Welcome to Darby’s Tropicals Tip Page.
Here at Darby’s Tropicals we try to pass on what knowledge we have gained over the
years. My name is Robert, and I am responsible for the aquarium tips written on
this website. I have been keeping tropical fish for 26 years both as a retail store
owner, and hobbyist. Some of your best advice will come from fellow hobbyist who have learned over many years by trial an error. I talk to fellow aquarist almost
daily discussing different ways to achieve that really cool window to observe nature
in action. There are many ways to keep tropical fish. I hope the following tips help
you keep a happy and healthy aquarium.
--Thank you for visiting Darby’s Tropicals
#1 Tap Water
(No fooling this is important stuff)
Here in the U.S.A. we are, for the most part, blessed with good drinking water.
The E.P.A. has quality requirements for the municipal water supply to follow. The
two main disinfectants are chlorine and chloramines. Here in central Texas we have
both, and you deal with them in different ways. Before we go any further there is
no reason in most cases for expensive filters or bottled water. R.O., soften, or
distilled also has its drawbacks and treatments to perform. Good ole tap water with
chlorine just needs a dechlorinator before use in an aquarium. Chloramine is a bit
more complicated. Water companies add ammonia and chlorine, this combination is called
chloramine. This is a very stable disinfectant. By just adding chlorine remover
(Sodium thiosulfate) you just remove chlorine, and toxic ammonia remains that can
kill fish and invertebrates. We can deal with chloramines with using the proper
dechlorinator that also contains agents to lock up ammonia, that re-releases it
slowly so biological filters can consume it, rendering it harmless. Make sure your
chloramine remover deals with the ammonia side of the chlorine/ammonia combination.
The aquarium industry has come a long ways in creating very good products to deal
with chloramines. It is just my opinion that products containing strictly Sodium
thiosulfate should be labeled chlorine remover.
#2 New Aquariums
Definition of a new aquarium is a tank that does not have
a viable biological base to convert harmful ammonia to less harmful nitrite and
nitrate. The practice here at Darby’s is in a new aquarium we perform a partial
water change once a week of 25% to 30% of the water in freshwater tanks. New tanks
go thru a nitrogen cycle that takes 4 to 6 weeks to complete. This will help the
starter fish till you cultivate the nitrifying bacteria you need to keep a healthily
aquarium. Yep that 2 year old aquarium you just drained all the water out of is
now a new aquarium. Once the tank has cycled water changes should be preformed every
other week to at least Once a month. A good maintenance routine makes both you and
your fish happy.
There are three different methods of filtering water in an aquarium:
biological, mechanical, and chemical. The primary filter should be a biological
filter. This puppy will do the majority of the work for you. Biological filters
i.e. undergravel, sponge draw oxygenated water thru a filter media with a good surface
area to grow large colony’s of really good bacteria. These nitrifying bacteria’s
are little porkers they eat ammonia and convert the ammonia into less harmful compounds.
So you just farm these little critters, and they do most of the work for you. I
will explain how to care for these guys in the maintenance tips.
Mechanical filtration picks up suspended detritus (THAT YUCKKY STUFF) in the aquarium water. Mechanical filtration traps
compounds. The amount picked up depends on the filter media used. I like the bonded material that does not clog up as fast. There are many different medias to use; some are used to polish the water like micron, and diatomaceous earth, that picks up very small particles. Maintenance on mechanical filters is very important. The detritus trapped in the filter media will start to break into various dissolved nutrients that reduce water quality, and feed unwanted algae’s. When the media is clogged, water flow through the filter is reduced, and the effectiveness of the filter is diminished. Cleaning the media at least every week will help the performance, and make that filter much more efficient.
When choosing a power filter I prefer a hang-on–back for the ease of cleaning. I will use canister filters when I need a large quantity of chemical filtration. Canister filters can be hidden under the aquarium and easier to hide the intake and output tubes. Canister filters are generally more expensive, and harder to clean, and set back up. The aquarium industry makes many different kinds of power filters. Things you’ll want to look for are ease of cleaning, and obtaining replacement parts.
Chemical filtration is another one of those very complicated subjects. The most popular method is the use of carbon. A protein skimmer is another popular method in marine tanks. There is also ion exchange, polymeric resins, and ozone. We use different medias to target particular
compounds with chemical filtration. I like to use carbon on freshwater tanks, and use carbon and protein skimmer on marine tanks. Every tank is a little different with biological load, filters, substrates, decoration, and current. The aquariums we keep are enclosed systems, and the bad stuff will accumulate over time. Chemical filtration can help keep water quality high, and the critters we keep happy. Something to remember when you use medications on an aquarium is to remove the chemical media i.e. carbon or resins. The medication will be absorbed and no longer be at a healing level. Words to research: Absorption, Adsorption, and Ion-exchange will help you understand chemical filtration.
Biological filters should be your primary filter. You can keep a healthy aquarium with a biological filter alone. Mechanical filters help trap un-dissolved compounds before they break down to various dissolved compounds that will reduce water quality. Cleaning filter media at least weekly will help with filter efficiency. Chemical filtration picks up dissolved compounds that also lower water quality. Using all three methods can help you keep a healthy, happy, and attractive aquarium. There are many very good filters on the market that are easy to use, and also easy to find replacement parts for.
Here at Darby’s we keep tropical fish. The short definition of tropical is where it is warm all of the time. The long definition is the Torrid Zone (tropics) is located 23 degrees latitude north, and south of the equator between the Tropic of Cancer, and the Tropic of Capricorn. The fish and invertebrates that live in this hot climate need warm water that does not fluctuate over a few degrees a day. Fish and invertebrates are cold-blooded animals (poikilotherms) so the temperature of the water they swim in controls their metabolism. Tropical fish kept at lower temps below 76 degrees will swim slower, digest food slower, grow slower, and so on. They are like that snake you see on a cold day moving slowly. Darby’s Tropicals is located in central Texas, and we have a very warm climate. We have big swings in daily temperature, some days almost 30 degrees. Cool in the mornings. Hot in the afternoons. The room temp in the afternoon can take the tank to 83 degrees. We set our heater at 80-82 degrees so the tank does not fluctuate over a few degrees. If you set your heater at 76-78 degrees, and room temp takes it to 83 degrees this is to large of a swing in temperature, and this will stress your fish. The warmer the water the less oxygen it will hold, so we need to find that happy medium. The critters we keep need a constant in both water chemistry and temperature.
Heaters can malfunction. Something to do with Murphy’s Law. If you notice a tank with a malfunctioning heater and the water is way to warm, then unplug the heater open the lid, and aerate heavily. Put an extra air pump on the tank if you have one.
It is the lack of dissolved oxygen that harms not the temperature. DO NOT PUT ICE IN THE TANK. Let the aquarium temperature drop slowly.
Remember the fish we keep need a constant in water chemistry, and temperature.
The existence of nearly all life is fueled by light. There is a daily rhythm to life the sun comes up and warms us. Makes you want to go scuba diving, or maybe go to work making the world a better place. In the evening the sun goes down, and we fall asleep for that much needed rest to tackle the next day. Light regulates little clocks inside animals, and plants. The Day-Night cycle is an important environmental factor linked to animal behavior.
Tropical (warm water) aquariums should receive 10-12 hours of good light daily. My definition of good light is a spectrum or color of light that occurs in the aquatic environment naturally. Now days you can find aquarium lighting to fit your needs. Examples would be different spectrums for fish only tanks, freshwater planted tanks, marine (saltwater), and reef aquarium.
The fish that feed during the day don’t sleep per say, but at night there metabolism slows, for metabolic repairs, and rest. Nocturnal fish (night-feeding) go into a normal feeding mode during the dark period. The time we turn on, and off our aquarium lights should be routine, and not fluctuate from day to day. The use of an inexpensive timer to turn them on, and off is a good idea. A routine Day-Night cycle will help keep a healthy balanced environment. Incandescent lighting the screw in type bulbs, are not well suited for the aquarium. They give off too much heat, and the light spectrum (color) is not a good light for the aquatic environment. Florescent lighting is a better choice. They are more energy efficient, run cooler, and give you more light for your money. We use other types of lighting depending on the animals or plants we are keeping. Florescent lights are sold in three different types normal output, very high output, and compact florescent. Metal Halide (HQI) is another type of lighting used, when very intense, and powerful light is wanted. Lighting is an important subject for the aquarist to learn about some of the terms to research is: spectrum, color temperature, photoperiod.
In a fish only tank with artificial plants we use normal output florescent lighting. Tanks with live plants or symbiotic invertebrates we use the more powerful compact florescent, and metal halide .Light fixtures are one of the more expensive part of the aquarium set up. The staff here at Darby’s can help explain the different options to you.
If you are
new to the hobby, or thinking about getting that first tank, there are a few things
to consider. Aquariums are an enclosed environment, without regular maintenance
(that means partial water changes, and tank cleaning) the tank won’t be enjoyed.
Keeping an aquarium is a great hobby. If you are curious how things work in nature,
if you were that kid who filled up your underwear drawer with bugs and snakes for
safe keeping, or went to the nearest pond or river with a net to grab critters off
the bank, then you are a perfect candidate for the aquarium hobby. A few things
to know before we clean our aquariums: the animals we keep need a constant in temperature,
and water chemistry. We achieve this by doing partial water changes not over 1/3
the total volume at any one time. This way we do not change there temperature or
water chemistry enough to stress them, or effect the nitrifying bacteria. We do
this on a regular basis. I like to do my water changes every other week of a 1/3
of the water, and not to go over at least once a month.
I think everybody who keeps an aquarium should know a little about the Nitrogen Cycle.
I will attempt to explain it to you as simple as I can. The nitrogen cycle is like
magic it just happens. You do not have to think that hard about it. We are talking
about a couple genuses of bacteria that appear out of nowhere and do maintenance
for you. You know like having aquarium elves show up while you’re sleeping and you
wake up to a healthier tank. In a new aquarium without life we have a fairly sterile
environment until we add some starter fish. Then their waste, and the food we feed
them, will break down to ammonia (Bad Stuff). Here we go like magic a genus of bacteria
(Nitrosomonas) will appear and consume the ammonia and convert it into nitrite
(Still Bad Stuff). Again like magic another genus (Nitrobacter) will appear and
consume the nitrite and convert it into nitrate (Not so Bad).
In fact it is a 1000 times less toxic than ammonia. The nitrates are kept down with partial water changes. This
process can take a month or two to fully develop that is why we go slowly at first.
This was a very simplified explanation, for those of you who want to know more there
are many books, and articles on the subject. I know that reading about bacteria
is not that exciting but this is important stuff. I wanted to talk about this subject
before explaining how to clean your aquarium because these little guys are the key
to a balanced aquarium, and dictates why we use gravel vacuums, and how we clean
biological filters. Nitrifying bacteria live in the oxygenated areas of our aquariums
on the surface of the gravel, in our filters, and on the surfaces of the tank decorations.
We can harm this bacterium by changing to much water, or cleaning with chlorinated
water. Everything in nature will try to achieve a balance. In a cycled tank there
will be a balance between the biological load (Fish) and the bacteria that convert
there waste into less harmful compounds. If we put too many fish at one time, or
change to much water we will upset this balance. Putting too many fish in at one
time will pass up the ability of the bacteria to consume there waste and cause an
ammonia spike. Nature will take over to achieve a balance and the colony of bacteria
will grow till that has been achieved, but any ammonia spike can harm your fish.
Too large a partial water change can change the water chemistry enough to lose some
of the bacteria, and also cause a spike in ammonia, until the colony achieves a
balance. Again this is a simplified explanation other bad compounds will develop
during this process like peptides, soluble proteins, organic dyes, and fatty acids.
We do partial water changes for more than the nitrate part of the equation.
Remember the inhabitance of our aquariums need a constant in temperature, and water
quality, and everything in nature will achieve a balance.
There are a few tools for cleaning the aquarium that make the job much easier, and quicker.
The number one tool is a gravel vacuum; with this tool you can clean the gravel
better than any other method. This tool is a must. Other tools that can be useful
are: a small nylon scrub brush, brush kit with brushes for lift tubes and powerheads
and power filters, soft algae pad, plastic razor scraper, tooth brush, and
squeegee. The only chemical we need is a chloramines treatment, or chlorine remover.
If your water supply has chloramines use products that deal with the ammonia side
of the bond. (See Tap Water this web site under aquarium tips)
time to clean the tank I am sure your thinking it’s about time, after all this talk
about bacteria. The 1st thing to do is unplug heaters, and water pumps.
2nd start your gravel vacuum and without moving to fast as to scare your
fish clean the gravel over the entire bottom of the tank. This is the tricky part
not over 1/3 the water should be changed, and the entire bottom
should be vacuumed. Don’t worry if you don’t get across the entire bottom
the first few times this will come with practice. Start on the opposite side the
next try till you get the hang of it. 3rd I take my nylon scrub brush
and clean the top molding of hard water deposits and clean the glass lid.4th
I take my algae pad and clean the inside glass all four sides, use your razor scraper
on the tuff algae. 5th I take my large brush from my aquarium brush kit
and take elbows off the undergravel lift tubes and clean inside with the brush and
outside with algae pad using one hand with my other hand holding the top of the
tube.6th I clean powerheads and power filters all these water pumps have
impellers to push the water, on powerheads a ¼ turn between motor and intake usually
breaks them apart to get at the impeller. Clean the impeller off and then clean
the whole it goes into with a small brush out of that aquarium brush kit under running
water. Reassemble, and put back in place. With power filters you can lift the siphon
tube straight out to get to the impeller clean the same way and reassemble. Then
either replacefilter pad, or clean them with high pressure water a water hose works well.7th
Clean the biological filter media with water out of the aquarium. Put ½ gallon are
so in a plastic bucket if it is sponge material squeeze it out a bunch of time in
this water. I know it holds a lot of yuck you may need to repeat this procedure
a couple of times. With bio-balls or ceramic ring just wash off good with aquarium
water in the same manner, and reassemble. Prime power filters (fill box with water).8th
Now is the time to put the plants and rock where you want them.9th Add
the chloramine treatment, or chlorine remover (you can be a little liberal with
this too much won’t hurt too little will). Then fill the tank to about the top molding,
and plug everything back in10th Clean outside glass with clear water
and your squeegee, and buff with dry towel. You’re done! This takes longer to explain
than to perform. With practice it does not take that long, and the results is well
partial water change never hurt anything if something does not look right like the
fish are dull in color, not eating with the same enthusiasm, or maybe just acting
different. A partial water change could not hurt.
Aquarist should always be aware of the environment around their aquarium. Some of the DO NOTS
are cleaning the outside glass with glass cleaner, room air freshener, air freshener
that plugs into an electrical socket, carpet treatments that have perfume, potpourri, and that 6 foot tall stereo speaker thumping next to the
tank. HAND LOTIONS, AND PERFUMES WILL KILL FISH. Wash your hands before you stick them
in your aquarium. Household products and perfumes can cause hard to diagnose
problems that cause fish death with no rhyme or reason. One here one there sort
of thing. It just takes parts per billion with some of these things. This should
not scare you it is easy to control what goes on around the aquarium. Just keep
this in the back of your mind as thing to watch out for.
The staff here at Darby’s is always happy to answer any questions you have. We can show
you how to take your pumps apart, and reassemble for cleaning, or show you how to
use, and start a gravel vacuum. There are no silly questions to us if you don’t
know just ask. Well maybe the question about how much water do these fish drink
anyway? I got to add water every day! Doesn’t count, feel free to ask we want to help you with
Thank-You from the Staff at Darby’s