Author Archives: AquariumAdvocate

Julidochromis Regani Species Report

Julidochromis Regani

 Julidochromis Regani is a beautiful cichlid from lake Tanganyika in Africa. They are an amazingly colorful species of freshwater fish and have lively vibrant personalities. They are easy to care for and breed. In this report I will give you details from my own experience with this interesting fish. This fish is a little advanced but could be easily kept by a new hobbyist.

There are a few different color variants of Julidochromis Regani. These color variants are determined by the fishes collection point in the lake.  The beautiful yellow fish with blue finnage shown here are from the collection point, Kipili. If you end up asking your local aquarium store to order these for you, or you are looking for them online, you will want to specify that you are looking for “Julidochromis Regani Kipili.”

Temperament and Tank Mates: These cichlids should be kept in tank alone, or in a tank with other Tanganyikan cichlids. They are aggressive enough to kill most community style fish, but not aggressive enough to live with cichlids from lake Malawi. They would do very well with smaller, less aggressive Tanganyikans such as; Neolamprologus Multifasciatus, Cyprichromis Leptosoma, and Altolamprologus Compressiceps. (If you are new to Tanganyikan Cichlids you are saying “What is all this gibberish” right now. Many of the rarer species of fish are only known by their scientific names) Julidochromis should be purchased in groups of at lease 4 or 5 fish. They will pair off and you will have 1 mated pair in the Aquarium. It is unlikely that 2 pair could be housed in the same tank unless it is very large. The mated pair will likely start to attack the other Julidochromis in the aquarium. At this time you will need to remove the other fish so they are not killed. The reason for purchasing 4 or 5 at a time is to make sure you have at least 1 male and 1 female.

Size: Julidochromis Regani is the largest of the 5 Julidochromis species. In the wild they can reach a length of over 5 inches. In the aquarium they will likely reach a length of 4 inches and may get close to 5.

Tank Size: This species should be kept in an aquarium of at least 29 gallons for 1 pair.

Diet: In the wild, Julidochromis are mostly carnivorous and eat primarily small shrimps and insects. In the aquarium they can be fed standard cichlid flake food such as Cobalt Aquatics Cichlid Flakes or Omega One Cichlid Flakes, but their diets should also be supplemented with specialty foods that you would need to get from your local aquarium store or online. Frozen or live Mysis or Brine shrimp are a good choice for these fish. Freeze dried mysis shrimp are another good option.

Breeding: Julidochromis are easy and fun to breed. They are cave spawners and will need to have several “caves” to choose from. You can buy man-made caves online, but if you have access to flat rocks you can simply stack the rocks in a way that it creates caves for this fish to go in and out of. You can also make your own caves by using a small flower pot. Knock a hole in the bottom of the pot using a screw driver and hammer, and then simply turn it upside down in the aquarium so that the top of the pot is pressed into your aquarium substrate. The fish don’t care that the entrance to their cave is on the top of it. They will lay eggs in the cave and guard them aggressively. Even after the eggs have hatched, they will guard the fry until they are about 1/4 inch in length.

Julidochromis are really a fun and exciting fish to keep. Please let me know if you have any questions about them in the comments section below!

Marineland Emperor Power Filter Review

Emperor Power Filter

In this report I will give you an unbiased description of the Marineland Emperor 400 and 280 aquarium filters. After that, I will give you my own review and experiences I have had with this product. I hope you enjoy! Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.


The dual-pump construction of the Emperor Power filter line provides exceptional water cleaning capabilities to maximize clarity and fish health. One pump pulls water from the aquarium through the adjustable intake tube and directs it through the effective filter media cartridge made with activated charcoal. This provides both mechanical and chemical filtration of tank water, removing debris and particles as well as compounds that contribute to cloudy conditions.

The second pump directs a spray of water onto one or two bio wheels, depending on the capacity of the filter you purchase. The spray is adjustable so you can regulate flow easily. These provide the best opportunity for biological filtration of the aquarium water, as beneficial bacteria colonize to fix ammonia and nitrate imbalances. The water is pressurized to keep the bio wheels spinning to provide the right amount of oxygen and moisture.

The Emperor Power aquarium filters offer low-profile style with hinged lids and easy-to-install hang on tank set-up. Filter cartridges are simple to replace as needed. The powerful motor will keep the filter running smoothly to polish aquarium water to its sparkling best.

Aquarium Advocate Review:

The Marineland Emperor Power Filter is one that I have a great deal of experience with. I have been using the same Emperor 400 and the same Emperor 280 for over 10 years. These were some of the first filters I purchased as a new aquarist and have been using them ever since. Overall, I have been very happy with them.

There are only the 2 models of this filter and both are made for larger aquariums. The Emperor 280 is for aquariums up to 50 gallons and the Emperor 400 is for aquariums up to 90 gallons. I have been using my 280 on a 60 gallon aquarium for years with no issues.

These are very quiet aquarium filters. Even after 10 years the Emperor 280 is still very quiet. The Emperor 400 has developed a bit of a rattle, but it is not very loud and is not bothersome. They are made of heavy plastic and are very durable.

Both the Emperor Power filters are large and have spacious back compartments for media. They come with foam covered, carbon filled cartridges that can be washed and reused several times before they need to be replaced. They also come with reusable plastic cartridges to hold extra media such as activated carbon. These filter cartridges could be completely removed and you can fill the backs of the filter with bio-media, different sponges, or whatever you’d like.

Bio-wheels….. The Emperor filters, just like most other Marineland filters, come with bio-wheels. I have heard many a complaint about how bio-wheels stop working, stop turning, and spontaneously combust. (joking about that last part of course) Really though, people complain about bio-wheels, and I don’t understand why. I have never had an issue with the bio-wheels on my filters. I have been using the same bio-wheels that came with these filters, for the past 10 years and they still work fine!

Maintaining an Emperor filter is fairly easy. Once every month or 2 I will unplug the filter and carry the entire thing outside to hose it out. Don’t rinse the bio-wheels with tap water because chlorine will likely kill the bacteria. The bio-wheels will probably not need to be cleaned. Just drop them into the aquarium while you are outside cleaning the filter. This filter comes with a small brush. You will need it to clean the inside of the pipe that sprays water on the bio-wheel. If not cleaned, enough water may not spray onto the bio-wheel causing it to stop turning. (mine has never stopped turning, but I guess theoretically this could happen) The pipe snaps on and off easily. Once cleaned I place the filter back on the tank and fill it with water. (I think the 400 holds over a gallon of water) It comes with a priming lever that works well, but I have found the easiest way to prime it is to simply turn it on and pour water in it until primed.

The Bottom Line: The Marineland Emperor power filters are built to last. They are powerful and spacious. These filters are easy to use and maintain. Even if you have heard bad things about bio-wheels, I urge you to try it for yourself, maintain it, and it may last you a decade! 

Click here to read more reviews of this filter on Amazon!

Fahaka Puffer Tank Mates: Lesson Learned

congo tetraWhen it comes to Fahaka Puffer tank mates the pickings seem to be pretty slim. The Fahaka puffer is an extremely aggressive and large species of puffer fish. For the least amount of heart break and wasted money they should be kept as a solitary specimen in a medium-large tank, but who wants an 80 gallon aquarium with one fish in it?….right?

I have been keeping Buenos Aires Tetras with my Fahaka Puffer for close to a year now and they are doing great! I have added to the colony and there are a school of 15 living with the Fahaka. The Fahaka puffer has not eaten one Buenos Aires Tetra to date. He also lives with two Julidochromis Marlieri. For more info on my Fahaka Puffer click here.

So, I went to Petsmart on Black Friday and they had an awesome fish sale. They had several species of tetra on sale for $.80… Including Columbian Tetras! (also known as red blue tetras) I couldn’t believe it. Columbian Tetras are normally $4.99 each at Petsmart and have always been one of my favorites. They are a very pretty, large species of Tetra, growing up to 3 inches. They have bright red fins and a blue shimmer across their back. the picture I  posted does not do them justice, but it’s the best one I could take after several attempts. They are a robust species and are quite active.

I figured Columbian Tetras are large, quick and robust, just like my Buenos Aires Tetras. They should do fine with my Fahaka!  They only had 9, so I bought all 9 and brought them home. I imagined they would look great schooling along side my b.a. tetras. I wished they had more!

I had never taken any precaution when adding b.a. tetras to the tank. The first few I added darted away from the Fahaka right away. After that, every time I added new fish they started schooling with the old fish and everything was fine. The Fahaka didn’t even seem to care that there were more. I thought the case would be the same with the new Columbian Tetras…. I was wrong.

It was a massacre. I poured the fish in and the Fahaka started going after them. I though they would get away, but he hit one within a few seconds. I ran to the other room for the net, but by the time I got back he had already nailed 5 more. He was laying on the bottom of the tank, belly full, next to 2 dead / dying Columbians. It was too late. The Fahaka “got up” a few minutes later and starting swimming around. The 3 remaining Columbian Tetras seemed to understand the danger at this point and ran for the hills when he came near.

Two days later, the three remaining Columbian Tetras are fine. They are schooling with the Buenos Aires Tetras and staying away from the Fahaka Puffer. I think they will be okay.

Take away: I should have isolated the Fahaka. I think he basically “got the jump on them” when I added them to the tank. The Columbian Tetras did not seem to sense the danger as the previous Buenos Aires Tetras did. Either that, or they are a little more delicate and were in shock after being added to the new tank. I think, if I can muster up the strength to try this again, I will net the Fahaka and give the Colombian Tetras a few hours to acclimate.

I feel horrible about this. I should have had the insight to take necessary precautions. I wrestled with the idea of posting this for several hours because i’m a bit embarrassed, ….but I figured other aquarists can learn from my mistake so it’s the right thing to do. Let me know what you think.

Rena Air Pump Review

rena air pump


For fish that like a more aerated environment or for aquarium owners who like to decorate with bubble walls and moving accents, the Rena air pump line provides safe and reliable service. Available in a variety of power levels, Rena air pumps can provide aeration power for fish tanks from one to 160 gallons. Their curved, stylish design and rubberized bottom help prevent creep and the noise associated with running most air pumps. They are surprisingly quiet as they have noise-suppression chambers inside.

Rena aquarium air pumps offer high-powered air compression and pumping capabilities. Simply attach a quality air hose, air stone, bubble wall attachment or other air-powered decor item and position it in the fish tank where desired. Air flow can be controlled with an easy to use control knob on all sizes of the Rena Air pump. The largest pump, the Rena 400 for use with aquariums of 60 to 160 gallons, has two air outlets which can be adjusted separately to customize the aeration and bubble decor in the tank.

The Rena aquarium air pumps give any fish tank owner a powerful and quiet solution to their aeration needs. Increase oxygen and reduce chemicals in any tank for healthier and happier fish.

Aquarium Advocate Review:

The Rena Air pump is one that I have much experience with. It is reliable and powerful. I have been running one continuously for at least 3 years. The one I am using is the Rena Air 300 and it is definitely powerful enough to run the undergravel filter on my 60 gallon aquarium.

This air pump has a unique design. Personally, I like the look of an old square air pump, but this is definitely stylish. It is made of heavy plastic and seems to weigh more than other brands. This gives it a feeling of quality and seems to help keep it weighted to the ground to prevent rattling. It is very quiet. I have a smaller model of a different brand running in the same room as my Rena Air and the Rena Air is quieter.

The Rena Air 200 and larger models have adjustable airflow. This is a nice feature that not all aquarium air pumps have. If you have multiple aquariums, you could purchase a larger model and use it on a smaller tank if need be. The Rena Air 400 has dual outlets with separate adjustment valves.  The 50 and 100 models do not have adjustable air flow.

The Bottom Line: Rena Air pumps are a little more expensive when compared to the same size pump of a different brand, but their quality and features are better than most. This is a well made air pump that should last you years. 

Click here to read more reviews of this pump on Amazon!

Buenos Aires Tetra Species Report

buenos aires tetras

The Buenos Aires Tetra is a robust aquarium fish from South America. They are a slightly aggressive species and can be hard on some tank mates. Their striking color and active nature makes them a great addition to the aquarium.

Size: Buenos Aires Tetras are one of the larges species of tetra, growing to nearly 3 inches. When you see them in the aquarium store they are normally juveniles and are only around 1 inch in length. They grow quickly and should achieve their maximum size within a year.

Tank Size: I would suggest at least a 29 gallon for these fish. They are very active swimmers and should be kept in a longer aquarium. They will dart back and forth chasing each other.

Diet: Buenos Aires Tetras will accept any common flake food, but they are aggressive eaters and will try to each anything they can get in their mouths. (luckily their mouths are small) Mine live with a Fahaka Puffer so they get bits of clam, krill, earth worms, and anything else the puffer eats. They will also eat frozen foods such as brine or mysis shrimp.

Temperament and Tank Mates: The Buenos Aires Tetra is a semi-aggressive fish. They will do well with other semi-aggressive community fish such as other larger Tetras, Tiger Barbs, Rainbow Sharks, and Clown or other loaches. They can also live with some cichlid species. They are very fast swimmers and would do well as dither fish in a Tanganyikan Community. I would be very careful putting them with larger more aggressive cichlid species as they may become food or get beaten up. You should be cautious housing them with any long finned aquarium fish because they tend to nip.

Since they are a schooling fish, Buenos Aires Tetras should be kept in groups. I would suggest 5 or more. I have 3 together and one seems to get picked on by the other 2.

Breeding: Buenos Aires Tetra breeding is fairly simple. The males are a little more shallow bodied than females. The females have a rounder stomach. They will scatter the eggs and the eggs will hatch within 24 hours. The parents will eat the eggs and young fish so if you would like to keep any of the fry you should remove the parents or have lots of plants or other hiding places.


Magnum 350 Canister Filter Review

Marineland Magnum 350 Canister Filter


The Marineland Magnum 350 canister filter provides up to 350 gallons per hour of water cleaning power. Quiet operation and the ability to customize intake and outflow makes this filter a beneficial addition to both freshwater and marine fish tanks.

The bottom mounted motor is completely sealed and waterproof and carries a three year warranty. Setup of the Marineland Magnum 350 aquarium filter is simple and all filter media is included in the box. Not only is this canister filter exceptional as a regular mechanism for removing debris and waste material from your tank, it can also be easily converted to a water polishing system.

When water enters the Marineland Magnum 350 canister filter, it is forced up through filter media with no chance of bypass. This ensures that the mechanical, chemical and biological filtration maintains maximum effectiveness. Included is a fiber sleeve, activated charcoal and a reusable micron cartridge. This filter can also be used with a bio wheel, which provides the perfect environment for beneficial bacteria to colonize.

All this filter’s technological aspects work together to provide clean and healthy water for your fish and other aquarium inhabitants. Its customization capabilities allow for multiple uses depending upon the particular needs of the fish tank setup.

Aquarium Advocate Review:

I have used the Magnum 350 canister filter in the past and used it for years. I used to run 3 of them on my 240 gallon and also used one on an 80 gallon. My overall experience with this canister filter has been good.

These canister filters are very simple and easy to use. It has metal clips on top to release the lid and then the media compartment pulls out in one motion. The lid easily comes off the media compartment and you can fill it with whatever you want. There is a sponge sleeve that goes over the media compartment that traps waste. This sponge can be re-used over and over. I suggest rinsing the sponge in aquarium water so that chlorine does not kill the good bacteria.

I like this filter. With that being said, there are some things I don’t like about it. Maybe i’m just slow, but I had the hardest time with the hose release valve. In order to disconnect the hose to take the filter outside you have to deal with the in-line connector. It’s not hard to take apart, but it is hard to get it back together just right.

There is quite a bit of unused space in this filter. The media container and sponge do not take up all the room in the canister. The design doesn’t allow you to stuff this extra space with extra media because (I don’t think) much water will pass through it.  Another thing to consider is there is only one media compartment. Other filters offer several compartments to fill with different media.

The Bottom Line: This is a good, reliable filter. I have had a lot of good experience with it. It is very easy to use, with the exception of the hose release valve. If you want something more versatile, that can house lots of different media, this is probably not the filter you want. If you want something easy, pick this. 

Click here to read more reviews of this filter on Amazon!

Fahaka Puffer Species Report

fahaka puffer

The Fahaka Puffer is a large species of freshwater puffer fish from Africa. They are aggressive and require their own aquarium, but their personality and uniqueness make them well worth the investment. This is one of the most personable aquarium inhabitants. Mine acts more like a dog than a fish! Your Fahaka will get to know you and will look at you through the glass. They will “beg” for food much like a dog and some will even allow you to pet them! (Just be careful you don’t lose a finger)

Size:  In the wild the Fahaka Puffer will reach 18+ inches. In the aquarium they rarely get this large. Most specimens will only reach 12-ish inches. Mine is about 3 years old and he is about 10 inches.

Tank Size:  I would suggest an 80 or 90 gallon. Fahaka puffers don’t need a ton of room to swim back and forth, but they do need to be able to turn around. A standard 50 0r 55 gallon is only 12 inches wide, so while it would be long enough, a large Fahaka would be cramped. I have mine in a 55 gallon corner tank and he has plenty of room.

Diet:  Fahaka Puffer fish are voracious predators. They are equipped with a powerful “beak” instead of teeth. This beak constantly grows and has to be warn down. For this reason, Fahaka puffer fish should be fed a variety of food including many hard shelled crustaceans. Good food choices for the Fahaka are crabs, snails, and crayfish. They will also eat frozen krill fish, and earthworms.

Temperament and Tank Mates: Fahaka Puffers are extremely aggressive and should not be kept with any other tank mates. They will kill and eat anything they can catch, including fish that are almost their own size. They look at everything as prey. Fahaka Puffers will not “beat up” another fish like a cichlid will. You will have no warning. The Fahaka will kill, or fatally wound the other fish with the first bite. With that being said, mine lives with 3 Buenos Aries Tetras and 2 Julidochromis Marlieri 🙂 The tetras are very fast and are able to stay one step ahead of the puffer. The Julidochromis are rock dwelling cichlids from lake Tanganyika in Africa. They have many hiding places that the puffer can’t fit into. They now swim freely about the aquarium with little chase from the Fahaka. It seems that my Fahaka has gotten tired of chasing them and now doesn’t try too hard. This same puffer has eaten other fish that were larger than the fish he currently lives with. If you are going to have other fish in with your Fahaka Puffer, just know that they will likely, one day, end up being dinner.

Breeding:  I wouldn’t try it. I have heard reports of them being bred in VERY large aquariums. You aren’t able to sex Fahakas, so you would have to keep a small group together. Keeping Fahakas together would result in many injuries and possible fatalities.

Aqueon Pro Heater Review

aqueon pro


The Aqueon Pro submersible aquarium heater comes in a range of lengths and wattages for use in any home fish tank set up. They range from 8.5 inch 20 gallon model to the 15 inch 90 gallon model. No matter what size heater you need, Aqueon Pro heaters are simple to set up and use. Simply plug the heater in, turn the easy to read dial to the desired temperature, and submerge it in the aquarium. They can be positioned upright or sideways to accommodate the particular dimensions of your fish tank.

Built with an aluminum core and coated in thermal plastic, the Aqueon Pro submersible heaters are designed to last. There are no glass parts which might shatter and endanger fish. They are perfect for extended use.

Fish and other aquatic life will enjoy even temperatures from between 68 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit. This heater can be used in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. The dial at the top can easily be adjusted while the heater is in use. A two-light indicator glows red when the heater is activated and green when the correct temperature has been reached. The internal thermostat is accurate to 1 degree, so you can be assured of proper heating for all your fish’s needs.

Aquarium Advocate Review:

Realistically, This heater pretty much has it all. The dial on top is clear and easy to read and its built in thermostat correctly adjusts the temperature.  With different aquarium heaters, you don’t know it’s on unless it’s actively heating the aquarium, but with the Aqueon Pro, you always know its getting juice because of the 2 light indicator. It’s nice to know the heater is always working.

In the past, I have had large fish break heaters. They either purposely crash into them with their sides (to scratch an itch I assume) or they actually bite at the indicator light. The plastic / polymer exterior of this heater makes it pretty much indestructible, so this would be the ideal heater for aquariums with large, powerful fish.

Like most good aquarium heaters these days, the Aqueon Pro is completely submersible and can be placed in the aquarium vertically, or horizontally. It automatically shuts off when it is taken out of the water and is stuck onto the inside glass of the aquarium with durable suction cups.

The Bottom Line: This is a good heater. It has everything you would want in an aquarium heater and then some. The only downside of the Aqueon Pro line is that it only goes up to 250w which means you would probably need 2 for anything over 75 gallons.

Click here to read more reviews of this heater on Amazon!

Aquarium Filtration Basics

Aquarium filtration can be intimidating for the new aquarist. It’s easy to get lost in the options and possibilities. This guide will help you understand the different types of aquarium filtration and how they will affect your aquarium and its inhabitants.  There are 3 types of aquarium filtration we are concerned with aquarists.


Biological filtration happens as good bacteria living in your aquarium eat toxins from your water. This process happens naturally to some degree, because these bacteria are living on everything from your gravel to that scuba diver that blows bubbles out of his head. In order to improve the biological filtration process, we need to provide a surface that allows for lots of bacteria to grow, and force water to pass through this surface. Examples of strictly biological filters are the sponge filter and undergravel filter. Mechanical filters (covered below) also work as biological filters.


Undergravel filter

The undergravel filter (diagram above) is a plate that sits underneath your aquarium gravel. Water is pulled down through the gravel, through the plate, and then back up into the aquarium by a powerhead (water pump), or air pump. As the water passes through the gravel, bacteria living in the gravel eat/ destroy the toxins in the water. This type of filter works very well as long as the gravel is properly maintained with a gravel vacuum.

Sponge Filteraquarium sponge filter

The sponge filter is a sponge that has a porous plastic tube down the center. An airline is inserted into the tube. Bubbles coming from the bottom of the sponge to the surface draw water into the sponge. As water passed through the sponge our friends, the good bacteria, destroy the toxins.


Chemical filtration is the addition of a substance that helps to filter the water, control odor, or remove toxins. Usually chemical agents will be added to the external aquarium filter, but some can also be added directly into the aquarium if it is contained in a container or mesh bag.

Activated Charcoal / Carbonactivated carbon

Activated Carbon is the most widely used aquarium filter media. It often comes standard in filter cartridges. Activated Carbon absorbs pretty much everything including ammonia, odors, and discoloration caused by food or drift wood. Carbon loses its ability to absorb over time and should be replaced monthly.

Phosphate Control –  Ferric Oxidephosguard

Why do you want to control Phosphates? Phosphates are food for plants and ALGAE. Phosphates are introduced into your aquarium through tap water and fish food. Phosphate control media is a type of polymer resin or ceramic bead that contains Ferric Oxide. These beads are added to the power filter and absorb the phosphates from the aquarium as water passes through the filter.

Nitrate Control – Anaerobic Denitrificationnitrate sponge

Nitrate is a harmful toxin produced by fish waste. Nitrate control media or “Nitrate Sponge” is considered a chemical filtration media, but is really a form of biological media. Nitrate control media is a porous form of stone that provides the ideal surface area for nitrate eating bacteria to grow.


Mechanical filtration is the process of removing waste from the aquarium via an external filter such as a power or canister filter. The cartridge or sponge that is in the filter will not only trap waste, but will also act as a biological filter. As water is passed through the filter, the bacteria living on the sponge will feast on the toxins. Mechanical filters often have compartments for activated carbon, or other chemical media.

Power Filter / H.O.B Filterfluval c4 aquarium filter

A power filter generally hangs on the back of the aquarium and is sometimes referred to as a “hang on back” or “h.o.b.” filter. This type of filter is convenient and easy to access. Look for one that contains a good sized, reusable sponge for bacteria to grow on, such as a Fluval C series (featured right) or Aquaclear. When the sponge needs to be cleaned, rinse and squeeze it in a bucket of aquarium water so that the bacteria is not killed. Chlorine in tap water is not good for bacteria. I have also had good success with the Marineland Emperor Power filters. They are equipped with “Bio-wheels” which provide lots of surface area for bacteria growth. They do not come with a reusable sponge but have very large compartments where extra filter media can be added such as sponges or carbon.

Canister Filter

eheim classicA canister filter goes underneath the aquarium and is connected to a “hang on” intake and outflow by tubing. Canister filters are generally much larger than Hang-on filters and can contain much more filter media. They are more commonly used on aquariums of 50 gallons or more, but a smaller one could be used on a 29 gallon. When looking for a canister filter, simpler is often better. Look for for something that can house lots of media and is versatile. The Eheim Classic canister filter (featured right) has no preset compartments and gives the aquarist complete freedom to add anything to the canister that will fit. Layers of sponges, Activated Carbon, bio balls, or any other media can easily be added. The Fluval line of canister filters (featured below) is also very versatile. These canisters feature a stacking compartment system that allows almost any type of media to be added. It gives the versatility we are looking for and is also very convenient and easy to use.


Aquarium Setup – A simple guide for the new hobyist

empty-fish-tankSince this is the first article, I figured I would start at the beginning….. Proper aquarium setup will make all the difference in the success of your aquarium.

So, you’ve just gone to the local aquarium store and come home with a new aquarium.  Hopefully the aquarium store guy told you not to buy fish right away and that you need to let your tank “cycle.” Now you’re turning to the internet wondering what you got yourself into and what this “cycling” is all about. I’m here to help. Setting up a new aquarium is an awesome, but slow, experience. Trust me, it will all be worth it in the end.

The List

The first step is to make sure you got everything you need. There are really only 8 things you need to get the ball rolling. Make sure you have them all.

1) Aquarium with glass tops or plastic hood and light

2) Stand  – or something to put the tank on so that it is at least a few feet off the ground.

3) Filter of some kind – Get something that is at least rated for your aquarium size.

4) Heater – Yes, you actually need to get a heater. I would suggest the more expensive one with the built in thermostat.

5) Thermometer – This is to make sure the thermostat is actually working on your heater.

6) Substrate – Sand or gravel.

7) Dechlorinator – Removes chlorine from the water.

8) Water

new aquarium

The Perfect Spot

Got it all? Okay, great. Now, time to put it all together. Try to put the aquarium where it is not in direct sunlight as this will increase algae growth. It is also best to not setup the aquarium where there is a lot of foot traffic, such as a hallway. If a hallway is all you have, fine, but it would be best to set it up in a quiet corner of your living room.

Set your stand on the ground and make sure it is far enough from the wall so that you can place a filter on the back. Even if you didn’t get an external filter, you may want to later on. Set it out at least 5 inches from the wall if you can. If you are going to completely ignore this, at least set it out 2 inches from the wall so you can run tubing behind it and it is not sitting on the tack strip (something to do with carpeting that will offset your aquarium). After you have positioned the stand, place the aquarium on top and break out the level. It should be fine, but it’s always best to check before you fill it up. Now, sit back and admire it for a moment.

Water Works

Once you’re done resting, It’s time to go rinse your substrate. Whether you bought gravel or sand, you will want to put it in a bucket and rinse it. Fill and drain the bucket several times so that the water runs clear, or at least clear-ish. This is to prevent the water from clouding. Add the rinsed substrate to the aquarium. After that, it’s time to fill it up. I would suggest bringing in the garden hose for anything over 20 gallons. As the tank is filling, add your dechlorinator. Follow the instructions on the bottle.

Fire it up!

Now it’s time to turn on the filter and heater. Your heater instructions probably say to put the heater in the water and let it sit there for an hour before you plug it in. I don’t know why this is. Just do it. Set the temperature to 78-80 degrees. If you bought an external filter, you will have to prime it. Hang it on the back of the aquarium and fill it with water and plug it in. It probably has a priming lever that you push up and down to make the filter start working. Use the lever and then if it doesn’t work, get a big cup and just pour water into the back of the filter over and over until it starts pumping out water on it’s own. It will usually sound different when it is primed and working.

Stick the thermostat on and that’s it! You’re done.  Now, the real fun begins…. Waiting.

The Waiting Game

What we are waiting for is for the tank to “cycle.” Basically cycling is waiting for good bacteria to grow and live in your aquarium. These good bacteria eat the toxins in your water that are produced from fish waste. No matter what kind of filter you have on the aquarium, you need these good bacteria to destroy the toxins or everything will die! So how do we get the bacteria to grow? Add fish! ……. Now before you go crazy, read the rest. You can only add a FEW FISH.  The day after you setup the aquarium, go back to the fish store and buy some small (1-2″) fish. The rule of thumb is 1 small fish per 10 gallons of water during this cycling phase. So, if you get a 20 gallon aquarium, that means 2 fish. These should be fish that you will want to have in your aquarium later on because chances are they will live and do well. Don’t buy something like feeder goldfish, thinking they will die and you don’t want to spend the money.

You will need to let your FEW fish live in your aquarium alone for 4-6 weeks. During this time, I would suggest weekly 20% water changes to eliminate the toxins. If at anytime the fish look stressed or are acting strange, do a water change. Feed the fish daily and turn the light on and off every day. Take good care of these little guys… The future of your aquarium depends on them! Remember, these fish are making the life sustaining bacteria grow.

Show Time!

After your 6 weeks is up, it’s time to take some water to the fish store to be tested for ammonia and nitrate (the bad toxins) and get some new fish. The water should test fine, but if it doesn’t, go home and do a water change and wait another week or 2. Add new fish to the aquarium slowly. If you have a 20 gallon and started with 2 fish, only get 2 or 3 more and see how they do before adding more. Then wait a few weeks and add a few more. Eventually, you will have your fully stocked tank and all will be good!


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