I have a real problem with pulsing Xenia in my tank. I constantly cut it off and ensure everything comes out but it just grows back. It is now starting to affect my SPS corals and clam. Is there a way to get rid of it that won’t involve stripping the tank down? The only thing it won’t grow up against is my Palythoa colony which seems to burn it back. Help!
Pulsing Xenia can look fabulous, but at the same time it can become invasive, attaining weed-like status in many aquariums. It can shade out other sessile invertebrates and outcompete them for space, but studies have shown that xeniids also emit toxic (‘allelopathic’) chemicals which can harm neighbouring corals. Unfortunately, controlling it can be difficult, although it’s possible to confine it to specific areas of the aquarium (at least to a certain extent) by keeping it on isolated rocks away from other invertebrates. This can help curtail its spread throughout the aquarium. Biological control is hit-or-miss at best, and chemical control can work, but it runs the risk of polluting the aquarium as the Xenia dies off, so physical control is the best approach.
As far as removing the existing Xenia, bear in mind that they’re very good at regenerating from even the tiniest fragment left behind. Therefore, simply cutting them off at the base, or even scrubbing them off the rocks can leave tissue behind, allowing them to regrow.
Where possible and practical, look into completely removing the worst-affected rocks and trade these with other aquarists or your local fish shop (someone will actually want them!).
Otherwise, you’ll need to temporarily remove the rocks and physically remove the entire colony before replacing them. This means either chiselling or snipping away at the rock on which the Xenia is growing with a suitable tool (avoid getting any oil in the water from the tools, and wash them straight after use). On rocks that you can’t lift out of the water, this will be trickier, but it can still be done. Xenia that’s growing on the glass can be simply scraped off with a credit card or metal blade, but do this whilst syphoning at the same time to remove the animal.
A complementary approach is to try and limit nutrients. Xenia don’t actually feed (they don’t have a functional gut or mouthparts), but they can take up nutrients directly from the water, so elevated phosphate and nitrate could encourage their growth. Having said that, some folks with pristine aquarium water still find Xenia a problem, but this is certainly worth looking into all the same. Ensure mechanical and chemical filtration (activated carbon and phosphate-adsorbing media) are working effectively, and the protein skimmer is suitably adjusted to pull out maximum organics from the water.
My air pump is very noisy and non-fishkeeping family members are complaining. How can I make it quieter? It has a really annoying rattle and hum noise, which is upsetting the peace of my aquarium.
MATT FLYNN, EMAIL
Some air pumps are quieter than others so that may be the first factor. The second is the power of the pump. Larger air pumps generally make noise than smaller ones.
What airline are you using? Clear PVC 6mm airline is the most common although it can get brittle over time, causing rattling if it touches and vibrates against a cabinet wall. It also becomes stiffer, causing your pump to ‘walk’ across a space until it hits a cabinet wall and itself cause lots of noise and vibration. If using PVC, swap for soft silicone airline.
Non-return valves cause back pressure and noise, but you definitely need these. Some are more supple than others though, which I test by blowing through them to see which one allows airflow the easiest. Try new airline and a new valve, and check that the air filter pad isn’t blocked or restricted.
Where the pump is situated can also be a factor. A cabinet can act like a speaker box, amplifying noise. Try placing a Tupperware container over the pump with a gap underneath to allow air in.
Many air pumps also have provision for vertical mounting, so try that if possible — or you could even hang it with string. Take the contact with hard surfaces away and any noise should be reduced dramatically.
I have a TMC 60 l reef set-up with LPS, mushrooms and polyps. It has a nano skimmer and the supplied lighting. It houses one Gobiodon okinawae, a hermit and a Peppermint shrimp and contains live rock. It was set up in January but over the last month I’ve been getting slime algae on the rocks and substrate. I syphon it off but it comes back in a day or two. I use Rowaphos and carbon and RO water, bought ready salted from my local store. I only use fresh RO for top-ups. The tank has the supplied powerhead, but would adding another be beneficial to increase circulation? I feed a small amount every day and occasionally add live copepods or brine shrimp. Any ideas?
P. W. ROSE, LINCS.
Slime ‘algae’ (usually cyanobacteria) is invariably caused by high nutrients — with nitrate and phosphate being key factors to look at. Limit these and you can solve the problem. You should be looking at less than 0.03ppm phosphate and 5ppm nitrate or less. Both of these parameters, or a combination of them, is likely to be the issue.
Look at how to limit nutrient input to the system. See if you can cut back on feeding, even slightly. Then, embark on a programme of exporting nutrients. This will include increasing the frequency of water changes (it’s worth checking your salt water and RO water parameters, too), coupled with continued syphoning of the slime — keep up with this. Clean your mechanical filter media on a daily basis to remove detritus (and perhaps look to increase the efficiency of mechanical filtration through the use of additional fine floss or foam). If you’re getting phosphate above 0.03ppm, change the Rowaphos or review how it’s used, as it may need repositioning to ensure it’s working at maximum efficiency. Check the skimmer is
operating efficiently by cleaning and adjusting it accordingly.
Increasing water movement is a good idea, as it will help to remove dead spots, assisting with physically dislodging the cyano as well as the detritus which may settle out and act as food for it, allowing both to be taken through the mechanical filter. In fact increasing water movement is often all that’s needed to solve the problem.
Strictly speaking there aren’t any suckermouthed catfish in Malawi cichlid habitats. so I would leave them out. There is an African species called Chiloglanis, although this is a river fish, not a deep lake fish, and it’s not easy to keep by any means. Don’t opt for them.
That leaves you with South America and Asia. Any wild caught L-number will be unsuitable because of their preference for soft acidic water and once the algae has gone you won’t be able to feed them. Your Africans will eat any algae wafer you drop in and the plecs are likely to starve.
From Asia there are the hillstream loaches — again specialist stream fish and sensitive — Garra spp., which are tougher but will be outcompeted and are not all biotope correct. There is one species though, Gyrinocheilus aymonieri, which is the bane of many tropical fishkeepers’ lives. It is a good algae eater but becomes territorial as it grows, much like Malawi cichlids, so is often returned to the shop for being a nuisance.
If you could get a 10–15cm/4–6in specimen which has been returned to a shop it would be tough enough to put up with your cichlids, carve out a living eating algae and give as good as it gets in terms of squabbles.
There is a tank bred suckermouth option, and that is the generic bristlenose catfish — the type which you see regularly for sale as small juveniles. My friend added some to his large mbuna tank 11 years ago and they are still there to this day. They are now large adults and in good condition, although the lack of suitable Malawi cichlid proof caves means that he has never had fry from what are usually very prolific breeders. That, or the hard water is preventing them
So if you have to, tank bred bristlenoses or adolescent to adult Gyrinocheilus are your best options, although it will be a compromise in terms of water hardness and feeding any extra foods will prove difficult.
Some Malawi cichlids are better grazers than others. The best are probably Labeotropheus, followed by Petrotilapia and Tropheops, although no cichlid will remove the green from your front glass. Use an algae magnet or scouring pad for that.
What’s the best number of firefish to keep in a group? I have a 400 l/88 gal set-up which has been running now for three months. Will it be mature enough to add a group of these? The tank also houses a pair of Black percula clowns and I aim to add a Yellow tang, a Flame angel and possibly a Royal gramma later on.
CHARLIE NOAKES, EMAIL
Firefish (Nemateleotris spp.) can actually be very tricky to keep in groups — although they are often seen in groups on the reef (making them appear social), they can be aggressive with each other in the confines of the aquarium, and weaker individuals can be harassed to the point of death by one or two dominant fish. Don’t be fooled by the groups of them you may see in the shop’s holding tanks — the fish don’t spend enough time in the tanks, or have sufficient territory to defend, to show their true behaviour. This is a shame, as groups of firefish look stunning in the wild, but it’s hit-or-miss trying to replicate this in the aquarium. It can be done (and having plenty of room makes things easier) but the best way to keep them is one individual fish or an established pair (if you’re lucky enough to get one).
Why not consider the closely-related dartfish (Ptereleotris spp.) if you’re looking for a more social species? These fish have similar behaviours, and some species can be kept in social groups, which can look amazing. I’m going to plug the Zebra dartfish, P. zebra, (up to 10cm/4in) here, a lovely-looking and readily-available fish which does very well in groups of several individuals; in a 400 l/88 gal system, you should be looking to keep five or more of these fish, added all at the same time. Their feeding requirements are the same as for firefish — frequent feeds of small items are needed for these planktivores.
Bear in mind that all firefish and dartfish are superb jumpers, so a covered aquarium is recommended, and they require a sandy area and plenty of hiding places.
I've learnt the hard way that you really can't afford to skimp on quarantining new fish!
I have a heavily planted 120 l tank with around 15 Amano and Red cherry shrimp, five false Julie corys and one surviving Fork tailed blue eye. The blue eye was once one of eight along with two elderly but much loved guppies — until I was foolish enough to add a few more blue eyes straight into the tank.
Fairly early on it seemed that two of the new fish weren't happy and seemed to not be eating. Then came a period of regularly dead fish and much desperate searching for cause and diagnose.
Eventually we realised we had Camallanus worms. Treatment seems to be a nightmare and the Internet is full of confusion, with lots of sites recommending treatments that don't seem to be available in the UK or advising bird dewormers which I'm hesitant about.
I understand the dewormer would kill my shrimp and some sources seem to say corys might struggle too. Should I move the shrimp and risk the corys (they don't seem to have any signs of infection)? Can the shrimp carry the infestation and re infect the tank? Is there a different medicine I should be using?
JENNY MARCHANT, EMAIL
You don’t mention how you arrived at your diagnosis of Camallanus. Diagnosis requires the observation of one or more red-brown worms (up to 2cm/0.8in long) protruding from the fish’s vent, or the discovery of the worms within the gut of a dead fish.
Assuming you have observed the actual worms, then we need to consider a few points about Camallanus infections: there are several species of Camallanus and they infest various freshwater fishes, including guppies. Living within the fish’s gut, these worms remain out of sight — so you may not have detected them even if you had quarantined your new fish (although quarantine is always a good idea). Generally, it is only when one or more female worms protrude from the fish’s vent to shed their larvae that a Camallanus problem is discovered. Low numbers of worms in the gut may cause no obvious disease signs but heavy infestations can lead to body wastage and can be fatal.
Fish acquire Camallanus through eating worm-infested copepods (tiny crustacean relatives of water-fleas, sometimes sold as live food). In the case of Camallanus cotti (which infests guppies, Betta, and other species), some experts believe that fish can additionally pick up this worm directly, by ingesting free-living worm larvae in the water. There is no evidence, to my knowledge, that shrimps will harbour Camallanus.
As for treatment — and this assumes you have a confirmed diagnosis of Camallanus — I would choose one of the commercial fish wormers that contains either Flubendazole or Fenbendazole as the active ingredient. These wormers are reportedly toxic to shrimps so you will, unfortunately, have to treat all your fish (including the corys) in an isolation tank — I suggest isolating them for four weeks. You may need to re-dose every week or so during this isolation period — but follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
DR PETER BURGESS
Yesterday we woke to find 10 very large Koi up to 50cm/20in length dead and half eaten, spread around the garden. Our pond is 48in/4ft deep with no shelf. It has an overflow drain that drains into a culvert and we noticed the cover was off.
We live just outside Much Wenlock in Shropshire and we have no idea what could have done this. Any ideas?
DIANE CLIFTON, EMAIL
Sorry to hear you’ve had this problem. I spoke to a carp angling, carp keeper and he had this to say when I asked him if it was an otter:
“Half eaten is classic otter. I have seen carp on my lake with just the stomachs eaten.
“This is a massive problem with otters being introduced into areas. They eat nesting birds, rare amphibians too.
“They are an apex predator, like a wolf in a field of sheep. People can’t shoot them as they are protected.”
So it’s an otter. Standard netting won’t keep them out and they can and will come back. I’d rather otter roamed the UK’s waterways than introduced mink, and one could argue that there are plenty carp to go around, both in ornamental ponds and fishing lakes.
Not you want to hear though and you must be absolutely gutted. As mentioned above you can’t touch them so your only way is to try to prevent them entering the pond, and that probably means strong wire mesh or a metal grid system.
I am new to fishkeeping and I recently tried a food claimed to feed fish at different levels in the aquarium. When I added it most of it went straight down to the bottom of the tank due to the flow of the water. Is there a way to stop it sinking so quickly? Is it better if I turn my filter off when I feed the fish?
G. REES, EMAIL
It really depends on what type of filter you have and how you position it.
Most internal filters return water to the tank horizontally, which should produce a flow across the tank, (and often weakly back again toward the filter as the flow deflects off the opposite side). This should mean that any sinking food added will remain suspended in the water column for a short time as it sinks.
External filters generally have a similar effect but are more adjustable, so it is possible to position the return pipe or spray bar to send the water straight down to the tank floor, and this would rapidly wash any food down with it.
Some tanks have filters that are situated in the hood and work by gravity with the water dropping through them and then back into the tank; these can make a fierce downward flow as well. If your filter is pushing water downwards then it can be a good idea to switch the filter off during feeding to prevent this — just be sure to switch it on again afterwards!
Many fish foods have a mixture of densities in the one pack, so some will float, some sink rapidly and some slowly. In theory this should offer most types of fish a chance to feed. It might also be worth considering feeding in smaller quantities so the fish can gobble up most of the food before it reaches the bottom.
Of course any bottom feeding species such as Corydoras will appreciate the food that sinks to the substrate.
I have a healthy male Dwarf gourami but I have lost three females, all of which have wasted away. He doesn’t seem to be bullying them — they just seem to become skinny, stop eating and then hang about in one corner of the tank. I’m not inclined to try another, so will he be OK on his own — or should these fish really have a mate?
LYNN WOODS, EMAIL
Dwarf gouramis are an old aquarium favourite, and rightly so given the lovely colour displayed by the males. Native to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, the fish seen in the hobby are largely commercially produced in Singapore. Sadly many of these fish are plagued by a nasty disease known as ‘Dwarf gourami iridovirus’, some of the symptoms of which are similar to those you describe seeing in the females you have lost. This disease is untreatable, but the fact that the male is unaffected could be down to a natural immunity.
However, the males of this species are also well known for bullying and pestering females, especially if the tank is too small or doesn’t offer enough cover in the form of dense vegetation.
Lush floating plants are ideal for this, allowing females to hide away from the male’s unwanted attentions. As you have already lost three females it seems to me that even though you haven’t noticed any bullying it is still the most likely cause of their demise. A well-established healthy male will see each new female as a potential mate and immediately begin trying to impress her, regardless of her condition.
This probably means the new fish have no time to settle in and feed up and simply fade away.
My advice is to keep the male by himself. He won’t suffer from being kept alone and you’ll be able to enjoy his gorgeous colouration without worrying about a harassed and sickly female.
WORDS: NEALE MONKS
There’s no simple answer to this. A lot depends on how desperate you are to eliminate the snails completely. If you want to get rid of them all, then essentially stripping the tank down, changing the gravel, picking snails off solid objects (including filter media), and very likely replacing all the plants will be part of the answer. Traps of various kinds are on sale as well, and these do work if used correctly. Even then, some will survive, so you’ll need to keep remove any remaining snails as and when you see them. It’s a lot of work, but this approach can succeed if you’re persistent. It’s a lot like weeding a garden: doable, but not something you do once and for all!
Don’t forget snails do little serious harm in fish tanks. They’re unsightly rather than dangerous. Indeed, Malayan livebearing snails do some good by aerating the substrate. It’s perhaps better to think of them as warning signs that your tank has too much organic detritus lying about. A clean tank is, very largely, a snail-free tank. Where you see a lot of snails you’re probably looking at a tank that could do with a tidy up and perhaps stricter maintenance when it comes to removing uneaten food, dead plants and so on.
4 ways to control your snail population
Bob Mehen has some advice for a reader who's trying to decide between two differently-priced, but similar-looking fish.
Q. I’ve been looking for a couple of suitable catfish for my 350 l/77 gal tank and I’ve decided I’d like to try Synodontis. This is partly because I’ve never kept them before and partly because I understand they come from Africa, which is where the Congo tetra I have in the tank already are from.
Looking around my local shops, I noticed some lovely looking fish labelled 'Clown syno, S. decora' at £35 each, as well as some similar looking but much cheaper fish labelled 'Zebra syno' at just £10 each.
Is there any difference between the two fish, and if so, which would you recommend I buy?
Roger Attwood, email
A. Synodontis are making a welcome comeback to the hobby, having fallen out of fishkeeping fashion in the last 20 years with the rise in popularity of'L' number catfish. However, one of the reasons for their fall from favour was the appearance of man-made hybrids, and sadly, there still seems to be a ready market for these.
The Clown syno you mention was hopefully the lovely Synodontis decorus (or at least that was the name the scientific community had settled on last time I looked), a wonderful fish with beautiful black spot and stripe markings and fin extensions when adult. They are one of the larger species and grow to around 25cm/10in, so they may be a tight fit for your tank when mature.
The 'Zebra syno' is almost certainly a hybrid, which is why its price will be so much lower. While these hybrids are often very attractive looking, their unknown origins make them hard to predict long-term, which can be a worry as many Synodontis are easily capable of living in excess of 20 years. What your bright, spotty bargain will look like in five years is a mystery, and it may turn into a large, dull grey brute thanks to 'hybrid vigour'.
Hybrid syno, copyright © Bob Mehen
Most of the fish I have seen sold under the 'Zebra' name appear to have S. decorus as one of their parents, but their copper-coloured eyes suggest that the other parent might be a Rift Lake Synodontis such as S. multipunctatus. These fish come from hard, alkaline conditions that are totally different to the often soft, acidic conditions preferred by riverine species like S. decorus. Who knows what water chemistry the hybrid progeny of these two will do best in?
Personally, I’d recommend you steer clear of any fish that is not clearly identifiable as a true species. My recommendation would be a small group of the lovely Pyjama catfish, Synodontis flavitaeniatus, which is a smaller, more sociable fish that would be ideally suited to the size of your tank.
Dave Wolfenden advises a reader on why a Blood shrimp may have made a meal of a smaller tank mate.
Q. My mother has a 90 l/20 gal reef tank that was set up a couple of weeks before Christmas. It contains live rock, a couple of snails, a few hardy coral frags, a Blood shrimp, Cleaner shrimp and an Emerald crab. There are no fish.
Yesterday she saw the Blood shrimp — the bigger of the two shrimp — chase and kill the Cleaner, which it then started to eat. The Cleaner didn’t appear to be ill at all. Both shrimp were added together about three weeks ago.
Is this a regular occurrence — or is it possible they’re not getting enough to eat? The Blood shrimp is out a lot, considering they’re meant to be quite shy — is this because it’s hungry? There are no fish food leftovers for the shrimp because the tank doesn’t have any fish. Instead, they’re fed a few drops of a liquid food called Gamma Nutraplus every other day.
There were remnants of the usual brown algae bloom when the shrimp were first introduced, but that’s gone now. Please could you advise — and will the crab be safe?
N. Young, email
A. Blood shrimp, Lysmata debelius, are generally peaceful and easy-going inverts. They tend more towards scavenging than the cleaning-obsessed Ambon shrimp, L. amboinensis, and generally get on fine with other ornamental shrimp with the exception of, for example, Banded shrimp, Stenopus hispidus, and certain pistol shrimp.
Lysmata have very small claws that make them less equipped than these other big-clawed species to dismember their tank mates. There are occasional reports of Blood shrimp attacking other crustaceans, but it’s not clear why this happens. It may be a territorial dispute, but as I say, most of the time these little shrimp will get on just fine.
It could be an issue with feeding (perhaps the Blood shrimp was simply ravenous), and I suspect that the feed that was being supplied wasn’t sufficient — these shrimp have a surprisingly large appetite. Many aquarists report that Blood shrimp are shy, but some individuals are very outgoing, so it’s difficult to say whether this one was particularly visible due to it being hungry. In any case, I would definitely recommend feeding the shrimp on some small pieces of Mysis or other frozen foods, or even pellets are often eagerly accepted (and this applies to the Emerald crab as well, incidentally).
The Emerald crab shouldn’t be at any risk from the shrimp — they’re much tougher than the spindly, delicate cleaners. However, all crustaceans are vulnerable at moulting. It’s for this reason they assume cryptic behaviour around this time, hiding out until the shell hardens up. The crab should look after itself, but ensure there are plenty of rocky nooks and crannies into which it can hunker down when it’s due to moult. I do, in fact, wonder if the Cleaner was entering a moulting phase, and the Blood shrimp seized the opportunity to have a feast (moulting crustaceans give off pheromones that can be detected by others); it’s a possibility, but hard to say.
On balance, I’d up the feed and avoid adding another Cleaner in view of the Blood shrimp’s track record. Adding another Blood shrimp (with caution) shouldn’t pose any problems, providing they’re well fed.
Is it stressful for a clownfish to be kept without a mate? Dave Wolfenden offers his thoughts to a reader who would like to keep a singleton in a smaller set-up.
Q. If a clownfish is kept singly, does it remain a small male because there’s no other clownfish to trigger a sex change, or does it become female because being an individual, it’s dominant? Also,
is it cruel to keep one clownfish?
I’ve always kept them in pairs, but I would like to keep just one black and white in a smaller set-up. What’s the minimum size for a single?
Jennifer Jacobs, Kent
A. Clownfish have a weird sex life, and they’re referred to as protandrous (male first) hermaphrodites. They all start out as gender-neutral effectively, so they are really neither boys nor girls. They all then develop male gonads, but in a group of clowns, all but two individuals are non-breeders.
The most dominant individual in the group develops female gonads and can breed; the next most dominant individual’s male gonads mature, and he too can breed. However, breeding and gonad development is suppressed in all the other fish due to aggressive interactions from the dominant pair. Fish can shuffle up the hierarchy if one of the dominant pair is removed. For example, the dominant male will become a girl if the dominant female is removed, and the most dominant of the other males will become the breeding male — it’s complicated!
We still don’t fully understand the mechanism of this bizarre strategy, but the aggression from the dominant pair appears to influence hormone levels in the subordinates, and in turn, this affects gonad development as well as growth of the fish (subordinates remaining smaller than the larger dominant male and even larger female). In situations where a single clownfish is maintained on its own, the social interactions to suppress development aren’t there, so they will tend towards becoming female.
Whether keeping a solitary clownfish is cruel or stressful is difficult to answer. Stress is actually a natural part of clownfish life, thanks to the intense, relentless social interactions that maintain the group dynamics. But this a normal part of their behaviour, and if we wish our animals to show the most natural behaviours possible, there’s a case for keeping them in social groups that allow them to do what comes naturally.
I’d suggest that the best way to keep your clowns is in a pair (trying to form larger groups can lead to a lot of aggression and the dominant fish can kill subordinates). A pair will need around 120 l/27 gal. Select fish wisely.
Fully grown specimens can be a recipe for disaster; instead, introduce two small fish that should not have yet reached sexual maturity. They can then pair up naturally and establish themselves.
Captive bred individuals are readily available, and I’d definitely recommend these over wild-caught. Whatever you go for, be sure to quarantine them for 30 days prior to introduction to the aquarium, as parasitic diseases such as Brooklynella can be a real problem with clownfish.
Dave Wolfenden offers a helping hand to a reader whose Snowflake moray has gone on hunger strike.
Q. I have a Juwel 240 l/53 gal tank with a Snowflake moray eel, Porcupine pufferfish and a French angelfish. The tank has been set up for 16 months. Recently my Snowflake eel has stopped eating. When I bought it, it didn't eat for five weeks — this coincided with an article you ran on moray eels where you suggested that when introduced to a new tank they may not eat for a while. So at the time I didn't worry. Both the other fish continue to eat as normal. I have tested the water and the ammonia and nitrite are 0ppm and nitrate is very low (15ppm).
The eel has also become much more active and is swimming quickly around the tank at night as well as digging in the gravel and piling the gravel up at the sides of the tank. I have tried feeding it prawns, lancefish, cockles, mussels and even plaice, but he refuses to take it. I am very attached to it and don't want to lose it. Please could you help?
Carol Hussey, email
It is normal for a newly-introduced moray to go on hunger strike for a little while, and these fish can last a surprisingly long time without feeding when first introduced. However, there does appear to be an issue here, and you’re right to take note of the change in the eel’s behaviour — it’s a warning sign that something’s not right. Once a moray starts feeding, it’s pretty rare to see them go off their food for a long time.
One of the most common causes of morays stopping feeding is aggression from unsuitable tank mates, and I think you’ve got a problem here. In fact, I’d suggest that you’re going to have to have a think about the long-term viability of this aquarium.
The first issue is tank size. 240 l/53 gal is just way too small for these fish. Bear in mind that a French angel will grow to at least 30cm/12in in captivity, and whichever species of porcupinefish (Diodon spp.) you’ve got, then you can expect it to reach at least the same size — maybe even a lot more! Secondly, Porcupines and French angels are pretty aggressive, and even smaller specimens can bully and harass tank mates, especially where territory size is limited.
In contrast, Snowflakes have a peaceful demeanour with most fish. I’d put money on the more laid-back moray being the subject of some belligerent behaviour from one or both of its tank mates. The change in behaviour could be a result of this — it seems natural that a stressed, intimidated fish such as this would try to escape from the attention it’s getting, and the digging and gravel rearrangement sounds like an evasive strategy on the part of the eel.
The eel needs to be separated from its tank mates, but you’ll have to plan for the long-term care of the porcupine and angel. I’d suggest that the best option for these two is to be placed in a much larger system. Ideally, you’re looking at 750 l/166 gal minimum for adult specimens of these fish.
The eel will quite happily live in your existing aquarium, and bear in mind that you can keep several in the same tank.
Why not take out a subscription to Practical Fishkeeping magazine? See our latest subscription offer.
Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad/iPhone.
Neale Monks offers some advice to a reader whose Kribensis keeps attacking her mate.
Q. Four months ago I bought a pair of Kribensis, hoping to breed them. The fish in the shop tank were in pairs, but the two fish I got were from two different pairs, and the male is slightly smaller than the female. However, since day one all the female seems to want to do is chase the other fish in the tank, especially the male Kribensis. The second she sees him she zooms after him, and his tail is now in shreds (although he is otherwise healthy). The other fish in the tank are danios and Red eyed tetras.
There are a few caves in the tank, and all the fish are well fed and healthy. Why is this happening and how can I solve it? I would still really like to breed these cichlids.
Jason Roberts (13), email
A. Pelvicachromis species such as Kribs are unusual among cichlids in that both females and males claim their own territories. In the wild, what is supposed to happen is that each female holds a small territory, and within that territory will be a cave or burrow where she keeps her eggs or fry.
Males hold bigger territories that usually include those of several females. He drives away rival males and presumably any potential predators that might eat eggs or fry, but he doesn’t otherwise get too involved in rearing his offspring. In short, Kribs are what are called 'harem spawners', named after the idea of exotic kings who maintained harems of many wives.
In aquaria, Kribs have turned out to be very adaptable and can work as pairs without problems. But usually, what you see is that the female is the more territorial of the two, and often after they have spawned, the female actually drives the male away from her burrow or cave and only allows the male back once the eggs
As the days pass, she becomes a bit more trusting, eventually letting the male look after the fry while she goes off to feed; but I’ve always got the impression that in Krib relationships, it’s the females that call the shots! If she decides to rear the fry on her own then that’s what she’ll do, and the male better have somewhere to hide when she’s feeling protective!
For best results with Kribs, make sure they have lots of hiding places, particularly caves. Each fish wants its own territory, and it may take some time for them to decide to join forces and protect a single cave. Sturdy plants like Anubias and Java ferns can be very useful for creating territorial boundaries. Sometimes you can reset things by moving all the rocks and plants about, forcing the male and female to re-evaluate each other; and if you’re lucky, fish that didn’t get along before might even start being nicer to each other.
If the worst comes to the worst, you could try swapping this male for another one. It may simply be that they aren’t compatible and she’s not willing to accept him.
Why not take out a subscription to Practical Fishkeeping magazine? See our latest subscription offer.
Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad/iPhone.
Neale Monks offers some feeding advice to a PFK reader who wants to vary his fishes' menu.
Q. Is it safe to use food from my fridge-freezer to feed my fish? I’m thinking that seafood should be okay, but what about vegetables and meat?
Henry Eze, email
A. Quite a lot of human food is perfectly safe to use when feeding your fish. White fish fillet is good, particularly Tilapia, cod and coley, but avoid oily fish as that tends to be a bit too messy. Seafood is good, but be careful not to rely too heavily on prawns or mussels because these contain a chemical called thiaminase that breaks down Vitamin B1.
Meat is trickier because it contains fats that cause problems for aquarium fish so is best avoided. An exception is beefheart, which isn’t as fatty as most other meats once the obvious fat is trimmed away, and can be frozen, shredded, and fed to many types of fish without problems. In the past it was often used as a staple for fussy fish like Discus, but this isn’t common now.
Hard boiled egg yolks are another old standby, often used to feed fish fry and baby livebearers. The particles of yolk can make the water cloudy if overused, but many small fish (and shrimps) seem to go wild for egg yolk, so it’s a worthwhile treat now and again.
Green foods are well worth trying, as are some fruits. Blanched lettuce and cooked peas and spinach are enjoyed by most herbivorous fish, while suckermouth catfish like plecs will also happily graze on raw courgette, cucumber and sweet potatoes, even slices of melon!
Some of these green foods need to soften for a few days before the fish will eat them, so don’t be too quick to whip them out if your fish don’t seem to show much interest. It’s also worth noting that herbivorous fish my pass over healthy green foods if they’ve been pampered with protein-rich pellet and flakes, and letting your fish starve a few days may be necessary before they decide to 'eat their greens!'
Why not take out a subscription to Practical Fishkeeping magazine? See our latest subscription offer.
Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad.
Dave Wolfenden has some advice for a reader who wants to keep a single clownfish in a smaller set-up. Will it stay male or turn into a larger female?
Q. If a clownfish is kept singly, does it remain a small male because there's no other clownfish to trigger a sex change, or does it become female because being an individual, it's dominant? Also, is it cruel to keep one clownfish?
I've always kept them in pairs, but I would like to keep just one black and white Percula in a smaller set-up. What's the minimum size for a single clownfish?
Jennifer Jacobs, Kent
A. Clownfish have a weird sex life, and they’re referred to as protandrous ('male first') hermaphrodites. They all start out effectively as gender-neutral, so they are really neither boys nor girls. They all then develop male gonads, but in a group of clowns, all but two individuals are non-breeders. The most dominant individual in the group develops female gonads and can breed; the next most dominant individual’s male gonads mature, and he too can breed. However, breeding and gonad development is suppressed in all the other fish due to aggressive interactions from the dominant pair. Fish can shuffle up the hierarchy if one of the dominant pair is removed. For example, the dominant male will become a girl if the dominant female is removed, and the most dominant of the other males will become the breeding male — it’s complicated!
We still don’t fully understand the mechanism of this bizarre strategy, but the aggression from the dominant pair appears to influence hormone levels in the subordinates and in turn this affects gonad development as well as growth of the fish (subordinates remaining smaller than the larger dominant male and even larger female). In situations where a single clownfish is maintained on its own, the social interactions to suppress development aren’t there, so they will tend towards becoming female.
Whether keeping a solitary clownfish is cruel or stressful is difficult to answer. Stress is actually a natural part of clownfish life, thanks to the intense, relentless social interactions which maintain the group dynamics. But this a normal part of their behaviour, and if we wish our animals to show the most natural behaviours possible, there’s a case for keeping them in social groups which allow them to do what comes naturally.
I’d suggest that the best way to keep your clowns is in a pair (trying to form larger groups in the aquarium can lead to a lot of aggression and the dominant fish can kill subordinates). A pair will need around 120 l/27 gal. Select fish wisely. Fully-grown specimens can be a recipe for disaster; instead, introduce two small fish which should not have yet reached sexual maturity. They can then pair up naturally and establish themselves.
Captive bred individuals are readily available, and I’d definitely recommend these over wild caught. Whatever you go for, be sure to quarantine them for 30 days prior to introduction to the aquarium, as parasitic diseases such as Brooklynella can be a real problem with clownfish.
Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad/iPhone.
Bob Mehen advises a PFK reader who recently had a bad experience with some Zebra loaches...
Q. I have a 60 l/13 gal, aquarium, densely planted with Cabomba and Vallis, decorated with bogwood and a sandy substrate.
My tank houses six Corydoras, three Clown loaches (which are to be transferred to a bigger tank when they grow) and a very well behaved small Red-tailed black shark.
Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are all perfect.
I recently came across some Zebra loaches (Botia striata) and decided to buy two. I was told that they would shoal with the Clown loaches and would stay relatively small at 10cm/4". A few days after release I noticed that almost all the Corydoras had ripped fins and I witnessed the new loaches harassing and 'sucking’ at the sides of both the Clown loaches and the Corydoras.
We returned them to the shop, which could not have been more helpful and said this was unusual for this species. I knew that they shouldn't be kept with slow-moving fish but are corys considered slow species? I would one day like to house both Corys and Zebra Loaches together, would this be feasible?
Nathan Whenman, email
A. As you have discovered many Botiid loaches can be nippy fish that will pester other species they’re kept alongside if you don’t pick their tank-mates with care.
In many cases this is less to do with outright aggression and more to do with their own species complex hierarchy, which rather like the ‘pecking order’ in a group of hens is constantly being tested by lower ranking fish and enforced by higher ones.
When kept alongside other fish that share the same area of the tank they sometimes seem to try and bring other species into line with their own boisterous pecking order, occasionally with fatal results.
Corydoras are slow-moving, peaceful South American fish that would never naturally come across these Asian loach species and in cases such as yours this is where problems start. Split fins from nipping and stress from constant harassment by the loaches can lead to a rapidly loss of condition often followed by disease or death, so you did the right thing in taking the problem loaches back to the shop.
This behaviour can sometimes be lessened by keeping the loaches in large groups and I’d never recommend keeping any of these fish in groups of less than five, however I’d not recommend keeping Botia striata or any of their relatives with Corydoras as it’s not worth the risk. If you have space then a larger group of 10+ of these would allow you to see more of their fascinating natural behaviours while helping lessen any potential aggression.
Finally you mention getting a bigger tank for your Clown loaches which is a high priority. These lovely fish are one of the most mis-sold species in the hobby. With a potential adult size well in excess of 25cm/10" and the same requirement of being kept in large numbers if you are not able to get them a tank of with a foot-print something around 180 x 60cm/6'x 2', then I’d recommend re-homing them now while they’re small. There are far too many lonely, stunted Clown loaches out there already.
Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad/iPhone.
Dave Wolfenden offers guidance to a PFK reader whose new coral refuses to come out...
Q. I have a problem with my newly-purchased green Hammer coral. When it was in the bag from the shop it produced a stringy mucous. I drip fed the new water into the bag to acclimatise it, but it just won't come out.
I placed it sort of horizontally on a rock with putty and I have 4 x T5 tubes, two blue and one white, plus a Red Sea pink! The pink was added at the same time as the coral — it wouldn't be detrimental at all, would it? It makes the tank look lovely?
All my other corals are doing great.
A. Hammer corals (Euphyllia) can often 'sulk' for a variety of reasons, and it’s quite common for them to react poorly to shipping if they’ve been handled badly or if they have been broken off a larger colony. Watch out for possible signs of infection ('brown jelly disease' or BJD being a condition to look for, which seems to be bacterial in origin). This is characterised by a gelatinous mass around the living tissue and if noted, the coral should be removed immediately. Examine the Hammer closely, and it’s worth lifting it out to give it a quick sniff — BJD has a characteristic smell of decay.
I’m assuming that your water parameters are within the ideal range, as judging by your photo the other corals are looking great. Even so, I’d check them, and ensure that nitrates, phosphates and calcium are at optimal levels. This includes less than 10ppm for nitrates, 400-450ppm for calcium and as near zero as possible for phosphate.
After closely checking the Hammer, I’d move it. Euphyllia are often quite finicky with regards to water movement, and if flow isn’t just right, the polyps may remain retracted. Aim for moderate flow, and preferably not from just one direction. In view of the ability of these corals to exhibit aggression, thanks to their sweeper tentacles, don’t place it too near other corals. Once it’s moved, leave it for several days to settle down before re-evaluating.
Finally, have you tried feeding it? Try offering small pieces of chopped meaty foods, or perhaps frozen Artemia to see if this will encourage polyp extension.
The pink T5 should be just fine, and these can give a very nice look to the aquarium. However, monitor all the inhabitants after altering the lighting for several weeks to establish that they aren’t reacting badly. If lighting isn’t sufficient, you may find that polyp extension increases as the corals seek out more intense illumination. If this is the case, I’d revert back to the original lighting.
Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad/iPhone.
Create a home fit for the king of fish with Nathan Hillâ€™s step-by-step guide.
Not only has the discus long been revered as the king of fishes, with a wealth of literature dedicated to its name, but Stendker discus could quite rightfully claim to be the pinnacles of royal bloodlines. These are fish that have been groomed for their place within the aquatic monarchy.
With many desirable species, there’s a trade off; beauty is often difficult to maintain. Or at least it used to be, and that’s why discus keepers were for so many years regarded with a kind of reverence. Discus were always demanding fish, requiring exacting water conditions and near clinical care. To take them on was to divert huge tracts of energy into their upkeep, with frequent water changes from trusted supplies.
Price affects how craved a fish is, and discus have always, without respite, commanded hefty fees. In the early days, back when a pint of beer would cost you pennies, they could sit at prices in excess of £100 a fish. Early keepers, prepared to splash out such a sum and then invest so much in maintenance, moved themselves into the 'elite' of aquarists if for nothing more than wanton spending. Discus were the Bentleys or Ferraris of the fish world.
Today, quality breeding pairs can set you back well in excess of £250 and it’s rare to find young fish for under £15 each. Mass farming techniques have all but destroyed the bloodlines and value of some and drastically improved others. 'Budget' discus, found with kinked backs, black splatters (or sooting), irregular markings and growth deficiencies, may still sell for above their worth.
Keeping wild fish
Wild discus, when available, attract a fervent audience, but are not a straightforward proposition. Advances in technology now mean that we can access RO water, blackwater supplements and an abundance of other disus-esque wares, but the fish themselves can be inherently nervous, temperamental and twitchy.
Wild caught fish can be notoriously hard to settle, especially at adult sizes. They shock easily in reaction to startling sights and sounds, and also to water. They tend to require extra attention that other discus might not, such as meticulous deworming or control of other pathogens.
Some keepers still extol the virtues of wild. They are, it is reported, less aggressive and less snide with each other than tank bred species. Though harder to breed initially, they form strong parental bonds with the young and feed them well.
I’ve been on the fence with wild discus for ages. Every one I spot in stores is a brief love affair that I have to force myself to walk away from. My reservation with farmed or tank bred discus is how they can lack that 'natural' feel. They often appear excessively 'manicured' as though too comfortable with their noble status within the hobby. They often lack the rugged appearance of wild fish. Then I saw the Stendker Santarem discus and all of that went out the window.
Building a biotope
Stendker discus come in abundant forms. Many of the varieties are far removed from anything we’d recognise as a wild type; instead, they tend to be rich, solid blocks of colour, such as the Cobalt or Marlboro varieties.
That’s superb for a discus aficionado but doesn’t fit my manifesto. With fetishes for biotopes and wilderness medleys, I like to look into a tank and imagine I’m glancing into a river.
Discussing this concern with Mark Evenden of Devotedly Discus in Polegate, East Sussex, he suggested one of two Stendker strains: Alenquer or Santarem.
My Santarem fish have never seen the Amazon and may never have even witnessed décor beyond a ceramic tube. When farmed or bred en masse, they are kept in near barren conditions with simple filtration and substrate-free bases. Wild discus come from dark, often tannin-rich waters with filthy sandy bases, and tangles of wood. It was the latter that I wanted.
I opted for an Aqua One Eurostyle 120 Aquarium package, with dimensions of 120 x 45 x 64cm/47 x 18 x 25" and a 300 l/66 gal volume. This presented opportunities to create set regions of the tank to suit the fish’s moods, whether shy or bold. Filtration is the 1,400lph Aqua One Advance 1250, with coarse and fine foams, biological sintered glass media and a good measure of polishing filter wool; given the debris I anticipated, the latter was vital.
A 300w heater provides the warmth, set to maintain the temperature at 29°C/84°F.
Sourcing the décor for a natural feeling tank is straightforward, if a little costly. Substrate simply consists of aquarium-grade silver sand of which I used roughly 40kg.
To recreate the effect of sunken wood and branches, I used three extra large pieces of Sumatran driftwood supplied by Unipac Pet Products. Finding big chunks like mine can be a task if your stores are reluctant to carry large wood, but any retailer that uses Unipac will be able to order them in. Giant wood comes at a price, and paying £70 or more for a large, prize piece is not unheard of. For the effect, it’s worth it.
The other potential expense — or potential free bonanza — is leaf litter. Fortunately, I’d amassed leaves of different types and sizes over the last year, and the discus tank provided the opportunity for me to put them all to use.
Once filled and with wood positioned, I unleashed a whole autumn’s worth of leaves, including but not limited to Oak, Catappa, Banana, Bamboo, 'Coco', Guava and Mulberry. I even tossed in a handful of Palmae pods from Pollywog.co.uk for good measure.
My concern, and rightly prophesised, was that with such deep bedding of leaves I would run into a deficit of oxygen and increased anaerobic bacteria developments. Within a week of setting up, I had some telltale patches of black sand that needed raking through with fingertips.
Tracking the slow flow, I added a single Koralia circulating pump as well as a Whisper airpump to rectify the problem. The airstone needed hiding in order not to ruin the illusion of nature, but it had the desired effect. After another week had gone by, no anaerobic patches presented themselves.
I avoided plants. True discus biotopes lack any underwater greenery, and at best support some floating plants. Heavily-planted aquascapes are attractive for the viewer but alien to the fish.
The crux of my layout involved set patches of light and dark. I worry when I see shy fish under uniform lighting, unable to move into any dark regions. For that reason I stripped away the standard T5 tubes and hood from the tank and rigged up a single Kessil A150w Amazon Sun on a gooseneck. The gooseneck was critical in order to get the slanted angle I craved. I wanted to emulate sunshine carving through an opening in overhead canopy.
These cichlids need space!
Being cichlids, discus are prone to hierarchical disputes and spawning can trigger aggression. Tank shape is an important consideration.
I’ve witnessed many bespoke discus tanks of ample volume, yet unusual proportions: stacked high, but with no length. For discus, depth is not of primary concern; a good side-to-side measure should be your first consideration, as it was mine.
- Aqua One Evo 120 tank and cabinet with Aqua One
- Advance 1250 filter and 300W heate £944.98
- Kessil A150W Amazon Sun 32w LED £230.00
- Koralia evolution 900 nano circulation pump £45.39
- XXL Unipac Sumatra wood x 3 at around £70 each £210.00
- 40kg Unipac Aquarium silver sand £30.00
- Assorted leaves (around ten packs) £40.00
- 4 x 8cm Stendker Santarem Discus at £25 each £100.00
Total cost: £1600.37
There are three species, though their taxonomic history, and likely future, is rocked with disputes over correct ascriptions. All belong to the genus Symphysodon: Symphysodon aequifasciatus (or Green discus), Symphysodon discus (or Heckel discus) and Symphysodon haraldi, (Blue or Brown discus).Depending on who you speak to, aequifasciatus may alternatively be named tarzoo.
How to achieve discus tank success in six easy steps:
1. The tank is cleaned, a backing sheet attached (which isn’t quite deep enough) and placed on a level floor.
2. Filter outlet and inlet and heater are positioned but not turned on. Some filter media is rinsed and added to the canister.
3. Aquarium silver sand is added and sculpted into the desired shape, hiding my backing sheet ‘window’ at the rear.
4. Sumatran driftwood is added spindly-sides down to create the illusion of roots and provide places for the discus to hide.
5. Tragedy! As the tank is filled, one piece of the unsoaked wood floats to the surface. A cobble is used to weight it back down.
6. Pre-matured media is placed in the canister and heating and filtration is turned on. The leaves are added to soak and sink.
Stendker Discus are as robust as iron. As breeders, Stendker achieved something I thought physiologically impossible; they altered the tolerances of original discus strains into fish that can cope with wide ranging parameters.
Wild discus are found in a pH as low as 4.0, though typically somewhere around 6.0pH, and some of the softest conditions around — typically under 3°GH and KH.
Stendker discus are kept way higher than this. With their systems running an average 7.0pH, 8°KH and 15°GH, they are as at home in most people’s tapwater supplies as anywhere else. In a stroke, Stendker have overcome the greatest single difficulty with discus: their strict water requirements. Temperature still needs to be high, and the Stendker tolerance ranges are claimed to be 25-35°C/77°-95°F. Mine came from water at 29°C/84°F and that’s what they’ve stayed at.
Ammonia and nitrite can be problematic, especially as the fish are no longer in strictly acidic conditions. Above 7.0pH, ammonia becomes increasingly dangerous, and like any fish, discus will soon start to show gasping, flashing, excess mucus and ‘burns’ to the skin, gills and fins if exposed to it. Nitrite toxicity will cause gasping, bloody streaks in fins and skin and mucus. For discus, both of these parameters need to be at zero at all times, and tanks need careful cycling in advance.
Feeding your discus
Discus have small stomachs, but abyssal appetites. Overfeeding causes pollution issues, as meals are nibbled but rarely gorged. Underfeeding is the usual problem, with food offered just once a day.
Discus require several small meals over the course of the day, and uneaten scraps removed — hence the propensity for people to keep them in barren tanks. Three or four tiny feeds are suggested to retain weight, and once settled they will take a wide range of foods.
Stendker fish love bloodworm and beefheart. Beefheart has long been contentious, with many authors (myself included) previously citing excessive quantities of terrestrial fat as indigestible and leading to fatty deposits. When properly prepared, beefheart is an incredibly high protein, lean meat and these fish thrive on it. Be careful not to leave scraps unattended, as high protein means high amino acids, and amino acids result in ammonia!
I’ll leave it to my audience to decide whether I managed to create something close to authentic. From the fish’s perspective, they bedded in within just one night and the following morning were happily dashing in and out of the light zones for mouthfuls of breakfast bloodworm and beefheart!
Huge thanks are extended to Mark Evenden of Devotedly Discus for supplying the fish. See his incredible stock at on the Devotedly Discus website, call 01323 483689 or visit Devotedly Discus, 32-34 High Street, Polegate, East Sussex, BN26 6AJ. Ring first to confirm that he’ll be there, as many visits are by appointment only.
Thanks also to Roy at Unipac Pet Products for supplying wood and substrate. For more information visit the Unipac website or call 01604 705600 to find a stockist. Please note that Unipac does not sell direct to the public.
Don't forget that PFK is now available to download on the iPad/iPhone.