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My Swamp Tank

by Francesco Zezza

 Why a swamp tank? Well, to be completely truthful, there’s NOT a real reason, beyond the fact that while travelling into different cichlids environments I slowly become more and more aware of the close interaction between the “water area” (the one where fishes actually live) and the aerial one (where plants and others live). The most peculiar of all being the “narrow band”, close to surface, of approximately a cm (few inches) below/above the water. A lot of interesting things happen there: leaves of underwater plants come into the air, and roots of terrestrial plants can partially or totally dip themselves into the water. To say the whole truth, that “band” is much larger and hosts animals as well, even if there’s a noticeable difference: with VERY FEW exception, for fishes that can breath air such as the Periophtalmus sp., the osmosis is from above the water to under the water, and then you find many kinds of amphibians, for example, living in that environment, as well as snakes and many others that make exploring the bank of, say, an Amazonian creek extremely interesting. So let’s see, in theory, how things in my 85 lt tank actually work. Let’s begin with the aerial part of this tank where no animal of any kind is hosted at this point (mostly because of the small size), While the plants are mixed, there are plants that live ONLY underwater, plants that live ONLY above the water (kept as “hydroculture plants”, which means with their roots soaked into water), plants that will, eventually, grow from water into the aerial part of tank – expect the leaves to change shape and/or colour when it happens - and, last but not least, floating plants. Finally let’s review, as a first point, the tank’s technology: it’s a commercial unit whose main adaption has been lowering the filter to allow itself a proper flow and, at the same time, maintain the room for the aerial zone. The filter is a small unit (three stages, internal) driven by a submersible pump. The heater is 75 W; one lamp (low consumption) 36 W is in use. 

Looking at the tank you find sort of a mess! Since this tank was originally intended to host plants to be recovered/propagated, then the addition of an Ancistrus pair (attempts to breed them have failed, but thats a whole different story), the tank has been left untouched for a long period. During the breedong attempt with the Ancistuses, I had to significantly lower the water level to mimic the “dry-season”. During these days, I decided to give a “swamp tank” a try: this tank was born as sort of a “joke”. See pictures below for the results achieved. The aquascaping consists of pale coloured small sized aquarium gravel, bogwoods, two clay pots, and a coconut shell. A lot of the plants present were originally attached to bogwood(s) and the rest by mean of rubber bands to keep them in place. Plants used in the underwater sections are: Cryptocorinae, Anubias (different species), Microsorium (“wild” and “man-mad hybrid” known as Windelow; the latter with almost no fortune), Echinodorus (again, they are a man-made hybrid: E. “Ozelot”), then nothing either odd, or hard to keep.  The only possible exception is a Nimphaea (Nuphar sp.) that took a lot of time to grow. Floating plants are specimens of Pistia stratiotes. I feel the aerial zone needs a bit more of an explanation: allow plants to naturally “tie” to glasses or other furniture would have been a time consuming job. I decided then to use what was sold as a “Betta container” (one of those ugly jars used to keep multiple Siamese Fighting Fish in the same tank) attached by suction cups to the back glass. It has been partially filled with clay grains (used for hydroculture: plants kept in the water) and then “populated” with small cuttings, such as:

·        Ficus repens: a plant coming from misty environments showing small rounded leaves with whitish edges. Very nice to me. (see pic. 1)

·        Two different (shape and leave colours) of Ivy (see Pic. 1)

·        A Bromeliads: possibly being the most fussy plant hosted in my tank (till now). (see Pic. 2)

·        A Fern (Adianthum capillusveneris, aka Maiden-hair Fern) the only one at this time that has linked itself to the surrounding furniture (filter and front glass!). (see Pic. 3)

·        Few floating plants Pistia stratiotes (again see Pic. 1) 

  

The beginning was not that easy: too much “techie stuff” (i.e.: rubber bands) in sight but then, slowly, things started to change. Anubias and Cryptocoriane started to propagate (I used a “low phosphate content” fertilizer in the very beginning to help the Ancistrus (Bristenoses) to succesfully fight against a possible algae bloom) inserting in the tank only selected nutrients. Also finding the Bromeliads (I still have a free “hole” in the “Betta container” to add a second plant) hasn’t been that easy, and the story is the same for letting the fern get used to its new environment (was found/grabbed, on a wall, during a country walk). In the end, despite my lack of patience, things started to go much better! If you look at the tank it’s easy to spot where I was right (plants doing well: such as Anubias barteri/barteri dwarf with a few leaves beginning to come out of the water) or wrong (such as one, out of two, of the Echinodorus NOT thriving at all).

Taking care of this tank is not that difficult: water changes can be extremely delayed (DO be conservative on this matter!) because of the high number of plants “sucking” nutrients from the water linked with the EXTREMELY low number of hosted fishes: let’s say 10/20 liter on a monthly rate (maybe I’ll be abit more frequent in the coming hot summer months), a bit of fertilizer every now and then (say 1 cm3 every two weeks), and you’re done! You do have to be quite careful when vacuum cleaning the bottom to remove the wastes (mostly from plants!) so to not damage the roots. 

 Here it is again: my “Swamp Tank”

 Now a little (very little, since I almost have no info) additional data on my latest “fishy” addition: three (they were six, but only half of them made the trip back home successfully) small goodeids donated by Juan Miguel Artigas Azas during our stay in Mexico (April 2002). These beauties are, actually, Xenoophorus captivus “Illescas” of a strain that is said to be, actually, EXTINCT IN WILD. I, of course, hope they will eventually breed. 

In the above pics two specimens (sub adult not fully coloured) are portraited.

CONCLUSIONS: it’s hard to say. In a THEORETICAL, PERFECT world (having plenty of room to house fishes/tanks) anyone should consider a swamp tank as a viable alternative to “common tanks” since having a look to what goes on along the “banks” is interesting to the higher extent, allows a “more natural” look in the tank and for those “nasty” cichid that eat or dig up plants, it gives the opportunity to reduce, somewhat, the “Moon Crater” look their tank(s) usually have, with the final touch being the chance to house animals (such as amphibians) in the upper area (avoid “jumpers” in this last option). You may even try to keep orchids from rain forest in a tank like this. Regrettably, this world of ours is neither THEORETICAL nor PERFECT (and in each tank you have to “save” actual room for our beloved “highly room demanding” cichlids) and so I cannot swear on such a tank set-up!

Even so: DO try to imagine a tank with a large aerial section crammed with ficus, ferns, bromeliad, orchids and plants like this (all mixed and matched), with branches/bogwoods coming out of the water that’s filled with an underwater forest: Cryptocorinae, Anubias (barteri/barteri nana/congensis), Vesicularia dubiyana, long leaved Vallisneria … while among them, gently moveing, small colorfull cichlids/characins/catfishes enjoying this slightly acidic, tannin rich environment. On the water surface you spot floating Eichornia crassipes (often carrying large flower) and Pistia stratiotes (to name a few) sweetly moved by flowing (a hidden pump!) water, in a corner a mighty Papyrus stands against the back glass while few tree-frogs, calmly, move along the bank(s) … Aren’t you temped?

WELL I AM!!! May be, sooner or later, I’ll give it a try … (but, please … … do not tell it in advance to Stefania).

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