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What’s Wrong with Colored Gravel, Plastic Plants, and Bubbling Divers? Nothing!

A tank with herbivorous fish decorated with artificial plants. Photograph by Jeremy Demas.

By David E. Boruchowitz

There is a bit of snobbery in the hobby regarding action ornaments, plastic plants, and colored gravel. Some seasoned aquarists look down their noses at the use of such artificiality, but many people, particularly but not exclusively beginners and youngsters, love a neon substrate with fluorescent plantings and burping treasure chests.

The snobbery is unwarranted, and even a bit hypocritical. How so? Well, often the aquarist decrying fake plants uses lengths of PVC pipe as refuges in breeding tanks. Or, the disparager of colored gravel relies on bare-bottom tanks for raising fry. Obviously, plastic pipe and glass substrate do not occur in any natural fish habitat any more than purple gravel and silver Amazon swordplants.

So, what’s the explanation?

Some hobbyists entertain that there are two types of tanks: display and utility. Utility setups use only the bare essentials and are not intended to be decorative. Display tanks are ornamental, and they try to replicate a natural fish habitat. This black and white distinction does not hold up, however, and I have seen both lushly planted breeding tanks and bare bottom display tanks. I’ve even seen an entire fish house of a very serious breeder that has at least one ceramic castle in every single aquarium. There are no hard and fast rules. In addition, “natural” setups are mostly anything but.

Plastic plants and driftwood decorate this goldfish setup. Photograph by Jeremy Demas.

Usually display tanks are not really representative of any natural habitat. Most hobbyists only want a pretty aquascape and do not try to create an actual representation, and even many of the biotope systems expressly intended to be accurate replications of a specific habitat fail to really make the mark. There is nothing at all wrong with any aquarium decor that is safe for the fish, whether it pretends to be natural or not, whether it is collected in the wild or created in a factory. Unwarranted snobbery aside, however, there is a basis for the observable fact that the majority of seasoned aquarists prefer gravel that is not dyed over its garish counterpart, live plants over plastic or silk ones, and rocks and driftwood over divers, skulls, and toxic waste barrels.

Most often—but certainly not always—the deeper one gets into fishkeeping, the more one’s primary appreciation is of fish and their natural ecology. We look at our fish as marvels of nature, and we want our aquaria to display them that way. Yes, I am among those who prefer a more natural decor, but I also have bare bottom tanks with PVC tubes. I also use plastic plants as fry refuges in breeding tanks and have no aversion to ceramic or resin decorations if they serve some purpose in one of my setups and I have them on hand.

So, what’s wrong with colored gravel, plastic plants, and bubbling divers? Nothing! Go with whatever floats your sunken, bubbling boat.

Posted May 8th, 2015.

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Possible Kraken Discovered

By David E. Boruchowitz

The cephalopod believed to have killed ichthyosaurs arranged their vertebral disks in linear patterns in such a way that it resembled the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle, with each vertebra strongly resembling a coleoid sucker. Photograph by Mark McMenamin.

During the Triassic bus-sized ichthyosaurs (marine reptiles) filled the niche occupied by predatory whales today. They were considered top predators until a paleontologist studying fossils in Nevada proposed a startling explanation for the ordered placement of ichthyosaur bones—a giant cephalopod ate the 45-foot reptiles.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111010075530.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News%29

Like the mythical kraken, this gargantuan octopus-like creature would have been an intelligent predator, able to drown or otherwise kill full-grown ichthyosaur. Of course, being a soft-bodied invertebrate, it would not be likely to have left fossils, so its careful arrangement of its prey’s bones may be the only record we’ll ever have of it.

Posted October 11th, 2011.

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NASA’s Salt of the Earth

A global map of salinity across the world's oceans. Image by NASA/GSFC/JPL-Caltech.

By David E. Boruchowitz

NASA’s Aquarius instrument has mapped the oceans of the planet from orbit, providing an accurate representation of salinity across the globe. You can read about it here:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110922144206.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News%29

And you can view or download the map from NASA at:

http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA14786

In viewing the map, keep in mind that the entire scale runs only from a salinity of 30 to one of 40, so although the differences depicted are significant, it is still the case that the chemical makeup of seawater is much the same everywhere, in sharp contrast to the chemistry of different freshwater environments.

It is especially fascinating to see the visual representation of the dilution effects well out to sea of large rivers like the Amazon, the Orinoco, and the Ganges, as well as the influence of heavy terrestrial rainfall in the Northern Pacific.

Posted September 23rd, 2011.

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The Smallest Aquarium

 

The world's smallest aquarium (and smallest aquarium net). Photograph by Anatoly Konenko http://www.crookedbrains.net/2011/05/worlds-smallest-aquarium.html

By David E. Boruchowitz

How do you do a water change on an aquarium that holds only 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of water? With a syringe!

That’s how micro-miniature artist Anatoly Konenko of Omsk, Russia fills his inch-long planted tank so as not to disturb the aquascape. This is certainly taking the nano tank craze to its extreme. The tank is so small that the meniscus (the U-shape of the water surface in a vessel caused by the water climbing the sides by capillary action) is clearly visible. The aquarium is populated with recently-free-swimming zebra danio fry, though not on a permanent basis. Here’s a video of the tank:

And if you want to see some similar ideas, check out our article from a couple of years ago:

http://www.tfhdigital.com/tfh/200906/#pg67

 

 

Posted September 23rd, 2011.

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Gutsy Fish

Gray snapper. Photograph by Jonathan Armstrong.

By David E. Boruchowitz

Aquarists often overfeed their fish, and obesity, liver disease, and other consequences are frequent problems for captive fish. The usual explanation is that fish have poor mechanisms to stop feeding, since in the wild a glut of food rarely occurs.

Recent research indicates that many predatory fishes have much larger gut capacity than they can normally use. This enables them to binge when they encounter a rich food source and pack away energy reserves for times of famine.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110915141237.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News%29

For aquarists this means that the problem is even worse than we thought. The increased gut capacity of predatory fishes permits us to really overfeed them. Not only do they have no switch to end feeding behavior when they have consumed their daily needs, they have enough room to eat way beyond that point. Fish should always be a bit hungry, and it appears that many predatory species should always be fed way under their capacity to stuff food in.

Posted September 19th, 2011.

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The End of Coral Reefs?

A section of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photograph by Reuters.

By David E. Boruchowitz

In a book published today, Our Dying Planet, author Professor Peter Sale of the University of Sydney predicts that all coral reefs will be gone by the end of this century. The idea that there are children already born who will see a world without coral reefs is an alarming one, but one Sale hopes will spur people to save the reefs. He says that this is an attainable goal, but it will require a concerted effort. It is certainly sobering to think that soon the only reefs may be in aquaria!

http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/coral-reefs-will-be-gone-by-end-of-the-century-2352742.html

Posted September 12th, 2011.

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Mystery Blobs from Irene

Potato sponges. Photograph by Michael Moore.

By David E. Boruchowitz

Numerous inquiries about floating grey blobs left in hurricane Irene’s wake to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, Virginia have been answered by Professor Emmett Duffy: they are potato sponges in the genus Craniella. Ripped from the substrate by Irene’s wave action, the floating sponges quickly died, creating the foul stench reported from the blobs.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110910133948.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News%29

Posted September 12th, 2011.

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Two Against One: Urchins Outnumbered

Wrasses work with starfish to eat urchins. Photograph by Lawson Wood/Corbis.

David E. Boruchowitz

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21128284.300-wrasse-and-starfish-gang-up-on-sea-urchins.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

Italian researchers have discovered that the ornate wrasse Thalassoma pavo and the starfish Marthasterias glacialis present a double threat to sea urchins. The abilities of the two predators complement each other. The starfish attacks an urchin, causing it to flip over. The wrasse eats off the urchin’s tube feet, crippling it. Then the starfish can finish off the immobilized urchin. This does not appear to be a case of cooperation, but one of two predators benefitting from each other’s skills.

Posted September 8th, 2011.

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Soft Coral Reef Builders

Professor Yehuda Benayahu on a soft coral reef. Photograph by Tel Aviv University.

By David E. Boruchowitz

Everyone knows that reefs are built by hard corals, whose stony skeletons accumulate into rock, right? Nope!

New research by a joint Israeli and Taiwanese team reveals that soft corals play a significant role in reef building as well. Soft corals have pin-like structures called sclerites in their tissues that provide support to the animals during their life and reef building materials after their death. Some reef rocks thought to be composed of hard coral skeletons turned out to be made up of soft-coral sclerites naturally cemented together over time.

http://www.underwatertimes.com/news.php?article_id=10170248965

Posted September 4th, 2011.

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More Zebrafish Research

Zebra danio _Danio rerio_. Photograph by Oliver Lucanus.

By David E. Boruchowitz

One of the most popular mainstays of the aquarium hobby is the zebrafish Danio rerio. This species is also one of the most popular lab animals, and research on an enormous variety of scientific and medical topics have depended on these hardy, prolific fish.

And once again they have provided medically-significant data. Researchers have just published a study in which the fish were used to help model melanocyte differentiation—the way in which precursor stem cells differentiate into pigment cells in the fish’s skin. Understanding how this occurs could very well provide insights into the formation of melanomas (pigment cell cancer of the skin).

A summary of the article is at: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110901171248.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Latest+Science+News%29 and you can read the original study at: http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1002265

Posted September 2nd, 2011.

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