Category: Basics

Basics on fish and plant keeping.

Bagging Your Fish for the Auction

Please take the time to bag and label your fish properly to ensure their health / safety enroute to their new homes. Here are a few simple guidelines:

  • Avoid feeding your fish for 36-48 hours prior to bagging. This greatly reduces the amount of waste that will accumulate in the bag while also keeping harmful ammonia levels to a minimum.
  • Use proper fish bags and elastics when bagging your fish (ask for these items at your local aquarium supply shop). Ziplocks are not reliable for holding water and air under pressure so should be avoided. Use ziplock bags only for dry goods… they’re also good for a ham sandwich! 😉
  • Allow for a ratio of approximately 75% air / 25% clean tank water in each bag for maximum oxygen levels and to keep your fish comfortable. The water should cover your fish while the bag is on its side… keep in mind oxygen is more important than water. At this point you could optionally add a small amount of conditioner (or de-stressor) to the water.
  • Use fresh air in your bag – avoid ‘blowing’ air directly into it. Simply open the bag as wide as possible and then quickly snap your hand around the top to seal in a good supply of fresh air. (An air pump could assist.) Use elastics to close the bag, and secure well. The bag should be taut like a balloon.
  • Double-bag your fish if they have sharp fins, teeth or bristles (i.e. anything ‘pokey’). Hint: medium-to-larger-sized cichlids, catfish, sucker fishes / plecos are all common suspects!
  • Always bag medium-to-large fish in separate bags. When deciding how many fish to put together in one bag, consider whether or not they all appear to have enough room (i.e. if the bag were accidentally bumped, would any fish collide with each other?) Fish that are naturally aggressive by nature should be bagged separately (i.e. each aggressive fish gets its own bag!)
  • For any unusually large fish, avoid using fish bags and instead choose a suitably-sized plastic container (pail or bin) with lid to be sold along with the fish. The lid should seal properly but be easily removable in order to properly show the fish.
  • Do your fish take great pleasure in jamming themselves into the corners of the bag? While stuck in a corner of the bag, they may not be able to breathe properly and could injure themselves. A quick-fix to this problem: turn the bag upside-down, and then double-bag for safety. Voila — no more corners!
  • Are your fish accustomed to living in a tank with aquatic plants? If so, adding a small plant, stem or a few leaves in your fish bag will provide added comfort and shelter for your fish while they wait.
  • Please label each bag clearly with the following details: vendor-lot number, species name, number of fish in the bag (unless it’s just one), and whether the fish are male / female (if known). If you wish, you can also include additional information such as: species origin, an adult photo of the species if your fish is a juvenile (or use a photo of the juvenile’s parents), the generation if known, etc… Be sure your bag labels are clearly visible and easy-to-read. Hint: the more information you can provide to the auctioneers, the more easily they can sell your fish to a suitable home, and for the best possible price.
  • If more than one fish bag is to be sold as a single lot, mark each bag with the vendor-lot number and also mark each bag as being, e.g. “1 of 3”, “2 of 3”, “3 of 3.” Be sure to use tape, a larger bag, etc. to keep all bags within each lot together as one unit so that the individual bags don’t become separated, or get confused with other lots nearby.
  • When transporting your fish to or from the auction, use a foam container or cooler box (e.g. a camping cooler) to keep the air around the bags steady at room temperature. As an inexpensive alternative (though don’t use this method for extended periods of time as it’s a bit less effective), you can also use triple-bagged paper shopping bags (e.g. paper Co-op or Safeway bags) with extra newspaper inside, then and roll up the top to keep any outside cold air out. Whichever method you choose, it is especially important for your fish to be insulated when traveling on winter days.

Fishes that are NOT for the Beginner

There are some fish that the beginning aquarist should avoid. Then there are still others are others that do quite well in a beginner’s tank. And there are even some fish that get along quite well in the “beginner tank”.

What is the difference between a “beginner tank” and a beginner’s tank? A beginner’s tank is simply one owned by a beginner. But the term “beginner tank” also implies a certain stigma…for better or worse it is set up in the typical way that beginners set up their first tank. The typical way a beginner, in Calgary in the year 2000, sets up a tank is this: the tank is about 40-liters in capacity, has an undergravel filter, a semi-submersible heater, an inexpensive single tube (or incandescent bulb) light/hood, a small power filter, and plastic plants. It is usually stocked with a few live bearers, a few tetras or barbs, and a single Corydoras catfish.

However, it is not necessary for a beginner to start out that way. It is possible (however unlikely) that the beginner was introduced to the hobby by an advanced aquarist who introduced him to living plants at the same time. Such a beginner could set up a fairly advanced looking tank the very first time out…complete with living plants and the more comfortable surroundings, more stable water conditions, and increased oxygen supply that plants give to fish.

But both planted and unplanted tanks are likely to suffer from the same beginner’s mistakes: over feeding, under feeding, over crowding; incompatible species mixes, insufficient climatization, temperature fluctuations, and intermittent neglect. It’s just that the consequences of this aren’t as bad if the tank has plants in it.

So what fish are good beginner’s fish? Actually, most of them, so a better question would be “what fish aren’t”. And an even better question would be “which fish, among those fish a beginner is likely to buy, aren’t”. A stingray is not a good beginner’s fish, but at $140 a pop a beginner isn’t likely to buy one anyway. However, there are several fishes that are commonly sold to beginners that in my opinion should not be.

First of these is the fancy guppy. On the face of it, the guppy should be a perfect beginner’s fish: easy to breed, small, active, non-aggressive. And wild type guppies are. But fancy guppies are very often so inbred that their genetic strength is pretty much down the toilet. Fancy guppies have very short reproductive lives (often being “old” by nine months of age), they swim only with labor, and have lowered fecundity. They also are prone to “death without known causes”. But wild-type guppies are often no better, as the ones available nowadays are relegated to the “feeder” tank, sold for 10¢ a piece, and subject to neglect. So if the wild-type guppies are likely to be neglected, and the fancy guppies are likely to be genetic trash, should the beginner still have guppies? Yes, but I would definitely not buy them from a pet store… go to a guppy breeder. Another option is buy “Endler’s livebearers”. These look a lot like guppies, but they are almost certainly a separate species. They are endangered in the wild and being maintained in the aquarium as a genetically sound fish. And of course they tend to be very well cared for.

Another fish for the beginner to avoid is the molly, of all types. Many domestic strains suffer from the same genetic defects as fancy guppies (there is even a misshapen “balloon” molly available, shudder). And wild mollies are surprisingly expensive. Also quite surprising is that mollies are quite sensitive to changes in temperature… surprising since they live quite happily in central Florida where winter temperatures can easily drop below 15C. And mollies like some salt in the water, which is often not good for their tank mates. It is best to leave mollies to the advanced hobbyist willing to provide them with their own quarters.

Swordtails might not be such a great idea either. A much better idea than mollies, perhaps, but I would still only recommend them with some trepidation. There are several types of high-fin swordtails available that are simply genetic garbage. These fish are even unable to breed at all without artificial insemination. But even setting aside these inbred-to-oblivion fish (which I can’t imagine anybody wanting), the typical swordtail can be a fairly aggressive fish. This doesn’t seem to get mentioned much, but swordtails can be very bossy. They really need more elbow room than the typical beginner’s tank will likely provide.

Another fish that I would not recommend to the beginner is the neon tetra. Neon tetras were historically considered to be very difficult fish. Most certainly not for the beginner. But then Southeast Asian fish breeders learned the secrets of neon breeding and started mass-producing an aquarium-strain neon. They bred a fish that looked like the wild neon but was much more adaptable to the aquarium environment. The result was a fish that was inexpensive, colorful, peaceful, and hardy – the perfect beginner’s fish. So why don’t I recommend them? Well, neons don’t seem to be very hardy anymore. I am not sure why. Maybe its because their price has dropped so low that they are no longer given adequate treatment during shipping (“who cares if they die, it would be cheaper to just order another batch than package these properly”). Or maybe the aquarium neon has now become so inbred that it’s suffering from its own genetic deficiencies. Maybe they are selling poisoned fish so that the customer will come back and buy more. I don’t know. But I do know that a lot of neons seem to die within a week of being purchased.

Another fish often sold to the beginner that should not be is the Chinese algae eater. Hell, these fish shouldn’t be sold to anybody. They are also mass-produced in Southeast Asia nowadays and so are sold as inexpensive algae eaters. But they really don’t eat all that much algae. Instead, they seem to prefer to suck the slime off of other fish. And the older they get, the less algae they eat, and the more slime they suck. They are also prone to extremely hyperactive behavior (try catching one with a net sometime) and sudden death (from heart attack?). In a suitably large tank with lots of cover they might settle down to a long life, but after they reach 10cm or so in length they will mercilessly harass their tank mates. I once owned an enormous 25cm monster that was probably the most annoying fish I’ve ever met.

Dwarf gouramis. There has been an explosion of new color strains of dwarf gouramis around lately, again thanks to Southeast Asian breeders. And so nowadays pet stores will have several tanks of colorful dwarf gouramis at low prices. But I would not recommend them to the beginner. They are very shy fish that really can’t compete with the barbs and tetras the beginner will likely put them in with. Give them their own well-planted tank in a quiet corner and they are wonderful fish. In a tank without much cover (but with lots of tiger barbs) they will be thin, pale, and unhappy.

The most common fish purchased by the beginner is the goldfish. There are two things that could be wrong with this. First of all, many beginners try to mix goldfish and tropical fish. This is never a good idea, and goldfish should not be kept at temperatures above room temperature. And the second problem is that practically all beginners fail to give their goldfish enough room. Adult goldfish need at least 100 liters of water per fish. Not even one can be housed in the typical beginner’s sized tank for the long term. But for the beginner who keeps goldfish at a suitable temperature in a suitably large tank or pond, goldfish are very good fish indeed. Just stay away from those grossly malformed varieties that can’t even swim properly anymore. Like all fish that have resulted from such misguided breeding programs, their genetic soundness is absolutely miserable.

That’s everything I would recommend the beginner not get. But what should they get? I’ll discuss that next month. ?

Glossary Of Advanced Terms

Our journal suffers from the on-going malaise of being chronically short of beginners’ articles. Hence the “for Dummies” series to try to balance the article list with some works for our new members. But even the “for Dummies” had necessarily introduced a lot of terminology that is not in everyday use. And of course, the terms used in some of the more advanced articles may be completely unfamiliar to the novice. So here is a glossary of some of the terms that have appeared in The Calquarium in the last year or so to serve as a review of those introduced in the “for Dummies”, and as an explanation of those used in the advanced articles.

Acid: indicative of a pH below 7 or a chemical that lowers pH.

Acidity: a measure of water’s ability to resist upward changes in pH when a base is added.

Alkali: a chemical that raises pH, also known as a base.

Alkaline: indicative of a pH above 7.

Alkalinity: a measure of water’s ability to resist downward changes in pH when an acid is added. Sometimes referred to as “buffering”.

Andropodium: a modified anal fin found on the males of the half-beak fishes that is used in the transfer of sperm to the female.

Anion: negatively charged ion, that is, an ion that has one or more extra electrons over protons.

Anabantoids: also known as the labyrinth fishes. Those fish that are members of the order Perciformes and posses a labyrinth organ, which is a delicate network of blood-vessel inter-laced bones above the gills. The labyrinth organ is used to absorb oxygen from the air. The fish gulps air from the surface to fill the labyrinth organ. These fishes include the bettas, gouramis, and climbing perches. The anabantoids are sometimes incorrectly called the anabantids, a term that should only be used for the climbing perches of the family Anabantidae, and so would not include the bettas and gouramis, which are members of the family Belontiidae.

Base: a chemical that raises pH, also known as an alkali.

Benthic: bottom surface dwelling, as in the benthic invertebrates that encrust live rock.

Binomial Nomenclature: the species-naming convention invented by Carl von Linné where species are given a two-part name. The first part is the genus name, which must be unique, as for example the genus name Cyrtocara. The second part is the species name, which must be unique within the genus in question, but may be used in other genera as well. The combination of genus plus species must however be unique. For example the genus name Cyrtocara and the species name moorii combine to form the scientific name Cyrtocara moorii, but the species name “moorii” is also used in Tropheus moorii. Note that by convention the genus name is always capitalized and the species name is always entirely lower case, and the complete name is always italicized.

Calcitic rocks: composed largely or solely of a calcium compound, such as calcium sulphate, calcium phosphate, and most commonly calcium carbonate. These rocks may have a biological origin (fossilized coral skeletons, mollusk shells, etc.) or be the result of direct chemical precipitation of calcium compounds from water. Waters in contact with these rocks are usually hard and alkaline, with a pH near 8.2.

Cation: a positively charged ion, that is, an ion that has one or more fewer electrons than protons.

Chisawasawa: a genetically related group of sand-feeding cichlids from Lake Malawi.

Cichlids: members of the family Cichlidae. These include the angelfish, discus, and numerous other species from Central and South America, Africa, India, and Madagascar.

Cladistics: a method of taxonomic classification that puts sole emphasis on the evolutionary relationships between organisms.

Class: a taxonomic classification between phylum and order. Different orders may be grouped into a single class, as for example, both the order Perciformes (the perch-like fishes) and order Siluriformes (the catfishes) are in the class Osteichthyes (the bony fishes).

Congeners: individuals that are members of the same genus. For example, the members of species Pterophyllum altum and Pterophyllum scalare are congeners.

Conspecifics: individuals that are members of the same species.

Cyprinids: members of the family Cyprinidae. These include the carp, barbs, rasboras, danios, minnows, and loaches.

Family: a taxonomic classification between order and genus. Different genera may be grouped into a single family, as for example, both the genera Pterophyllum (the angelfishes) and Symphosodon (the discus) are in the family Cichlidae (the cichlids).

Genera: plural for genus.

Genus: a taxonomic classification between species and family. Different species may be grouped into a single genus, as for example, both the species Pterophyllum altum (the high-fin angelfish) and Pterophyllum scalare (the common angelfish) are in the genus Pterophyllum. The genus name is included in the binomial scientific name as the first (capitalized) word.

Gonapodium: a modified anal fin found on the males of the poecilid fishes that is used in the transfer of sperm to the female.

Gondwana: a supercontinent that existed during and immediately after the age of dinosaurs. Gondwana has since broken up into South America, Africa, Saudi Arabia, Antarctica, Australia, India, Madagascar, and New Zealand. Many fishes, for example the tetras (characins), are found in Gondwanan continents that are now separated by oceans, having evolved and spread before Gondwana was still (at least partially) whole.

Haplochromine: belonging to the large group of cichlids in or descended from the African cichlid genus Haplochromis. The haplochromine lineage.

Hardness: a measure of the concentration of multivalent cations in the water, mostly calcium and magnesium cations.

Interstitial: “between the grains” as in the interstitial invertebrates that live between the grains of live sand.

Ion: an atom with a net electrical charge resulting from an unequal numbers of protons and electrons.

Kingdom: highest level of taxonomic classification. Different phyla may be grouped to form a kingdom, as for example both the phylum Mollusca (the mollusks) and the phylum Chordata (the chordates) are in the kingdom Animalia (the animals).

Labyrinth Fish: see anabantoids.

Laterite: an iron-rich clay. It is often found in tropical areas, and can be used in as a potting medium for aquarium plants.

Laurasia: a supercontinent that existed during and immediately after the age of dinosaurs. Laurasia has since broken up into Eurasia and North America. Many fishes, for example the minnows (cyprinids), are found throughout the Laurasian continents, having evolved and spread before Laurasia broke up.

Live Rock: porous calcitic rock (usually coral skeletons) that are encrusted with benthic invertebrates, algae, and bacteria. Usually collected from the wild in the “rubble zones’ near coral reefs. Used in marine “reef” aquaria.

Live Sand: fine calcitic sand in which lives a population of bacteria and small invertebrates. Usually collected from the wild near coral reefs. Used in marine “reef” aquaria.

Mbuna: a genetically related group of rock-dwelling cichlids from Lake Malawi. Most are rather pugnacious but very colorful and can be kept among their own kind in an aquarium.

Neotropics: the New World tropics, referring to southern Central America and northern South America.

Order: a taxonomic classification between class and family. Different families may be grouped into a single order, as for example, both the families Cichlidae (the cichlds) and Chaetodonitae (the butterfly fishes) are in the order Perciformes (the perch-like fishes).

Ovivivaparous: bearing live young that are hatched from eggs held within the mother’s body.

pH: a measure of the “activation potential” of hydrogen cations in water. Measured with a number that is the negative of the base 10 logarithm of the molar concentration of hydrogen cations. Numbers above 7 indicate an alkaline pH, well numbers below 7 indicate a negative pH. A pH of 7 is neutral.

Phyla: plural for phylum.

Phylum: a taxonomic classification between class and kingdom. Different classes may be grouped into a single phylum, as for example both the class Mammalia (the mammals) and the class Osteichthyes (the bony fishes) are in the phylum Chordata (the chordates).

Peacocks: a genetically related group of haplochromine cichlids from Lake Malawi placed in the genera Aulonocara and Trematocranus.

Photosynthetic: using light to manufacture food, as do green plants.

Piscivore: fish eater.

Planktivore: plankton eater.

Poecilids: fish of the family Poecilidae, including the guppies, mollies, platies, and swordtails.

Rhizome: a thick central part of the root of many plants. Many plants can be propagated by cutting the rhizome in two and planting the two halves separately.

Sahul: the continent that existed when sea levels were lower during the ice ages. Sahul includes the landmasses of Australia, Tasmania, New Guinea, and many smaller islands, along with the now-submerged land bridges that connected them. The rainbowfishes a have a natural range that covers the tropical and sub-tropical parts of Sahul.

Scientific Name: the globally recognized unique name assigned to each species. See binomial nomenclature.

Softness: having little hardness. See hardness.

Species: the lowest order of taxonomic classification. All members of a sexually reproductive species are enough alike that no physical or behavioral barriers exist to keep them from naturally interbreeding.

Taxonomy: the scientific endeavor to classify living things according to their similarities, differences, and evolutionary relationships. Traditionally, taxonomists will group organisms into their kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species (in order of increasing specificity).

Utaka: a genetically related group of open water, plankton-feeding cichlids from Lake Malawi.

Vivaparous: bearing live young that are nourished by the mother’s body before birth.