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* This is only a text dump of part of the Aquaria FAQs. * * The web "original" may be more current, is navigatable hypertext, * * and contains enhanced content not available in this posted version! * * http://faq.thekrib.com or http://www.actwin.com/fish/mirror * FAQ: Diseases and other Plagues Contents: * Freshwater Diseases + Causes + Prevention + Diagnosis + Some Common Diseases: bad water quality, ich, fin rot, injuries, dropsy, hole-in-head disease, swim bladder disorders, parasites, and velvet. * Saltwater Diseases * Algae * Snails FAQ: Fish Diseases Contributed by Elaine Thompson Copyright The FAQs owe their existence to the contributors of the net, and as such it belongs to the readers of rec.aquaria and alt.aquaria. Articles with attributions are copyrighted by their original authors. Copies of the FAQs can be made freely, as long as it is distributed at no charge, and the disclaimers and the copyright notice are included. Causes Q: Why is my fish sick and how do I prevent more illness? A: Probably 80-90% of diseases in captive fish can be prevented by avoiding stress. Stress weakens fishes' immune systems, leading to increased susceptibility to disease. Actually, diseases and pathogens are almost always present in tanks, but a healthy fish's immune system will prevent them from being a problem. Some of the most common stressors for captive fish are: * Poor water quality: measurable ammonia or nitrites, or very high nitrates. * The water temperature is fluctuating more than 2 deg F/day * Incompatible species in the tank. * Too many fish in the tank (5 adult angelfish in 10g tank). * The tank is too small for the fish (foot long fish in 10g tank). * The water is too warm or too cold for the species (goldfish vs. tropicals). * wrong pH for species (Discus vs. African cichlids) * pH fluctuations greater than 0.2 units/day. * Insufficient cover or hiding places present. * Wrong water hardness for the species (Discus vs. African cichlids). * Insufficient oxygen in the water. * Improper fish nutrition (wrong food, foods not varied). Keeping your tank free of disease Q: Do I need a quarantine tank for new fish? A: Quarantining new fish is a good habit for all aquaria, but is not absolutely necessary for success. Quarantining is simply keeping a fish in a separate tank for long enough to be certain that it is disease free. Many beginners do fine without a quarantine tank, and object to the cost of another setup. A quarantine tank does cost more, but if a hobbyist has hundreds of dollars invested in fish, it is cheaper to have a separate quarantine tank than to replace fish killed by a newly introduced disease. Also, many of us become attached to fish and do not want to expose our pets to diseases from newcomers, no matter what the cost. The purpose of quarantining is to avoid introducing new diseases to a stable system, and to be able to better observe new fish for signs of disease. A quarantine tank can also double as a hospital tank for sick fish. Hospital tanks are good because they lower the cost of using medicines and keep diseased fish separate from healthy ones. Quarantine is probably most important for saltwater tanks/reef systems because of the difficulty of treating diseases, or wild-caught freshwater fish because they are probably not disease-free. Quarantining itself can stress fish so be sure quarantine is as stress-free as possible. To set up a quarantine or hospital tank: * Keep an extra filter -- a sponge filter is ideal -- or piece of filter floss in an established tank, so that you don't have to keep the quarantine tank set up at all times. Some people choose instead to keep the filter going with guppies or danios (for freshwater) or mollies (for saltwater). * If you don't keep the tank running, use old tank water to fill the tank. So: old tank water + established filter = instant established tank. * Add a spare airpump and heater. If you haven't messed with the heater during storage, it should come to wherever you had it last time. * Consider using Amquel or equivalent when medicating the tank in case the biological filter bacteria are sensitive to the medication. Sick fish are especially susceptible to ammonia. (Note that ammonia which has been bound with Amquel still shows up on a nessler ammonia test. So, if you are planning on testing for ammonia in that tank, you need to use a salicylate ammonia test.) * For a hospital tank, do small, frequent water changes (even every day). If possible, quarantine all of your new fish for about three weeks. During that time, gradually acclimate the fish to your tank's parameters: hardness, pH, salinity, temperature, etc., and watch for and treat any signs of disease. Do not medicate quarantined fish ``just in case.'' Only treat evident, definitely identified diseases. Treating all quarantined fish with a bunch of medicines will just lead to weakened fish and antibiotic resistant bacteria. Once you are done with the quarantine, if you treated any especially nasty diseases, it is good to disinfect the tank and reestablish the filter. Chlorine bleach or strong saltwater (for freshwater) work well. Be sure all traces of bleach are rinsed off. Another good disinfectant is potassium permanganate (Jungle's Clear Water is one commercial way to get it). If you choose not to quarantine, do not add store water to your tank with the new fish (see the BEGINNER FAQ for acclimation ideas). Q: How about quarantining plants? A: Plants can carry diseases into a tank, too. It is a good idea to disinfect new plants if there were fish in the tank with them at the store. Refer to the PLANT FAQ for disinfection methods. Q: How do I avoid introducing diseases in the first place? A: Never buy sick fish from a store. Especially do not buy fish or plants from a tank if *any* fish in the tank shows any signs of disease or if there is medicine in the water (water is colored yellow, green, or blue). Store people may say the fish are fine, but if they were, why is the medicine in the tank? Also ask how long the fish have been in the store. New arrivals may be carrying diseases that have not shown up yet. It is better to wait a couple of weeks before purchasing the fish. If you must have a fish that just came in, be especially sure to quarantine it properly. Diagnosis/common diseases or: How do I know the fish is sick? Most important: watch your fish and know what their normal behavior and appearance is. If you don't know what normal is, you can't know what sick is. Bad signs: * Clamped fins (fins are held abnormally close to body) * The fish refuses its usual food for more than 2 days. * There are visible spots, lesions, or white patches on the fish. * The fish gasps at the surface of the water. * The fish floats, sinks, whirls, or swims sideways. * The fish shimmies (moves from side to side without going forward). * A normally active fish is still. * A normally still fish is very active. * The fish suddenly bloats up, and it's not due to eggs or young. * The fish is scratching against tank decorations. I suggest setting up a fish medicine cabinet. It seems like fish always get sick when the store is closed. * Water quality test kits: pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate * Aquarium salt (NOT table salt. Most table salts contain additives to keep them from clumping. Kosher or rock salt is OK). * Malachite green/formalin ich remedy * Methylene blue * Chlorine bleach for disinfection * Maybe one antibiotic (Kaynamycin or Furanace) * Antibiotic-containing food * Copper remedy for parasites And for fish big enough to handle: * Q-tips * Malachite green or mercurochrome Common diseases/problems or What's wrong with my fish? Bad water quality Fish are gasping at the surface, or very inactive, but there are not visible lesions when it first starts. Their fins may be clamped. Many fish of different species are affected, and possibly the whole tank. If the water has been bad for a while, the fish may have finrot, or streaks of blood in their fins. * If fish are gasping at the surface, or have purple gills: high ammonia or low dissolved O2 may be the problem; test ammonia, dissolved O2 * If the main symptom is inactivity: test nitrites, pH, dissolved 02, nitrates Depending on your test results, try the following: Ammonia Change enough of the water to reduce ammonia levels to 1-2 ppm for freshwater or below 1 ppm for saltwater. If that means changing more than a third of the water, be sure the water you add is the same temperature, salinity, hardness and pH of the tank water. It is also okay to do multiple smaller water changes for a few days. Aerate, and make sure pH is at or below 7.0 for freshwater tanks. In addition to or instead of changing water, you can also add a dose of AmQuel to give fish immediate relief. Find out why ammonia is present and correct the problem. Nitrites Change enough of the water to bring nitrites down to below 2 ppm (as with ammonia, if this is a lot of water, match water parameters or do multiple water changes), add 1 tbsp/gallon salt (not all fish may tolerate this much -- start out with 1 tsp), and add supplemental aeration. Find out why the nitrite levels are high and correct the problem. Nitrates Change water and clean the filter. If your filter is dirty, there is more waste material present to break down into nitrate. Start feeding less and changing water more often. Low oxygen Run an airstone. If this helps a lot, the fish probably don't have enough oxygen in the water. Your tank may need cleaning, fewer fish, or additional water movement at the surface from a powerhead, airstone, or filter. Improper pH If pH is too low: make sure carbonate buffering is adequate -- at least 5dKH. In general, adding baking soda at 1 tsp. per 30 gal. raises dKH about 2 degrees. For a 10-20g tank that just needs the pH a little higher, try about a quarter teaspoonful. If that isn't enough, add up to a teaspoonful more. You can scale this up to 1 tsp/30 gal for larger tanks. If the pH is still too low and the KH is at least 5-6 dKH, clean the tank. For long-term buffering in saltwater and alkaline freshwater systems, add crushed coral. If pH is too high, pH down (phosphoric acid) can be added. Don't rely on this stuff, except in extreme situations like ammonia poisoning because it can cause excessive algal growth. To lower pH long-term, filter over peat, or use distilled or deionized water mixed with your tapwater. Freshwater Ich Symptoms: Fish look like they have little white salt grains on them and may scratch against objects in the tank. White spot disease (Ichthyopthirius multifiliis) is caused by a protozoan with a life cycle that includes a free-living stage. Ich grows on a fish --> it falls off and attaches to gravel or tank glass --> it reproduces to MANY parasites --> these swarmers then attach to other fish. If the swarmers do not find a fish host, they die in about 3 days (depending on the water temperature). Therefore, to treat it, medicine must be added to the display tank to kill free-living parasites. If fish are removed to quarantine, parasites living in the tank will escape the treatment -- unless ALL fish are removed for about a week in freshwater or three weeks in saltwater systems. In a reef tank, where invertebrates are sensitive to ich medications, removing the fish is the only option. Some people think that ich is probably dormant in most tanks. It is most often triggered by temperature fluctuations. Remedy: For most fish, use a medication with formalin and malachite green. These are the active ingredients in many ich medications at fish shops. Some products are Kordon's Rid Ich and Aquarium Products' Quick Cure. Just read the label and you may find others. Check for temperature fluctuations in the tank and fix them to avoid recurrences. Note that tetras can be a little sensitive to malachite green, so use it at half the dose. Use these products as directed (usually a daily dose) until all of the fish are spot-free. Then dose every three days for a total of four more doses. This will kill any free-swimming parasites as they hatch out of cysts. Another remedy is to raise the tank temperature to about 90 deg F and add 1 tsp/gallon salt to the water. Not all fish tolerate this. Finally, one can treat ich with a ``transfer method.'' Fish are moved daily into a different tank with clean, conditioned, warmed water. Parasites that came off of the fish are left behind in the tank. After moving the fish daily for a week, the fish (presumably cured) can be put back into the main tank. The disadvantage of this method is that it stresses both fish and fishkeeper. Fin rot Fishes' fins turn whitish and die back. Fin rot often follows damage or injury. It can also be caused by poor water quality. Remedy: First, fix the water and remove any fin-nipping fish. Change some water (25% is good) and add 1 tsp/gallon salt to promote healing. If bad water quality or an aggressive tankmate was the problem, that should be adequate. Healing will begin within a couple of days. If it worsens, decide first whether it's fungal or bacterial. Fungal finrot looks like clumps of cotton on the fins and usually follows injury. It is commonly seen in African cichlids or fish that have injured themselves against decorations. Bacterial finrot is whitish, but not cottony (unless it's columnaris), and can be contagious. The fish then need to be removed from the tank and medicated. Fungus: For fish large enough to handle, catch the fish, and dab malachite green directly on the fungus with a Q-tip. This is extremely effective. Repeat treatments may be necessary. For small fish, a commercial fungicide such as Maroxy may work. For severe infestations, try a bath in methylene blue (enough so you can barely see the fish) until the fungus turns blue or for 20 min. If you add methylene blue directly to a tank, you will kill plants and trash your biological filter. Bacterial: Antibiotic treatment in a quarantine tank. This is stressful for the fish, and doesn't always work, so be sure of what you are doing before you attempt it. If the fish is still eating, the best bet is an antibiotic food. Tetra makes one that works well -- just buy the one for bacterial diseases and follow the directions on the can. If the fish is not eating, a bath treatment is necessary. A combination of Kaynamycin and Furanace usually works, especially for Columnaris. Again, treat in a separate tank and aerate heavily. Injuries Cichlids and other ``scrappy'' fish may sustain injuries that are severe enough to draw blood from fighting. Other fish may run into tank decorations, walls, or rocks. Larger fish can be netted and their injuries dabbed with mercurochrome (available at drug stores) or Betadine (iodine-based antibiotic also available at drug stores) to help prevent infection. Be sure to keep these chemicals off of the gills and eyes. For really small fish, put the affected fish in dilute methylene blue (pale blue) and 1 tsp/gallon salt in a separate tank. If you want to keep the fish in the main tank just add salt, as methylene blue will trash your biological filter. Watch the fish to be sure injuries are healing cleanly, and repeat the mercurochrome dosage if necessary. If finrot or fungus sets in, see the above section on finrot. Dropsy Fish swells up like a balloon and may show popeyes. It may recover with no treatment and may die despite it. The swelling is because the fish is absorbing water faster than it can eliminate it, and it can be caused by many different problems. High nitrates are one thing to check. Internal bacterial infections, including fish TB, are other possibilities. If there are no water quality problems, you may want to attempt antibiotic treatment in a separate tank. Head and Lateral Line Erosion (hole-in-head disease) This disease can affect discus, other cichlids, and many saltwater fish. The fish develops holes in it's head and sometimes along its lateral line. Causes are unclear but as in any disease, stress and poor water quality likely play a role. The Manual of Fish Health states that HLLE is probably due to nutritional deficiency, especially of vitamin C. Fish in planted tanks rarely get HLLE, which supports the nutrition idea, since fish can nibble on the plants and obtain extra nutrition. Untergasser also observes that the protozoan Hexamita can be found in the lesions. Untreated cases can eventually prove disfiguring or fatal. Remedy: First, make sure water quality is optimal and reduce stress. Stopping carbon filtration may help as it can remove nutrients from the water. Then feed a vitamin-enriched food, paying particular attention to vitamin C supplementation. For stubborn cases, some books suggest metronidazole (Flagyl) to eliminate Hexamita (a mildly pathogenic protozoan) from the lesions. Your mileage may vary with that one. Metrozole and Hex-a-mit are commercial medications with metronidazole. Swim bladder disorders Fish floats upside-down or sideways. This is particularly common in fancy goldfish because of their bizarre body shapes. Dry food eaten quickly swells up in the fish's intestine and keeps the fish from controlling its swim bladder properly. To help, feed the fish pre-soaked or gel-based foods. Green foods are also helpful; peas in particular. As with finrot, these disorders can also be caused by bacterial infection. Treatment is much the same. Use antibiotic food if the fish is eating, or add antibiotic to the water in a quarantine tank if the fish is too sick to eat. Large external parasites (as opposed to ich) Add a copper remedy to the tank and monitor it with a copper test kit. Also, Mardel's Maroxy works well. For anchor worms or leeches on pond fish, remove them from the affected fish with tweezers and swab the area with mercurochrome to prevent infection. Velvet Fish look like they have been finely dusted with flecks of gold. Fins may be clamped and the fish may shimmy. Treat with an anti-parasitic medication such as copper or formalin/malachite green. References The Manual of Fish Health Dr. Chris Andrews, Adrian Exell and Dr. Neville Carrington. New Jersey: Tetra Press, 1988 This is an outstanding book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in reading about fish disease. Handbook of Fish Diseases Dieter Untergasser Translation by Howard H. Hirschhorn T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1989 This is my second-choice disease book. It is very good, but some of the treatments may be difficult to obtain, and it goes into more detail than the average hobbyist needs (or wants) to know. Saltwater Diseases contributed by Thomas Sasala Scientific vs. Common Disease Names Scientific Name Common Names Amyloodinium ocellateum Amyloodinium, Oodinium, Marine Velvet, Saltwater Ich Cryptocaryon irritans Cryptocaryon, White spot disease, Saltwater Ich Brookynella Hostillis Brooklynella, Clownfish disease Angelfish disease Mycobacteria marinum Fish TB Tubellarian worms Black Ich, Tang Disease Benedenia melleni Fish Flukes Argulus sp. Fish lice Ichthyosporidium hoferi Fungus Disease ?? Head and lateral line erosion (HLLE) Lymphocystis virus Viral disease, Cauliflower disease Pseudomonas sp. Fin Rot, Red Spot Disease, Ulcers (Bacterial Disease) Vibrio anquillarium Vibrio, "Wipe Out" Suggested Treatment Disease Name Treatment 1(4) Black Ich Freshwater dip coupled with formalin bath 2(4) Brookynella* Copper coupled with formalin bath 3 Fin Rot Erythromycin, Neomycin 4 Fish Lice Freshwater dip or Formalin bath 4 Flukes Freshwater dip or Formalin bath 5 HLLE ? - Better environment 6 Intern. Parasites Medicated Food 7 Cryptocaryon* Formalin bath (1/2 -1 hour) once every other day for a week. 8 Ichthyosporidium None - better environment 9 Lymphocystis (None - it should go away) 10 Amyloodinium* Freshwater dip coupled with copper 11 Microsporidian None - euthanasia 12 Poisoning Massive water changes/move to an untainted environment 13 Poor Diet Vary Diet; meet the requirements of the animal 14 TB Kanamycin, Isoniazid 15 Vibrio Erythromycin, Neomycin * Both tank and fish must be treated to erradicate the pest. Symptom Verses Likely Disease x = positive sign p = possible sign 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Black Spots x - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Change in color - - - - - p - x - - - x - p x Cloudy Eyes - - - x - - p - - p - x - - - Distended Stomach - - - - - p - - - - - - - - p Erratic Swimming - - - - - p - - - - x x - - p Emaciation - - - - - p - - - - x - x p - Fin Erosion - - x - - - - - - - - - - p p Gasping - - - x - - p - - p - x - - - Gold/Brown Spots - - - - - - - - - x - - - - - Lack of appetite - - - - - - - p - - x p - x x Listless - - - p - - p x - p p x - x x "Pop Eyes" - - - - - - - - - - - - - p p Reddened Areas - - x - - - - - - - - - - x x Rough Skin - - - - - - x x - x - - - - - Rubbing x - - x - - x - - x - p - - - Ulcers/holes - - - - x - - - - - - - - p p Wormlike attach's - - - x - - - - - - - - - - - Warty growths - - - - - - - - x - - - - - - White Patches - x - x - - - - - - x - - - - White Spots (1mm) - - - - - - x - - p - - - - - FAQ: Algae contributed by George Booth The following descriptions and control techniques are for common types of algae found in freshwater aquaria. Copyright The FAQs owe their existence to the contributors of the net, and as such it belongs to the readers of rec.aquaria and alt.aquaria. Articles with attributions are copyrighted by their original authors. Copies of the FAQs can be made freely, as long as it is distributed at no charge, and the disclaimers and the copyright notice are included. Contents * Algae Types: Blue-green, brown, green water, film, spot, fuzz, hair, thread, staghorn and brush algae. * Prophylactics * Algae-Eating Fish: Mollies, Otocinclus, Plecostomus, Siamese Algae Eaters, Farlowella, Introduction There are two categories of algae of concern to aquarists: "good" and "bad". Good algae is present in small quantities, is indicative of good water quality and is easily kept in check by algae eating fish or simple removal during routine maintenance. This algae is a natural consequence of having a container of water with nutrients and a light source. Bad algae is either an indicator of bad water quality or is a type of algae that tends to overtake the tank and ruin the aesthetics the aquarist is trying to achieve. The label of "bad" is entirely subjective. For example, one type of green, hair-like algae is considered a plague by some American aquarists, yet is cultivated by European aquarists as a valuable addition to most tanks, serving as a dietary supplement for the fish. Algae Types Blue-green, slime or smear algae Grows rapidly in blue-green, slimy sheets. Spreads rapidly over almost everything and usually indicates poor water quality. However, blue-green algae can fix nitrogen and may be seen in aquariums with extremely low nitrates. Sometimes seen in small quantities between the substrate and aquarium sides. Will smother and kill plants. This is actually cyanobacteria. It can be physically removed, but this is not a viable long term solution as the aquarium conditions are still favorable for it and it will return quickly. Treatment with 200 mg of erythromycin phosphate per 10 gallons of water will usually eliminate blue-green algae but some experts feel it may also have adverse effects on the biological filter bed. If erythromycin is used for treatment, ammonia and nitrite levels should be carefully monitored. Brown algae Forms in soft brown clumpy patches. In the freshwater aquarium, these are usually diatoms. Usually indicates a lack of light or an excess of silicates. Increased light levels will usually make it disappear. Easily removed by wiping the glass or siphon vacuuming the affected area. Green water Green unicellular algae will sometimes reproduce so rapidly that the water will turn green. This is commonly called an "algae bloom" and is usually caused by too much light like direct sunlight. An algae bloom can be removed by filtering with micron cartridges or diatom filters. UV sterilizers can prevent the bloom in the first place. Green water is very useful in the raising of daphnia and brine shrimp. Film algae Grows on the aquarium glass and forms a thin haze. Easily removed by wiping the glass. Considered normal with the higher light levels needed for good plant growth. Spot algae Grows in thin, hard, circular, bright green spots, usually on the aquarium glass but also on plants under high light conditions. Considered normal for planted tanks. Must be mechanically removed. On acrylic aquariums, use a cloth pad or a gentle scouring pad like a cosmetic "Buff-Puff" and a lot of elbow grease. On glass tanks, scraping with a razor blade is most effective. Fuzz algae Grows mostly on plant leaves as separate, short (2-3mm) strands. Considered normal. It might be a less "virulent" form of "beard" algae. Easily controlled with algae eaters such as black mollies, Otocinclus, Peckoltia and siamese algae eaters. Beard algae Grows on plant leaves and is bright green. Individual strands have a very fine texture but it grows in thick patches and looks just like a green beard. It grows up to 4 cm. It cannot be removed mechanically. This does not indicate bad water quality but grows very fast and overtakes the tank, making it a "bad" alga. Can be eliminated with Simazine (Aquarium Pharmaceuticals "Algae-Destroyer"). Hair algae Grows in bright green clumps in the gravel, around the base of plants like Echinodorus and around mechanical objects. It has a coarser texture than "beard algae". Beard algae will ripple in the water current, hair algae tends to form matted clumps. Individual strands can get to 5 cm or more. This is easy to remove mechanically by twirling a toothbrush in it. Can be troublesome if left unchecked. This is a popular food supplement for fish among European aquarists. Thread algae Grows in long, thin strands up to 30 cm or more. Tends toward a dull green color (hard to tell because it is so thin). Usually indicates an excess of iron (> 0.15 ppm). Easily removed with a toothbrush like hair algae. Staghorn algae Looks like individual strands of hair algae but tends to grow in single branching strands like a deer antler and is grey-green. Seems to grow mostly on tank equipment near the surface. Difficult to remove mechanically. Soak affected equipment in a 25% solution of household bleach and water to remove it. Brush algae This grows in feathery black tufts 2-3 mm long and tends to collect on slower growing leaves like Anubias, some Echinodorus and other wide leaf plants. Also tends to collect on mechanical equipment. This is actually a red alga in the genus Audouinella (other names: Acrochaetium, Rhodochorton, Chantransia). It cannot easily be removed mechanically. Remove and discard the affected leaves. Equipment can be soaked in a 25% bleach solution, then scrubbed to remove the dead algae. Siamese Algae Eaters (Crossocheilus siamensis) are known to eat this algae and can keep it in check. A more drastic measure is treatment with copper. Prophylactics for Algae Algal spores are everywhere and will always be present in an aquarium unless drastic measures are taken. For fish only tanks, a properly set up ultraviolet sterilizer will kill algal spores in the water and prevent them from gaining a toehold. For planted tanks, this is not a good solution since the UV light will also oxidize trace elements needed by the plants and will limit the plant's growth potential. Unfortunately, conditions that are good for growing plants are also good for growing algae. Fortunately, plants will usually out-compete algae for the available nutrients. However, if there is an imbalance of nutrients, algae will opportunistically use whatever is not used by the higher order plants. Different algae will utilize different nutrients, causing sporadic outbreaks of new algae types in apparently stable tanks when a temporary imbalance occurs. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To avoid introducing a new algae type to a planted tank with new plants, a simple bleach dip seems to work well. Mix 1 part bleach in 19 parts water and dip the new plant in it for 2 minutes. Immediately rinse the plant in running water, then immerse it water containing a chlorine remover to neutralize any remaining bleach. This will kill the algae and only temporarily slow down a healthy plant. Plants in poor condition may succumb to this treatment, but they probably would not have lasted anyway. Algae Eaters The most effective control of algae in a planted aquaria is via algae eating fish. It is especially critical in the set up of a new tank to make sure algae does not get established before the plants have had a chance to establish themselves. For this reason and to help the biological filtration get established, it is recommended that some hardy algae eaters are added right away. Black mollies Black sailfin mollies are excellent candidates for the break-in period of a planted tank since they are cheap and easy to find. They are usually considered expendable and are removed after a month or so. It is important to NOT FEED THEM. If they are fed, they will not be quite so eager to consume algae. When they are hungry, they are eager consumers of most algae types seen during the break-in period. Otocinclus sp. Otocinclus are diligent algae eaters, but are best kept in schools due to their small size. One per 10 gallons is a useful rule of thumb. Various species of otos are seen in the shops at various times; most are good algae eaters but some seem to prefer the slime coat on fish to algae. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way to distinguish the "attack otos" from normal otos. Otos seem to be very delicate fish, but this is probably due to capture and shipping abuse rather than an inherent weakness. When a fish shop gets some in, it is wise to wait a while before purchasing to account for die offs. Most people report getting a dozen and having them die over a period of a few months until just a couple are left. Those then seem to last for a long time. ``Plecostomus'' sp. Plecostomus is the generic name for a wide range of sucker-mouth fish. Only the smaller types are useful in a planted tank, since the larger varieties tend to eat the plant right along with the algae. Two common types that are useful are the "bristle-nose plecostomus" and the "clown plecostomus" or Pekoltia. Both stay under 4" long and don't seem to cause too much plant damage. Sometimes broad-leafed plants like Amazon swords will be scraped a little too closely by the plecos, so they bear watching. Their diet can be supplemented by blanched zucchini and bottom feeder tablets. They also appreciate a chunk of driftwood in the aquarium to satisfy their need for cellulose. See the GOOD FIRST FISH FAQ for more information on keeping suckermouth catfish. Siamese Algae Eater Do not confuse this fish with the Chinese Algae Eater, which is very aggressive and does not eat algae. The siamese algae eater, Crossocheilus siamensis, is a very good algae consumer and is known to eat black brush (red) algae. The only problem is that these fish are hard to find in the United States (see the RESOURCES section of the PLANT FAQ for sources and identification paper). There are several fish in this family. The most commonly seen is Epalzeorhynchos kallopterus, commonly known as the Flying Fox. The Flying Fox is the more attractive of the two. It tends to have a brownish body with a very distinct, sharp-edged black stripe with a distinct, thin gold or bronze stripe above it. These tend to be very aggressive when they are full grown and don't eat red algae (as far as one aquarium reference is concerned). The other member is the Siamese Algae Eater. It is the same shape as the Flying Fox but tends toward a silverish body with a somewhat ragged black stripe. There may be an indistinct gold or bronze stripe above the black. These are definitely not aggressive; they are good companions for discus and small tetras. When they are young, the differences between E. kallopterus and C. siamensis may not be very apparent, especially if you haven't seen both types together. Unfortunately, most wholesalers don't sell fish to stores by their scientific name and the common names that are used sometimes get pretty silly (like "siamese flying fox"). If you really can't tell which one the store has, buy it anyway, but be prepared to sacrifice it if it turns out to be the wrong kind (unless your fish aren't bothered by it, of course). Farlowella Farlowella are useful algae eaters although they are very sensitive to water conditions. They type known as the Royal Farlowella will get too large for a plant tank and may cause damage. FAQ: Snails contributed by George Booth Snails are usually considered disasters in a plant tank, but with dense planting and good plant growing conditions, the right type of snail can be very useful by consuming dead plant material and detritus. Any damage they do cause will be compensated for by fast plant growth. Copyright The FAQs owe their existence to the contributors of the net, and as such it belongs to the readers of rec.aquaria and alt.aquaria. Articles with attributions are copyrighted by their original authors. Copies of the FAQs can be made freely, as long as it is distributed at no charge, and the disclaimers and the copyright notice are included. Water Hardness Most snails do best in harder/alkaline water. If the hardness/ph drops below a certain point, their shells will start to dissolve and/or grow improperly (the behavior seems to be based on species). Malaysian trumpet snails seem the hardiest, showing little adverse effect from soft water. The Ramshorn snails shell will start to dissolve, and gaps will form in the new shell growth. Mystery snails will form gaps. Most of these problems can be corrected by hardening the water, and the snails will recover, although exterior shell damage (from dissolving) will remain. Types of Snails Malaysian trumpet snail The Malaysian snail, Melanoides tubercularia, is an interesting creature in that it lives in the substrate during the day and only comes out at night. Its shell is a perfect cone shape and gets to about 2 cm long. It is a livebearing snail and reproduces quite readily. It is considered beneficial to a plant tank and doesn't seen to harm plants, even in large populations. They are hard to find for sale, but usually come for free on plant shipments. If desired, Clown loaches will keep them and other snails well under control. Ramshorn Snail Ramshorn snails are very common and come in various sizes. Their shape is as their name suggests. The smaller varieties (under 1 cm) are not too damaging to a plant tank, although they seem to relish the tender leaves of the Hygrophila family. The other type is the dark and light brown striped Columbian Ramshorn that can grow big as large as 2 inches in diameter. The stripes run the length of the shell with a pattern of random width light-dark- light stripes that stays constant throughout the snails life. These snails are extremely prolific and have a terrific appetite for plants. Pond Snails Pond snails are football shaped snails under 2 cm in length. They are to be avoided, as they will happily eat all your plants. Mystery (Apple) Snails One of the most beautiful kinds of snails are the Mystery snails. These snails have a shape similar to the Pond snail, but their spiral is rounder, and they grow much larger. They can reach tennis-ball size if well taken care of. The come in many varieties. The snail's body can be dark, or almost albino (very light with a bright orange speckle pattern). The shell can be dark, bright orange, albino, or multi-colored striped (length-wise like the Ramshorn). The Apple snail variety typically has the multi-colored stripes, with a dark body. In general these snails don't eat living plants. They prefer algae and dead plant/animal material (canned spinach will get you a very large Mystery snail). Snail Prophylactics To guard against unwanted snails, use a weak potassium permanganate solution. The Manual of Fish Health recommends a concentration of 10 mg/l as a 10-minute bath as a general disenfectant for aquarium plants. Then rinse them in running water. This kills snail eggs and parasites and might guard against algae spores. Alum is also useful. Get "Alum U.S.P." at the drug store. Soak the plants in a gallon of water that has up to 10 teaspoons of Alum. The Alum kills microscopic bugs. Longer soaks (2-3 days) will kill snail eggs and/or snails. End of Disease FAQ.