Saturday, December 26, 2009

Red Cherry Shrimp Q&A

Will cherry shrimp leave the water?

RCS are not strong enough to move when not supported by water. They will leave the water only under two circumstances. 1) when pursued by a predator or under extremely toxic water conditions cherry shrimp my flip themselves out of the water. 2) They may leave the water accidentally such as during a spill--the shrimp pictured to the right was pushed out of the water by bubbles from an airstone. Once out of the water the shrimp will bet trapped even by the weak forces of water surface tension. To rescue a shrimp wash it back into the tank with a splash of water. Avoid handling shrimp directly as they are very fragile.

* Index

Acquiring Livestock
The Problem with "Extras"
Tank Options
Water Linking
Care and Husbandry
Humane killing (euthanasia) of aquatic pets (under construction)

Aquarium Snail Species (under construction)
Apple Snails
Apple Snails
Ramshorn Egg Watch
Colored Ramshorn Primer
Albino Ramshorn
Spixi Egg Watch
Do spixi snails eat plants

Best Aquarium Shrimp
Red Cherry
Why Aren't my Red Cherry Shrimp Red?
Three things you can do to make your Red Cherry Shrimp redder
Tank Profile: One Gallon with Yellow Shrimp

Betta Fish
2 Gallon tank profile: Betta tank
Mosquito Fish
Pygmy Cory (Corydorus pygmaeus)
Cory eggs and fry

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gambusia sexing

The main difference between male and female gambusia is the same as for many livebearers, the shape of the pelvic fin. In the male the fin is longer and pointed, in the female it is shorter and more rounded. The male pelvic fin is referred to as the gonopodium and is used to tranfer sperm to the female.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Approaches to Ammonia (in progress)

Small tanks need to be watched rather carefully for accumulation of ammonia. A smaller water volume will tend to be more unstable and you can get a very rapid ammonia spike, which can be fatal to fish and other livestock. There are three basic approaches to testing for ammonia.

Approach 1: liquid Test Kits
Some people hold that only fresh liquid test kits give a reliable measure of ammonia.

Approach 2: Strip Tests
Others feel a strip test is close enough, and when you have a cycling tank you can even use a "sensor" that you clip on the inside of the tank to keep an eye on ammonia level and make sure they didn't get into the danger level for you stock (which will vary depending on how hardy they are.

Approach 3: Low Tech
Some people think: test-schemst, it isn't that hard to tell when you have an ammonia spike.
1) When you stir the water it has an unpleasant smell, and
2) bubbles on the surface of the water do not pop immediately. In fact bubbles may accumulate on the surface around the glass.

In any case, if you ammonia levels are high the steps you need to take are the same:
* Minimise rotting material in the tank by ensuring you remove dead livestock, excess food and other organic debris.
* Regularly replace 10-20% of the water with clean, dechlorinated water.
* Transfer bacteria sources from a stable, established tank to the spiking or cycling tank to make sure there is a population of ammonia-converting bacteria.

Ramshorn Snail Q & A (in progress)

What the hell is this?

Ramshorns have loose folds of skin that may sometimes protrude from the left side of the shell. It is thought to act like a primitive gill.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Apple Snails

Apple Snail
Pomacea Bridgesii a.k.a. Pomacea diffusa

Apple snails enjoy extra space but can be content in a smaller aquarium. The should be provided with cover in the form of rocks or plants. Apple snails will need access to the surface as they intermittently extend their "siphon" to breath air. They enjoy access to areas of water current or bubble streams. It is advisable to have a lid on your aquarium as they are capable of leaving the water for short periods.

Apple snails eat mainly algae and in a small tank they will probably required supplemental feeding with algae flakes or wafers. They will eat algae from the glass but not leave it entirely clean. It is important to provide a source of calcium, such as coral sand, for good shell growth.

Apple snails do not need to be housed with other snails; they are just as happy on their own. But you can keep them with other apple snails and most other snail species. Snails should not be housed with aggressive fish or animals. The do well with smaller fish such as livebearers (endlers, guppies etc) and most small catfish species.

Apple snails come in many different plain and striped colors including magenta, gold, ivory, and blue. They may be shipped when they become about the size of a pea and commonly grow to the size of a golf ball or larger. They should live for several years, or longer.

Apple snails require a male and female to reproduce and eggs are laid above the water snail, making effective population control easier than for many other freshwater snail species.

Be aware that these snail can and will get out of the water from time to time, so you will need a lip or lid to keep them in!

For More Info:

Thursday, December 3, 2009


The Macrotocinclus affinis a.k.a. Otocinclus affinis or "oto" is a small catfish species from the Amazon. They like to have cover such as from wood or dense plants and are happiest in small groups. Opinions differ as to the minimum advisable tanks size. I would suggest that 5 gallons can be sufficient but 10 is better.

Aquarium News

New 'Ich" Discovery
"There are currently no drugs or chemicals that kill Ich while it resides in the fish skin or gills; they can only kill Ich when the parasite is in the water, and therefore all current therapies require a cyclical re-treatment program ... "Work to sequence the genome of this parasitic protozoan unexpectedly revealed that bacterial DNA sequences were also present," noted Craig Findly, one of the College's researchers on the project. "Following up this discovery led to our demonstration that two new species of intracellular bacteria use Ich as their host. We now need to determine if these intracellular bacteria play a role in infection."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Colored Ramshorn Primer

The following is from my own experience only. If you have corrections or additions, please comment. Photographs appreciated and linkbacks and credit provided.

So, anyway, ramshorn snails (Planorbarius corneus) come in different colors, but the way they actually differ is sometimes hard to tell from photographs. So here is my descriptions of the main color morphs.

1) Brown/Leopard
What it says, the snail has a brown foot and brown shell. When young, these snails have darker brown spots or dapples, but these usually fade away as the snail grows.

2) Blue
From a distance these look very similar to leopards. The snail has a brown foot. Under strong light the shell shows a blue-grey color with dark blue-black spots.

3) Red
The snail lacks darker pigments. The foot is red and the shell is semi-transparent brown or bronze.

4) Pink
Broadly similar to the red snail, the "pink" has a red foot but a completely clear shell. Pink ramshorns were described in a wild population in a report by William Nelson in the May 1879 issue of the Journal of Conchology. They were described as "...of a bright flesh or pink color, the animals being mostly protruding from the shell and very conspicuous" (p. 150). But by the following year the brightly color variant could no longer be found. It seems likely that the color morphs now available are selectively bred from this kind of naturally occuring mutation.

I am told that white ramshorns also occur, however ramshorns without normal red blood are unlikely to thrive. It is more likely that they are yellow ramshorns, which have a yellow foot and clear shell.

False Reds
Sometimes you will get a ramshorn with a red shell but a brown foot. These are not a "true" red and the shell will tend to become brown as it grows. Even true reds will tend to become browner as the grow, but any snail with a red foot is a red ram.

* Nelson, W. (1879). A variation in the color of the animals of Plamorbis corneus. The Journal of Conchology 2, 150.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Malaysian Trumpets Snails

Malaysian trumpet snails (MTS, Melanoides tuberculata ) are good for keeping your sand turned over. MTS will eat also eat algae but not to the extent that they clean the glass (see left). If you MTS are all up near the water surface this may mean you have a water quality issue! So they can a useful water quality indicator in a cycling tank.

They reproduce at a moderate level, but don't normally become a problem unless you are over-feeding. You can often get a few for free from a fish store or thrown into an online order.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Paff the Blind Minnow

There is some tension between keeping fish as the most perfect specimens possible, and keeping pets to whom you have a lifelong commitment no matter what happens to them. Aquarists tend to straddle that divide. For example, I keep colored ramshorns snails and I like them well enough, but I do not know them as individuals and I ruthlessly "squish" excess snails to prevent over-populations. I feel no particular obligations to the individual snails and keep them mainly as specimens and "decorations".

And then there is Paff.

You can get a Fathead minnow like Paff at a local fish store for around ten cents, they are used mainly as feeders and bait fish. I got Paff as a pet, but she escaping the usual fate of a minnow did not put her on easy street. After a slight injury she developed a serious infection which caused swelling in one eye (an effect called "popeye" or "pop eye"). It didn't respond quickly to treatment (Maracyn and water changes) so I thought it would be humane to euthanize her. But she was hard to get out of the tank and thrashed around in the 1 gallon jar, demonstrating plenty of health vigor and quite the temper.

She recovered from that and continued as normal, beating up the other minnow and claiming the cosiest spot in the tank. Then the infection reoccurred, leaving her totally blind. I took her out again, but again she seemed otherwise healthy and now infection free.

So, Paff is not the prettiest or even the healthiest of fish, and she has at least one obvious defect (no eyes). However she has quite the bullish personality and a good body condition. I make sure to drop food near her and put a little fry food in the water from time to time and she seems to do very well. She seems to get around the tank well and rarely bumps into things, and she is still the boss of every fish in the tank, including the much larger male Fathead (called "Bubba").

So, not a specimen, but definitely on of my favorite pets.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Fry Watch

I have at least six new fry. The are either black bar endlers or gambusia, only time will tell.

After vanishing for most of the intervening period, 2 of the fry reappeared near the water surface yesterday. This pattern of behavior and their evolving appearance suggests that they are gambusia. Currently they have vanished again.

I saw three fry yesterday, but could only find this one today. Definitely looking like a gambusia, no signed of spotting so they are either female or not melanistic.

The fry are large enough to distinguish make and female based on fin shape. So far they all seem to be standard gambusia. I am separating males and females now to prevent over-population.

Friday, October 23, 2009

From the Mailbag

Actually, there is no mailbag--but feel free to send me an email. There are the Google keywords people are using to find this blog, and some of them look like questions. So, in an effort to be helpful, here goes:

euthanasia snails ... euthanasia aquatic snails ... killing water snail humanely
If you want to humanely kill a snail the options are unfortunately limited. I am not aware of a humane chemical method. Physical methods are unpleasant but have the ability to be humane (that is, instantaneous). You take a very strong plastic bag, insert the snail, crush completely flat with a heavy flat object, dispose. I would not recommend freezing or any form of live disposal (flushing etc).

tums in fish tanks ... tums for snail ... how to give snail calcium ... snails calcium tums
See: Providing calcium to snails

shrimp in a three gallon ... under 1 gallon, shrimp tank ... SHRIMP IN A 5 GALLON TANK ... shrimp 1 gallon ... 1 gallon tank how many shrimps
I have kept dwarf shrimp in a one gallon tanks, but they never seemed to thrive so I gave up on it. I have formed the impression that even dwarf shrimp really need at least 2 gallons.

betta with rcs shrimp ... betta splendens eat cherry shrimp ... betta with cherry shrimp
It may work, it may not. I would suggest providing plenty of hiding areas, introducing the shrimp after dark, and having a Plan B. Bettas have trouble eating a shrimp, but they will hunt and harass them and damage them until they die.

yellow shrimp hybrid cherry
Yellow and cherry shrimp offspring are a brown "wild type" shrimp.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Alby the Color-Changing Ramshorn Snail

This is my latest arrival, Alby the ramshorn snail. I am not sure that he is actually a genetic albino, but he does have a translucent shell and a foot without red or pink color. Presumably this means he does not have normal haemoglobin which makes it surprising that he has grown to adult size. I hope he settles in well.

Alby arose spontaneously in a population of red ramshorns. The picture below was provided by the gotglock at Aquaria Central.

If you have an albino ramshorn or know someone who does, please drop me a line at psycheskinner at and I will add them to this page. I am especially interested to know if anyone has successfully bred them.

See also:
Colombian Ramshorn Snails (includes a picture of an albino common ramshorn)

After a few days Alby started to develop a much pinker body color, to the extent that I thought he might transform into a normal "pink" ramshorn, This was quite a surprise as research has shown that pink ramshorn snails do not change their haemoglobin levels in response to water oxygen levels.

Coloring can change between generations with newly hatched snails in poorly-oxygenated water having a bright red color. But individuals seem to be born with a level of coloration that stay with them throughout life. Other than Alby, that is.

Alby has returned the his original yellow coloration. Weird.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Arrival

I have lost one gambusia (a.k.a. mosquito fish), and gained one gambusia. Spot my melanistic male turned up dead one morning, despite all the water parameters reading normal and the two females being in good health. But later the same day I saw "Fry" lurking in the duck weed.

Gambusia fry tend to stay near the bottom early in life and then emerge to live near the surface once they a little too large to become a snack for their parents. Fry is my first next generation gambusia and he is showing signs of being a male with the same melanistic spotting as his father.

Fry is growing up fast, and the spotting is becoming more pronounced.

Several more gambusia fry have also appeared.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Four things you can do to make your Red Cherry Shrimp redder

When you buy red cherry shrimp, you want them to be red, right? Well, assuming your expectation are realistic, there is nothing wrong with that. There are four main approaches you can take.

1) Genetics
Cherries are a color morph of a brown colored shrimp that are missing some darker pigments. Breeders have selected them over many generations. The redness of your shrimp will depend on the genetic line your shrimp are from. Because red cherry shrimp (RCS) lack brown pigment genes you will not tend to get brown offspring unless they cross bred with other color morphs of the same (or similar) species. however over time you may get offspring that are speckled, pink or even completely transparent rather than red or mostly red. It is wise to remove females that have reached a reproductive age and still have little or no color, and let your reddest females contribute more to the next generation. It is also wise to occasionally add introduce new shrimp from good genetic lines to keep the color of your shrimp bright and avoid inbreeding.

2) Environment
Pigmentation exists mainly to camouflage the shrimp against its background and assist in predator avoidance. Darker backgrounds such as shadowed areas, black gravel or sand, dark wood and dark plants will encourage stronger color. The presence of curious fish can also provoke previous pale shrimp to color up, although aggressive and predatory fish should obviously not be kept with drwarf shrimp. The shrimp hiding in the picture below (can you see her?) was totally colorless the previous day, but was then moved into a tank with a female betta fish.

3) Diet
The shrimp makes its pigments from components in its food. It pays to allow shrimp access to natural algae and plant matter. I would also recommend a diet that includes algae (algae wafers or spirulina powder), invertebrate diet (such as Hikari crab cuisine) and a color-enhancing fish food (such as Tetracolor).

4) Wait
In most cases fully red shrimp are old shrimp. Most shrimp will color up significantly if given time to fully mature.

Keep these thee areas in mind and you should have your red cherries living up to their name in no time!

Read more:
Why aren't my Red Cherry Shrimp red?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Equipment Tips

1) How to reduce air pump noise
Any air pump will make some noise, but if you prevent the pump from vibating against a surface the noise will be greatly reduced. For example you can use a cheap kitchen sponge to keep the pump off the table or floor.

Glossary and Acronym List

A lot of aquarium forums make used of slang, jargon and short hand terms. I am going to start collecting them here.

Berried: described a female shrimp carrying eggs in her swimmerettes (see right)
Muppy: a hybrid of a gambusia and a guppy

Acronym List
CRS: crystal red shrimp
LFS: local fish store
MTS: Malaysian trumpet snail, also multiple tank syndrome
PWC: partial water changes
RCS: red cherry shrimp

Sunday, September 20, 2009


"Mosquito fish" is a common name used to refer to several small American Gambusia species, sometime introduced to ponds to control mosquito larvae. These three are Gambusia affisni holborooki.

The male, Spot, has his distinctive piebald coloration because he has melanistic spotting. This is a naturally occurring Y-linked mutation, meaning it only affects males. It also doesn't breed true, so some offspring of melanistic males are gray colored.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sometimes the snail chooses you....

A lot of snails arrive unannounced along with plants or other deliberately purchased livestock. This is my latest arrival, a diminutive species of ramshorn snail.

Enquiries on forums suggest that many aquarium owners have snails of this type. It is in the ramshorn group, small and carries its shell flat with with the ground or the surface it is on.

These snails are not reported to be prolific breeders, so I am letting them hang out for now. The numbers are growing somewhat and they largest snails are now almost 4mm across.

The common names I have heard suggested are mini ramshorn and button ramshorn.

They seem to eat plants a little, particularly my red lotus--but they are otherwise benign.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Providing calcium to snails

Snails require calcium to construct healthy shells. There are many ways to provide this calcium.

Coral sand

Cuttle bone

Plaster of Paris pucks
These can be home made of in the form of commercial "vacation feeders"

Liquid calcium
This may be purely to provide calcium or as part of a general snail health product such as "snail milk".

Tums can be used on plain or flavored forms. It can temporarily cause water to become cloudy, especially if dropped on a turbulent area of the tank such as near an air stone.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

2 Gallon tank profile: Betta tank

A Betta (a.k.a. Siamese fighting fish) might do best in 5 gallons of more, but my white female Betta seems happy in my two gallon glass bowl with a submersible filter and mini heater (gravel, rocks and various plants). She shares the tank with an unknown number of Malaysian trumpet snails.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Do spixi snails eat plants

The short answer is: it depends.

The long answer is that it isn't entirely clear what it depends upon. Some people find that some spixis eat some plants.

Younger spixis (see right) seem to be most likely to chow down in plants. Older spixis may be tempted by a particularly luxious broadleaf plant like a red tiger lotus.

Some people think that purebred spixis will not eat plants and those that do are hybrids--however there is really no way to test this hypothesis.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Aquarium Snail Species (under construction)

Sulawesi Snail a.k.a. rabbit snail, tower snail, elephant snail
Breeding rate: low
These guys come in a range of colors. They can be a little pricey, $10 or more online with rarer species being more expensive. The most common variety sold is probably the species pictures which has a black shell and black body with yellow spots. The Sulawesi snail a relatively easy to look after. It is slow growing and appreciates fast moving water and rocks or wood to hide in. These snails breed slowly if at all, they are live-bearers producing 2-3 young at a time.

Brigs Snail a.k.a. apple snail, mystery snail, diffusa
Pomacea diffuse, formerly Pomacea bridgesii
Breeding rate: low

Spixi a.k.a zebra apple snail
Asolene spixi
Breeding rate: moderate
Similar to the brigs snail, the spixi tends to stay rather smaller at an inch or so long. It comes only on one color form, but the stripes vary between individuals. A single spixi will not breed. A male and female pair can breed quite prolifically for a large snail species. The female lays gelatinous clusters of several dozen pink-ish eggs, normally just below the water surface. These need to be removed and destroyed to avoid a population explosion. Spixi snails may not be traded over state borders.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Why Aren't my Red Cherry Shrimp Red?

Red Cherry Shrimp are very attractive dwarf shrimp. But often people who buy them are somewhat disappointed by the color of their new arrivals. If you didn't get the bright red shrimp you expected, consider the following:

Are your shrimp young?
Most shrimp do not get their full color until they are nearly adult. And most breeders prefer to ship juveniles to their customers. Juvenile shrimp cope much better with shipping and they adapt better to new water parameters.

Did your shrimp just arrive?
Stress with cause shrimp to lose color, just as it does with fish.

Did you see the parent stock?
Not all sellers show pictures of their shrimp, but a generic stock shot. It may be that you bought from a less vividly colored line.

Did you get a lot of males?
Remember that males are typically clear with just a few bands or speckles of red. So be sure not to cull out all your poorly colored specimens, you need to leave some males!

Are your expectations realistic?
What you will see online are peoples "show off" pictures. I have one female shrimp who is all red, but she is just one of twenty. Keep in mind that pictures you see online are not usually of "typical" specimens. The reddest shrimp are adult females with eggs, and even these will usually be 'mostly' red rather than entirely red all over--like my gals shown below hanging out on top of the filter. The yellow areas are the eggs they are holding with their swimmerettes.

But if you really want to turn up the saturation on your shrimp, there are some things you can do, see this post.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Water Linking

One way to expand the possibilities of small tanks is to connect tanks together. You can make two kinds of connection.

Below Surface
Some tanks include the connection in the body of the tank. However this can introduce challenges went to comes to cleaning the tank, and add to the cost of the tank.

Above Surface
Any closed tube can be emptied of air using a small tupe--and water pressure will keep air from re-entering. It is still wise to ensure the tube can fully empty without causing the tanks to overflow (in case of accidents). One option for above surface linking is the "Aquabridge" pictured below.

Water links can help stabilise water parameters by creating a larger continuous body of water. They can also offer more activities option for many species. However you may find many fish unwilling to use above surface tubes.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Ramshorn Egg Watch

Here is a new one. I have added two nice leopard (brown spotted) ramshorm snails to my betta tank. They are said to be rapid reproducing snails so lets see how things go and whether alpha the betta fish causes them any trouble.

It also seems as good a time as any to provide some pictures of what ramshorn eggs look like and how they develop. Here they are on day one. The top picture shows the ramshorn snail egg clutch on the leaf surface, the second picture shows one on the glass.

Day 1:

Monday, August 3, 2009

Red Cherry Shrimp F1

My red cherry shrimp are living up to their reputation as being easy to breed. I have a dozen or more young juveniles in the tank now. This is despite a high pH of around 7.6 and several species of small fish (rasboras, boraras and corydoras) as tank mates.