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Rio Negro Biotope Revival


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With renewed vigor, I attempt to revive a tank plan I started... probably back in 2018.

At the time, Walmart was trying to get rid of the last of their BIG fish stuff, and that included 55-gallon tanks, discounted deeply at I believe 50% off. I bought one without a plan, and a tank stand to match. After quite some time sitting in a back room, I decided I'd try my hand at a biotope tank, and not just any--a Rio Negro biotope. Blackwater, beautiful fish shimmering through the surprising clarity of brown.

Alas, a plant, likely a bunch of Amazon frogbit bought off eBay, brought the tank to a screeching halt--the plant had come with bladder snail eggs. In days, the tank was completely overrun. Blackwater is achieved through tannins from dead plant matter; as bladder snails eat dead plant matter, it didn't take long for their population to explode. Before long, all the live plants in the tank disappeared, also apparently on the menu. The bioload skyrocketed, and while several fish survived, even living to this day, there were quite a few deaths.

I attempted many different things to get rid of the snails, none of them particularly successful. But, I'm trying again, with new material.

The surviving fish in this tank are a small handful of adolfoi corys, and a similar number of cardinal tetra. A few weeks ago, I decided to push to making this tank work again, and to that end obtained a number of guppies. (These have already reproduced, which tells me at least one of the females was already pregnant when I got them. Which is wonderful! It's what I wanted to see.) This last week, I also got a bunch more cardinal tetras, having found them by surprise at a Petco of all places. I'd actually intended to purchase just as many online once I could find some, but this worked out rather nicely!

Tonight, after having perused these forums for a while, I found an old post (actually from around the time I tried to set this tank up initially) looking for help regarding a Ziss bubble bio filter; the problem they were having with it was similar to a problem I'd had with mine (also in this tank, visible on the left side in the picture): The media always clumps up at the top, and the air flow seems to come out of it in fits and starts. Following the suggestions from that post, namely to take the whole thing apart, clean it completely, then verify the air hose is fully seated in the bottom receptacle of the unit, at the very least the media is no longer clumping at the top, but rather properly tumbling again. (The flow is still weird, but I'm sure that might need to be adjusted.) We'll see how long this lasts. Also, this was kind of a massive pain, took me upwards of half an hour because the media kept wanting to get in the way, so I'd have to keep dumping it out, fixing the air line, then pouring it back into the canister, hoping this time it wouldn't get behind the hose, or the hose wouldn't bend when I put the top back on, or the air hose coupler in it, or the external air hose to the coupler.

Plans for next week include new plants (yes, from Aquarium Co-op, including an Amazon sword, a couple jungle val, micro sword, and Brazilian pennywort), and to obtain a few new fish for the tank, including some more adolfoi corys and a handful more guppies. (I wouldn't be averse to getting some more cardinal tetras too, if the Petco I went to still has them this week.)

Eventual plans? I'd like to find some Apistogramma regani, and probably eventually try to get some discus (six, naturally) if I can get the snail problem taken care of. I'm also hoping to find some Carnegiella marthae (sometimes called blackwing hatchetfish); a local pet store chain in Albuquerque had one location that would occasionally get them in, but it was extremely uncommon.

EDIT: How could I forget? I also want to get a small shoal of L183, sometimes called white seam bristlenose plecos or starlight plecos. Those are probably the most difficult of these to find, alongside the A. regani.

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Edited by Baphijmm
Adding another fish species I want to put in here.
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Proper daylight post time! 😛

Since I work at an observatory, I tend to sleep during the day and do all my around-the-house stuff at like 2 or 3 in the morning. That was the case here (which is why the post was so late in the day, or early depending on your definition).

Today, dosed a few ferts and some Seachem Discus Trace; even though there aren't any discus in there right now, the other fish in the tank will still benefit from it. There is an Amazon sword in there, seeming to be barely hanging on, but also with the planned introduction of some new plants later this week, this (I'm hoping) will get the water ready.

The Ziss filter has been churning correctly since this morning. I did turn the flow down a bit, just to see how that affects it; I know the thing's supposed to be set up to the bare minimum flow that the media still tumbles, so I'll probably dial that in over the next few days. Still bubbling weirdly; maybe there ought to be an airstone version...?

Some pictures, too. First is the general tank at its current light setting; I use a Finnex Planted 24/7+ CRV on this and most of my other planted tanks, and this was the ~3pm setting. (Actually probably somewhere between 3pm and 6pm, since I try not to change my lights' timing for DST.) The water's a little lighter than I'd like, but again, I've not been adding new tannins to the tank until I can get rid of the snails.

Second is some of the cardinal tetras in there right now. With the addition of the new bodies to the shoal, they've all been significantly less shy, venturing out into the main tank more often rather than hiding in the corner. (Another reason I want to get some dang plants in there.)

And the last picture, I know it's hard to see, but that's one of the Corydoras adolfoi hiding behind a big chunk of wood. The whole shoal hides behind that thing when I so much as walk by the door; I'm hoping introducing new specimens of that species will help embolden these guys, too. They're so cute and lovely, I want to see more of them!

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Welp, plants arrived today, two days before expected. Which is great! (I wouldn't have been present if they'd been delivered on the expected date.) Everything came in looking fine and healthy; had a few weird hitchhikers on the micro sword, but just in case I rinsed all of them off. (Maybe y'all can help me identify them? I thought maybe they were aquarium gravel at first, but they were slightly squishy. Gray, each maybe three or four mm in diameter, spheroid with kind of a little lump, not quite like a chicken egg. When they fell out of the roots of the micro sword, they clattered in the sink, but like I said, they had a bit of squishy give to them. I expect they were eggs of some kind...)

So, yeah, plants are in the tank now. Fish have gotten super-inquisitive, and the cardinal tetras in particular have taken the opportunity to come out significantly more. I'm hoping these guys take off.

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Four new guppies added this afternoon, after a drive through 60mph winds and a fire near enough to the road they had to close it. Of these, three are "assorted female", and one is a young Moscow green male. (Hasn't got that lovely flowing tail just yet.)

Then, after a bit, proceeded to dose the tank with flubendazole again. It's pretty visible in all the full-tank pictures, the bladder snail problem is still quite prevalent. Gonna continue dosing this for the next week, today and again four days from now; if there's no noticeable change, I'm gonna start dosing Coppersafe. These things have GOT to go. I wanted to avoid having to use Coppersafe because I don't want the silicone to stain blue, but... They're killing my plants, they're making it unethical to drop more tannin-inducing botanicals in, they're grossly unbalancing the bioload, etc. The buggers need to be gone yesterday.

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  • 2 weeks later...

What's the one thing you can't do when trying to restore a tank with fresh RO water after the RO system's been serviced for the first time in seven years, and also you're trying to get new fish and plants set up in it (and trying to eradicate a snail problem)? That's right, going to the hospital for emergency abdominal surgery!

(I would have also accepted "dying" or "introducing the cat to the water and its inhabitants".)

Thursday evening, woke up from one of my regular naps (with my schedule between school and work, I take a lot of naps) to an intense, unbearable back pain. Thinking I must've just slept on it wrong, I decided to try to brunt my way through it, but by 6am Friday, it was clear it wasn't getting any better and I wasn't going to get any sleep. So, I took myself to the emergency room.

There, after dosing me with morphine and running CT scans and ultrasounds, they determined my gall bladder had become inflamed, plus had several gall stones, and so needed to be excised. I was transferred to a hospital in Albuquerque (actually in Rio Rancho, a grossly suburban-sprawl bedroom community of Albuquerque), where they performed the surgery Saturday morning. I recovered basically that afternoon, and managed to make the drive down to Socorro that evening. Then, today I completed the drive back down to the observatory. (Thankfully the folks here were completely understanding!)

Amazingly, only had two fish die, both new introductions I wasn't sure were going to make it anyway. One was the Moscow green guppy; as it was a literally brand-new entry to the store I'd bought it from, I kinda didn't expect much out of him, but still. The other was an Adolfo Cory; the folks I bought my new batch from shipped me seven (they try to include one extra fish, in case something like this happens), and of the seven, one was extremely sickly, swimming in circles, etc. I put it in a quarantine tank with a bit of food, and it didn't survive. I don't think it survived the first night, honestly. But, that's why they send one extra.

Everyone else looks surprisingly good, actually! And the new Amazon sword that came in maybe two weeks ago from ACO, I'd thought it was getting ready to flower, but in fact that was a cloning stalk, now with two little baby swords on it! Gonna cut 'em off and re-plant them, see if I can get some more going. (One's got a great big hole in one of its leaves because of ALL THE GOSH-DANG SNAILS. But, it's not too bad.) Even the Brazilian pennywort's looking like it's trying to grow, and that's a new one for me.

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Woof, been dealing with the progressive fallout of that surgery today, alongside my early-morning classes. The cats love jumping on my belly and chest, and so that's been less than pleasant. 😛 On the plus side, I got some REALLY nice sleep last night, probably the first time in four days or so. (No wonder I'm running low on spoons...)

Dosed the tank last night with a 4-oz. bottle of Copper Power Green, a copper sulfate-based medication the LFS had on the shelf; the stuff indicates that for typical disease-preventative use, given this is a 55-gallon tank, I should be using 6 ounces, but since I'm really only using it to try to get rid of the snail problem, I'm hoping a smaller dose will do the trick. If not, I do still have a bottle of CopperSafe at the Socorro house; I keep forgetting to grab it as I'm running out the door to come back down to the observatory for the week. But, I've definitely noticed a slow-down of the snails' activity, so fingers crossed, this finally takes care of the problem.

Also, pulled out my nice camera again and took a few pictures. The Corys have been coming out far more regularly now with a proper shoal, as expected, so I was able to get some shots of some of them; these are both new entries to the tank, but even the older guys (easily-distinguished by size) have gotten brave enough to venture forth while I'm in the room with the tank.

And finally, a picture of the new Amazon sword clones on that stalk, because I wanted to. (And yes, this is a blackwater tank; the water isn't as black as it should be because of the snails, but also color correction in my software is freaking miraculous. 😛 )






Edited by Baphijmm
Editing because an attached photo the site said hadn't uploaded had, in fact, uploaded, so there were two of the same. Whoops!
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On 5/3/2022 at 9:48 AM, PineSong said:

Hope you feel better soon.

On 5/3/2022 at 12:46 PM, ndfi78 said:

Dang man, glad to hear you are doing okay!

I'll do better as time goes on. Thus far, the single biggest contributor to my recovery has been rest, and particularly good sleep. It's frustrating, because of course this is finals week, and even though I just had major emergency surgery, I can't get "extensions" on finals. x_x (I did get extensions on most everything else, though. Professors have been quite understanding.) It was super-frustrating for a bit because I basically wasn't able to sleep the night I ultimately checked myself in to the emergency room, I only got about six hours of sleep the one night I stayed in the hospital, and my first night out I didn't get much sleep either because I was still in kind of a fair bit of pain. Things have definitely been improving, though! I'm sure my recovery will take off the moment finals are over. ðŸĪŠ

On 5/3/2022 at 9:48 AM, PineSong said:

My swords have never produced babies, I am envious!

To be fair, the plant arrived with the spike already growing! Though, I suppose this does mean I'm feeding it well enough that it felt it could continue producing babies. (It could also just be pushing for that because of transplant shock. Still though!)

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As mentioned in my Socorro community journal, all finals are over, though I'm still working on a few assignments I'd been given a slight extension on. I'm actually quite happy with my progress thus far on those! Should be good to get most everything done this weekend.

Last week, a coworker (who also has an RO system) brought in a pair of small electrical probe sensors, a TDS sensor and a pH sensor. The latter hasn't been calibrated yet so its readings are unreliable, but the first is showing our current TDS coming out of the newly-renovated RO system is about 8 ppm. That's a far cry from before!

Unfortunately, even with that, after another 25% water change on this tank, the GH is still off the charts. It's clearly reducing, because the test takes longer to reach the upper bound each time (and this time it took the full length of the test before it really did, so we probably actually are at around 300 ppm right now), but... you know? Frustrating, embarrassing, but not really surprising. I'm half-tempted to bring the TDS sensor home to see if maybe I can get a good reading, except I know my TDS in that tank is much much higher than the GH reading would be due to the tannins also in there.

After last week's dosing of Copper Power Green, algae has begun visibly growing on the front glass of the tank. This is wonderful news! It means the snail population is actually genuinely dwindling! But, it's definitely not totally gone yet; there are still plenty of snails all over the tank. So, this afternoon I dosed Coppersafe. (Finally remembered to bring it down from Socorro!) Obviously the copper sulfate treatment is going to work; I just hope it works as spectacularly as... well, as I'm hoping. 😛

Brazilian pennywort has already been almost completely destroyed by the snails; there's still one stem left, and of course the Corys keep uprooting it. The new Amazon sword seems to be growing new leaves, which is a big deal for me. Not seeing much happening with the jungle val or micro sword, but that's both a good and a bad thing; bad because they haven't really recovered from transplant shock, but good because they aren't, you know, dead.

One of the Adolfo Corys has decided to take to hiding in the little decorative skull on the left side of the tank, rather than behind the big chunk of wood in back. Has me wondering if maybe someone's trying to protect some eggs... I have no experience with Corydoras breeding, so I don't know if that's a thing they do.

Probably gonna do water changes on some of my other, smaller tanks tonight, to let the now-dosed Coppersafe stay in the tank and work its magic. As much as I want to get the GH down to reasonable levels, stability isn't necessarily a bad thing either. Might start a journal for the 20-gallon "sorority" tank tonight; it's still got some serious hair algae, but there's some other stuff in there too, and I want to see if maybe others have thoughts or ideas how to better care for it.

I was gonna process these pictures a little bit, but apparently my image processing computer doesn't like me anymore. We'll see if a couple reboots might not get it behaving again.

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Snails continue to proliferate, though I've noticed the average size has greatly diminished. Naturally, this means the older population has been dying off, and the younger population, likely only recently hatched, hasn't had much of a chance to be affected by the copper sulfate yet. Will continue this regimen, adding the necessary amount as I do water changes to continue trying to bring the GH down. Naturally, as a result of an increasing number of dead snails, the GH is actually starting to climb again, but I consider this a very good sign. (KH is quite low now, which was another goal; as I'm hoping to start keeping discus in here, plus I do want to try to breed the cardinal tetras already present, keeping KH low was a priority.)

The guppies have been multiplying like... guppies. 😛 The tank's become something of a guppy breeder, which was kind of my intent but I didn't expect it to take off quite this well. Not complaining! Or at least, I won't be until they start to color up and I realize I can't even get rid of them. ðŸĪŠ (That's not entirely true; my LFS does have a feeder guppy tank...) But it's a huge improvement over the first time I tried to set this tank up, so for now I'm pretty happy.

Took one of the baby Amazon swords off the mother plant and put it in the sand this afternoon. Not gonna try root-tabbing it just yet, maybe next week. Let it root itself in first. The other one, I'll probably do the same tomorrow or something. I just wasn't sure where to put them both. (And looking at the picture, I definitely buried this one too deep, but the roots are basically nonexistent. So, maybe I'll give it a day or two and pull it up a bit.)

Goals for this coming week: Obtain an algae scraper for this tank, since algae is starting to take off as the snails die off. Obtain some pygmy chain sword, both to increase the floral diversity and add another carpeting plant that'd be native to the river. (Still not seeing much activity from the micro sword, unfortunately.) Get more Coppersafe during my trip up to Albuquerque. Probably get some Easy Green, since my Flourish supplies are finally starting to run out. Keep plugging away at the snail population and water changes. (There may have been more, but that's all I can think of.)

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As mentioned in my "sorority" journal, an ACO order arrived today. Part of that shipment was a new plant for this tank, dwarf chain sword (Helanthium tenellum), which I'd mentioned above. It also contained the aforementioned algae scraper and Easy Green, so it was a nice receipt all around.

Chain sword went in just fine, and you can see, it came with a spike, just like the Amazon sword from a few weeks ago! Might be getting some babies shortly. 😄

As was the case with the sorority tank, this tank finally dipped below the upper threshold of the GH limit after another 25% water change on Friday night / Saturday morning. Probably still need one or two more changes, but we're getting there.

The algae scraper did exactly what I expected, worked beautifully on the algae that had been developing on the front glass. Fact is, algae has been growing more, as evidenced by that growing on the little resin skull in these pictures, which tells me the snails are definitely taking a hit. (I mean, the fact that I'm taking tannins out of the tank with each water change is also certainly helping the algae take off I'm sure, but I do know the lack of snails to eat it is the biggest contributing factor.) Many of them have figured out that hanging out at the surface of the water keeps them relatively safe, but of course the algae scraper helps with that too. 😛 I do suspect a lot of the ones I'm still seeing are in fact dead, and I just need to clean them off surfaces.

The Corys have been doing particularly well throughout all this. I've noticed, the newer specimens tend to forage during the day, while the older guys tend to do so at night. The other night, I even caught one of the older guys doing that thing Corys do, scurrying up to the surface for a gulp of air and fluttering their way back down. It's nice to see them getting playful!

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