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Initial Break-in and Algae Control

Hardy algae-eating fish were used to seed the biological filter and to keep in check any algae growth during this unstable break-in period of the tank. Ten veil-tail black mollies were added initially and not fed for three weeks. Black mollies are good consumers of almost all kinds of algae providing they are not spoiled with other kinds of food.

After one week we were able to find a "Siamese Algae Eater" (Epalzeorhynchos siamensis) which is suppose to be one of the best consumers of hair algae. This fish is very similar to the true "Flying Fox" (Epalzeorhynchus kallopterus) and is often sold by the same name. The true Flying Fox, however, becomes more territorial and aggressive than the siamensis and supposedly doesn't eat hair algae. The main differentiating factor between the two fish is coloring on the body and fins. The true Flying Fox has a very definite black and gold stripe down the sides and much more color in the dorsal fin. The siamensis has a diffuse black side stripe and clear fins.

We have had experience with other types of algae-eating fish in our previous aquariums. Otocinclus vittatus is often sold as an algae-eater and indeed does appear to eat algae. However, despite the industrious habits of this little fish, it does not consume enough algae to be really useful. Another popular algae-eating fish is the Bristle-nose Plecostomus (Ancistrus dolichopterus). In our experience this fish is a good algae consumer, but they also wreak havoc with Amazon sword plants. Perhaps if they are provided with a piece of resinous wood to meet their desire for cellulose this species would be okay in a plant tank. Our 100-gallon discus tank has a pair of Farlowella acus for algae-eating. These appear to be good algae eaters but are not as industrious as mollies. In addition, these fish are a much more delicate species to maintain than mollies.


Besides algae-eaters, the aquarium needs scavenger fish to pick up the leftover food which drops to the bottom. We added six Corydoras trilineatus (often sold as C. julii) to fulfill this function. The C. trilineatus have always been our favorite because of the bright silver and black pattern. We purchased a group of six because these fish seem to appear more relaxed and are more active in a school.

The final important members of the housekeeping staff are Malaysian trumpet snails. Many people feel that snails can be a disaster in a plant tank, but, as far as we can tell, this type does not harm plants. These snails burrow in the gravel by day, helping to aerate it. They appear at night (and after we feed the fish) to eat food scraps and detritis. In addition, if the snails are no longer living in the gravel, but are seen crawling on the top all the time, this probably means that the gravel needs some cleaning.

The Malaysian snails are live bearers and can reproduce at prodigious rates but a large population still doesn't seem to be destructive. The snails run free in the AOA and must number in the tens of thousands even though they are mostly invisible. When the canister filter or the trickle filter pads are cleaned, we will wash out thousands of juveniles. The young ones must have a poor survival rate, since we never see more than a couple of dozen adults at any one time. If an unchecked population of these snails proves to be a problem, Clown Loaches (Botia macracanthus) are very effective at keeping these and other snails under control. Clown Loaches would work well in the SST since they can tolerate higher temperatures.

We "seeded" the SST with 4 large (3/4") snails from the AOA. After a few weeks, we can already see quite a few cruising in and out of the gravel and munching on detritus.

Supporting Cast

In our 100-gallon discus tank, we have Cardinal Tetras (Paracheirodon axelrodi) to complement the discus. Since we wanted the SST to be different, we began to look around for other suitable fish. They had to be mild-mannered, non-plant eating, warm-water loving and able to live in soft water. In addition, the fish had to be non-aggressive in their eating habits, so as to not outcompete the discus which love to leisurely eat their food from the bottom. As it turned out Butterfly Rams (Papiliochromis ramirezi) were the perfect solution. They can be shy fish, but in a planted tank, they appear to be very confident and take on beautiful coloration. In recent years it has become difficult to find the original wild-type of Ram since it appears that breeders have been selecting for long fins. We finally did find six Butterfly Rams and four of the gold variation which had normal finnage.


The stars of the super show tank will be discus. The first two members were called "wild blue discus" at the fish store, but to us they appear to be Symphysodon aequifasciatus aequifasciatus or green discus. We love the beautiful gold bodies and red spots on the body and ventral fins, and the deep red eyes. The other discus will be moved from the 100-gallon tank. These include a "German Brilliant Turquoise" and a "Striated Red" from Dr. Kenneth Reeves, a breeder in Denver. These fish have been spawning recently and have actually raised some fry in the community tank.


How much to feed your fish is always a controversial topic, especially in a heavily planted tank. A true "Dutch" tank has very few fish and they are not fed very much. This keeps nitrate and phosphates at low levels, preventing much algae from growing. This also reduces the need for large water changes and the potential disruption of water chemistry. A light feeding schedule is also beneficial since it is difficult to remove detritus in a heavily planted tank.

On the other hand, fish breeders like to provide a lot of food for the fish, optimizing their growth. This usually requires bare tanks so that uneaten food and fish wastes can be easily removed before they can affect water quality. This is especially important for discus, since they should be feed heavily to acheive good size and to get into breeding condition and they are extremely sensitive to good water quality.

The Super Show Tank is obviously a compromise. We would like to provide a good environment for the discus, requiring both lots of food and good water quality. At the same time we want a heavily planted tank, making it difficult to provide the "sterile" conditions that would be optimum. The compromise is to provide an adequate amount of food and to be diligent in making sure the detritus is kept to a minimum by carefully controlling the amount of food, providing scavengers to consume any food not eaten by the fish, maintaining a weekly water change cycle and monitoring water quality (nitrates and phosphates).

Besides the amount of food given, the type of food is very important. We believe that a varied diet is better for the fish than to simply try to provide a single all-around food. We alternate between frozen cubes, dry food and live food (when available).

For frozen food, we like the Ocean Nutrition "Formula One" cubes. We have tried other styles of this brand and found these to be the favorite of the fish, although the Rainbowfish seem to like "Prime Reef" as an occasional treat. Some of the cubes tend to float, especially the Freshwater Formula cubes that were introduced recently. This can be a problem when you have a skimmer in the tank - you end up feeding the trickle filter and not the fish. Discus also prefer to eat off the bottom and don't respond well to floating food. To augment the cubes, they are squirted with some AquaBoost Vitamin supplement as they are defrosting.

Frozen cubes are usually fed at night as the main meal of the day. With the fish load we have in the SST, we are feeding one and one-half cubes per night. The two discus can usually eat one cube and the rams will pick over the half cube. Any scraps are consumed by the corys and snails.

There are two types of dry food our fish seem to prefer. TetraMin Staple Food (large flakes) and TetraBits are fed on alternate mornings before the lights come on. To avoid having the flakes removed by the skimmer, they are first soaked in a small dish for a few seconds, allowing them to immediately sink when they are poured in the tank.

We try to provide some live food twice a month for the fish. Our local stores don't carry any live food, limiting how much we can get. We will purchase a few portions of brine shrimp whenever we get a chance to get to a store that carries them and will feed the fish exclusively on them until the shrimp are gone. We have avoided tubifex worms because of their bad reputation. Other types of live food is not available in our area and we haven't yet delved into the realm of growing our own.

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