Please visit our Sponsors

Book Review:

Aquarium Atlas, Vol. 3, 
Freshwater aquarium plants and fishes)
Rudiger Riehl & Hans A. Baensch
With the help of Kurt Pfaffrath, Jurgen Schmidt, Lothar Seegers
1996 Mergus - Verlag GmbH Hans A. Baensch, 49302 Melle, Germany
Translated and revised by Gero W. Fischer & Shellie E. Borrer
ISBN 1-56465-185-1, v. 3: hardcover, 1104 p. 12 X 18 cm. $40-45
USA Distribution:
Tetra Sales, 3001 Commerce St. Blacksburg, VA 24060


Bob Fenner  

Have you seen these chubby Atlases? Volumes 1 and 2 have been available in hardbound English for years (87, 93); and are reference standards in the aquarium hobby worldwide. Volume 4 Freshwater came out in German in 1995... there are other MERGUS Atlas topics and some very good news concerning all versions, cost and availability; much more about that below.

Continuing in the tradition of the previous two volumes of the freshwater Aquarium Atlas, series, this third installment adds some 900 fishes, 80 plants in addition to those in v. 1 & 2. The bequest of excellent pictorial presentation continues with almost all the new species displayed in beautiful full color photos.

This volume emphasizes catfish, killifish and cichlid groups, and has some exotic Russian species never before published. Take a look at this coverage; you'll be surprised.

Some Examples:

For the Plants section, I really appreciate the notations for degree of difficulty and conditions for husbandry (carbonate hardness, acidity/alkalinity, temperature, aquarium height). Not since Colin D. Roe's monumental (IMHO) Manual of Aquarium Plants has there been such good, solid information offered on plant care and propagation as in these Volumes. Yes, some plants must have soft water, most prefer a pH range of 6.5-7.2, and temperature is important to them. Did you realize that when kept at elevated (per the species, cultivar) temperature, higher levels of nutrients and light need to be provided to compensate for increased plant respiration?

Plants presented are sorted on the basis of physical characteristics (as was done for previous Volumes); the scientific name, originator and date, family, geographical habitat, propagation, identification and personal notes are offered for each; as well as a full color photograph. Happily, frequent reference is made to earlier related offerings in volumes 1 & 2. Wow, where can I get the broad-twisted Vallisneria asiatica pictured on p. 37? Finally a plain explanation for why banana plants (Nymphoides) don't do well in my tanks; they need soft water and intense illumination.

Giant kudos to the authors for their efforts at their tongue-in-cheek exposing of the non-aquarium plant trade. Spathiphyllum softens the field and them p. 66 begins the discussion of unsuitable "aquarium plants"; they cannot grow submersed. Evidently even Germans are suffering the inroads of sales of dunked houseplants.

For the fishes; at last someone states honestly the improbability of keeping sturgeons in home aquariums! The acipenserids are given the 3-4 high score of difficulty they deserve.

Can't get enough on African, or even South American characins? Take a look at the treatment here; I'd call Hemigrammus bleheri on p. 131, the brilliant rummy-head (not nose) tetra! The "silver shark" catfish (Arius graeffei, p. 297) is identified as what it is; not an aquarium fish, but a sensitive giant that can be dangerous in aquarists' hands. One last praising comment for the Avoid Hybrids! plug (p. 636), this time for Macropodus chinensis X M. opercularis.

A Commercial Interlude:

In previous reviews of these works I've pointed out my misgivings to the proposition of hobbyists having to purchase multiple bulky tomes to get coverage of most livestock groups and aquarium topics. My suspicion that these Atlases would unfortunately not meet with much commercial success in the west has proven unfounded; despite their bulk and priciness they have sold well.

But where in the Dickens are the other volumes, and how in &*@($#! can a mere mortal hope to find all the info. written on a particular organism/group spread out amongst all the volumes?! Arggghhh.

Well, fellow pet-fish hobbyists and seekers of aquaristic knowledge and inspiration; you will know the answer to these questions and more, because I went straight to the source (Hans Baensch, owner of MERGUS Verlag) and asked him directly... and further, helped make arrangements for more speedy transliteration, editing and release/distribution of ALL volumes to the hobby; at a lower cost in paperback editions (that will lay flat) no less! And to top it off, guess what? There is an all-inclusive Pictorial & Index Volume coming up with a smaller version of all freshwater volumes' images, some text and, yes, the paginated means to find what's where!


"Can't tell the forests for the trees?" Neither can I in some of the plant images here; they obviously picture more than one species, but which is which? The publisher ought to consider cropping and/or darkening those that aren't the subject of discussion.

The skipping around within subfamilies in a family group in order to present the various genera in alphabetical order sure is annoying. Please, stick to such ordination by the sub-family presented so that all the members of that sub-family are together (e.g. all the Aplocheilinae together contiguously in the family Aplocheilidae without the Rivulinae interspersed because some of their genera fall their alphabetically).

This Atlas unfortunately continues the trend of semi-English

transliteration from the German. To their credit, the translators have improved from previous efforts, but there are still mis-spellings, syntax and colloquialism problems. I hope to be further involved in cleaning these up.


Volume 3 is a worthy addition to the previous two, and definitely to be used by serious hobbyists and professional aquarists. I predict that the extant and near future releases in English in hard-bound and paperback will be well-received, and serve as a tremendous impetus to growth and enrichment of the aquarium hobby in the United States.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Fenner, Bob & John Pitcairn 1987. Caveat emptor! Don't buy non-aquatic plants for aquaria! FAMA 11/87.

Finley, Lee 1988. Baensch Aquarium Atlas by Dr. Rudiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch (Tetra, 1987). Review in vol. 1, no. 1

Sept./Oct. 1988 AFM. 

Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: