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FAQs on Small System Freshwater Biotopes

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

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Most small systems of only a few gallons volume are literal death traps... unable to keep stable, easily driven chemically and physically by small changes outside... and very hard to maintain.

Sm. FW stkg.     7/22/13
I expect it's a no go, but I was wondering if I had no other fish in the tank except for around five Kuhli loaches, would that be ok? If suitable, I certainly wouldn't add them until the tank has matured since I know that they like an established environment.
Sorry, forgot to include information about the tank : Marina 360 Nano tank (10litres).
<Hello Steve. Do start by reading here:
Your 10-litre aquarium is 2.1 Imperial gallons (about 2.6 US gallons). As one aquarist I respect likes to say, "that's not an aquarium, it's a bucket". The whole nano aquarium phenomenon is a minefield for inexperienced aquarists who imagine small tanks are cheap and easy. They're not. In fact they're almost entirely useless unless your prime focus is plants. This sort of tank could be easily decorated with tiny plants (such as Java Moss) and stocked with a small number of crustaceans, such as
Bumblebee Shrimps, that wouldn't be viable (except as live food!) kept in larger quarters with bigger animals. Are there any fish that can live in 10 litres/2-ish gallons of water? Basically no. I dare say you could keep a Betta in there, but that's pretty much it, and even Bettas are easier to keep -- i.e., healthier and less disease-prone -- in bigger systems around the 20 litre/5 gallon mark. So bottom line, your 10-litre tank is useless for fishkeeping, but might have some value with plants and shrimps, if you're prepared to make the effort, and spend the money on lighting, necessary for long term success. Kuhli Loaches need, minimum, 45 litres/10 gallons; anything smaller just doesn't make any sense in terms of space for the numbers that need to be kept (at least 5) alongside any day-active fish you want swimming about in midwater (don't kid yourself you'll see your
Kuhli Loaches, you won't, and they may as well not be in the tank 99% of the time you're looking at the aquarium -- they're very shy and nocturnal, especially immediately after purchase). Cheers, Neale.>
Re: sm. FW stkg.     7/23/13

Hi Neale,
Thanks very much for your informative message.
<Most welcome.>
As 2.1 UK gallons is too small for even a Betta,
I have decided to explore the wonders of plants and shrimps instead. As it happens, I purchased the Colombo flora base just for the purpose of plants, so this could still be a lovely little gem to gaze at in the evenings.
<Quite so; much written on this subject, plus a nice (free) leaflet from JBL:
Lots of stuff about species, requirements, diet, etc.>
It makes me very sad to think of people out there keeping Bettas in even smaller containers.
<For sure.>
Anyway, cheers for now.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Aqua Fern, Peacock Fern... terrestrials  -- 08/22/10
I have a 6 gallon Fluval tank with three juvenile platies. Purchased aqua fern and peacock ferns at Petco, in tubes. Are these plants suitable for my tank? If not, what plants do you suggest? Thanks!
<Peacock Fern is Selaginella willdenovii, a land plant that cannot be kept underwater. It actually prefers quite dry conditions and can make an excellent garden plant. Aqua Fern is Trichomanes javanicum, again, another plant that dies underwater. It is a swamp plant that will do best in damp soil and humid conditions as a houseplant. So on both of these things the retailer took advantage of your ignorance. Two good plants for beginners are Anubias and Java fern, which are best purchased pre-attached to bogwood. Here in the UK a small specimen of either will cost around £5-10, and these plants will thrive in most aquaria without much fuss. As for the aquarium, it is too small for Platies. Minimum aquarium for Platies would be 15 gallons, and ideally 20 gallons upwards. Stocking the 6 gallon Fluval Edge aquarium is extremely difficult, and unfortunately retailers suggest them to beginners when they're actually almost completely useless. I've written about this aquarium elsewhere:
There are articles on stocking small tanks here at WWM, for example here:
For all practical purposes discard any aquarium smaller than 10 gallons, and if you can get a bigger aquarium, then even better. If you can only afford 5 gallons, or you don't have space for even a 10 gallon tank, then may I suggest another hobby until such time as you have the space and the funds? I'm not being mean, but being honest. These very small tanks really are almost totally useless. Sincerely, Neale.>

Requesting small freshwater aquarium stocking advice   8/13/08 Hi Crew! I'm always both excited and a little nervous to correspond with whichever great crewmember I get a reply from. <Oh?> I only say "nervous" because I want to make sure I've done everything involved with corresponding in the correct way and I'm never quite 100% sure. You guys have always been great to me though and you're all "the tops" in my book. <Well, that's good.> Without a doubt your site is the primary place I go to for advice or to learn and like everyone else, I am always extremely grateful for all that you do for us. <Cool.> Okay, just a little background into my situation. I have kept saltwater and reef tanks for about 7 or 8 years and am pretty comfortable with that side of aquatics. I do try to keep up with freshwater topics as well, both through magazines and your website and such, but I do not feel comfortable yet with livestock selection and some other aspects of freshwater aquarium keeping. I do however, try to encourage most people I come in contact with in my everyday life to keep some type of aquarium if they're interested and have actually gotten a few people involved and have tried to help them. So, my mom is a librarian at our local library and she has been lobbying for them to have a tank for some time because she likes ours at home so much. It almost happened once, but the funding dropped through at the last second. So instead she gathered up some money in one of their employee funds and suggested they start a small aquarium for their break room just for the employees (hoping that if it was successful and people liked it, it might encourage the high ups at the branch to think about a bigger one for the public again). I ended up donating most of the equipment for it and setting it up and it is now a modest 10 gallon planted freshwater aquarium that has just finished cycling. <Right; 10-gallon tanks are tricky to stock, so I'm glad you're doing your research.> My mom and I picked out, purchased and planted 2 Wisteria (Hygrophila deformis) plants towards the back and 4 Corkscrew Vallisneria (Vallisneria Americana) plants towards the front after much research and a lot of crossing my fingers that I chose good, appropriate, easy to care for plants. <Nothing wrong with these plants as such, but few 10 gallon tanks have the light intensity these species appreciate, especially Hygrophila spp. I'd honestly have gone with Anubias, Java fern, Java moss, and species of Cryptocoryne. Vallisneria often adapts to low light quite well, but it isn't a certainty. In any case: if these plants look like they aren't doing anything, or just become brown or leggy, then try some of the species I suggest above.> I used a bag of Seachem Fluorite as my substrate and the smallest sized AquaClear power filter as my filtration. I tested the parameters yesterday and was happy to see NH3, NH4-0ppm, NO2-0ppm, NO3-7 to 8ppm, pH-7.2, KH-3 to 4 degrees dKH and GH-125.3 ppm KH/GH. I now feel confident that the tank has cycled and am ready to start stocking with fish. <How did you cycle this tank? Do understand that an empty tank will by its very nature have zero ammonia and nitrite.> I have been researching all kinds of fish and my mom and I went to our LFS 2 weeks ago so she could show me the sort of fish she liked and I could follow up with research. Of course she wants 'pretty, colorful' fish, but trusts me when I tell her if something is inappropriate. Well, after all that, I'm still not real sure. I know that we both like Cardinal Tetras and plan to get 6-8 of them, but after reading some of the articles here, I think it is best to wait a couple more weeks before getting them to ensure all chemical values are stable and there are no other problems with other fish introduced. <Cardinals work well in 10 gallon tanks, being pretty inactive animals. But yes, they are picky about water quality and wouldn't be my choice for the first fish.> I did not realize that they could be touchy in their hardiness, but know now after reading your articles. I want that to be their main fish group in the tank and add a few complimentary fish around that fish group. <Would agree with you. I'd perhaps add a few benthic fish, e.g., small Corydoras like Corydoras pygmaeus or Corydoras hastatus. At the top, you could keep a male and two female Wrestling Halfbeaks, Dermogenys pusilla. Tis would fill out all the levels of the tank quite nicely.> The people at the library are now fending for fish in the tank, so I figured I could get the complimentary fish now so they'd have something else to enjoy until the Cardinals are ready to be introduced. However, I am stuck as far as what else to add. I'm not real sure which fish would fit into the category of being both complimentary and fitting into just a 10 gallon tank. <Other suggestions would be Aspidoras pauciradiatus, small Whiptail catfish like Rineloricaria parva, Kuhli loaches, Dwarf Livebearers (Heterandria formosa). I happen to like Peacock Gudgeons, Tateurndina ocellicauda, for small tanks though they are tricky to feed. You might also investigate invertebrates. Cherry shrimps (Caridina heteropoda) are colourful and easy to breed, and add lots of colour. There are plenty of other shrimps out there including blue, orange, and even black/yellow "bumblebee shrimps" species. Nerite snails are quirky and plant-friendly. If it gives you some idea, take a look at one of my small freshwater tanks, here: http://homepage.mac.com/nmonks/Projects/freshwaterreef.html > I realize the bottom of the tank should be occupied, but I'm not sure what would be appropriate, enjoyable to non-aquarists, fitting to the tank parameters and safe. I really didn't want to have to ask you guys and I've spent a lot of time researching to try to avoid doing so, but I really am stuck. Please feel free to be as short as you'd like with an answer as I don't want to take up a lot of your time (even though the length of my email kind of contradicts that). Thanks for any help you can lend and if there's any further information that would be helpful for me to send you, please just let me know. Thanks once again and I look forward to your response. Peace and goodwill.-Nick <Hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: Requesting small freshwater aquarium stocking advice   8/14//08 Dear Neale: Thanks so, so much for your response to my query...I really couldn't have asked for a better, more in depth answer and I hope you understand how much I appreciate that. <Happy to help.> I did want to let you know that I cycled kind of strangely and I'm hoping it worked, but now that you've questioned it, I'm doing the same. I'm so used to cycling with live rock, that I was a bit unsure of what path to take even after reading a couple of the Wet Web articles on cycling. <I see...> I did not have any freshwater filter material from an established tank since all my tanks are saltwater. The tank is about 3-4 weeks old and I started the cycle by having my mom put a very small amount of flake food in the tank every day or two. I then figured that when I added my plants (which I did about 2 weeks ago), that their presence would finish the cycle (and so I had my mom cease adding food)...not sure if I was correct in the way I approached that, but I'll wait on your word to know for sure. <Yes, this can work. Old school, but works. Provided you've seen the ammonia and nitrite levels go up and then down, you're fine.> Nitrates did register, so I thought that was a good sign of cycle completion. <Yes, assuming there is more nitrate in the water than there is in the tap water; i.e., if you have 20 mg/l nitrate in the tap water and 20 mg/l in your aquarium water... not much has happened! Statement of the obvious I know, but thought I'd mention it.> You've given me lots to research and look into and I thank you for that and I certainly will research further. I did also plan on adding some of the inverts you mentioned as well, but I thought the addition of those would probably come after the fish. Is that incorrect? <A very good plan: Invertebrates are killed by copper/formalin-based medications (i.e., most of them!) so you may as well deal with Ick on your new fish first, and once everything is happy, add the inverts.> I was going to add a few clams as well, thinking they were like Tridacnids and could lower nitrates, but I read an article in Conscientious Aquarist that that was not so and that they even require extra attention, so I'm second guessing that. <Absolutely avoid clams. Total waste in freshwater tanks, and virtually all die quickly. No food for them in the water by itself, though you can off course feed them manually invert food (as used for corals) using a pipette. If you were up for that, then go ahead. Otherwise avoid. They have zero effect on nitrate. Plants use up nitrate very effectively, but you just like a marine system, that's light dependent. Denitrification (cf. live rock) isn't really done in freshwater tanks, though equivalent devices to exist. Just not worth worrying about because water changes are cheap and easy.> Thanks again and I patiently and appreciatively await your response on these last few issues. Thanks once more...I am indebted to you.-Nick <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Requesting small freshwater aquarium stocking advice Thanks again, Neale...you're the best! <One tries. Enjoy your aquarium, Neale.>

Re: Requesting small freshwater aquarium stocking advice   8/14//08 Dear Neale. I hope I'm not being too much of a bother, but I had to ask your opinion one last, quick time since you already know the background of my situation. What do you think of Pencilfish as a possibility of Cardinal Tetra complimentary fish to go along with the others we've discussed in our correspondence? <The larger Nannostomus will mix nicely with Paracheirodon axelrodi.> I know this is a family of fish rather than a specific species, but do you have any feeling about the smaller types from that family in relation to my below situation we discussed yesterday? <Nannostomus spp. are all good community fish when kept with similarly quiet tankmates. Nannostomus trifasciatus and Nannostomus beckfordi are a couple of the best species for beginners; many of the others are rather delicate and best avoided unless you're sure you can meet their (quite demanding) requirements re: water chemistry, diet.> Thanks one last time, I again appreciate both your time and efforts on my behalf-Nick <Happy to help. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Requesting small freshwater aquarium stocking advice   8/16/08 Hi Neale! I just wanted to touch base with you again to let you know that I ended up purchasing 4 of the Pygmy Corys (Corydoras pygmaeus) and 4 Gold Pencilfish (Nannostomus unifasciatus) for the 10 gallon tank. <Both lovely fish, and quite robust when kept away from more aggressive community species.> I'm thinking now that I probably should've gotten 2 more of each, but when I considered that I wanted 6-8 Cardinal Tetras as my centerpiece fish group later on, I thought I may be overcrowding a bit if I had done so...what do you think? <I'd add two more of each. Assuming the filtration is good, the additional biomass will make hardly any difference. Once plants get established, they also help out significantly removing nitrate and generally keeping the water sweet.> Those two fish were the only ones the LFS had from the list of fish we discussed, which was pretty disappointing, but I was happy to find at least those 2 groups. I also got some frozen glassworms and daphnia with the belief that that would be an appropriate food for all of the inhabitants (I really wanted bloodworms, but they didn't have any), including the eventual Cardinals. <I've never had any fish that really much cared for either frozen glassworms or frozen daphnia, even when they like the live versions of both! But you own mileage may vary, as they say.> I also got Ocean Nutrition's Community flake, but I'm thinking the frozen foods should probably be the main source of nutrition (please correct me if I'm mistaken). <For Pencilfish, certainly. Corydoras of all species thrive on a mixed diet, and I find bloodworms together with Hikari Algae Wafers works great.> Lastly, in a previous communication, you had mentioned that lighting may be an issue for the two types of plants I had chosen (Hygrophila deformis and Vallisneria americana). <Certainly I've never had any luck with Hygrophila in small tanks with generic lighting. On the other hand, it goes bananas on the tank I have on a windowsill where it gets full sun for a few hours each day. Vallisneria can often adapt to a variety of conditions depending on your luck. But in both cases, neither would be my choices for tanks with under 2 watts per gallon.> Currently, I have just 20 watts of compact fluorescent light over the 10 gallons. <Give it a shot, see what happens. The Vallis may well do OK, but if the Hygrophila goes "leggy" with long stems and small leaves instead of being nice a bushy, replace with something less demanding.> However, it dawned on me that I have a spare 150 watt HQI metal halide clip on fixture that I could lend to the tank if you thought that would be more appropriate. <No.... algae city!> I know that is going from one end of the spectrum to the other as far as intensity, but I just wanted to mention it and see what you thought. <Start simple, see what happens. Easier to make a cheap replacement of plant species from what you have to, say, Anubias and Cryptocoryne, than mess about with expensive lighting systems and major algae problems.> Thanks for all of your help with this entire situation. I really feel like you have put me in a much better condition to succeed than if I had simply struck out on my own and I AND the public library as well as their employees kindly thank you for that. Much respect.-Nick <Happy to help. Cheers, Neale.>

Question about my aquarium... FW, Small, stkg.  7/18/08 Hello, I was just wondering if I could ask you a question? <Feel free!> I have a 5 gallon tank and realize the size is not ideal but I will be upgrading in 6 months time to as large a tank as I can get, once I move house. Right now I have 1 female guppy who is very lively and healthy seeming and 7 neon tetras. Am I overstocked? <Depends how you define these things. If things are working for now, I'd leave things be and not add any more fish. The problem with small tanks is that they can quickly topple over from working nicely into being a complete disaster. The bigger the tank, the slower this happens, which is why bigger tanks are recommended. For the average aquarist, a 20 gallon tank is a good starting point, or 30 gallons if you want to keep medium-sized sort of fish like cichlids rather than guppies and tetras.> I worry about it and can't provide a bigger home for them and didn't realize when I started the tank it may be too small. I've had it for a couple of months so its cycled and I do a 25% water change every week, sometimes more frequently if I feel it needs it. It also has a hang-on filter, lighting, heater and a air pump connected to a air stone. The temp remains constant at 25 degrees c. I also have an Amazon sword plant which I think is growing well and a banana plant. PH is around 7.5. <It all sounds nice. Small tanks aren't "bad", they're just difficult. I have an 8-gallon tank that is incredibly rewarding. It sits on a windowsill and I let the aquatic plants grow out the top. Some of them are twice as tall above the water as they underneath the water, and they're covered with flowers. In there I keep livebearer fry (Limia nigrofasciata) and some Cherry shrimps, which are breeding like crazy, and four little Aspidoras catfish that are barely an inch long. The thing is that I'm an expert fishkeeper and I know what I'm doing. For someone new to the hobby, this sort of tank would be very difficult to set up. Or more specifically, they'd be trying to add too many fish that are too big for the system, and so cause problems. This is why we recommend 20 gallon tanks for beginners: they're easy to stock with popular fish, and they're big enough that they will "forgive" accidents and oversights.> I realize I made a mistake not buying a huge tank but I'm not living in my own house but my sisters and thus don't have room for a huge one. Anyway I can make them happy and healthy? They seem fine at the moment. One neon tetra does have a small pale patch near the tail, I at first thought it was fungus but its not growing and seems to just be a pale part of its skin. Its not like a dot so I don't think its ick and none of the other fish have it. What do you think? <Difficult without a photo. Could be early stages of Finrot, but I suspect it might be the dreaded Neon Tetra Disease (or so-called False Neon Tetra Disease). In either case what happens is the fish loses colour by stages, becomes shy, separates off from the school, stops eating, and then dies. It's very contagious, and passed on when healthy fish peck at dead or dying fish. So if you are sure the fish is sick, isolating it is a good idea, and painlessly destroying it the best plan of all. Neons these days are plagued with this disease, and I know lots of people who buy a big school of Neons and end up with only half of them just a few months later.> Thank you very much if you can answer. <Hope this helps, Neale.>

Air Bubbles/ Ick / Help! -03/17/08 Hello, <Ave,> First of all, I want to thank you so much for this extensive website. It has proven multiple times to be an extremely helpful asset. I am very sorry if you have previously answered this question before. <If we've answered it, we'll direct to the answer!> Okay, I am living in a very small apartment. Though I had many small aquariums when I was younger, I have not had any in a very long time. What I was originally looking for was a very small desktop aquarium to put on my desk (obviously [= ). The one I purchased was the one recommended to me by the PetSmart personnel, a Top Fin Aquascene 1. It's a triangular-shaped aquarium with dimensions 10.125'L x 7'D x 9.875'H. <Triangular (and any other funky shaped) aquaria are bad; they're a waste of space, and hold less water than a rectangular shape would. They're also difficult to stock, because surface area is critical, and again, these have less than ideal surface area to volume ratio. If space is truly at a premium, then weird shape aquaria are the WORST choices you can make.> I am not quite sure how many gallons it is. <Easy: find out how many buckets of water it takes to fill. In any case, since it's A LOT smaller than 1 cubic foot (12 x 12 x 12 inches, about 8 US gallons) this comes under the heading "Too Small For Fish". Perhaps keep shrimps, plants, snails. But not fish.> To filter, it uses an under gravel filter with an air stone. <OK.> I purchased the fish that the associate recommended: 3 (2 females -- one looks quite pregnant and 1 male) red/orange guppies with black tails and fins (she told me they were guppies, but after some research, I think they are actually platys) and 1 albino dwarf 'sucker' catfish. All fish are between 1 and 2 inches. <Nope. None of these are acceptable for this aquarium. None. Not at all. Never. No. Nix.> I set up the new tank with aquarium rocks and 2 aquarium plants, and within a short time (about an hour) added the fish. I asked the associate if there is anything I needed to do, and she never mentioned cycling the aquarium. I had no idea that aquariums needed to be cycled until I read something about it last night on your wonderful site. I feel so horrible for not realizing it before I put the fish in -- I am really worried about my fish. <I'm worried too. You need to read/review fishkeeping before spending money.> At least two of my guppies/platys have developed signs of Ich/Ick (little white cysts) and one of them is doing something that vaguely represents 'humping' the water (not rubbing). I am so sorry for my crude description, but I have no idea how else to put it. My little Harvey (the male) is the one who is showing the most little white cysts. He has been off by himself underneath a plant -- for a few minutes I thought he was dead. I am so worried that I did something to hurt them. <Yes, you did do stuff wrong. Wrong tank, wrong volume of water, wrong way of setting up.> When I started up the tank, I put some API Stress Coat into the aquarium to treat the water. I have fed them Tetra Color Tropical Flakes. Last night I put in some QuICK Cure, and put 2 drops in today instead of 1 because I am not seeing any improvement. <Please, unless you're a vet/microbiologist with a minor in organic chemistry -- follow the instructions on the package! Don't make stuff up as you go along!> I have also noticed an incredible amount of bubbles on the top of my aquarium. They look as though they are start from the top of the filter, although the water level is over the top of the filter. At first, I thought that the bubbles were caused by the air stone being too close to the top of the water because it had slid up, but I pushed it back down, and there has been no improvement in the amount of bubbles. <Bubbles like CO2 coming out of solution as the water temperature changes. Quite common in small tanks.> Are the bubbles in any way related to the ICH? <No.> I thought it might be connected because the bubbles completely but temporarily dispersed when I added in the Quick Cure. <Unrelated.> Or, and I don't think that this is it, but are the bubbles in any way possibly related to the light? There is a small light in the aquarium. I read somewhere that guppies/platys desire a 70ish temperature, (my room stays at about 71), and since the water was quite cold and I do not have a thermometer, I have left the light on constantly since last Wednesday-ish. (I purchased the tank on Monday evening, and it is now Saturday). Is this bad for them? <Tropical fish should be kept at a constant 25 C/77 F. I don't care how you do that, but you DO HAVE TO DO THIS. Unless you live in the tropics, then your house will be too cold for them. They're called "tropical fish" for a reason, and not as a marketing ploy!> I also noticed a small white membrany-looking thing inside the tube connected to the air stone (I have no other idea how to describe it.) <Perhaps algae or fungus of some sort. Siphon out.> Just wanted to double check that I AM supposed to leave that air filter on all the time. I turned it off last night because I was having so many bubbles that the lid was coming off the tank. <Yes, the air pump must stay on all the time if it is driving the undergravel filter (or any other filter).> Also, the two guppies/platies that were actually moving around were both like mesmerized by the top of the air filter (where the bubbles come out.) <They like water current.> I turned the light and pump off last night, and the bubbles are gone. I am afraid to turn them back on. <As temperature goes down, the CO2 dissolves into the water. I'm sure you remember your chemistry class at school about the solubility of gases in water as it relates to temperature.> Also, I think that the first day I overfed them, because I would watch them eat, and when it looked as though they had finished, I would add more. I couldn't believe how much they had eaten. However, I think that some of the flakes had been swept by the filter into the top of one of the plants, because I noticed several flakes mixed in with the rocks at the bottom. <All food should be gone within 1-2 minutes of feeding. And in such an insanely unsuitable aquarium as this, feeding more than once a day would be wrong.> Also, should I do a water change? <50% weekly.> The water isn't even a week old. <Quite right. Old water is bad water.> Please tell me what to do! -- I will do anything for them! ]= <Buy a bigger tank. This is not negotiable. This aquarium was a stupid purchase frankly, and I'd sooner you'd asked for help before spending the money. There's no way these fish will last long in it. Take my advice: get something around the 20 gallons mark. Yes, it might look big in the store, but trust me, you will be so thankful afterwards. You can keep reasonable numbers of fish (those Corydoras are schooling fish for example and unhappy kept in groups of less than 6) and your aquarium will be about 1 million times easier to keep.> Thank you so much in advance for your time and concern. <Not a problem.> Jessica <Cheers, Neale.> Re: Air Bubbles/ Ick / Help! Oh, and its a 1-gallon aquarium. <Too small for fish. Possibly cherry shrimps and snails. But that's it. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Air Bubbles/ Ick / Help! -03/17/08 Thank you for the quick reply. <Not a problem.> The thing is, we are not allowed to have aquariums larger than 2.5 gallons. I agree, it is a stupid rule. <Well there it is: if this is the rule, then fishkeeping honestly isn't an option. I'm saying this from years of option *and* from daily trying to help people with these "micro tanks". But for less experienced hobbyists unable to select the appropriate livestock and monitor/control water quality, these small aquaria are death traps for fish.> I asked a million questions of multiple sales associates, so I am sorry if I was under the impression that I had done my research. <Don't be too disheartened. We all make mistakes.> I am trying my very best to take care of them. <Good stuff!> Please let me know what I should do. <Apropos to what? In a tank this small I'd not be keeping fish at all. I'd perhaps go with a clump of Java moss, a few nice little Cryptocorynes, some pretty stones and sand, and then some Nerite snails and cherry shrimps. That would be relatively stable and easy to look after. Also colourful and fun to watch. But fish honestly need more space than 2.5 gallons, except perhaps a single Betta (but talk about a boring life, being a Betta stuck in a glass box that size!).> Thank you in advance. <Cheers, Neale.> Thanks again for your input. I really do appreciate it. [= <Cool. Good luck, Neale.>

African Dwarf Frogs... Froggy, small sys. period    2/27/08 I have a 5 gallon hexagonal kit tank that I had 2 guppies and a African Dwarf Frog that the sales girl at the pet store sold me because my 3 year old wanted a "froggy". <Please let me start by saying that buying animals for children as small as this isn't a good idea. Buy animals if you want them, and sure, let small children observe. But unless you're really willing to make this your hobby, it is simply a waste of time (and often animal lives) buying pets for very small children.> As I am sure you can guess, my uncycled 5 gallon tank has since lost my fish. The first went about a week and a half after I populated it and the second today. I have had the aquarium roughly a month. I have done a lot of research/reading since then and have since purchased a 20 gallon kit tank. My plan is to put fish in the 20 gallon tank and keep frogs in the five gallon tank since I have fallen in love with "froggy" , who by the way got his first helping of frozen bloodworms today after almost a month of the pellets they sold me at the store. Can't say I ever saw froggy eat them but he has survived and something was eating some of them. My nitrite, ammonia, ph, and all my water parameters are right on as to what this web site suggests for froggy and he seems to be adapting well to his tank this week-before this he hid most of the time. I believe my fish were victims of over-feeding due to lack of knowledge. I think the were eating froggy's food as well as their own. I would like to keep as many Frogs (all African Dwarf Frogs) as possible without over crowding. I also want to make sure I introduce them in a timely matter. My questions are this. How many can I keep in this type of tank. I am sure the 1 frog to every gallon of water rule just doesn't quite apply, due to the shape although I would love to have a colony that large! Maybe I will switch to a square tank. How do you cycle a tank for frogs? And lastly on frogs How many can I introduce at a time and how far apart? <Hymenochirus spp. frogs are not especially difficult to keep when alone, but almost never succeed in the long term alongside fish. Sure, sometimes it works, but usually it doesn't. The main problem is that Hymenochirus are shy, slow feeders. They also need to eat quite a lot, and this causes problems with water quality. Per meal, the frogs must be receiving sufficient food that their belly swells out ever so slightly. Initially, you'll need to feed them daily to recover condition from their time at the pet store, but subsequently you might decide to skip feeding them every two or three days. Freeze-dried foods do not seem to be good for them, so always use either live or wet frozen foods. I'd not keep more than 3-4 specimens in a 5 gallon tank. I'd mature the tank by adding filter media from another healthy aquarium; amphibians generally are sensitive to poor water quality, which leads to things like the dreaded Red Leg. Hymenochirus spp. generally work well in groups; introduce them all at once into a fully matured aquarium. Do ensure there are plenty of hiding places, such as caves and plastic plants.> I also would like to cycle up my 20 gallon tank and have a decorative, colorful, active tank to enjoy. Again without over crowding. I had thought about 3-4 Guppies, 6 Endlers, and 6 tetras-either neon or cardinal. <I'd say no to all of this, at least as a combo. For a start, Endlers and Guppies hybridise, and while you might not care very much, this is a problem if you have to get rid of excess fry. What do you sell them as? Allowing hybridisation in aquaria is simply a bad habit and not one to get into. Secondly, tetras often (though not always, I'll admit) nip the fins of Fancy Guppies. Thirdly, there are differences in water chemistry. Tetras want soft, slightly acidic water; Guppies and Endlers want hard, basic water. Conditions that suit the one will be stressful for the other, so you'll constantly be having to deal with sickness. Much better to determine what your local water chemistry is, and then choose fish accordingly. Please see the multiple articles we have here about water chemistry for more info, or turn to any aquarium book of your choice.> I noticed some of you think tetras are difficult to take care of. <Can be, many species being either sensitive to poor water quality, nippy towards tankmates, or aggressive amongst themselves.> Would this type of community work well? <No.> I think we would prefer quantity with color over size in our tank. Honestly I had to search so hard to find the guppies (since it was just two and they hid) in the 5 gallon, it seemed hardly worth the effort. <Can seem this way, but always remember your job is to give a home to the fish that the fish enjoy. If that means the fish are hidden half the time, so be it. Would you want to be constantly watched by some gigantic human-keeper?> I agree these little hex tanks are hard to take care of and I think my frogs will do better in them. <Those little Hexagon tanks are a gimmick, and no experienced aquarist would recommend one over a traditional rectangular aquarium. The problems are multiple, not least of which is the terrible surface area to volume ratio. Though seemingly cheap, they're actually poor value because of how little they actually "do".> Thanks ahead of time for you advice and knowledge-Deb <Cheers, Neale.>

Need some help please; dyed fish, overstocking    2/3/08 Hey. I just bought a 4 gallon fish tank (baby BiOrb) as I wanted to get more fish. I already had a Fighter Fish so added him into there, but he's getting really stressed out. I have an air pump in there, some fake plants, some stones that came with the tank and a heater. There are also 3 other fish in there - 2 Diamond Tetras and 1 Coloured Cory (he seems to be fine with them). Will he just get used to it, or should I do something? If so what? Thanks Josie <Hello Josie. No you can't add more fish! You are already criminally overstocked. Diamond tetras (Moenkhausia pittieri) are medium-sized tetras that are very active schooling fish, and should be kept in groups of at least six specimens and in tanks 20 gallons upwards. So they're already very unhappy. The Corydoras needs to be in a much larger tank as well, and is also a schooling fish, so he's probably terrified and definitely unhappy. Keeping these fish in this way is cruel -- there's no other word for it. Another issue: how did you mature the filter? Just dumping a bunch of fish into a brand-new aquarium is a death sentence. Cycling a tank takes about 6 weeks the old fashioned way. In your case, adding a single Betta is really the only thing you can do for that time period, coupled with regular (likely 25% water changes every day or two). I assume you have a nitrite test kit, because if you just dumped these fish straight into a new aquarium the nitrite and ammonia will soon be at toxic levels, and then your fish will get sick or die. Please note that "letting the tank stand for 24 hours" doesn't do anything to cycle the aquarium; cycling requires a source of ammonia, either inorganic (from a bottle) or via suitable livestock (typically hardy fish of some sort). Regardless, a 4-gallon tank is a bucket in terms of volume, and while arguably adequate for a single fancy Betta, that is all. I personally wouldn't even keep a Betta in a 4-gallon tank. If you want something for a 4-gallon container of water buy some cut flowers and take up flower arranging. Seriously, these micro-tanks are incredibly difficult to run for inexperienced fishkeepers and almost always end up going bad. Your Betta is probably unhappy because the tank feels more like a cage filled with random animals, and he can't get any peace and quiet. So no, he's unlikely to settle down any time soon. I'm also concerned that you bought a "coloured" Corydoras. I hope you don't mean one that was painted or dyed; this is a very cruel process where dye is injected (without anaesthesia) into the muscle blocks under the skin. Some fish die in the process, and those that survive have increased mortality. No fishkeeping writer or vet supports this part of the trade, and it is one aspect that I think brings shame on the industry generally. It's been known for years that these fish are effectively tattooed, so if your retailer says they were just "painted harmlessly" he's probably lying and doesn't deserve your patronage. Please do not support this sadistic practise by buying any more coloured fish. Instead, go buy a book about tropical fish or borrow one from a library. Read up on what fish need, and how to care for them. There are plenty of articles here at WWM too. Hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: Need some help please; dyed fish, overstocking   2/3/08 We went on the advise of our local fish stockist - so I will not answer all your ranting about it being criminally overstocked. <Hello Josie. A 4 gallon tank with all those fish *is* overstocked and *is not* going to work in the long term. Whether you want to take my advice -- as a professional fishkeeping writer and trained marine biologist who writes for all the major magazines -- or not is up to you. What you've got from me is honesty and the facts; what you choose to do with them is your decision. But I will make the point that your fish depend upon you, and their lives are at risk if you do the wrong things. If the welfare and happiness of the animals you look after doesn't matter to you, so be it, but it isn't my job to candy-coat the facts to make them more acceptable to you. You already have problems now, and they're going to get worse. What else can I say?> All I will reply to is 'coloured' doras. Of course we did not tattoo or dye it. I bought it from a reputable dealer and it is a coloured albino Cory - just a coloured tail not coloured anywhere else and is natural. <By definition, albino fish don't have coloured tails. Think about this for just one second -- if you remember your biology from school, you will recall that albinos don't produce any colours in their bodies. If an albino fish has a brightly coloured tail, it's been dyed, or rather, tattooed. This is a cruel practise, no discussion. The British RSPCA considers it 'cruel and unnecessary' and various fish magazines around the world have lobbied hard against it. See here: http://www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/pfk/pages/show_article.php?article_id=72 But the only thing that will stop it, short of laws, is that people are educated about the process and choose not to buy the fish. If you've made the purchase out of ignorance, that's fine and you can learn the lesson. We all make mistakes. But I would encourage you not to buy any more. Hardly any shops in England still sell these fish, but a few do, unfortunately.> Thanks Josie <You're welcome, Neale.>

Re: Need some help please; dyed fish, overstocking   2/3/08 It does look like this fish has been dyed - so I will not be buying anymore and will ask the fish shop about it next time we go. <That's all you can do. Live and learn. If the store owner genuinely doesn't know about this issue, then perhaps you can educate them and they will stop buying the fish.> Do you think it is worth me reporting the fish shop to the RSPCA - if this will help stop this practice then I will of course do it. <The RSPCA are on the case already, but unfortunately importing dyed fish isn't (yet) illegal. The 2006 Animal Welfare Bill only prevents cruelty to fish that takes place within the UK, so while you could (potentially) prosecute someone who tattooed a fish in the UK, there's nothing in the Bill to prevent a wholesaler from imported fish that had been tattooed in Southeast Asia (which is where this practise is rife). If you're wondering why people like me get worked up about this issue, it's because the people who dye these fish are also doing things like cutting off the fins, even the tails, of fish (without anaesthesia) to make them more "interesting" to the market that buys them. Thankfully these fish don't seem to be sold in the UK, but they're certainly in the Asian trade. If you have a strong stomach, see here: http://www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/pfk/pages/item.php?news=957 Not pretty.> We did not know that this practice even existed - why would people do such a thing to any animal even a fish. To cause deliberate distress to anything is wrong. <Indeed. I think most aquarists would agree with you. I accept everyone makes mistakes, and I still do stupid things from time to time (I left the heater off in one of my tanks last night, for example). But the flip side is when we find out about something bad we're doing, or something bad in the trade, we act accordingly.> We will certainly be more careful in our choice of fish in the future. <Very good. A good aquarium book is helpful, and if all else fails, drop WWM a line and tell us about what fish you've seen and what sort of tank you have. Chances are you'll get a quick reply telling you whether or not such a fish would work well for you.> Thanks Barb <Cheers, Neale.>

One last question( for today anyway). Small tank lvstking.  9/7/07 Neale, <Linda,> Thank you again. I found this site when I had a sick Betta in another tank. Poor thing did not make it even though I got an immediate response form WWM. Nor did two of three black neon tetra. I now have a ( embarrassed pause) three gallon tank with one lone black neon in it. <Eek. Well, he probably wants a few pals. A three gallon tank isn't really useful for fish, in my opinion. Get some cherry shrimp and a lump of Java moss instead. Much more fun to watch, and the cherry shrimp will happily breed, providing you with lots of entertainment as the baby shrimps grow. The baby shrimps are almost indescribably cute and very easy to rear. Being bright red, the female cherry shrimps are also very colourful. Juveniles and males are translucent pink.> I have had the thought of putting him in the 5 gallon tank with the Betta and four platies. The black neon seems healthy. He is active, eats well. Thought I could use the small tank as an isolation tank. Should I shift the neon? <I would, and get him some pals.> Is the small tank safe for use as a hospital? <Not really, no. Much better to have all your fish happy and healthy in one tank than to fuss about with hospital tanks. Healthy fish kept properly just don't get sick much. It's hard for beginners to accept sometimes, but truly, experienced fishkeepers can go years between buying fish and/or medication. It's an easy hobby... once you get over the learning curve (probably like most other things... driving, raising children, cooking, sex, etc.)> The Betta I lost had brown splotches that seemed to spread and the neons just were there and then not. I assume my lack of knowledge of cycling killed them. I will maintain the three gallon for the neon but is he ok alone? <Yes and no. He's obviously alive, but I doubt he's happy.> Glad you enjoy what you do to the point you will help out fish with new owners. Linda <I'm glad too! Doing these questions is my "time out" when having cups of tea in between my actual work. Have fun, Neale>

Betta Companions and General Tank Questions -- 08/31/07 Hi WWM Crew; My name is Andrea and I have been taking care of a male Betta who's owner couldn't keep it anymore. Currently it's living in a standard sized fish bowl and seems quite happy. I'm going to move him into a 5 gallon hexagonal fish aquarium (has a carbon filter and Bio-wheel filter) that I'm bringing back up. Because of this I was hoping to get a few more fish in the aquarium, and was wondering if a small school of say 3 Neon and 3 Glo-Light Tetra's would work out with him. I am also a fan of Synodontis catfish and was wondering if he would be compatible with one or not (the last Synodontis I had was very mild mannered and left the other fish alone). Your answers to these questions would be much appreciated. Andrea <Hello Andrea. Do not mix your Betta with any of the fish mentioned. Tetras tend to nip their fins, even "good" tetras like Neons. Some people mix them fine, but some people don't, and you don't really want to take the chance unless you have another aquarium ready to house one or other species if things go wrong. As for Synodontis, other than the fact most species will nibble on the fins of Bettas given the chance, a 5 gallon tank is simply nowhere near big enough to house them. Even the dwarf S. nigriventris needs something like a 20 gallon tank, ideally more, because they are social fish that do best when kept in threes or more. If you must mix a Betta with something else, consider some type of small snail or shrimp. They will be fine in a tank your size, and generally cause no problems with Bettas. Cherry shrimps (Neocaridina denticulata sinensis) are tremendous fun, being not only colourful algae eaters, but also quite willing to breed, so before long you'll have lots of baby shrimp scuttling about the tank that you can grow on and share with other fishkeepers. Cheers, Neale>

Fish help, stkg. small FW  8/9/07 I am wondering what fish I could possibly put in a 10 gallon aquarium. Right now it is just a tank and lid with incandescent light bulb and a really old Whisper 10. I will be buying for it either a new Whisper 10, which is for 5-10 gallons, with a turn-over of 90 gph, or a Rapids Mini Canister Filter which is for up to 20 gallons and has a turn-over of 80 gph. Some freshwater sand as a base with a mix of live plants such as Cabomba, Amazon sword, Anacharis, and some sort of hybrid plant that is in my 10 gallon right now. I will use silk plants as a filler until the plants get bigger I will put in some small terra cotta gardening/craft pots to give the fish hiding spots. I do not want another Betta, because I already have 3, one of which lives in an Eclipse Hex Five and the other two are living in two different community tanks belonging to my mother. I will also buy a Whisper 10 air pump and all the stuff to go with that; a Rena Cal Top light Excel heater, which is for 5-15 gallons of water, it has an adjustable thermostat; a Coralife Digital thermometer; all sorts of medications and conditioners, such as API tap water conditioner, BIOZYME, Amquel, Proper pH (the balance that is appropriate for the fish you may suggest, they have 6.5-8.2 pH); BIO-Spira Freshwater; Kent Freshwater essential; and lastly Seachem Equilibrium. I will be buying an APUI freshwater master test kit, API freshwater aquarium salts, and lastly a Coralife Mini compact50/50 fluorescent bulb. What fish could I keep in this set up? I know not many because of the size. The only aquarium I have right now is the Betta tank and a Goldfish set-up (2 3" goldfish and a 3" Pleco live in the 10 gallon right now) I am buying the goldfish and Pleco a 29 gallon aquarium in about a week or two (which is when I will also buy all of the above stuff too) I was thinking of a salt water, but they are too much work for me what with the painstaking and time-expensive live rock acclimation process, plus most stores do not guarantee their saltwater fish because they are wild caught. It's not worth it to me. So what can I put in it? I would prefer a mostly one species or a slight mix of different kinds. <I can tell you what I have in my two ten-gallon tanks. In one of them, a "long" tank about 8" wide by 24" long, I have a small group of Corydoras. Periodically they spawn, and rearing the fry is fairly easy, even in a breeding net because they are very accommodating little animals. Once the fry are a couple of months old, they can go in with their parents until I pass them on to other fishkeepers. Corydoras are fun, easy to care for, and any number of varieties are available so you can pick and choose a species you like. This tank is basically unplanted because it has no hood or lights, and while in summer I add some floating plants brought in from the garden, these are a temporary thing. The tank contains a mix of sand and gravel so they can dig nicely, and a couple of ornaments for a bit of shade when the catfish want to lurk (a ceramic Chinese bridge, that sort of thing). In another 10 gallon tank, this one about 10" wide and 18" long I have a group of cardinal tetras and cherry shrimps plus a lone and very tame halfbeak female who has (greatly) outlived her siblings. The shrimps breed, as do the snails, so the whole tank looks a bit like a freshwater reef tank. It's planted with Java moss, Anubias, tiger lily, and Vallisneria, and while the lighting isn't much (11 Watts, I think) because the tank is so shallow the plants seem to do quite well. The Java moss certainly covers everything and needs regular cutting back. The whole thing looks quite pretty. Cardinals are very eye-catching for their size, but not very active, so you get the bright colours without worrying about them feeling cramped. You can safely have a dozen or more of these tiny tetras in a 10 gallon tank, just keep on top of water changes and don't over-feed them. The shrimps are pretty low maintenance since all they eat are the microbes, algae, and decaying organic matter trapped in the Java moss. If you wanted to keep something else instead of Cardinals (or Neons for that matter) another good "mini" fish is the Endler's guppy; there's lots of variety there, and being so tiny they fit well in small tanks. A third option is the bumblebee goby. While arguably best kept in slightly brackish water, this little goby can also be kept in freshwater tanks too. The main problem with it is feeding: it loses out to more competitive animals like guppies and tetras. But on its own, or with shrimps and Nerite snails for example, it's easy to care for and spawns readily. It's also great fun to watch, as each goby defends its shell or cave fiercely, and will chase others away. Each goby needs about a gallon of space including a cave, so in a 10 gallon tank, you can have a whole bunch of them. If you go with gobies you can always make the system brackish water and add sea shells and fake corals. Add some of the exotic brackish water Nerite snails and shrimps and you can create a very passable imitation of a saltwater aquarium at a fraction of the cost! Finally, the dwarf pufferfish is perhaps the current fish-du-jour for the mini aquarium. Although not hardy or a beginner's fish, it isn't difficult to keep if you have a bit of fishkeeping experience, and in a 10 gallon tank you can keep 2-4 specimens depending on the shape of the tank and how well you divide it up into caves, tangles of plants, and bogwood hidey-holes. They're neat little fish, and well worth the extra effort. Hope this gives you some ideas. Cheers, Neale>

Was: fish and salt... Now nano FW stkg.   7/13/07 Neale, Thanks for the info. May I ask one more question please? I also have a 12 gallon Nano type tank. Will the Corys and Kuhli Loach do okay in this tank? What fish will do well with them and how many can I put in this type of tank? Most of the info I can find for Nano Tank talks about a Marine Set-up and I just don't think I am ready for that yet. Thank You, Melissa <Hello Melissa. Keeping a "nano" tank is difficult. In the case of freshwater fish, its doubly difficult because we don't tend to keep invertebrates, just fish, and fish are not very good in very small tanks. A marine aquarist with a nano tank can stock it with corals and starfish and shrimps and of he goes. Not so easy for us freshwater folks! Our pets expect swimming room. Assuming you *don't* add salt, then your Corydoras and Kuhli loach should do fine. If you add salt, remove those two fish and stick with livebearers of various types. Personally, I'd avoid swordtails and mollies because they [a] get big and [b] males tend to be aggressive. But guppies, Endler's, and platies will all co-exist nicely, and they're salt-tolerant at low doses. If you add salt, you also have the option of adding brackish water fishes such as gobies, which would be a superb addition to any small aquarium. Wrestling halfbeaks are also salt tolerant and do very well in small tanks. In a tank *without* salt, apart from bumping up the numbers of Corydoras and Kuhli loaches, I'd be thinking about small tetra or barb species. Cherry barbs are always fun, being territorial rather than schooling fish and a nice shade of red. Badis badis (the "chameleon perch") is a superb fish for the small aquarium, and while it will not eat flake (wet frozen or live food only!) its amazing colour changes make it great value. There are also some miniature gouramis worth considering. The sparkling gouramis Trichopsis pumilus is a lovely little fish, and couldn't be easier to keep. Basically, choose fish for the water in your tank, and then limit yourself to species 4 cm or less in length, and ideally pick species that will do well singly/in small groups and doesn't need a lot of swimming space. Danios, for example, are the right size, but their frenetic, restless behaviour makes them a poor choice in small tanks. Hope this helps! Neale>

Betta splendens Ali?   3/11/07 My Betta was originally in a small Betta container that held about a quart of water. : (   I felt sorry for him and he now lives in a 5 gal tank (Waterhome5) which is also home to a few small plants that I keep trimmed to a proportionate size for the tank and the substrate is small stones, about 1" round (purchased in a LFS).  So far this $4.00 fish has cost me over $100.00.   <A step up to be sure, but still a little small.> My one and only attempt to add fish to that tank was 2 Mickey Mouse Platys who managed to live for a whole 5 days before I finally put them out of their misery when they started looking like losers from a Mohammed Ali boxing match.  the Betta is now named "The Terminator".  <I'll be back.>   <Your tank is too small for this.> I suspect my mistake was that I added 2 young (1-inch) fish to a tank that already had one territorial fish, but I want to make the tank more interesting and entertaining, both for myself and for the fish - although he certainly had other ideas about that at the time.   <I would select a larger tank.  Perhaps a 20g - 29g.> My 3 local LFS locations have each told me that I should have added 4 or 5 fish at one time, <Sure this would work, if you wanted everyone to die from toxic build up.> suggesting Tetras or White Clouds, and a Corydoras or two instead of just those 2 Platies.  I do have a bit of an algae problem that I'm trying to keep under control, hence the addition of live plants, so am interested in an algae eater.  However, I don't want to add these fish just so they can be sparring partners for the Betta to train for his next bout.  Keeping to the rule of thumb of 1 inch of fish per gallon of water, would 4 neon tetras and a Corydoras be too much to add to the Betta in a 5 gallon tank? <Yes.  When you stock, you have to stock with the fish's adult size in mind.  They sure are cute when they are little, but it won't last forever. I would get a larger tank, or let the B. splendens live peacefully on it's own.> By the way - your site is the only place I've been able to find sensible, easy-to-read and easy-to-understand assistance - both are important qualities required by a "newbie".  Thanks for being there for us all. <That is what we are here for,  Brandon.> Lynne

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