Saturday, February 24, 2018

Fish Quarantine 101: How to Set Up a DIY Quarantine Tank and Use Quarantine Meds

Before you get new fish, it's best to make sure they're not sick before adding them to your main display aquarium. Here's a quick 2-minute tutorial that covers step-by-step instructions on how to quarantine fish. Topics include:
  • How do I build a cheap and easy DIY quarantine tank?
  • What equipment do I need to setup a quarantine tank?
  • What quarantine medications can I use to prevent diseases in new fish?
  • How long should I quarantine my new fish?
New albino corydoras from Petco, going into DIY hospital tank
Wait, don't add us into your main aquarium yet! We could be sick... 😷

How to Build a DIY Quarantine Tank

All you need for quarantine is a simple container that allows you to view the condition of the fish, is easy to clean on a frequent basis if needed, and doesn't take much effort to set up and teardown. My current hospital tank consists of:
DIY fish hospital tank setup
For the clear plastic tub, I marked up the side with the number of gallons to help with accurate medication dosing. I also drilled holes in the lid for air and electrical cords to pass through.

Equipment needed for a fish quarantine setup
The minimal equipment for a quarantine tank includes a heater, thermometer, décor for fish to hide in, and heater if needed.

After watching Aquarium Co-op's quarantine video, I have started using their recommended fish medication trio. It's totally up to you whether you want to prophylactically medicate your fish. Lots of people like to wait and see or use gentler methods like aquarium salt or Indian almond leaves.

Final Tips on Quarantining Fish

I quarantine my fish for four to six weeks, which seems like forever but I've faced fatal fish diseases before and it's just not worth it. Besides you can still enjoy them in their temporary home in the meanwhile. Just keep a close watch on them for any signs of illness.

Also, I like to keep my quarantine setup right next to the kitchen sink so that it's super convenient to do frequent water changes and provide the new fish with lots of clean water.

Finally, feed your fish a good variety of frozen and prepared foods (or even live foods) to boost their immune systems, fatten their bellies, and make their colors truly shine. Best of luck with your new fish and keep on swimming!

How do you like to quarantine your fish? Have you ever had a disaster from skipping the quarantine process?

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

HELP! My Kid Wants to Make Video Games for a Living | Advice for Parents from an Industry Veteran

My husband, Mr. Gamer, has worked in the video game industry for over 20 years, and he often gets asked by parents and kids how to become a video game developer. I interviewed him to find out what words of advice he has for parents whose kids play a lot of video games and say they want to make video games for a living. Topics include:

► What should parents do if their kid wants to make video games?
► What are the different kinds of video game careers?
► How can parents support their child's dream?
► Are video games evil or a waste of time?
► What is some practical advice for kids who are serious about becoming a video game developer?

P.S. To protect the privacy of our kids, we’ve chosen not to show our faces on camera. Thanks for your patience and enjoy our emoji heads!

Do you think video games are a waste of time or an avenue for creative expression? What would you do if your kid wanted to make video games as a career?

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Saturday, February 10, 2018

Axolotl Care Sheet: Housing, Feeding, and Tank Mates!

Axolotl care guide covering aquarium requirements, diet, and tank mates
(Skip to the end to view the 8-minute video of this care guide)

Have you kept freshwater fish before but are looking for something a little unusual? Check out the axolotl! This very unique and easy exotic pet lives entirely underwater and will capture your heart like no other.
axolotl care guide

What Is an Axolotl?

The axolotl (or Ambystoma mexicanum) is a completely aquatic salamander and never loses those fluffy external gills. It comes from a couple of high altitude freshwater lakes in Mexico, but unfortunately is probably extinct in wild due to human activities. However, because of their amazing regenerative powers, they are highly prolific in scientific research labs and now the pet industry. Most axolotls reach their full size in 1.5 to 2 years, growing to an average length of 9 to 12 inches. I've heard they can get up to 10 years in age.

Where Can I Buy an Axolotl?

You can find them occasionally in exotic pet or fish stores, but I like to look for reputable breeders on Facebook groups and forums. Just don't forget that axolotls are illegal in certain states like California, so do your research. I didn't know any better and went with the first local breeder I found on Craigslist. You want to buy an axolotl at least 3 inches long, and the cost will range anywhere from $20 to $100+ depending on the coloration or pattern. Here are some of the most common types:

Common axolotl coloration types: wild type, albino, leucistic, melanoid
Common axolotl color types

Your axolotl may also come with the gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP) – introduced from scientists splicing in jellyfish DNA – which causes their skin to glow green under black or blue light. It's not harmful to axolotls and can be inherited through breeding.

GFP leucistic axolotl glowing green under black light or blue lighting
Green fluorescent protein (GFP) in a leucistic axolotl

How Do I Set up an Axolotl Aquarium?

For tank size, I personally would recommend 20 gallons for the first axolotl and 10 gallons for each additional one. I started off with two juveniles in a 20 gallon, but when they got closer to adult size, the waste load was waaay too much for my Aquaclear 50 filter to handle. Make sure you have excellent filtration but low flow – you may need a spray bar or baffle to lower the current.

Axolotls like low light (comes from having eyes on the top of their heads and no eyelids) and would greatly appreciate hiding spots or other shadowed areas to hangout in. Aquarium décor and fake plants are just fine. If you're going to try live plants, pick hardier ones because your axolotl may try to uproot them or sit on them like a favorite recliner.

Axolotl sitting on an anubias congensis
My axolotl is absolutely loving/crushing this poor anubias congensis

Finally, most people recommend bare bottom, fine sand, or slate tiles for substrate. Axolotls are known to swallow gravel or smaller rocks, which some people say causes gut impaction while others say it aids with digestion and/or helps control buoyancy. So do your research.

What Water Conditions Do Axolotls Need?

Like most freshwater fish, axolotls need dechlorinated water and a cycled tank. pH can range from 6.5 to 8.0, but in general they prefer harder, more alkaline water. Water changes on a weekly basis (or more) are recommended, but it totally depends on your tank size and filtration. Just remember that axolotls are extremely messy creatures. 💩

How Do I Cool Down My Axolotl Tank?

Coming from high altitude regions, your axolotl will do best in cold temperatures ranging from 60-68°F. I had my axolotls in the low 70's (based on Internet research) and they were not happy. Get a good thermometer with an alarm that will let you know if the water ever gets too warm.

To cool down the tank, I covered three sides of my tank with reflective foil insulation and used a small USB fan to blow across the water surface, causing significant cooling by evaporation. That means your aquarium will need either a screen top or no lid at all. This method is a lot more reliable than using frozen bottles of water and is cheaper and has a smaller footprint than a chiller.

The foil insulation is barely noticeable, and any fan works well for evaporative cooling.

What Do I Feed My Axolotl?

Axolotls are carnivorous and will actively snap at anything in front of their faces. They only have little stumps for teeth, so they tend to suck up food like a vacuum. Younger axolotls will eat live foods (like blackworms or microworms) and frozen foods (like daphnia, brine shrimp, and bloodworms). As they grown in size, you can feed them larger worms (like red wigglers or cut-up nightcrawlers from fishing bait stores or Walmart) and soft sinking pellets (like Hikari Carnivore Pellets or Lexolotls pellets). Variety in diet is key.

Leucistic axolotl eating a red wiggler
Do I have something in my teeth?

Feed your axolotls every day when they're younger, and then slow down to every 2 to 4 days when they're older. They'll generally stop eating when they're full. Aim for the axolotl's abdomen to be about as wide as its head.

What Tank Mates Can I Keep with My Axolotl?

Unfortunately, fish like to nibble on axolotl gills (since they look like worms), and axolotls like to, well, eat fish. You might be able to keep some shrimp or white cloud minnows in the aquarium as live food. In general, people recommend a species-only tank... with some caveats. Juvenile axolotls less than 6 inches long are cannibalistic and may nip off their roommate's body parts. Also, try to keep adult males and females apart so that your females aren't exhausted by overbreeding.

Juvenile leucistic axolotl with left hand eaten by a sibling
Yeah my brother ate my hand, but it's cool... I've got Deadpool's regenerative DNA in me!

Overall Rating for Axolotls

rating axolots as a pet
In general, axolotls are pretty easy to source in the US and don't cost as much as most other exotic pets (although they are more expensive than most freshwater fish). They're pretty hardy because of their crazy regenerative properties. I rated them lower on ease of care and difficulty level because a) it's harder to keep the water cold and b) there's not a lot of good information out there on keeping axolotls since they're newer to the pet industry. And finally, their appearance is super cute and unique! Overall, would I keep them again? That's a definite thumbs up!

Have you ever kept a pet axolotl before? What did you like or dislike about them?

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Saturday, February 3, 2018

How to Take Macro Photography of Fish Using a Smartphone

Macro photography for aquariums using phone camera clip-on lens
(Skip to the end to view the video tutorial)
Ever try to take close-up pictures or video of your aquarium, only to end up with a blurry mess? Here's a short tutorial on an easy way to take macro shots of your aquarium fish using a smartphone. The only thing you'll have to buy is a cell phone lens kit. For $20 or less on Amazon or eBay, you'll get several different lenses to play with, but I mainly use the macro one. Simply clip it over your phone's camera lens (like a clothespin) and you're ready to go!

Clip-on macro lens for smartphones

#1 Set Up the Shot

A macro lens like this one has a fixed focal length, which means objects are only clear at a certain distance from your phone. So bribe your fish to come right up to the front by dropping some food or sticking some Sera O-Nip tablets on the glass.

albino cory catfish having a romantic dinner, Lady and the Tramp style

#2 Keep Very Still

Stabilize the phone as much as possible by bracing both of your hands against the aquarium (kind of like a tripod). Keep at least one finger free for tapping on the screen to focus the shot and take the picture. Unless you're trying to pick up a specific detail (like the fish's scales), I like to focus on the closest eye of the fish or a high contrast area that's easy for the cell phone to lock on.

#3 Adjust the Exposure

Once the focus is set, feel free to adjust the exposure and any other settings you need. My albino cory catfish looked way too shiny under those bright aquarium lights, so I lowered the exposure till some more details popped. Also, if the focus is still a bit off, all you have to do is slightly move the smartphone forward or backward till you get the sharpest image.

#4 Make Slow, Smooth Movements

When taking macro video, even the slightest shift of your phone can be amplified into shaky-cam madness. So if your subject swims away while filming, don't panic! Just slowly pan over to its new position as smoothly as you can and then re-focus. Worse to worse, you can always edit out any big fumbles. :)

As with all fish photography, it'll take lots of time and patience to get the perfect shot. So take as many pictures or video as you need, and then delete, delete, delete! I hope you took away a few useful tips that will help you take amazing aquarium macro photography. Good luck and keep on swimming!

How do you like to take macro photography? Do you find yourself using your phone or an actual camera more often?

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Friday, January 19, 2018

New Year, New Tank, New Video

A Gamer's Wife - backstory on freshwater aquariums  - YouTube thumbnail

Happy new year! Was your 2017 as crazy as mine? Last year I...
  • Stopped being a full-time stay-at-home mom and started working again
  • Sent my first kid off to kindergarten
  • Celebrated our 10-year anniversary
  • Burned out on work-life balance and had to relearn how to fun
  • Took a break from fish keeping and then came back again
Despite all the trials and changes, it's seriously been the best spiritual season of growth and transformation I've had in a while, and my relationship with God has been so sweet. I've become more confident in who I am, more chill with my expectations and workload, and just... more able to relax and do nothing again. God let me dig myself into a low, low place of my own making – a slave to my to-do list – and then began "Operation R&R" to heal my soul. I'll talk about it sometime later, but as a result, it's shaped (and shortened) my new year's resolutions for 2018:
  • Get 8 hours of sleep
  • Start a habit of family devotions
  • Try cycling as a hobby
  • Learn how to edit videos
For Christmas, Mr. Gamer got me Wondershare Filmora video editing software, and I'm excited to tinker around and make some YouTube videos. I haven't yet determined what my niche will be, but as part of Operation R&R, I'm just having some low-key fun, not shooting for perfection, and slowly learning by doing. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this little 1-minute background story on how I got interested in keeping fish. I also plan on talking about my other hobbies like gaming and photography, so please subscribe!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

50 Ways to Kill Your Fish: Improper Habitat

How to explain this one? I think all new fish keepers generally know that fish need food and clean water to survive. But beyond that, it's kind of a mystery why things die. Maybe there aren't any obvious signs like white spots or wounds. Your fish just slowly gets lethargic over time, stops swimming around, doesn't feel like eating, and then poof, it's gone. This silent killer is known as improper living conditions. In order to fight against its deadly trap, let's talk about a couple of key tenets for setting up a comfortable habitat for your fish.

Replicate the Natural Living Conditions of Aquarium Fish

Try to Replicate Your Fish's Natural Living Conditions

We've all seen those extensive care sheets for each type of fish where they list recommended tank size, temperature, food, etc. While many fish have been raised in captivity for so long that there's some leeway with the requirements, try to match the natural living conditions and environment of the species you keep. We want to emulate their life in nature as best as we can.

That's not to say that you have to make a full-on South American biotope that only contains creatures from that region. The cool thing about aquariums is the very fact you have flexibility to mix-and-match fish from all around the world. However, one of the best pieces of advice I've heard from veteran fish keepers is to plan your tank around your favorite fish.

For my community tank 3.0, I felt so overwhelmed when planning which fish to keep. Should I narrow it down by swimming level to get a good mix of bottom feeders, mid-tank swimmers, and top-dwellers? Or maybe I should first choose a temperature range of super warm, regular tropical, or cold water? In the end, I nailed down my favorite, must-have fish (albino corydoras!) and planned the whole tank around their ideal needs. That meant buying a healthy school of them and skipping out on more aggressive fish that might out complete them for food. And in the end, I'm really happy with my choices – because I put my favorite fish first!

Don't Push the Boundaries as a Beginner

I'm totally guilty of this, especially when it comes to matching the living conditions for multiple species. I really, really want something to work (even if the research says "probably not"), but I don't have the experience to make it succeed. For example, my first betta was in a 3.5-gallon tank, and I was so proud of all the amenities he had (e.g., filter, heater, good food). But when I found out bettas can be kept in community tanks, I become obsessed with getting more fish but... I didn't want to buy another tank. So I kept searching the internet until I found one site that said they had kept their betta with cory catfish and neon tetras in a 3-gallon tank. Yeah, that didn't work out for long.

Another instance was when I read that albino cory catfish like waters at 72-79°F and German blue rams prefer 78-85°F. I thought that maybe if I kept the temperature at 78.5°F, everyone would be happy. Unfortunately, the super sensitive German blue ram didn't agree with me and slowly faded from the stress of being too cold. After watching a video about a breeder of rams, I now realize a solid 84°F would have been more appropriate.

Peaceful community fish aquarium with German blue ram, neon tetras, and albino corydoras
"Dude, I'm freezing to death in here! Crank up the heat!"

Bottom line: do what it takes to make your animals happy. If care sheets for axolotls say they can live in temperatures from 50-74°F, don't settle for room temperature – spend the money to get a fan or chiller and shoot for the mid 60's. And if you can't make certain conditions happen with your setup, then don't keep those species. (For example, fish that need soft water aren't going to thrive in my extremely hard water, especially without an RO/DI unit.) There are plenty of aquarium fish to pick from that will perfectly match your environment, so as a beginner, keep it simple and go for easy, hardy pets that you know you can make happy. Best of luck and keep on swimming!

Follow the rest of this series: 50 Ways to Kill Your Fish.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

50 Ways to Kill Your Fish: Crowded Tank

50 Ways to Kill Your Fish - Crowded Tank

If you post an online picture of a beautiful hobbyist-owned aquarium packed full of fish, you'll probably get several reactions:
  1. OMG, that is the coolest thing I've ever seen! (^▽^)
  2. OMG, that is the cruelest thing I've ever seen! ((╬◣﹏◢))
  3. OMG, how did they accomplish that? I must know! ლ(ಠ_ಠ ლ)
That's because there are sooo many differing opinions on how many fish in a tank is too many. Asking "How many fish can I keep in my aquarium?" is like asking "How many cats can I keep in my house?" – it totally depends on each person's preferences and lifestyle.

five kittens on grass lawn
Clearly, five cats is not enough. You need at least six in a school or else they start getting nippy.

Huge props to the Real Fish Talk: How Much Is Too Much? video for breaking it down like this:
The more fish you have,
The more food they eat,
The more waste they create,
The more work you have to do to keep the tank clean.
In other words, more fish = more time you'll have to invest to maintain them and keep them healthy. My idea of fun is enjoying my fish without having to change their water more than once a week, so if that's not achievable, I probably have too many fish or something else needs to change. (I'm not lazy; I'm just low maintenance...) For example, I once tried to keep two axolotls in a 20-gallon tank, which was fine when they were juveniles. However, the larger they got, I found myself doing daily water changes to keep up with the huge waste load. (No one told me these things lay giant doggy turds!) Clearly, I had one too many axolotls in that tank and I was no longer enjoying my hobby as much as I wanted.

leucistic white axolotl and black melanoid axolotl
"Welcome back to Survivors: Axolotl Edition! Who will get voted off the island in this episode?"

When it comes to deciding how many fish are going into an aquarium, I like to plan rather than impulse buy. The AqAdvisor aquarium stocking calculator is a nice starting point for beginners. You enter your tank size, filter brand, and a list of fish, and the website spits out recommendations on compatibility and how "full" your tank is. Then you slowly start adding fish and regularly test the tank water every few days to see how clean it stays over time. (For freshwater parameters, people usually like to see 0 ppm in ammonia and nitrites and maybe 40 ppm or less of nitrates.)

Case in point: here's the step-by-step plan of action for building my community tank 3.0:
  1. Research different combinations on fish and stocking levels using caresheets and AqAdvisor.
  2. Set up and cycle my display tank with live plants and biological filter media.
  3. While it's cycling, buy my favorite fish first (cory catfish) and put them in quarantine.
  4. Six weeks later, move the cory catfish in the display tank and buy my second favorite fish (dwarf gourami).
  5. While he's in quarantine, regularly test the main aquarium's water to determine how often I need to do water changes.
  6. In another six weeks, rinse and repeat step 3 with my next favorite fish and so on.
As long as the water parameters stay stable without me having to do more than one water change a week (my personal limit due to time constraints), then I'm happy with the number of fish I have. If at some point, the water quality starts dipping because I'm overstocked, then we have a few options:
  • Do more frequent water changes
  • Rehome some fish
  • Buy a bigger tank
  • Increase the amount of water volume in the system by installing a large sump or canister filter
  • Add more biological filtration like live plants (especially fast growing ones that absorb lots of fish waste)
Fans of live plants often recommend having a ton more greenery than fish to avoid overstocking issues, so I may give that a shot this time around. Good luck to all of us and keep on swimming!

Follow the rest of this series: 50 Ways to Kill Your Fish.