Hall of Fame

Forest Aquascape by Rajiv Sharma
Forest Aquascape by Manish Sharma
TGIAC 2018 - Rank 11 All India, IAPLC 2019 - Rank 100 World Wide, IIAC 2019 - Rank 52 World Wide
Shrimps by Arjun B. Raj
Blue and Black Shrimps

A planted aquarium is a miniature garden in a glass box. It brings greenery in our drawing room.  Greenery brings joy and happiness in our life. Peoples who belief in Fengshui and Vastu, “A planted aquarium is combination of all the five elements.” Planted aquarium substrate and rocks represents Earth element, Water is already in aquarium, Driftwoods and plants represent wood element, Light and Fishes of aquarium represent Fire element, Metals are present in some aquarium equipments and substrate, rocks etc.

In planted aquariums, an aquarist keeps natural aquatic plants.  Different materials like as Rocks, Pebbles, woods are used to create a replica of natural scenes. Live aquatic plants bring life in the arrangement of hardscape materials.  After using all of these materials together, fishkeeping becomes an art. This art of arranging plants, rocks, and woods in artistic manner is called Aquascaping. Now days, aquascaping is very popular form of aquarium keeping around the world.

Before starting a planted aquarium, we have to learn some basic rules of aquascaping. These rules help us in setting up the composition and design of planted aquariums. These rules are used to create perspective in the planted aquarium layout.  Most of the aquascapers apply these rules to create sense of depth in aquascapes. Sometimes these rules are broken or bended in some great layouts.

Golden Ratio: Golden Ratio rule have the most important role in aquascaping. This ancient rule was used by Greeks in their architecture, paintings and other artworks. Aquascapers also using Golden Ratio in their layouts. This rule split the layout in two parts in ratio of 1:1.618.

How to calculate Golden Ratio?

Suppose there is an aquarium with length of 90 cm.  Divide the length 90 cm by 1.618. The result will be 55.62 cm.

This point should be used to position the main rock, wood, red/big leaf plants to create the focal area of the layout.

Rule of Thirds: The Rules of Thirds splits layout in nine equal parts. This rule is use to find the most eye catching area of the aquascape. Draw two horizontal lines and two vertical lines at equal distance in aquarium. The intersecting lines create most prominent spots of the aquascape. Select any of the four spots to create the focal point of the aquascape.

Planted Aquarium Essentials

Some basic requirements to grow aquatic plants are follows:

  1. Substrate: Soil is essential to grow plants. Most of the aquatic plant love to anchor themselves with substrate. It also helps in developing root system. One of the biggest myths is that the substrate provides essential nutrients to aquatic plants. It is not true. Majority of aquatic plants absorb nutrients direct from water through leaves.
  1. Hardscape Material: Rocks and woods are essential components of aquascaping. Intelligent use of Rocks and woods brings the depth and perspective to the layout. Woods also affect pH level of aquarium water. Ensure that rocks should not affect water chemistry.
  2. Lighting: Every plant needs light for growth. Plant produces their food through the process of photosynthesis. Suitable and proper lighting equipments grows the plants while improper light boasts the growth of algae. Always consider the color temperature of light before buying lighting equipments. A color temperature between 55000 K to 65000 K is full spectrum range of light and most plants require it. Brightness of light is also very important for particular plant. Some plant requires low light while other requires high light. A Low tech planted aquarium can be run in 10-20 Lumens per liter of water. An aquarium with medium light requirement can be run in 20-40 Lumens per liter of water. A high tech planted aquarium need 40+ Lumens per liter.
  3. Carbon dioxide: Carbon dioxide is life-line of plants. Carbon dioxide plays vital role to complete the process of photosynthesis. Growth rate of plants depends on amount of available Carbon dioxide. Aquatic plant consumes Carbon dioxide and produce Oxygen. To inject additional Carbon dioxide use pressurized, DIY, Electronic Carbon or liquid source of Carbon. Some plants are also able to get Carbon from Carbonate hardness (KH).
  4. Fertilizers: Aquatic plant gets required nutrients direct from water. So they need macro (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium) and micro (Copper, Iron, Magnesium, Boron, Molybdenum, Zinc etc.) fertilizers in liquid form.

Aquascaping Styles

 

Dutch Style: One of the oldest styles of aquascaping. Dutch style aquascapes are created using different leaf-structure, different colored plants. There is no place of woods or rocks. Consider following points in setting up a dutch style aquascape.

  • Make streets or group of plants. Fill an area of 10-15 cm by a single type of plant.
  • Do not repeat a plant means put one type of plant at once only.
  • Do not put same leaf structure plant next to each other. Never use two red plants, two same looking plants side by side. Make streets, groups of plants with different colored, different leaf-shape plants.
  • Slightly increase the height of plants from front to back.

Iwagumi Style : Iwagumi aquascaping style is based on Rock Placement and Formation and. Aquascaper creates a balance between the Rock position, design, open space, and plants. Odd number of rocks are used with specific importance of each rock in overall design. Every rock is known with a name as follows:

  • The biggest rock in the hardscape is known as “Oyaishi” and use as a the focal point.
  • The second biggest rock is known as “Fukuishi”. It is use in the left or right of the “Oyaishi” to create balance.
  • The third biggest rock is known as “Soeishi” is use to increase the beauty and balance of the first and second rock.
  • The fourth rock is known as “Suteishi” is used to maintain balance between the overall design of scape. This can repeat in the scape to improve the overall impact of hardscape.

Jungle Style: The Jungle style aquascaping based on wild and uncontrolled appearance of plants. The hardscape material does not appear due to growth of plants.

Nature Style: The Nature style of Aquascaping has been introduced by Great Aquascaoer “Takashi Amano” in the decade of 1990s. This aquascaping style is based on natural sceneries. The Rocks, driftwoods are used to create the illusion of natural terrestrial scene in aquarium. Aquascapers create mountains, Forests, waterfalls in aquarium. A limited number of plants are used in this style. The Golden Ratio rule is implemented to create the focal point. Rocks and woods are arranged to create the depth in the scape.

Cycling is the most important phase of a newly setup aquarium. This process establishes the beneficial bacteria in the aquarium to convert the toxic wastes, uneaten food etc. into Nitrate with the help of beneficial bacteria.  This bacteria is called Nitrifying bacteria and process is known as biological or nitrogen cycle. Sometimes this cycle turns into a disaster for the aquarist without proper knowledge.
This bacteria establishes colonies in the aquarium, filter and filter media to convert Ammonia into Nitrite and Nitrite into Nitrate.  This process can take two week to two months to complete. During this period the aquarium shows different symptoms like as diatoms, algae, bacteria bloom, infection and death of fishes.

How to determine the completion of Cycling?

Keep your eyes on the water parameters of aquarium. During the first 6 to 10 days the Ammonia level rises. After two weeks or so on the Nitrite level rises and Ammonia level decreases. After few more days, the Nitrate level increases and Nitrite level decreases. The dropping of Nitrite level indicates that the cycling period is almost complete. When water do not show the presence of Ammonia and Nitrite, it means the aquarium has been crossed the most important hurdle and ready to introduce fishes. But it is still not ready to house the sensitive fishes.

How to start the Cycling?

There are two ways to start the cycling of tank i.e. Fishless Cycling or with fish.

  1. Fishless Cycling: Ammonia and Nitrite both are the killer for the fishes. Although some hardy fishes like as mollies, guppies, barbs are able to tolerate but it is not a good idea to introduce fishes in a newly setup aquarium during the cycling period. This can cause fish to become stressed or infected with several diseases. Even it can easily kill the precious life of fishes. But the newly setup aquarium owners do not know the fact and soon their aquarium turns into a cemetery ground for fishes.
    Their money goes into pocket of shopkeeper and fishes lost their lives. So it is best idea to start aquarium with a few hardy fishes or without fishes. To start a fishless cycle, there are some options. Some of these are following:

Option 1: I prefer to install a filter/filter media/ mulm from a cycled tank. This will seed the aquarium with beneficial bacteria and presence of Nitrate will be appearing within 3-4 days or a week. This is the fastest mode to cycle a tank. But used filter or filter media can also introduce snails, planeria or some other invertebrates in the newly setup tank. So check everything seriously.

Option 2: Daily drop some fish food/ raw meat/fish/shrimp in the aquarium for a few days. This food will decompose and produce Ammonia into the aquarium to start the cycling.

Option 3: There are some commercial products available in the market to reduce the cycling period by establishing beneficial bacteria colonies into the aquarium. Use these products to reduce the cycling period.

Option 4: Ammonium hydroxide (NH4OH) or Ammonium chloride (NH4Cl) can also be use to release Ammonia into the aquarium. Ammonium hydroxide is also known as Ammonia solution and it is easily available in the market. It is a colorless aqueous solution. Ammonia vapors (arise from the solution) irritates the eyes. So use it with caution. Mix 1 drop of Ammonia solution in eight liter of water until the Nitrate reading appears. Repeat the dosing till the Nitrate level rises into the aquarium.

  1. Cycling with Fish: Cycling a newly setup aquarium can be nightmare for fishes/invertebrates due to presence of excess Ammonia/Nitrates. Livestock can be easily get stressed and infected to diseases. Ammonia is an essential ingredient to start the cycling process. Decomposing fish waste and uneaten food adds Ammonia in aquarium. Adding fish in a newly setup aquarium don’t require external source of Ammonia.

Never add too many fishes in the new aquarium during cycling period. Only two small fishes in 40 liter tank are enough. More fishes will produce more waste and result can be Ammonia spike. In the early days, the beneficial bacteria will be in limited quantity and unable to consume too much Ammonia of a overstocked aquarium.

Cycling is also called new tank syndrome due to the overcome of many problems during the period.

Phases of Nitrogen Cycle

The cycling period can divide into three phases.

Phase 1: Ammonia is produced in the aquarium using Fish waste/meat or other methods. Fish waste/food decomposes and produces Ammonia. It can be either Ammonium (NH4) or Ammonia (NH3). Production of Ammonium or Ammonia depends on the pH of water. If pH is less than 7, Ammonium will be produced while the pH above 7.5 produce Ammonia. Keep in mind that Ammonium is not harmful for the health of fishes.

Phase 2: After few days of aquarium setup, the bacteria Nitrosomones get develop. These bacteria consume Ammonia and produce Nitrite as byproduct. Nitrite is also very toxic and harmful. Frequent water change keeps Nitrite under control.

Phase 3: In next stage, cycling started with the development of another bacteria Nitrobacter which is responsible to convert the Nitrite into Nitrates. Nitrate is also harmful for the lives in the aquarium. But it can be easily reduce by time to time water change. Appearance of Nitrate indicates end of cycling period.

How to speed up the Cycling

A suitable condition in the aquarium helps in completing cycling period speedily.

  • Nitrifying bacteria can survive from freezing point to 40+ degree Celsius temperature. But they do best in temperature range 23 degree Celsius to 28 degree Celsius. So always try to maintain the suitable temperature.
  • pH also affects the activities of bacteria. pH under 7.0 slow their activities while they perform their best in 7.0+
  • Bacteria need oxygen and inorganic carbon to survive. So ensure the enough amounts of oxygen and inorganic carbon. Aquarium water circulation and surface agitation help to maintain enough oxygen in water.
  • Use dechlorinator if using tap water. Overdosing of dechlorinator can be slow down the cycling process. If changing 10% to 15% water, there is no need of dechlorinator.

Cycling aquarium need patience. The aquarist should not be annoyed or irritate, during cycling period. Success of an aquarium depends on cycling process. Always keep an eye on water parameters. Frequent water change is the key of success.

 

Aquascaping is a popular art of modern era. People are keeping planted aquariums and other forms of aquascapes like as Vivarium and Paludariums. Aquascaping is touching new heights with Vivariums and Paludariums. Vivarium and Paludariums are closed containers used to keep terrestrial and aquatic plants in high humid environment.

A Vivarium is defined as an enclosed container to keep live terrestrial plants and animals for studying and observation. In other words a Vivarium is a portion of an ecosystem for particular animal. The word Vivarium originated from Latin word “viveria” which means “Place of life”.

A Paludarium is a type of Vivarium that contain both terrestrial/aquatic plants and animals inside a closed area. The word Paludarium came in existence from the Latin word “Palus” which means Marsh or Swamp. A paludarium is divided into two sections, Water Area and Land Area like as Marsh areas in nature.  The water portion of paludarium is used as an aquarium while the land portion having terrestrial/semi aquatic plants, animals. High humidity is created by using various equipments. People keep fishes, snails, shrimps, crayfishes in water portion and house crabs, newts, frogs in Land portion of container.  To do something different, many aquarists turning their interest towards paludariums.  Although suitable equipments and tanks are still not available in India but many aquarists showing their interest in paludariums.

 
A DIY open paludarium with waterfall   A DIY closed paludarium

Planning a Paludarium

It is highly recommended to plan the paludarium as per every aspect and requirement of animals to be keep. Water depth should be enough for aquatic animals. Equipments in the paludarium should be choose as per requirement of plant and animals. Filtration should be strong to clean the water. Humidity level is the key factor for the success of growing to terrestrial plants. Proper water drainage is another key factor. Water logging in the roots of terrestrial plants could melt them.

I started my first paludarium in the mid of June 2013. After studying about paludariums, the hunt for equipments begins. But nothing special found on Delhi aquarium shops. So committed to make everything DIY (Do It Yourself). 

  • Made a DIY paludarium tank.
  • 3D background was made using thermocol, cement, rasin etc.
  • Rocks were collected from forest.
  • Most of the terrestrial plants collected from hilly area.

 

 

Flora and Fauna

A wide range of plants; aquatic and terrestrial can be easily grown in a paludarium. Terrestrial plants should be able to grow in humid environment.

Flora

Aquatic Plants: Most of the aquatic plants are suitable for the water portion of paludarium. But consider the amount of light reaching upto the surface of paludarium. Sometimes overgrown terrestrial plants stop the penetration of light upto bottom. So it is recommended to keep low/mid light plant like as Anubias sp., Java fern, Hair grass, Marselia hirsute etc. Mosses and Riccia looks very beautiful.

   
Bolbitis sp.   Bolbitis heudelotii   Riccia fluitans

Terrestrial Plant: All the aquatic/semi aquatic and humidity tolerant plant can be grow in land portion of the paludarium.  Some of the popular plants are following:

  1. Aquatic foreground plant such as Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘cuba’, Micranthum ‘Monte carlo’, Marselia sp., Hair grass etc.
  2. Aquatic ferns like as Java fern, staghorn fern, Bolbitis sp.
  3. Lagenandra sp.
  4. Cryptocoryne sp. Plant easily grows in humid environment.
  5. Anubias family plant.
  6. Terrestrial ferns like as maidenhair fern, epiphytic ferns etc.
  7. Terrestrial and Aquatic mosses
  8. Bromeliads
  9. Liverwortsa like as Marchantia sp., subwasertang etc.
  10. Tillandsia sp.
  11. Creepers like as Ficus pumila.

 

       
Adiantum raddianum   Cryptanthus     Hemigraphis repanda
         
 Selaginella sp.     Terrestrial mosses    Fern

 

 

Fauna

The most interesting part of paludarium keeping is choices of different type of animals. Always check the basic requirement and compatibility of animals to each other.   Some of the common choices of animals for the paludarium are:

  1. Fishes as per the size of water portion of paludarium.
  2. Shrimps are tiny creature and play the role of scavenger.
  3. Cray fishes looks interesting.
  4. Snails like as Nerite, Assassins can add colors and also clean the leftovers.
  5. Dwarf crabs like as micro crab (Limnopilos naiyanetri), Vampire crabs (Geosesarma sp.), Panther crab (Parathelphusa pantherina) etc. Watching their activities is a treat for eyes. They are omnivorous and able to eat everything.
  6. Poison Dart frogs are one of the most colorful creatures on Earth. They are small in size and do not disturb the decoration and arrangement of plants. Unfortunately Indian laws do not allow keeping them. Dwarf frogs, Tree frogs, Pacman frogs, African claw frog are another choices. Sometimes pacman and African claw frogs appear in Indian fish shops.

There are some more choices such as Toads, Axoloti, Salamanders, turtles, snakes etc. But always study deeply before owning any animals. Read carefully about their requirements, feeding habits, water parameters etc. For example many animals like to feed only live creatures. Most of the frogs do not accept flake foods and eat only live food. They continuously need supply of live feed like as fruit fly, insects etc. Ensure the continuous food supply for specific animal before owning any animal.

   
Hillstream loach   Nerite snail   Shrimp

Making Background

There are many ways to create background of Paludarium. Some aquarists use expandable PU Foam tubes to create the background. They are little bit expensive. I used Thermocol to create background in all of my paludariums.

Procedure to making Background

  1. Draw the sketch of your theme on paper.
  2. Lay the thermocol seats with the back wall of paludarium.
  3. Use sharp knife to cut the thermocol seats as per your theme. Make patterns over the structure.
  4. Paste the thermocol with aquarium wall using silicone.
  5. Brought construction cement, cement color as per your choice and make mixture of cement and color. Mix water to make it paste.
  6. Apply the mixture paste over the thermocol design. Wait to dry it.’
  7. After getting cement dry, wash the background atleast 15-20 times.
  8. Now seal all the leakages using silicone. Make holes in background to put the plants. Again apply silicone on the internal walls of these holes. Fill these holes with substrate.
  9. Fix twigs, driftwoods, Roots over the background.
  10. The background is almost ready to use.

Making Rainfall System

Rainfall is the essential part of paludarium. Land portion plant needs continuous rainfall. In open paludariums, simply fix a spraybar along with the top walls of the paludarium and supply water using a powerhead.

In closed paludariums, need something expensive. To create humid environment, use a RO Pump and Nozzles to create tiny water vapors. Run it at interval of one hour for 50-60 seconds.

Setting up Paludarium

  1. Lay the substrate over surface of paludarium. Fill all the holes with substrate.
  2. Start plantation.
  3. Stick mosses over walls of the paludarium. Tie the aquatic and epiphytic ferns, Anubias, Bromelied, Cryptanthus etc. with driftwoods, rocks.
  4. Put the rooted plants in holes.
  5. Apply water spray after every few minutes to keep plant wet.
  6. After plantation, start the rain system

Introducing Animals

  1. After 15 days, introduce fishes in the tank.
  2. Shrimp/snails etc. should be introduce after 5-6 weeks.
  3. Ensure the stable water parameters and proper cycling of the paludarium
  4. If everything is correct, it is ready to introduce other animals like as crabs, frogs etc.

Maintenance

  1. Change water every week. Always maintain the water quality. It is best to use RO water.
  2. Check the holes of spraybar/nozzles every week.
  3. Remove the food leftovers from the paludarium time to time.
  4. Remove all the dry and fallen leaves of plants. Trim over grown plants.
  5. Check the paludarium for any unwanted animal. In open paludariums, sometimes home lizards, cockroaches make their home.

Conclusion

A paludarium is complete replica of a specific habitat. It can be very interesting, if everything including plants and animals are choose with prior research. Ensure the compatibly of all the creatures. Incompatible animals will be disappear one by one. Only the animals stands on top of food chain will be remain live. Paludarium will be convert into a nightmare. So make a dream paludarium, study as much possible about animals, plants etc.