11-03-2009, 01:12 PM
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This will be a nice aquascape, very interesting fish. I am concerned about the tank size though; assuming you do mean 160 litres and not gallons, six of these fish will be very crowded as they reach 15cm/6 inches [some sources mention 20cm/8 inches] at maturity. And while juveniles seem OK in small quarters, unless you can move them fairly soon to a larger aquarium they can develop health problems due to stunting growth; problems with the development of internal organs and the fish's immune system have been traced to a restrictive environment when young. Six fish should have at least a 4-foot tank (70g and up), and I would recommend that as your aquarium size. However, you may have planned for that, so I'll continue to your plant questions.
Ctenopoma acutirostre is a labyrinth fish so that is a clue to its preferred environment in the aquarium. Quiet water (minimal filter movement), thick with plants, soft and acidic. Light should be at a level sufficient to maintain good plant growth but not greater to replicate the fish's natural habitat, the dense forest streams in central Africa. You'll want floating plants, both to provide further shade and to supply their requirements for building bubblenests, as I expect you will be thinking of spawning with a group. You'll want to keep the tank well covered, to conserve moisture for the floating plants but more importantly to maintain a warm air temperature above the surface since these fish must breathe air to survive and it should be warm. Although the fish and plants are different, my 70g SE Asian stream/swamp tank shown in the photos under my Aquariums is similar to what these fish will appreciate.
I am an advocate of fine gravel substrates. Sand is another possibility if that is your preference. I prefer gravel because it provides a suitable environment for the aerobic and anaerobic bacteria around the plant's roots but is not so likely to compact like sand can if you're not careful. I've used small-grain gravel in all my tanks for more than 15 years, and never thought of changing. Depending upon the choice of plants, root fertilizer can be added with tabs or sticks. I wouldn't bother with an enriched substrate since the plants in the water column and floating will gain no benefit from nutrients in the substrate.
CO2 is not necessary unless one wants the high-light plants that are difficult to grow without increased lighting. I have never bothered with CO2 and you can see the variety of plants in my photos. Lighting I would limit to approximately one watt per gallon for regular fluorescent light; if you choose T5 HO fixtures and tubes, less is better as those lights give off significantly more light intensity for the wattage. One T5 tube or two regular tubes will be adequate. Full spectrum plus cool white mix encourages the best growth in plants; if you are limited to one tube (as with T5) I would go with full spectrum around 6500K. It provides the blue and red that plants require most, and balances it with the green so the colours of plants and fish appear natural. The sun at midday is around 5500K in colour temperature; most of us recommend full spectrum within the 5000K to 8000K range. The higher the kelvin number, the more blue in the colour. With two tubes, you can increase the blue with a cool white type of tube but still balance it with a full spectrum for a natural appearance. I have this combination on all my tanks.
Filtration in a heavily-planted tank is required only for minimal water movement (especially with this type of fish that inhabits very slow moving waters) and to "clear" the water by removing suspended particles via the pads; the plants keep the water "clean." I would go with a canister filter. Eheim, Rena and Fluval are common, I have had Eheims for more than 12 years and recently bought a Rena [following the advice of a fellow member, FishinPole] which is very similar at less cost. They are both good filters.
Plants that are native to the area are few in the trade. Anubias species will work, and like shade; these attach to wood and rocks by roots, similar to Java Fern; they are not planted in the substrate. Barclaya longifolia would be nice in the front, it resembles the small crypts that grow in identical environmental conditions in SE Asia. Bolbitis heudelotii, an African Fern, attaches to wood much like the SE Asian Java Moss. Crinum natans, the African Onion Plant, can grow to 1 metre with long ribbon-like leaves that trail along the surface, providing a nice anchoring for other surface plants. Lagarosiphon major is the African species of Elodea or African water weed, a stem plant that grows quickly. If you want to move outside strictly African plants, any of the Cryptocoryne species would be ideal in these water conditions, along with Java Fern; these would provide similar appearance to some of the native plants and may be more readily available.
Hope this gives you some ideas. Feel free to ask away.