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The Complete Aquarium Guide [ENGLISH]

The Complete Aquarium Guide [ENGLISH]

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An aquarium is not just a motley collection of plants and fish. Some aquarists aim to
reconstruct the biotope of a specific geographical region (Central America, the Amazon,
Asia, Africa), while others concentrate on a single group of fish (for example, livebearers,
Cichlids, or marine fish). Whatever the option, an aquarium must be attractive and well-
balanced for its occupants to thrive, and this entails some understanding of the various
habitats, as well as their inhabitants.

• Community

tank.

An aquarium is a collection of elements -
fish, plants, soil, rocks, water - which are
compatible with each other. However,
there are several types of aquarium, all
sharing the same general principles and
techniques but differing with respect to
the environment created. Aquariums are
divided into two main groups:
- temperate aquariums, often mistakenly
called cold water aquariums, where the
water temperature can range from 5 to

25°C;

- tropical aquariums, with either fresh or
sea water. These cover the areas lying
roughly between the tropic of Cancer, to
the north of the equator, and the tropic of

Capricorn, to the south, where the water
temperature varies by only a few degrees
throughout the whole year.

TEMPERATE WATER
AQUARIUMS

These are not heated, and ideally the
water temperature should vary to the
same extent that it does in nature (from 5
to 25°C, approximately). This is difficult,
as room temperature barely falls below
15°C and is often over 18°C. Apart from
this difference, the underlying principle is
the same as in any aquarium: to recreate
an environment. This demands just as

32

DIFFERENT TYPES OF AQUARIUM

much time and care as with tropical
aquariums. It must be stressed that we are
not talking about goldfish bowls!
Temperate aquariums house robust
species, among them the fish found in our
rivers and ponds, which fall beyond the
scope of this book. On the other hand, we
will cover goldfish (Carassius auratus), all
too often neglected in favor of tropical
species, but which, in their innumerable
variety, give great pleasure to many hob-
byists.
Still within this temperature range, men-
tion must be made of garden ponds,
where goldfish and koi carps (colored
varieties of the common carp) can be kept
and bred. If they are well designed, such
ponds can recreate a natural biotope, with
aquatic and terrestrial plants, inverte-
brates, and amphibians. Sometimes they
can also play host to tropical fish for a
brief summer stay, if the temperature per-
mits. After all, fish can take vacations too,
especially if they coincide with yours! It is
a practical solution when there is nobody
to look after an aquarium during a long
absence, and when you come back you
may be amazed by the weight the fish
have put on, or by some unexpected new
arrivals.
On the other hand, do not be too sur-
prised if some fish have disappeared,
unable to tolerate the change of setting -
or the predatory instincts of the local cat.

TROPICAL AQUARIUMS

The community aquarium

Here fish and plants not native to the
same region are found side by side, creat-
ing an environment that does not exist in
nature. The results may be charming and
ingenious, but this type of aquarium is
often disparaged by purists.
A community aquarium is often a popular
choice with beginners creating - or
"mounting", in aquarists' jargon - their first
tank, although this is not a general rule.

The specialist aquarium

In this case, the hobbyist concentrates on
a particular species, type, family, or group
of fish with common characteristics. The
choice of this kind of aquarium can be

dictated by several factors: interest in
reproduction, the attainment of varieties
not found in nature (sometimes for com-
petition), or quite simply a fascination
which is difficult to explain. As in the pre-
vious section, the fish and plants do not
have to come from the same region, and
the latter are sometimes merely secondary
elements.

The Dutch aquarium

In this type of aquarium fish serve as a foil
to the plants, which play the leading role,
although the former do also contribute to
the equilibrium of the setting, which is not
easy to maintain. The plants and fish can
come from different geographical areas.
The results can be ravishing, sometimes
amounting to a veritable aquatic garden,
with the aquarist becoming a horticulturist
in order to maintain it.

• Garden pond.

Dutch
aquarium.

33

WATER, A HAVEN FOR LIFE

The elements of a

South American
tank. •

As its name suggests, this type of aquar-
ium is highly prized in the Netherlands,
and in Germany too, although it is little
(too little?) seen in the rest of the world.

Regional aquariums

Here the trick is to reconstruct as faithfully
as possible a natural biotope in which
everything harmonizes: the water, the soil,
the rocks, the plants, and the fish. The den-
sity of living beings is higher than that of a
natural setting, however. Mounting an
aquarium of this type requires a certain
knowledge of the geographical area con-
cerned, to ensure the compatibility of the
various elements.

Central American aquariums
There are two possible options. The first is
the recreation of a habitat suitable for live-
bearers from the Poeciliid family: hard
water with a temperature of 26°C or more,
and plants playing an important role. The
second is the assembly of a tank for Cich-
lids: rocky decor, a few hardy plants, with
the water fairly soft, well-filtered, and oxy-
genated.
South American aquariums
Mainly devoted to the Amazon, these can
be divided into two main categories. The
tanks with limpid colorless water, neutral
or slightly acid, are inhabited by small
Characins that are somewhat difficult for

34

DIFFERENT TYPES OF AQUARIUM

amateurs to keep. The aquariums with
brown, but still transparent water, recreate
an Amazon-style river under the forest
roof. Its acidity and its color (sometimes
even black) are the result of acids derived
from humus. These tanks house other
species of Characins, or Cichlids, particu-
larly the famous angelfish and discus. The
water is very soft in both these types of
aquarium.
African aquariums
A biotope of a West African river can be
reconstructed in an aquarium.
The water, which must be well-filtered, is
neutral and quite soft. The fish will include
the Congolese tetra, one of the rare

Characins found on this continent, and cer-
tain Cichlids. The typical plants in this envi-
ronment are Anubias.
Tanganyika-type aquariums are character-
ized by their calcareous and decidedly
alkaline water. They have few plants, as
these are often treated roughly by the fish,
but they have a rocky setting, with hiding
places and swimming areas to the liking of
several species of Cichlids.
The general characteristics of aquariums
for Mbunas from Lake Malawi are roughly

similar.

Asiatic aquariums
Running water Cyprinids can be kept in a
tank with clear water which is well-fil-
tered, slightly acid, and soft, at a temper-
ature of 25-26°C. Barbs and danios are
the usual occupants of this type of aquar-

<-Lake

Tanganyika.

• Lake Malawi.

ium, some species being particularly rec-
ommended for beginners to fish keeping.
Marshes can be reconstructed with pro-
fusely planted aquariums (or aquaterrari-
ums). It is advisable to use genuinely
aquatic plants. The water is slightly acid
and barely mineralized, to suit barbs,
labeos, or fish from the Anabantoid fam-
ily. Always avoid a mixture of active and
placid fishes.

35

WATER, A HAVEN FOR LIFE

AFRICA

• Aquarium with
a collection of

several species

from Lake Malawi.

West Africa is lined with rivers and streams with an acid pH, and temperatures of up to 27°C. The
swampy areas disappear in the dry season, but the fish which frequent them have devised various
strategies to overcome this difficulty: some species, such as the killies, lay eggs which are able to resist
drought.
East Africa is characterized by the presence of large lakes, veritable inland seas, only with unsalted
water. The most important of these are, from north to south, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika, and
Lake Malawi. They are mainly inhabited by fish from the Cichlid family, three quarters of which are
only found in this region.
Lake Victoria, which stretches over nearly 7,000 km2

, with a maximum depth of 80 m, contains very
hard water which can reach a temperature of 26-27°C. Its fish represent a substantial source of
nutrition locally, although they have been in decline since the deliberate introduction of a carnivorous
predator, the Nile perch.
The lake most familiar to aquarists, Lake Tanganyika, is one of the biggest (31,900 km2

, the second
largest in the world) and the deepest (a maximum of 1,400 m!). Only the first couple of hundred
meters contain fish, which are accustomed to its extremely hard water, a pH between 7.5 and 9.2,
and temperatures of up to 27°C. The clear, well-oxygenated surface waters house few plants, the
main vegetation being the carpet of algae covering the rocky areas. The species living there
sometimes form different population groups, quite close to each other, which can mainly be
distinguished by their color. Some fishes take refuge in the empty shells of Gastropods on the sandy
shores. This lake is also exploited by the locals as a source of food, but the Cichlids are actively bred
and exported all over the world.
This is also the case with Lake Malawi, at 26,000 km2

almost as large as Tanganyika, but not as deep
(700 m). Its water is slightly less calcareous and its temperatures range from 24 to 26°C. Some
species of Cichlids found there are nowadays known as Mbunas.

36

DIFFERENT TYPES OF AQUARIUM

SOUTH-EAST ASIA

The water in the rivers and streams is acid,
sometimes colored, with temperatures often
exceeding 25°C. The swamp and marsh areas are
shallow, allowing the sun to exert a greater
influence, and their water temperature can be
higher than 28°C. Natural sites collect rain and
floodwater, while the artificial sites consist of rice
fields. The exuberant plant life is either completely
aquatic (totally submerged) or paludal (partially
underwater; in very wet environments, the base
of the plants is often submerged).

Aquatic zone in Asia, colonized by sea
lentils. •

Asiatic tank.

MANGROVES

The borders between the sea and the land
provide muddy, swampy areas (often estuaries),
in which certain trees - mangroves - plunge
their roots. Mangroves is also the collective
name for these tropical regions in Africa, Asia,
and Australia. The water reaches very high
temperatures, of 30°C or more, and the sea
water exerts a very strong influence. The
salinity is therefore variable, leading to the
presence of fauna specific to these areas. The
best-known occupant of mangroves is the
periophthalmus, an amphibious fish which can
develop out of water on account of the form of
its pectoral fins.

The brackish water aquarium

This is characterized by water with less
salt than the sea, pH values of between
7.7 and 8, and fairly high temperatures,
26-27°C. The decor consists of branches
and roots, but never rocks. Few plants
survive in this type of water, and only a
few species of fish can tolerate it (see the
box on Brackish water species, pages
124-125).

Tropical seawater aquariums

The water must be of a very high quality:
clear, therefore well-filtered and oxy-
genated. It can be natural or reconstituted.

Roots tangled
underwater provide
shelter for fish.

37

WATER, A HAVEN FOR LIFE

The generous

dimensions of this

aquaterrarium can
house water

turtles as a
complement to

several species of

fish

or a combination of the two. Marine
plants are not common, but algae can
appear spontaneously and cover the
decor of rocks or dead corals - although
their growth is imperceptible to the naked
eye, it is fairly rapid. They are introduced
to the aquarium in various ways. The soil
is very grainy, as the sand is made up of
shells and corals.
Under bright light, a marine aquarium
often forms a colorful environment in
which fish develop among inert or living
decorative elements, which they can share
with invertebrates, including certain
shrimps. Novice aquarists are often
advised not to plunge into keeping a
marine aquarium without first finding
their water wings in a freshwater tank,
which is easier to tackle. The same eco-
logical rules govern the two types of set-
ting, however, the main difference
obviously being the salinity of the water.
Let us just say that it is more sensible to
start with fresh water, as the plants and
fish are more robust and their price is
often more accessible. To be realistic,
problems with sea water, involving the
accidental loss of expensive fish, would
discourage many beginners. Nevertheless,
apart from the price of marine fish - and
there are some cheaper species - it should
be pointed out that marine aquariums are
not much more expensive to run.

The tropical freshwater aquaterrarium
These days aquarists are not just con-
cerned with water but often incorporate
an adjoining piece of land. Though
aquaterrariums are quite tricky to design,
the results can often prove spectacular.
The aquatic element requires skills similar
to traditional aquarium maintenance,
while the cultivation of its terrestrial
neighbor is not that different from looking
after houseplants, except in a very humid
setting. The former usually houses fish,
but the latter can play host to amphibians,
and even reptiles such as sea turtles.

SPECIAL PURPOSE AQUARIUMS

This category includes:
- breeding aquariums, often a simple
glued glass tank with no soil, for tempo-
rary use;
- hospital-aquariums;
- large aquariums. These are large by
virtue of their length, as their depth and
breadth cannot exceed certain limits for
technical and practical reasons. They
sometimes present installation problems,
due to the weight on the base and the
special materials required for their con-

struction.

Large tanks are often given over to large
species which require ample living space
on account of their size. They can also be
used for the other purposes mentioned
above, because it is generally considered
that the bigger the aquarium, the easier it
is to maintain its equilibrium. Contrary to
what is often thought, their maintenance
does not imply more problems if an equi-
librium is really achieved.

38

PUBLIC AQUARIUMS

In public aquariums, fishkeeping takes on a new dimension. The general trend is to offer the public

extremely large tanks, in which the behavior of the animals reflects as closely as possible what actually
goes on in their natural habitat, usually beyond the reach of most people. These "living museums" serve
not only to present aquatic animals but also to study them, as much still remains to be discovered about
some biological phenomena (for example, the reproduction of marine fish). This new generation of "real
conditions" aquariums includes among its ranks the Deep-Sea World in Fife, Scotland, the Fenit Sea World
in County Kerry, Ireland, and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, not forgetting illustrious
precursors such as the National Aquarium in Washington and the Belle Isle Aquarium, Detroit, which
opened in 1873 and 1904, respectively.
There are now literally hundreds of public aquariums in both Europe and North America, some of which
specialize in the fauna of their local region,
such as the recently opened aquarium in
Touraine, France, the largest in Europe.
Space does not permit an exhaustive list, but
readers can obtain information about public
aquariums from the Fish Information Service
(FINS) (www.actwin.com/fish/public.cgi).

Freshwater room in the tropical
aquarium in Tours. •

Tropical lagoon tank in La
Rochelle aquarium. •

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