Sunday, December 25, 2016

Product Review: Tetra 29g Aquarium Kit

Stock Image, Tetra
I will confess that I loved the Tetra 29 gallon aquarium kit at first. It came with everything I thought I'd need to get my aquarium habit back on its feet: tank, filter, heater, LED lighted hood. It even came with a warranty, though I admit I should have read the fine print more closely; as it turns out, the warranty only covers the glass itself. So what did I discover...?

The tank itself is of good quality, and I would trust it to hold up for a good number of years. The silicone job was a tad bit sloppy, but that's more a cosmetic issue and easily concealed. Rating: 9:10

The filter included in the kit was only a Whisper 30 EX HOB, which is the bare minimum required for a tank of this size. Anyone wanting to stock a 29 gallon tank to its capacity would need to add a secondary filter or replace it entirely. Also, contrary to its name, I found that this filter ran quite loudly: a constant droning buzz. I've run Whispers before (though not of this size) and never had this issue, so I'm uncertain if this problem was unique to this individual filter or is a sign of some wider problem in production. Rating: 7:10

The LED hood was lovely...for about the first seven months. The one by one the cells began to flicker and die. When I removed it to see if I could figure out what was going on, there was visible corrosion to the connective wiring between cells inside the plastic screen that was supposed to protect the LED. Ultimately, I had to buy both a new aquarium lid and light. Rating: 2:10

The heater, which was a Tetra 150, worked wonderfully for the first seven months after which it began having extended periods where it would run and not shut off. I didn't think much of it at first, since it was late January and the weather was fairly cold. Then just shy of a year, it imploded. Spectacularly. It didn't just stop working, oh no. The thermostat failed overnight, and I woke to fish stew in my display tank. I could feel the heat emanating when I raised the hood, and the thermometer registered about 90. Rating: 3:10 (if only because it lasted longer than the LED)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Dinner Bell: Introduction

Variety is the spice of life, and happy, healthy fish and invertebrates require a healthy and well-balanced diet. But how do you know if your fish are getting what they need from the food you're feeding? The easiest answer is 'read the label,'...just like you would for yourself. To understand what you're looking at though, you first have to understand a bit about how a fish body functions and what it needs to remain healthy...which is not the same as a human!

Whether you intend to feed your fish entirely prepared products or supplement their diet with live or frozen foods, it is essential to seek foods with the lowest amount of supplements and the optimal energy and proteins to create a healthy diet for your fish. My goal here is to give readers a basic understanding of the most important aspects of a healthy fish diet, so that they can select their fish foods in an educated manner.

Protein utilization is dramatically affected by the limiting amino acid content and protein quality, and at least somewhat affected by the salvage of essential amino acids in the body; too much protein/amino acids can cause kidney issues and affect fish longevity. When foodstuffs have different weaknesses in their amino acid distributions, it limits the loss of nitrogen and increases net protein utilization. Good sources of amino acids include: egg, whole fish meal (menhaden & salmon are preferred), unbleached wheat flour, cyclops, fish roe, squid meal, shrimp meal, crickets/cricket flour, and spirulina algae. Bottom line: Not all sources are equal and more ≠ better.

Fats insulate organs against shock, maintain body temperature, promote cell function, and aid in vitamin absorption. They are also the primary energy source for fish, especially in the heart and skeletal muscles. A balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids is needed in the body, as these substances work together to promote health; however, for fish Omega-3 is the most needed…and many warm water freshwater fish do not readily produce it as coldwater marine fish can. The best fats for fish foods come from aquatic sources such as whole fishmeal (menhaden is preferred).

Most carbohydrates in the diet of fish comes from plant matter. All species of fish secrete at least some amylase, the enzyme necessary for digesting carbohydrates, but carnivorous fish are ill-equipped to process significant quantities of raw carbohydrates. However, while digestible carbohydrates spare protein for tissue building, they are not a primary energy source. Fish tend to use any sugar/carbohydrates/starch in fish food first, since they can store very little if any for later use.

Soluble fibers slow digestion, and acts as a laxative for your fish. It can be found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. Fiber numbers in the neighborhood of 18-19% are healthy for most fish, including carnivores.

Higher ash content indicates a higher mineral content, particularly calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium which are necessary for osmoregulation.

Garlic helps boost the immune system, and has been shown to aid in bacterial treatment, possibly because it contains Allicin.

Artificial colors have no nutritional value and some may harm your fish. Look for foods that contain natural colorings instead: cayenne, zeaxanthin (saffron, marigold, paprika, spirulina) astaxanthin (chlorella algae, lobster, salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, crayfish, crustaceans & other shellfish), lutein, tunaxanthin, beta-carotene, doradexanthis, canthaxanthin. Some of these also have additional health benefits.

Many fish will benefit from live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods. Brine shrimp, various worms, and live insects are all healthy options though live foods are usually preferable. It is recommended that ‘feeder’ fish should be given a methylene blue bath and quarantined for 24 hours before offering them as a meal.

No one food should be your fishes’ sole nutritional source. For a community tank, try starting with a high-quality basic flake or crumble, and switch different flake foods from day to day if possible. However, do not feed two foods at the same time. Like children, the fish will pick and choose what to eat, which defeats the purpose of a varied diet. Balance these foods with your live/frozen/freeze-dried foods to address any species-specific dietary needs. For larger fish, a pelleted food may be substituted for flakes. Soak dry foods in advance of feeding if necessary to prevent air ingestion. Foods should be offered in small quantities, no more than can be consumed in a few minutes. Some aquarists suggest fasting your fish once a week, particularly if you keep predatory species, as this mimics conditions they might face in the wild.

Many labels don’t give you the full picture. When the protein, fat, fiber, moisture, ash, etc. don’t add up to 100%, the remainder is usually occupied by carbohydrates and sugars. Multiply your starch, sugar, and protein percentage by 4, multiply your fats percentage by 9, and then add to get your food’s total energy points. The number of points will indicate if your food produces the optimal amount of energy for the health of your fish. The optimum number of points is 280.

Now you have a basis to start looking for healthy fish foods!

In future issues of The Dinner Bell, I'll talk about some of the foods that I've tried, what the fish preferred, and how each one measures up in terms of optimized energy.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

My (Abbreviated) MTS Story

My journey into multiple tank syndrome began as a child. My parents kept fish--at first angels, then later tetras and goldfish--for many years. I later branched out on my own with guppies, and then jumped almost directly into pico aquariums...something most aquarists don't generally recommend for beginners. But then I've never been much of one to follow the rules...

Then life intervened. Fish died or were given away, and much of my equipment ended up in storage; trying to maintain aquariums when one suddenly finds oneself without a job is far from easy. But I still missed my fish, and my sister moving cross country and abandoning her beta to my care only brought that desire back to the forefront more keenly. My then-fiance, realizing this, promised that when we bought a house I could have as large a tank as I wanted and the structure could support so long as I was responsible for the maintenance. He probably shouldn't have made that offer, because it snowballed into full-blown MTS. I currently have eleven tanks in various stages of planning and build-out...and some consider me to have a mild case.

My dearest friends in the aquatic world--fellow fish-keepers all--are convinced that I'm insane. How do you keep it all straight, they ask, with what tanks are running which equipment, which fish are living where and their feeding schedules, water parameters and water changes. It's not easy, I'll admit, and I've got calendars, databases, and spreadsheets galore to help me manage it all. But fish are my therapy, and the thought and planning required to meet each new challenge as it arises keeps me sane.

How did you get into fish keeping...?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

What is MTS?

Multiple Tank Syndrome, or MTS as it's commonly called among aquarists, is a catch-all term for the fish-obsessed. 'Gone Fishing' takes on a whole new meaning, as those who have it are entirely dedicated to the fishy life and are always thinking about the next tank they're designing, the next fish they're going to add.

So how do you know if you have MTS? Here's a quick checklist:
  • Do you have a fish tank (or two, or three, or more) in every room?
  • Have you run out of floor space and started installing tanks in your walls?
  • Do you have excess tanks and equipment in your closets, attic, or car? Under and on your kitchen table? (Severe cases may require building a shed or garage, renting a storage unit, or possibly moving to/building a larger house.)
  • Do you have so many tanks, you've started disassembling them for sump parts?
  • Is your sink/bathtub full of buckets, fish nets, and other accessories? 
  • Do your sink faucets have permanent python attachments? (Severe cases may require re-plumbing your entire house for easier water changes.)
  • Are you unable to pass up a great deal on a tank, ever?
  • When you are setting up a new tank, are you already planning your next one?
  • When you go out to sell a fish, do you come home with two more?
  • Does your fish store know you by name?
  • Are your hands permanently wrinkled from being in the water?
  • Are you unable to sleep without the sound of running water?
  • Do you push tanks on your friends so you have someone to talk to and trade with?
  • Do you know how to brace a floor to support more tanks?
  • Do you know how to build your own tanks and sumps, and can plumb or reseal a tank in your sleep?
  • Do you walk into a fish store or aquarium, count their tanks, and go 'Is this all they've got?'
  • Have you ever thought that opening your own fish store might be a good idea?

There is no cure. Once you've got it, you can never have enough, because tanks are like potato chips: You can never stop at just one!

Do you have MTS yet...? How many tanks do you have...?