Fish feast like people

One of my favorite times to watch my tanks is right after feeding. The types of fish I keep come together at feeding time, for the most part peacefully. I love watching tiny eyes peak out from around the leaves, hesitant to go any further than the shadows. Well, that is until the urge overcomes them and they dart out into the bright light. First one, then another, and a third, and as the fourth and fifth arrive they begin to greet each other.

The dynamic is one of distrustful welcome. As the pellet is realized, the cloud of loaches appears, circling the food in a mesh-ball of movement. The larger push out the smaller, and all of this happens in tiny bursts lasting only a few seconds each. And spin and break. And spin and break. All the while, tiny nibbles of the pellet disappear down hungry throats.

And once the feast is near its end, I can usually get a full head count on how many of each fish I have in my large and heavily planted tank. It’s about the only time I can – and I guarantee everyone that keeping accurate headcounts is crucial to stopping algae outbreaks and nutrient spikes. So, it’s super important. Do it. End of PSA and back to writing now though.

The last few crumbs are squabbled over only by the smallest of the species. They are the hungriest and the most unaware of the face that watches them intently from across a pane of glass. Of the ten wild-caught Kubotai loaches I had acclimated only two weeks ago, seven remained in the open. One I found dead without apparent cause, floating in the tall grasses. The two who did not come to feast tonight are presumed dead. The feast is too important a ritual to be missed.

While the youngest are still intent on finding every last morsel, the older, bigger loaches sit back contentedly just beyond the shadow. They stretch from time to time, as if moving their belt buckles a notch looser. Other, as if drunk on the pleasure of feasting, shoot around the tank, intent on causing havoc. They harass the others excitedly, sometimes enticing a partner to dance wildly with them. A spinning mass of white and black blurs, pausing every few seconds in truce before continuing once more, plays across my tank screen, and I am content.

Though my tanks have been through a lot in the last few years, and I have not posted as frequently, they still bring so much joy to my life.


How to win against algae

So, even though I haven’t posted much of anything in the last almost year, I have been keeping up quite a few (10?) total tanks during this time. I’ve removed a few or downgraded the maintenance schedules of many of my tanks. I simply haven’t had the spare time to keep my tanks going at their previous rates, let alone keep posting about them.

Which got me thinking that a lot of people probably get into this hobby and suddenly find themselves overwhelmed with the upkeep. Even a single, small tank can wind up with daily maintenance requirements if you set yourself up for such a situation. So here are some signs that you’re tank isn’t getting enough care, as well as “quick” fixes to reduce how often you need to get involved (scraping algae, water changes, etc). One of the major issues of an untended tank is algae.

If you have algae, it has either just appeared, you’ve given up the battle, or you didn’t yet realize that there was a war being waged in your tank. Tanks with habitual algae aren’t pretty. Algae results from too many unused nutrients in your tank’s water column. Thus, algae usually results from one of three causes:

    • Overstocked: Fish are awesome and I always wind up wanting more. Which requires that I routinely get rid of fish, or else I would have too many creatures living in too small a space. Some fish species require overstocking (e.g. some cichlids), which must be balanced with increased filtration. Most freshwater tanks cannot be crammed full of fish, and some fish create more waste than others. The only way to figure it out is to research the species you have. I can identify species if you post them here and provide basic information. You might need to return some fish to the store or else invest some money in a new filter to better remove waste.
    • Lighting: If you have the stock lights on your tank, chances are that this is not your problem. But sometimes people getting into planted tanks, much like myself, get super drawn in to all of the different cool lights available. There are specialty lights for specific wavelengths and quite intense outputs just for planted tanks. Often these are part of high-tech setups. These types of tanks come as a package deal: If you have a super powerful light, you will most likely also need to add carbon of some sort to your aquarium. Or else you’ll have to constantly scrape algae off of everything.
    • Overfeeding: Algae grows because of unused nutrients in the water. Adding food that is not consumed within a few minutes gives algae the opportunity to consume some of the nutrients, resulting in its growth. If you’re not overstocked and feeding properly, algae won’t appear. A fish “diet” of sorts can also be a decent short-term solution to algae growth.

Guide for Buying Tanks and Supplies Secondhand

Fish tanks and all of the supplies necessary to run them can get quite expensive. Secondhand purchasing of supplies can then be a great way to save money. Often times “bundled” packages from Craigslist, Kajiji, or other such sites can be a huge money saver. Getting a tank, filters, lighting, stand, and some extras are sometimes offered by someone wanting out of the hobby can be a great deal, but it is also a gamble. Here are my tips to ensure your used fish supplies purchases are worth your while.

Evaluating a Second-hand tank

  • Ask the person who is selling the tank what kind of fish/reptiles were previously homed in the tank.
    • Ideally, you’ll want a setup that was used for the same type of ecosystem. Using reptile and marine/salt/reef tanks for freshwater systems can introduce disease or contaminate the water if not properly and thoroughly cleaned prior to use.
  • Ask why they’re getting rid of the tank.
    • If the previous fish all died mysteriously, it could be that you’ll pass the disease or contaminant along to your future inhabitants. If they’re moving, you might be able to talk them down in price just to get the tank gone. If they upgraded to a larger system, you might be able to get further advice or some extras thrown in that they won’t need any more for their new system.
  • Get pictures of the tank currently and while it was running if you can.
    • Scratches or other damage are often easier to evaluate on a system that is lit, so getting photos of the tank while it was running let you see what damage will be visible while you’re running the tank. These photos can also help you better imagine the relative size of your fish and decor to the tank, see if the person seemed to keep the tank well maintained (low algae, properly stocked, healthy fish) and get an idea of the stand the tank used.
    • If they’ve broken down the tank prior to posting an ad, the photos can be good indicators of the current condition of the tank. Check for where they stored the tank while empty – tanks stored outdoors or on unstable surfaces could have developed leaks that the seller isn’t even aware of. See if the person bothered to rinse out the tank and any extras that come with it – white residue or cloudy glass could mean you have to spend a lot of time cleaning and scraping to make the tank useable.
  • Always go see the tank in person before purchasing.
    • Sometimes a deal that looks too good to be true is. Check the tank thoroughly in person, looking for scratches, sealant peeling, and broken braces. Check the stand if it comes with the tank. If you can, have the tank sit on the stand and push on the stand to see how sturdy it is. If the stand is able to move with an unfilled tank on it, there’s no way you’ll want it holding up the tank when it is full.
  • Barter
    • When buying a used tank, there’s a certain amount of assumed “fixing” or “improving” implied in most cases. While a torn seal, broken brace, or rickety stand don’t mean the tank is beyond repair, but they do mean you’ll need to work on the tank and have knowledge of how to fix the problems. See if the seller is willing to drop the price given the tank’s shortcomings. Often explicitly pointing out the problem areas can make the seller more open to a reduced price, especially if they are inexperienced or unaware of the problem.

Secondhand accessories

  • For bundled tank/accessory packages, make sure that the accessories are appropriate for your future tank!
    • Some people sell packages with filters, heaters, lighting, or glass magnet cleaners that won’t actually work with the tank to which they’re bundled. Ask for photos/product names, and then double check their stats yourself online. Make sure that you have adequate filtration for your planned tank – some setups, like goldfish or cichlids, often need to be filtered at a higher rate than a properly stocked community freshwater tank. Check the the heater can reach the temperature range you’ll need given the water volume of the tank. Check that the light fixture fits on the tank with which it is paired and that it will be able to fit your lighting needs (i.e. will be bright enough for the planned tank while covering the desired areas of the tank). And be sure that the mag-cleaners will work on that tank’s glass/acrylic thickness.
  • Filters
    • Quality filters that will typically withstand the test of time include filters from Fluval and Eheim. Other popular brands include Tetra, Sunsun, Marineland, and Aquaclear. Canister filters are generally more expensive but easier to maintain and more aesthetically pleasing that hang-on-back (HOB) for planted tanks.
    • Check the filter’s impeller mechanism (example shown below). This is the part that will move the water through the filter, so if it is damaged, clogged, or otherwise not in good condition, the filter might need a replacement part or have similar damage in other areas. Impeller
    • Check the seals on canister filters. There’s nothing more disappointing than finding your “new” canister filter leaks. Sometimes all you need to do is clean or replace the large O-ring seal. Sometimes there’s a bigger issue.
    • Ask the seller how often they cleaned out their filter, and what filter media they recommend for it. You’ll get to see if they knew their setup well, and might get some good recommendations or free samples of what to use in the filter.
  • Heaters
    • The current favorite heaters tend to be designed with bodies out of shatterproof plastic or other materials. Possible bonus options include being submersible, having adjustable temperature, possessing an auto shutoff mechanism to prevent overheating, and showing on/off state through visible means like an indicator light.
    • Make sure the heater cord is long enough to reach your intended outlet.
    • Check that it comes with a mounting solution, and inspect the quality of the suction cups or other parts. You can often buy replacements online or in store for cheap.
    • Avoid heaters that show any indication of broken seals, water inside the heating mechanism, or brownish burn/overheating marks. Overheating is a common cause of heater destruction, and it can be hard to spot.
    • Always monitor your tank after installing a new heater. You never know if its broken or terribly calibrated, and could cook your fish while you’re not paying attention.
  • Lighting
    • Know what kind of lighting you’ll need for your tank. Planted tanks sometimes need lighting that can’t really be supplied by T8 lights that come with most pet-store tank hoods. Planted tanks often do well with High Output T5 fluorescent or LED lighting. Not all LED’s are equivalent though. There’s really no substitute for going online and finding pictures of tanks using the light you’re considering.
    • Ask to turn the light on/off to ensure it works. The bulbs might be blown, or the problem could be a more difficult circuitry issue.
    • Make sure you can get replacement bulbs/LED’s. Some fixtures might be an odd dimension or need brand-specific replacement parts, which can make getting replacement lighting parts expensive or impossible. For instance, if you buy a fixture needing very long HOT5’s, shipping can be quite expensive, and finding bulbs in the typically desired 6500K light temperature a lot of trouble.

The Moral

Anything bought secondhand should be carefully inspected and thoroughly cleaned before use. Cleaning should be done with safe chemicals and always rinsed repeatedly with water once cleaning is done. Always monitor new equipment for the first few hours/days to be sure its really working as expected. There’s no substitute for vetting the secondhand item and its seller thoroughly before purchase. It’s the only way to avoid wasting money and time once you’re home and can’t return the items.