Running a fishroom can be a lot of work, especially once your number of aquariums crosses into double digit territory. These gadgets are things I use at least weekly and consider an integral part of running my fish room.
Running a fish room can be a lot of work, especially once your number of aquariums crosses into double digit territory. These gadgets are things I use at least weekly and consider an integral part of running my fish room. Most of them are not sold for aquariums and may surprise you!
#1: Specimen Container
The clear specimen container might just look like a plastic box - and it is - but it is one of the most useful investments you can make for a fishroom. These containers are perfect for moving fish between tanks, bagging fish to sell, drip acclimating fish, and a lot more. Look for a design that hangs on the side of an aquarium - Lee's is the best widely available brand.
#2: Magnifying Glass
This may be a weird item to see on a fishroom list. I use a magnifying glass all the time in my fishroom. Some of the things you may want to get a closer look at: fish eggs and fry, sick fish, shrimp and snails, tiny organisms like infusoria, copepods, artemia, planaria, etc. If youre a fish nerd youll want to have one handy.
#3: Infrared Thermometer
A handheld infrared thermometer is very useful for checking temperature on your aquariums. You should have a thermometer in each tank, but it is super helpful to be able to verify the readings. The handheld thermometer can also be used for a quick temp check on a brine shrimp hatchery, or a bag of fish you just brought home.
#4: Measuring Spoons
Yes, measuring spoons. In order to maintain "domestic tranquility", you'll want to have a dedicated set of measuring spoons for your fishroom. I use these to measure out seachem safe, brine shrimp eggs, aquarium salt, medications, powdered additives, etc. It's helpful to have a small set and a larger set so you can always do quick measurements (and avoid doing math).
#5: A flashlight
A good flashlight can be really helpful in the fishroom. You can use it to spot plecos hiding in their caves. You can check on fish after lights out without messing with timers. A flashlight is also an easy source of light for harvesting brine shrimp. If you watch a lot of fishroom tour videos, youve probably seen a breeder walk through his fishroom with a flashlight in hand.
#6: The Turkey Baster!
A turkey baster is another kitchen implement that is invaluable in the fishroom. Like the measuring spoons, its best to have one that is just used for fish stuff. I use a turkey baster every day for feeding live and frozen foods. They're also good for catching and moving very small fry. A trick that is popular among aquascapers is using the baster to "squirt" water into plants and gravel to stir up debris during maintenance.
Multies live in large colonies in the shell beds left by the lake's native Neothauma snails. This natural shell bed habitat is what the aquarist should be aiming to replicate when setting up an aquarium for Neolamprologus multifasciatus.
Several species of dwarf African cichlids make their homes in shells. Collectively, they are known as Shell Dwellers. The species that I keep is Neolamprologus multifasciatus, often referred to as "Multies". These fish come from the sandy, rocky bottom near the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Africa. Multies live in large colonies in the shell beds left by the lake's native Neothauma snails. This natural shell bed habitat is what the aquarist should be aiming to replicate when setting up an aquarium for Neolamprologus multifasciatus.
Lake Tanganyika is fascinating for a variety of reasons. It is the largest of Africa's rift lakes, the second deepest lake in the world, and it holds about 16% of the world's available fresh water. Tanganyika is home to at least 250 species of cichlids, plus other fish that are not part of the cichlid family. It is also home to dozens of species of freshwater snails and bivalves. The water in Lake Tanganyika is notoriously hard and alkaline. The PH is about 9.0, and the water is very high in calcium. Temperatures at the surface range from 75 to 84 degrees (F).
Setting up a Tanganyikan Shell Dweller Aquarium
Aquarium Size for Shell Dwellers
N. multifasciatus are small cichlids: the largest males may reach 5 centimeters, while females usually top out at 2.5 cm. This diminutive size makes them a good choice for a smaller aquarium. The minimum tank size I would recommend is 10 gallons. Anything smaller will be subject to rapid fluctuations in water parameters. A 10 gallon tank could hold 1 or 2 breeding groups (6-12 fish). Use a 20 gallon long or similar high surface area format tank to show off their colony breeding behavior. Personally I keep them as the only species in a 40 gallon breeder. The large surface area provides space for about 60 shells.
Substrate for Shell Dwellers
To see Multies at their best, the aquarist should aim to recreate the conditions of their ancestral lake. Start with a relatively deep sand substrate, mixing in crushed coral or aragonite to ensure there is plenty of calcium present to keep the water buffered and the PH high. N. multifasciatus are diggers. They pick up sand in their mouths and spit it out, building hills and burrying their shells so that only the entrance is visible. I recommend a substrate depth of 2-3 inches to give them plenty of space to dig.
Snail Shells for Shell Dwellers
Of course, one of the most important additions for shell dwellers is the shells! In the lake they live in the discarded shells of Neothauma snails. But these snails are only endemic to Africa and the export of their shells is tightly controlled. If you are able to find legitimate Neothauma shells, expect to pay a high price. Instead, most Multi keepers use escargot shells that are commonly sold for cooking. They are very close in size to the Neothauma shells and very affordable. You will want 1 shell per adult fish, keeping in mind that these fish live in colonies, with each male guarding a small territory of 5-7 shells and their resident females.
Don't worry about aquascaping the aquarium before adding your shell dwellers, as they will move the shells and the substrate as soon as they move in. Just toss the shells in and spread them across the bottom. The fish will move and bury the shells very quickly.
Water Parameters for Tanganyikan Shell Dwellers
In order to keep the water appropriately hard and alkaline I like to use the Seachem line of Cichlid Lake Salts and Tanganyika Buffer. These products should only be added to new water during water changes, as they do not evaporate out over time. You will need to do some testing to determine the hardness and alkalinity of your water in order to dose correctly.
Although N. multifasciatus come from a lake with a 9.0 PH, don't put too much effort into chasing that PH value. Unless you find wild caught specimens, most fish will be able to adapt to a PH closer to 8.0. Stability and consistency are more important than precision. Always be careful when adjusting PH and test the water before and after you add buffering products to prevent large swings.
Temperature for Tanganyikan Shell Dwellers
Temperature should be at the lower end of the lake's range (below 80 degrees F), as N. multifasciatus actually live at depths of 50-100 feet below the surface. I keep mine at 77 degrees F and they do very well at that temperature. Anything between 75 - 80 degrees fahrenheit should be acceptable.
Shell dwellers are one of the easier fish to breed as long as you are providing them with clean water and the right conditions. Males will compete for control of a harem of several females. Breeding takes place in the shells and the fry will be born inside of a shell. Feeding a good variety of quality frozen and live foods will usually stimulate breeding. I like to offer live or frozen baby brine shrimp, microworms, krill flake, and spirulina flake. Live daphnia, frozen cyclops, or any similar food will also work.
The first sign of breeding activity is usually a group of small fry poking their heads out of a shell. The fry will be able to eat microworms, crushed flake, and live baby brine as soon as they are big enough to leave the shell. They will remain within a couple inches of their home shell for the first few weeks of their life.
Eventually you will end up with more fish than shells, which is the limiting factor on the size of the colony. At this point some fish should be removed and rehomed to avoid over crowding. Fortunately Multies are typically an easy fish to get rid of due to their small size and amazing behavior.
Live plants come with a lot of benefits for your aquarium: they eat ammonia, they look better than fake plastic plants, they inhibit algae growth, and they create a more natural environment for your fish. More benefits of live plants are discussed in this post about pothos in the aquarium. But not every aquarium has a good substrate or the right conditions for planting live plants.
In breeding or quarantine setups you might want to run a bare bottom (like the tank pictured above). If you keep boisterous cichlids that like to dig, no plant is safe in a regular substrate. Maybe you need to be able to move plants around between aquariums easily. An easy solution in these cases is putting potted plants in your fish tank.
What kind of pots are safe for aquarium use?
The first step in adding potted plants to your aquarium is choosing the right containers. You have a lot of options here. Standard terra cotta clay pots, that are not painted or glazed, are safe for use in an aquarium. You can also use plastic plant pots, or upcycle any plastic container that is the right shape and size for your goals. A (thouroughly washed) yogurt container or plastic tupperware can hold substrate as well as any pot.
When choosing a container, keep in mind that some plants are heavy root feeders and will need some space for their roots to grow, while others can be planted in a shallow substrate. For example, java fern does not need any substrate at all, so you can use a very shallow pot to hold it in place. Plants like jungle val and amazon swords will want a deeper pot with a good quality substrate.
What substrate to put in aquarium plant pots?
Any aquarium substrate that you would use in your fish tank can work for potted aquatic plants. For root feeding plants, I recommend using some organic potting soil (sift and rinse it thoroughly first) capped with aquarium gravel. This will supply the plants with nutrients for years, while keeping them contained. This method works particularly well for valisneria, which will quickly take over a dirted tank if not contained.
Another option is to use regular aquarium gravel and add a few root tabs to the substrate to supply nutrients. Aquarium Co-op sells root tabs and other planted tank supplies. You can find root tabs on Amazon as well. These will need to be replaced every few months for the best results, but luckily theyre cheap.
Rinse the pot or container before adding substrate. If it has large holes in the bottom, cover or plug them with some plastic (like a bottle cap) or mesh before the substrate goes in. This will prevent dirt or gravel from spilling out the bottom of the pot when it is lifted. A few small holes in the pot's bottom is actually ideal for a lot of plants, because their roots will be able to grow out through the bottom and pull more nutrients from the water column.
Adding your potted plants to your aquarium
Once you've chosen a container and substrate and planted your plants, make sure you rinse the plant and the pot in some fresh water to remove any dust from the substrate before adding it to your aquarium. The greatest benefit of potted aquarium plants is you can re-arrange them easily, moving them around as often as you want. Dont hesitate to try a lot of different plants in a lot of different configurations!