Select Aquatics of Erie, CO

                 I'm New to These Fish! How are They Different?


     Contrary to what you may have heard, successful fishkeeping, at least for the
     fish carried here, comes down to keeping things simple, consistent, and done
     inexpensively. Many feel that an aquarium can be expensive, requiring a
     knowledge of water chemistry. For the recently wild and rare freshwater
     fish carried here, that is generally not the case. easy

     Freshwater fishkeeping as we practice it here is kept basic, with everything 
     focused on frequent feeding and maintaining top water quality. Water changes
     are done frequently, with tank maintenance done consistently, as all tanks are 
     set up with easy maintenance and the health of the fish first in mind.

     The methods described here advocate cleanliness, ease and simplicity. Tanks  
     do not need a thick gravel substrate to be attractive, being easier to clean and
     maintain without it. Here we use a single layer of 1/4 inch pea gravel over half
     the tank bottom, providing nitrifying bacteria area to maintain water quality in
     addition to a box, Hang-On-Back or canister filter.

     This is a customer tank, submitted for a
     contest of best looking tanks using the
     methods described below. The line of
     Odessa Barbs developed here can be

      Most of what I have written here is not new, and comes from the productive
     fishrooms of the 50s to the 70s, where the commercial strains we still see
     in stores were developed. The quality of the fish sold then, particularly with
     livebearers, is rarely seen today. These methods produce large, robust
     fish, and have proven valuable as new species have come into the hobby.

     Ironically, keeping fish this way is less expensive and simpler, with easier,
     straightforward maintenance.
     This is the section of the room where some of the cooler temperature
      goodeids (Below 74-75 degrees) are kept. Notice he external loop water
      changing pvc drain setups.



      Before going into the specifics of keeping and breeding the fish kept and bred
     here, I want to address a comment I hear often hear from customers that are
     thinking of keeping the rare fish, particularly those that cannot be found anywhere
     else. On the left is a Characodon, a red morph of C. audax, that was developed
     in Germany, and is one of the goodeids maintained by Select Aquatics.


          What I hear often from customers is:

           Many of these species are rare, slowly disappearing from the hobby or from the wild. In fact, two species here
          are currently the only populations left in the US, and it is my intent to get these bred out and doing well, to offer
          other fishkeepers. Hobbyists that want to make a difference, and help to keep these species around for future
          generations, have the opportunity to do so. Those two species are the Skiffia multipunctata (available for sale,
          email  for availability) and the Skiffia Black Beauty (Available soon).

          I make every effort to breed these out in large numbers, so they can be distributed. Yet customers will sometimes
          write to say that though they would like to keep these fish, they do not want to try them. The reason given is that
          "they would just kill them". With their being so rare, they are convinced that their keeping these fish would only
          be bad for the fish. Currently, the Ameca splendens, Zoogoneticus tequila and the Characodons are critically
          endangered or already extinct in he wild. The Xenotocas and Skiffias are also endangered.

          Granted, the actual fish you receive may have had better days as you put forth some effort, and  possibly lose a
          few fish as you practice and get your setup and husbandry dialed in, finding out what your fish need to do their
          best. But to avoid even trying them is a mistake. These fish need for you to learn how to keep them - Here is why:


     One of the fish offered here is the Zoogoneticus tequila. One of the rarest
     fish kept here, at least 4 formal attempts to reintroduce them to the wild
     have been unsuccessful. (Fundraising for another 2017 attempt is currently in
     progress) A very pretty little goodeid that breeds easily, I first obtained
     two pair about 2001. Wanting to do well with them, and well aware of not
     losing this especially hard to find fish, I set them up in the best circumstances 
     I knew at the time. However, I was not the fishkeeper I try to be today, and in
     spite of my best efforts, the fish only lasted a couple months, didn't reproduce,
     and they died out. Here is what I did to eventually keep them successfully-

    When healthy and in breeding form, male
    Z. tequila will often become a charcoal black 
    with the bright yellow crescent on the tail.

           Before obtaining them again, I anguished over what I had done wrong. Today, I know that I did not have the
          appreciation for their basic needs, such as keeping them below 75 degrees, as opposed to just setting them up 
          in a tank in the coldest spot in the fishroom, and then hoping for the best. Each issue that prevented success at 
          that time I have identified today, and with this information, most customers consider the Z. tequila to be one
          of the easier species to keep, and most do well with them. I will list below how to keep these fish, and further
          information can be found by following the links to places in his website that deal with these issues in greater depth,
          such as the Z. tequila species page and Z. tequila Care Guide.

          Some fishkeepers claim that mulm - the organic debris that collects on the bottom of every tank- is inert. They claim
          it is harmless, and in fact is good for smaller fry due to the infusoria it will generate. In the confined glass walls of the
          aquarium, this is incorrect. With the Z. tequila, mulm is dirt to be removed, and is bad for the tank. A tank kept
          clean of stray decaying organic matter is a healthy tank. I also did not understand the value of feeding more than 
          once per day, and routinely feeding a live or frozen food to supplement the standard dry food fare. Eventually I also 
          realized that a 20% water change once a week needed to be more than doubled, to a minimum of 50% a week.

          Information available to me at the time was not adequate - many books claimed "This fish has never been kept in
          captivity", or "Little is known about the care and breeding of these fish", and I did not understand that some of the
          practices I used could cause the fish to die over time. I  got a third chance with them a few months later, getting
          fry eventually, but changes still needed to be made as I continued to lose fish. Eventually I learned what worked,
          and made changes based on my experience. Like most people, I tend to do everything right - but only after trying
          everything else first...

          I obtained the Z. tequila 4 times before they did well for me. Today I generally keep 100-200 on hand, and have 
          distributed many hundreds out to the hobby over the last 15 years. They are one of the hardiest fish kept here, and  
          customers write that they do well and reproduce well for them once introduced to their tanks. If I had given up after  
          my first two pair that did not do well, or did not keep trying, they would have just taken one more step toward 
          disappearing entirely.

          Now this sounds weird, but as a rule these rare fish are not rare here. I try to breed them so they are always here, 
          if you are first unsuccessful, and I will support your effort as you keep them.. By emailing me, and possibly sending
          me a pic or video of your tank,  I may be able to help you out if you are having problems. Simply email me at
, and I generally respond to my emails within 24-48 hours. 



     To keep any of these fish, a few basics must be in place. These are
     covered in a number of places at the website, and I will cover them here.
     For further reference, see Fishkeeping Tips 1, 2, 6, 9, 10, individual species
     pages, Care guides, Essays, and the Select Aquatics video on filtration
     where you see the tanks and how they are routinely kept here.

     A few fundamental practices must be followed to keep them at their most
     consistent, easy to care for, so all of the fish stay in optimal health.

     Tanks can be maintained as display focal points, or kept as attractive,
     natural environments maintained for the maximum health and breeding
     of the fish, such as this group of tanks that was used for breeding and
     growing out of the rarer swordtails and Limias.

     Plants respond to top water quality just as
     the fish do. A fertilizer meets their needs.
     That plants like dirty tanks is a myth.

      Most species carried here can be kept in 29 gallon tanks. In addition, if
     possible, another 10 gallon should be available for females dropping young,
     to raise the fry until they are old enough to be added back in with the

     Many of the fish here are good community fish, but due to their rarity and
     temperature requirements, some of the goodeids are best kept by themselves.
     And there are two species of goodeids that are very attractive, but can
     sometimes be aggressive with tankmates. (The Ameca splendens, and both
     populations of Xenotoca eiseni). The Green Dragon plecos, in contrast,
     is a great community fish, though some cichlids may nip at their flowing fins.
     The Odessa barbs and Alfaro culratus are also excellent community fish. The
     swordtails have proven to be great community fish, though a few, such as the
     X. montezumae, you may want to keep by themselves to protect fry.


      Set up the tank away from windows or heating/cooling vents, in a place
     where the temperature is consistent and closest to where the tank needs to
     be maintained. Here is a young, unsexed Plecostomus Green Dragon.

     For fish such as these that require higher temperatures, a heater must be
     provided, and heaters are the exception to components that are simple,
     durable and inexpensive. Unfortunately, dependable heaters can be very
     expensive, and most do not last longer than 1-2 years. Heaters are one 
     aspect of the hobby that have not kept pace with improvements that have
     occurred in filters, lights and the tanks themselves. You will simply need to
     check the temperature of a heated tank frequently, and replace the heater
     as necessary.


           Simplicity is the key. Having control over the variables that keep the tanks and the fish healthy is essential. Over many
          years, a broad array of filtration, including chemical and technological options, have become available in the hobby.
          Much of that is not necessary with these fish. What I will describe is all that is needed to keep the fish that we work with


      We use 4 inch air driven box filters as the basic form of filtration in all of the tanks.
     Yes, I understand that stores don't carry them anymore and they can be unsightly.
     However, few filters are as efficient, and with a 4 inch lift tube the effectiveness
     of these filters is increased even further. There are over 200 box filters here, and a few
     have been with me since the 1970s, and work as well as the day they were bought.
     You can see immediately how dirty the filter is, and they are very inexpensive.
     These don't use airstones, are simply constructed, and most importantly, work to
     collect the mulm within the aquarium and remove it from the tank. They can be found
     online, and they are also sold by Select Aquatics. These, in combination with
     water changes and minimal substrate, provide all of the water maintenance in
     most of the tanks here. With a few tanks, many canister and quality HOB (Hang
     On Back) filters are often used. Box filters are very  economical, durable,
     simple and inexpensive to maintain. They are weighted down with marbles, and
     filled with polyester fiberfil that can be found cheaply at any hobby store  for
     making stuffed animals, etc.

     A dirty filter can be easily spotted and
      changed exactly when it should be.

           Everyone wants a filter that you set up, plug in and forget. Please, just think about that for a second... it simply isn't possible.
          All need to be cleaned regularly, otherwise all of the water in the tank must filter through all of the waste that the filter has
          collected since its last cleaning, and it does this many times an hour. There are foam style filtration systems with claims 
          they never need cleaning, or can go for up to two years without maintenance. Amazingly, many fish will survive in those
          conditions. If you wish to keep these rarer fish, see their maximum size, color and breeding, then decaying organic matter
          must be removed from the water that the fish live in and depend upon. Live plants are also very important to keep ahead
          of the normal release of waste into the aquarium, and provide the most comfortable environment for the fish.


      This is a tank of growing out Odessa fry, an instance where I do use sponge filters.
     They can be used for this purpose because the water is changed after each feeding,
     and though the sponge filter keeps the tank environment fairly funky with stray debris,
     the water quality stays good from 3x per day 50% water changes,  required by the
     young Odessa fry their first few weeks. The new fry can also feed from the surface
     of the filter. Sponge filters as the sole means of filtration, in my opinion, are not
     adequate. They generally maintain a lower level of cleanliness and allow mulm to
     accumulate. We have decided here that sponge filters alone do not provide   
     appropriate conditions for the maintenance of healhy, colorful fish that live normally
     and breed as they should. Sponge filters can certainly be used with weekly siphoning
     of the tank bottom, and a thorough cleaning of the filters in aged aquarium water,
     2x per month. However, you can never tell how dirty a filter has become when
     trying to gauge the amount of decaying organic matter in your tank.


           No bacterial activity that exists in your tank is strong enough to process all
          of the waste and detritus that will collect in a normal aquarium. Many fish are quite
          resilient, and some will live for long periods in less than optimal conditions.
          However, they may never breed for you, and why would you do that to your fish?

          This is an early morph thrown by the wild Xiph. alvarezi. Though I was not able
          to stabilize this exact look over 3 years, it was from these mutations that the
          Gold alvarezi was developed. This is a healthy, happy fish.


           With a eye for simplicity, your fish can be kept in a much healthier environment at a fraction of what could be spent,
          in a tank that is easier for you to assess, remedy and maintain, and where everything is clearly understood with the
          fewest unwanted surprises.

          I have tried many types of sponge filters in the past, and worked with them for 5 years at a local university where I 
          maintained over 200 tanks- all using sponge filters. I would love to avoid cleaning 200 box filters here every month. 
          But there simply isn't a short cut to effective mechanical filtration that removes mulm and detritus.

      For livebearers, box or canister filters that remove all waste from the tank
     is essential, (Without sucking up fry) followed by good quality Hang On Back
     (HOB) filters, and lastly, sponge filters if they are regularly cleaned. There
     is no way to misunderstand anything about a box filter. Dirt goes into the
     tank and then is removed. The box filter fills up, you then dump the
     polyester floss (found cheaply at any hobby store) - marbles are used
     to weigh them down. Charcoal is not used here. The box filter only
     fits together one way, and is powered by air from a nearby air source
     (air pump, blower etc.) Simple and efficient. One in a 10 gallon, 2 in 20s,
     30s and 40s, 3 in 55s, 4 in 100s. Also see FT Filtration, and the Filtration Video.

     Those tanks that are fed beans for the Green Dragon Plecos will often require
     an HOB filter to assist the box filters in removing any mulm, while maintaining
     water quality. (Pic left)



          Spending money to purchase convenience and hopefully, consistency (as long as the equipment works),  
          unforunately can remove you from the most invasive day to day care of the fish, and I have visited some incredible
          fishrooms with many thousands of dollars spent on extensive equipment. However, the further you distance yourself 
          by using controllers, monitors and automatic systems, the less accustomed you become to spotting and diagnosing
          issues that could cause problems for you. You must recognize and diagnose all issues, then fix them with your
          knowledge gained from doing the work yourself. Your fish should be accustomed to getting up close and personal
          with your forearm occasionally, as you tinker and learn about the tank by working with it and trying ideas, based on
          your developing knowledge and routine assessments of the health of your fish.

          I would imagine this can be compared to the pilot that depends upon auto-pilot systems to fly a plane. When
          those are taken away or fail, and the plane is to stay in the air, the pilot needs to understand how the plane works
          to be able to fly it. Simplicity, cleanliness, and consistency in an attractive tank, with  the healthiest, happiest fish
          can be created and maintained by anyone.


      With these livebearers, particularly the rare ones, you need to know 
     all you can find about the what the fish needs. (Is the temp right?
     Is aeration where it should be? Is this the correct amount of light for
     the fish and the plants I have chosen? What is the preferred pH?
     hardness? Diet?) Many of those questions dictate what should be
     bought and how it should be used with your fish. All of that is provided for
     for all of the fish here, and I am always available to answer emails.

     This is a male Characodon lateralis, Puente Pino Suarez, a population
     discovered and collected about 2012. They require a consistently
     maintained aquarium environment with good water quality.


     This fish was nearly lost here due to their tank being covered, and it is
     slowly coming back, but over the 3 years to get them going again, they have
     nearly been lost to the hobby in the US. This is the Skiffia multipunctata.
     Check the Home Page for availability.

     This is he original line. Those currently sold are the same population, but the
     black sploching on he current fish is not as extensive. 

     For the fish you care about, choose your setup through knowing what everything
     does, and how everything works. With these rare fish, you are providing them
     a future on this planet, and they are not just for our own temporary enjoyment-
     The fact that they are beautiful and entertaining as well is all extra benefit!


      Possibly the most entertaining and beautiful of the livebearers is the Poecilia
     velifera, the Yucatan Sailfin Molly. However, they need to be fed frequently,
     and have heightened filtration and water changing needs. See the essay on 
     keeping the velifera molly HERE.

                                                                               The Basics


    The "secret" to a successful, healthy tank is consistency at keeping the water quality where the fish do their best.
          They will thrive and breed most naturally in an environment that can be easily maintained (and thus consistent).
          This means that the few variables that most directly affect the survival of your fish are right at your fingertips.
          This way, problems can then be spotted and resolved quickly.

          Many of the species here require these husbandry techniques (The Skiffias, Characodons, Limias, Velifera, etc.),
          but any fish you keep - Cichlids, catfish, Killiefish, etc. will all do their best when raised with these approaches.
          Hardier, established pet store fish will breed even more readily, and will reach size and color that is not often
          seen using these techniques..

          Your aquarium is a finite glass box filled with water that accepts a steady flow of wastes, primarily through the
          respiration of the fish, the solid and liquid wastes of digestion, deteriorating organic matter from uneaten food
          and plant material, and the wastes of other organisms sharing the aquarium, such as snails.

          All of this waste is dynamic, in that it actively deteriorates and is processed by bacteria, releasing ammonia and its
          by-products of nitrate and nitrite. Filtration helps remove solid matter, and slows the water deterioration by doing
          so, but water quality will continue to decline. When water conditions are poor - and you cannot always tell just by 
          looking at it- overall health of the fish declines. The fish must work to protect themselves from 
          opportunistic infections, parasites and diseases that prey on fish with compromised immune systems, a situation  
           that results from the fish fighing an unhealthy environment. This is the primary way that diseases get started in a tank.

          When a tank is in poor shape, the energies of the fish that would normally go into growth and reproduction now must focus
          on keeping the fish healthy and
disease free, energies that should be going into growth and breeding. For a fish, poor
          conditions are basic stress, and stress results in poor health and a shortened lifespan. Though a quick 50% water
          change can turn around an immediate water quality problem short term, the organic material will continue to accumulate
          until appropriate filtration gets ahead of it. This can be avoided through doing a few things during your initial set up,
          choosing the proper filtration, and through a plan of simple, regular aquarium maintenance.



     The success of your aquarium comes down to knowing how much organic 
     waste is going into your aquarium, and how it is being removed. Getting a
     mental handle on this dictates how the tank should be set up. From the start, 
     you can set up your tank so that it can handle the predicted amount of waste,
     through the number and size of the fish you choose to keep, the size tank,
     the filtration to be used, the water change schedule to be followed and the
     amount and type of feeding.

     This is a grow out tank of young X. helleri Rio Otapas.


          The main ways to keep ahead of the waste produced is to:

          1. Keep the number of fish in the tank to a healthy minimum. More fish, more waste. Bigger fish, more waste.
          Fewer fish, more space, less waste and healthier fish.

          2. Doing regular water changes. Topping off the tank as it evaporates actually increases the waste by
          concentrating toxins over time. So you need to do water changes, removing water from the aquarium, generally
          done once or twice weekly of 40 - 100% per week, depending on species. All fish benefit from large water
          changes, and some require larger changes than others. The swords or plecos will handle 30% weekly water
          changes, while the velifera or Characodons do best with 30-50% water changes once, or better, twice per week.

          With an automatic water change system or access to unlimited changes, 15% per day is the maximum daily
          water change amount when using untreated tap water. When using aged or seasoned water for water changes,
          the amount of change is unlimited with an established single layer of gravel on the tank bottom and appropriate

          3. Feed appropriately. Choose a fresh, quality dry food to ensure they are a getting a nutritious balance of 
          what they need. Supplement this with 2-7x per week additional feedings of live or frozen foods. Observe the
          dry food you use- foods that collect and mold up easily or leave behind mulm on the tank bottom should be  
          avoided. Better quality foods do not do this. If your dry food has no smell, it is likely too old for much benefit.

          4. Provide adequate or greater filtration with active aeration. We use the box filters here, but most
          adequately maintained HOB (Hang On Back) or canister filters should also be adequate. As long as fry are
          not sucked in to the filter, or fish are forced to fight the current from the filter, strong filtration and moderate
          aeration is fine. Also see the video on filtration to gauge how filtration and aeration are done here.

          Other means to improve water quality include using live plants, and to set up the tank bare bottom, with a
          single layer of 1/4 inch pea gravel over 1/3 - 1/2 of the aquarium bottom. All of the tanks here are set up
          this way. Ensure no areas of the tank can store or accumulate mulm or debris.

          The reason for the single layer of pea gravel is two fold. The pea gravel provides substantial extra surface
          area for the colonization of nitrifying bacteria, providing consistent, stable biological filtration that is
          essential for appropriate water quality, and that a frequently cleaned filter will not provide. The thin layer of
          gravel also provides a more natural looking bottom for both the viewer and the fish. Ofen, a cloudy bare bottom
          tank will clear up in 3-4 days when a single layer of gravel is added over half the tank bottom by providing
          needed nitrifying bacteria.

          While this is going on, the pea gravel is at a low enough amount that it will anchor very little detritus / mulm,
          which can be easily siphoned away as it accumulates, before it can negatively affect the water quality of
          the tank through its deterioration..



           In pet shops, you will see tanks with a layer of gravel of up to an inch thick often covering the bottom, with rockwork
          or tank decorations sitting upon the gravel for a pleasing look, or an effort to create a natural looking environment.
          The issue is that problem areas develop in places where there in minimal water or air circulation. Tanks set up
          that way will thrive for a fair period of time with adequate mechanical and biological filtration. This is in part
          because they are stocked with long established hobby lines of fish that have adapted and become tolerant of a
          wide variety of aquarium conditions and water quality.

          The fish carried here have often only been collected from the wild recently, and are not at their best in a tank kept
          with those common practices. As well, livebearers, as a rule, require relatively clean conditions with healthy filtration,
          frequent feeding, aeration, and water movement.

          A tank bottom covered with 1 inch of gravel will collect waste that leaches into the gravel beneath it. If he substrate
          is not routinely siphoned and cleaned (at least 2x monthly), ammonia then rises up into the aquarium. Even with
          gravel cleaning, pockets of waste and mulm still escape detection, leaving the tank in a much less healthy state
          than you think it is. Your commercial black skirt tetras or silver dollars may not notice, but the  
          Xiphophorus monezumaes or the Tiger limias certainly will.

          This doesn't mean extra effort, it just means setting up the tank initially with maintenance in mind. When the tank is set 
          up with a thick layer of gravel, or worse, a layer of soil or peat, mulm accumulates and clogs the substrate, restricting 
          the flow of water and oxygen. Bacterial pockets are created that become anaerobic, where. bacterial activity continues,
          but does not need oxygen. This produces hydrogen sulfide gas, better known as the  "rotten egg" smell we recognize
          when cleaning a dirty tank. This is toxic to the fish. A simple flat rock sitting on a layer of gravel will create an anaerobic
          area beneath it if not vacuumed effectively. Soil in a tank is for a different type of tank setup, where plants are the primary
          or sole focus of the tank's function.

     The Xiphophorus mayae was only formally identified in 2002. The "Tiger" Limia
     has just been identified and is awaiting announcement of its scientific name.
     The Xiphophorus helleri Rio Otapa was first collected for the hobby in 2011.
     The Characodon lateralis Puente Pino Suarez was only discovered in 2012.
     Not at all fragile, these species are doing well here, the Tigers for over 10
     years. Many young hobbyists have shown that these can be kept by anyone,   
     they simply need to be maintained in relatively simple, consistent conditions.

     The "Tiger Limia" was first collected by Dominic Isla in 1999, brought back and
     found to be a new species. It is in the process of being formally identified, and
     when its formal Latin name is determined an announcement will be posted on
     the Home Page. The basic paperwork has been submitted, and with the
     addition of data still to arrive from Haiti (They are from Lake Miragoane) an 
     announcement should be made in the next couple months. 

    This is a young male Xiphophorus mayae

      I have had customers question my opinion of undergravel filters, still commonly
     sold in most pet stores. Customers tell me that they have kept tanks since
     they were a kid, and they always worked great. There are many reasons I do not
     advocate using undergravel filters, beginning with the fact that these are not the 
     commercially produced fish of 40 years ago.

     The undergravel filter revolutionized the hobby when were first invented in 1955.
     Those filters literally made it possible for the average hobbyist to keep an 
     aquarium in the home. I had kept tanks with undergravels for many years, and 
     some of my most ambitious landscape tanks were done with undergravel filters.


     A tank of C. horei with the undergravel
     uplift tubes clearly visible. Notice the
     sponge filter as the air flow no longer works
     properly. This is a common problem. 

           A filter that works by keeping all of the waste that ever enters into an aquarium within the tank, held and stored by
          a thick layer of gravel, reflects back to an era when the importance of water quality was not understood. For the 
          average hobbyist, breeding the livebearers or a pair of angelfish was a fair accomplishment. The mechanics of the
          nitrogen cycle were not well known (the species of bacteria involved were only  identified recently. For many years,
          a species of soil based bacteria were thought to be responsible, and this was incorrect.)  Essentially, keeping and
          breeding many of the specialty fish available today requires a type of tank maintenance and filtration consistency
          that was not common 30 years ago. This attention to the needs of the fish was not considered 60 years ago, when
          undergravel filters first came on the scene.



          There is another way to look at this. As the fish do well, you will develop an awareness that highlights the problems
          with less appropriate options, such as undergravel filters, and this new knowledge will apply to any type of filtration     
          or maintenance tools you choose to use with your tank.

          With an:

          1. Understanding of the amount of organic material going into the tank,
          2. An understanding of the overall cleanliness of the tank based on your knowledge of how often the single layer of  
              pea gravel is siphoned and the filters are cleaned, and
          3. How often the water is changed, while paying attention to water quality and clarity,
              you are now in near total control of the variables that will keep that tank healthy.

          There is no such thing as a fully "self sustaining" biological environment- where you set it up and magical biological
          processes keep everything balanced in this confined, many gallon glass box, with little concern for what we put into it.
          Efforts along those lines simply will not support these riverine, moving water type fish.

          As a competent fishkeeper, you do not want to buy a bunch of equipment, then watch as barely understood
          mechanical devices somehow take care of waste and the normal operation of your tank. When the tank eventually
          needs attention, and it will, or there is a crisis, you may not possess the hands on experience and confidence
          to fully understand and fix the issue you are faced with. 

    This is the great thing about keeping a tank with special fish that are not well
     known. There is the constant opportunity to observe and learn, and the less
     you depend on equipment you do not understand, the more successful you
     will be. I am not talking about learning water chemistry or more advanced
     biological concepts. Over time certain things makes sense, some things 
     you do work well, and you will then have good outcomes.

     You then remember those things.

     I also read all that I can on the fish I keep.
     And it's OK to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them and make
     changes from the experience. (See Z. tequila  section above)

     To the left is a tank of adult Alfaro cultratus over a bed of Bolbitis and Java ferns.


          The best maintained tank will run into husbandry changes as the fish grow, as the amount of waste going into 
          the tank increases. If the fish breed, the tank becomes more stressed as the tank passes appropriate stocking
          levels. For most aquarists, when a tank starts to have issues, it is generally due to those types of developing
          stresses that are missed or not addressed.

          Keeping ahead of normal growth and changes of your fish, particularly with livebearers, as they can be prolific,
          will keep you busy enough. Creating extra maintenance issues should be avoided, through simple and  easy to
          maintain tank setup strategies and choice of filtration.



      Here, the tanks are set up so that we are in control of the water quality and
     filtration, and rarely is there ever a problem. When something does occur - 
     tanks here will occasionally cloud up due to overfeeding or stocking levels 
     getting too high, and this is seen and fixed quickly. The fish are healthy  
     enough that when there is a problem, I am able to address it before it 
     becomes an issue for them.

      These are the selectively bred Odessa
      barbs, kept and bred here for over 6

                                                       Should A Tank Be Covered?

          With some of these fish, whether a tank should be covered has become an important consideration. A tank 
          being covered is more than whether a fish is a jumper or not. Where many pet shop fish do not seem to
          even notice whether their tank is covered, and do not seem affected one way or the other, some of the fish
          here will not do as well when the surface of the water has a glass or plastic top over it, restricting air movement 
          and open air exchange at the surface. 

          Many fish have been lost bearing this out. The fish affected are the two Skiffias and the Characodons,
          which do poorly over time when their tank is covered, all other factors being equal. Some of the fish that
          have come into the hobby recently have husbandry needs that have never been an issue with pet shop fish
          in the past. This seems to be one of those issues.

          Otherwise, as a rule, all of our tanks are covered, to prevent the occasional jumper and to control humidity.


                                                                     Is Light Necessary?

    Aside from helping to maintain your plants,  low to moderate light is needed to help maintain the operation
          of normal bacterial activity. Some aquarists keep their fish lights on 24/7, particularly when raising fry that
          must grow as quickly as possible. (The Odessa fry here are often raised their first month with the light on 24/7.)
          As well, you must always be able to see your fish- fish that aren't watched rarely do well!



          Food quality is very important for all fish. You do not want to be someone that spends hundreds of dollars for tanks,
          stands and equipment, to feed your fish expired stuff from the local pet store because he sells it to you cheaply.
          Dry food left open in a humid fishroom is barely good for about 90 days. Sealed at room temperature, it will be good
          for a little longer. Refrigerated and sealed I'd say a year. Frozen, 2 years. Making an effort to provide better and varied
          foods can make or break the health and breeding of your fish.

     Each species of fish you keep will have specific needs. Knowing a little
     about what each fish you keep prefers will lead toward longer lives, better
     health and possible breeding. Livebearers are active, high energy fish that
     require a diet that contains a high quality protein component, but they also
     must be fed a strong vegetable component in their diet. Some of the goodeids,
     such as the Ameca splendens, prefer a primarily vegetable based diet (but must
     also be fed a protein food regularly), whereas other goodeids, such as the
     Characodons, prefer a high protein component in their diet, but must be fed a
     vegetable based food as well. The P. velifera will choose a vegetable food
     over a protein food when given a choice, but must receive a protein food at
     least once a day.

     This alvarezi swordtail is higher energy, and needs a protein component in their
     daily diet, as well a regular vegetable flake to meet their grazing and vegetable
     needs. Coming from flowing streams, they also require moderate aeration
     and good filtration.


     When choosing a vegetable based flake, it is not necessary to go with a pure
     spirulina flake. Go with a good quality, fortified vegetable flake, I use a vegetable 
     flake offered through Jehmco online. And interestingly, the fortified flakes are 
     less expensive than the pure spirulina flake.

                                                                                    Live Foods

      For those looking to raise their own live foods, you are looking for a live food that isn't difficult, has the greatest odds
     of doing well, is nutritious, and provides high yields. The thinking is that you want a food that "doesn't bite, fly, smell or
     get away".

     Every live food comes with pros and cons. Each has some issue. Following will be which are worth the effort, and for the
     fishroom here, which are not. I will list the pros and cons of each so that you can decide which will be the best for you - what
     you are willing to work with, your schedule, etc. Also see FT3, FT4, FT5, Essay- Live Foods. The foods listed below will be  
     listed starting with the easiest and most nutritious.


     Baby Brine Shrimp

   Newly hatched baby brine shrimp is simply the easiest and most nutritious live food for all young fish. Each batch can be
     hatched in 24-36 hours at 75 degrees, and once fed, there are no cultures or long term maintenance to be concerned with.
     The issue with feeding BBS is expense. Many pet shops carry the brine shrimp cysts (they aren't really eggs) in little 2 oz.
     vials for often as much as $10-12. They are bought rarely from the store, and should be refrigerated. After hanging on a
     display board for a long period at room temperature, the hatch rate, when you finally try to raise them, is extremely low.


     The only real way to purchase brine shrimp cysts is to buy 1 lb. cans from an
     established, consistent source such as If you buy
     from an individual that is working as a middle man, be sure they were stored
     properly. They cannot be allowed to get too warm. A 1 lb. can fluctuates in price
     depending on seasonal availability, and generally runs $40-60. If possible,
     always buy at least 80% hatch rate to get the best return for your money.
     A pound can of cysts will last you a long time, and after opened, use the
     plastic top provided and keep the can refrigerated. That can will produce
     hatches for years.

     For how to hatch the brine shrimp, and build a BBS hatcher, click HERE.


     Red Worms

      By far the easiest to maintain long term with the greatest yield. These are
     your standard smaller fishing worm available at bait shops and pet shops, not
     the larger nightcrawlers. (most of the bigger chain pet shops have them, but for
     some reason you often have to ask, or they are stored in the refrigerator with the
     packaged foods.) They are considered to be possibly the most nutritious live
     food available for tropical fish. Feeding red worms increases breeding frequency
     and the size of broods with the livebearers, and they can be fed exclusively to
     fish with all nutritional needs met.

     Empty the container of purchased red worms into a 6-12 inch deep, covered
     container of moist Canadian peat, and with daily feeding you will be able to 
     harvest from the bin in about 90 days, and they will double their numbers about 
     every 90 days. Be sure to drill numerous small holes in the top to provide 
     adequate air circulation.

   Kept in 2 ft. sq. plastic tubs, a portion
   bought from a local pet or bait shop
   reproduce quickly enough to harvest
   regularly in about 3-4 months.

     They are fed ground chicken feed, usually the higher protein, higher calcium 
     egg layer mix, which can be bought very cheaply at any agricultural feed store. 
     Stores will occasionally sell it by the pound when a bag has been damaged, 
     but generally it is sold in 40 or 50 lb. bags for under $10. When bought  
     as a crumble, you will need to grind it up into a powder to feed the worms,
     so if possible, buy the style food that is already ground up.

     You can also buy a pellet type, but that is really tough on the food processor!
     Sprinkle the food over the top of the peat daily, making sure the food is entirely 
     consumed when more is added. It doesn't mold, there is no smell, and you
     simply reach in to take out  the worms you need.


     The red worms can also be maintained as "compost worms" - they are the same worm, feeding on garbage and such, but
     of course, that is generally done outdoors due to the smell and size of most compost piles. Feeding the chicken feed is
     clean, neat, doesn't smell and provides a quick, convenient, immediate source of a high quality live food at nearly no cost, 
     and can be raised indoors. The worms usually clean the surface of food thoroughly every day, so there is no rotting, waste 
     or deteriorating organic material that will mold or fester. A firmly fitting top with drilled air holes keeps them confined.

     The downside (and this is a deal breaker for some) is that they generally need to be chopped up to be fed to the size fish
     most of us keep. Rinse thoroughly before and after being chopped to remove any dirt and fine particulates that will cloud 
     the water. There are "grinders" available online for cutting up the worms, but here we chop them up quickly on a plastic
     cutting board with a one sided razor blade. Recently we have been rinsing the live worms, then freezing them. They are
     then thawed out and chopped up when needed. Its full nutritional value may be slightly compromised, but it is a much more
     pleasant option than processing the live worms.


                             These frozen foods are the next best option,
                              before continuing with other live foods:

    Frozen adult Brine shrimp, Bloodworms, Blackworms, Daphnia and mysis are all available as frozen foods at most pet stores,
     and are a big improvement over dry foods. The downside is expense, and there are ways to get around the expense. Many
     feed flats of frozen foods routinely, and the $20 cost of the 16 oz. flats sold in the chain pet stores can be cut substantially
     with a little effort. 

     The first way around the expense is to order online, which should be done
     during the colder winter months. The $20 flats at the large chain stores can
     be bought for about $10-12. You will be charged a fee for shipping, and
     depending on he time of year you order, you may also need to pay for
     dry ice. You can get around this by putting an order together with friends,
     and you can then split up the shipping cost. he box is then sent to you,
     and the others pick up their portions of the order.     

     This is not to cut out the local fish stores - there is another way that I use more
     often, and that can be done through the smaller independent fish stores.
     I tried this with a few of the larger chain stores, and received a strong negative
     response, as individual customer care is not their focus. But with a small fish
     store, you can often work out a deal that is a win for both of you. Here is how it's


          You can avoid paying the shipping cost and still buy the flats at the online price. The way to do this (and this is the way
          I obtain my flats), is to frequent a local fish store and get to know the owner. I then go online and figure out my per flat
          cost if I order them online, including my shipping cost. Sold for $10-11 a flat (recent price on flats of bloodworms
          bought recently), and my cost goes up to $13-14 each when shipping is added. Then I go to the independent pet store,
          and ask if they will add an order for me on to their regular order of frozen foods. They are paying about $7-9 a flat,
          depending on their agreements with their vendor, and are often happy to do this for you for as little as $12-13 a flat.
          I try to order at least 10 flats at a time to make it worth their while, and it becomes a win-win all the way around, and you
          are supporting the local fish store. Then, of course, I shop there first when I need an item for my fishroom. The fish store
          makes $4-6 per flat from you, and you are saving $6-7 per flat from the standard national chain store price.

     White Worms

     These are kept by many aquarists, and after numerous efforts with varying
     success, I stopped keeping them due to their need to be kept cool, and difficulty
     raising them in large enough numbers to harvest consistently, and in quantities
     sufficient for this larger fishroom.

     However, we recently began using an organic chicken feed for the red worms,
     and within this food was introduced a species of white worm that is prolific
     and is eagerly eaten by the species of fish that normally love white worms.
     They do not need to be kept cool, and they do well being fed the same chicken
     feed the red worms eat. We now are culturing them in tubs and feeding them
     daily to the Synodontis, Characodons and P. velifera here, and have
     had no issues. 

     Customers are now raising them on standard white worm foods, such as oatmeal,
     baby food, and moist bread. To obtain this species of White Worm, click HERE.


     The white worms can be harvested easily
     with a moist paper towel rinsed in
     aquarium water.
          I am working to culture these in larger amounts, and if you would like to try this species of white worm, starter cultures
          with a generous supply of chicken feed (and info on obtaining more) can be sent to you for $10 + $9 Shipping.
                                                        Simply email  for more information.


    Daphnia are generally not an easy live food to culture. Wild strains seem to crash
     easily, and much of the difficulty lies in our desire to keep them indoors or raising
     them in smaller containers. Often, you may be able to get them going, but raising
     enough to feed your fish as you would like can be difficult. However, there is a
     large, red magna strain of daphnia- the Red Moscows, that are hardy, prolific and
     can be easy to maintain. These are the same daphnia raised and distributed 
     through the hobby by Jim Langhammer. They are raised here in 100 gallon horse
     troughs, and though they freeze solid each winter, 2016 was the 9th year that they 
     have returned in the spring.

     When temperatures are between 60-75 degrees, and the daphnia are in good
     shape here, with overnight delivery, a starter culture can be sent to you for just
     $10 + shipping. The mix to feed them can be found HERE. They are fed yeast 
     every other day, and a special mix made at home is fed every other day.

     A daily feeding of daphnia to the rarer
     and less hardy species that need the
     boost that live foods provide. With 3
     100 gallon troughs going, this is about
     the maximum I can feed daily when the
     daphnia are doing well in the early


      Often sold in tropical fish stores, live cultures can be bought and reinvigorated
     through proper care and feeding. Those received from stores are generally not fed,
     and can be in rough shape when first obtained. How to do this can be found HERE
     Once fattened up, they can then be maintained long term. they do not need to
     be refrigerated, and can be maintained and cultured indefinitely in an aquarium.
     The downside is that their reproduction is fairly slow, and raising enough to
     harvest regularly can be difficult. They can also be ordered by the pound online,
     which works well when shipping occurs in cooler temperatures.

     At left is a Blackworm culturing setup I used in my room for a number of years.
     How to build this is HERE. Though great for having worms available for specific
     breeding projects, productivity was not enough to justify the effort required with
     this setup.


     Vinegar Eels

      Very easy to maintain - they require no care at all - prolific and nutritious, these
     are maintained as a first food following infusoria for egg layer fry, and livebearer fry
     will eat them as well. The only maintenance is that the new cultures must be started
     about every 4-5 months, or the old culture will die out. The issue with this live food
     is that the "eels" are very small, and are generally ignored by fish larger than about
     3/4ths of an inch. How to set up a vinegar eel culture can be found HERE. Vinegar
     eel cultures are also available for $10 when they are in good shape here, write  for availability.


     Long prepared by breeders of discus and other Cichlids, beefheart has also
      been used to put size on livebearers, improve color and increase the size
      of broods. The improvement in color when the livebearers are fed beefheart
      can be dramatic. Preparing beefheart is not difficult, but it can be time
      consuming and messy, and often the beefheart must be special ordered at
      your local grocery store. But it is an inexpensive, high quality food that is eaten
      eagerly by most fish. How to prepare it for your fish can be found HERE. The
      Characodons in particular benefit from beefheart, and it dramatically improves
      their red color.


                   Beefheart Ice Cubes!

     Kept for feeding the same size fish that are fed the vinegar eels, these have been kept here in the past. They were only used
     briefly as the yeast based medium being used caused a fruit fly problem. Many aquarists swear by them, and they can be 
     cultured in a variety of different culture mediums. An excellent food, I just need to find a better medium. At the moment, we
     are using vinegar eels for newly hatched egg layer fry.

Welter worms, Grindal worms, banana worms, etc.

     All good foods, it is up to you as a hobbyists to decide, by keeping each of them for a period of time, which best fit what
     you are able to do. We do not currently keep any of these here.

Fruit flies:

     Get the wingless type. These are best fed to surface feeding insect eaters - the Alfaro cultratus feeds on similar foods
     in the wild, and we have raised them for those types of fish. Special culture mediums, hatching containers and flies can be 
     found online easily. They are fed routinely by those that keep dart frogs and various species of reptiles. Due to the materials 
     required and the type of maintenance they require, and the few fish here that would benefit, they are not currently kept here.

Mosquito larvae:

     I include this because I have known people that have set up enclosed outdoor enclosures to raise and harvest mosquito 
     larvae. In both cases the result produced unpleasant, but entertaining stories of mosquitos throughout their homes, spouses 
     threatening to leave, etc. These are the nightmare food. Or so I have been told.


       So I've bred up a bunch of rare fish... now what?

      You want to share the fish you have bred out to the hobby, so that others can keep 
     and distribute them as well. These fish will never be seen in pet stores. Fortunately,
     it has never been easier to sell your fish online - for free - by using
     or by taking them to the nearest aquarium society meeting.
     Shipping can be done fairly easily, and more information on shipping can be found

     The fish at left may be extinct but for the 30 or so individuals that are slowly
     breeding here. This is the Skiffia Black Beauty, a hybrid created in the 1970s.
     It was once kept worldwide and was a much desired fish in the livebearer hobby.
     Once numbers reach about 100 fish I will offer them for sale to help get them 
     back out into the hobby. If you know of anyone, anyone in the world, that has this
     fish, as I am looking to swap breeding stock, PLEASE contact Greg Sage at 

              The Skiffia Black Beauty.
          The thing about keeping fish is that it can be anything you want it to be, you can make it as easy or as challenging as  
          you feel comfortable. Once you become skilled at keeping one species, you can then move to others that may be more
          challenging. Once you get comfortable keeping the fish that interest you, then you can learn to breed them. Most fish
          found in pet stores, and everything sold here can be bred- figuring out how to produce and raise the fry from those
          fish you enjoy can bring in money selling to pet stores, etc. With many fish, the livebearers in particular, you can then 
          selectively breed your fish, carefully choosing which fish breed based on traits you want to emphasize, creating a line  
          of fish that are unique to your fishroom!

     There is a need to keep many of these rarer fish going, or they will disappear from 
     the hobby, and possibly from existence. Everyone with a few pieces of inexpensive 
     equipment (a tank, light, air pump, box filters and heater) can provide the best of
     care and contribute to the survival of a species by breeding them and distributing   
     their fry, if only through local clubs and fish stores.

     These species need our attention, and what we do will establish them for future
     generations. Today, there is much help and assistance out there to ensure that 
     you are successful. If you have any questions or concerns, please write me an 
     email at . Thank you!


     A young Xiphophorus montezumae,
     Tamosopo. This is a highly desired fish
     that is also becoming difficult to find,
     and we have doubled the number of tanks
     they are in, slowly building up decent
     numbers of this fish. After satisfying
     wait list customers, they will be listed
     as available at the home page as they
     are ready to be shipped. If you are
     interested in this fish, simply email me
     at .
     Greg Sage





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