George Farmer creates a heavily planted biotope tank from Lake Inle in Myanmar. And it doesn't cost the earth to set up.
In looking for new ideas for a set-up I saw in the January 2010 issue of PFK an excellent article on Danio erythromicron, one of the original nano-friendly fish. I could not source some easily but with many other suitable fish to choose from all was not lost for a Lake Inlé themed tank.
The midwater swimming loach, Yunnanilus brevis fascinated me with its attractive markings and shoaling nature. Another was Sawbwa resplendens, or the Asian rummynose as it is known for obvious reasons, the male having an orange red face. In some ways I prefer the subdued female with its understated pale green sheen.
So, with species selected, I researched appropriate plants. Blyxa, Cyperus and Ceraptopteris are all found in Myanmar with Ceratophyllum seen in Inlé itself.
The water in Inlé is clear and relatively shallow at just 2-4m/6.5-13’ deep in most places. It has a fertile substrate of soft mud and peaty soil.
It has pH of 7.8, conductivity of 250 microsiemens and temperature of 22°C/72°F, but changes during the rainy season.
The lake’s locals have built floating gardens from aquatic vegetation and bamboo poles where they grow fruit, vegetables and flowers. The gardens are designed to rise and fall with the water level and are home to many fish that take shelter among the submerged root structures.
I chose plants found in Myanmar and some in Lake Inlé itself. I wanted dense vegetation to simulate the habitat but also open space so the fish could be visible.
The driftwood represents wood that has fallen in. An alternative could be bamboo to mimic those man-made floating gardens.
Eventually the substrate will soften into a mud-like consistency that replicates the substrate in the lake. Finishing touches include some small pebbles and gravel to add texture to the foreground. The background is clear and backlit to help create the impression of crystal clear water.
Even though I am not using CO2 injection or liquid carbon products growth of the Ceratophyllum and Ceratopteris is rampant and they need pruning every ten days or so.
I left the aquarium for two weeks with an automatic feeder and plug-in-timer for the lights. When I returned I could not see through the tank for the plant growth!
The substrate provides most of the required nutrients, but I add a small quantity of liquid fertiliser with every water change.
The fish are fed twice daily on a combination of dry and frozen foods. The glass is wiped to remove algae every week before one third of the water is changed and the filter is cleaned in old tank water every month.
Common name: Asian rummynose, Sawbwa barb
Scientific name: Sawbwa resplendens
Origin: Lake Inlé and surrounding waters in Shan State, eastern Myanmar
Diet: Mix of quality dry, frozen and live foods such as zooplankton, Daphnia and brineshrimp.
Breeding: An egg-scattering, continuous spawner with no parental care. In good conditions relatively small numbers of eggs will be laid daily. In a well-furnished, mature aquarium small numbers of fry may start to appear without any human intervention.
Notes: Male is very colourful compared to the relatively plain female and for this reason more males are found in shops. Rival males can become quite aggressive if kept with only a few females, so a ratio of 4:1 females to males is recommended. If this is not possible then at least provide a densely planted aquarium to break their line of sight.
Common name: Inle loach
Scientific name: Yunnanilus brevis
Origin: Lake Inlé and He-Ho plain, Myanmar. Reports also from the Salween basin.
Diet: Quality dry foods, frozen brineshrimp, Daphnia and bloodworm.
Size: Females 6cm/2.4”, males 5cm/2”.
Breeding: Not known in captivity
Notes: Yunnanilus brevis differs from the usual loaches, being largely free swimming in nature. They should be kept as a shoal of at least five.
Tank: 60 x 30 x 30cm/24 x 12 x 12”; 54 l./12 gal.
Filtration: Large external with mechanical and biological media, flow restricted.
Lighting: Two 18w T8 fluorescents with reflectors, ten hours per day.
Substrate: Aqua Soil and Florabase.
Plants: Cyperus helferi, Ceratophyllum submersum and Ceratopteris thalictroidies
Fish: Eight Sawbwa resplendens, eight Yunnanilus brevis.
Biotope on a budget
Tank and lighting: £60
How to set up your Lake Inle tank
1. A 60 x 30 x 30cm/24 x 12 x 12” (54 litre/12 gal) aquarium was ordered from the manufacturer and it cost me around £25. It has 6mm regular float glass with clear silicone. Without braces or rims, it is ideal for overtank lighting. I also fitted a Perspex cover to minimise evaporation.
2. A specialist planted substrate is added. The top layer is a natural brown that looks like the peaty and muddy substrate found in Lake Inlé. Because I am heavily planting a nutrient-rich substrate helps ensure healthy plant growth. The grains are light to promote root penetration.
3. Two pieces of Sumatra wood are added. It has dried out so I buried some in the substrate to prevent it floating after water is added. Blyxa japonica is added around the wood using tweezers. The wood is positioned near the centre to allow space for thickets of planting to grow near the edges.
4. A spray mister is used regularly to prevent the plants drying out. Some plants, like Blyxa japonica, suffer significantly if allowed to dry out, so it is important to use the mister quite often. Spraying the substrate also aids planting and allows the plants to penetrate more easily.
5. The remaining Blyxa is planted, leaving an open space to the right and background for the other plants. After a couple of weeks the Blyxa dies off, due to a lack of light, as it is shaded by other plants. It is removed and replaced with Ceratophyllum demersum, a plant found in Lake Inlé.
6. Cyperus helferi is added. It is an attractive background plant but can be tricky to grow in some tanks. Initially it may suffer die-off as its leaves adapt from their emerged state to underwater life. The easy and fast-growing Ceratopteris thalictroides is also planted.
7. The tank is filled using a colander to prevent clouding. My tapwater is hard with a pH of some 7.8, making it ideal for fish originating from Lake Inlé which has a similar pH and hardness. I am not using CO2 injection so pH should remain relatively high with frequent water changes.
8. The external filter and heater are added. Temperature is 23°C/73°F as Lake Inlé is cooler. The filter has flow reduced to mimic lake movement. An internal filter can be used instead. The tank is fishless cycled. A third of the water is changed weekly and every month the filter is cleaned.
Myanmar — land of freshwater treasures
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has an especially notable endemic freshwater fish fauna.
It has more than 100 freshwater fish species and Lake Inlé hosts 16 species found nowhere else — including Danio erythromicron, a spiny eel Mastacembelus oatesii, the Inle loach Yunnanilius brevis and two endemic genera: the Sawbwa barb, Sawbwa resplendens and Inlecypris auropurpurea.
Other freshwater fish genera restricted to Myanmar include one of the world’s smallest fish, Danionella translucida, the Eyespot gourami, Parasphaerichthys ocellatus, and the catfishes Ayarnangra estuarius and Caelatoglanis zonatus.
Other endemics include the Indawgyi stream catfish, Akysis prashadi, Badis corycaeus, Devario browni, the Spotted danio, Danio nigrofasciatus, Chaca burmensis, a barb, Puntius didi, an eel-loach, Pangio lumbriciformis, and the recently described Dracula fish, Danionella dracula.