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Most of the freshwater aquarium fish we find in our pet stores originate from the tropical river of the Amazon in South America. The Amazon has more variety of fish and plant life of all the rivers in the world put together. The amazing variety and beauty of Amazonian fish and plants is what drew me to this style of aquarium. I have fallen in love with creating Amazon community tanks and re-creating the environment and natural eco-systems of this river. The diversity of the Amazon River and its many streams means there are infinite ways in which you could create an Amazon theme, and the style and decor of your aquarium setup will depend on what sort of fish you wish to keep. Today I will focus on setting up an Amazon themed aquarium suitable for Angelfish or Discus. These fish can grow quite large so it is recommended to have an aquarium at least 150-200 litres or more in volume. They are also rather peaceful fish, so are very suitable for the community tank, so long as follow a few simple guidelines. For my theme I want to re-create the flooded jungle of the Amazon. Every rainy season the Amazon River bursts its banks to flood the surrounding jungle. At this time the fish head into the jungle to find a suitable quiet place to breed. This is the kind of aquarium I want to represent and will guide you through the process. Collecting the Decor for an Amazon Aquarium For an Amazon themed aquarium the decor (gravel, rocks, driftwood, plants) should be as natural as possible. For me this is a great excuse to get out into nature and explore some local rivers and streams. If you are lucky enough to live nearby to a clean natural river or stream like I am then this is the ideal place to get what you need for your Amazon setup. The river near me has lovely brown/red gravel that is very fine almost like sand. I gather 2-3 buckets worth of this gravel for my substrate. You can give it a quick clean using a hose in a half full bucket, stirring the hose end through the gravel and pouring out the dirty water, but this is not necessary and it can be beneficial to leave the dirt and other bits of leaves and stick in there as this will help with plant growth. TIP: Be sure to get the finest gravel you can; this will help plant growth as the roots can easily spread through the gravel, otherwise the plants and their roots will have a tough time.
While you are down at the river be sure to collect some larger rocks and lots of interesting looking driftwood. You can start planning your aquarium scape as you find bits of driftwood and rock. Be sure to gather more driftwood than you need though, as quite often I will bring home a nice piece of wood only to find it is far too large and would not look good in the aquarium. You can give the driftwood a quick scrub with a new scourer if you like to clean them up. This can be a good idea as some of the wood may have traces of algae on them and often you can not see it. It isn't entirely necessary though and should be fine as long as the river it came from is clean fresh water. If you are not as lucky as me and can't find these things in the wild, then you can find them from your local pet stores or garden supplies shops. If you buy them be sure to clean them thoroughly before using. Soil for Growing Plants Most people don't think to do this, but to grow healthy aquatic plants, just like normal terrestrial plants, you need good soil. So the nest thing you will need to collect is some good clean soil. If you have some clean soil free of chemicals in your garden you can use this, although this can be risky as your soil may be very hard and have a high PH level which will not be suitable for your fish. It can be a good idea to test your soil out in a small aquarium first to make sure it is suitable for your intended fish and plants. If you don't have any suitable soil on hand you can buy some from your local garden supplies. I have heard of people regularly using Orchid compost which is said to be very good. Just be sure it is free of chemicals and you should be right, but again a small test run is always a good idea to be sure. Your Aquarium, Heating and Filtration equipment I am assuming that you have your aquarium ready in place and your heating and filtration equipment already purchased, but here are a few quick tips for your setup. Filter: I recommend a small power filter (or two) placed in the rear corner(s) of the aquarium. Be sure to read how many liters of water your filter is suitable for before you buy it. You want to create a circular motion of water that flows right around the aquarium, evenly dispersing the temperature and nutrients around the aquarium. Heating: The ideal temperature will depend on your fish and plants, but for nearly all Amazon fish, 27 degrees Celcius is perfect. The temperature may fluctuate a little over a cool night or a hot day but a couple of degrees either way is fine. TIP: Always have a second back-up heater in case one fails, and if they do, usually you will not have time to replace it before your fish are all dead. Lighting: This is a very important factor if you are growing plants. For an aquarium 200-250 litres
you will need 4 X fluorescent globes that reach the full length of the aquarium. You can get special globes especially for growing aquarium plants from your local pet store and sometimes from light/lamp shops where they will usually be cheaper than the pet stores. Hardware stores also sometimes stock suitable globes. TIP: Change your globes every six months for the best out-put. The human eye can't tell from looking at it, but after 6 months the globes will start to loose their potency and plant growth will slow down. Provide your aquarium with 8-9 hours of light per day. You can setup an electric timer for this. If you have problems with algae in the future you can reduce the light by an hour. These are the only three things you need to run your aquarium. What about Oxygen for the fish to breathe? You do NOT need an "air pump" that blows bubbles into your aquarium. To start with, these bubbles do not really add oxygen into the water, it is the agitation and movement of the water surface that is putting oxygen into the water. The plants growing in an aquarium will provide oxygen into the water, and to compliment this I place my power filters near the water surface so that a slight ripple of water disturbance is created, but only slight, too much agitation to the surface and you will loose other precious compounds like Co2 (carbon dioxide) which is needed for plants to grow. Plants: It is a good idea to do some research on what types of aquarium plants are suitable for the soft water of an Amazon aquarium. Good plants to choose would be Sword Plants, Anubius and Vallesneria. There are many other suitable plants also but be sure they are suited to soft water and a PH of around 5.5-6. Water: The water you use is the most crucial element so you need to get this right. To begin with you can test your tap water for any chemicals using a water test kit. You can get these from shops that specialise in home water filters. If your water does contain chemicals then you will need to treat it or find an alternative water source. A good alternative, and really the best water you can use is un-treated rain-water. Some people are lucky and also have access to underground springs and bores which will provide even better water than rain-water, although this can sometimes be a bit hard and is best combined with rain-water if possible. If you want to treat your water a Reverse Osmosis system is the best for removing all the chemicals from your water. You will also need a water PH test kit. The ideal PH for an Amazon aquarium is 5.5 - 6. This will mean that the water is soft just like the conditions in the Amazon river itself. You can lower your PH to suit if need be. The best way to do this is to add rain-water to the aquarium, catch it in a bucket if you have to when it rains. Rain-water is as soft as water can get and on its own can even be too soft. Another thing that helps soften the water is lots of driftwood, which we already have planned for the aquarium. OK, Time To Setup The Aquarium
Now you have your aquarium, equipment, your soil, gravel, rocks, driftwood and plants. Now you are ready to begin setting up the aquarium. Put about 2-3cm deep of soil into the aquarium. This can be a little deeper at the back of the tank where larger plants will grow. Next place about 2-4cm deep of your gravel or river sand on top of the soil. Now you can start to arrange your driftwood and larger stones into the layout you would like. Try to create enough space for swimming and plenty of hiding spaces and territories for your intended fish. Driftwood can be stuck into the gravel substrate and held in place by larger rocks if need be to create the desired layout. Once you have your rocks and driftwood in place you can start to plan where you will place your plants. Try to keep in mind how much room the plants will need to grow and do some research on how large each plant will grow. Otherwise you will find yourself having to move or remove plants as they get too large which can ruin the beauty of the aquarium and also the fish can have a hard time with no room to swim freely. Start by adding about an inch or two of water. This will make it easy for planting the roots of your plants. Most of your plants can be planted at this stage. For some plants like stem plants which grow thin and tall it can be easier to plant these when the water is filled half way. Once you have all your plants in place you can add the rest of the water and setup your heater and filter. Placing your heater beside your filter will ensure that the aquarium is evenly heated. Also remember the tip for placing your power filter near the surface to create a SLIGHT disturbance on the waters surface to let in oxygen. TIP: Make sure your aquarium lid is not completely sealed shut, otherwise oxygen will not be able to get into the aquarium. Now it is time to put the lid on and turn on the lights, heater and filter. Aquarium Cycle It is best to leave your aquarium for at least a week without fish in it, this will give the water chemistry time to settle in and adapt, and to start creating the bacteria needed for a healthy ecosystem. TIP: A good way to increase the effectiveness of this original cycle is to find someone who already has a successful(healthy and disease free) aquarium set up. Take some of the water, a small bag or bucket full and introduce this into your new aquarium. It's also very beneficial to take a little bit of gravel. This will introduce all the good bacteria that your fish and plants will need for a healthy eco-system and will greatly speed up your cycle.
Choosing your Fish For our Amazon themed aquarium, we are obviously going to only include fish from the Amazon, so again be sure to do some research on the fish available, their needs and how large the fish will grow. Here is the fish I slowly introduced into my 250L Amazon setup: - 3 Pairs of Angelfish. 2 Pairs would have been more suitable. 3 pairs is a bit cramped in this space when they have carved out territories and start breeding, but with enough plants and driftwood a comfortable home can be provided for my 3 pairs. My Angels were introduced as small babies with bodies about the size of a quater. This way they can grow into the aquarium nicely and adapt to its lifestyle and the other fish they live with. OR - 1 or 2 pair of Discus. Instead of Angelfish, you could choose Discus. Discus will grow larger than Angelfish so in a 250L aquarium I would only recommend 2 pairs at the most. One pair would be more comfortable and they would grow larger also. For an aquarium less than 200L only one pair, and if your aquarium is less than 100 Liters then forget both Angelfish and Discus. - Small school of Tetras. I introduced a small school of Kerry Tetras and Cardinals early on and before the Angels were added. Originally I had a dozen Kerry Tetras and half a dozen Cardinals. Because my Angelfish grew up with these Tetras, there are LOTS of plants to hide in, and because I feed my Angels plenty, the tetras are quite safe from being eaten by the Angels. If I were to introduce large hungry Angelfish they would surely love to eat the small tetras. Tetras are also great fish to have, not only because they look beautiful swimming around in their little schools together, but they also make other fish feel safe, acting like a look out. - 2 Pairs of Blue Rams - Dwarf Cichlids. These fish are absolutely beautiful, and they only grow to about the same size as a Tetra, so are ideal tank-mates for an Amazon community. These fish love to hide in caves and dense plants so be sure to create places like this for them to hide. - Small school of Corydoras Catfish. To clean up excess food that goes to the bottom and isn't eaten by the other fish, these guys are perfect. They will stay on the bottom and clean up all the mess left. I originally added 2 and then later another 4. These are also a schooling fish so if you get half a dozen Corydoras they will school around together and almost seem as though they are playing with each other and the other fish which is the most beautiful thing to watch. - Algae eating catfish. With all your plant growth usually you won't have the problem of algae, but small amounts can arise, and this is the sign of a healthy aquarium. I added a pair of Bristlenose Pleco's to my aquarium to clean the small amount of algae that started to appear on my glass after a few months. Bristlenose only grow to about 10-15cm so are ideal for this size aquarium. Bristlenose also love to munch on driftwood as part of their diet, so again they are ideal for this setup.
Tip: If you wish to buy Bristlenose Pleco's be sure you don't buy any other kind of Pleco. They may look nice when they are small, but almost all other kinds of Pleco's available at your local pet store will grow to around 2Ft long. NOT suitable. Another good option for a small algae eater is the Otocinclus, Otto Catfish, or Dwarf Suckermouth catfish as they are sometimes called. These guys only grow as large as a tetra so are very suited to a small home aquarium. And that about fills my aquarium to a comfortable level. All the fish have enough room to swim, hide and run away from each other if need be and they have enough room for their territories. Also, with the variety of groups of fish everyone always seems to have something to do and someone to play with. This is also a good key to note, as without friends, fish can get lonely, depressed and even die. Many times I have had a beautiful pair of fish when one of them suddenly gets sick and dies, then the other will get depressed, stop eating and just give up on life. If you can find a replacement before the fish gets too depressed then this can usually help them get over it. Introducing your Fish Start by only introducing a small amount of fish to begin with to make sure the conditions are all perfectly safe and healthy. If these initial fish are doing well, after a week or two you can slowly add more fish. TIP: Never over-crowd your aquarium or add fish too quickly. This will create a rapid in-balance in your aquarium's eco-system and is the most common cause of fish disease and death. That about covers the setup. Now you can sit back and enjoy your beautiful natural Amazon aquarium for years to come with little maintenance. TIP: The main thing is to do a 30-50% water change every week or as often as possible. This will bring in fresh nutrients for the plants and fish and also remove any build up of nitrates and other chemicals that are produced. TIP: Plants and fish both send out special chemicals into the water. Basically these chemicals say "I am growing, so don't you dare". Doing regular water changes will help keep these chemicals down and will increase the growth of both your fish and plants.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more you can visit my website: http://tropical-fishcare.com/
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