I Killed the Guppies, Too–Fish Friday #4

You read right: I killed the guppies.

I know by now you’ve worked out that I’m a bit of an idiot. I’ve told you before the nano-aquarium crashed, then recovered, looking just beautiful, but then I did something stupid. I caved.

Okay. My twenty gallon long aquarium was going along beautifully according to plan, but I had been doing some research out and about town to discover if either of the two local fish stores had any ember tetras and how much they cost as well as seeing if there are any of the other plants I needed were available without having to go up to Salt Lake at a great fish store called Fish4U. So at Jay’s Jungle in Provo, I was looking through his tanks when Jay himself walked up and started talking to me about what I needed. Unfortunately, he didn’t have anything I wanted. He didn’t even have any of the plants I need (or the ones he did were nearly dead). The problem with Jay’s Jungle is everytime I go there, the store is empty. I don’t know how he stays in business. So while I was in there talking to Jay, I started feeling a bit guilty and bought two male guppies. They were very attractive, but I should have noticed they were very much full grown and had some fin damage. I just felt guilty talking to Jay while his store was empty when I actually never intended to buy anything since he didn’t have anything I wanted.

So, I decided to put them in the nano-aquarium. The two guppies did great for a week and then one morning I noticed they were both swimming clumsily and a bit sideways and often nose down telling me they both suffered some sort of damage to their swim bladders. I moved them over to the twenty gallon tank as soon as I could. The nano-aquarium was crashing again–for the third time in three months. I was sick of it and decided it was time for the nano-aquarium to be pulled down. The twenty gallon had been cycling for a month and had quite a few plants in it, so I figured the fish, snails, and other plants would survive a quick, but permanent, change of environment. And both fish did fine.

For a while.

After two days, the twenty gallon still looked fine and the fish were eating and seemed to be recovering. However, I was really worried the two fish were not providing enough bioload to kick start the nitrates, so I called up to FISH4U, found out they did have some ember tetras at a very reasonable rate. I took my grandkids up there and bought six beautiful ember tetras and put them into the twenty gallon without a quarantine. I was that kind of worried. Everything went well and the fish seemed very happy.

For a while.

Three days later the two guppies were fighting ferociously with each other. After a day of that, the smaller one was so beat up, I separated the two by putting the injured one behind the aquarium’s Hamburg Matten Filter (HMF) for safety away from the bigger guppy. The smaller one was so hurt, it couldn’t move it’s tail well at all and the bigger one was swimming sideways or nose-down again.

Yeah, It didn’t take long after that. Three days in fact. Both fish were eating okay, but it’s pretty bad when a full grown guppy gets outcompeted for food by a bunch of tiny ember tetras. The small one ate the food as well, but struggled getting to it. The current behind the HMF is so slow, it shouldn’t have been a problem. Eventually, neither could move and sank to the bottom of the tank, so I euthanized them.

I hated doing that, but this is just another proof I need to stop being such a pansy and just be patient. That stupid nano-aquarium combined with my incompetence killed five fish and three shrimp. I hope to never go through that kind of crap again.

Fish Friday #1 Hamburg Matten Filter

I used to keep a lot of aquarium fish. I kept both freshwater and marine aquariums. My dad did, too. In fact, most of my fish keeping interest comes from him. In the past, I’ve been able to set up a tank and have it flourish within days. Because I knew marine tanks are far more involved, I took six months setting up my first and only salt water tank. Marine tanks are quite involved and if you are taking a low tech approach, then you have to take a lot of time. After a year and a lot of money, the tank pretty much took care of itself, only requiring the odd water change, top off, feeding and regular filter maintenance. That tank lasted seven years and only crashed when one of the heaters exploded while I was away at a conference, cooking all the fish, corals, live rock and invertebrates.

With freshwater fish, I never had a problem with a tank until recently.

dirted tank planted aquarium neon tetras

This is not my aquarium, just a nice image I found through google. This is, however, a successful “dirted tank” that is also dosing CO2.

Last year, I tried to set up a new type of planted aquarium called a “dirted tank” and failed miserably. The little plants never got going because I could never get the water from being as dark as black coffee. I think I know why I failed as badly as I did at that aquarium, but I’m just not in a position to dedicate the time required to get it going properly.

So I decided to do a small desk-top aquarium with a couple of plants, a betta, a snail and three cherry red shrimp (Neocaridina davidi var. red). The girl at the local fish store said bettas and shrimp would work out fine together. It turns out she was filled with complete crap. Bettas love shrimp. They love shrimp for dinner, that is.

So within two weeks, the shrimp were dead. I decided then to add a couple of pygmy cory cats (Corydoras pygmaeus) to the aquarium, but they soon died, too. As the cory cats started dying, I noticed my aquarium was going through a cyanobacteria invasion. Eventually everything in aquarium died, except the small plants and the snail. I wasn’t doing anything odd and I had kept smaller aquariums before. I was very frustrated. I have never had so much trouble with a small, simple aquarium.

I decided to pull down the tank. I removed everything. I hand scrubbed each plant and got rid of half the gravel. Once I was satisfied, I reassembled the aquarium. A week later, I was having trouble again. This time I stuck a giant, hang on the back filter (HOB) meant for thirty gallon aquariums and blasted the system. That is when I noticed my tank was not getting circulation to several parts of the aquarium. The dead zones were the parts of the tank where the cyanobacteria was thickest.

The HOB didn’t have any filter material in it, except some poly filling I bought at Walmart. It’s the same stuff used to stuff plush animals and toys. Poly filling works as a great mechanical filter. Everything gets caught in it. After running the HOB for three hours, the cyanobacteria was gone as well as any detritus, dead-leaves and extraneous junk. It hasn’t come back. This still has not solved the problem. The only thing living in the aquarium is a red, rams horn snail. I would like some fish.

I think the problem is the aquarium. It is tall and narrow. It looks very pretty, but after some research, I’ve found out that tall and pretty doesn’t work well for aquariums. I have a bubbler-filter in it, but the bubbles are not where the oxygen cycle is happening. That happens at the surface in a tiny space fourteen inches from the bottom of the tank and those dead zones. Click here to see a video I made of the old tank.

To solve my problems (deadly aquarium and the need to keep more than four small plants and a snail), I got out the aquarium I tried to do the dirted tank in and I’ve started to do a new type of aquarium. A simple planted shrimp aquarium with the snail, the plants I already have, a school of ember tetras (Hyphessobrycon amandae) and the most effective filter in the shrimp aquarium hobby: the Hamburg Matten Filter (HMF). Click here to see the video I made about my HMF.

The HMF is a thick sheet of poret foam at one end of the aquarium with a pump or bubbler pulling water out from behind the foam sheet and back into the main water column.

hamburg matten filter poret foam planted aquarium

Also, not my aquarium, but I hope mine will work as well as this one seems to be.

The foam acts as both a mechanical and bacteriological filter. It has a life span of ten years or more and is extremely idiot proof. There is only one poret foam supplier in the United States: Swiss Tropicals. The total cost was less than thirty dollars, including shipping. That’s fine. The cost is lower than the HOB or any other filter I’ve ever used except the DIY bubbler filter I have now in the desktop aquarium. The filter is kinda ugly, but right now, I don’t care. I only want success.

I will be taking a slightly different approach this time around: I am going to go very slowly. I set up the HMF in the aquarium today. In two days, I am going to seed the new aquarium with some water from a recent water change and a marimo ball (Aegagropila linnaei). Two weeks from today, I am going to add some substrate (hopefully Seachem Flourite Black Dark Gravel) and a chunk of drift wood. A week after that, I’m going to add everything from the desk top aquarium into this aquarium and a month after that, I hope to add some fish and some shrimp.

Longer than I have ever taken with a fresh water aquarium by well over a month, but not as long as with a marine tank. I really hope everything works out this time.