How long does it take to replace all the water in your fish tank? You may be surprised to find out that doing two, 50% water changes does not replace 100% of the water.
I found a great online calculator that helps illustrate this point:
Here's a screen shot:
If you work with substrate-spawning cichlids, one thing you'll immediately notice is that fry can be extremely small. It's all too easy to siphon them out accidentally when doing a water change.
I keep newly free-swimming fry from egg layers in tiny 2-gallon Rubbermaid restaurant containers and I use a mini-siphon I made myself to carefully clean the bottom of excess food and debris. Here's how to make one yourself.
Here's what to do . . .
GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — MAY 1999
by Rick Borstein
These days, technology has invaded the fish room. Electronic heaters, exotic filtra- tion systems and a wide array of foods and medications are available to the aquarist. However, it is often the more mundane tools that help us the most.
Take for example, the bucket. Could you keep fish without one? I have my own favorite. It’s a Rubbermaid bucket that has wide pouring spout, comfortable handle, and holds about 2-1/2 gallons. It’s tan, so it looks clean even if it isn’t. I have several 5-gallon white buckets, too. They’re useful, but they don’t fit under the faucet of my utility sink very well and they are just too big to be used as often.
A recent find of mine is new kind lid for 5-gallon buckets called a Gamma Seal. You snap a lid ring on the bucket, then use the included screw-in top with rubber seal. It’s great for transporting fish because it is water tight, but easy to unscrew and net fish out. The screw lids are about six bucks and would be a great way to take fish to a show. I ordered mine from the Sportsman’s Guide catalog at 800.888.3006.
Another mundane tool that I use daily is a turkey baster. I use it for feeding brine shrimp, removing eggs and fry from filters and cleaning up fry tanks. It’s also fun to use as a “squirt gun” to drive away an over-protective cichlid when you’re trying to snatch a slate full of eggs.
I keep a flashlight in my fish room. Most of my tanks are planted, so it can be pretty difficult to see if a spawn has taken place. Recently, I noticed that my Neolamprologus gracilus were behaving a bit differently. I couldn’t see any activity, but had a hunch that they were getting ready to spawn. The next day I looked again and couldn’t detect a thing. Time to grab the flashlight! With the help of the light, I was able to look through the thick forest of Cryptocryne to see a thick plaque of eggs deposited at the base of some driftwood. A couple of days later I used the flashlight again to find the wrigglers. Boring tool, but without it I wouldn’t have those fry.
I have a 150-gallon tank with a wet/dry system. Wet/dry filters are great, but I was having a hard time keeping the pre-filter clean. Uneaten food (Doromin sticks and floating pellets), quickly clogged the foam pre-filter. My solution was a $3.85 floating feeding ring. The foam keeps the ring afloat and my Frontosa haven’t been able to dislodge it yet.
I like planted tanks and that means having adequate lighting. I use standard fluores- cent shop lights stocked with Gro-Lite bulbs over each tank. The light is great for the plants, but is also very good at growing algae! I’ve tried a variety of algae scrapers, algae magnets, algae pads, but I haven’t yet found anything as effective as a good old single-edged razor blades. I buy them in a 100-pack from a nearby True Value hard- ware store for about five bucks. I use a new blade each week when I do my tank maintenance. A minor concession to convenience is that I do keep around a couple of blade holders. These come in fluorescent colors which makes them much easier to find when you drop them in your tank. I always scrape the tank walls before I do my water changes. Once you drop the water level, it seems that the green stuff gets a lot harder to remove.
Old toothbrushes often find their way down to my fishroom. They still perform better than any expensive filter brush I’ve used, and you can’t beat the price. For really small items, try a kid-size toothbrush we have a lot of these around, too you can clean some really tight places.
Sometimes little things can save you from having to think a lot. I usually do my water changes on Saturday mornings while trying to take care of a one year old, so I get easily distracted. I usually change about 30–50% water change on every tank. Each tank needs a different amount of dechlorinator and it’s hard to remember how much to put in. For under a dollar, I purchased a Garden Measure at a local nursery. This small graduated plastic measure is marked off in both teaspoons and milliliters. You will also find free graduated measures with kid’s cough syrup and products like Nyquil. I used a permanent marker to write the gallon equivalents next to the teaspoons on the Garden Measure. Now that I measure everything exactly, I find that I use less and save money. A gallon of Novaqua is about $30, so it pays to measure exactly.
I was talking to my wife Sharon the other day, and I remarked to her that I thought I had found every way there was to flood our basement floor when I do my water changes! I had spilled buckets of water, forgot to turn off the Python, left the plug in the sink and had it overflow and a variety of other idiotic methods. To Sharon, the glass is always half full and she was sure that there were lots more ways to turn my fishroom floor into a swimming pool.
Of course, she was right! I came home from a long business trip and looked into my 6-month-old, black-sealed 25 gallon aquarium and noticed that it was only halfway full of water. I was really tired and pulled out the Shopvac, broke down the tank, moved the fish, etc.
Spurred to action, I purchased a water alarm for a bout fifteen bucks. The tiny box is powered by a 9-volt battery and when it detects water, it emits a piercing alarm. You will find them in the home improvement centers located near the sump pumps. If your home has a sump pump, believe me, you’ll want more than one!
I like to feed my dwarf plecos (Ancistrus sp.) some vegetable matter every week or so. I tried a variety of veggie clips without much luck. I guess a dozen plecos and several cichlids attacking a half zucchini was too much to ask these products to withstand. I gave up on the store bought solution. Now, I rubber band the zucchini to a heavy piece of slate and put it that the tank. The fish like it and I now I don’t have zuchinni islands floating around my tanks.
Recently, I had the unenviable task of trying to remove a large Geophagus that was bullying my Frontosas in my 150. In my heavily landscaped tank, this was no easy task. After twenty fruitless minutes trying to coax the fish out of the rock work, I got an idea. I grabbed a 36” piece of rigid one-eight inch plastic tubing, and blew into cave where the fish was hiding. Success! Scared by the bubbles, he moved right out and I was able to catch him easily. Cost for the tubing? Under a dollar.
Sometimes the simplest solutions are both cheaper and better. So, look around your fish room and try to discover the mundane, but effective solution.
by Del Calhoun
GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — JANUARY 1999
For years now, I have been trying to convince people that I’m not a lazy hobbyist and mulm is a good thing to have in your tank. Every one must know me too well, because I haven’t fooled anyone yet. Sometimes mulm can be beneficial. Especially when you have a pair of cichlids with fry. I have watched many pairs of cichlids stir up the pile of mulm so the fry can dig right in for a good meal. I don’t think I ever really want to know what is in that pile of stuff in the corner of the tank, but there must be something good in there for the fry. Other times, mulm is pretty useless. It just lays there until someone does something about it. Here’s a couple of things I have heard about that could be good for the club or at least fun. Of course, if no one does anything about them, they will just lay there.
The cichlid association in Detroit has this thing they call the Green Carp Award. This is annual award given to a club member who has committed a major fish blunder. They use a large stuffed fish and each winning member signs this fish. The winner holds the stuffed fish for one year and then gives it to a new winner at one of their awards ceremonies. Now, I have always wondered why we couldn’t have something like that? There is no doubt in my mind that many of our members have made some major blunders, including myself. The rules would be very simple.
The first requirement would be a sense of humor. I think this is extremely important for whomever may win this award. If we were to give this award to a member whose sense of humor left a lot to the desired, we would probably lose a member... no, make that for sure we would lose a member.
The second requirement would be to make a major blunder and then be dumb enough to let another member know about it and then to have that member tell the committee. So remember in the future, should you do something really stupid (and if you keep fish long enough it will happen), be careful who you tell. Because you never know, our club could come up with an award very similar to the Green Carp Award and when you least expect it, we’ve got you. The third requirement would be for some one or some group of mem- bers to decide they also like this idea and then come up with an award that is similar. This is where you come in. Remember, the best way not to receive this wonderful award is to be the one who gives it out.
Want to know the easiest way to spawn Aulonocara jacobfreibergi? It’s not nearly as hard is some of you might think. First, let it be known that you only like Central American cichlids and that you think mouth brooders are boring. Next, set up a garden pond in your back yard. Before you know it, some smart ass member, in this case it was my brother, will throw a trio of Aulonocara in your pond, claiming he didn’t have anywhere else to put them. Once you have gotten this far all you have to do is wait until the end of the summer and you should have it least 30–40 nice new Aulonocara babies. See I told you it was easy.
Speaking of raising cichlid fry, the boys from Elite Cichlids have turned me onto this new product called Cyclop-Eeze. It claims to be an Artemia Nauplii replacement. In other words, no more hatching baby brine shrimp. To date, I have used it to feed five separate spawns and I think it’s a great first food . I feed it to the fry for about the first three weeks until I can get them on flake food. It doesn’t cloud the water. The fry love it and have you ever forgotten to turn the air back on a container of baby brine shrimp after feeding? Oh, that smell the next day can be terrible. I will never have to smell a thousand dead baby crabs again. I think some of our other members should try it out and let the club know what they think about it. I have heard one member complain that too much of the food stays at the top of the tank. I just stir it up a bit and that seems to work for me.
Do you remember back when you first started coming to GCCA meetings? All those Latin names being thrown about sure could make it confusing when all you wanted was to find that pretty blue fish you saw in a book. I remember my first auction. I was shocked to see all those fish in bags for up to sixteen hours. The pet store always told me to rush right home with my new fish. I bring this up because we all need a little help in the beginning. Sandi Ellison has been pushing the idea of some kind of mentor program at board meet- ings lately and it makes a lot of sense to me. She has told us how she probably wouldn’t have lasted as a member for more than three months if it wasn’t for Ed Schmidt. She had some problems with her discus and fortunately called Ed. Ed helped her with her problem and went a step further. During the next couple of meetings, whenever Ed saw Sandi he would sit down with her and talk to her for a while. Before long she felt right at home. So, now that you have been a member for a while and those Latin names don’t even phase you, find a new member who looks like a deer in headlights and sit down with them for a while. Talk to them and try to help them with their questions or introduce them to some- one who can. Basically, just treat them the way you wish you were treated when you first joined. Who knows, you might get lucky and make a new friend. Rick Borstein just at- tended his first Board meeting (which any member is welcome to attend) and when the meeting was almost over, he asked Don and Jan if they were going to show him their fish. He was surprised to learn they didn’t have any. When he asked them why they were still in the club, Don pointed around the room and said “It’s because of the friends we have made over the years”. OK if you know Don, you know he didn’t say anything nearly that nice about us, but we can’t print the names Don calls his friends.
Well, there you have it. A whole pile of mulm. Now let’s see if it’s the beneficial kind or if it just lays there. ■
by Bob Blaho
GCCA’S CICHLID CHATTER — JANUARY 1999
The first thought that pops into many readers’ minds may be, “why bother?” The intent of this article is to show you why. We hope to establish for you, whether you have or might have a need for use of such an instrument. We’ll show what choices of microscopes you have, how they function, and what purpose you, as an aquarist, may have for this tool. Some of this material is a compilation from various sources and some is based on personal experience. Some specific sources, for more information, are listed at the end of this article.
First, what is available out there? The answer to that question is also a question. What do you need to accomplish? If you’re looking to gather more information about your aquarium environment, this is one way to do it. Visual information can provide us with facts that we can respond to. The first thing most of us do when we walk into a room, which has one or more aquariums, is to take a closer look at them. We look at what types of fish are in them, what types of plants are planted, and the condition of the fish, plants, or water. In other words, what we can see! The limit, to what we can see, is our eye. We frequently aid (especially as we get older) our eyes with prescription glasses or magnifying glasses. Those of us that do extremely fine detail work use a loupe or binocular magnifier. These are instruments that are simple, inexpensive, and usually easy to use. They let us take that closer look to get the information that we’re after. The lenses we use to see and identify what we’re looking at, come in a variety of choices. Selection of your lens type is usually determined by the level of magnification and detail needed to accomplish your job. As the magnification and quality level rise, so does the cost. Each level of capability has its purpose. The microscope, the com- pound light optical version, is only a multiple lens design to help us see items closer up. Its capability for magnification covers the range of 20-1000X. The electron micro- scope versions which go beyond 1000X will not be discussed. The compound light microscope then is what we’re concentrating on. It answers the question, “why bother?” If you have the desire to take a closer look at your aquatic environment, a need to identify what might not be normally visible, then you probably would benefit from using a microscope.
Selection of your microscope is again based on your needs. The toy versions for children are probably the reason that many people don’t proceed further. Any optical instrument is only as good as the precision and quality of the glass it uses. A microscope should be bought as a lifetime investment, much as a high quality camera system. Buy the best you can afford, to do the job you want, or may want to do. Look for the magnification range you need in selecting your eyepieces and objectives. Buy those models that conform to one of the best recognized standard configurations. These are the Deutsche Industrie Norm (DIN), most common, or Japanese Standard (JIS). Stick with DIN standard compo- nents and you’ll have the best of all worlds. This will enable you to select a greater variety of components for your microscope that will be inter- changeable and expand your capa- bilities (and also its resale value). A typical compound microscope consists of these basic components: an eyepiece lens (ocular), tube, objective lens, stage, stand, condenser, and light source. Look at a drawing or photo of a typical compound microscope and you will have no problem in identifying these parts.
There also is a choice in variety for each of these items. Eyepieces can be monocular, binocular, or trinocular. The monocular variety is the least expensive, since it uses only one eyepiece. Typical types of eyepieces can be Huygenian, Ramsden, Kellner, and Periplan. Each succeeding class of optics increases in quality and cost. Objectives also are available in the degree of optical correction desired. These are achromatic, semi-plan, and planar. Achromatic objectives provide a flat field of view in about 65% of the center of the image. Ramsden eyepieces, often called Wide-Field, are usually used with the achromatic objectives at higher power. A look at a catalog listing selection will quickly establish what you wish or need to afford. The best way to go, is to buy a microscope that comes as a system, so you can expand your choices later. An eyepiece in 10X Wide- Field and turret arrangement with your selection of objectives in 4X, 10X, 40X, and 100X will get you started for most purposes. This gives you the capability of 40X, 100X, 400X, and 1000X. Most of your aquarium work will be done between 40X and 400X. 1000X (oil immersion) is used for more advanced cellular and bacterial work. The stage of your microscope can be plain with spring clips to hold your glass slide or have a mechanical stage that adjusts for the short distances a slide is normally moved. For bright field illumination, the light source can be external, using a mirror to direct the light to the slide, or be built into the base to provide illumination. With either light arrange- ment, alternate types of lighting may be desired. This could be the basis of another article in itself. The question is, at this point, what should one consider as the basic minimum setup? Consider these items:
Make sure that the microscope has a solid stand, with fine and coarse focusing and a monocular tube.
The eyepiece should be 10X to start, with a selection of 5X, 15X, and 20X oculars added as needed.
A turret holding at least three objectives, achromatic in 4X, 10X, and 40X will be sufficient to start.
The stage can be equipped with only removable spring clips or have the mechanical stage to allow more precise placement of the slide. Removable mechanical stages can be added later if desired. This option starts at about $70.00 and goes up in price, based on capabilities.
A light source, such as a microscope lamp or even a simple high intensity desk lamp, unless the illumination is built in.
Beneath the stage should be a condenser lense that can be focused to properly illuminate the slide. A diaphragm to control light intensity and a filter holder should be part of this package.
The Swift M3200 (see Figure 1, next page), is an example of a good starting package. A basic package for the above, new from a catalog or outlet, will start at about $200.00 and can go higher based on quality, choice of lenses, and other options. A good used microscope can be found around college campuses and in papers like the “Trading Times.” This would enable you to buy a better quality instrument at the same or lower cost than a new one. Going up in price range will obtain a binocular, four objective turret, a mechanical stage with built-in illumina- tion, microscope starting at about $500.00 used. A Bausch & Lomb binocular mi- croscope (see Figure 2, next page) is an example with these features.
A good quality microscope of this variety, new, will start at about $800.00 and rapidly escalate based on optics and brand name (Leica-$1500, Zeiss-$2000). Figure 3, an American Optical dual binocular head microscope, is an example of some of the specialized features available. You can expect these additional capabilities to add to the microscope cost.
So now that you’ve selected what you think is the best microscope for you, what do you do with it? You will have to use it and acquire some experience in develop- ing your techniques. Books and manuals are available in most libraries covering just about all aspects of microscopy you may want to learn. Concentrate on devel- oping your basic skills. Use your microscope for checking the quality of water, identify the microscopic plants and creatures that inhabit your aquarium along with your fish. If you have baby fish, which require live food, check for paramecia, rotifers, daphnia, and other micro food cultures in your aquaria. Keep tabs on how the cultures are doing. See what other helpful or detrimental organisms are present. Do you keep egg layers? Pluck an egg and put it under your lens to see if it is fertile. If you see no life (movement) in the egg, it is not fertile. Then just continue with your process of elimination to establish what caused the infertility. Do you have health problems with your fish, plants, or snails? Check to see what’s differ- ent with the healthy versus the unhealthy. Identify your problem hosts so you can take a targeted approach to correcting the situation. The books below can give you more ideas for use of your microscope.
Several books you may want to look at are as follows:
Using the Microscope - A Guide for Naturalists by Eric V. Grave, Dover Publications, 1984
Exploring with the Microscope by Werner Nachtigall, Sterling Publishing, 1996
Hunting with the Microscope by Gaylord Johnson and Maurice Bleifeld, Arco Pub- lishing, 1980 3rd Edition
Diseases of Aquarium Fish by Robert Goldstein, T.F.H. Publications, 1971 Handbook of Fish Diseases by Dieter Untergasser, T.F.H. Publications, 1989 Discus Health by Dieter Untergasser, T.F.H. Publications, 1991
1998 Optics and Optical Instruments Catalog, Edmund Scientific Co., 609-573-6250
These sources will help you develop your techniques and aid in identifying what you’re looking at. The Edmund Catalog will be an aid in establishing beginning choices and prices. As you gain experience, you’ll add to your library those periodicals that cover your areas of interest. The knowledge you gain can be useful not only in your hobby as an aquarist, but also in any other areas where you want to take a closer look at your environment. ■
If this article was of interest to you and you would like more on lighting techniques, slide staining and preparation, photomicrography, or other areas of interest related to microscopy, let me or your editor know. We may start an ongoing series of articles if there is sufficient interest.
Here are most of the fish tank dimensions that you will see. Not all these sizes may be the same depending on the company making the tanks but they are a great resource to get an idea.
The Greater Chicago Cichlid Association — GCCA — is a not-for-profit, educational organization, chartered in the state of Illinois, dedicated to the advancement and dissemination of information relating to the biology of the fishes in the family Cichlidae, with particular emphasis on maintenance and breeding in captivity. We are simply cichlid hobbyists who love cichlids.