Aquascaping 101 – Time for Livestock

If you have a planted tank and it’s looking great you might leave it at that: an underwater garden filled with beautiful plants that gently waft in the water current. Or, more likely, you might be tempted to add more life and movement to your underwater landscape – in which case you’re probably thinking of fish and/or shrimps. Don’t rush! It’s important to remember that fish and crustaceans are living creatures – pets – so you need to treat them as such. Make absolutely sure that the environment you have created for your aquascaping livestock is a healthy one where they will not only survive, but flourish. This includes knowing about water changes and the nitrogen cycle (which involves establishing colonies of beneficial bacteria, and which we have discussed previously). Once your tank is ready, it’s time to move on to adding life!

Choosing your aquascaping livestock

I suppose the biggest decision that needs to be made is what animals you’re going to get. There are hundreds of fish species available to the modern aquarist, so it’s a case of figuring out which ones you like the look of, researching if they will flourish in the size tank you have set up and within the temperature and water conditions of your tank, and finding a shop that stocks them. As with gardening and indoor plants, it’s a good idea to start with some of the tougher or ‘hardier’ species, which include danios, white cloud mountain minnows, harlequin rasboras, platies, cherry barbs and many more.

When your tank is up and stable, it’s time to add livestock, which usually means fish and shrimps.

Some tips for what aquascaping livestock to add

  • Make sure the different fish you choose need the same water conditions (including temperatures)
  • If you get schooling fish, get at least six of one kind so they feel more secure with their friends
  • Research, so that you know how big a fish will grow before buying it
  • Don’t fall into the ‘impulse buy’ trap, and end up with a fish that will grow too big, uproot your precious plants, be bullied by (or bully) your other fish, or will need different conditions.

For example, a goldfish is a cold-water fish and won’t do well in the same conditions as neon tetras. There are also some very beautiful shrimps available for freshwater fish thanks, including the common and fairly tough red cherry shrimp and other more exotic varieties in colours from jet black to royal blue, orange and yellow.

Shrimp will nosh away at algae and are very entertaining to watch, with their delicate feelers and non-stop feeding. They are susceptible to fluctuating water conditions and certain minerals, like copper, so maybe save these for when you’ve successfully kept fish for a few months. Also bear in mind that bigger fish might end up making a snack of your shrimps!

Adding the critters

You can’t just bring your livestock home in a plastic bag and up-end it into your tank and expect them to enjoy the transition. They will first need to adjust to the temperature and condition of the water. Our friend Zubair Ebrahim from Aqua Empire suggests doing the following: “The livestock should be in a bag of half tank water from the tank where they coming from and half air”.

To acclimate them, float the bag in the tank for 15 minutes. Open the bag and leave for about 5 minutes, then slowly add some tank water to the bag for another 10 minutes. Once that is done, net them out and put them in the new tank. Don’t add the bagged water to your tank.

Food and feeding

What does the doctor say to you? Eat a varied diet, right? Well, try to do the same for your fish and shrimp – give them a few different foods over the course of a week. Shrimp will scavenge leftover fish food and eat algae, but they also deserve some shrimp-specific foods just so they know you care. And while your fish will probably eat just about any fish food you throw in there, do some research and find a food or foods that suit their species – tiny neon tetras might battle to eat big granules, and some fish might appreciate a weekly treat of frozen bloodworms.

The FishScience range is a nice one, as it is insect-based and is so more natural and more environmentally friendly than many fish foods. And if you’ve got one of the fish known to eat algae, don’t suppose that the algae in your tank is enough for them – give them algae wafers or some other specialist food regularly (my bristlenose ancistrus loves eating baby marrows!).

The golden rule, though, is not to overfeed your fish. Too much food will make them fat and unhealthy (think back to the doctor’s visit), and uneaten food will rot and foul your tank’s water. The rule of thumb is generally no more food than your fish can eat in a minute. And healthy fish can also survive a famine if you go away for a weekend, rather than trusting a well-meaning neighbour who might kill them with kindness.

Aquascaping livestock elevates your tank to a truly natural environment, full of life, movement and colour. Do your research, choose wisely and look after your livestock and you will get countless hours of joy from sitting in front of your tank and watching their antics.

The Gardener