Saturday, June 29, 2019

How to Set Up a Planted Tank with Sand Substrate - Part 1

Is it possible to grow aquarium plants in sand substrate? Some say yes, same say no… keep reading to find out how I set up a 20-gallon jungle style tank using two kinds of sand!

Topics include:
▶ Preparing the aquarium
▶ Experiment to test sand substrate with plants
▶ Setting up the equipment
▶ My plan for cycling with live plants

In the next video about this tank, I’ll cover how I selected, purchased, and added live aquarium plants to create a jungle paradise for my shy fish.

Sand for a Planted Aquarium?
Sand Showdown: Pool Filter Sand vs Nat Geo Aquarium Sand
5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Growing Rooted Aquarium Plants

Saturday, June 22, 2019

What Is the Life Cycle of a Cherry Shrimp?

Ever wonder how long it takes for baby cherry shrimp to hatch? Or how the female’s eggs get fertilized? Keep reading to learn about the amazing life cycle of a cherry shrimp!

When I started keeping shrimp, everyone online just said, “Oh, throw some together and you’ll have hundreds in no time!” Yeah, but how long is that supposed to take? I delved deeper into the freshwater shrimp community, and I found very few resources describing how cherry shrimp breed. I mean, if I don’t know exactly how they reproduce, how do I know if I’m doing something wrong? So today I’m going to tell you the story of a little girl shrimp and a little boy shrimp and how they make babies.

How to Sex Shrimp and Determine if They're Male or Female

Okay, let’s start with adults and how to sex them. If you have 10 shrimp, there’s like a 99.8% chance you’ll have at least 1 male and 1 female, so start with at least 10-20 shrimp to ensure you have enough viable breeding pairs. Now this may vary a little between the different color morphs of Neocaridina davidi, but at least for red cherry shrimp:
  • Female: 
    • Larger in size, about 1” or 2.5 cm
    • Redder, darker, or more solid in coloration
    • May have a white or yellow saddle on their back (which are undeveloped eggs in the ovaries right behind the head of the shrimp
    • May be carrying eggs under their tail
    • Often has a curved, rounder underbelly (especially if they've been pregnant before)
  • Male: 
    • Smaller, about 2/3"-3/4” or 2 cm
    • Almost transparent in color with red markings
    • Tail is thinner (similar to a juvenile's tail)
    • Difficult to see, but has special reproductive structures on the first two pairs of swimmerets

male vs. female cherry shrimp

How do Cherry Shrimp Reproduce?

So if you have shrimp of opposite genders, stable water conditions, and plenty of yummy food, the female will develop eggs in her “saddle” where her ovaries are located. Once the eggs ripen, the female will molt her exoskeleton, which looks like a clearish-white shrimp shell that’s completely empty inside. Her new exoskeleton will be soft and flexible, which makes fertilization with the male possible. (Pro tip: make sure your shrimp have plenty of nutrients and minerals to successfully molt if you want to see babies.)

After the female molts, she’s feeling pretty vulnerable with her new soft shell, so to avoid being eaten, she goes into hiding and then releases pheromones or a chemical signal into the water as a signal to the males that she’s ready do the funky monkey dance. So if you see a ton of male shrimp frantically swimming around the tank, instead of passively grazing for food, you know that they’re looking for that newly molted female. And if you see a couple of shrimp that look like they’re “fighting” but there’s no food around, it might be a breeding pair gettin' busy. (Pro tip: make sure not to cull too many males or they’ll have a hard time catching the female right after her molt.)

Shrimp sex is very fast and supposedly occurs less than 10 seconds. The male latches onto the female such that they're facing one another other, deposits his sperm in the female’s genital opening, and then quickly releases her. At this point, the female’s eggs will pass through the deposited sperm as they travel from the ovaries inside her to the outside of her body under her tail. Therefore if you see a female that is “berried,” or holding eggs under her abdomen, then the eggs are definitely fertilized.

mating Neocaridina davidi
Mating red cherry shrimp (source: Peter Maguire)

How Long do Cherry Shrimp Eggs Take to Hatch?

Fertilized shrimp eggs rather large (about 1 mm in diameter) and look yellow or green in color. A transparent, ribbon-like membrane binds the eggs to the female’s swimmerets, and she uses the rear ones to fan the eggs, clean off any bacteria or fungus, and increase oxygen flow. Depending on the temperature of the water, the eggs may hatch anywhere from 15 to 35 days. Other sources say 2 to 3 weeks, so that’s a pretty wide range. The closer the eggs get to maturity, you may notice little black dots in the eggs, which are the baby shrimps’ eyes.

female berried shrimp - Neocaridina davidi

What do Baby Cherry Shrimp Look Like?

When they’re ready to come out, the mom will help the baby by kicking at the egg, so it almost looks like the hatchling flies out like popcorn. Unlike other types of shrimp, Neocaridina shrimp lack a larval stage, so the babies look like itty-bitty, clear versions of the adult shrimp, about 2 mm in length and less than 1 mm in height.

The hatchlings aren’t very mobile at this point since their swimming appendages don’t work properly yet, so they’ll basically latch on to the first thing they find and then try to hide among the rocks and plants as they graze on biofilm. (Pro tip: consider adding plenty of hiding spots and feeding a powdered baby shrimp food to supplement the biofilm.) So don’t worry if your female suddenly “loses” her eggs; most likely the babies are just hiding for the first 3-4 days.

newly hatched red cherry shrimp

How Many Babies Can Each Female Shrimp Make?

Each berried female usually produces about 21-51 babies per batch, supposedly on the higher side if the female is larger, probably because she can produce and hold more eggs.

How Long Does It Take for Cherry Shrimp to Reach Sexual Maturity?

I’ve heard anywhere from 2.5 months (when scientists kept them at 80°F or 27°C), all the way to four to six months. As I mentioned before, the female will be a little less than 1” in length (2.3 cm) and the male will be maybe two-thirds to three-quarters of an inch (a little less than 2 cm).

What is the Life Span of Cherry Shrimp?

In general, the expected total lifespan of cherry shrimp is 1-2 years. I’ve noticed that my oldest, largest females do not tend to carry eggs very often compared to my younger, smaller females. (Pro tip: don’t buy the biggest shrimp you see because they may be too old to breed.)

If you really want to up your shrimp breeding game, check out my other shrimp breeding tutorials. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you in the next post!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

How to Fight Aquarium Algae in 11 Easy Steps

Don’t you hate having to constantly battle algae? Keep watching for an easy, step-by-step maintenance routine to getting rid of algae and preventing it from coming back!

Note: this is just a starting point to help beginners who need general, actionable advice on how to begin tackling their algae problems. Every aquarium is different, so in a future video, I'll cover the longer process of how to balance and fine-tune a planted tank's parameters.

Top 5 Tips for Beating ALGAE in Your Fish Tank!
Algae in the planted aquarium - Systems design and control
Aquarium Plant Deficiency Diagram

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Why I Rarely Post on Aquarium Facebook Groups

It’s a harsh world out there for new fish keepers. 😲 Hope you enjoy my second comedy sketch for the “Fish Room Lolz” series! (True story: for the longest time, I was afraid of telling anyone online the size of my aquariums.)

Other Fishy Skits
New aquarium hobbyists be like
Goldfish experts be like
4 Stages of New Fish Keepers

Question of the Day

What are some good ways to help and encourage beginners in the fish keeping hobby? Comment below to share your ideas because I’d love to hear them. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you next time!

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for practical fish care tips for busy aquarists and follow me on Instagram for more updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟

Saturday, June 1, 2019

4 Easy Setups for a 20-Gallon Aquarium

You know the saying, “bigger is better”? Well, some of us don’t have the space to keep a huge aquarium or tons of tanks. Keep reading for some creative aquarium setup ideas if you’re constrained to a maximum of 20 gallons like me.

I currently own 3 “nano tanks” – the biggest of which only holds 20 gallons. In my family, my husband Mr. Gamer is a collector of All. Sorts. Of. Things. And I’m more of a minimalist, so I don’t really have the space or even desire to get a larger aquarium right now. However, that means I’ve had to get pretty creative when it comes to optimizing the enjoyment I get from my 20-gallon tank. Like many of you, I get bored with my setups. I want to try new fish, new plants, new equipment… but I’m limited to the same size glass box. So here are four different ideas of what I’ve kept in a 20-gallon tank over the years – the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Tank Setup #1: Community Tank for Beginners

My first setup was a basic community tank inspired by the beautiful aquascapes I saw on Pinterest. It used natural-looking fake plants from PetSmart and black gravel, which was eventually replaced with black sand. For stocking, we've got albino cory catfish as bottom dwellers, neon tetras in the middle, and then marbled hatchetfish up top. The hatchetfish promptly died of ich, which is when I learned the importance of quarantine.

So I replaced them with another top level swimmer, furcatus or forktail rainbowfish. Very lively and entertaining, but I didn’t realize that smaller Pseudomugil rainbowfish tend to have shorter lifespans. The centerpiece fish was a German blue ram, which eventually died because they like hotter temperatures above 80°F. Other centerpiece fish I kept at various times included a honey gourami and a male betta fish, who did surprisingly well in a community tank and actually stopped biting his tail once he had other tankmates to distract him.

20-gallon beginner fish tank with natural looking fake plants

This tank crashed because of improper quarantine that introduced a fast-killing disease called columnaris. Awesome. I’ll make an article on treating columnaris in the future, but by the time I figured out what it was, almost everything had died.

Tank Setup #2: Axolotl Aquarium

I seriously wanted to rage quit the hobby at this point. All that time and money poured into this aquarium obsession, and I was left emotionally drained. This is when I left the fish world and took my detour into keeping axolotls. Still kept the same fake plant decor, but had a totally new set of challenges with keeping the water cold and clean enough. After my experiences, I would recommend only keeping one adult axolotl in a 20-gallon tank because of their heavy bioload, and even then, a 20 gallon long aquarium is preferred. But, if you’re looking for an unusual underwater alternative to fish, give axolotls a try because they’re super cool and very derpy.

20-gallon axolotl aquarium

Tank Setup #3: Planted Tank for Beginners

After my axolotls passed away, I took another long break before starting tank setup #3 – the beginner planted aquarium! The decorations consisted of seiryu stone and spiderwood as the hardscape, as well as easy live aquarium plants like anubias and java fern. No more collectoritis for me – this tank focused on three fish species: a school of albino cory catfish, a school of green neon tetras, and a honey gourami as the centerpiece (plus some amano shrimp as the algae clean-up crew). If you’re looking for fun breeding projects that aren’t livebearers, the cory catfish and honey gouramis were both fairly easy to breed, and I quickly grew the number of fish I owned.

20-gallon beginner planted aquarium

After a year with this setup, I was ready to try something new! Got my first-time experience selling fish and plants at my local club auction, which was really exciting and I was happy to see them go to other hobbyists who will take care of them.

Tank Setup #4: "Shy Guys" Jungle Tank

Today I’m currently on setup #4 with this 20-gallon aquarium – the Shy Guys jungle tank. I’ll go into more detail in future posts on my plant selection and stocking choices, but given my struggles with algae in a tank full of slow-growing plants like anubias, I wanted to try creating a more heavily planted jungle-style aquarium using some faster-growing, beginner plants. I also deliberately chose fish and invertebrates that are all considered super shy (hence the “Shy Guys” theme) because there are certain species I’ve always wanted to try but I heard they hide all the time. So what would happen if I got a whole aquarium of timid creatures? Hmm…

20-gallon jungle style planted tank

In the future, I have many more plans for this tank. I’d like to do more breeding projects, or perhaps keep some coldwater fish, or maybe once this tank is really established and good at growing plants – try to do a planted axolotl tank? I’m kind of torn since axolotls can live a really long time, so I don’t want to get one until I’ve kept some of my bucket list nano fish… or until I’m able to get another tank. ğŸ˜‰

Question of the Day

Let me know in the comments below what aquarium themes or stocking ideas you would recommend trying in a 20-gallon tank. As always, take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you in the next post!

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for practical fish care tips for busy aquarists and follow me on Instagram for more updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟

Saturday, May 18, 2019

The Top Fish to Avoid in a Planted Aquarium

Don’t you hate it when you’ve got beautifully planted tank and your brand-new fish demolishes everything? Keep watching to find out who made it on my list of notorious plant destroyers that you should avoid.

I’ve spent the better part of this year researching the perfect plants, hunting them down, and then carefully nurturing them in a 20-gallon aquarium. After months of growing without interference, it’s now time to add fish. But the last thing I want to do is accidentally add some creature that would turn this lush jungle into a deserted wasteland. I know saltwater fish are usually labeled as “reef safe” or not. So why don’t they do that with freshwater fish and plants? I did a little digging on the Internet and came up with three categories of fish: those that are definitely dangerous to plants, those that might be a little risky, and those that I heard a rumor from a friend of a friend about. So, don’t forget to comment below with any fish or invertebrates you’d add to the list.

The Chronic Offenders

  • Silver dollar fish
  • Monos and scats (brackish water)
  • Buenos Aires tetras
  • Goldfish and koi
  • Many types of African or larger cichlids (e.g., mbunas, uaru cichlids, flowerhorns, oscars)
  • Monster fish in general (e.g. stingrays, large catfish and plecos, pacus)
  • Larger crayfish
Buenos Aires tetras
Buenos Aires tetras (source)

There are many articles that suggest "goldfish-safe" or "cichlid-safe" plants, such as:
  • Anubias, java fern and java moss that can be attached to rocks to avoid uprooting
  • Fast growing vallisneria or hornwort
  • Large potted plants like an Amazon sword
  • Certain floating plants or plants that grow above water like pothos
Planted tank with albino cory catfish, java fern, and anubias
Java fern and anubias attached to hardscape

The Casual Snackers

  • Mollies
  • Florida flagfish
  • Larger gouramis
  • Bristlenose plecos (specifically likes Amazon swords)
Orange balloon molly fish
Balloon molly fish

The Rumored Bad Boys

  • A bala shark tore up carpeting plants
  • Siamese algae eaters mowed down newly planted vallisneria
  • Larger snails such as black devil snails (Faunus ater), Columbian ramshorn snails (Marisa cornuarietis), Sulawesi rabbit snail (Tylomelania gemmifera), and some of the largest species of apple snails (Pomacea canaliculata)
Orange rabbit snail
Sulawesi rabbit snail (source)

Thankfully, none of the fish I got for this community tank are on this list so I think I’m safe for now. Honestly, the greatest danger to my plants is my own black thumb, so ya’ll can be praying for me. 😉

Question of the Day

What fish or inverts would you add to this list? Comment below to share your experiences because I’d love to hear them. Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you next time!

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for practical fish care tips for busy aquarists and follow me on Instagram for more updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟

Saturday, May 11, 2019

How to Protect Your Fish from Heater Failure

Have you heard horror stories of aquarium heaters malfunctioning and frying an entire tank of fish? It’s happened to me before, so today I’m going to talk about heater controllers and whether or not they’re worth using.

Back when I was a beginner, I made the poor decision to buy a batch of used aquarium heaters. Gonna cut to the chase and recommend you never do that. Sure they’re only $5 a piece, but you don’t know how old they are, if the previous owner properly waited 30 minutes before turning it on, if they turned it off during water changes, etc. I had set up a quarantine tank with one of these used heaters and a few days later my husband Mr. Gamer noticed condensation and rust forming inside the glass heater tube. Oh no! Never again...

I currently use Aqueon Pro and Fluval LCD heaters, and they’ve been working well for me so far. However, I found out that many aquarium heaters, no matter how good, tend to eventually die. Now there’s several ways it can fail:
  • It can just stop working and the water gets colder and colder, freezing your fish. 
  • It can stick on and get hotter and hotter until your fish cook to death. 
  • The heater itself can crack and leak toxic compounds into the tank, which is what happened to the King of DIY’s poor freshwater stingrays.
Some people solve this problem by entirely removing all heaters from their aquariums and just heating their entire fish room. That’s not going to work for our family because my tanks are scattered throughout our home and my husband likes to keep the house cold. So, I need to use heaters, but I’d like to minimize the effects of failure if at all possible.

What is a Temperature Controller?

A temperature controller is an extra layer of protection to help maintain proper temperature in your aquarium. How it works is you plug your heater into the controller, plug the controller into the wall outlet, and set the temperature you want the controller to maintain. If your water ever gets too hot, the controller kills the power to the heater, thus preventing it from overheating.

how an aquarium heater controller works
A temperature controller kills the power to the aquarium heater if the water gets too hot.

Yes, if you have an adjustable heater, it’ll have its own internal thermostat to maintain the temperature, but the controller’s thermostat and sensor are supposedly more accurate and having a second thermostat provides an extra safety net. When I looked on Amazon and fish forums, InkBird seemed to be the most popular brand. After reading some reviews, I got the basic ITC-308 model, which comes with one outlet for a heater and one outlet for cooling with a fan or chiller. InkBird also sent me a free ITC-306T (their new dual timer controller) to review, so I’m going to cover the features/differences between the two timers, how to set them up, and then give an honest assessment of what I really think of these InkBird controllers and whether or not they’re necessary.

Features of ITC-308 vs. ITC-306T

Okay, let’s start with the ITC-308 I bought for myself last year. It comes with this display unit, a temperature probe, the two outlets for heating and cooling, and a plug. My favorite feature is that it has alarms for when the temperature is too high or low.

features of the InkBird ITC-308 temperature controller

The new ITC-306T is different because it has two outlets for heating and you can set the heater to hit two different temperatures throughout the day – like a daytime and nighttime mode. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a temperature alarm you can set, which I was surprised to find out.

features of InkBird ITC-306T temperature controller

If you'd like to see how to set them up, view the video above for step-by-step instructions.

Review of InkBird Temperature Controllers

Well, I just got the ITC-306T for review, but I personally wouldn’t get it because I have no need for temperature changes throughout the day. I’m guessing certain reptiles or other pets like distinct daytime and nighttime temperatures. Or maybe if you wanted to make the fish or shrimp you breed hardier and more adaptable to a wide range of temperatures, you could use this. However, the lack of adjustable temperature alarms was a no-go for me.

As for the original ITC-308 I bought, I’m going to be honest and let you know that about 6 months after I set it up, the temperature reading started climbing and climbing to over 100°F, even though my digital thermometer said the water was still at 78°F. I went to InkBird’s website, found out they have a 1-year warranty, and emailed them. The customer rep immediately responded and helped me troubleshoot the issue, told me I had a faulty temperature probe, and sent me a brand-new unit via that arrived two days later. Didn’t have to return the old controller or wait two months for the new one to ship from China or anything.

Final Thoughts: Should You Get a Heater Controller?

I still think it’s worth it to get a temperature controller for any display aquariums or special fish you really care about, just as extra protection against overheating. But for all my other tanks, I’ve started using an industrial digital thermometer by General Tools because it’s very reliable compared to the cheap Zoo Med ones and it has high and low alarm settings that you can program. It won't save your tank from overheating if you're not home, but it’s definitely saved my fish a few times when I forgot to turn on the heater after a water change.

General Tools digital thermometer for fish tanks

If you like the idea of a heater controller and aren’t afraid of DIY projects, the King of DIY has a popular tutorial on how to make your own. Also, huge thanks to Hannah Horinek for being the latest supporter on my Patreon! Take time to enjoy your aquariums and I’ll see you in the next video.

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel for practical fish care tips for busy aquarists and follow me on Instagram for more updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟