Thursday, July 9, 2015

Tank Sitters - A Beginning

Hi.  My name is Hal.
I live in Palm Harbor, Florida, north of Tampa.  I have a 9 to 5 work-from-home job, but what I really want to do career-wise is get dirty taking care of your fish.
And your reptiles and ampibians...and your arachnids, and your crustaceans!  
Basically...If it fits in a tank, it fascinates me and always has.  
I grew up on a farm, about a half-mile from the nearest neighbor, in Southern Illinois.  By the time I was 5 years old, my parents had bought me a book about North American snakes, because they were deathly afraid I would pick up a venomous one.  
I was the kid who always brought something home and tried to talk Mom into letting me keep it.  Over the years I kept anoles and geckos from the pet store, wolf spiders, garter snakes, rat snakes and milk snakes from the yard.  By about age 15 or 16 I was a card-carrying member of the St. Louis Herpetological Society and attended monthly meetings, completely absorbed in the great presentations they would have by various breeders herps and professors of biology.
Mom always had an aquarium and her favorites were angel fish, gouramis, plecos, and loaches.  I watched her monitor the water parameters, go through water changes, and feed them, but I can't say as I helped much as a child.  My real love affair with aquaria began about 6 years ago when I found myself trapped in a lifeless, grey-tone cubicle and thought it would be nice to get a betta fish to keep me company.  While I never managed to train him to do my job as I had hoped, 
Robert the Fish was the first of many betta fish, and I currently keep 4 bettas (2 males and 2 females), a couple cory cats, a few tetras, and a couple hillstream loaches.  The tank and stand designs are my own.  If you're not familiar with bettas, they have their own peculiar care guidelines, and most importantly they have to be segregated from each other.

My wife and I are avid snorkelers, and I've found myself in absolutely ridiculous places, all to satisfy my own curiosity.  Over the years I've run into various blennies, gobies, tangs, turtles, eels, jellyfish, etc.  To really understand how much I love aquatic life, I'd have you look at my jellyfish videos, which I shot at Riviera Beach in SE Florida last October.  Literally no one would go in the water because it was swarming with jellyfish.  You couldn't get past the wake without running into a dozen of them.  What was my first thought?  "When life gives you jellyfish...make jellyfish videos."

Friday, May 22, 2015

Are You Thinking About Getting a Betta? Think About Cycling

Are you thinking about getting a betta?

Are you debating over whether or not to cycle your tank?

Many people  will encourage you to start with a minimum of 2.5 Gallons per betta, in a cycled tank.

But why? Why, really, do you need to cycle them? In Thailand and Vietnam, bettas are raised in little liquor bottles with no ill effects, right?

Right. It's true. It's also true that the betta farms that raise them in these small bottles change their water (WC) once, sometimes more, per day.

So what does it take to change your betta's water? Well, I still have 1 fish in an individual tank, an uncycled, 1 gallon tank. I'm going to show you a video of the entire 100% WC. This does not include prep time, or clean up, just the WC after I have everything set up.

It is a pain in the petute. ASAP they will all be going into 2.5 Gallon minimum, cycled tanks. You can multiply the length of the video by however many uncycled tanks you have. I think I'm moving pretty fast here, since I've already warmed up.

Just food for thought. I'm not saying you're torturing your fish if you do not cycle. Just think about it.  The main reason for us hobbyists to only use cycled tanks is because sooner or later the maintenance will overwhelm you.  Bettas especially are addictive fish to keep, and probably every betta owner you know has MBS (Multible Betta Syndrome).  Uncycled tanks simply require a LOT more maintenance than cycled tanks, so if raising bettas is not your full time job, I recommend cycled tanks only.  

I would also like to note that decorations are nice, but experience has taught me that you're really better off NOT using any gravel in an uncycled tank.  If you decide to keep an uncycled tank, the only thing you should put in it is the fish, maybe a snail, and definitely some live plants, but no other decorations.  Why?  Because it's just one more thing that can go wrong.  Bacteria tends to grow in the stagnant places, especially in gravel and you run a lot higher risk of dropsy and other illnesses.  For the record, I no longer use the setup in the video below.

Here's the video of me cleaning an uncycled 1 gallon tank:

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Baby ghost shrimp on magnolia leaf. 

Hi! My name is Daniell and I've been invited to contribute to this space. I have been keeping fish since I got a betta fish from a residence hall event in college around 2002/2003. Right now I have two tanks in operation; one 40 gallon fancy goldie tank and one 29 gallon tropical tank with an angelfish, a quartet of Congo tetras, about a dozen ghost shrimp, and innumerable MTS and ramshorn snails. A couple of 10 gallon tanks are getting set up tonight for two new bettas to join the "school," but ultimately they will be living in the same 10 gallon tank with a DIY planted divider between the two spaces and each having its own sponge filter and its own drastically different decor theme.

While I do not have any cool betta things to share right now, I do want to take a moment to recommend looking into aquarium clubs in your area. Most aquarium clubs will have monthly or bi-monthly meetings which are free and open to the public to attend. There will generally be some group housekeeping matters discussed followed by a speaker or other presentation concerning the hobby. These presentations are usually very informative and also sometimes very entertaining. The information alone is worth attending meetings, in my opinion, but getting to know the fish folks in your area can be an invaluable asset. Getting to know these folks and/or joining the club can get you amazing deals on equipment and live foods, superb quality stock for your tank (sometimes things that are not readily available on the commercial market depending on where you live), and an incredible wealth of experience to query if/when something goes awry with your own tanks or stock.

Another really great aspect of aquarium clubs is that many will host seasonal auctions where members (and non-members) can sell fish, tanks, food, and other aquarium-related goods. If you know what you're looking for and have an idea what prices usually run, you can sometimes get really great deals. Or maybe you don't mind paying around retail price for some things if, like me, you're normally very busy, let's say you take care of a toddler all day, and it's worth it to you to pick up something you need without having to make a special trip. Joining my local club has been one of the best fish-keeping decisions I have made and I feel I cannot state enough how much I recommend at least checking out what's in your area. Tomorrow is the monthly Missouri Aquarium Society, Inc. meeting where I will be picking up two young male bettas and selling my tetras to a fellow member. I'm also really looking forward to learning about cory cats from speaker corydoras breeder and expert Eric Bodrock.

Cheers for now!

40 gallon fancy goldie tank with newly anchored anubias and java fern wood pieces. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Make Your Own Betta Cave

Edit:  See final(ish) version of the betta cave toward the bottom.

I have this El Niño fern in my aquarium and it's not doing so well, so I'm hoping it will help if I can get its leaves to stick up out of the water a bit as it acclimates to being fully aquatic.  It's not looking horrible yet, just losing some of the green in its leaves.  I really should have learned more about caring for ferns before I got it, and I should know better, but it was an impulse buy on a trip to the Pestmart.  As it is, the rhizome is buried in the substrate, which is a no-no with ferns.

Here's a picture of the fern.  It's the dense green fern behind the cave on the right.

My original plan was as follows:

Thankfully a member on a request for help at Tropical Fishkeeping mentioned that placing a fern in a flower pot would probably not allow enough water flow around the rhizome, so the idea morphed into this:

This is what it looked like after I set the hole in.  I've seen a lot of people using a hammer and chisel on flower pots, even soaking them in water for days in an attempt to "soften" them.  I have not had any luck whatsoever with this method, so I pulled out my trusty Makita angle grinder and Bosch diamond blade and went to work.  I did have to file the edges smooth by hand.  Note, I also used a masonry drill bit to place a hole in the dish above the flower pot.  The hole mates with the hole already in the flower pot so later I will be able to tie a piece of driftwood above without having to soak it for days on end before it sinks naturally.  The two pieces are held together with aquarium sealant.

After the bond between the upper and lower pieces had cured, I put aquarium sealant all over the exterior of the pot, leaving the inside of the pot and the top of the dish clean.  I then covered the sealant with gravel of the same color and brand as my substrate.  You will want to press the gravel into the sealant a bit so it sticks better.  When it was done I could still see a lot of the green pot between the pieces of gravel, so I knocked off the loose pieces, coated everything in sealant again, and and applied another coat of gravel.  This is the final product, right now the project is in the final curing phase.  
I will be sure to post pics once I get the driftwood and fern tied on and the final product in place in the aquarium.

Here's a picture of what it looks like almost done.  It has gone through several revisions by now.  All I need to do is finally rinse some more gravel and place it in the top tray.  The el niño fern has been tied to the driftwood with fishing line.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Hi, I'm Crazy About Bettas

I've been keeping fish on my own now for about 6 months and I've gone completely head over heels for betta fish.  There's just so much to like about them, starting with their personalities.  My mom used to keep angelfish when I was a child and they never really interested me because they seemed interested in only 1 thing:  food.  I will not knock angelfish.  They are beautiful and I'm sure somebody can correct me and tell me all about their personalities and how cool they are.  I will say that growing up I could watch them for almost a full minute before I was completely bored and ready to move on to something else, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that the angelfish were always more focused on each other than they were on me, as if they could only see me if I had a food can in my hand.  Bettas are at the complete opposite end of the personality spectrum.  They are basically aquatic puppy dogs.  Yes, they are voracious eaters and they do beg for food, but even after their belly is full, I find they are very interested in the human world beyond their aquarium.  I can probably never prove it, but I suspect their interest in humans has a lot to do with the hundreds of years they have been raised in captivity, much like domestic dogs and cats, who are much more interested in human interaction than their wild counterparts.  

Bettas are often raised in small, solitary tanks, since they typically don't make great community fish due to their territorial nature.  There are exceptions, such as some of the wild species, which can be kept in community aquariums, and female Betta splendens can be kept together in groups, sometimes, under the perfect conditions (plenty of room, lots of hiding spots and plants, and the perfect balance of personalities).  Some bettas actually get bored all by themselves in their solitary confinement and we betta keepers have been known to resort to all types of simple entertainment.  I play videos of other fish on my iPod for my office fish, Brad.  
Here's a picture of Brad:  
He loves to see females bettas swimming around in hi-def, and he even flares out his fins and struts around to show off for them.  Then he blows a big bubble nest up at the top of his tank, just in case he gets a visit from one of the girls on TV.  He noticeably perks up anytime someone visits my desk and comes out of hiding to make sure they see him.  For my bettas at home I usually set DVDs by their tanks, preferably ones with faces and animals printed on them, and that seems to hold their interest for a while.  I even read one person on a fish forum who says she places a doll next to her aquarium and her male betta seems to stare lovingly for hours (if I run across that post again, or if you can point me to it, I'd be glad to give you the proper credit for that novel idea which gave me such a laugh).  Some people even teach their bettas to do tricks, such as swimming through hoops, which is not unique to betta fish, but still quite a feat.

I guess the last thing about bettas that makes me crazy for these little fish is the seemingly endless myriad colors and tail types they can have.  The traditional veil tail betta that most people think of with their graceful, drooping fins is actually disappearing from pet stores in many regions and being replaced by other tail types such as the crown tail, the half moon, and the delta.  The short-finned plakat can be found in a lot of places, too and I really like this more sleek look.  They are strong, fast swimmers and often times have a lot of attitude.  Generally, the plakat is bred in Southeast Asia to be a fighting fish.  I do not condone fighting animals for any reason, but I do appreciate the aggressive, macho attitude plakats can have, much like I admire a well-bred pit bull, which I similarly would never fight for any reason.  I'd much rather watch two consenting adult humans fight, if I must have blood sport.  Animals, like children, cannot consent.  There isn't enough time or space to cover all possible colors and fin types, but you can look it up yourself.  For betta information in general I would recommend 2 betta forums offhand and they are here:

Ultimate Bettas


These are both great sites for general information on betta fish, and great places to get an idea of what kind of fish you like before you actually buy one.  You will also find a lot of people here who really care about betta fish and are very knowledgeable about them.  They are an indispensable resource if your fish ever becomes sick, for example.  They will take the time to help diagnose the illness and recommend a course of treatment to save your fish.

Lastly, if, after researching proper care and housing of your fish, you decide to take the plunge and make a purchase, please don't feel like you have to be satisfied with the fish on the shelf at your local pet store (LPS) or your local fish store (LFS).  There are reputable online vendors who will ship you your fish via priority or express mail.  One such vendor which I can particularly recommend is VangsPlakat.  You can follow the link or find them here:

Bob Vang is a fellow bettabetta farms in Southeast Asia, so he constantly receives new and exciting stock.  Best of all, if he doesn't have the exact fish you want, he can usually get it in his next month's shipment.

Thanks for reading, and please don't miss the next installment:  "How I Came to Love Bettas" or "The Story of Robert the Fish"