Jump to content

10g West Cameroon Loose Biotope


Recommended Posts

I'm still in the planning/collection/experimenting phase but I figured I would share to get some help along the way. Maybe if this goes well it can inspire someone else to try something different too or... if this fails it can be a warning.

In another thread I mentioned wanting to make a river bank tank. It was originally inspired by this river bank in a park near me:


@nabokovfan87 mentioned that it could be considered a biotope style. That made me think which fish I have that live in creeks/rivers. I had already been considering doing a botanical style tank for my Fundulopanchax Gresensi Takwai Killifish and this seemed like the perfect pairing. The cool thing about killifish is that fur most of them you can get an actual longitude and latitude location for their type location.

The plan is to have it viewed from the end like your standing in the river looking towards the bank from an angle similar to the picture above. The bank itself will be made of pond spray foam that will be coated in sand, coco coir, crushed aqua soil, etc to make it look like dirt. Near the top I'll stick in some roots. Near the bottom I'll build in some larger rocks to help hold it down and because that's how a lot of river banks look.

My hope is that I can use the space behind the bank as a sort of in tank filter, similar to those all in one tanks you can buy. There will be an under gravel filter in the front that goes under the wall to take in water from the front and pull it behind the wall. Then some kind of filtering back there, maybe a sponge filter or just floss.

Then there will be an air uplift tube to take the water back out, similar to what you see in a matten filter. The two ideas I had were too make this come out the top and trickle down like a smaller water flow feeding in or to just come out the side in the back like water from up stream.

In the other thread @Littlefish mentioned doing soil similar to how they do it in wabi kusa setups. I'm going to try using this and forming it on/around egg crate for structure to make the top where plants will grow out.

For plants, the only African aquarium plants I know now are bolbitus and anubias. Maybe the are some crypts too. I'll need to look into that more.

Here are my insane scribblings to try and help visualize how it would work:



Edited by Schuyler
  • Love 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

To add to the above list of great resources:

Pecktec has a ton of videos on the type of filtration method you're looking at.  He uses UGF quite a lot for various reasons (plenums, etc.)

Tai Streitman is someone who puts out a lot of high quality content on biotopes and their setups.  His book is due out any moment now (George Farmer mentioned early 2024 most recently) and he made a series of tanks just for that project.  He breaks down his methods, philosophy for setups on his youtube channel linked below.


A final one here from a very highly regarded aquascaper doing a talk for green aqua.  It's really enlightening to see how the scape was built.  Maybe some tips in there you can use in your own setup.


  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ok after looking into options it seems like they all fall into one of these general categories:

1) Good Stuf spray foam with sand. This is cheap, easy, and stuff can easily be embedded in it. But it seems pretty flimsy and not as rigid.

2) Styrofoam or insulation foam cut to shape and then coated in silicone, resin, or concrete. This would hold form well but may be floaty and the concrete needs a long time before it stops leeching stuff that raises the pH

3) Fiber glass. This seems like a good option but getting it to have the right shape and fit when it's a 3d shape is doing to be a bit tricky.

However this is done, there will likely need to be support braces for holding it in place and holding up the plants. I'm leaning towards using egg crate vertically to make scaffolding. Potentially this could also be used to make chambers for bio media.

Here is a playlist of videos I found:


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I traded some Daphnia and Nothobranchius Eggersi eggs to a member of the local killifish club for some more juvenile Fundulopanchax Gresensi. He said they were breeding almost like guppies.


Normally this would be putting the cart before the horse but I already have a tank for them.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I watched a couple serpa design videos today and had an idea. I think I may try blocking out the rough shape of the river bank with egg crate connected together with zip ties. Then build it the rest of the structure and detail using spray foam coated in sand, roots, and rocks.

This should give it the structure while allowing the flexibility to stick rocks and roots into the bank

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ok just two more pictures from the AKA website under the collection sites


And here is a YouTube video with one of the professional biotopes from the first post:

Starts at 7:30


Based on pictures the recurring themes seem to be: lots of leaves, brown water, light sandy substrate, not many rocks, lots of sticks and roots, and very few plants in the water itself.

I like the stuff that looks like giant anubias growing out of the water. I doubt I'll be able to find any that big and definitely doubt I'd be willing to pay to fill the edge of the tank with things that big.

Ideas for plants anubias, bolbitus, water lettuce, and Ammannia gracilis

I may also visit a local nursery at lunch and see if they have any epiphytic ferns or plants that look like things on the pictures.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 9/16/2023 at 2:38 AM, TheSwissAquarist said:

Another recurring theme also seems to be overhanging plants…maybe try using some kind of grass? 

I'm considering doing some grass. I may even try pulling up a clump of grass with the roots and see if it survives with it's roots partially in water


Starting to collect some materials.

I've also had a slight change of plan for the design. An under gravel filter probably won't do too well with a sand substrate so I'm gonna to build a sponge intake into the riverbank in a way that it won't be visible from the front.

Here are more insane scribblings


That picture in the top left is the view without the top layer. The idea is that the will be a gap that water can flow from that front outcropping back to the uplift. In the back corner I want to put a potted plant that can be removed to allow access to the open area inside. That way filter media can be cleaned and a heater can be hidden in there. I'm thinking that plant will be a leather fern. Other than that it will be mostly anubias and leaf litter. Roots will be embedded into the foam.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 9/17/2023 at 11:08 AM, TheSwissAquarist said:

Another idea for the bank would be some Amazon swords. Maybe you should enter it into a competition if it ends up looking great! 

The problem with Amazon sword is that it's from the Amazon rather than Africa

That would be cool to put it in s competition but we'll see what it ends up looking like lol

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Went to my LFS yesterday and they do have Anubias heterophylla. I may get some of those. (They also had thread fin rainbows that looked really cool but that's unrelated...)

Also what to a local nursery to look for ferns and grass options. Here are some potential options:

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum Venustum) - I read online that these work well in riparium setups but it looks out of place to me



Licorice Fern (polypodium glycymrhiza) - this is a epiphytic fern native to North America. You can see them growing on maple trees all over the place here. They look close to some of the epiphytic ferns in the pictures but I have no idea how they would do in this setting...


Dwarf Sweetflag (Acorns 'Pusillus Auren') - Native to Japan but only gets up to 4" and is commonly used in riparium setups.


Then there are other grass options I found online...

Dwarf Sag (Sagittaria Subulata) - I already have this in another tank but I'm not sure it would really grow dense enough to get the look right

Brazilian micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis) - dense, very grass like, more blade shaped than stuff like dwarf hairgrass

Lilaeopsis mauritiana - Another micro sword but this one is actually native to Africa (just the complete opposite side of Africa...)

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting tidbit:


Here is a site for a guy who is a botanist and has tons of pictures with identification for a lot of the plants.


Unfortunately it's not sorted by location but if you Google "Cameroon Site:www.verticalgardenpatrickblanc.com" you can get just the images that apply (but of Google-fu for you)


  • Love 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I also came across this guy again but now I've made a playlist of his Cameroon specific videos. He has footage from Cameroon rivers but with a focus on the fish rather than plants.

That first video has little shrimp in it. I'm really curious about what they are.

The 4th video has she crazy Anubias (heterophylla?) growing at 1:21. It's cool seeing just how diverse anubias is.


  • Love 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Enough research, time to make a mess!


I roughly blocked out the design I had drawn



That piece that sticks out is going to look weird. I don't like it. Change of plans:


This feels better. It opens up more swinging space for the fish and doesn't block so much of the view.

The new plan for filtration is an under gravel filter with geocloth that goes under wall to allow water to flow through. There will also be overflow holes at the top of the wall near the front hidden by some roots just in case the under gravel fails or is going too slow.

I want to hide the heater behind the wall somewhere.

In the back corner will be a trickle over filter, like you see in biocube all in one tanks. That will also open up the possibility of having chemical filtration. There will be a removable section in the back corner to be able to access this area.

I have a small pump just in case the air uplift isn't enough flow. But I'm going to stick with the air option to start.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Experience time. I have experience with great stuff in construction so this isn't totally unfamiliar territory.

Three small pieces of egg crate, each sprayed with some foam. One just filled in the holes. One sprayed across the top and spread into the holes. Then the third was sprayed across and then immediately covered in the "dirt" mix.PXL_20230926_053109526.jpg.3c36b3d0b6570a459b415a72c19d723b.jpg

I suspect one of the bottom two will work out best. After the cure they can be cut back to flatten them then silicone can be spread across and the dirt can be smushed into it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My local LFS was redoing their plant area so they had a buy 2 get one free deal and the plants were reduced. What do you know, they have Anubias heterophylla! So I got three of them for less than it would cost to buy those plants in tubes at the big box stores.


I worked on blocking out the wall and added small pieces to act as supports and to hold a filter sponge or trickle filter (I'm thinking I may just go with sponges and floss)

Above view:


Front view:


Trying to add some leaves and plants to get an idea of how it will look:


I'm thinking I may raise the height of the wall but not totally sure.

I'm a bit nervous about doing the foam because once that's done there's really no going back

  • Love 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I found it! I knew there was a clip with a bank that looked exactly like what I was looking for but it got lost in all the reference stuff collected here. I finally found it, here is a clip of the specific part (the video didn't allow embedding):


I'm experiment with the soil and trying something similar to what they do in wabi kusa setups, or at least what SerpeDesign did in his. The thing is that he used kitty litter which is a bentonite clay. When I first looked up bentonite clay I saw it had aluminum in it and I assumed it would be toxic. So I tried digging up some clay soil from my back yard. I did a mix of coco coir, clay dirt, crushed Fluval bio stratum, and I added coco fibers to help hold it together similar to how fine roots hold dirt together:



It holds together some but I don't really trust it to not dissolve in water and become a mud puddle.

I specifically searched "bentonite clay toxicity fish" to see if it would be ok. To my surprise, the first result wasn't about how toxic it was. It was about how well it worked at removing certain toxic chemicals as an alternative to charcoal in tilapia farming. Not only that, it's specifically sold for use in koi ponds and some people even eat it (although people eat lots of stuff they shouldn't as "natural remedies"...).

So I'm pretty confident that should actually be fine. Possibly safer than the dirt from my yard considering I don't know it's composition.

I'm going to try a few different mixes and put them in jars of water for s few days to see how they hold up.

But I'll keep going on the rest of the setup until then

Edited by Schuyler
Forgot "stuff"
  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...