If you use canister or HOB filters (or any filter that employs sponge or floss type media), you know that you can purchase additional or replacement sponges and floss from your filter's manufacturer or your LFS. Whether it's a Fluval, Aqueon, Eheim, SunSun, Sicce, Marineland, or another brand, sponges and pre-cut floss pads are often available to replace what is included with your filter purchase.
However, if you're like me, you buy your own sponge and floss in bulk and cut them to fit your various filters. To ensure that I always have these sponge media ready to go, I will often cut multiple copies and store them. To make this process easy, I simply create a template using a piece of cardboard. For canister filters with media trays, I outline a tray on the cardboard, then cut the cardboard template out. I then use the cardboard template on the sponge sheet, etc.
Depending on the filtration you use as well as the number of tanks that you maintain, this can be an economical approach to media replacement. Futhermore, buying your sponge or floss this way gives you greater media flexibility (e.g., thickness, PPI density).
I bet when you're reading about conservation issues within the context of the aquarium hobby, you probably think habitat and species conservation. Looks like you might want to add sand to that list. That's right, unbeknownst to most hobbyists (I'm betting) is that, by weight, sand and gravel are the most extracted natural resources on the planet, even surpassing fossil fuels. Per this article from The Conversation, the demand for sand is at an all time high. Though based on current sand prices, it doesn't appear that the basic supply for consumers is dwindling. However, it is a bit disconcerting, especially given many of the problems outlined in the article. Lots of cichlidophiles have tanks with sand substrates. All my tanks do.
I don't believe that the hobby demand for sand is currently contributing to the issue. However, it is something that is worth noting based on the information from the article, which I would encourage you to read. I bet you didn't realize all of the things that require sand to produce and/or build.
If you're a New Life Spectrum (NLS) fan, then you'll be interested to know that they're about to release a new line of foods containing healthy doses of probiotics, cleverly called Probiotix. Apparently unveiled last month at MACNA '17, the new line isn't available to the public just yet. In fact, as of this post, the NLS website doesn't even have any information about it. However, you can see a photo of the packaging above and read a bit more about the product thanks to this piece by Reef to Rainforest.
If you're setting up a new tank or redoing an existing one and you've decided to use egg crate under your substrate, here's a tip to save you some hassle down the road; for medium to large tanks, don't use a single piece. Consider cutting your crate into sections, depending on the length of the tank. Why? If you decide to change your substrate, but you want to see how it will look before you do the whole tank OR you want to change the substrate in only part of the tank, having a single piece of egg crate will require you to remove everything from the tank. If you cut your crate into two sections or more, you only need to take out the section(s) that you want to redo.
I've posted about this before but I'm going to mention it again. Feed your cichlids a variety of foods. I am convinced that one of the most significant factors contributing to the health and color of my cichlids is the variety of high quality foods that I provide. In nature, cichlids are opportunistic eaters, just like most fish. They feed on what is available, and that can vary. However, only provide foods that are suited to the species that you keep. Mbuna, for example, should be fed a primarily vegetable diet.
There are myriad commercial foods for cichlids, and you can even make your own. You can feed flakes, pellets, frozen, etc. In fact, I would encourage you to try them all. Your fish will tell you what they like.
I never feed my fish the same thing on consecutive days. In fact, you can read more about my dry feeding strategy in the previous post I mentioned earlier. The point is to mix it up.
I'm doing some consulting for an aquarium company that focuses on elegant nano aquariums and accessories. As I was thinking about their website today, it occurred to me that much of what they sell is pretty obscure. In other words, as a specialty company, their products are not name brands. Part of that is due to the very specific type of customer they cater to, but it's also due to very minimal advertising.
Many cichlidophiles are quite loyal to specific brands, and many of the brands are well known and long standing in the hobby. However, there are many aquarium products that are less popular but equal or greater in quality than the mass produced, name brands. New products are coming into the market all of the time and they're not all produced by the big names.
For example, in the filter world, everyone knows about Fluval, AquaClear, Marineland, Tetra, Aqueon, and Eheim. However, there are some other very good, lesser known filter brands that are comparable in price and quality to those. Have you ever heard of Sicce? How about Hydor? In foods, there are popular brands such as Ocean Nutrition, Tetra, Omega One, and Hikari. You ever try Northfin? What about Sera? How about Piscine Energetics or New Life Spectrum?
The point is, there are lots of less popular brands of products available that are every bit as good or better than the ones you hear about all of the time. Consider expanding your horizons and getting out of your comfort zone. You can still remain loyal to your brands yet also branch out and experiment. You never know. You might just stumble across something you really like that's not already being produced by the usual players.
Marine hobbyists are familiar with PE foods, but in the past year the company has released a freshwater pellet in 1mm, 2mm, and 3mm sizes. With fresh mysis shrimp as the primary ingredient, the pellet is high in protein and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. PE's efforts to produce them is based on PE's initiative to sustainably harvest and process mysis shrimp from a lake in Canada. Visit their website for more information about this new dry food for the freshwater market, including information about how the pellets are made and where to purchase them.
I spoke with Brandon Hooten, one of PE's sales representatives today at the ACA convention. He informed me that PE will also be coming out with freshwater flakes within the next couple of months. Based on the same formulation used for the pellets, the flakes will be customized for several varieties of fish (e.g., goldfish, cichlids).
Stay tuned for more information about PE and their emergence into the tropical freshwater food market!
For those of you who use Cobalt Aquatics' line of flake foods, they have released a new line called Ultra, which currently comes in three varieties - Worm Medley, Spirulina, and Color. Each of these come with more Astaxanthin, extra garlic and paprika added to their base flake formula.
If you are a consumer of Cobalt products, I would encourage you to sign-up for their newsletter. Occasionally they have free give aways, especially when they release new products.
Back in December, I posted about a custom order I placed with Pleco Caves in Indiana. I was so pleased with the job Brantley and company did, that I placed another custom order recently. For this batch, I gave them different dimensions than the previous order. The new order arrived today and the caves look great!
These new ones are all ~2" x 2", which I wanted at both 4" and 6" lengths with open and closed ends. I asked for 4 of each category. So if you know discrete math (specifically combinatorics), how many caves did I order?
4 caves each x both 4 and 6" open (2) x both 4 and 6" closed (2)
4 x 2 x 2 = 16
In an earlier post about emergency preparedness, I mentioned the use of controllers. One such controller is for your aquarium heater(s). Though most current aquarium heaters are extremely reliable with respect to a stuck thermostat, the thought of having one get stuck in the "on" position while you're away all day is quite unpleasant. For piece of mind, it's a good idea to use a temperature controller that will shut the heater off in the event of such a malfunction. If you use digital heaters, like Hagen's Fluval E series, which have a built-in, easy to read thermometer, remember that a temp controller shuts off the power to the heater so the heater's display will also cease functioning.
There are many controllers on the market, and you can spend a lot or spend a little. Many aquarists employ multiple heaters in large tanks ( >90 gallons). Some folks use multiple heaters on small tanks too, just to be safe. I don't. My largest tank is 75g, and I'm perfectly comfortable using a single heater. There are dual-controllers available that can control two heaters if you're a multiple heater user.
A heater that fails in the "off" position generally presents less risk because fish succumb much quicker in higher heat. Dissolved oxygen levels are lower in warm water, meaning if you have a heater that malfunctions in the "on" position, your fish not only have high temps to worry about but oxygen may deplete quicker also.
I've tested the Inkbird controller like the one pictured above, model C206. It worked fine, was simple to set up, and is quite economical at ~$20 each. Set your low and high temps (C206 will display C or F), plug your heater into it, then let the controller handle the rest. Don't worry about using it with big heaters. It's rated to 1100W. The digital display is easy to read and it displays the current water temperature concurrently with your high and low temp settings. Also, the temperature probe is extra long at 4 feet.
I see only two downsides to this controller. The least problematic is that temps can only be set in 1 degree increments. The bigger issue is that this model Inkbird plugs directly into an outlet, which for most aquarists make it a bit impractical. Most US electrical outlets are usually low on the wall rather than up near the top of the tank where the display would be easy to read. Sure, you can use an extension cord, but remember the heater plugs into the front of the Inkbird unit, which makes the placement of the controller a big awkward. However, these controllers aren't made specifically for aquariums, so the company wasn't inclined to take all of that into account when it designed them.
In any case, whichever temperature controller you decide upon is less important than the fact that you have one.
If you've heard about egg crate but don't know what it is, it's simply louvered light diffuser. It can be purchased at your big box DIY stores, among other places, and typically comes in sheets that are 24" x 48". Plaskolite is one brand, but there may be others. Aquarists use it to line the bottom of their aquariums, typically under the substrate, but the reason is a bit misleading. You'll read that the purpose of the egg crate is to distribute the weight of rocks in the tank. That is true but it's not the only purpose. The glass floor or your tank is perfectly capable of supporting much more weight than you think without using egg crate. A more applicable reason for using it is that it can protect your tank from a rock fall that might otherwise impact the glass directly at just the right (or wrong as it may be) angle to exploit an already existing (but unseen) concentrated area of flaws. Glass flexes but it has a flex threshold at which point the integrity of the bonds are compromised. This is true with or without egg crate. But the egg crate can lessen the flexing and thus protect those weak points (existing flaws). Remember, not everyone uses substrate in their tanks.
Having said all of that, many species of cichlids dig in the substrate or otherwise rearrange the substrate to suit them. When they do this, they can't cognitively consider the inherent danger from any instability that they might create. If you keep mbuna from Lake Malawi, they like to dig...a lot, especially if you have lots of rock cover. By utilizing egg crate between your rock and your glass tank floor, you eliminate the single strike point if a rock structure gets undermined by your cichlids. If rocks fall, they strike the egg crate, which prevents that single point of contact from a pointed or jagged rock. Furthermore, egg crate provides a more stable platform on which to build rock structures, even if it's buried by the substrate.
I use sand substrates, and my cichlids dig, both mbuna and some Tanganyikans. It's not uncommon to find several small areas of exposed egg crate under the rocks when I move them to clean. You might not like the look of exposed egg crate in your tank, but if you utilize lots of rock structure, using it is good insurance.
Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of filter products available to you and not sure what is best? Don't worry. You don't always need the best. Furthermore, how do you define what's "best"? If you're a novice, it's only normal to seek information about what products to avoid. However, the list of products to avoid in the aquarium hobby is much shorter than the list of products that work well.
Probably one of the best examples of this is filter media. The list of media available for power filters (e.g., canister, sump, HOB) is extensive. In fact, most filter types accommodate all three types of media (biological, mechanical, and chemical). The number of different combinations available is directly proportional to the number of different media types. For example, the number and availability of different bio-media materials alone are high. There are ceramic, composite, plastic, sintered glass, and lava rock just to name a few. All of these even come in different sizes, shapes, surface areas, densities, etc.
So how do you know which to use? Try a few and see how they do with your filter and your water. There is no rule that says you can't use more than one material. Some aquarists use multiple bio-media types concurrently in the same filter. I do.
On the other hand, some aquarists don't use any of the material I listed above because they don't even use power filters. These fish keepers use either sponge filters as bio-media (a type of filtration that utilizes pump driven air to pull water through sponge material), or use wet/dry or sump-based filtration, all of which work very well. Sponges also work as bio-media in power filters, though most people use them there for only mechanical filtration in combination with other bio-media options like plastic bio balls and ceramic beads.
The bottom line is...use what works for you (budget, maintenance time, etc.). As long as you have sufficient filtration to colonize enough bacteria to keep ammonia and nitrite at zero, it doesn't really matter. I've used all of the types listed above and I've done so for a long time. Yes, I have some favorite combinations and some that work better than others. There are certain circumstances that will dictate your media choices (e.g., filtering heavily planted tanks, unusually messy livestock, larger than normal bioloads). However, the majority of aquarium set-ups will function just fine with whatever you choose. Experience will tell you what works best for your situation. You'll learn what leaves your water the most sparkling clean and parametrically stable.
In the nearly 20 years that I've been an aquarist, I have experienced only two significant power outages that affected my tanks. Two nights ago I thought might be the third. A massive oak tree fell across the road perfectly perpendicular to the power lines along the street, snapping three power poles and bringing to a halt a whole host of services (electricity, cable television, and cable Internet). Being certain the outage would be through the night, I unpacked my brand new battery powered air pumps and hooked them up to the tanks. Fortunately, the outage was only for three hours (our utility company is phenomenal). However, the new pumps worked flawlessly.
For more information on emergency plans, see my post from March titled Be prepared, not sorry.
There are several brands of battery powered air pumps available. Because it's almost inevitable that you will need them eventually, I encourage you to acquire some. Look for features that best fit your needs - some can operate on either one or two batteries, some require two batteries, some are battery/AC combinations that auto switch to battery when AC ceases.
I use the Bubble Box portables by Marine Metal Products. These come with short silicone tubing, an airstone, and a weight to keep the stone submerged. All three components come stored in the battery compartment (batteries are not included) as shown in right image above. They run on either one or two D-size batteries and claim two batteries supply nearly 40 hours of run time.
Once again, I've come across a fellow cichlid keeper who lost power and was ill-prepared for it, resulting in fish loss. Every cichlidophile will eventually face some type of crisis with respect to their livestock - a power outage, a bad heater, a dead filter, a leaking tank. The question is, how prepared are you for any or all of the above? These are all scenarios that pose risks to your fish. Do you have mitigation strategies in place for each of them?
Let's start with the power outage. What's the biggest danger resulting from a sustained power outage? Lack of filtration? No. Inability to maintain tank temperature? No. It's the lack of water movement produced by your filter, powerhead, or airstone that promotes the gas exchange required to oxygenize the water and clear it of carbon dioxide build up. Your cichlids will succumb the most quickly to a lack of oxygen, especially if you keep large species. However, this problem is easily addressed. You can either manually agitate the water for a few minutes periodically, or you can purchase a battery powered air pump and then attach an airstone. The latter will require an investment of less than $15.
Remember that oxygen is needed by more than your fish. It's essential to the biological filtration process, so the bacteria that populates your bio-media will continue to consume oxygen when the filter stops, though at a slower rate. Also, as water temperature rises, so does the rate of oxygen depletion.
What about a bad heater? All you need is a digital thermometer with an audible temperature alarm. If the temperature exceeds a preset high or low threshold, an alarm will sound. Keep a back-up heater on hand to mitigate this risk. You can always install a controller that will shut off the heater if the temperature rises too high and you're not around to address it. The controller is also a good investment if you travel a lot because it can shut the heater off if it fails while in the on position.
How about a dead filter? As long as you can maintain some water movement, perhaps via a powerhead or airstone, you should have time to replace the filter by purchasing a new one or replacing it with a back-up or spare you already have on hand.
A leaking tank? This one presents a big problem that extends well beyond loss of livestock, especially if you're away and the leak is at the bottom of the tank. You can install a low water sensor that will sound an audible alarm, but that won't help you if you're not there to hear it. Even if you install an advanced sensor that can notify you via cell phone text or e-mail, it won't help if you or a friend/family member can't get there quickly enough to address it. If you are home when a bottom leak occurs, you'll need to move your fish - either to another tank, a plastic tub, a kiddie pool, or even your bathtub.
If you've followed my blog for a long time, you probably remember my post about Just in Time versus Just in Case (JIT vs. JIC). I have a spare everything, not necessarily for emergencies, but more for convenience. I don't want to have to make a trip to my LFS each time I need something trivial - some additional bio-media, an extra sponge, etc. I strongly believe in redundancy, and you should too if you want to mitigate risk. Just have a look at this previous post showing my "fish closet" of supplies.
The investment you make in the safety and care of your fish is directly proportional to both how much you care about them and your financial position.
Every once in a while I discover little DIY projects accidentally, just like this morning. I am a member of several cichlid Facebook groups and saw a great idea from Facebook user Duke Ciry at Cichlid Conversations.
Lots of folks use egg crate in their tanks, from lining the tank bottom for holding rocks to serving as tank partitions. Egg crate is actually louvered light diffuser than you can pick up at your hardware store. PLASKOLITE is one brand name.
Duke took the partition usage to another level. Rather than just sectioning off part of the tank, he made an egg crate cage to segregate an aggressive Lake Malawi peacock. It appears he used zip ties to hold the cut crate sections together. Nice idea!
Well, it's not really a tool in the typical sense. Maybe utensil is the better word. In any case, I ordered this Rubbermaid scoop to perform two main tasks - scoop sand and scoop fry.
I used it today for the latter. I suspect this won't work well for some fry, but it does great for shell dwellers. Shellies and their offspring tend to hug the substrate more than many other cichlid species. In fact, my Telmatochromis sp. "shell dweller" fry stay attached to the bottom like glue. The flat bottom of the scoop makes it really easy to run it across the substrate (or underneath the substrate if you're scooping it out). Also, the scoop is clear, which may be less threatening to the fry.
During tank maintenance this afternoon, it was time to remove the rock-work in the half of the tank where my Telmats reside (my 75g Tanganyikan community tank). A little over a month ago, I set up a fry/grow-out tank. I had already moved some fry that I caught, but had many more to catch in the 75g. Rather than continuing to rely on moving the fry in shells, like I had been doing, I decided to use the scoop. It worked phenomenally well. In the span of 10 minutes, I had caught nearly 10 fry (~ 1/4 inch +). There are a few more still in the 75g that I tried to catch but was unsuccessful. A task for another day.
As this Christmas season is nearing its end, I wanted to remind you of the benefits of patronizing your local fish store (LFS). This post isn't about debating the pros and cons of brick and mortar stores versus online stores. It's more a plea to get you to support small business and what they represent. The big box pet store chains (e.g. Petco, PetSmart) and the small business independents support the local economy in many ways that are unseen.
If you've lived in the same city or locality for any length of time, you've seen businesses come and go. You've probably even witnessed many small businesses close up. Retail trends over the last 20 years suggest that online purchases continue to outpace brick and mortar purchases, which is bad news for your local stores. E-commerce is increasing dramatically. Even though there is tremendous value in the local stores to the communities that they serve, they will eventually go away without your support.
If you still have some last minute gifts for that cichlidophile in your life, please consider making a purchase at your LFS, even it it means you have to drive a short distance to do so.
Do you recall my post from a couple of months ago about Pleco Caves, the small company in Indiana that makes various types of ceramic caves? I provided them with some specifications for a couple of types of caves I wanted for my cichlid tanks. I described these a bit in that previous post, but what I didn't mention is that I had some of the caves made with one end sealed off. See the photos below.
After a couple of months and some trial and error on their part, I recently received 16 custom made caves. These things are awesome! You can't see them in the photo of my 75g tank (see the post What is my set-up? Pt. 1), but the entire understructure of the rock work is made with these caves, allowing numerous tunnels under the rocks.
I highly recommend the company, even if you don't want something custom made. They stock a wide variety of cave types for plecos, cichlids, and other aquarium inhabitants. They also sell driftwood, Xtreme brand fish food, and other products. Visit their website and place an order. Tell Brantley and Jodi that I recommended them!
Earlier this year, I posted about Tools of the trade, which identified tools every aquarist should have, in my opinion. Though not a tool, per se, towels are an asolute necessity for anyone who keeps fish. It's not uncommon during my weekly maintenance to dirty at least three towels. Between drying my hands, wiping down tank glass, or drying up water drips, a supply of towels is indispensible.
Any type of towel will work. I don't like large bath towels (too large) nor do I like hand towels (too small). I use hair towels, which are a size in between. At 20" x 40", hair towels are the perfect size to drape over my shoulder while I'm working...and to remain there when I bend over and not hang down to my waste. Towels are easy to find. Your local big retail store (Wal-Mart, Target, etc.) will have them, or you can order them online to get exactly what you want. I ordered my towels from Amazon.com.
Since I do some kind of work on at least one of tanks almost every day, I dirty a lot of towels pretty quickly. That's why I always have a stack of at least a dozen clean towels at the ready.
When you become heavily invested in a hobby like this one, you'll invariably come across numerous aquarium products. Some of them you'll like and some of them you won't. In fact, products in this hobby aren't unlike those in other hobbies with respect to branding. Some brands are better than others - quality, dependability, etc.
I don't shy away from highlighting products that I like here on the blog, including brands that I'm loyal to. What I won't do is use this platform to denigrate a product by name or otherwise encourage hobbyists not to buy something because it's of poor quality. I've been asked many times to review a product and sometimes I'll post those reviews here. If I don't like the product, I won't post the review. However, I will share it with the vendor that asked me to do the review. Are there products and/or brands that I personally won't endorse? Absolutely. In fact, there are some products that I consider poor quality and won't use.
Sadly, I experienced one of those this week. As I mentioned in the previous post below, I just set up a 5.5 gal fry tank. I had a small HOB filter that I received as a sample from a wholesale company but had never tried. In fact, I've had the filter for probably a couple of years. I dug it out, inserted some media, plugged the filter in, and it ran like a charm. I unplugged the filter after a couple of days to move the fry into the tank. I swapped the media that I had initially placed in the filter with some seeded media and plugged the filter back in. It failed to draw water up the intake. No big deal, I thought. I decided to give it a headstart and force water up the intake with a small pump. The filter began to draw but the flow seemed a little weak.
I came home from work the next day and the filter was running but no water was flowing. I checked it to make sure the intake hadn't become blocked or something had come dislodged with the assembly causing it to lose flow. Nothing. Unable to get it going, I removed it and replaced it with a spare AquaClear HOB I had stored away.
I took the new HOB and put it on my test tub to try and flesh out the problem. I checked and rechecked everything, removing the pump assembly, the intake tube assembly, the impeller, etc. It ran fine but still wasn't pulling water. Normally, that would indicate a seal problem (air getting in the intake preventing a solid vacuum effect). I eliminated that as a possibility. In short, I couldn't find the problem. The filter ended up in the trash. I won't disclose who makes it. But needless to say, I won't be buying one. The fact that it worked initially and then stopped working after the first shutdown without any clear reason is unfortunate. That may not be indicative of the brand, but I've never owned that line of product before nor have I have heard from anyone that has. I'm labeling it a bad product.
Here's the scenario. You've decided that you need to set up a special purpose tank - for breeding, for fry grow out, quarantine, or something else. Also, you want to do it in hurry for whatever reason. You have an extra tank that's just the size you need buried somewhere in a closet or the garage. Do you have a spare heater? Do you know where it is? How about a filter of some kind? Media or sponge? Do you know where those are?
Setting up a spare tank for any reason isn't complicated until you get started and realize you don't know where all the things you need are. I recently re-organized my walk-in fish closet. Sometimes as I buy extra components, etc. I bring the bag or box in and just set it in the closet rather than putting them where they go. I took care of that problem today. Part of what prompted the re-org was the need to set up a small fry tank (5.5 g) and the fact that I kept moving bags from one side of the closet to the other as I retrieved the supplies I needed.
Choose whatever organizational system works for you. As you can see in the photos, I like see-thru plastic bins but not very large ones. In fact, I have separate bins for the following:
So the previous post (below), which discusses the specimen container that I modified to house some fry, didn't include any actual photos of the fry.
To remedy that, here are a couple of shots of the container in use. The blue "floor" of the container is a cut-to-fit sponge. Because the container is transparent and resides at the top of the aquarium just under the canopy, all perceived predators can been viewed through the bottom of the container. Fry are instinctually averse to predation, so in order to lessen their anxiety by seeing predators below them and to encourage them to exit their shells, I used the sponge.
The fry are Telmatochromis sp. "temporalis shell" and, as the name suggests, they are fond of shells in their native habitat. The two shells in the container aren't native to Lake Tanganyika, but the fry don't know that nor do they care.
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.
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.
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