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Aquarium decoration

We have already discussed in the previous article how important it is to properly understand various aspects of the problem of maintaining the required water quality to ensure the proper condition of the aquarium environment intended for ornamental fish. The same applies to the aquarium decoration tools and materials used to create a suitable environment for fish living in this aquarium.

In nature, the environment for fish is a combination of water and various shelters in it – plants, stones, tree roots and branches.

Aquarium planning


(1) Plants Background
(2) medium plants
(3) foreground plants

First of all, it is necessary to establish what kind of decoration is suitable for the fish in the aquarium. To do this, consider each type of fish separately.

Then you must select and purchase suitable materials and design the desired location of the selected design elements.

The value of the correct design of the aquarium

While setting up their first aquarium, beginners usually only think about creating the spectacular underwater scene necessary to decorate a living room. Unfortunately, environmental requirements of fish are too rarely taken into account. In addition, in recent years, aquarists have shown a frightening tendency to choose the decorative design of the aquarium in accordance with the style of the interior room.

They are encouraged by a large selection of “raw materials” of all colors of the rainbow – for example, artificial gravel, colored glass, etc., which is abundant in some pet stores.

In nature, shelters created by aquatic plants, terrestrial vegetation hanging over water, stones, roots, fallen trees, etc., provide protection to fish and other aquatic creatures from the dangers abundant in their habitats. These dangers include larger fish, as well as birds that feed on fish, reptiles, and mammals.

Even large fish are not at all invulnerable to predators and can become prey to herons, otters, crocodiles or hunted for humans.

Some fish find protection by swimming in flocks. Others are able to quickly swim or jump out of the water – thus they escape from predators.

However, many of them rely entirely on the presence of shelters for protection against attack, and even fish with other defense mechanisms usually seek shelter when they are in danger.

Poorly informed people may argue that an aquarium is a safe environment, free from predators. Therefore, they believe, nothing terrible will happen if you offer fish an unnatural shelter or, even worse, leave the aquarium completely empty to make it easier to keep it clean. However, the fear of predators in small living creatures is instinctive.

If there is no obvious threat in nature at the moment, this does not mean that the danger does not lie somewhere around the corner or does not come close in search of careless prey. Therefore, if there are no suitable decorations in the aquarium, among which fish could hide, they will experience constant fear for their lives.

You can often hear another deceptive argument: if decorative objects are present in the aquarium, the fish will hide. In fact, the fishes just launched into the aquarium are hiding all the time to gradually recover from the shock they have experienced because of the movement and to appreciate the new environment. After a while they will risk escaping from their shelters, but only when they are sure that they have a safe place to go to in case of danger.

However, in an aquarium without decorations, they become clogged up with items of aquarium equipment, press in corners or lie motionless at the bottom to make it less visible. Of course, the owner still sees them, but they are hardly an attractive sight.

Such fish rarely live long – they tend to die from exhaustion, because they are not able to eat normally because of constantly experienced fear, or from diseases that their weakened immune system cannot resist.

It is important not only that there are shelters in the aquarium, but also that they are suitable for the fish living in the aquarium. For example, fish, usually hiding among plants, do not recognize a pile of stones as a possible safe haven. Similarly, fish who prefer to hide among the stones will not feel safe among the plants – they need “caves”, secluded corners of suitable sizes and crevices where they could feel comfortable.

If both species are present in the aquarium, then both types of shelter are necessary.

A common aquarium containing fish from various natural habitats is usually decorated with a set of stones, drifts and plants. However, aquarists who specialize in keeping certain species of fish may wish to recreate a particular biotope — for example, a small stretch of river that slowly flows through a rainforest, or a fast mountain stream that makes its way through the rapids.

Such a biotope should be populated with certain species of fish suitable for the chosen habitat.

The choice of safe clearance

Aquarium decoration items should not be harmful to fish, that is, they should not poison the water, change its chemical composition (unless they are specifically designed for this) or bear an unjustified risk of causing injury to fish. Probably, this risk cannot be completely reduced to zero, but obviously dangerous objects should be avoided – for example, with sharp, razor-like edges, with abrasive surfaces, and also stones with sharp edges.

Some decorative objects have interesting holes or cracks that seem to fish very attractive. There are cases when fish, especially when in a state of fear, tried to swim in the cracks too close for them. Through holes can be especially dangerous.

Fish usually try to penetrate them to get to the open space behind them. However, they can get stuck so firmly that it will be impossible to get them out.

Such hazards should always be taken into account when selecting and installing aquarium decorations.

Many people think that the decoration of an aquarium is simply plants and other objects placed in the aquarium, either in the ground (a layer of bulk material at the bottom of the aquarium), or on its surface. However, the ground itself is also an important part of the design of the aquarium.

Its main purpose is to provide a natural bottom for the fish world. After all, rivers, ponds and lakes do not have a bare glass bottom. The color of many fish is designed to help them remain invisible against the backdrop of natural soil, if you look at them from above, and against the background of sunlight, if you look at them from below.

That is why the back of the fish is darker than the abdomen. In addition to being a background against which fish feel safe, it also prevents annoying glare from lighting falling from above.

Some fish have an instinctive desire to pour in the soil or rummage in it. Others, such as the weedlings, are buried in the ground to hide.

It is also a useful substrate for rooting plants and strengthening stones.

Aquariums typically use such types of soil as gravel and sand. In specialized aquariums, pebbles, slate and peat are sometimes used as soil.

Chernozem – the usual natural soil – is not used in aquariums, because it affects the transparency of the water, and in addition, it cannot be cleaned.

Sand and gravel, different in color and size of grains (particles), are on sale. Some of them affect the chemical composition of water, others do not. When choosing a soil for a particular aquarium and its intended inhabitants, a number of factors must be taken into account.

In unspecialized general aquariums, rather small gravel (grain size 3-5mm) is usually used as a ground. However, it is not suitable for some inhabitants of such aquariums.

Among them are loaches that burrow into the ground, as well as fish that are constantly on the bottom or feeding there, especially those who explore the soil or sift it through the gills. Gravel with the specified grain size is too large for such fish and can cause injury to their mouth, skin and gills.

They need sandy soil.

So, in any aquarium, the ground is an important element and should be chosen with care. The following factors should be considered:

• Impact on water chemistry. The composition of many materials used as a soil, includes substances containing calcium (rich in lime).

Such substances increase water hardness and pH. Some materials – for example, coral sand and dolomite crumb – are almost pure calcium carbonate, and should be used only if high hardness and alkalinity of water is required (and even in this case they should be no more than 10-25% of the volume total soil).

Unfortunately, some aquarists buy these materials for a common aquarium just because they are beautiful.

Soil types that do not cause an increase in water hardness are also on sale. However, they usually cost a little more than ordinary gravel for an aquarium.

Not all such materials are truly chemically neutral, as stated. You can check them as follows. You need to take a small sample of the material and add acid there.

It is better to have this experiment done by an experienced person – for example, a pharmacist or a school chemistry teacher. If the material being tested contains soluble minerals, it will sizzle. In aquarium books, it is sometimes advised to check for similar materials with weak acids, such as lemon juice or vinegar.

However, in fact, such a test is unreliable.

• Colour. For freshwater tropical fish, dark soil is preferable to light.

The fact is that at the bottom of the natural reservoirs where they live, the lower layer may consist of light sand or gravel, but above it is often covered with a layer of leaves and other detritus, creating a darker effect. In order to camouflage, the coloring of the fish usually corresponds to their surroundings, so if the substrate is bright, then the coloring of the fish is often “blurred”. Unfortunately, many of the materials used in aquariums as soil are too light.

However, the use of light material may be necessary for other reasons (for example, due to the impact on the chemical composition and other parameters of water). In such cases, you can plant low plants or scatter dark pebbles – this will help to disrupt the overall impression of uniform pallor.

Artificially colored materials should be avoided, even if their color is completely natural, as the paint may be unstable or toxic. To get around this problem, apply colored gravel with a plastic coating.

However, due to friction, which inevitably occurs when turning the soil, contact of such gravel with water, and also because fish will rummage through it and sift it, the plastic coating may gradually collapse, and then the base of this material will directly interact with water In addition, plastic tends to decompose over time and lose its quality, and acidic water will further accelerate this process.

• Build. Particles of some materials under the action of a stream of water wear out, their edges become rounded and smooth.

At the same time, others remain rough and have sharp edges. The latter can cause serious injuries to fish that tend to agitate or sift the soil, lie on it or bury it.

Especially dangerous is coral gravel.
• Grain size. When considering this factor, a number of points should be taken into account:

– the larger the fraction (particle size) of the material, the larger the dimensions of the voids between them, in which uneaten food can get stuck and rot;

– fish digging into the ground and screening it require fine-grained soil with fine grains – ideally it should be sand, not gravel;

– some fish, usually digging in the ground during spawning, may not reproduce at all if the grain size of the soil is too large for them;

– if bottom water filtration is used (false-bottom), the ideal particle size should be 4-5 mm. This size provides a large surface area for colonization of bacteria, but at the same time, gravel is not easily clogged. Alternatively, a layer of coarse gravel may be poured to the bottom, and fine gravel or sand on top of it.

These two layers must be separated by a special plastic mesh, which can be purchased at pet stores.

Often when choosing the soil you have to compromise. The main criterion is that it does not cause physical harm to the fish, and also does not adversely affect the chemical composition and physical parameters of the water.

Alternatively, you can choose other fish that are more suitable for commercially available soil.

The recommended thickness of the soil layer may vary depending on the circumstances. If a false bottom is used, then usually the recommended thickness of the substrate should be between 6.0 and 7.5 cm.

However, for the growth of most plants and fixation of other elements of the design of the aquarium is usually enough thickness of 3-5 cm.

Most aquarists acquire soil in pet stores. However, the choice may be small – there may be only one type of natural gravel on the market, which is not suitable for the intended purpose. You may have to search in other stores to find exactly what is required.

Aquarists who are confident in their knowledge of geology may prefer to independently collect gravel or sand, but this can hardly be recommended to everyone. Another possible source of material is gardening centers, but it also requires special knowledge to figure out whether a particular material is suitable or not. Granite chips (provided it is really granite), usually sold in horticulture centers, are generally chemically safe – non-toxic and neutral, and do not affect the chemical composition of the water.

However, individual pebbles may have sharp edges.

Many aquarists for the manufacture of sandy substrate took sand in swimming pools and children’s sandboxes, and this did not cause any special problems. The sand from both these sources is non-toxic and, as a rule, does not affect the chemical composition of the water.

All materials selected for use as a primer should be thoroughly washed before use. You can rinse in a bucket. In this case, the bucket must be constantly shaken or stirred its contents, and in addition, it is necessary to change the water several times.

You can also wash the material in small portions in a colander under running tap water. This should be done until the flowing water becomes transparent.

The background is one of the important aspects of aquarium decoration that aquarists often neglect. They either do not use the background at all, or they do it only to hide the wallpaper behind the aquarium, as well as the cables and hoses of the aquarium equipment. However, it would be much better if the background depicted the river bank, pond or lake, that is, a place where shelters are mostly found in natural conditions.

Fish caught by a sudden danger in open water are most often sent to the protection of the shore. Therefore, if you provide them with such a background, it will set the direction for the aquarium and its inhabitants and provide the fish with a sense of security. This is especially important for fish that are almost all the time near the surface of the water and living above the level where the main decoration items of the aquarium are located.

Such fish in the absence of background will feel vulnerable from all sides, and they will not have a single safe zone. In addition, the background represents the scenery for the rest of the decoration of the aquarium.

Aquarists who prefer an open-air aquarium (that is, viewed from all directions) or an aquarium used as a decorative partition should take into account that there is no safe shelter in the back of the aquarium and that the fish are visible from all sides or even two sides causes them stress.

The background can be either internal or external. In the first case, all materials used for its manufacture, including adhesives and paints, must be non-toxic and waterproof. The internal background is sometimes made volumetric – in this case it is made of expanded polystyrene or molded from fiberglass.

Sometimes the background may consist simply of slate roofing tiles (of real slate, not synthetic), reinforced across the back wall of the aquarium.

To make the external background, the easiest way to paint the outer plane of the rear window of the aquarium. The color should be dark, dim and resemble a river bank (for example, black, brown or dark gray), but in no case should be fiery red or yellow. There are other options: you can stick on the glass paper, plastic or carpet of a suitable color.

Cork tiles create an interesting effect.

You can purchase a finished plastic background with an image printed on it. In pet stores, such a background is available in rolls of different heights, from which the desired length is cut off. For freshwater aquariums, different types of images are offered – stones, snags, plants, or their various combinations.

Obviously, the background for a sea-water aquarium with a picture of corals and sea anemones is completely inappropriate here.

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