Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Ultimate Gift Guide for Aquarium Hobbyists



When it comes to Christmas or birthday gifts, fish keepers are a pain to shop for. The last thing you want is for a well-meaning friend or family member to buy you fish sight unseen! Here’s my list of top 10 gift ideas for aquarium lovers, but let me know in the comments if you think I’m missing something.

#10 Gift Cards

It's always safe to get someone a gift card to their favorite pet store, fish store, or online store. You can also give them straight up cash or take them on a shopping trip.
Petco gift card
Aquarium Co-Op card

#9 Experiences

Instead of a physical item, how about an experience? Offer to pay for their membership at the local aquarium society or take the to the aquarium or zoo. If there's an aquarium convention nearby, get them tickets so they can meet vendors and other fish lovers.
Aquashella
Aquatic Experience
Aquatic Gardeners Association
American Livebearer Association

Rachel O'leary book

#8 Reading Materials

Got someone who likes to read? Maybe they'd appreciate a magazine subscription. I get the Aquarium Hobbyist Magazine for free through my aquarium society, so I'd apppreciate a nice reference book, like Rachel O'leary's nano species book or Dennerle's aquascaping guide.
AMAZONAS magazine
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
Practical Fishkeeping
Aquarium Hobbyist Magazine
The 101 Best Freshwater Nano Species
Dennerle Aquascaping Guide

#7 Gadgets

Who doesn't love a good gadget? Below are some ideas that range all the way from a small algae scraper as a stocking stuffer to the big, "I'm feeling very generous" PAR meter.
Python water change system
Automatic fish feeder
Magnetic algae scraper
TDS meter
PAR meter

Heater controller for aquariums

#6 "Just in Case" Stuff

These are items that are always good to have around in case of an emergency – necessary but often forgotten.
Heater controller
UPS battery backup (do your research first!)
Digital thermometer
Emergency supplies

#5 Medications

Speaking of "just in case," medications are always good to have around. Aquarium Co-Op recommends the medication trio that's a good broad-spectrum treatment for quarantine and illnesses.
General Cure
Erythromycin
Ich-X

Net breeder

#4 Fish Breeding

Looking to get into some breeding projects this year? Here are some fun items that will make your life easier when raising new babies.
Brine shrimp hatchery
Breeder basket
Egg tumbler
Sponge filter
Check valve
Air pump

#3 Aquarium Plants

Aquascaping an aquarium with live plants and hardscape is so fun and rewarding, so check out these basic tools that will help you get started.
Aquascaping tools set
Fertilizer
Planted tank substrate

Socks with fish on them

#2 Knick-Knacks

There's no better way to declare your love of aquariums than by owning fish-themed accessories, artwork, and toys. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Socks
Mug
Artwork or photography
Stuffed animals
Shirts

#1 Just Ask 😊

I have to admit, I hate shopping so I usually ask everyone around Thanksgiving what they want for Christmas. That way everyone gets what they want and I can spend less time wandering the aisles of Target or the mall.

Question of the Day

What would you add to my ultimate gift guide for fish keepers? Comment below to let me know what you think. Don’t forget to 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 daily updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Confessions of a Pet Store Employee (feat. Fish for Thought)



Ever wonder what it’s like to work at a pet store and help new fish keepers? Check out my interview with Chris Wang, host of the funny and educational YouTube channel “Fish for Thought,” about life as a pet store employee. Topics include great advice for beginners, bulletproof aquarium setups, funny stories that happened at the story, and the difference between Canadian vs. American fish keeping. Afterwards, don’t forget to check out the collab video I did for his channel on honey gourami care, linked below:

My “Honey Gourami Care” collab video on Chris’ channel
Fish for Thought channel
Chris’ Instagram

Question of the Day

Have you ever wanted to work at a fish or pet store? Do you think you’d be good at educating new fish keepers? Comment below to share your thoughts because I’d love to hear them. Don’t forget to 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 daily updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

How to Survive an Aquarium Power Outage



Happy Halloween! I just went through a scary power outage this week and, boy, there’s nothing like the real deal to kick your aquarium emergency preparedness into gear. Find out what you should do with your aquariums when the power goes out (and whether or not my fish survived…💀). Topics include:

▶ Equipment needed for aquarium emergency preparedness
▶ Instructions for surviving a power outage
▶ Mistakes I made and lessons learned

Materials I Used


Related Links


Question of the Day

How do you prepare for your aquariums in case of a power outage? Comment below to share your experiences because I’d love to hear them. Don’t forget to 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 daily updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Do Axolotls Need Salt? | How to Make Holtfreter’s Solution and Other Salt Recipes



Do axolotls need brackish water? Then why do axolotl websites always talk about Holtfreter’s Solution and other salt recipes? And why is it so hard to make them? In this article, I cover:
  • Recommended pH, GH, KH, and salinity levels for axolotls
  • Easy recipes for making Holtfreter’s, Modified Holtfreter’s, and John’s Solution (found on axolotl.org)
  • The effect that salt solutions and aquarium salt have on pH, water hardness, and salinity

Recommended Water Hardness for Axolotls

First off, let's examine the axolotls' natural habitat. They come from high altitude freshwater lakes in Mexico City, but there’s not a lot of info how on what the water quality used to be like because nowadays the large lakes have been reduced to narrow canals and have been affected by pollution and runoff.

historical lakes where wild axolotls live near Mexico City
Comparison of axolotl habitat in 1500's versus 2000's (modified from Places Journal)

However, I did find a veterinary article titled Water Quality Explained: How It Can Affect Your Axolotl's Health written by Dr. Loh saying axolotls prefer a pH of 6.5 to 8.0 (ideally from 7.4 to 7.6). In other words, they like alkaline, or slightly basic, water.

GH (or general hardness) is usually what people mean when they say their water is hard or soft. Since the axolotl's natural environment is supplied from springs and mountain snow melt, the water picks up a lot of minerals, making it moderately-hard ranging from 7° to 14° GH.

general hardness GH chart for aquariums

KH (or carbonate hardness) is the measurement of your water’s buffering capacity or ability to keep the pH stable as acids and bases are added, so you generally don’t want it to be too low. According to Dr. Loh, axolotls need 3° to 8° KH.

As for salinity, Dr. Loh says it should be 0 g/L with a maximum of 15 g/L. So there you have it. It sounds like axolotls can live in low brackish waters, but freshwater is ideal.

How to Make Salt Solutions for Axolotls


Simplifying the Salt Recipes

If you look at the existing recipes for making salt solutions for axolotls, they're usually a little difficult to recreate because they're written in grams and require the usage of scientific scales (which most hobbyists don't own). Using a scale is a lot more accurate than using measuring cups and spoons, but after researching and recreating the salt solutions myself, I found that approximations using teaspoons (tsp), tablespoons (Tbsp), and cups (c) are sufficient for getting the proper salt ratios and buffering the water hardness levels. So with the help of a paper called Mass-Volume Equivalents of Common Chemical Solids, I converted all the recipes from grams into measuring spoon units for you.

The salt recipes on axolotl.org are also written for 100% concentration. However, typically we use a 40% concentration for axolotls and a 20% concentration for axolotl embryos. So I created the recipes to make a 40% concentration for the majority of use cases.

Recipe 1: Holtfreter's Solution

Materials
calcium chloride
Calcium chloride


Instructions
  1. Treat the 1 gallon of water with dechlorinator before using.
  2. Pour some of the water in a large cup and mix in the calcium chloride first (as recommended by OceanBlue on Caudata.org). Pour the dissolved calcium chloride solution into the water jug.
  3. Combine the rest of the dry components (i.e., table salt, potassium chloride, and baking soda) in a small bowl.
  4. Dissolve some of the dry components with some water in a cup, and pour the solution into the jug.
  5. Repeat Step 3 until all of the dry components have been dissolved. Pour the rest of the 1 gallon of water into the jug.
  6. Close the lid of the jug and shake the solution very well before using. Add 1 c of salt solution into the aquarium for every 5 gallons of aquarium water to get a 40% concentration (or use 1/2 c of salt solution per 5 gallons of water for a 20% concentration). Make sure the aquarium is not filled to the brim or else adding the solution may cause it to overflow.

Recipe 2: Modified Holtfreter's Solution

Materials
Epsom salt
Epsom salt

  • 1.5 tsp calcium chloride
  • 1.5 c non-iodized table salt
  • 4 tsp potassium chloride
  • 3 Tbsp Epsom salt
  • 1 gallon of dechlorinated water
  • 2- to 3-gallon water jug or dispenser

Instructions
  1. Treat the 1 gallon of water with dechlorinator before using.
  2. Pour some of the water in a large cup and mix in the calcium chloride first. Pour the dissolved calcium chloride solution into the water jug.
  3. Combine the rest of the dry components (i.e., table salt, potassium chloride, and Epsom salt) in a small bowl.
  4. Dissolve some of the dry components with some water in a cup, and pour the solution into the jug.
  5. Repeat Step 3 until all of the dry components have been dissolved. Pour the rest of the 1 gallon of water into the jug.
  6. Close the lid of the jug and shake the solution very well before using. Add 1 c of salt solution into the aquarium for every 5 gallons of aquarium water to get a 40% concentration (or use 1/2 c of salt solution per 5 gallons of water for a 20% concentration). Make sure the aquarium is not filled to the brim or else adding the solution may cause it to overflow.

Recipe 3: John's Solution

Materials
water dispenser
Water dispenser

  • 6 Tbsp + 2 tsp non-iodized table salt
  • 2.5 tsp baking soda
  • 3.5 tsp Epsom salt
  • 1 gallon of dechlorinated water
  • 2- to 3-gallon water jug or dispenser

Instructions
  1. Treat the 1 gallon of water with dechlorinator before using.
  2. Combine all the dry components (i.e., table salt, baking soda, and Epsom salt) in a small bowl.
  3. Dissolve some of the dry components with some water in a large cup, and pour the solution into the jug.
  4. Repeat Step 3 until all of the dry components have been dissolved. Pour the rest of the 1 gallon of water into the jug.
  5. Close the lid of the jug and shake the solution very well before using. Add 1 c of salt solution into the aquarium for every 5 gallons of aquarium water to get a 40% concentration (or use 1/2 c of salt solution per 5 gallons of water for a 20% concentration). Make sure the aquarium is not filled to the brim or else adding the solution may cause it to overflow.

Recipe 4: Aquarium Salt Solution

Materials: aquarium salt


Instructions
  1. Follow the instructions on the aquarium salt container. For the API brand, it said to use 1 rounded Tbsp of salt per 5 gallons of aquarium water.
  2. Dissolve the salt in a cup of dechlorinated water first and pour into the tank.

Results: Effect of Salt Solutions on Water Hardness


Effect of Salt Solutions on Aquarium Water Hardness for Axolotls and Aquatic Salamanders

After creating the solutions and adding them to 5 gallons of distilled water, I measured their pH, GH, KH, and salinity. Tools I used included the pH test kit, high range pH test kit, GH and KH test kit, and a refractometer. Here are the main effects of the salt recipes I tested had:
  • Baking soda in Holtfeter’s solution raises KH and PH in distilled water.
  • Epsom salt in Modified Holtfeter’s Solution raises GH.
  • John’s solution had both baking soda and Epsom salt, which raised the pH and then increased the GH and KH by a little bit.
  • Aquarium salt did nothing noticeable
  • Salinity didn’t budge with any of the solutions! Even all that NaCl wasn’t salty enough to be measured by the refractometer.

My tap water actually has 8 pH and 3° GH and KH. It meets the lower limit of KH but is way below the recommended GH, so if I was going to use a salt recipe, I’d go for the Modified Holtfreter’s Solution that uses Epsom salt and doesn’t affect pH. Or I'd use John's solution but increase the Epsom salt to 3 Tbsp like the Modified Holtfreter's recipe.

Conclusion: Is It Worth It?

So would I add dissolved salts to my axolotl tank? Mmm… maybe? Developmental Biology of the Axolotl is the definitive textbook on axolotls, and it says on page 223:
Even though axolotls are freshwater amphibians, many laboratories find that they thrive best in a dilute saline solution [such as the Modified Holtfreter's solution that they use]... The saline seems to reduce fungal and bacterial growth, and the animals seem healthier than in straight tap water.
However, remember that the laboratory environments change 100% of the axolotls' water everyday, whereas the average axolotl hobbyist (like me) rarely does 100% water changes. So I’d be mainly concerned about keeping consistent levels of pH, GH, and KH every time I do a partial water change.

Plus, I use evaporative cooling to cool my axolotl tank, which means the mineral concentration would constantly keep creeping up as the water evaporates. In order to maintain the correct mineral levels, I’d have to keep buying and topping off the tank with distilled water (or buy an RO/DI unit to make my own purified water). Constantly fluctuating water parameters is very stressful for animals, which can cause a weakened immune system and health issues in the long run.

There are other methods of increasing your GH and KH without constantly having to dose buffering solutions. You can use limestone or put a bag of crushed coral in your filter, but cichlid keepers have more experience in this area than me so check out some of their forums.

Question of the Day

Do you use salt with or buffer your axolotl’s water? Comment below to share your experiences. To learn more about axolotl care, check the short playlist I’ve put together for you. Don’t forget to 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 daily updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟




Saturday, October 20, 2018

Confessions of a Fish Club Youth Outreach Director



How do we encourage more kids to join the fish keeping hobby? Check out my insightful interview with Lily Hwang, the 17-year-old Director of Youth Outreach for the Colorado Aquarium Society (CAS), as she unpacks the keys to reaching the next generation of aquarists. Topics include:

▶ How did you become youth outreach director of an aquarium society?
▶ How can fish clubs accommodate the needs and interests of youth?
▶ As a student, how do you fund your hobby and keep up with aquarium maintenance?
▶ Why should fish keepers join a fish club when there's so much online information?

Related Links

More videos from the "Confessions of an Aquarium Addict" series
Colorado Aquarium Society
CAS Instagram
CAS Facebook

Question of the Day

What got you into the fish keeping hobby? Comment below to share your experiences because I'd love to hear them. Don't forget to enjoy your aquarium 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 daily updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Fish Club Auction: How to Bid Like a Boss



So you want to participate in your first fish club auction, buuut you’ve never been to one before and have no idea what you’re doing. Keep reading to find out how to bid like a boss and win big at your next auction.

While I may look confident in my videos, I’m actually a huge introvert and I definitely get nervous about participating in auctions. Just to let you know, I’m not a huge spender who’s constantly collecting new fish and supplies, especially since I only have room for 3 tanks in my house. But auctions can offer amazing deals or rare species you’ll never find online. And another huge advantage is that sellers bring fish and plants that have been living in my local water parameters and therefore have a better chance of thriving in my aquariums.

My problem is that auctions move at a very fast pace and I don’t want to accidentally do something wrong, make a big scene, and slow down the bidding process for everyone. Plus, uh, no one seems to notice me when I raise my hand. ğŸ˜ž

Fall auction for Colorado Aquarium Society

Now our huge bi-annual fall auction is coming up and I want to be able to win some stuff and not get lost among the larger-than-normal crowds. One of our fish club auctioneers gave us this piece of advice:
“The myth of the auction is that skillful bidding or special strategy will get you the deal of the century. It seems obvious but if you really want an item, you have to bid higher than everybody else’s bids. That’s the only strategy that gets you that item.
Okay, got it. So I started watching others more carefully during the mini-auctions we hold at the end of each fish club meeting, and then eventually gained enough confidence to start selling and buying myself. Here are some practices I follow:

People examining sale items before aquarium society auction
People crowded around the sale item table before the auction begins

1) Examine: Most fish clubs will let you examine the items before the auction or even online if they use an auction website. Definitely check out the items carefully because sometimes those red cherry shrimp for sale aren't very, uh, red.

2) Research: Once you’ve decided which items you’re interested in, pull out your smartphone and find out how much the items cost online including shipping. This will help you determine what your upper limit is. For example, I saw some alternanthera reineckii that cost $9-10 online, plus $5-8 for shipping. So I decided to set my upper limit at $15 because I really wanted it.

Alternanthera reineckii for sale at aquarium society auction
Look at that crazy red-pink color! Must have it...

3) Location: Try to score a seat near the middle front of the room so the auctioneer can easily see you. (Or at the very least, don't sit behind someone tall.)

4) First Comes First: When your item gets called, shoot up your hand (or bid card) as fast as you can, like a game show. You want to be the first person the auctioneer spots and calls on.

5) Don't Waffle: Don't keep dipping your hand down between bids. Keep your hand raised confidently until it surpasses your predetermined budget. Generally the bidding will slow down around the market value, so don’t give up.

6) Next in Line: Also, usually the auctioneer will focus on the first two bidders until one gives up, and then he or she will look for a third bidder to jump in. So if the auctioneer didn’t select you initially and bidding is slowing down, wave your hand high and vigorously. You can even stand up or say something to catch the auctioneer's attention because if he or she doesn’t notice you, the bidding will end without your input.

Fiddler crabs for sale at local aquarium society auction
Fiddler crabs for sale at the fall auction

Bonus Tip: Sit with an experienced fish club member and ask them to help you bid the first few times. It'll be good practice to shadow them until you're ready to fly solo.

If you check out the video above, I go through three real-world bidding situations and you can see why I was intimidated by auctions at first. But there’s a certain rhythm to every sale and eventually you get used to it. Since I took that footage, I’ve sold a Windelov java fern and ended up bonding with the woman who bought it. Plus I did get that alternanthera reineckii for $9 (which is significantly less than my $15 limit) and it’s growing beautifully in my planted betta tank!


Question of the Day

Do you have any tips for bidding at fish club auctions Comment below to share your experiences because I’d love to hear them. Also, if you'd like to learn more about how local fish clubs work and why you should join, check out my interview with the Colorado Aquarium Society president. Don’t forget to 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 daily updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟

Saturday, October 6, 2018

How to Install a Sponge Filter + 3 Bonus Tips



Okay, you just got your first sponge filter, and even though it’s supposed to be stupid easy, you have no idea how to put this thing together. No worries – here are easy, step-by-step instructions for installing a sponge filter, plus 3 bonus tips that’ll make it run as smoothly and quietly as possible.

I’ve been prepping for my next breeding project (shhh) and needed a new sponge filter for the fry tank, so I decided to put together a quick tutorial for you. Sponge filters are a great low flow option for baby fish, bettas, and axolotls. Plus, they’re one of the easiest and cheapest filters to set up and maintain. 👍

Materials

Before you start, you're going to need:
Materials needed for sponge filter installation

Instructions

Step #1: First you’re going to take apart the sponge filter. You should have a lift tube, the foam sponge, and a weighted base at the bottom. Inside the sponge is a strainer and the bullseye top of the strainer.

Hydro sponge filter strainer and bulls eye
Source: yourfishstuff.com

Step #2: My first bonus tip is that I always recommend adding an airstone to the inside of the sponge filter. It makes the bubbles smaller and a lot quieter, so it doesn’t sound like you’re making a witch’s brew all the time. The strainer for the large Hydro sponge in my main tank is completely hollow, so it was easy to add the airstone. But the strainer for my small Aquatop sponge filter has spokes in the middle, so I just cut them off.

My second bonus trick is that there’s actually two ways to connect the airstone:
  • Method #1 is to cut off a little airline tubing to connect the airstone to the bottom of the bullseye. Make sure the tubing is long enough so that the airstone will rest at the bottom of the strainer. Then take the rest of the airline tubing, put one end through the lift tube, and attach it to the top of the bullseye.

  • Method #2 is what I use when the strainer is really short and can barely fit the airstone. I completely bypass the nipple in the center of the bullseye by pulling one end the airline tubing through the lift tube, threading it through the spokes of the bullseye, and then connecting it directly to the airstone. Performs exactly the same and visually you can’t tell a difference.

Step #3: Now you can reassemble the rest of the sponge filter. Insert the strainer inside the sponge and attach the weighted base to the bottom of the strainer. Then connect the lift tube onto the top of the bullseye. At this point the sponge filter should be attached to long roll of airline tubing.

Step #4: Place the sponge filter into the aquarium and squeeze it several times to get rid of most of the bubbles. It should sink immediately, but even if it doesn’t, eventually it will get water logged enough that it stays down.

Squeezing a new sponge filter several times to make it lose the bubbles

Step #5: Now we’re going to install the air pump. Put the air pump where you intend it to stay and then cut the airline tubing so that it’s long enough to connect the sponge filter to the pump. Now you can connect newly cut end of the airline tubing to the nozzle on the air pump. My third bonus tip is to place the pump on a small hand towel to absorb some of the vibrations and lessen the noise level.

Step #6: If the air pump is below the sponge, you have one extra step of adding a check valve to prevent water from siphoning out the tank if the power is out. You’re going to cut the airline tubing a few inches outside of the aquarium (so that it’s closer to the sponge filter) and then connect the check valve in between. The banded side of the check valve goes toward the pump. You’ll know if you installed it backwards because no air will reach the sponge filter.

The proper direction to install an aquarium check valve for a sponge filter

Step #7: The last step is to plug in the pump. Make sure there’s a drip loop in the power cable such that the cable dips down lower than the plug so that no water can reach the outlet.

And voila, you should have a plethora of bubbles floating to the surface, clearing your water of particulates and disrupting any surface scum. Plus, your beneficial bacteria will have a nice, new apartment complex to move into and breed like crazy.

Seeding a new sponge filter with beneficial bacterial from an established tank
New small sponge filter getting seeded with beneficial bacteria from an established tank

Question of the Day

Do you use air stones with your sponge filters? Comment below to share your experiences because I’d love to hear them. Don’t forget to 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 daily updates! ğŸŽ®❤️🐟