Noob in need of some Amazon biotope advice
Firstly let me say Hi. I have been reading a lot over the last few days and must say this site seems excellent place for information.:-D
I am just about ready to pull the trigger on a 120 gallon tank (48” x 18” x 32”), which I plan to setup as an Amazon biotope.
I am not totally a noob when it comes to fish keeping, but it has been many years since my last aquatic adventure ended badly. :cry:
This time I am determined to get it right, do things the right way, and (hopefully) end up with an aquarium to be proud of.
Fish and plant species and quantities I am still debating, but as I don’t actually have tank yet I still have time to research them more. I do plan on having it heavily planted with a sand substrate.
Anyway down the questions I have…
As mentions I plan on a 120 gallon tank. I don’t like the hood that it comes with (looks cheap) and I am wondering if I actually need a hood. I like the idea of being able to see the floating plants. But would evaporation be an issue other than having to add water every few days? I think I read once about the buildup of minerals due to evaporation. Would toping up with distilled water and the weekly water changes prevent this?
Lighting. I understand the many Amazonian aquatic plant species do not require strong lighting. Amazon swords, Pigmy chain swords, and water sprites are on the plant list at the moment. I am considering the Hagen Glo T5 HO Freshwater Lighting System with 2 x 54w (6700K) T5 bulbs. I know the 1 watt per gallon rule does not apply to T5’s so do you think this is adequate for this aquarium?
Heaters. More wattage is better right? But Is 2 x 300w heaters overkill? The temp in th house is never lower then 60F in winter.
Filter. The tank comes with a “free” wet/ dry filter, could I use it or find it a home on ebay and buy a sponge filter which seems be recommended for what I am looking to setup?
Welcome to TFK, we all started off somewhere and asking questions now is absolutely the right way to go about setting this tank up.
The K rating sounds about right for the lights...
A lot of amazon fish like floating plants at the surface, in which case you'd need high lighting to break through to the rest of the plants...
I'd try the light, if you get a lot of green algae, just take down a light.
It might be a bit too much without a CO2 system. Generally if there is too much light, the plants won't use it unless there is enough CO2 and nutrients, they need a balance of everything.
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I have two strictly-Amazonian tanks setup, a 70g flooded Amazon forest and a 115g (5-foot) Amazonian stream. Photos are below. The issues in my response to your specific questions will reflect what you see in these tanks.
Light. I agree this is too much. I have two T8 48-inch tubes over both these tanks, and it is bordering on bright. I tried for one week the dual T5 HO tubes (same size and spectrum as my T8's) and it was way too much. And as you can see, I have a thick covering of floating plants too. I joked that the fish were about to ask me for sunglasses.
Cover. I would. Water evaporates fast, which is not good for the house. A cover also keeps the air above the water warmer, which helps with heat loss in winter [and a 60F room temp is significant to an aquarium] and any fish that breathe air (anabantids, many catfish) need this. Fish do jump, often at night; you might be surprised at how many different species will end up on the floor. And water should always be replaced via a water change, not "top up" which has other issues I won't go into now. For a larger tank (4-feet and up) I use the glass cover sets that sit down on the inside lip of the frame, and then a dual-tube T8 light fixture that sits on the frame.
Heater, I agree with others, over is better than under. On a 4-foot, two heaters one at either end beside the filter outflow and return which should be at opposite ends of the tank. Or a canister filter with a built-in heating element. I have this on my 90g and wish I had it on the other two large tanks.
Filter, do not use a wet/dry with plants. Here again I won't go into all the issues, but it is not advisable. A canister rated to the tank is sufficient, and if you decide to get one, consider the heating element issue. This will save money in the long-term, be more efficient, and be less equipment hanging in the tank. The choice of fish has relevance for the filter, in the aspct of current; a canister is adaptable with respect to the flow so this is often the best.
I like sand substrates, my 115g is play sand (Quikrete brand) that is near-identical to the sand in many Amazonian streams and rivers. My 70g has Flourite, but this has been a disappointment. Sand if fine.
I have a 4-part series "A Basic Approach to the Natural Planted Aquarium" stickied at the head of the Aquarium Plants section of the forum, that may provide you some background to the above.
And last but not least, welcome to Tropical Fish Keeping forum.:-D
Thanks for the info guys. The guide was very informative Byron.
I bought a test kit over the weekend and I have a question regarding my water. I have a well for my water and a canister to raise the PH in the house. Now I have read that it is beneficial to bypass this canister when filling the tank as it could remove beneficial properties needed for plant growth like iron.
However my untreated well water is quite acidic at around PH 4.9, while treated the PH is 6.4 which I believe is ideal for Amazonian plants and fish.
The water is also soft GH and KH are both low at < 40ppm.
So down to the question, is there any benefit to bypassing the canister and if so should I do it based upon the water properties above?
The pH in several of my tanks is below 5. At least, I can only test down to 5 and it is bright yellow so it is either 5 or below. This suits many of my wild caught fish. Cardinal Tetra for example should never be kept in water with a pH above 6, and there are many others too. Two of my tanks I do buffer (with aragonite) the pH to keep it in the low to mid-6 range.
The GH ironically has to be raised a bit for the plants. Many will not do well with a GH below 4 or 5 dGH, which is between 71ppm and 90 ppm. I use Equilibrium to achieve this, since my tap water is near-zero in GH.
Here is my current shortlist of plants and fish…
Pygmy Chain Swords
Brilliant Rummy Nose Tetra
Cory (two species TBD)
Is the GH at 40ppm before the canister, i.e. from the well? You will have to raise the GH a bit, as Echinodorus, Helanthium (pygmy swords) and Pennywort, and possibly Frogbit, will need calcium beyond what you have at 40ppm. You want to get this up to around 90ppm (= 5 dGH). My plants of these species have rebounded incredibly since I raised the GH to this level. The easiest way is with Seachem's Equilibrium. This is controllable (1 tablespoon raises GH by 3 dGH per 20 gallons so it is easy to estimate) and it does not affect pH which is critical. The Equilibrium is less expensive by the tub. I've also experimented with dolomite, aragonite and crushed coral but these raise pH and in order to get the GH up to 5 the pH goes above 7 which is no good. Seachem have also brought out a new line called AquaVitro with planted tank products and this is only available through select dealers. I have not tried it yet as the one local store that is a Seachem Platinum dealer has not got it in yet.
I use this resource when setting up a biotope-
Tropical freshwater aquarium fish: Find plants
From the maker of Calcite-
"Calcite is a naturally occurring calcium
carbonate media. One of the advantages
of Calcite is its self-limiting property.
When properly applied, it corrects pH
only enough to reach a non-corrosive
equilibrium. It does not overcorrect under
normal conditions. Upon contact with
Calcite, acidic waters slowly dissolve the
calcium carbonate to raise the pH which
reduces the potential leaching of copper,
lead and other metals found in typical
And corosex's manufacturer says this about their product-
"By neutralizing the free carbon dioxide
in water, Corosex can correct acidic
water conditions and render it less
corrosive. Corosex, being a highly
reactive magnesium oxide, is used most
effectively where pH correction is
substantial or high flow conditions are in
use. pH correction and media consumption
are affected by a number of water
chemical variables. Being soluble to
acidity, Corosex will slowly dissolve and
will need to be replenished periodically."
The 'canister' should be backwashed every couple months, and both media should be replaced every 12 months or so.
So, I'll let Byron draw the last conclusion, but I think it's fairly safe, and prevents leaching of heavy metals...
If it were me, I would still like to know what it does in the aquarium. In my situation for instance, I know that what they add to raise the pH is safe, and in the fish tanks the pH rises only by a couple of decimal points with a 50% water change and within a couple hours is where it was prior to the water change. I have had 11 years of this, with no deviations or issues.
So I guess you could try the water after it has gone through the canister, and monitor pH over a period of days to get an idea just what it will do. Or you could bypass the canister as I previously suggested.
If the pH lowers after passing through the canister (option 1 above), it likely will fall with no buffering properties. In option 2 bypassing canister, it also will fall with no buffering properties or remain much the same. The biology of the tank will determine the levels in all this. The safest of these would probably be the latter, since it is minimal fluctuation, but again it depends upon the levels in option 1 which we don't know until it is done.
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