Sometimes you can't find a product that does exactly what you need. When that happens, you can often modify or customize a product to suit that need. Such is the case with the Lee's Specimen Container that I bought at my LFS this week.
I needed a small container that could hang on the inside of the tank, allow water flow, but with openings small enough to contain fry of a certain size. There were other requirements that I had and other comparable products available for what I needed, but I couldn't find exactly what I wanted. Thus, I decided to purchase and modify the Lee container.
This particular container is actually designed to primarily hang on the outside of the tank. Since I wanted to use it inside the tank and needed water flow through it, I decided to add some holes. The container is a type of plastic that is notorious for cracking when attempting to drill it, so I didn't want to risk that. Also, I didn't really want holes. I actually wanted slits. So how you do that? Use a Dremel Multitool or something similar.
Creating the slits using a Dremel requires a grinding wheel. Rather than using pressure that a drill bit would create, you simply let friction do its thing. You actually melt through the plastic. As the wheel melts through, plastic will build up around the edges of the wheel. So you can either clear the plastic while it's still hot and malleable, or wait until it cools and chip/brush it off. I did the latter using a small metal brush. Any type of abrasive (e.g., metal brush, sand paper, steel wool) will scratch the plastic, but that wasn't a problem for me.
Below you can see the end result. I actually created three vertical slits on each side of the container. You can also see the scratches that were made with the metal brush I used to clear the built-up plastic.
Nothing like doing a water change and looking into your corner overflow only to notice two small objects swimming freely. FRY!
At about 1/4", these guys were still pretty small. However, by that size they're not near as fragile. Thus I knew I could probably siphon them out without much problem. If you're wondering why they didn't end up in the filter (I use an external canister filter with this overflow), it's because I use a large round sponge as a prefilter on the intake.
Having a plan is one thing but successfully executing it is often another. The overflow has two stand pipes (intake and outtake), which were serving as shelter for the fry. They would swim in behind the pipes and up against the overflow wall. This presented two problems: 1) I couldn't see them and 2) they were harder to reach. Fortunately, I was able to use my PEX siphon. If you recall from previous posts, my PEX assembly works great for precision sand vacuuming and for getting into tight spaces. My only concern was that the tubing attached to the PEX is 1/2" OD and thick walled, which makes the ID pretty tight.
In any case, I got the first fry pretty quickly. The second one was a bit tougher because it chose to get vertical against the overflow wall, which made it more difficult to see. After several tense minutes and after draining the overflow nearly empty and refilling once, I was able to get the 2nd one. It was luck though, because I never saw it. I just moved the open PEX end around rather blindly near the stand pipes, occasionally glancing into the bucket to see if I had it.
Both were safely returned to the tank. Btw, these were a couple of the "temporalis shell" fry that I posted about earlier this month.
Got a little leftover sand or gravel? How about extra bio-media of some kind? What about some PVC connectors just lying around?
Rather than throw away or recycle those plastic food containers that you've emptied, wash them out and reuse them. I love the clear plastic variety because they're transparent, they're often the perfect sizes, they have lids, and they're versatile. I use them all of the time and routinely find different storage uses. You can even fashion air-driven or powerhead/pump-driven filters out of them.
How many times have you heard or read advice something like this, "Make sure your tank has two heaters rather than just one large one in case one fails." Yes, it's good to be redundant, but not just when heating your tank(s).
I like to be redundant with filtration and, sometimes, water movement. The argument that you can't have too much filtration is only partially true. Typically, lots of filtration, especially from impeller-driven filters, creates lots of water movement. This isn't always a good thing, unless you're keeping pikes or other fast water cichlids. However, water movement in moderation is a good thing.
Let's face it, every aquarist will eventually experience an equipment failure. The effects of the failure will depend on many factors, not the least of which is the particular piece of equipment that fails. The ultimate negative effect of failed equipment is dead fish.
Instead of using a single, large filter, consider two smaller filters. If you're dependent upon powerheads to agitate the water surface, use two small ones instead of a single large one. Redundancy will ensure that a failure won't doom your livestock. Nothing is worse than going a way for a couple of days only to return home to a tank of dead fish because your single heater or filter bit the dust.
One of the quickest ways to have a foul tank (foul in the sense of water quality), besides not changing the water frequently, is to not remove dead fish in a timely manner. This is a greater problem in smaller tanks. Also, heavily decorated tanks, especially those densely populated, can experience water problems when fish die and can't be seen. However, there are two reasonably easy ways to determine a potential problem before testing your water.
One is to perform a regular fish count. This involves counting your live fish. LFSs perform a count, but they count the dead, call a DFC (dead fish count). A good LFS will perform a DFC at least daily, if not twice a day or more. Regularly counting your fish will prevent fouling because a dead fish won't have time to fully decompose before you know it's missing.
A second method is to know the smell of your tank water. This will allow you to know that something is amiss, especially if you don't perform regular water tests or DFCs. If your nose is in tune with the smell of your tank water and you don't do a DFC, you'll know pretty quickly that something is wrong. The smell is distinguishable and unmistakable.
Again, a DFC may not be practical for densely populated tanks and won't work if you have a tank that houses fish of varying sizes in which larger ones are predators. Fish do eat fish, so one that is missing may have become lunch or dinner, which won't foul the tank. A DFC might not also be practical for larger tanks that are heavily decorated.
In a previous post, I mentioned that I had three Telmatochromis sp. "temporalis shell" (2 males and 1 female) in a 75g community Tanganyikan tank. Also in that post, I mentioned that a pair had formed and had spawned. Since that time, they've spawned numerous times without any fry reaching more than 1/4". Besides being fearless, these shell dwellers are persistent, at least my pair is. The brood size seems to get increasingly large with each successive spawn, which mirrors much of what Brett Harrington wrote about in his nice article about these great little fish.
I can corroborate almost all of Brett's information, except that my adult males are quite a bit larger than the maximum size he mentions. Mine are at 3" +. His only reached 2.5". Also, as opposed to being dark slate gray at spawning time, my paired male is jet black. The other male will often turn a slate gray color and even sometimes black, but the spawning male is always black (as is the female).
I currently have fry from two broods, or maybe three, in the tank. The oldest fry is probably close to 3/4" now, while fry from a later brood are a bit less than 1/2" (see image below). I have noticed the brood male go after the fry on occasion, but the corner of the tank in which they reside is quite densely packed with rock and shells, which provide significant cover. In fact, I have egg crate under the sand substrate and some of the crate is exposed under the rocks, which creates great little pockets for the fry to dive into.
This is an easy swell dweller to raise and breed. They can be prolific breeders, so if you choose to house a single pair in a tank alone, be prepared for lots of offspring. Also, as Brett mentions, they are intolerant of con-specifics when breeding and even less tolerant of interlopers who wonder too close to the spawning site. Tank length chasing is not common, i.e., the breeding pair will not go too far from the spawn site. However, both male and female are equal opportunity aggressors, though the male will carry the fight farther beyond the spawn site than the female.
It's unlikely anyone will confuse the cognitive ability of cichlids with bottle-nosed dolphins, elephants, dogs, or primates. However, don't undersell a cichlid's memory.
A recent Canadian study offers additional support for the ability of African cichlids to form long term memory. While long term in this case is considered 12 days, remember that, when compared to long lived mammals such as elephants and primates, cichlids aren't long lived. The research was conducted using a popular Tanganyikan cichlid, the yellow lab (Labidochromis caeruleus). Specifically, the research shows that yellow labs can remember food locations using certain stimuli.
The Cichlid Room Companion
Tropical Fish Hobbyist
American Cichlid Assoc.
African Cichlid Hub