Mike's Report

Aquariums are containers that contain a variety of living organisms including fish, coral reefs, and plants. They are usually made from glass. Fish keeping is an old idea that dates back as far as the Sung Dynasty in China (13th century). There are a variety of things that occur in the aquarium and are needed to keep fish alive.

Water Chemistry Water chemistry is a generally used term to describe what is happening in the water of the aquarium. An assortment of things happen in the aquarium water. Topics that are usually discussed when reviewing aquariums include the nitrogen cycle, ph, water hardness, dissolved oxygen, and salinity.

Nitrogen Cycle The nitrogen cycle is an explanation for the process of ammonia (NH3) turning in to nitrogen gas and nitrate (NO3). The nitrogen cycle is essential in aquariums as the byproducts of it can be fatal tofish and aquarium life.

Nitrogenous waste products of fish break down in to ammonia (NH3) or ammonium. This process is called deamination. Ammonia or ammonium is the byproduct of fish urine and feces, rotting plants, and anything that is rotting in the aquarium. Ammonia is also produced through the gills of the fish. Ammonia is a poisonous chemical and can kill fish. Any levels of ammonia can be fatal to fish. In nature, there is more water for ammonia to be diluted in, so fish are not accustomed to ammonia being present in the water. This is especially true for marine fish and invertebrates because they will die from any ammonia levels. Few fish have had to make adaptations or evolve to be able to cope with amounts of ammonia in the water. Aquarium fish will often die or be stressed if there is build up of ammonia in the aquarium. In water with a low ph, there is a chemical reaction and ammonia becomes ammonium (NH4). Ammonium is relatively harmless to fish. In water with a higher ph, ammonia becomes more potent and fatal towards fish. Test kits are available to find out the total amount of ammonia on known levels. This test kits can either be strips or chemicals that are added together. The tests detect all of the ammonia in the tank, including ammonium. This can make the test results skewed in some cases.

Ammonia will become available in the aquarium and become a nutrient for nitrifying bacteria. Nitrosococcus mobilis, a strain of nitrite (NO2), is the nitrifying bacteria in aquariums that will oxidize ammonia and convert them into nitrite ions. This process is called nitrification. Nitrite can also be fatal to fish. It will burn and damage fish gills and eyes, which will result in permanent damage or death. Nitrospira , a strain of nitrate (NO3), is the bacteria that absorbs and oxidizes the nitrite and converts it in to nitrate ions. The nitrate bacterium in the water is only harmful to fish in high levels. The nitrate bacteria needs to be in sufficient amounts in the aquarium to oxidize the ammonia and its effects that are produced by fish, plants, and other things that are breaking down in the aquarium. Nitrate should be present in the aquarium for it to maintain itself properly, but it should not be present in high amounts. High levels of nitrate can also have harmful affects on other aspects of the aquarium. Build ups of nitrogen gas and acids can slowly affect the buffering ability of the water. With a lower buffering ability there is a chance that the ph will fluctuate. This fluctuation can kill aquarium organisms. If they are allowed to build up in high amounts they will reduce the oxygen available to other nitrate bacteria, which can cause facultative or strict anaerobes, or even more of the nitrate bacteria.

There are test kits available to read the amounts of nitrate in the aquarium. Some test kits read the amount of nitrate ions in the aquarium in parts per million (ppm), while others read the total amount of nitrate in miligrams per litre.

Nitrate through be removed from the aquarium in several ways. There are some natural ways that nitrate is removed from the aquarium. One of the natural ways is through a process called denitrification. One way of denitrification is to encourage the growth of facultative anaerobes. Facultative anaerobes form in low oxygen environments and die in high oxygen environments. The places that are most likely to have this are in the substrate, or gravel, and in the holes of rocks. The substrate is the most often method tried. It is mainly tried in marine tanks. Facultative anaerobes absorb and oxidize nitrate and they end product is nitrogen gas or nitrous oxide. Under certain conditions they can produce ammonia. Critters, like snails and worms, are used to stir the substrate (gravel, sand, etc.) and add some oxygen to it to produce and maintain the facultative anaerobes. Finer substrates, like sand, make it harder for high amount of dissolved oxygen in the water to reach the facultative anaerobes. If the facultative anaerobes are completely derived of oxygen, then they can produce strict anaerobes. Strict anaerobes are an anaerobic bacteria. Strict anaerobes use carbon dioxide, and other things and their by-products can be fatal to fish. The byproducts of strict anaerobes include hydrogen sulfide and methane. This can be fatal to fish and the aquarium will smell like rotting eggs. Under certain conditions, strict anaerobes can also produce ammonia.

Nitrate is also removed through live plants. This process is called assimilation. Nitrate removal can also be accomplished by changing some of the water with new water. The water added to the tank must be of the same temperature, ph, and hardness or the fish will become stressed by the changes.

Nitrate is essential for the aquarium, so that the ammonia produced by fish is oxidized and absorbed through nitrification. Nitrate needs two things to live. These two things are oxygen and ammonia to feed on. Filters breaking the surface tension of the water and letting dissolved oxygen get in to the water provide the oxygen for the nitrate to live. If the filters are turned off then the bacteria on the filter media will become deprived of oxygen. This will result in facultative or strict anaerobes, which can have positive or negative results on the aquarium. The fish and other decaying matter in the aquarium produce the ammonia for the bacteria to feed on.

Nitrates requirements of oxygen also determine where the bacteria will grow the most. In power filters and canister, the filter chamber has the most dissolved oxygen in it, so the greatest amounts of bacteria will grow in there. The media will provide a place for the bacteria to grow and prosper. In undergravel filters, the gravel is used as a medium for the bacteria to grow on. Nothing should be done to kill or remove large amounts of nitrate from the filter media. If they are removed then ammonia will be allowed to grow and build up in certain areas. In the end, the nitrate bacteria grow almost everything in the aquarium.

Nitrate does not just appear in the aquarium. In new aquariums there will not be strong enough amounts to nitrify the ammonia produced by the fish. Ammonia will be allowed to build up because there is no nitrite or nitrate to oxidize it. This period can be very fatal on aquarium life. Through nitrification, nitrite will absorb the ammonia. Nitrite will then be allowed to build up. The effects of nitrite on aquarium life can be fatal. The next step of nitrification will result in the nitrate bacteria oxidizing the nitrite bacteria. Nitrate will then form and live in the aquarium to remove ammonia. This will happen in all new aquariums. This time can be very fatal to fish, so aquarium owners have developed ways to produce the bacteria before the addition of fish. This is commonly known as ‘cycling’ or ‘breaking in’.

There are two kinds of ways to cycle the tank in the aquarium way. They are called fishless and fish cycling. Fish cycling is usually obtained by using hardy fish to produce ammonia and get the cycle started. This fish will have to live through the entire cycle, which can be a very bad to the fish’s health. Regular changes of water that will dilute and remove some of the poisonous bacteria and chemicals can help the fish survive through the cycle. The advantages of fish cycling are that it is easy and economical. If the owner does not wish to care for the fish then water changes are not needed. Unlike fishless cycling, there can be little maintenance with supplying the ammonia. The disadvantages of using fish to cycle include buying diseased fish, fish death, disease caused by the stress, and possibly having an unwanted fish.

Fishless cycling is a relatively new method that does not involve fish. There are several ways to fishless cycling. In all cases something is added to the tank to simulate the ammonia produced by fish. One way is to use bottled pure ammonia to simulate the ammonia output of fish. Ammonia is steadily added to the tank until nitrate is formed. Other ways include using filter media and gravel from other tanks to ‘seed’ the aquarium. The fish that the owner has planned to keep in the tank can then be put in immediately. The advantages of fishless cycling are that it is more humane then fish cycling, and can be faster. The disadvantages of it are adding detergents and other chemicals to the tank, and using too much ammonia, which can affect the biological oxygen levels.

Knowing the nitrogen cycle is the key to maintaining a tank. You will have trouble if you don't know what your water quality is like. When I am in trouble the first thing I look at is ammonia and nitrite levels, along with nitrate.

Understanding cycling is essential to starting and maintaining an aquarium. Test kits are essential for a new tank, and for the begineer aquarist. Remember, if ammonia or nitrite is ever present it is time to do a water change and evaluate any problems that may have caused them to be present.

I like to stock my tanks by nitrate levels. If nitrate levels are high, then the tank is overstocked. If nitrate levels are low (under 10 ppm) then it is relatively safe to add a few more fish.

There are several products on the market that have to do with cycling and removing ammonia/nitrite/nitrates. Anything that claims to "instantly cycle a tank" is a falsehood. The Aquarium world is filled with products that claim to do things, but are really just like placebos, so know what you are buying when you buy chemicals and other producst. The "instantly cycling a tank" products work off the idea of adding nitrates directly to the tank. This does not work, because the nitrate strain involved in the aquarium could not live in a bottle. As stated earlier, nitrospira needs oxygen and ammonia to feed on. The oxygen is not present, but ammonia is in the bottle. So what is basically happening is you are adding ammonnia to your tank. For a tank with fish this is a problem. With a tank that doesnt have fish, you can use this ammonia to cycle your tank. I've never used any ammonnia or nitrite removers, so I can't say on how they work, but the cheapest way is to do a partial water change.

Doing water changes is the most important part of maintaining water quality, and a major part of keeping fish. Water changes are the best thing you can do to your tank.

PH Ph is a universal scale that is often used in water chemistry. The ‘p’ in ph stands for portenz, which is Danish for power. The ‘h’ stands for the hydrogen ion. Ph literally means ‘the power of the hydrogen ion’. The ph of water determines the suitability of it to support organisms.

The ph of a substance is the measurement of the hydrogen ions and hydroxyl ions. Hydrogen ions are represented as H+ ions and hydroxyl ions are represented as OH- ions. In a substance that is acidic has a high percentage of H+ ions in it compared to OH- ions. At neutral ph’s there is a balance between the two ions. In a substance with a high ph there is a higher percentage of OH- ions in relation to the number of H+ ions.

Aquarium fish come from lakes, rivers and streams from all over the world. These bodies of water can vary in ph according to their geographical placement. The rocks and soils that the bodies of water are on can directly vary the ph of the water. The ocean has a ph of eight and a half. The ph of the ocean is consistent throughout it and never changes. Marine life is likely to die if the ph of the water in an aquarium is wrong or changes. Unlike marine fish, freshwater fish come from a variety of different ph’s. Depending on the fish, they can live through changes in ph and even ph’s that are not what they would naturally encounter. Water that come from deep in jungles and forests is usually acidic. This is because the decaying matter will acidify the water. Peat moss, a type of decaying vegetation, will often form in jungles and forests. Peat will acidify the water. An example of this is the Amazon River. Aquarium fish from the Amazon usually come from waters that have a ph between six and seven. Large lakes that are situated on stone usually come have a high ph. Rocks will wear down because of the current and pressure and will usually affect the ph and buffering of the water. How much it affects the ph is dependent on the composition of the rock. An example of this is Lake Malawi in Africa. Lake Malawi has a ph between eight and eight and one half.

The scale for ph goes from zero to fourteen. On the scale, seven means the substance is neutral and all of the hydrogen ions are balanced with the hydroxyl ions. Pure water has a ph of seven. From seven to fourteen means the substance is alkaline. From zero to seven means the substance is acidic. Water that is considered ‘soft’ is acidic. ‘Hard’ water is alkaline. The majority of aquarium fish for sale come from water that’s ph ranges from five to nine. Each step up on the scale is an increase of ten times the previous. So a ph of seven is ten times more alkaline then a ph of six and is one hundred times more alkaline then five. Some aquarium fish, like discus (symphysodon) and cardinal tetras (paracheirodon axelrodi), have been found to breed in Amazonian streams that have a ph as low as four. Some trout have been acclimatized to live in water that has a ph of almost eleven. Test kits are available commercially to the aquarium owner. They can be put in strips where the water is added to a strip and a chemical reaction occurs, which will result in a colour that can be compared to a value system that will tell the ph. There is also types of kits that two chemicals are mixed in to produce a colour. Electronic ph readers are also sold.

Fish that are kept in the wrong ph then they are naturally in can suffer through several problems and can even die. Fish that are naturally found in alkaline water, will suffer from fin rot and damage to the gill membrane when kept in acidic water. The damage to the gill membrane will cause a reduction in breathing. The result of this will be a disease called anoxia, which will kill the fish. The fish’s immune system will respond to acidic water by creating more mucus to protect the gills. If a fish can not do this, like most fish that live in alkaline water, then they will have gill problems.

The key to ph is stability. Stability is a good thing for an aquarium. You will notice everything that has to do with changing water chemistry has to do with changing things gradually, and then keeping it steady once you get it to the desired point.

Know your water before you start trying things like peat or chemicals. If you have a very high buffering capabilities (kh), then you will go no where, in which case you should consider a RO (reverse osmosis) unit.

It is important to not put your fish through the stress of changing the ph if you don't have to. IMO, only change your ph unless you have an extreme value, or you are trying to breed the fish. There may be cases when you may want soft water, like in a amazon planted tank, and I recomend an RO unit (you will need chemical additives though).

Water Hardness Water hardness refers to the measure of dissolved mineral salts. These include chlorides, bicarbonates, carbonates and sulphates of calium, sodium, magnesium and potassium. The mineral ions that are present in the water make the degree of hardness of the water. Calcium and magnesium make up the majority of these minerals, and hardness can be found by the total concentration of calcium and magnesium in parts per million (ppm) of calcium carbonate. Other minerals that affect the hardness of water include copper, iron, lead, silicon, boron, and zinc. Hardness is measured in a variety of different ways and scales and is dependent on the nation that is doing the study. These scales sometimes measure the same type of hardness, but other times they do not. Temporary hardness is that hardness that can be removed from the water by boiling it. KH or carbonated hardness is the hardness contributed by bicarbonates. This type of hardness does not include salts, such as sulphates and chlorides. KH is often referred to as the buffering ability of water, as higher levels of bicarbonates have a correlation with the ph of water. GH or general hardness is the measurement of all of the dissolved salts. It is sometimes referred to as total hardness. Scientists usually do not measure the hardness of water, but they measure the minerals in terms of electrical conductivity. KH and GH are the most commonly used hardness terms when referring to aquarium water.

The hardness of water can also be read by the amount of Total Dissolved Salts in it. Total Dissolved Salts is not just referring to salt, but it encompasses all of the dissolved substances in the aquarium. Total Dissolved Salts include minerals that are essential for fish to live. These minerals include phosphorus and calcium. Fish take up these minerals through their gills. These minerals are used to replenish excreted minerals.

Total Dissolved Salts are also important for osmotic pressure regulation in fish. The amount of Total Dissolved Salts is different in freshwater and marine aquariums. Marine aquariums have a higher amount of Total Dissolved Salts. In freshwater aquariums, if there is too much Total Dissolved Salts in the water the fish will not be able to regulate themselves through osmosis. The water will be denser then their skins and they will not be able to absorb water. There will be more solids in the water then in the fish’s tissue. This will result in the loss of fluid through their gills and death by dehydration Marine fish have a different way of osmotic regulation then freshwater fish. To handle the high amounts of Total Dissolved Salts in their water, the fish will constantly drink water to avoid dehydration.

The rocks and soil that the water is situated on affect hardness, like ph. Rocks and soil leach out dissolved soluble salts and minerals in to the water changing the hardness and possible the ph. Some rocks do not have an affect on the hardness of the water. Some of these rocks include slate, granite, and gneiss. These rocks have very little soluble material, and are often used in aquariums to create rocky scenes. Some rocks, like limestone, can have drastic affects on the hardness of water.

The hardness and ph of water can all be changed in the aquarium. Care should be taken when changing the water and should only be done gradually because it is stressful on the aquarium’s occupants. There are several ways to change the water.

A natural way to soften the water is through the use of peat moss. It will lower and acidify the ph of the water. Peat moss is the beginning of the formation of coal. When vegetation dies and layers itself in to low oxygen water, but partially composes and does not completely rot or decay is how peat is formed. Material is then deposited faster then it can decay or rot. The low ph produced by peat and the temperature of the water prevent the bacterium from decomposing the vegetation.

Peat moss absorbs the calcium and magnesium ions in water and releases hydrogen (H+) ions. The hydrogen ions that are added to the water will consume the alkalinity and make the water acidic. It also lowers the hardness by removing the calcium and magnesium. Hard water with carbonates contains the following: CAH (calcium ions), 2 (OH)(alkalinity), 2 (H2O3) (bicarbonate). The main ingredient in peat is tannic or digallic acid. The tannic acid will react with the water to make 2(HCO3)(carbonate) 2 (H+) (acidity), 3 (H2O). Peat will remove the alkalinity (OH-) and will add hydrogen ions (H+, acidity). Calcium and magnesium are absorbed by the peat moss which in turn will remove the hardness of the water. This will lower the buffering ability of the water. With little buffering ability, the water is likely to fluctuate in ph.

Peat moss eventually wears out in the aquarium. Peat moss contains fluvic and humic acids. When these acids are broken down they provide nitrogen. Peat will need to be replaced when it is worn out.

Peat moss is available in a variety of styles and can be bought anywhere, as long as there is no added fertilizer or herbicides added to it.

Sodium carbonate (baking powder) can also be used to raise the hardness and ph of the water. Coral rocks contain calcium carbonate which will calcium in to the water and raise the hardness and ph. Crushed coral rock is the most often used because it will last a long time and is easy to use.

Dissolved Oxygen The dissolved oxygen content is how much oxygen is in the water. Aquariums are usually rich in oxygen. The oxygen provided by power filters is usually efficient enough for fish to live. When there is surface tension oxygen is allowed to dissolve in to the water and carbon dioxide is allowed to gas off in to the atmosphere. The higher the temperature of the water means less oxygen can be held in the water to keep all things equal. Cold-water aquariums have high oxygen contents. Marine tanks have less oxygen then freshwater tanks because there is a higher level of dissolved solids in it. A film cover will often cover the top of the aquarium water if there is a low dissolved oxygen level in the tank. Factors that affect the dissolved oxygen include temperature, hardness, nitrogenous wastes and ph.

If fish are on the bottom of the tank and being listless, I recommend you add an airstone,or bubblewall, or sponge filter. This will not only help with oxygen problems, but help with other stressors, like water quality problems, or disease. Lowering the water temperature slightly, and adding salt, will help with oxygen problems.

Salinity Salinity is the measure of sodium chloride (NaCl) present in the water. Salt will make the water denser, and its specific gravity can then be read with a hydrometer. Brackish tanks are kept at a specific gravity between 1.005 and 1.012. Marine tanks need to be kept at a specific gravity of 1.023.

To achieve salt water in marine tanks, commercially sold marine salt is sold. Marine salt comes from dehydrated seawater. This salt will also include trace minerals that need to be put in marine tanks. These minerals include potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Salt is sometimes used in freshwater tanks to treat diseases. Salt that can be used include aquarium salt (like marine salt), epsom, kosher and pickling salt. Table salt can also be used as long as there is no added caking agents in it. Iodine does not affect fish, and can even help fight goiters.

Salt is something that I use quite often in freshwater tanks. In small amounts (1 tsp per 5 gallons), it will not affect scaleless fish or plants. It helps with breathing, and it useful for fish that are under stress.There is some debate over whether salt has an affect over nitrifying bacteria in freshwater aquariums, but i have not seen any proof of this. Salt will help with nitrite posioning.

Fish, like all organisms, need food to function and live. Fish in aquariums feed on a variety of things. Some of the food is found naturally in the aquarium, like algae and microorganisms. The majority of fish’s food needs to be provided to it. Processed flake and pellet foods are available at pet stores. These are a variety of ingredients that are processed together to make a food. They are supposed to fill some of the energy and nutritional requirements of fish, but they don’t always. Fish need to be fed a variety of processed foods as well as more natural foods. Some of the natural foods include: artemia saline, beef heart, tubifex worms, earthworms, peas and lettuce. With a varied diet the fish can met all of their nutritional and energy requirements.

Zuchinni, courgette, peas, lettuce and spinach are all commonly fed to herbivorous fish. They will supply the additional vitamins and minerals that processed food for herbivores can not meet. The downside to feeding these is that they will quickly rot in the aquarium and are have large water content to them. They will float if directly placed in the aquarium and need to be blanched to sink. Blanching is accomplished by boiling the vegetable for several minutes. Oranges can also be fed to prevent scurvy.

Some of the ‘meaty’ foods that are fed to omnivorous and carnivorous fish are liver, blood worms, beef heart, artemia saline, and earthworms.

Energy Fish need energy to live. The energy requirements of a fish are the amount needed, so that the fish can live and be active without losing or gaining weight. The energy requirements of fish are 10% lower then that of birds and mammals. The reason the energy requirements are lower is that fish are exothermic or cold-blooded. Unlike mammals and birds, a fish does not need to use energy to keep its body at a steady and stable temperature. A fish’s energy is derived from the fats, proteins and carbohydrates in the fish’s diet. The amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates determines the amount of energy that can be used from the food that the fish is fed. Fish obtain energy from the food, but the energy is gradually released through a series of enzymes. Enzymes are proteins. These enzymes control the rate of chemical reactions and enable these reactions to happen in an organized manner. The also enable the reactions to not have a mild effect on the fish’s body.

Energy intake is classified at two different levels. These two levels are gross energy, and digestible energy. Gross energy is the total level of energy released from the fish. Digestible energy is the amount of food that is digested by the fish. Digestible energy is equal to the amount of fish digested minus the amount lost in wastes. The tissues and the fish do not use a portion of the digestible energy. This portion is lost through urine and feces.

The metabolic rate varies with the temperature of the water in which the fish is living . This rate varies for every fish, but in some fish it can be very great. Increases in the temperature of the water will mean increase in the metabolic rates and energy requirements of fish. In goldfish (carassius auratus), an increase in temperature can mean a very high increase in metabolic rates. Studies showed that their metabolism increased threefold as the water temperature was raised from 20C to 24C.

The energy can come from protein, carbohydrates or fats.

Protein The amino acids of protein are part of the basic building blocks of life. Skin tissue, muscle, and genetic information are all made of proteins. Fish and most animals require a diet that has between 30 and 50% proteins. The amount of protein needed by a fish depends on the age, and species of the fish. Proteins for fish can come from plant or animal tissue depending on what kind of food the fish naturally feeds on. Protein is the most important nutrient in terms of growth, and development. The majority of aquarium fish require a protein intake between 40 and 50%. Herbivorous fish need a protein level that is slightly lower or they will suffer from internal problems.

Protein is a source of energy, but it takes the majority of ornamental fish a great amount of energy to release it. Carnivorous fish derive the majority of their energy requirements from protein. Herbivorous fish do not get much energy from protein.

Fats Fats are an important part of the diet of aquarium fish. Fats are like a storehouse for energy in fish. When there is enough fats and carbohydrates in fish’s diet to meet their energy requirements, then protein will be used only for growth and development and not for energy needs. This is dependent on the type of feeder that the fish is. If there is too much fats and carbohydrates then the result will be obese fish. Excessive fat can create damage to the liver, death, or disease.

Polyunsaturated fats are the easiest fat for most fish to digest. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in foods like Artemia Saline (brine shrimp). Polyunsaturated fats can also be good when preparing fish to breed. Saturated fats can be harmful to fish.

Fry and fingerlings need lots of fat in their diet. They need larger amounts of fat, so that their entire protein intake is used for growth and development. The amount of fats needed by fry and fingerlings is twice as much as a non-breeding adult fish.

Normal processed flake and pellet foods usually contain 5% fats. The amount of fats is usually obtained through fish oils.

The amounts of fats needed by fish are considerable lower then that of humans. If the meaty foods are fed to carnivorous fish, like beef heart or liver, then any of the visible hard fat must be cut away. This hard fat will clog the fish’s intestines and arteries resulting in death.

Carbohydrates Carbohydrates are a quick source of energy for most fish, but the majority of fish cannot properly digest carbohydrates efficiently. Herbivorous and vegetarian fish can mainly use carbohydrates to meet their energy requirements. Herbivorous processed foods are usually low in fats and higher in carbohydrates. Fish that are fed to many carbohydrates can suffer through problems. Conditions similar to diabetes can happen in fish when the fish’s diet contains too many carbohydrates. The majority of fish can tolerate their diets to be 30% total carbohydrates. Sugar complexes are sometimes used in foods to increase the carbohydrate levels. Starches would be used, but fish have trouble digesting them. Carbohydrates are the easiest and cheapest source of energy for food producers to create. Producers will often use carbohydrates in high amounts. This can be problematic if the fish does not require carbohydrates, but is being fed a diet that is high in carbohydrates.

Vitamins and minerals Vitamins and minerals act as a catalyst for chemical reactions that happen inside fish. Vitamins keep a fish’s immune system strong and help their body. The vitamins in processed flake fish food often deteriorates over time. It can deteriorate quickly and flake foods should be replaced every two months. Oxygen and acids from hands touching it will quickly deteriorate the vitamin level of the food. When the food is in the water the vitamins are rapidly leached away. Storing foods in the freezer will prolong the life of the vitamins in it. The key vitamins that fish require are vitamins A, D3, E, K, B1, B2, B13, B5, B6, B12, C, H, M, and inositol. Vitamins E and A in a fish’s diet will keep them in top breeding conditions, as well as help fish that are under stress. Vitamin K will prevent blood clots, which will result in fish death. Vitamins B1, B2 and B6 are important for the growth of fish. Vitamins M and B5 are key factors in the growth of fish.

Fish that are deprived of vitamins will usually have stunted growth or will suffer through deformities. These deformities are usually bent spines, deformed fin shapes, gill covers that are too large and eyes that are deformed. Vitamins are essential in fry to help them develop strong tissues and muscles. Vitamins will also strengthen the immune system and help fish fight off disease. If a fish is deprived of vitamins then the immune system will be weak and will leave the fish open for the chance of disease. Fish can have several problems if they are deprived of vitamins. Fish can get scurvy if they do not get sufficient amounts of vitamin C. Herbivorous fish are susceptible to scurvy and sometimes need the additions of oranges and other fruits that are high in vitamin C to their diet. Fish that have been shipped for long periods of time without food can be susceptible to scurvy. A symptom of scurvy is a curve or s-shape to the spine. When a container of fish flake food is a month old, it has lost almost all of its Vitamin C. The lack of vitamin A can cause spine deformities in fish. If a fry or young fish’s diet lacks vitamin A then it will often have a stunted growth. Vitamin A has shown to help fish when they are under stress. The lack of Vitamin H in a fish’s diet will reduce blood cells. This will eventually cause anemia, which is a type of blood deficiency.

Fiber Fiber should be in the diet of fish in small quantities to help aid the digestion of foods. It is found in sufficient numbers of most flakes. Fish that are carnivores have trouble digesting fiber and their food should be no more then 4% fiber. Herbivores need fiber to help digest the different foods through their long intestines. Food for herbivores should be between five and ten percent in fiber.

When you see those amazing fish in books, and wander why your fish don't look that good, it is probably because they don't have a varied, healthy diet. Food is essential for raising beautiful, breeding fish.

Fish Chemistry A fish is an organism that uses gills as its primary purpose of breathing.


Fish usually have five types of fins. They are dorsal, caudal, pectoral, pelvic and anal fin. They fins vary in size, length and style depending on the type of fish. Some fish have more fins or less.

The caudal fin is the fin that is used for swimming. When the caudal fin moves back and forth it pushes against the water propelling the fish. The style of caudal fin depends on the type of life the fish needs. Different types of caudal fins include lyre tailed, deeply forked, broad, crescent, and cultivated. Fish that have forked caudal fins can swim quickly for long distances easily. Fish with broad or crescent caudal fins can maneuver quickly through obstacles. The also have good acceleration. Cultivated fins are the result of selective breeding. They will usually not benefit the fish in swimming.

A fish uses its pectoral and pelvic fins for balancing and maneuvering. They are also used by fish for slowing down. When a fish is swimming the pectoral fins are usually held at the fish’s side to reduce resistance against the water.

The fins of aquarium fish are susceptible to disease like fin rot. Fish will get fin rot from things like high nitrates and the wrong ph. Fish are also selective bred to have elaborate finnage, like the Betta splendids (Japanese fighting fish). Prevention should be made to prevent these fish from injuring their fins on aquarium decoration.


Myomeres are the main muscles on the side of the fishes. The s-shape in fish is the result of the contraction and relaxation of the myomeres. The contraction and relaxation of the myomeres depend on how the fish wants to balance. If the fish contracts the myomeres on the right side of the body and relax the myomeres on the left side of the body then the fish will bow to the left.


Fish have good sight. They can often see in murky and dark water. They are capable of seeing colours and objects, but are not as good at judging distances. They are not good because their eyes are carried on the sides of their heads. This prevents them from having good binocular vision and all round vision. To aid their all round vision the majority of fish have eyes that protrude from the side of their heads. Fish do not have necks, so this also helps them see forward without having to turn their bodies. Fish do not have eye lids and sleep with their eyes open. Fish do not have to blink, because their environment [water] is constantly lubricating their eyes. A fish’s eye bulges through the pupil, instead of being behind like mammals, and birds. A human’s cornea bends the light before it hits the light, but a fish’s cornea does not bend the light until it hits the lens. A fish’s eyesight depends on where it lives. Some fish live in dark, murky water and do not appreciate bright lights. In the aquarium this should be acknowledged by not having extremely bright lights and giving the fish cover.

A fish’s eyes can be damaged in the aquarium. Exophthalmus or pop-eye, are when the eyes are protruding from the socket. Ammonia or nitrite damaging the fish usually causes this. This will sometimes cure itself. Fighting can also cause pop-eye. A fish will damage the eye of another fish and the eye will protrude. This form of pop-eye is not curable.

Some fish, like celestial-eyed goldfish have eyes that are on top of their heads. This has happened through selective breeding. This fish usually do not have very good eyesight and special things should be done to keep them in the aquarium, like making sure they get the proper food if there are other fish in the aquarium.

Lateral Line

The lateral line is canals with pores that run horizontally from the fish’s head to the fish’s tail. Inside these pores there is a series of small cells containing cilia. When there is a change in water pressure on one side of the fish the nerve cells from the canals give a signal to the brain telling the fish that something is happening. This is the result of the cillia being bent by the change in pressure. Schooling fish to tell where the other fish in the school are uses the lateral line. It can also tell the fish about predators, and the objects around it.

Smell and Taste

The taste and smell of fish are very good. There are nasal sacks that hair housed in bony capsules that are found in the snout of the fish. These nasals sacks are lined with sensory cells. These sensory cells communicate with the brain through the olfactory nerves. The water enters through the anterior nare of the sack and passes over the nerves. This allows the fish to smell things in the water. Taste buds are found on the lips, in the mouth, on the gill arches and on the barbels (if they have any) of fish.


The majority of fish have good hearing. The inner ears of fish are in the skull and are similar to mammals in design. They have semicircular canals with sensory hairs in them that send messages to the brain. Theses canals also help with the fish’s balance. Whirling disease is when the fish’s canal is damaged and it can no longer balance. Fish in the aquarium are capable of hearing the things around them. Loud noises will often scare fish and stress them . This stress will leave their immune systems low and diseases and parasites will be allowed to attack the fish.

Swim Bladder

Fish have swim bladders to maintain neutral buoyancy. The bladder wall has a woven structure that is layered with guanine crystals. The crystals make it for gas to escape from the swim bladder. A gas gland sends gas to the fish’s swim bladder. When a fish goes down, the pressure on the bladder rises and the bladder is more compressed. To compensate for this action more gas is sent to the bladder and the bladder expands. When a fish goes down, gas is released from the bladder. If gas was not released from the bladder, then there would be less pressure on the enlarged bladder and the fish would float uncontrollable to the surface. Fish that live at great depths usually have thicker walls than fish that don’t live at great depths.


Fish need oxygen to live. The main way for a fish to receive oxygen is to take water in through the mouth. A cavity called the buccal cavity expands in the mouth reducing the pressure on the mouth, and letting in water. The mouth then closes, and the buccal cavity is contracted. At the same time the operculi, or gill cover, are expanded to reduce the pressure in the branchal cavity. The branchal cavity is pulling water over the gills. The gills absorb the oxygen in the water with tiny filaments. The filaments have numerous hair like extensions called lamellae. The lamellae are rich in tiny blood vessels and are the place where the oxygen gas exchange takes place. When the oxygen poor blood passes through the gills, the oxygen in the water diffuses in to the blood. This gas transfer is very efficient and almost eighty-five percent of the oxygen brought in to the gills is used. Some of the oxygen is then dissolved in to the blood plasma. The colder the water, the more is dissolved.


A variety of equipment is needed to support life in the aquarium. Necessary equipment includes lights and filter


In the wild, all of the light is provided by the sun. It is not possible to use the sun to light an aquarium, because it can not provide enough light inside of the house. Artificial lights are often used to replicate the sun. Plants and reef life need light to live and prosper. A plant uses photosynthesis to absorb food. Chlorophyll is in plants and converts light energy into chemical energy. Chlorophyll lights mostly absorb light from the red and blue spectrums for growth.

The types of lighting include incandescent, fluorescent, halogen and metal halide. How much light output a bulb gives is measured in lumens. Plants need a certain amount of lumens to properly grow. Visible light is broken down in to spectrums between wavelengths and ultraviolet rays, which can not be seen with the naked eye. The spectrums are red, green, yellow, blue, and violet. The colour-rendering index refers to how close the combination of spectrums (spectral curve) of the light simulates that of the sun. A rating of one hundred on the colour-rendering index is the closest simulation. The sun has a gradual sloping curve with parts from the entire spectrum. The colour temperature refers to where the spectral curve is balanced or centered. This is measured in Kelvins. The Sun has a Kelvin rating of around 5700. A curve that is shifted blue has a high colour temperature. A lower temperature means the curve is shifted towards the red spectrum. The majority of non-specific bulbs have a Kelvin rating of 3200. Plants usually need a bulb with a Kelvin rating of 5000 to grow properly.

Types of Bulbs
Incandescent Incandescent type bulbs are the oldest form of lighting. In an incandescent bulb there is a glass bulb with tungsten filaments in it. When electricity flows through the filament, the filament heats up. It will then glow and produce both heat and light. It provides a similar appearance to the sun, and has a colour temperature of 3200. Incandescent lights are known for being inefficient for electricity usage, and for producing a large amount of heat. This heat will warm up the aquarium water slightly.

Halogen A halogen bulb is like an incandescent bulb. In an incandescent bulb the tungsten filament will eventually evaporate. Over time the inside of an incandescent bulb is coated with a fine coat of tungsten vapour. The light output of the bulb will eventually be affected by this coating. In a halogen bulb, amounts of halogens like iodine and bromine are present. These halogens will combine with the evaporated tungsten. This molecule has an attachment to the tungsten filament, and will return there and split. The halogen will then return to the atmosphere of the bulb, while the evaporated tungsten from the molecule will return to the filament. This process is called the Halogen Cycle and will not work unless the bulb jacket is at least 200C. Because of the high heat, the halogen cycle takes place in a small capsule, so it is easier to maintain the temperature required. The capsule is placed inside another capsule, which is made from glass. This capsule is not as hot, which makes it easier to use.

Halogen lights are twenty-five to thirty percent brighter then incandescent. The spectrum leads towards the red end and they have a colour temperature between 2700 and 3000 Kelvins.

Fluorescent Fluorescent are the most commonly used lights in aquariums. They come in a variety of spectrums and styles. A fluorescent light works by an anode and a cathode at opposite ends of the tube. Inside the tube is a small amount of mercury vapour. When the bulb is energized then the mercury vapour will be ionized. It will then emit ultraviolet radiation, which is not visible to the naked eye. A phosphor powder is then used to coat the inside of the light. Phosphor gives off a light when stimulated by ultraviolet rays and produces visible light. The light colour and spectrum is determined by the chemical composition of the phosphor. Over time the cathode will decay and there will be less energy transferred to the mercury. A ballast is what charges a fluorescent tube. A T-12 is the standard size fluorescent tube. The number is the diameter of the bulb. Each value is a one eighth of an inch, so a T-12 tube is 1 and ½ inch diameter.

Grow bulbs can also be produced by changing the chemical composition of the phosphor. They are higher in the red spectrum, which is what plants mainly use for photosynthesis. Grow style bulbs usually have two large spikes in the colour spectrum. One is in the red spectrum, while the other is in the blue. There is little light produced in any other spectrums. The spikes produced are usually abrupt or steep and can prevent plants from photosynthesizing properly. Wide spectrum grow bulbs are often used instead of grow bulbs because the two spikes in the colour spectrum are not as abrupt or steep.

Actnic style tubes are often used in marine tanks. They only emit light from the blue spectrum, which can be beneficial for marine algae, anemones and corals.

Metal Halide Metal Halide lights were originally designed for large stadiums. They are often used in marine tanks. A metal halide system will usually contain a 50-100 watt bulb with a ballast. They are three time more efficient then incandescent bulbs and have a life span of 2-3 years. They will crack or shatter if water splashes against them, so it is important to have a cover between the light and the aquarium water.


All aquariums need some type of filtration to properly function. This does not always mean equipment. There are three types of filtration in aquariums. They are biological, chemical and mechanical filtration. Biological is the process of supporting nitrifying bacteria to oxidize the ammonia produced by fish. Chemical filtration is the process of using a chemical substance to alter the tank. The chemicals most often used are peat moss and carbon. Mechanical filtration is the removal of wastes and organic matter.

Types of Filters
Sponge Filters Sponge filters come in two designs. One is a piece of air tubing going up through a piece of square sponge. The other consists of a plastic tube with a sponge on it. In both cases, a pump pumps air through the tubing and the sponge absorbs water for bacterial growth. Sponge filters are mainly biological filters, and provide no mechanical or chemical filtration. They are best for fry tanks and small tanks.

Corner or Box Filters These are one of the first filters. Air is driven by a pump through and tube and into a box. The air then escapes through a pipe. Corner filters provide little biological filtration and no mechanical. Chemicals, like carbon or peat moss, can be added to the box part of the filter for chemical filtration.

Undergravel Filters Undergravel filters used to be very popular with aquarium owners. They are plastic plates that are placed on the bottom of the aquarium, and underneath the gravel. Water is then drawn through the substrate and through an intake tube. It then usually is returned to the aquarium by an out take tube. They powered by a variety of things including air pumps, powerheads (a device that goes in the water and pumps the water) and external canister filters. Gravel in undergravel filters needs to be at least five to seven centimeters deep for it to function properly. The gravel acts as a medium for bacteria to grow on. Undergravel filters act as a biological and mechanical filtration and depending on the system, can be used for chemical filtration. An advantage of undergravel filters is that there is a large surface area for oxygen-utilizing bacteria to form. Disadvantages include fish digging in the substrate and causing uneven water flow, plants with deep roots that clog the filer and build up of wastes that can result it high levels of the nitrate bacteria. When it is clogged there is a chance that facultative or strict anaerobes can be formed by the nitrite bacteria. They can have harmful by-products to the aquarium.

Canister Filters A canister filter is a self-contained unit from the aquarium. There is a pre-chamber for media that will grow the beneficial bacteria and can space things used for chemical filtration. There is an electric pump that pumps the water in to the filter. An impeller driven pump found on the top of the filter pumps the water back in to the aquarium. They provide all three types of filtration. An advantage of a canister filter is the large surface area in the pre-chamber for bacteria to grow on. A disadvantage is the canister becoming clogged and the chamber breaking, which would result in all of the water being pumped on to the ground. Another problem is if the out take tube falls out of the aquarium and the water is pumped on to the ground. Canister filters are recommended for larger tanks.

Hang on the Back Filters Hangs on the Back filters are the most common filter. The filter chamber part of a Hang on the Back hangs on the back of the aquarium. An impeller draws water through an uptake tube and in to the filter chamber. There can be various types of filter media in the filter chamber. The chamber then fills with water and pours back in to the aquarium. Hangs on the Back filters provide the possibilities for all three types of filters.

Trickle Filters Trickle filters have trays that are stacked on top of each other. A canister filter puts the water in to the top of the filter by a spray bar. The water then goes through holes in each tray and finally trickles in to the aquarium. Trickle filters are usually put on top of the aquarium. They can be put elsewhere, but the water must be pumped back in to the aquarium then. Trickle filters provide all three types of filtration. The advantages of trickle filters are that the water is exposed to more oxygen and allows for more oxygen-utilizing bacteria activity. A disadvantage for tanks with plants are that carbon dioxide, a plant nutrient, is driven when there is surface tension and the carbon dioxide is allowed to escape.

Starting off with a good filter will lead to good results and less problems. I recommend a biowheel, or Aquaclear if you don't have the money (I have had problems with them though). For fry or breeding tanks, I recommend a sponge or corner filter. Prefilters can be a useful thing for a HOB filter. Buy an aquaclear, cut a hole in it, and fit it over the intake tube. I mainly use this on tanks that i use sand it.


Aquariums are interesting and exciting things to keep. A certain amount of knowledge is needed to successful keep aquariums, but the benefits of owning an aquarium are usually worth it.

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