem to find any invertebrates from the region other than the apple snail which, I believe, will add too much bioload. <Correct. In addition, Pomacea snails need alternating cold and warm seasons to last for more than a year. In the wild they go dormant for some months, and without being cooled down, they effectively "burn up".> Do you know of any suitable species in the trade, preferable hardy ones? <Would perhaps look to Asian shrimps; while the families of shrimps in South America may be different, to the eye one transparent shrimp looks much like another. So by all means use Amano shrimps if they're available. Melanoides snails are now firmly resident around the tropics including the Americas, so they can be added as well. Nerites are an option too; as with the shrimps, the species in the Americas are different, but they're all from the same family and extremely similar in appearance.> I'm planning on stocking with 4 red wag tail platies (I know they're not exactly a wild breed..), 6 Endler's livebearers, and 6 Corydoras habrosus with relatively heavy planting with low-light plants from the region, swords, narrow leaf arrowhead etc. <Platies will be far too large for this tank. Your other fish should be fine though. Besides, if you're doing a biotope aquarium, why bother using bright red artificial varieties of anything? Furthermore, all the Platies and Swords in the trade are hybrids, further diminishing their value in a true biotope aquarium. There are true dwarf Xiphophorus species, for example Xiphophorus pygmaeus (to 4 cm) and Xiphophorus xiphidium (to 4 cm), that would be better suited to a smaller aquarium. While not commonly "in stock" at pet shops, they can be ordered from decent aquarium shops or obtained via fish clubs and your national livebearer association.> At PlanetCatfish (http://www.planetcatfish.com/catelog/species.php?species_id=482) it recommends using fine sand and oak leaves for the Corys. Is this good advise? <The leaves are optional, but the sand is, in my opinion and experience, essential. Only in sandy tanks do Corydoras behave normally, and their whiskers tend to grow much longer as well. Definitely worth doing.> I realise it could affect pH though I have a pH of 7.8 and hardness of 15.9 so I assume a high KH (I haven't tested). <Smooth silica sand from a garden centre will have no effect on pH or hardness; silica is chemically inert. Do not use coral sand! Do not use any sand designed for planted tanks (e.g., Tahitian Moon Sand or Eco Complete) unless the packaging or manufacturer explicitly states it is safe to use with burrowing fish. The two named are not safe with burrowing fish. Retailers may know, but often their information is vague at best, so visit the manufacturers web site before spending the money. Smooth silica sand is extremely inexpensive and works well; here in England, a 25 kilo (55 lb) bag costs about £3 ($5).> Does this sound like a good set up? <Apart from the Platies, sure. Given the size of the tank, choose your livestock extremely carefully. Consider territorial requirements in particular; if you get dwarf cichlids, these can (and will) attack Corydoras, and in a small tank the results can be very unfortunate for the catfish (Apistogramma for example bite the eyes out of Corydoras). A 55-litre tank isn't much space to work with, so stock lightly and use a competent level of filtration.> Any advise greatly appreciated. Cheers, Sam <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Invertebrates for a loose Central/South American biotope 3-4-09 Thanks for your help with this Neale, <Happy to help.> I should have mentioned the reason for the platies is that I currently have 1 female adult and 7 fry (the mother died unfortunately) that I didn't want to sell. Now you mention it, the platies would definitely look out of place! I like the look of X. xiphidium. Do you think Xiphophorus clemenciae is a viable option in 50L? <Would be a squeeze; swordtails are active swimmers, and appreciate space.> I can't seem to find much info on either species. <Essentially identical to Platies or Swordtails, depending on the species. Clean, hard water with a decent current; moderate temperature (ideally 23-24C); algae-based diet.> As for inverts, I am thinking of going with Neocaridina heteropoda, the wild red cherry shrimp, if I can get them as they appear to be a more forgiving in my London water and they might reproduce. <"Might" reproduce??? Seriously, if Cherries are happy, you'll have lots and lots of babies. Most get eaten by the fish, but if you have non-predatory fish like small livebearers and small Corydoras, enough babies survive that you get a healthy, self-maintaining population within a few months. It's quite amazing. I give batches of shrimps away regularly, and pet shops are always happy to buy surplus specimens.> I'm also in England: where do you get smooth silica sand that cheaply!? <Garden centres. Look in the section where they sell things like gravel and vermiculite. Make sure to get 'smooth' not 'sharp' silica sand. It's sometimes called 'smooth' silver sand.> One last thing, how do Bacopa monnerii, Ceratophyllum demersum, Eleocharis parvulus, Echinodorus latifolius, Echinodorus paniculatus, Hydrocotyle leucocephala and Riccia fluitans sound for low light (15 watts in 50l) plants in this set up? <They sound like bad choices. Bacopa and Hydrocotyle especially become etiolated and then die under poor light. Hairgrass is a bit hit and miss under low light, but usually fails. Swordplants are adaptable, but down to about "medium" light. Under low light, concentrate on Cryptocoryne species, Anubias, Java ferns, Java moss, etc. The potted Cryptocoryne species and hybrids sold in pet shops for £3-5 are outstanding value because they do very well at around 1.5 watts per gallon, which is what you've got. They live for many years, and once settled propagate themselves happily, covering the substrate in new plants. Java ferns and Anubias can be bought on pieces of wood and arranged as required.> Cheers, Sam <Cheers, Neale.>

Amazon setup   6/22/08 Hi there First things first great site, this is the first place I stop when I need to find out anything with regards to my favourite hobby. <Glad to hear it!> Next I have a question, regarding a dwarf south American cichlid setup that I would like to start, I have a 45 by 45 by 50cm tank, which is pretty small which I'm lookin to setup, with a pair of dwarf cichlids. <This *is* a small tank, no question. While perfectly viable for small Apistogramma species, do bear in mind that (almost) all cichlids are territorial, and even if you buy a "pair" from the shop, there's no certainty they will remain a pair once put in another tank. In other words, the male could turn aggressive and kill the female. So, proceed with caution.> I'm am interest in Apistogramma sp. And possible Microgeophagus although I know they don't appreciate the same water conditions. <Broadly speaking, Apistogramma want soft/acid water. But some are less fussy than others; Apistogramma cacatuoides being famously adaptable and often recommended as the best species for beginners. Mikrogeophagus ramirezi wants similar water, but much warmer, 28C rather than 24-26C, so the two genera can't be mixed. Mikrogeophagus altispinosus likes "normal" water temperatures (24-26 C) but prefers neutral, even slightly hard, water. So: research the species you want carefully.> My first question is could you recommend a species I could try, I have heard that cuckoo Apisto are a good place to start. <Absolutely! Apistogramma cacatuoides, the Cockatoo Cichlid, is an excellent species to start with.> I would also like to make it as authentic a Amazonian setup as possible so if you could recommend, some suitable plant, besides the usual Amazon swords which I could use. <Here's the thing: the Amazon River is not thick with plants. There certainly are patches with plants like Amazon Swords, but these are seasonal swamps, with the Echinodorus plants usually spending part of the year with their leaves above the waterline and their roots in swampy mud rather than flowing water. For a river as big as the Amazon, it is hard to make generalisations (after all, the river is more than twice as long as Europe is wide, and the drainage area of the Amazon Basin is only a little smaller than the entire surface area of Europe). But "classic" Amazon habitat is dominated by wood -- rotting wood or the trunks of live trees. The substrate is typically sand (hence the lack of hardness in the water) often covered with dead leaves. The best Amazon tanks reflect this: lots of wood, sand at the bottom, and things like Indian Almond leaves to create a non-toxic leaf litter. Minimal light, blackwater extract to tint the water, and a moderate water current complete the scene. And yes, Apistogramma thrive in such tanks! If you MUST use plants, then go with low-light species such as Anubias or Cryptocorynes; your cichlids will be much happier in a relatively gloomy tank.> I have lots of wood which I can use. I have neutral water but, I have two discus tanks which I use peat to lower the ph to around 6, so maintaining water quality conditions is second nature. <Very good.> this is still in the planning stages so everything is a blank page, so if you could point me in the right direction I would appreciate it. <I happen to like 'The Complete Aquarium' by Peter Scott as a starting point for themed, biotope aquaria, but there are various other titles out there as well.> yasi <Hope this helps! Neale.>

Re: Amazon setup. 6/25/08 Hi Neale Thanks for the quick reply, I'm in the process of getting the component of my system together. I am going to use to hang on filters, the larger one will be set up to maximise biological filtration while the other smaller filter will have active carbon insert and an ammonia inserts, do you think this would work? <Yep, should work fine. Not a big fan of carbon myself; I'd sooner do more water changes to remove the "dissolved organics", and then leave the space in the filter for more biological media. But each to their own. Ammonia remover is a waste of money/time *except* in specific circumstances, e.g., hospital tanks where there isn't time to set up a biological filter. Ammonia remove is also good in low pH systems (below pH 6) because the filter bacteria aren't happy in strongly acidic water.> My second question is to do with possible tank mates for the two possible species I've selected. I intend to get either A. Borelli or A. cacatuoides, depend on which i can get as i live in Capetown and we don't get much down here. <Both excellent species.> (if any body can help?) I'm thinking about getting a school of cardinals for the mid water area and a school of marble hatchet fish for the upper levels. <Cardinals don't really move about at the top of the tank, so their value as "dither fish" is minimal. What you want is something bold (good eaters!), active (but not nippy), and not so predatory they would overwhelm the Apistogramma. Hatchets can work, but they're quite delicate and nervous. Small Danio species (like Danio choprai) and minnows (such as Tanichthys albonubes) would be good. Depending on the water chemistry, some of the livebearers are excellent dither fish, including Heterandria formosa and Endler's Guppies. African killifish (e.g., Aphyosemion spp.) can work well too. If you have the inclination, a bit of time researching South American characins could reveal some authentic alternatives though, e.g., Splashing Tetra, Copella arnoldi.> I was also think of adding one of my Bristlenoses from my discus tanks as these guys have character. Do you think this mix would be ok? Ancistrus are great companions for Apistogramma, being much more robust than Corydoras, which often get bullied. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Amazon setup - 6/30/08 Hi Neale Me again! I have managed to find a Petshop which stocks Apistogramma, and i have settled on A. cacatuoides. Although the tank is not yet cycled I wanted to do more research to avoid any problems when it is ready. I was wondering about stocking numbers, how many should i get? These are cichlids and they will have a social structure and pecking order, right? so here is my question how many should i get to prevent them from fighting with each other. I'm hoping to get juveniles and grow them it too colourful adults. should i get a group? or should i just start with two? I have noticed with my discus that buying a group of five individuals works well in reducing intergroup bullying and was wondering if this would work with the Apistos? My second question is to due with what's on the menu for these guys? I have read that live foods are the way to go as they really appreciate this. Thanks Yasi <Hello Yasi. Most Apistogramma are polygamous, with the males holding territories within which the females protect their eggs (without much help, if any, from the male). While often kept as pairs, this isn't what they do in the wild. So the ideal is a tank around a metre long with nesting sites for three or more females alongside the one resident male. That will give you the best opportunity to watch their social behaviour. Unless the tank you have in mind is very large, don't bother with more than one male unless you are able to house at least three males alongside at least ten females. Apistogramma cacatuoides is fairly aggressive towards other fish too, and can/will damage "dither fish" that swim near the bottom of the tank (e.g., Neons); instead use fast surface dwellers such as Danios. Apistogramma cacatuoides is also a bit hard on catfish, but since you're wanting to breed them (presumably) catfish aren't a good idea anyway. Diet is easy enough: go with wet-frozen (as opposed to freeze-dried) insect larvae (bloodworms for example) as a staple, perhaps with a good quality pellet food if they will accept it (many won't). Once at sexual maturity, yes, live foods will help condition the fish prior to spawning. Not essential by any means though. With Apistogramma, a varied diet, in small amounts, several times per day is the key, coupled with scrupulous care re: water quality. Cheers, Neale.> Re: Amazon setup - 6/30/08 Hi Neale Thanks for the information, it I'm getting a better picture of what these guys need. back to the drawing board i have two setup up a bigger tank for these guys then i had planned in a previous mail. This thankfully can be done as i was still in the process of cycling the other. Phew, doing some work ahead of time saves you time, energy and fish in the long run. I have read that these fish are typically black water residents, so would eventually putting them with my discus be out of the question? as a maintain my discus tanks under black water conditions as my discus love this. I plan to kept water quality by keeping to a similar schedule as i do with my discus tanks, so i will be doing fairly large water changes twice weekly or more if need be. Cheers Yasi <Hello again! Quite right: time spent on research now will save you hours and hours of building and re-building your aquarium, rehoming fish, etc. Some Apistogramma can mix very well with Discus; but not all Apistogramma are blackwater fish, and not all like 'hot' water conditions. In other words, if you maintain your Discus at 28 C, 1 degree dH, and pH 5.5, then you wouldn't want to keep Apistogramma cacatuoides in there, because A. cacatuoides likes neutral water (pH 7, ~5-10 degrees dH) and moderate temperature (25 C is ideal). But Mikrogeophagus ramirezi, on the other hand, would thrive in soft, strongly acidic, very hot Discus conditions. So choose species carefully. We often treat a genus as meaning that all species are kept the same way. But think about this: the genus Canis includes species as diverse as Canis aureus, the Desert Jackal, and Canis lupus, the Wolf; these clearly have very, VERY different environmental tolerances! Just so with Apistogramma; there are species adapted to a variety of habitats, though it is true MOST prefer soft, slightly acidic, moderate temperature conditions. You also have the problem that in a too-small tank, aggressive Apistogramma species can/will bully the larger but more nervous Discus. Hope this helps, Neale.>

Setting Up A 20 Gallon South American Tank   5/10/07 Hello Crew, I am setting up my second planted aquarium, and would love to have some input from you guys.  It is a 20 gallon long and I would like it to be a South American biotope and the temperature is 80 F. Doing a 50% mix of Southern California tap water and RO water my pH is 7.6 and dKH 5 or 89.5 ppm HH.  I am going to buy a GH test online, I can't get one at any store.  Is there a freshwater test kit for Alkalinity, I've looked online and at the stores and don't see any. < Get a test for carbonate hardness, it is the same as alkalinity. Lots of info on the website covering this subject already.> The lighting is two fluorescent strips and is 2 watts per gallon.  My substrate is a mixture of natural gravel the LFS recommended for plants and Fluorite.  I have two 200 Aquaclear filters. Are there any South American plants that would do well in my 20 gallon tank? < There are lots of different species and cultivars of Echinodorus, Amazon sword plant, that would do well in your situation.> and still be I've read and read, but I'm not really sure if anything is suitable. Are there any Cory cats that would do well in the higher temperature? < Most Cory species do well at 80 F, but check Planetcatfish.com for details about a specific species.> I would like to stock with either Cardinal Tetras/Corys/Otos and possibly Rams.  Is my tank large enough for both Corys and Rams, and if so how many Corys should I get? < Rams are territorial little cichlids that don't usually like to share the bottom of the tank with anybody else. They will drive the cats away but they are pretty well armored and can handle a little pushing around.> Also, are Cardinal Tetras omnivores, or carnivores? < Carnivores.> I'm wondering how much plant material should be in their diet. < Not much, they eat little invertebrates.-Chuck> Thanks a bunch for this website and all your help! Michelle

Re: 20 Gallon Long South American Tank. Plants For A South American Tank   5/11/07 Thanks a bunch for your answer!  From my reading I thought Echinodorus, Amazon sword plant became too large for a 20 gallon long and needed more than 2 watts per gallon.  Are there any specific ones I should look at? Thanks again, Michelle < Lots of smaller varieties like E. quadricostas ( Broad Leaf Chain Sword), E. tenellus (Narrow Leaf Chain Sword). Might try Lilaeopsis brasiliensis (Microsword).-Chuck>

Amazon River Basin   5/10/07 I've set up a 90g Amazon River Biotope using 1) Drift wood (4 relatively large pieces) 2) Rounded river boulders and stones 3) Plants: Java Fern, Amazons, Java Moss, Riccia 4) Substrate: Super Naturals white and black sand - totally inert. <Sounds nice, but plants aren't really part of the Amazon biotope. It's mostly rocks, water, bare sand, and tree trunks. Amazon Swordplants, ironically enough, aren't that common in the Amazon River proper. The species sold in the aquarium trade are mostly amphibious plants found in marshes. Few (if any) live permanently submerged. Obviously Java ferns/moss aren't from South America at all. All this said, these are nice plants and will look the part if nothing else!> Equipment: Eheim wet/dry filter (I know you guys are not fans) Rena canister filter (I know you guys are not fans) Powerheads UV Filter Aqua Medic 150w MH 10,000k bulb White Lunar Lights <Sounds fine. Do be careful with water flow though; while some species will appreciate a strong current, like the Chalceus, others, like the Satanoperca jurupari, are more fish of swamps and pools.> Stock: 5 Geophagus jurupari 3 Pink Tail Chalceus 1 Black Ghost Knifefish 1 Fire Eel 8 Red Eyed Tetras 8 Cardinal Tetras 2 Redfin Prochilodus <This mix of fish is what English politicians term "courageous", i.e., suicidal. The Chalceus (presumably Chalceus macrolepidotus), the Fire Eel, and the Knifefish are all very accomplished predators and will simply view the two species of tetra as live food. These are also rather large: the Chalceus to at least 20 cm, the Fire Eel to around 90 cm, and the Knifefish up to 50 cm. The Redfin Prochilodus (presumably Semiprochilodus taeniurus) is a large (25 cm) and very territorial omnivore that eats plants as well as mud and small fishes given the chance. Two in a tank may fight. Satanoperca jurupari are lovely fish, but dig constantly and need large areas of sand. While established Amazon Swords and Java ferns will be fine, anything much smaller is likely to be uprooted or covered in sand.> And 10 snails to eat that damned Algae <Irrelevant. In a tank with good (fast) plant growth there won't be much algae. Manual removal from the glass will be fine. Amazon Swords might not be quite fast enough on their own, so the addition of some cheap floating plant that you can crop weekly might help. Limnobium or Salvinia would be ideal.> All is fine, all systems a go for 4 months no problems so far and I'm sure that will change soon or later. My question is would changing the 10k bulb to a 6,700k bulb make the tank appear more yellow than white AND the most important question, how can I make the water more 'murky' that look like there are Tannins in the water - do I add unwashed wood, is there a safe additive to create that murkiness? <Lights around 5500-6500K are optimal for plant growth and give a nice warm colour. There's no reason the change right now, but after 6-12 months of use when the tubes are ready to be swapped anyway, then by all means replace with 6700K tubes. Don't bother making the water murky if you want good plant growth. The two things are mutually exclusive. So what I'm saying next is for interest's sake. To make the water dark, blackwater extract can be added directly or you can put peat granulate in the filter or allow bogwood to leach tannins out naturally. All these things work well, but monitor the pH constantly because in soft water the pH can crash downwards rapidly. None of your fish needs very acidic water, so aim for pH 6.5-7, and only slightly soft water, around 5-10 dH. Some Amazon Swords, incidentally, tend not to do well in acid water, so choose the species carefully. Anyway, don't bother with darkening the water if you want good plant growth. Remember, only bits of the Amazon region are "blackwater rivers"; most of it is either "whitewater" (silty, coffee-au-lait colour) or "clear water" (i.e., clear and uncoloured). Most of the fishes are from the non-blackwater regions, the fish like discus that live in blackwater streams are extreme specialists evolved for very harsh environments. They are to the Amazon fish fauna what those weird deep sea fish are marine fishes.> Thanks, Aydan <Cheers, Neale>

Re: Amazon River Basin   5/10/07 Thank you Neale for your help. <Hello Aydan, and you're welcome.> 1. I've had an incredibly difficult time in getting info on the Amazon River Basin - in terms of environment - live stock was easy, but getting photos of plants and caves and such have been scarce, if you have any book or DVD that you could suggest that would be very much appreciated. <There is a book called "The Flooded Forest" by Michael Goulding that covers the Amazon habitat and includes a lot about the fish. While mostly text, there are lots of colour photos, including some underwater shots. There was also a BBC documentary series on which the book was based, and it had lots of great underwater footage. But I haven't seen it on sale for years and it doesn't seem to be on DVD. A more recent BBC series on marine biology, "Blue Planet", came with an Amazon special on the DVD set and while not brilliant in terms of underwater footage, it was at least inspiring. You may have luck looking over Animal Planet and National Geographic catalogues for their DVDs. While sometimes a bit inane in terms of commentary, the video footage these two channels use is often very good. It is difficult to generalise about the Amazon region because it is so diverse, and that's one nice thing about the "The Flooded Forest" book. So to some extent you can decorate the tank as you want, and then tweak the fish collection accordingly.> 2. Taking your advice and will be getting the Semiprochilodus taeniurus out of tank and slowly moving the tetras elsewhere. <Cool.> 3. No Black Water - I'll leave that for a Discus tank in the future. <Good call. Plants are difficult enough as it is without making things more difficult.> 4. I've been thinking about introducing a teacup stingray. Any thoughts? <There's no such thing as a teacup stingray. All that name means is a baby stingray. They all get very large. You want a tank at least twice as broad as the stingray is long, and since most stingrays get to *at least* 12-18" in disc diameter, that means a big tank. They're basically incompatible with plants because you want minimal substrate (many experienced keepers house them in tanks with no substrate at all). They also need masses of "floor space" so open not planted tanks are best. So while rays can make excellent pets for advanced aquarists able to provide them with a suitable tank, in general I don't consider them especially good aquarium fish.> 5. I've thought of using a thin tube siphon with a mesh or pantyhose something fine enough to stop the sand bed from being filtered out while getting gaseous waste out of the sandy substrate any idea if this approach is a smart one? <How deep is the substrate? Realistically, an Eartheater cichlid and a fire eel are both going to keep the substrate thoroughly turned over. Plants also oxygenated the substrate, and actually grow best when the soil is very slightly anaerobic (basically the mineral ions are in the chemical state the plants want, and the roots carry down oxygen for the root tissues to survive without needed oxygen from the soil). That's why plants grow so well in ponds with icky, smelly mud at the bottom. I've used sand in tanks many times, and while gases sometimes do get trapped in very deep beds, I've yet to see any sign of actual harm. My assumption is that H2S, while toxic, also oxidizes almost at once as and when it happens to get into the aquarium. Other gases may develop down there, such as nitrogen, and these are harmless (and in fact the nitrate to nitrogen reaction is a good one from the aquarist's point of view. In other words, while you certainly should endeavour to keep the sand clean by having fish, plants, and yourself do their bits, don't get paranoid about it.> Again Thanks for your help. Adayn <Cheers, Neale>

South American Nano Cube Set Up  -- 04/16/07 Hi everyone, I was wondering if it would be possible to create a South American Amazon Biotope in a 24 gallon nano cube aquarium? < Sure no problem.> If so would this set up be ok?: the structure would be EcoComplete substrate, and driftwood. < So far so good.> The plants would be Anubias Nana, Brazilian Sword, Java Fern And Java Moss. < Slow growing fairly hardy plants that do well in medium to low light. Only the Brazilian Sword comes from South America and is not really a true aquatic. Look into an Amazon sword as a long term alternative.> Finally the fish would be Congo tetra, < Gets too big (6 ").> Rams, Angels, and Cory Cats ( how many of each could I safely put into the tank?). This will be the aquarium they will be in all there life since I don't plan on upgrading to a larger aquarium. Thanks <The rams are a little dwarf cichlid that likes high water temps and guards a territory from other fish like the Corys. two or three of each would be fine. You should get a school of tetras like rosy tetras that don't have a long slim body shape. About 6 will make a nice school.-Chuck>

South American Nano Cube II  -- 04/16/07 So the Angels, Rams and Corys are ok together in this size aquarium, or would the tank do better without any angels? < The angels will be Ok since they hang out in the middle of the tank. The Cory's and Rams will be sticking to the bottom. If you don't have the angels then a school of fish will be needed to fill the void in the center of the tank.-Chuck>

Plants for Discus and Angel Fish  -- 4/10/07 I have a 60gal freshwater aquarium with 2 Discus and 2 Angel fish in it I would like to know if I should use artificial plants or real plants... <Aquatic plants aren't part of the normal discus (or angelfish) habitat: these fish live in the "flooded forest" where nutrient poor waters wash around sunken wood and the trunks of huge trees. The fish live hidden among the wood, and when pairing off, guard bits of wood on which they lay their eggs. So by all means use real or plastic plants if you wish, but the fish don't care. They'd sooner have nice tall bits of real/artificial wood that they can explore, guard, or school around. Also bear in mind not all common aquarium plants enjoy soft/acid water. Vallisneria spiralis and the common Amazon sword Echinodorus bleheri for example both like neutral to basic, moderately hard water.> ...also if it is a good idea to  use volcanic rock in it as decor. <Volcanic rock -- if you mean artificial lava rock rather than actual pumice -- does acidify the water. This is the porous, reddish-brown "rock", right? While harmless enough in a tank with a basic pH and lots of hardness, in a soft water discus tank I'd personally be vary wary of using it. At least, not without trying a little first, and monitoring the pH for a few weeks before buying any more.> I do not want the fish to get hurt on the rock. <They shouldn't.> I would also like to know how many of these fish I can put in it if I was to add other fish and what kind of fish I can add with them and how many. <Discus, and to a slightly lesser degree angels, need good water quality. Understocking is the easiest way to get this. Also, once they mature, angels especially become very territorial, and will hold an area about 60-90 cm in diameter, vigorously pushing away any conspecifics. So while you can probably house half a dozen of either fish in a 60 gallon tank, the question is whether you want to and whether the fish will put up with that once mature. As for tankmates, both angels and discus appreciate slightly higher than average temperatures. Lace gouramis and moonlight gouramis can work well though both are a bit large. Clown loaches also work well, but again, rather large. Small tetras (e.g. Neons) become angelfish food so not recommended. Bleeding heart tetras, silver Hatchetfish, African Glowlight tetras, and other non-nippy characins of this size would work well. Warm-water catfish include Brochis spp., Bristlenose Plecs, and non-subtropical Corydoras (i.e., not bronze or peppered Corys). Very small Suckermouth cats, like Otocinclus spp., can attack the sides of these slow moving fish to eat the mucus, so avoid. Likewise aggressive loaches and cichlids will often terrorize them. All this said, discus are perhaps best kept alone, simply because it makes maintaining water quality good so much easier.> George <Cheers, Neale>

Water Parameters for South American Biotope    4/1/07 I am planning on keeping cardinals and also some dwarf cichlids (Rams, Apistos) in a 75 gallon tank.  My tap water is pretty hard (TDS 300+) , so I've been playing around with mixtures of tap water and RO water. <I'm stuck with much the same sort of water here in southern England, though I use rainwater instead of RO, and Sera peat granulate instead of peat.> I have mixed the RO and tap, aerated it for a day, measured and got the following results:   8:1  pH--7.6          kH--3 degrees          GH--2-3 degrees   4:1  pH--8.0          kH--5 degrees          GH--2-3 degrees I am concerned that the pH of these mixtures is relatively high.  I am thinking about getting some peat to try to lower the pH, but I am leery about the low KH and the possibility of introducing dramatic pH swings to the tank.  The kH of 5 degrees would be better, but the pH is obviously higher.   Would you recommend:   --Using the 8:1 ratio (with no peat)--is the KH too low to be "safe"?   --Using the 4:1 ratio (with no peat)   --Using the 8:1 ratio in conjunction with peat (and weekly monitoring of the pH of the tank...)   --Using the 4:1 ratio with peat and testing... <It's very difficult to make predications with soft water aquaria because they tend to be volatile systems. My own personal experience is that the chosen ratio of hard to softened water doesn't matter nearly so much as [a] regular water testing and [b] regular, substantial water changes. If you're changing 50% of the water every week in a lightly-stocked, properly buffered aquarium, you shouldn't have any problems. Doing a pH test every couple of days for the first few weeks should help you get a "feel" for any pH swings, and once you have that data, you can plan remedial actions as required.> Or is there some better option I should be considering? <Definitely investigate using pH stabilizing (buffering) products that will "fix" the pH where you want it. These remove a lot of the headache. A lot also depends on the species being kept. An 8:1 ratio should be safe enough for most species -- BUT I'd only add peat after you've had the system running 6-8 weeks and satisfied yourself that you can maintain adequate water chemistry stability.  Peat is a difficult to predict variable because each peat or peat product behaves differently. Definitely try a little first, and then add more after a few weeks once you're happy with the results. One other thought: unless you are planning on breeding the fish, you may not need to soften the water too much. For simple community tank care, a ratio of 4:1 or 6:1 with blackwater extract instead of peat might be absolutely fine for cardinals and Apistogramma, depending on the species in question.> Thanks for your help. Nate Terry <Cheers, Neale>

Stocking a 15 Gallon FW Plant Tank   3/21/07 Hello, I have a 15 gallon eclipse system tank, that has been cycled since late  August. The inhabitants I currently have are 3 marbled hatchets, 3 nanus neon  cories, and 1 German blue Ram. There are also 2 different Amazon swords, one is ground level that grew a stem and leaves to reach the surface, emergents I  am guessing? Also, the second is a large sword, with large broader leaves  that stretch to the top of the tank. These have been in my tank since Early November or late October. Temperature is at 78 degrees and pH is about 6.4 (  slowly bringing it down to 6, it used to be 7) I have a couple of questions. My blue ram is very shy. He has been in my tank since October, the last fish added, and since then he has been very frightened of me. He eats and explores the tank, but only when I am not in the  room. I would have to hide and watch as he scouts around the tank. When I walk  by, he hides, and does not come out at all. Is there a way for me to get my  trust in him and so he gets to know who I am better? He won't even come out to feed when I am standing there, I would have to go hide. Up until this day, he has not had any diseases or such and has been quite healthy. I don't even feed him the bloodworms because it doesn't go to his belly but to my tanks nitrates.  Any advice? < Rams are normal very shy fish to begin with. Having other fish in the tank creates some activity and helps these fish get over their shyness. They are referred to as dither fish.> Second, is my stocking complete? I have the three small nanus cories, at  the moment not bigger than an inch, the 3 marbled hatchets about 1.5 inches long each. And the ram who is about two inches. I understand that the inch per gallon  is just a general idea to help you stock, but it doesn't necessarily give you  the exact stocking level. The tank is 10 width, 20 length, and about 18-20  height depending on how high the water level is. Can I add anything else to the  tank? Maybe a mate for the ram or a small group of tetras? < Check the nitrates. If you can keep them below 20 ppm between water changes then you can add some additional fish. A small group of tetras would work just fine for your dither fish problem too.-Chuck> I am fixing up the tank, adding some real driftwood, more live plants,  upgraded lighting to the least 30 watts, and better fertilizing gravel for the   plants. The lighting is the only problem, because of the eclipse hood. Thanks, Joe

South American Tank     1/21/07 Hi, <Hi, Pufferpunk here> I am planning on setting up a South American type tank.  My tank is a 75gallon (48x18x18 inches).  I would like have the following fish:  two pairs of rams, two pairs of Apistogrammas, a small shoal of Cory cats (maybe 6).  I would also like a few Otos (maybe 3) and a school of cardinals.  How many would be a good number-20 or 30?.   <Since discus are sensitive to nitrates, I'd go with 20, to keep the bioload down.> I would also like three discus.  Several questions:  First, I am overstocking?   <No, sounds like a nice plan.> Second-I only plan on doing weekly (or knowing me, every other week) water changes of 10-20 gallons a week.  Does this "disqualify" me for trying discus? <Definitely would, IMO.  I do weekly 90% water changes on my discus tank.  Discus breeders to 100% daily!  ~PP> Thanks, Nate Terry

South American Tank  9/25/06 Hi   <Hi Nate, Pufferpunk here.>   I have a 75 gallon tank (48 x 18 x 18 inches) which I wish to turn into a South American tank.  Here are the proposed inhabitants:  2 pairs of Rams, two pairs of Apistogramma, 6 Cory cats, 3 Otos, a school of cardinals (20-30).  I would also like to keep 3 discus. Questions:  I am planning on doing 15-20 gallon water changes weekly (or knowing me, more like once a week).   Is this enough for Discus?  If not, I'll go without Discus.  I'd like to keep a promise to do more water changes, but it just won't happen. <I'd forget about discus then.  Discus breeders do 100% WC daily.  I do 80% weekly.>    Oxygenation:  Do I need some air pumps to oxygenate the water? How many air pumps would you recommend? What size air pumps? <I don't use pumps/airstones.  The water flowing back into the tank, should agitate the surface enough for O2 exchange.>   Flow:  I will have two whisper 60 filters on the tank for filtration.  Should I add additional powerheads to give the fish some kind of current? <No, not necessary for these fish.  I add a canister to any tank over 50g, like an Eheim.  ~PP>    Thanks, Nate Terry

Re: Setting Up A South American Tank Hi sorry about all the questions but I want to set this tank up right the first time. My question is about water parameters. I wanted to know what the ideal water parameters we're for a tank containing 2 freshwater angels, 2 blue rams and 9 Rummynose tetras. As far as ppm total hardness, ppm total alkalinity/buffering capacity, pH and anything else important. Thanks for answering all my questions, I hope I'm not a pest. --Sbatiste < In the wild these fish come from warm soft acidic water. The pH should be between 6 and 7 with the total hardness less than 100 ppm. Get these right and the others things will take care of themselves. All these fish are available in domestic form. These can take a much wider range of water parameters than their wild counter parts.-Chuck>  

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