The name conjures up images of a snail chasing man in a top hat, like the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. But it’s a real thing. A pretty good real thing, too, says Nathan Hill.
When I was about seven I had a toy hoover that looked like a robot Emu that would ‘eat’ colourful plastic balls from the floor, and this thing is 99% the same but scaled down. There’s an extending arm that stretches to 30cm, with a pivot head on the end that rotates roughly 90°. It has a frontal collecting chamber that you can manually open, and a rubber harvesting rotor, so it rolls against glass nicely.
Operation is simple. Starting at the bottom of the glass, roll the rotor up the pane and over any snails. They’ll be scooped up in the rubber baffles and transported to the collecting cup at the front. Then just pull the thing out, flip open the collecting chamber, and out pops your mollusc bounty. No squished snails in the tank to pollute your water, and no need for harmful gastropod poisons.
As a negative, it only really works with snails that are on glass. If they’re in the substrate, this thing can’t touch them. So just turn your lights off for a few hours until they all come out, ping them back on, and you should have snails out all over the place. You’re welcome.
This thing cost me almost £11, so I’m trying to work out if it brings over a tenner’s worth of laziness to my life. If I struggled with snails, maybe. If you don’t like getting your hands in the tank and picking the things out manually like the rest of us, then you’ll love it.
Price: Seems to vary. I’ve found them as low as £7.99, but most stores are in the £10 to £12 region. I paid £10.99 for mine.
More info: dennerle.com
Nathan Hill checks out one of the least expensive products he's seen all year.
This is the smallest product I have in the whole building. I’m currently looking at a fake leaf and a suction cup. This is how I’ll remember 2017. Thing is, I spoke to a couple of Americans I know who trade in Betta, and they inform me that this is one of the best-selling products ever.
The Betta bed is exactly what it claims to be. It has no other role, it’s not food, it’s not a hiding place, and you’d need to do logical backflips to consider some kind of attractive decor. No, the role of this suckered leaf is to be positioned high up in the tank, with the blade jutting out flat at a 90° angle, for the purposes of Betta to take a quick nap on. I’m not making this up.
If you’ve kept Betta, you’ll have likely noticed that they get into some unusual resting spots. One of mine had a thing for lurking on top of an internal canister filter. In the wild, Betta splendens like to linger near the surface during periods of dormancy (given their habitats, it’s likely to be a mixture of predators and low oxygen that forces this).
In aquaria, we tend not to have many high platforms in our tanks. So, you can see where this is going. You position your leaf somewhere out of direct flow, about 5–7cm below the surface, and the Betta can use it as a hammock as needed.
The leaf is lifelike, which is ironic as most Betta set-ups aren’t. You can shape it as you see fit as there’s a wire that runs up the middle — be careful not to overflex it and compromise the plastic coating, as there are reports of the wire rusting.
For spare change money, this’ll probably transform the life of your Betta for the better. Cheapest product of the year and I just got a pun out of it. I like it.
Price: Mine cost £2.99 on a recent shoptour, but I’m not sure there’s a formal UK RRP. I found one for £1.99 online, but delivery was £3.
More info: zoomed.com
Marine expert Dave Wolfenden gets to try out one of the new off-the-peg sump units from Evolution Aqua.
EA’s range of reef and aquascaping aquariums have superb build quality and attention to detail — and the new ProSumps (now available separately) are no exception. I don’t know how they do it, but the sump is beautifully put together, and looks great with its black sealant. If you’ve ever tried to construct an aquarium with black silicone, you’ll appreciate that it’s not the easiest stuff to work with. I had a go once, and the end result looked like I’d made the thing in the dark, wearing oven mitts. EA told me that they spent a long time perfecting their techniques to get the product just right, and boy, does it show. There’s not a smudge of stray silicone, there are no sharp edges (with all the outer panes being polished and chamfered), and there’s no danger of getting cuts from any of the glass; it’s such class, in fact, that it’s almost a shame to have it hidden in a cabinet rather than on view, but there you go.
What’s in the box?
I tested the ‘large’ version, which has an overall size of 800 x 380 x 400mm (L X W X H – external dimensions). EA recommends this size as being suitable for aquariums up to
300 l/66 gal, but this will vary according to the volume of water which overflows from the tank in the event of power interruption and you’ll need to check with your system whether there is enough capacity to account for this. There are four chambers in the sump — three are linked together, with the fourth (with a nominal volume of 21.7 l) being physically separated, and intended for top-up water. EA suggests that the first chamber be used to house a skimmer (and, of course, a sock holder can clip onto this section nicely), the second housing reactors (carbon, phosphate remover, biopellets, etc.) or a refugium, and the third being designed for the aquarium’s return pump. However, it’s obviously your call how it’s configured — folks running Triton, for example, can incorporate a refugium into the first chamber, run the skimmer and reactors from the second, and dose into the third (return) chamber.
The ProSump is solidly constructed — the outer panes are 6mm glass. The first and second dividers are chunky 8mm glass, the first having a large rectangular hole for water flow, and the second with a series of very neatly cut slots. Both of these dividers also have three rectangular holes towards the upper edge — useful as emergency overflows. The quality of the work on these panes is very impressive — I’m not sure how the folks at EA manage to cut such neat slots and holes in 8mm glass, but they deserve a hat tip for it. The final divider (separating the return chamber and top-up section) is 6mm glass. A nice feature is the inclusion of a black foam mat on the sump’s underside. This looks really neat, and saves any faffing around cutting polystyrene to shape.
The water level in the chambers (with the exception of the final top-up section) can be adjusted thanks to the nifty baffles included with the sump. These are sheets of blue acrylic which can be fixed in place at varying heights using the included nylon bolts. The adjustable baffles aren’t watertight (and they’re not intended to be), but they work excellently when the sump is in use to fine-tune the levels in the first three chambers. This gives a good degree of flexibility; it comes in handy, for example, when using skimmers that are sensitive to water level, allowing for a consistent water height to be achieved in the appropriate chamber rather than bodging a stand for the skimmer. It also just generally makes the sump very versatile, allowing users to adjust water levels according to future modifications and system tweaks.
Using the baffles allows the water height to be varied from around 195mm to around 250mm in the first chamber and 130mm to around 250mm in the second chamber — there is no theoretical minimum water level in chamber three, but you’ll obviously need sufficient depth to run the return pump. Depending on the equipment used and the system’s requirements, some degree of experimentation and a ‘suck it and see’ approach will be necessary to arrive at the best arrangement of the baffles, but having the option of altering the sump’s levels is a big plus point.
The instructions are clear and well laid out; aquarists with even a little experience will have a good idea of what they’d like to achieve, and have no problem figuring out how to set the sump up. I would have liked to see a little more detail in the instructions for novice aquarists; perhaps some visuals outlining possible equipment placement options or how to best incorporate a refugium would help here (but I’m being picky there if I’m honest).
Also available is the smaller ‘medium’ version. This is more compact and designed for smaller tanks and cabinets (it’s recommended for aquariums up to 150 l), being only 500 x 380 x 400mm (L x W x H). The design of this version is really clever — it still utilises four chambers as in the large model (it also features the same moveable baffle concept), but instead of a ‘linear’ layout, the chambers are arranged in a ‘2 x 2’ format (think of a slice of Battenberg cake and you get the idea). So while the sump is just as feature-packed and versatile as its bigger relative, the reduced length means it’s going to be better suited to smaller cabinets. I can see some mileage in even larger versions of my test model for bigger aquariums.
EA’s Jeremy Gay confirms that an ‘XL’ version is in the pipeline, with an ‘XXL’ form also being a possibility for really whopping systems — so watch this space…
This is a very well thought-out sump design, offering bags of features and being extremely flexible. The build quality is superb, and if you’re after a well-made and versatile off-the-peg sump for a build from scratch, or looking to upgrade an existing sump — well, I think you might have just found it.
Ease of use: 4.5/5
Value for money: 4.5/5
Price: RRPs £149 (Large); £99 (Medium).
More info: visit www.evolutionaqua.com, or tel. 01942 216554.
Oh ho! Remember how much you all loved those Pleco plushies from GreenPleco? Well, I guess they brooded on how they could possibly trump the existing range, says Nathan Hill, and in true American style, they have now made them bigger and brighter than ever!
For $39.99, you can now purchase a 60cm/ 24in jumbo Zebra plec with all the features of the smaller designs. The anatomically correct shape is there. The sucker for a mouth is there (and it really does cope with the extra weight still). This time the plecs glow, too! If you charge them up under a decent light for a couple of minutes (we had the delight of holding ours under intense studio lights) they shine brighter than a blast furnace full of yule logs. And shine. And shine. The brightness outlasted my patience in a dark store cupboard.
The only downside in the UK is that there’s a postage cost from the States, which works out at $22 for a single jumbo Plec. All I can advise there is that you club together with a few other potential buyers (trust me, a lot of people really want these) and try to get a bulk order together to drive the transport costs down.
Oh, and a minor niggle (that is only an issue when it’s on flat) is that the size of the dorsal fin makes it a bit floppy, so it won’t stay upright. But seeing as they are supposed to be stuck vertically on something, that’s kind of a derelict point.
Yeah, they’re awesome. The small ones were awesome, and now these jumbo ones are awesome too. I have to guard mine from the hawks in the office, because if I take my eyes off for a minute, they’ll be gone.
Price: $39.99 (plus $22.00 postage)
More info: greenpleco.com
What a treat this is — a gravel cleaner designed to be powered by either an FX4 or an FX6 Fluval canister, writes Nathan Hill.
Best of all, this gravel cleaner currently comes as a free gift when you buy a new FX filter (read our review of the new FX4 here). The bad news is that if you want one, and already have an FX filter, you can’t buy it separately at the moment. The gravel cleaner is what it says on the box, but in this case the canister filter powers it. In the package you get the gravel cleaning attachment, some hosing, a pre-filter/strainer, and some suction cups. So far, so good.
The reach of the gravel cleaner is subject to how many attachments you use (two come as standard, each 365mm long). The cleaner connects to a hose, which in turn connects to the pre-filter — a clear chamber with a fine filter bag inside. This is where the waste collection happens.
The pre-filter has a quick-fit connection at the base, which you attach to a hose leading to the bottom port of your FX canister. At this stage, you sucker the pre-filter chamber to the side of your tank, and you’re ready to start.
Operation involves closing the inflow of the canister, but keeping the return open. When you open the valve on the bottom port to which the gravel vacuum is hooked up, flow will begin, drawing water through the cleaner and returning it to the tank.
Controlling the flow is performed with a ‘thumb tap’ on top of the device. Insert the gravel cleaner into the substrate, open the tap, and it’ll lift substrate up and swill off dirt. When the gravel is clean, close the tap again and let the substrate drop back out. It’s basically the same as any other gravel cleaner in this regard.
That’s pretty much it, apart from subsequently cleaning out the bag afterwards. Hagen’s website lists two grades of filter bag — fine and super fine. In a really dirty tank, that bag will clog pretty fast, so don’t expect it to be outstanding if you’re in the habit of leaving your tank for months between cleans — which you shouldn’t do anyway.
If you’re still unsure of how to operate it, Fluval even has a pretty good ‘silent movie’ tuition video using universal hand gestures — scroll down to see it.
I really hope they start selling these and not just giving them away to new FX buyers, because eventually everyone with one of those canisters will want one of these to accompany it. Easy enough to use, and makes a fiddly job a lot simpler.
Ease of use: 4/5
Value for money: 5+/5 (it’s free!)
Price: N/A, currently a free gift for FX buyers.
More info: uk.hagen.com
A simple design constructed well can be a wonderful thing, and this kit is definitely one of those things. If only we could purchase these direct in the UK, I’d be delighted, says Nathan Hill.
So how do you spruce up what is essentially a very thin syphon? Aquarium Münster found a way. First of all, there’s the shepherd’s crook, a rigid, bent walking stick of tube with a foam strainer on the end. Yup, a strainer. There’ll be no stray bits of leaf suddenly plugging up this nozzle and ruining everything.
Then there’s the manual starter. Just below the walking stick resides a bulbous, squeezable bubble of plastic. Pinch it a few times and the water flow begins.
Towards the delivery end of the syphon, there’s the flow controller. Rather than a traditional clamp or valve, there’s a rolling ‘mangle’ design that turns out to be a quadrillion times better for fine tuning than it looks.
Finishing it off is another, fine filter, and a sucker to hold the outflow in place. For something that’s just designed to transport droplets of water, it’s comprehensive.
The final touch, the flourish of the kit, is the tiny 10ml bottle of stress-protect. Think dechlorinator with aloe vera, iodine and vitamins added, and you’ll be close. A few drops in the transport water helps to shore up any mucus lost in transit, in turn boosting the fish’s own defences.
Does everything right and takes the frustration out of acclimating fish. Essential buying for anyone who collects delicate species.
Ease of use: 5/5
Value for money: 3/5
More info: www.aquarium-munster.com/en/