Monday, November 05, 2012

my new aquarium a Juwel Rio 125, part 5

Recently I took the time to do a proper tank shot. Got my 50mm to minimize distortion. Put the camera on the tripod, set for -1EV and used the self timer.

Juwel rio 125 biotope aquarium

On saturday I transfered my first fish, my boraras brigittae and merah. After going pale as a sheet they recovered and in 15 minutes were all over the tank exploring.
It was my initial idea to transfer the T. Espei a week later to gradually build up the bioload. However it seemed that those little fish were acting as dither fish because the T. Espei hid and stayed hidden. So I relented and transfered them as well.

Ever since the fish have been really active, swimming all over the tank which I take as a good sign.


I'll keep a close eye on them. I've done a water change before I transfered fish and removed all the damaged leaves to keep them from rotting and putting more bioload on the system.

All in all I'm very happy with the new tank. More and more plants are doing better, the Wendelov especially. I'm pleased wit the size, it seems just right. Every time I look at it I get a big grin on my face.

Monday, October 29, 2012

my new aquarium a Juwel Rio 125, part 4

Saturday the last plants were planted.  Sunday evening I transplanted the Windelov fern. Also the bacteria transplant seems to take, the water is noticeably clearer now.

Visible here in the back is that crypt I bought yesterday. Stems are very dark with a slight reddish tint.  Funny enough in more that 20 years of aquarium keeping this is my first crypt. In the foreground is echinodorus latifolius.

I got this wendelov in the spring in a sorry state and didn't know what to do with it so I stuck it in on the edge of the anubias patch. Since then it has recovered tremendously and even managed to create some off shoots. I tied the smaller plants to the wood and stuck the big one in a hole in the wood.

I also introduced a few shrimps and snails. They seem to be doing ok. Way things are going now I think I can start moving in a week or two.

Friday, October 26, 2012

my new aquarium a Juwel Rio 125, part 3

On wednesday I got a whole bunch of Vallisnerea from a friend who did some pruning and thinning out on his aquarium.

I'm using most of that to keep the heater hidden. I really like the contrast between vallis and anubias in the right corner. I've fastened that anubias using cable ties which I just pushed into the background.

Tomorrow I intend to buy some echinodorus for the space under the branch and start tying plants to the branch and then the first phase is just about finished.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

my new aquarium a Juwel Rio 125, part 2

Last night I installed the Eheim in the cabinet. I put a lot of foam around it to dampen the noise even further. Hooked up the spraybar and filled it up to the recommended level.

I was quite surprised at the flow I get from this little Eheim. My tank is pretty much at the upper limit of what that filter is supposed to be able to handle but it still looks good.

I also planted some shabby echinodorus tenellus I saved from my 1 gallon experiment, hope it will recover. Next step is plant shopping, I want to get a medium sized echinodorus for the left area and something tall to cover the filter intake on the right.

Monday, October 22, 2012

my new aquarium a Juwel Rio 125, part 1

Over here in Europe we have somewhat different tank sizes than in the Americas. Biggest tank company on the market is the German firm Juwel. I started out with one of their starter tanks, a 60cm 72 liter model, back in 2000. Thank tank is now slowly developing some faults in the silicone so I looked for an upgrade. I managed to find a Rio 125 model, 81 x 36 x 50 cm 125 liter/33 U.S. Gallon for 50 euros.

Now that may not seem like much but it's a big difference if you see them side by side:


After quite a bit of pondering I decided to remove the internal filter which is factory installed in these. I know that system and the filters work really well but because of the placement in the room it's a bit of an eyesore. It also resonates somewhat with the hood. I'm replacing it with a second hand Eheim 2211 that I got the gunk out and got running again.

This weekend I had some time so decided to start the hardscape:


Due to budget problems I did the initial contours using rinsed play sand. I used some yoghurt pots cut to strips to keep it in place.


Covered that using filter sand, lovely stuff! We're on river clay here and the beaches are sand so I had to buy the pebbles. 90 cents got me all those pebbles at the local garden centre.

Next up, some wood:


and another piece of wood that was in the first incarnation of my small tank. It's spend the last few years in the garden and has gotten a lovely weathered finish from that.


The heater on the right is temporary. The filter intake will stay but will be camouflages with plants.

Because I can't part with my existing stock of plants I've decided to reuse most of them.


In may I bought a single pot of Pogostemon Helferi, that has multiplied considerably now. I planted a clump near the wood on the right and used it to camouflage a cave a bit more on the left.


Also on the left some Rotala rotundifolia, Lysimachia nummularia and some vallis.


For the empty space more or less under the wood I want to get an echinodorus of some kind, not sure which one yet. It will have to be something that will thrive in the slightly lower light levels in that part.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Juwel Aquarium tips and tricks

 Juwel is an aquarium company from Germany that has been in business for decades. It's sold all over Europe and the most popular brand in the Benelux area and Germany.

I've been running a Juwel Rekord for more than a decade now. Since I'm moving to a bigger tank and taking out the internal filter I thought perhaps I'd share some tips, who knows it may help a beginnrer or two

Some of the smaller tanks came and still come with a single tube. This does provide enough light for low to medium light plants and certainly fish. Problem with the single tube hoods is that the light spreads unevenly. Adding a reflector helps but the best solution I've found is to get a sheet of reflective acrylic. Cut it to size and stick it on the inside of the hood with silicon or tape.
The later models with the dual tubes and certainly the T5 models give a lot more light.

The juwel powerhead is extremely quiet from itself but the juwels are still vulnerable to resonance. Make sure the lids are closed fully and properly. I've found that applying weatherstrip to the inside of the hood where it touches the glass helps a lot. Also make sure the cabling doesn't touch the hood.
If the filter has always been silent and suddenly starts making noise then get the pump out and check the impeller too much dirt or a stray snail can cause this.

Almost all juwels (the new vio excluded) come with a heater. These are simple but effective units that will provide enough power to bridge the gap between room temperature and 26 degrees. Only if you run a setup in a really cold room should you need a new heater.
N.B. If you do work in the tank that will drop the water level 5cm below the top of the heater then unplug it. These heaters don't take well to switching on when out of water!

The filter
All juwels come with an internal filter, on most models this is glued to the right corner of the tank. It can be a bit of an eyesore but it tends to do a very good job if used properly. It also hides the heater which is a nice bonus. Juwel now makes special small sections of background material designed to be glued to the filter box to make it less visible.

The juwel filters draw the water in from the top and thereby also act a bit as a skimmer.

First layer in the filter should always be the white poly pad. You can use official juwel ones or buy a big sheet and cut it to size. This layer acts as a particle filter and stops the big debris. I find that I can rinse it out once under a running tap, after that it needs replacing. Do maintenace on this layer if it's dark brown and dirty.

After that a coarse sponge should be used. This will already house some bacteria.

Next up should be a basket of cirax. Cirax is juwel's ceramic medium which comes in a convenient plastic basket that fits nicely in the filter.
If your juwel system does not come with one of those new practical inserts to remove the media then I would advice you to tie a piece of nylon line to this to allow for easy removal.

Last in the stack is a fine sponge to "polish" the water or make it clearer.

Juwel also makes some special action media.

A fine sponge coated in carbon. Useful after medication or if you don't want any tannins in the water.

Specially devised to remove excess nitrite. As juwel says it:
"Nitrax is a biological filter on the containing specialist microorganisms to break down poisonous metabolites (ammonium/nitrite) in your aquarium"
It's a coarse sponge. Tried it once, couldn't notice much difference.

Ceramic media coated in an aluminium compound that will bind upto 12 mg of phosphate per gram of product which is not a bad ratio

Filter maintenance
As we all know a filter is vital for your aquarium. A juwel filter should be checked once a week on average. Here's how I do it:

1. Stop the pump by unplugging it
2. Take off the exhaust pipe and lift out the pump
3. Keep a bucket or container nearby and gently pick out the polypad, this does leak dirt so be careful not to leak it back into the tank.
4. Draw half a bucket of water from the tank. Get out the sponges, take a look. If anything seems dirty give it a squeeze or two in the bucket. Try not to do this to all sponges at once, stagger it so you do one or two each week.
5. Take a small piece of airhose and syphon the bottom of the filter box, also in the compartment where the heater sits.
6. replace the sponges.

Don't be surprised if you find shrimp or little fish in the filter box, they sometimes can squeeze in and they find a lot to eat there.

Juwel claims that you should replace sponges every 3-9 months. I find this only to be true for the special action media. The rest can be used until it falls apart and that's a LOT longer!
Nitrax and phorax will be saturated after 6-8 weeks. Carbon can last a bit longer. After a nitrax sponge is full you can continue to use it as a coarse sponge

seeding a filter
A lot of juwel filters use the same sponge size. This means that it's easy to "seed" a new juwel system by trading one or two sponges with someone with an established, trouble-free aquarium. Transport the sponges in water from the tank of the owner, stick 'm in your filter and you're off to a flying start. Don't forget to feed the bacteria on it though either with ammonia or some decaying matter like the thawed shrimp in a net.
Seeding doesn't replace a proper cycle but it can cut down the time needed significantly.

the pump
Juwel has two main series, the older bioflow which sits in a light grey plastic holder which can be removed by squeezing it on the narrow sides. After that you can access the impeller and other internal parts for cleaning.
On the newer eccoflow you can simply screw of the bottom part and you have immediate access to the impeller.

In both series you have a choice of three strengths of pump. If you think your aquarium needs less flow you can replace a 600 by a 400lph model and if you want more flow you stick in a 1000l/h.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bought some breeding caves

Like most Loricariidae family Ancistrus Claro also likes to use a hole when spawning. The male picks a hole, cleans it and lures the female in it. The female deposits eggs and there her involvement ends. The male takes care of the eggs.

Because the average aquarium doesn't allow for the digging of holes people provide the fish with nesting sites. This can be as simple as a shard of flowerpot or a piece of PVC pipe but you can also supply a breeding cave.

I bought two from Wendy who runs her shop at She makes caves in a variety of colours and sizes. All are hand made and fired in a real kiln.I bought the smallest size cave.

As you can see we're dealing with a handmade product, no 2 are identical.

The caves are pretty nice actually. The colour matches the driftwood in my tank. The shape is irregular enough to break it up and let it camouflage. The finish is what you'd expect from unglazed ceramics, very rough but also very even. I'm hoping the roughness will encourage things growing on them. I think javamoss would take really easy.

Another nice thing about these caves is that they're very affordable! I bought these two for 2.90 each. Shipping was 5 euros which was very reasonable considering the actual cost was 6.75.

I do hope I guessed the size OK. Even though my fish still need to grow a bit it looks awfully big.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Ancistrus claro breeding report

The most complete breeding report for Ancistrus Claro I've found so far.

Looking forward to it. However based on what I've read so far it may well be spring 2013 before this is even an option.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

stunning aquascape "birch forest"

Winner of an aquascaping competition in Croatia at

Stunning piece of work in 160 liters. I'd have prefered a bit of visible sand I think but still, very inspirational!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ancistrus Claro background information

Well, it took another ten days but now 2 of the three ancistrus are happily taking all sorts of food now. Hikari algae wafers are a favourite but also cucumber and shelled peas.

Like any hobbyist I'm always thinking about the next project even though the chances of actually creating such a project are remote. So I was wondering what a biotope aquarium would or could look like for this species. What we tend to forget is that a lot of species we keep in nicely planted aquariums (or kitsch monstrosities) come from rivers that feature little or no aquatic plants and the fish only get to meet plants in the rainy season when the rivers flood. Just look at this video of Neon Tetra in the wild:

 Anyway, I've done some research into where these lovely little Ancistrus Claro come from. Turns out there's little information. Planetcatfish, pretty much the site to go to for any kind of catfish information, has this to say:

This species is found in Brazil, in the state of Mato Grosso, in the Rio Claro. It is also found in the Rio Coxipo and some small western tributaries.
Its natural habitat consists of fast flowing waters over a rocky bottom. Likes also to stay in quiet zones of these same river rapids. Safe will robust plants.

Fishbase disagrees a bit and says:

South America: Cuiabá River basin in upper Paraguay River drainage, Brazil.

Now.. I did a fair bit of googling but all you find for this region is information on the fish production of the region and on big game fishing. It's further complicated by the fact that there's Rio Claro all over South and Central America since it means "clear river".

What you do find if you google is references to the famous Heiko Bleher who pretty much grew up over there. Heiko creates beautiful biotope aquariums for special occasions. For Aqua-Fisch 2006 he made a Rio das Mortes biotope. Not the river system where Ancistrus Claro is found but close, at least the same state.

I got a bit frustrated by my search and decided to gamble. I wrote a polite email to Heiko asking what he knew. Figured I'd maybe get a reply in a few weeks if at all. Not that he's not a nice person but I expected him to be very busy.

To my astonishment I got an email back within four hours:

On habitat:

Well it is not correct that it is rocky ground and fast flowing. It is a normal flow and most of the habitat consists of sand (fine beige coloured), and driftwood, where they are mosty attached to/found. There grow Echinodoris species along the edges, which are submerse during the riany season. I would say you can use most of the Echinodorus, like E. bleherae, E. martii, E. latifolius, E. tenellus; etc.. There grows the floating Ludwiga helminthorrhiza; and L. inclinata. Also floating can be found Salvinia sp. Eichhornia crassipes and Azolla sp.

On tankmates:

Tankmates are: tetras: Hyphessobrycon melanopterus (small groups); Aphyocharax rhatbuni (also small groups); Nannostomus eques; N. trifasciatus; N. marginatus; catfishes: Corydoars sterbei; C. caudomaculatus; C. guapore; C. geryi; Otocinclus cf. affinis (could probably be any species you may ad); Rineloricaria cf. parva (could use several kinds, alwats 2-3); Platydoras costatus; cichlids: Apistogramma trifasciata; A. macilinesis; Mikrogeophagus altispinosa; Laetacara curviceps var., Cichlasoma boliviensis.

Echindorus are mostly a grassy looking family but Bleheri has broader leaves.. Ludwiga are finely build floaters that can even flower. Hyphessobrycon melanopterus is, apparently, also known as Hyphessobrycon callistus or possibly Heiko meant to type Megalopterus which is the well know black phantom tetra and from the same general area.
The next one we know and is also know as Redflank bloodtetra.

So, there's a nice looking schooling species.

Nannostomus are also known as pencilfish, here's marginatus:

Dwarf pencilfish



And that's a very common, easy to obtain top level dweller. Rineloricariai is the twig-like catfish that has recently gained more interest, parva is the light coloured one.

So, there you have it. This could be done and the initial layout Heiko did back in 2006 is a feasible one. Get the slope, use a filler to keep from having all that sand on one end. Get some branches and pebbles in and plant clutches of echindorus. Or just sacrifice authenticity a bit and get some vallisnerea in as well.

I just wish I had a Rio 180 aquarium to start this project. :-)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Big aquarium update

The last picture was already somewhat old so time for a new one.

The Ceratopteris thalictroides at the back right have had some problems. Halfway the stems would go black and whole piece would come of. Not sure what has caused that. I've trimmed back the main plant and let some of the cuttings float a bit after which they rooted.
The rocks in the foreground have been covered with riccia because I got a bunch of it for free. I've also transfered some Rotala rotundifolia from the gallon experiment to see what it would do. Front left is some Echinodorus angustifolia which came free with the Riccia. Front right is the Pogostemon Helferi slowly spreading. The willowmoss on the sticks is growing so well it needs weekly pruning.

Now if you compare that with the previous picture you can see I've cleared away quite a bit on the left.

Fishwise I've added 3 ancistrus claro because I couldn't resist these small bristlenoses. That's a major break with the mainly asian theme but I just could not find an Asian bottom dweller that was plant safe and shrimp safe.
The claros do show themselves on the glass or the back where's there's the most algae. Sometimes one rests on a foreground pebble. Lovely sight!

Ancistrus Claro

Now I am a bit worried about these new fish. They move about, seem healthy, graze algae but any attempt at feeding them with fresh vegetables has led to this:

A shrimp feeding frenzy!

I've tried:
  • shelled peas
  • thawed spinach
  • cucumber
  • corydoras wafers.

Nothing leads to any reaction. I just hope these guys will pick it up once the algae gets depleted and that they're not such whimps that they let themselves be outcompeted for food by a bunch of crusteceans.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ancistrus Claro

Back in the 1980s when I got my first aquarium you could buy a few species of Corydoras but that was about it. These days there's hunderds of South-American species available. When I saw the big Pterygoplichthys I realized I really wanted something of the Loricariidae family. For that family planetcatfish is the place to do your research.
So, after a lot of reading and staring at pictures of beauties like L260 I decided on Ancistrus Claro. Like all Ancistrus elatively easy to keep and breed and a very strict vegetarian that wouldn't treat my shrimp as an all you can eat buffet. Out of the family of more than 90 species only a handful can be found here.

Now.. where to find these? This country is littered with Ancistrus dolichopterus and Temminckii are common as well as the albino version. You can pick these up for a euro or two from any hobbyist keeping them. Claro proved to be more elusive.

There's only one shop in the country that stocks these and that's Aqua-Ferrytale. (lovely shop, loads of very healthy fish including quite a few hard to find species). So, yesterday I drove over and picked up the last three. These fish come from a small breeder somewhere in Germany who seems to be the only one breeding these commercially in North-West Europe. The guy drives over here about once a quarter to deliver fish.

Got these home, carefully drip acclimatised them and let them go. They went and hid behind the plants and started scraping away at the 6 years of growth on the filter housing.

I'm really quite curious how these will do. I suspect I've got two females and one male and would really like to get these to breed.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Raspberry pi as media player, part 2


I bought a fresh memory card, supposedly a class 10 capable of 20mb/s.

I then downloaded and installed a tool capable of writing linux disk images, Image Writer for Windows. After that I grabbed the latest image version of openelec.Go to and scroll all the way down and download the most recent zipfile. Extract it and use imagewriter to put it on the SD card. Pop in the card and power up your raspberry.

Now I can't tell you how quickly this boots because by the time I'd found the TV remote and switched to the right channel it was already running. XBMC looks just like it does with raspbmc. Playing content is a matter of checking the sound output is correct in the settings screen and adding a source. I used PnP which my synology supports.
Playback was smoother than raspbmc. Raspbmc has the occasional stutter on higher bitrate mp4 files, Openelec is as smooth as 18 year old scotch.

If you run into problems, just go here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

homemade fishfood

I've put out a big half-barrel of water. Rainwater with some dirt that got in there accidentally. At the back of the garden I've had a big flowerpot that turned out waterproof. 3/4 of that is clay from the garden, the rest is water.

A quick thrawl trough both with a net yielded this nice selection of fish food. The small lines are young mosquito larvae, the big red things are tubifex. I always put the catch in a white containter since it makes it easier to check for anything unwanted.

The last two weeks or so my fish have been getting live food at least once a day. All that seems to have sent some hormones surging. One of my few remaining boraras brigittae seems to experience a hormone surge:

And the big guys are nicely coloured too:

When you do put out water do keep an eye out for damselfly larvae.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Raspberry pi as media player, part 1

I finally got my raspberry pi in the mail last Saturday. Today I got time to play with it. Got a cheap HDMI cable, a no-name SD card, the power supply from my HTC and a keyboard and mouse. Plugged in network to connect to my Synology DS110j NAS and I was ready. Here's a shot of it with an AA battery for size.

Decided to try Raspbmc first since I couldn't find a way to install openelec from a windows machine. So I got the installer and pointed it to the SD card. 10 minutes later it was done. Plugged it into the Raspberry and watched it boot. Familiar linux style boot after which raspbmc started updating. I left it running for about an hour.

After that I found that I really know nothing about XBMC. But, the raspbmc project is reasonably well documented. So add some sources, discovered that you need to tell it to direct sound to the HDMI port and not some fancy receiver. A few minutes later I was watching some downloaded content. Most things work, high res mkv files do put a strain on the little processor though and there's the occasional sound problem.

I'm now watching an episode of "the Hairy Bikers" that I downloaded several weeks ago. Sound is good, picture is very, very crisp.

I need to tweak this, find a way to remote control and see if I can do some tuning for speed. Still, a very, very promising start. Tomorrow I'm going to try openelec using this guide.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Tying Riccia, a first attempt

A kind person send me a batch of plants in the mail including a hefty supply of Riccia Fluitans, the plant often used by the serious aquascaper to coat rocks.I did some reading and found out you can do this with pebbles as well as rocks. All you really need is some fine netting. As a bonus it's not very demanding on CO2 and light as a lot of other aquascaping plants.

So, I went to Action, a local chain that only sells cheap stuff from China. For 85 cents I got two wads of netting that are intended as some kind of bath sponge. I also got some pebbles from the garden, gave them a quick boil to kill any nasties and let them cool down.

Whenever I work with plants I always use my dedicated plant scissors (stainless steel, ikea) and a plastic serving tray (also ikea).

Now, first step is to unravel the netting. Remove the cord and you end up with about a meter's worth of the stuff.

Next, get a pebble and cut a piece of netting that will cover the pebble with some left over so you can use a small ty-rap to secure it

Try to apply a thin but even coat of Riccia

And wrap in the netting.

Twisting it at the back. Secure with a ty-rap and cut of the ends of netting and ty-rap.

Now it doesn't look like much outside of the water. In the water it doesn't look much better yet.

Right after I took this picture the shrimps and snails were all over it which worried me a lot. However, 5 days later they look like this:

There's clearly some new growth but it's also clear that on the front left and right I haven't used enough Riccia. I'll update this in a week and two weeks.