The Shubunkin Shuffle


Ah, the thing about upgrading to a larger, spanking brand new sparkling aquarium is … elbow room. Okay, pectoral fin room.

Scroll down to Aquariverse’ second post and you will note that our 46-gallon fresh-water community tank is populated by two rescue-goldfish (purchased six years ago for 49 cents each from a dirty, over-crowded feeder-fish tank) a trio of phantom tetras and four cory cats.

Well… only meaning to pick up an algae scrub pad, I swear, I just had to meander past my local pet store’s wall-of-tanks and … who should catch my eye but a sprightly baby shubunkin.


I know I know, when it comes to living beings (and fashionably skinny tights) impulse buys are a no-no. But I’ve actually had my eye out for just the right addition to our newly roomy set-up and I’ve always been a sucker for a tortoiseshell.

Bearing in mind our next up-grade will be a back-garden goldfish pond…

…and factoring in the years it will take our inch long shubunkin to attain his or her potential 12-inch length, I believe our tank’s eco-system can healthfully support another fish.

Shubunkin are as hardy as they are pretty … which is a bit of a refreshing change in the aquarium world. Even so, as the above link admirably fills in the species specifics, I’d like to employ the rest of this post toward sharing my “introducing a fish” tips for the benefit of those new to aquarium keeping.



Admittedly today’s was an unexpected buy. I normally bring a small padded cooler to transport new plants or fish from store to home – the goal being to keep the temperature of the bagged water as stable as possible to stave off shock. I did have my padded gym bag in the car so used that instead.

Once home, I turned off my aquarium’s light and gently placed the still sealed bag into the water – hooking it in place with the tank’s lid. Our resident goldfish, Flash and George, immediately started nosing against it, and as quickly seemed to lose interest.  Meanwhile, the newcomer was given a chance to acclimate to yet another temperature change.


Twenty minutes later I lifted the bag back out of the tank and very gently poured the contents, water and shubunkin, into a small transfer bowl. I waited a moment and added about two cups of water from the 46-gallon tank.

I believe this gives a new fish a chance to ‘taste’ what’s coming next. The idea is to mitigate shocks to the system. Ten minutes later, I carefully netted the little fellow and ever so gently lowered him into his new home. He hung out in the net for a few moments, drifted away from it then suddenly darted toward the darkest corner of the tank… seeking cover amongst the foliage – plastic and real. A minute or two later and he was exploring the lower regions of the tank, then gradually venturing into what hopefully seems like an expansive habitat.

I’ll keep the light off for several hours more,  just to keep the tank’s ambience in a soothing state. I’ll also added a dose of “Stress Coat” –


which claims to “reduce stress” through the “healing and regeneration of damaged fish tissue.” Not that I feel I’ve injured the little guy … I just figure any boost to the immune system — considering the drastic change in scenery but also changes in temperature, water chemistry and community – can only help him successfully adapt.  I’ve added the “stress coat” for the benefit of the established community as well, should the introduction of the new fish introduce parasites or diseases, or otherwise upset the established order.

Those new to fish-keeping should note that’s why I didn’t just open the shubunkin’s transport bag while it was in my tank. Who knows what pathogens or parasites will sluice in with the new fish. And yes, I know, experienced aquarists are possibly shaking their heads and quite rightly saying I should have let the newbie ply the waters of a quarantine tank for a week or two … but not everyone has a quarantine tank and I’ve found my method quite a good alternative.

That said, should you have a tip or query to share or otherwise interesting observation, do feel free to comment in the box provided below. As for our little shubunkin… I’ve already named him Dunkin.


From our ancestors come our names, but from our virtues our honors. — Proverb

*(not my actual fish) … ; )


Doing Our Bit for the Oscars



The Oscar … Astronotus ocellatus is a species of fish from the cichlid family known under a variety of common names, including oscartiger oscarvelvet cichlid, or marble cichlid.[1] In South America, where the species naturally resides, A. ocellatus specimens are often found for sale as a food fish in the local markets.[2][3] The fish can also be found in other areas, including China, Australia, and the United States. It is considered a popular aquarium fish in the U.S.[4][5][6]

The Oscar’s fans are legion, and stories of this species reported intelligence and inquisitive, interactive nature abound at sites dedicated to their care…

Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to find a less popular cichlid than the Oscar. And truly I’d like to own one, if only to name him Felix. But it’s doubtful I’ll ever take the plunge with Astronotus ocellatus. He’d eat up all my goldfish for a start.  And he’d quite rapidly outgrow my 46 gallon tank. Adult Oscars can reach a foot in length, meaning they require a 70 gallon tank – at minimum. They’re also semi-aggressive and, yes, carnivorous.

So, a challenging, even demanding character with specific requirements, yet undoubtedly an interesting, intelligent and responsive pet for those with the experience, equipment and temperament to care for them.

What? You were expecting maybe something like this for OSCAR week?


Well here you are then, a veritable red carpet of fish-tanks of the rich and famous: some glass some, some crass and a few that are absolutely fabulous…

As for the stars of this post, I direct your attention to a beautifully crafted and informative site that promotes the philosophy: “Knowledge is Care.”


and remember…

Every time an Oscar is given out, an agent gets his wings.

Kathy Bates

Diving into The Pond Down Under


Our recent Australian contributor, Ashley Thomson, homesteads a rural parcel of land tucked into the southeast corner of Tasmania. Cattle, dairy cows, chooks*, a pair of miniature horses and two scrappy, loving  little dogs have at various times through the years also made their home there. When not tending to outdoor chores Thomson’s kept busy as a husband and dad, composes music and perfects his photography. No wonder he’s created a pond for a bit of reflective contemplation!

Backyard pond

Felicity: “I’m glancing out my window. The snow has mounded half way up our bird feeder pole. The sky is a watercolor wash of pale blue and porcelain white. The evergreens are slathered in  frosting and every bare tree limb is edged in white. What’s the weather like down Tasmania way?”

Ashley: “Ah, you have painted a White Christmas scene we never see Down Under! As you will be gently thawing towards Spring and new growth, we are edging out of our summer towards a cool Autumn. It is still warm and summery during the day, but the mornings have a crispness about them, a reminder that fleecy tops will soon be the order of the day.”

Felicity: “And I was picturing your garden drenched in summer-sunlight! Now that we’ve set the southern-hemisphere stage… Please tell us about your pond, and why you created one.”

Ashley: “I could write pages on this question alone, from my love of gardening to how as a child, I could wile away hours catching tadpoles from creeks in the bush.

Water, just being near it, is an integral part of my psyche. For me, a garden feels incomplete without a water feature of some sort. When we moved here from mainland Australia I had a blank palette. A pond was one of my first projects, one that has never disappointed.”

Felicity: “Just how big of a project did you embark on? What are your pond’s dimensions?”

Ashley: “It is an oval shape of sorts, seven by 12 feet with the deepest spot being about 30 inches. Hindsight is a wonderful thing! As plants encircle a pond it will always appear smaller. Time permitting, I would like to build another much larger one!”

Felicity: “Who calls your current pond home?”

Ashley:  “Not just fish and plants. I welcome all critters so long as a balance is maintained. This includes lizards, insects and, spiders.  Frogs sometimes visit but won’t breed in the pond. As for mosquitoes, their larvae are prized tucker* for the goldies so we have no problems in that department!


“I leave a small access point for our nocturnal native visitors such as Bennett’s wallabies, bandicoots and pottaroos; who will sometimes come in for a drink at night. My wife Cathy wasn’t very impressed with a certain snake that visited last year!”

Felicity: “Well, I was just about to ask ‘what’s the most challenging thing about maintaining a back-garden goldfish pond…’ but I think you’ve just answered my question. I’m with Cathy! But, as for maintenance…?”

Ashley: “People find this amazing, but other than dealing with some over vigorous water plants, in 12 years I have never cleaned this pond! Here is the secret! The pond is constructed quite near our home. I have a rainwater downpipe draining into one side of the pond and an overflow on the other. Simple as that! Every time it rains some water is flushed out. When rain sets in for days the pond is completely washed. I like to think of it as the fish living in a water hole which is being fed by clean water from upstream. The system simply emulates what happens in nature and let’s face it; nobody needs to “maintain” her!  Having outlined this system, I would be reticent using it in an area known for acid rain.”

Felicity: “That must be gratifying, to emulate a natural system; efficient and aesthetic. As regards acid rain… that’s an important reminder to keep in mind innate challenges a particular environment poses. Which makes me wonder, no matter which hemisphere we call home, do you have any particular advice to share with those contemplating a pond?”

Ashley: “Most importantly, get the construction right the first time. Once you’ve built your pond, you should never have to concern yourself with problems of leaks or excess water (overflow). Be sure to build close enough to your home so that it can be enjoyed by all …  a focal point if you like. People will naturally gravitate towards a pond. Also, make sure there is water movement of some sort, be it a gentle trickle to a full on waterfall!  If the pond is in “balance” you will have little to do other than enjoy it!”

Felicity: “I’m there! Your pond sounds like a welcoming retreat. Even during a frosty Tasmanian winter… though I suspect you’re just trying to make us snow-walloped Northern Hemisphere folks feel better!”


Ashley: “You can hang a beautiful picture on a wall, and it will always be the same. For me, my pond is a beautiful picture in a state of flux. I can stand at the pond with a hot brew, take pleasure at all the subtle happenings, and simply lose myself in thought.”

And upon that image, we thank Ashley Thomson for a respite from this snowy winter. Less than a month to Spring, or rather, Autumn, or… Well, upon which ever hemisphere you abode… Happy Ponding!


“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”Albert Camus

All photos taken by Ashley Thomson – copyright February 20, 2014. You can enjoy more of his work at:

*Chook – Australian for chicken!

*Tucker – supper!

“The Pond” Down Under


Aquariverse is delighted to bring you a view of “The Pond,” an original time-lapse film created by Australian writer, photographer and musician Ashley Thomson. A man of many talents, Thomson also composed and performed the accompanying music.

Thomson homesteads an idyllic little corner of the Australian island state of Tasmania where the Tiger Quolls sometimes quarrel

and the Kookaburra “sits in the old gum tree.”

Thomson said he designed and created his back-garden pond (and planted the lush vegetation that surrounds and shelters it) as a retreat for humans and fish alike … having adopted the goldfish that inhabit it after they outgrew their previous owner’s aquarium. 

Note to Northern-Hemisphere blog visitors: if you have trouble viewing this image, try turning your phone, tablet, lop-top whatever upside down.*

Note to all blog visitors: if you also have an aquarium or pond you are particularly proud of, please feel free to contact Aquariverse for possible inclusion in a future post.

Please send contact information via the contact form below.

And remember:

“Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today, it is already tomorrow in Australia.” Charles M. Schulz


*kidding! (about turning your device upside down)

Here’s the contact form:

“Too Much of a Good Thing Can be Wonderful”*


What’s the most unaesthetic beneficial thing in your tank?


It rhymes with… um…..

Hm…. Does anything actually rhyme with algae?

Anyway, algae is beneficial on all levels. So long as it’s not out of control, or covering your tank’s walls to the point you’re trying to locate your fish through an eerie green film.

Indeed, algae are, after all, living plants that release oxygen, thus doing their part for the overall fresh-water community. It’s a healthy and free food source. And algae can add their own lovely texture. I intentionally let it soften the edges of the plastic plants I mix through my live plants. The goldfish certainly appreciate grazing on it.

But, depending on the species of algae: green, red or brown, an overabundance can serve as a symptom of an imbalance in your tank’s eco-system, i.e., poor water conditions, too little carbon dioxide, too much or too little light. The link below will take you to a useful guide:

Liz Collins, a fish expert with a well-known national pet retailer, prefers keeping to a regular tank-cleaning schedule to removing algae with chemical algicides.

“There’s definitely chemicals to control algae, but that’s not the route we’re going for in this day and age. My best advice is to keep up with regular gravel vacuuming, monthly 25-percent water changes.”

Liz also suggests adding an algae-eating fish to your fish-tank’s community. “Bristle-nose plecos are a good choice..

Unlike other plecos Bristle-nose(s) only grow to five inches.” That said, Liz still recommends they’re housed in no less than a 30-gallon tank.

And aren’t they lovely? Actually, they are.
Bushy Nose Pleco

For those with gold-fish tanks, Liz says some people try their luck with snails. “They’re the only safe option, as algae-eating fish species can’t healthfully tolerate the goldfishes’ preferred cooler temperatures.”  But you can hear the frown in her voice as she adds, “But really, snails don’t add a lot of benefit.”

Is that an opening for a debate? Feel free to send your comments.


“Too much of a good thing can be wonderful!”*

― Mae West



Me: “YEAH!! It snowed it snowed!!”

Radio: “The winter storm that’s moving across the Southeast has forced schools and businesses to close.”*

Me: “No school! Whoopee! (opening cupboards) Popcorn? Check. Hot cocoa? Check.”

Radio: “Ice brought down power lines — forcing hundreds of thousands of people to lose power in Alabama, Georgia and in North and South Carolina. In Raleigh, N.C., motorists got trapped on the roads as the storm moved in quicker than expected.”*

Me: “Flashlight? Check. Batteries? Check.”

Radio: “Battery operated air-pump for the aquarium?”

Me : “Che—? Wait. What?”

Radio: “Don’t tell me you don’t have an oxygen supplementing battery operated air-pump for your aquarrrrrrrriummmmmmm……*blip*

Me: (blinking in the dark):   *sigh*

Because, let’s face it, your fish can only live so long in an aquarium that’s lost its filter and heater to a power outage, especially if you don’t happen to own a generator.

Let’s tackle the heat equation first – as temperature changes will affect your fish before the loss of a filter will.

How quickly your tank’s water temperature drops depends on the volume of water it holds and the temperature of the room it’s housed in. Most fresh-water aquarium fish can tolerate water temperatures that drop as low as 60 Fahrenheit, so long as the drop is gradual and the chill doesn’t last longer than a few days.

“It’s not necessarily the cold that gets them,” warns David Stone, President of the Greater Hartford Aquarium Society, . “Most healthy fish can survive temperatures that drop as low as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s the ICK and other diseases that can crop up later that can overwhelm them, especially because their systems are already stressed from enduring a chilled tank.”

Stone recommends having warmed water ready to gradually add to a tank that’s losing temperature. Make sure you’ve treated your tap water with a chlorine neutralizing product:

But Stone reminds fish-keepers to “be very careful not to raise the temperature more than two degrees at a time. As fish are especially sensitive to sudden water changes and can die quickly from temperature shock.” He adds having an old fashioned hot water bottle ready to lean up against the outside of the tank and floating a warm-water filled, secure, tight-sealing plastic food container (filled with treated water in case of leaks) in the tank are good emergency measures.

If you cook with a gas stove or are lucky enough to own the kind of BBQ or wood stove that lets you boil a kettle on the side – you’ve at least got a chance to refill those containers with warmed water. If you haven’t got that option, wrapping your tank with blankets is a better than doing nothing. But, don’t choke off fresh oxygen by covering the top of the tank; just wrap the sides. The idea is to maintain and retain as much of your tank’s natural temperature as possible.

Toward that end – and this suggestion’s especially good for cold weather power outages of extended duration – have a large supply of hand-warmers ready. You know, the kind you tuck into your gloves or socks. I have a friend who tapes dozens of them to the entire outside surface of her tank. She says they generate heat for 10 to 12 hours.

Of course if an outage occurs during warm weather months, you’ll still need to know how to maintain a livable temperature. This truly excellent site offers expert all-weather advice:

And, no matter the season, if you have heads up regarding an impending storm, consider making a 25-percent water change. That way you’ll go into the event with a clean tank – staying ahead of the many stress factors associated with less than optimal water quality.

Here’s a basic and lovely-to-look-at tutorial on that subject – offering practical advice that might not occur except as a regrettable afterthought:

Do take note of this fish keeper’s advice to purchase that aforementioned battery-operated air pump for some future rainy day – as he quite rightly points out this oxygenating aid isn’t always readily available at your local pet shop. In fact, they’re much easier to find them line:

If a battery operated air pump sounds like a no brainer… not so a battery-operated heater.  They’re much harder to locate, even on line. I found this discussion at:

Interested about one users suggestion to use a UPS – Uninterruptable Power Supply to keep the heater and filter running, I searched to see what other aquarium keepers had to say on the subject.

Here’s an interesting exchange about UPS benefits and wattage requirements — wattage being determined by the number of gallons you’ll want to filter:

If a UPS makes sense for your setup:  you can find more information and product links at:

Of course preparation’s 9/10’s of a problem avoided. Toward that end I’m adding a battery-operated air-pump to my storm-prep cupboard. The UPS I’ll have to save up for. I think my fish will consider it a good investment.

Benjamin Franklin

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
― Benjamin Franklin

p.s. – I’ll bet Ben Franklin would have kept a pretty spiffy aquarium!

*The part of the radio was played (mostly) by NPR Morning Edition:

Cycling not Backpedaling


Liz Collins has worked for a well-known national pet supply retailer since 1998. She’s also an avid and experienced aquarist in her own right.  For the record, she owns a 29-gallon fresh-water community tank and her current favorite fish is the pineapple swordtail.

Pineapple Swordtail

photo source

Having recently taken the opportunity to tap her expertise, I asked Liz what’s the biggest mistake most beginners make when setting up their first tank. Without hesitation she replies:

“Too frequent water changes. Too frequent water changes kill your tank’s nitrogen cycle.”

Ouch. What’s a nitrogen cycle?

“The nitrogen cycle is, basically, the life cycle of the beneficial bacteria living within your tank’s eco-system.  It keeps your fish healthy. It’s analogous to breast milk for a baby, providing nutrients, helping the immune system. It also breaks down parasites like the kind that cause Ick and other fish diseases.”

Ah, so changing out the water before that cycle takes hold…?

“Causes cloudy water…”

Which prompts another water change…which kills whatever beneficial bacteria were still clinging to life… which results in more stressed (possibly dead or dying) fish…which prompts another emergency water change… and you get the picture, murky as it is.

No? Still cloudy on the subject? Here’s an excellent, technical overview:

And here’s another:

In the meantime instead of ramping up a case of “new tank syndrome,” consider adding a chemical product (available at any pet store) to clear the tank quickly.

“Basically these products enlarge the particles in the water so the filter can filter them out,” explains Liz. “Plus, it’s not a chemical that’s detrimental to your fish. You certainly don’t want to rely on a commercial chemical for maintenance, but it will help you ride out the cloudiness as the cycle’s trying to establish itself.”

Liz reminds nitrogen newbies, “It can take a full two months for the nitrogen cycle to work its way through a tank’s system. You may still see cloudy water before that. You may or may not see algae.”

And you also shouldn’t see any fish before week two.

Because, in all honesty, you shouldn’t  add them before the cycle begins to take hold.

“Lack of an established nitrogen cycle causes distress,” continues Liz, “effecting gill functions, symptoms like fin clamping.”

Fin clamping’s when fish hold their fins tight to their bodies. It’s a clear sign of stress, physical discomfort.

“If you see fish in distress you’ll want to add aquarium (not household) salt (after following dosing instructions), and perhaps a water clearing product. But really, the goal is to not put your fish in jeopardy in the first place.”

Indeed, aquarium keeping is a lesson in patience. And more patience.

When you first set your tank up you want it to cycle on empty. Sure, go ahead and have fun aquascaping… putting in your gravel, decorations and plants – though live plants have needs too and that’s a whole ‘nother post! Install your heater and let your filter gurgle to itself for those recommended two weeks…


“That’s hardly ever done,” laments Liz. “You can’t even get people to wait two days sometimes.”

She suggests trying to counteract the effects of impatience by adding a chemical like ‘Cycle’ or some other biological media.

“It will initially make the water somewhat slimy,” continues Liz, “but that’s good. That’s your nitrogen and all of the good bacteria establishing the system.”

After you’ve added that product,  wait at least 24 hours before adding fish.  Liz maintains that even with jumpstarting the tank with “Cycle” it’s still better to wait two weeks.

Why wouldn’t you? Two weeks to do your best to establish the healthiest environment for your new pets … good for them and good for you.  A newly established tank full of clear water and energetic fish beats the murky alternative any day.

But, if you simply can’t wait..  consider some “starter fish.” Liz says, “Hardy Dalmatian Mollies can help cycle a new tank. Rainbows and pineapple swordtails, too. Basically any of your larger fresh-water fish. All good.”

Not so Cory cats.  Liz does not recommend any sort of bottom feeders. Algae eaters either. Try saying that ten times fast!

“There’s nothing to sustain them.  Not enough tank to clean or algae to clear.  You can feed them commercial pellets but that can make them lazy enough not to do their job.”

In an aside about algae eaters, common plecos in particular, Liz says the ever popular plecos shouldn’t go into anything less than a 55-gallon tank. “They might be an inch long when you purchase them but they can grow to be 18-inch adults.”   An observation, which leads to some parting advice:

Read the decals attached to pet store tanks. They’re there to help you identify each species’ temperament  (community or aggressive) and its environmental requirements. Labels should also indicate how large a fish is likely to get.

Liz flashes a bright smile. “The very first question I ask is ‘How into fish are you? Everyone wants to start with a five or ten gallon tank but when you start looking at the adult size of a particular fish you’ll realize you’ve limited yourself to two fish.  I always say buy the biggest tank you think you can maintain. And, the bigger the tank, the easier it is to balance the eco-system. When you have more volume in the water the fish can tolerate more toxic levels –  essentially, a bigger tank’s more forgiving of beginners’ mistakes.”

And beginner’s luck? Perhaps… but…

“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.”

Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea