If you've been in the hobby for any length of time, you've encountered phosphates at some level or another in your tank water. If it's not coming from your source water (the water you use to replace your tank water during water changes), then it's coming from waste decomposition in your tank.
Phosphate is typically a greater problem for saltwater reef keepers, but can be a problem in freshwater systems. Don't fret, though. It's non-toxic to fish. However, you don't want phosphate levels to get too high or you'll be fighting a never ending battle with algae. Unless you're keeping Mbuna cichlids from Lake Malawi, which actually feed on algae, or other heavy algae consumers, excess algae can cause all sorts of problems, which is a discussion for another day.
So how do you control phosphate levels? Actually, it's quite easy. There are many solutions available to the aquarist. One of the most common is GFO (granular ferric oxide) media, which, as its name suggests, is a loose media that requires media bags. However, there are other types. Personally, I use Poly-Filter manufactured by Poly-Bio-Marine in Reading, PA. It resembles a scrub pad and comes in a couple of different dimensions. I use the 4" x 8" pads (pictured on the right, below) and cut them to fit my filters. I don't really have a phosphate problem, per se, but Poly-Filter will also remove heavy metals, toxic ammonia, and various harmful organics. It's more of a safety net for me than anything else.
If you prefer the granular type (GFO), it works very well and can be regenerated. I prefer the pad because 1) I don't really need it, 2) it's not as messy, and 3) it's easier to replace. The downside to the pads is they don't last as long. Seachem makes some outstanding GFO and GFO composite phosphate removers (PhosBond and PhosNet). Aquavitro is Seachem's premium line of products and Aquavitro Phosfiltrum is their phosphate remover, which just came to market earlier this year. If you're a big fan of Seachem's water conditioner, Prime, then you'll love their Aquavitro line.
This post is atypical of the type that I usually publish because I'm generally loathe to be critical of the choices of others. However, I'm going to get on the stump on this one.
Astronotus ocellatus, otherwise known as the Oscar or Tiger Oscar, is a species endemic to South America. It's a very attractive cichlid with many color variations and its popularity in the hobby is very high. However, this is a fish that should be left at the store, unless you're an experienced cichlid keeper and you have a large tank.
Oscars are many things, but one thing they aren't is an easy fish to keep. I don't have anything against the species but I do believe its popularity is unfortunate as it too often ends up in tanks of novices. As an avid reader of fish posts on various forums and cichlid groups, the majority of posts I see about Oscars are from keepers who are asking for help with either health issues or aggression, or are upset that their Oscar ate one of its tankmates.
This species gets quite large and it grows fast. It requires a very large tank. In fact, I wouldn't keep one in less than a standard 150 gallon. Ideally, this species, especially if you keep more than one, begs for something larger.
It's a very belligerent species with a voracious appetite. It will eat pretty much anything it can fit in its mouth, which is quite large for its size. Juvenile Oscars are just as much on the menu as anything else. If it's not trying to consume your other fish, it's pushing its tankmates around. It may not be the most aggressive cichlid, but it's aggression it often under appreciated. It's also a messy fish. Because it eats a lot, it produces a lot of waste. However, big fish produce more waste than small fish, so that's nothing surprising.
In addition, this is too frequently one of the species that I refer to in my previous post. Many cichlid keepers are ill prepared for them. All too often, Oscars end up in tanks that are too small, they get stressed, and they develop problems such as Hexamita, commonly called hole-in-the-head disease. IMO, this cichlid is best left at the store, unless you're an experienced cichlid keeper and you have a really large tank for it.
Though it occurs more frequently with novices, even the experts are subject to "shiny ball syndrome." Those of you who have kept cichlids for years know what I mean. You happen across a great deal on a species that looks awesome and they suddenly get your full attention. You jump at the chance, buying a group of unsexed juveniles, bring them home, and put them in the tank.
All is great....for a while. Then it happens. You realize you don't really have the right substrate - you find out the species does better with light gravel/sand and what you have is dark or vice versa. Or you realize these fish will outgrow your tank sooner than you thought. Or all hell has broken loose and you're discovering that the unsexed group you bought is mostly males. Or you come to realize your new fish aren't compatible with the fish already in your tank, for whatever reason. The scenarios are numerous but they all have a common denominator. You didn't think it through and do your homework. You got excited, completely lost focus, and rushed your decision.
There are usually many solutions to these scenarios, but most of them involve spending even more money to resolve. The best two solutions are to slow down and think about what you're doing. Generally speaking, cichlids aren't cheap. Furthermore, as a responsible fish keeper you owe it to the fish to provide them with the most stress free environment possible.
I went to my lfs to purchase a nice piece of driftwood. They carried a variety of shapes and sizes, and most of them were "tank ready" because they housed them in the fishroom tanks. This made it simpler for me because I knew I wouldn't have to weigh the piece down in my tank.
I found what I was looking for and paid them. They wrapped the wood in wet newspaper and placed into a styrofoam fish box for the trip home. I don't live far from my lfs, so the newspaper probably wasn't necessary. In any case, I got home, removed the box, and placed it on my work bench in the garage. My tank wasn't quite set up yet, so I just left the box in the garage.
Well, about four days went by and I finally got around to getting the tank set up in my home office. I retrieved the styrofoam box from the garage and brought it upstairs. I opened the box, unwrapped the newspaper, which by now was about half dry, and placed the driftwood in the tank. I had already put in my substrate and a heater, filled the tank with water, and had the filter running for a day or so to help clear the water.
I determined in advance that I was going to do a fishless cycle on the tank. I didn't have any seeded media and I'm not a fan of chemical cycle starters. So I purchased some pure ammonia from the hardware store and began the dosing process. The tank was cycled in less than a month.
Once everything was set up and water parameters were stabilized, I did one last water change before adding some fish. I was vacuuming the gravel and I noticed something move under the driftwood. I couldn't see anything swimming around so I reached into the tank and turned the wood over. There was a pleco tightly attached to a deep cavity in the underside of the wood, and it was, indeed, alive.
I quickly determined that the pleco must have been in the driftwood when I purchased it and no one noticed. That means that the poor thing survived nearly a week out of the water, with no food, and then endured what must have been pure hell for nearly five weeks before the ammonia and nitrite levels reached zero. I still can't believed that happened.
By the way, this was in May of 2002. Below is a photo of him taken today with that same piece of driftwood and his little cavity. No, he's not deformed. The driftwood is out of the water so I could turn it over to get the photo of him. He's about 4.5" long and doing fine.
I have an Eheim Ecco Pro external canister filter on one of my tanks. It's been running for years and has run flawlessly.....until a few nights ago when it started making clicking noises. With canister filters, such a noise is invariably the impeller. So I removed the pump head, turned it over, and unlatched the impeller unit cover (called the pump chamber). I visually checked the impeller to ensure it was seated correctly. I knew there couldn't be a foreign body of some kind caught in the impeller because it would be impossible to get there. I prefilter the intake with a high density sponge, which will stop anything the size of a grain of sand or larger. Everything looked fine.
Next, I removed the impeller unit from the pump head and inspected it. The impeller unit for an Ecco is actually made of three parts - a cylindrical magnet, the plastic fin blade, and a plastic insert that the impeller blade slides over and which fits into the center of the magnet (see the photo below). I immediately noticed that the plastic insert had pulled loose from the magnet by about 2 mm. The plastic insert has four notches at the base where it meets the magnet and the magnet has grooves in which these notches fit. If the notches line up with the grooves, the base of the insert will fit snugly against the magnet (as pictured). If the insert has pulled loose and rotates just a bit, the assembly won't fit back together cleanly.
Whatever adhesive that had been used to connect the insert with the magnet had failed, allowing the insert to pull free from the magnet. It can't be pulled too far apart once in the pump chamber because there is a round, plastic shaft that goes through the insert and through the magnet. This shaft goes all the way through and snugly fits into a round hole in the pump head. This shaft is what holds the impeller unit in place and allows the unit to rotate.
Unsure whether I could fix the unit or get a replacement quickly. I ordered a new Ecco (my lfs doesn't carry them). However, I had to run to my lfs for some other items, so I took the impeller unit with me. I showed it to the store manager, who looked at it for about a second and said, "Follow me." With that, we headed back to their "maintenance" room where she grabbed a little tube of Loctite liquid super glue and proceeded to glue the plastic insert back to the magnet. She said, "that'll do it." Concerned about the chemicals in the super glue, I asked "are you sure about that?" She explained that the super glue is completely inert once it dries. She said "we use it to fix all sorts of things including artificial corals that have broken."
I had no idea.
With increasing frequency, I am seeing Facebook posts that contain photos of cichlids in which the poster asks readers for an identification. Taking possession of an unknown cichlid species can be an unwise decision for several reasons, each of which revolve around compatibility.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub