Maintaining A Stable And Proper Environment For Endlers
Endlers can tolerate an amazing range of water conditions. This is one of the reasons Endlers may be an ideal fish for new aquarium hobbyists. While Endlers can tolerated a wide range of water conditions you may find that there are water conditions that are ideal for Endlers in your aquarium.
A great place to start as far as what your aquarium water should be like is to have an idea as to what the water was like in their nature environment where they originally came from in Venezuela.
In 1975, while collecting in Laguna de Patos, Cumana, in north-eastern Venezuela, Dr. John Endler described the water where they came from as warm (27° C or 81° F), hard water which is very green with unicellular algae. We have actually tested raising Endlers in green water and they did very well however the tank of course was not very pretty. Instead of using green water we now add a little Spirulina to our fish food which we believe to be beneficial and seems to be well accepted by the Endlers.
Major Changes In Environmental Conditions Can Be Harmful
Over the years we experience has shown us that doing major changes to an Endler environment whether good or bad can have a significant affect on Endler health. In order to maintain optimal health we have found that an Endlers environment should be kept as stable and as natural as possible.
While water changes are usually beneficial and sometimes necessary, water changes may disrupt their environment and can be stressful to Endlers causing them to be susceptible to illness.
How Can Water Changes Be Stressful To Endlers?
Water changes done improperly can have a negative effect on Endlers. Some of the most common water change mistakes are as follows:
Temperature: Water temperature should be checked in the aquarium prior to doing a water change. The water added back to the aquarium should be as close to the original temperature as possible. Endlers enjoy water temperatures that are a little higher than most tropical fish. Adding water that is too cold or too hot can stress the Endlers making them susceptible to getting Ich or other illnesses. Excessive differences in temperature will kill the fish.
Using Tap Water Directly: Municipal tap water usually has chemicals added to it to help make it safer for human consumption. These chemicals, usually chlorine or chloramine, can damage the gills of fish as well as their skin. Not only can these chemicals be harmful to fish they can also kill some of the beneficial bacteria found in aquariums. Tap water may also contain heavy metals such as lead, copper or zinc as well as other metals.
A dechlorinator can help remove harmful chlorine from tap water but it will not remove chloramine which is a combination of chlorine and ammonia used treat drinking water. For best results a good quality water conditioner that is designed to remove chlorine and chloramine as well as bind up heavy metals. These high quality water conditioners often have ingredients to help heal damaged fish skin.
There is also the possibility that your water may have other harmful things in it such as fluoride. There may even be other things in the water that you would not expect to be in municipal tap water. In one of our previous locations our local water report indicated that the tap water had higher levels of arsenic in it than recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Depending on where you live well water may also have high levels of contaminants such as heavy metals or arsenic.
Changing Too Much Water: One of the most common mistakes made by new aquarium owners is doing a complete water change. Doing a complete water change destroys the beneficial bacteria found in an aquarium.
Doing Water Changes too Seldom: Except in certain circumstances, doing water changes to seldom can lead to a build up of ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. It can also lead to increases in metals and minerals within an aquarium. A build up of ammonia can happen very rapidly often causing stress, ammonia burn or death.
Doing Water Changes Too Often: How much water should be changed and how often? While there are general rules there is no perfect answer for every situation. Our answer is to do water changes in a manner that minimizes the changes in the aquariums ecosystem. If your tank is properly cycled then fewer water changes should be required to keep harmful ammonia and nitrites at a minimum in the tank. If the tank is not properly cycled then water changes may need to be done more often to keep the ammonia and nitrite levels at a safe level. On the other hand, doing water changes too often while a tank is cycling can slow down the nitrogen cycle and make it take longer for the aquarium to become biologically stable.
Topping Off: Evaporation will occur in nearly every aquarium. Simply topping off the aquarium when the water level gets low will increase the amounts of metals, minerals, and salts as they are usually added when the water is topped off but they don’t leave the tank unless water is removed from the aquarium. This is similar to what happens to the Great Salt Lake in Utah or other lakes that have an inlet but no outlet. Topping off also does nothing to remove harmful ammonia, nitrites or nitrates.
If you are interested in learning more about water changes and how often to do them Cory McElroy at Aquarium Co-Op (we would highly recommend subscribing to his YouTube channel) does a fantastic job explaining water changes for most freshwater aquariums in his YouTube video “Why do YOU change water?”
Stabilizing The Aquarium By Using Filters
The use of aquarium filters can help to stabilize the aquarium ecosystem. Filters can help reduce the amount of ammonia and Nitrites found in an aquarium as well as help to improve the clarity of the water. Many filters also help to increase the amount of oxygen in the water due to the water movement they create which helps helps to increase the oxygen exchange on the surface of the water.
Common Types Of Filtration Systems
Filtration systems used in aquariums usually rely on one or all of the following methods of filtration; mechanical, biological and chemical.
Mechanical Filtration: Mechanical filtration is used to physically trap particles that are found in aquarium water such as excess fish food, debris, fish waste and decaying materials that may be in the water. Products used to mechanically filter aquarium water include filter floss, pads and sponges. These mechanical filters can come with different size openings or pore sizes to help trap different size partials. Sometimes these products are arranged in an aquarium so that the largest particles are trapped first and then passed to other filters to trap smaller particles. Mechanical filters often serve as a biological filter as they can harbor beneficial bacteria in them.
Biological Filtration: Biological filtration is the process by which microorganisms consume unwanted contaminants in the water. These microorganisms help to control dissolved organics, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. It takes a proper environment and time to build up good biological filtration. One of the biggest mistakes made by beginning aquarists is not allowing the aquarium the time to properly cycle and then adding fish or too many fish too soon. Adding fish or too many fish will overload the biological filtration system and may cause an ammonia spike or bacterial bloom.
Chemical Filtration: There are several types of chemical filtration available for use in freshwater aquariums. Activated carbon is the most common form of chemical filtration used in aquariums. Activated carbon helps to remove a variety of pollutants found in aquarium water. Activated carbon is often incorporated inside the filter media designed to go into commercially available filtration systems. The effectiveness of activated carbon will diminish over time so it must be changed regularly.
Another form of chemical filtration media is Zeolite. Zeolite will quickly absorb ammonia but should not be used as an ongoing filter media. Zeolite can be particularly useful when fish are first introduced into an aquarium or when there is an ammonia spike. Salt should not be used in an aquarium that uses Zeolite as salt will cause Zeolite to release ammonia the ammonia it has absorbed back into the aquarium causing an ammonia spike.
Seachem Purigen filter media is a filter media that is fast becoming a favorite of many aquarium hobbyists. It is a macro-porous synthetic polymer that is highly effective in removing ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. One of the unique features ofSeachem Purigen is that it can be regenerated in a solution of bleach and water.
Other Methods Used To Create a Consistent Environment
Partial Water Changes: Partial water changes with the use of a gravel vacuum is one of the most common methods used to help keep the environment consistent for aquarium fish. The idea behind partial water changes is to lower the levels of pollutants in the water without killing harmful bacteria that helps to make up the biological filtration system or causing major changes to water chemistry which could stress the Endlers. The use of a gravel vacuum helps to remove organic waste that builds up in the aquarium substrate. Most hobbyist recommend partial water changes of between 10% and 30% on a weekly to monthly basis depending on the aquarium however this is a general rule that may or may not apply to your aquarium.
Drip System: An interesting method to keep aquarium water consistent and reduce harmful pollutants used by some hobbyist is a continuous drip system. This system is similar to that used in an outdoor garden. A drip emitter is used to continuously add small amounts of water to an aquarium and the aquarium is set up with an automatic drain system to keep the aquarium from overflowing. It is important that the water entering the tank is suitable for aquarium use as the water in the tank is replaced at a relatively rapid rate. For example a 1/2 GPH emitter releases 1/2 gallon of water per hour which would completely replace the water in a 10 gallon aquarium in 20 hours. To reduce the amount of water being replaced at one time hobbyist will sometimes add a timer to the system. This system is similar to many systems used in fish stores due to the high numbers of fish kept in the aquarium as well as the desire to make them easy to access when sold.
While this system may be an ideal system for fish stores, such a relatively sterile environment may not be a healthy long term solution for Endlers.
Walstad Method: A highly favorable method of creating a more consistent and natural environment especially for Endlers is the Walstad Method. Made popular by Diana Walstad, author of the book ‘ECOLOGY of the PLANTED AQUARIUM – A Practical Manual and Scientific Treatise for the Home Aquarist’. The Walstad Method is designed to create an ecosystem where plants and fish help to balance each other’s needs. Endlers are especially well suited for this method due to their small size and low bio load. This method uses soil to help the plants thrive.
This method has several advantages many of which help to reduce stress for Endlers and create a more consistent ecosystem for them:
- Good plant growth
- No injected CO2 required
- No or little algae
- No need for plant fertilizers
- Supplies trace elements for fish health
- Stable environment for your pets
- No need to vacuum the substrate
- No need for frequent water changes—once the tank is established
- A smell-free tank.
- Biofilter may not be required (plants will take care of the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate, and the soil bacteria will also consume nitrogen).
Biotope: If creating a natural environment really interests you, you may wish to consider developing a biotope. A biotope is similar to the Walstad Method except it goes even further to create a natural environment. A biotope is an environment that as closely as possible mimics the environment where the fish were found. The habitat uses the same substrate, plants and decorations that would typically be found in their native habitat. Water conditions are made as close as possible to those found in nature and even the food supply is matched as closely as possible. Has anyone actually created an Endler biotope? We haven’t heard of any as of the writing of this article however we would love to see it.
Things That Can Disrupt A Balanced Ecosystem In An Aquarium
Even once a balanced ecosystem has been established there are several things that can disrupt that balance:
Overfeeding: Overfeeding is one of the most common things aquarium hobbyist do to disrupt the ecosystem in their aquarium. Endlers actually need very little food due to their small size and grazing habits. Although Endlers act like they’re constantly starving avoid the temptation to feed them more than they can eat in two minutes. Healthy Endlers can go for weeks without being fed if necessary as they will usually graze for algae or other foods in a well established tank. For best results Endlers should be fed small amounts several times a day and at a minimum twice a day. If you use crushed flake food to feed your Endlers don’t forget that you are concentrating the food and less is needed.
Undetected Death: Like any other fish, once and a while an Endler will die. Sometimes these dead Endler bodies can get caught up in the filter system or hidden in the plants or decorations. Dead fish left unattended can lead to an ammonia spike as the body decomposes. This can lead to even more deaths due to the toxic effects of ammonia.
Chemicals: Chemicals can accidentally or intentionally introduced into an aquarium. Chlorine, chloramine, metals, salts and other minerals can be introduced into the aquarium if the water is not properly treated with the appropriate conditioner. If your tank is maintained in a manner that does not need frequent water changes these metals, salts and minerals can build up over time making proper water treatment even more important. Medications introduced into the aquarium while sometimes necessary can have a devastating effect on the ecosystem as they often kill the beneficial bacteria that helps keep the ecosystem stable.
Oxygen Levels: Poor oxygen levels are stressful to Endlers and other fish and can be detrimental to beneficial bacteria within the aquarium. Water movement near the surface helps promote good oxygen exchange in the tank.
Complete Water Changes: Doing a complete water change can kill beneficial bacteria and can stress Endlers.
Overcrowding: An aquarium that is overcrowded can quickly overwhelm the ecosystem and filtration system. If the number of fish becomes too much for the ecosystem then the levels of toxins such as ammonia and nitrites can increase dramatically resulting in illnesses or deaths.
When considering how overcrowded an aquarium is you should take into account all the organisms that may reside in your tank. Snails for example are not necessarily harmful to an aquarium and may be beneficial however they do produce waste and contribute to the overall bioload of the aquarium. Malaysian Trumpet Snails (MTS) can quickly multiply in hundreds or even thousands of snails in a relatively short period of time. Because these snails spend much of their time burrowing in the substrate there is usually many more in the tank than it may appear.
Giving Our Fish The Best Possible Environment For Our Situation
First of all there is no one way to keep Endlers that works best for everyone. We are a strong advocate for the Walstad method because once the ecosystem is properly established the Endlers seem to be very healthy and rarely need additional care. Unfortunately the Walstad method does not work great for our situation due to the number and size of the tanks we maintain and the because we are constantly required to stir our tanks up as we sell fish or move them from one location to another.
Our method of providing the best possible environment for our fish and our situation uses some of the same principals found in the Walstad method but still allows us to do what we need to do in order to offer our Endlers for sale. This method is not meant to be beautiful, it is only meant to provide a healthy, stable environment. We don’t recommend this method for everyone, it’s only one solution but we did want to share it with you.
Substrate: Sometimes overlooked, we feel the substrate one of the most important parts of the bio-filtration process within an aquarium. The most common substrate used in aquariums is what is commonly referred to as aquarium gravel. This gravel consists of small polished pebbles which are often colored. Most Aquarium gravel is quite smooth on the outside providing little surface area for beneficial bacteria to colonize.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of a substrate in assisting in the filtration process it should be porous and it should allow water to circulate through it.
We use 2″ to 4″ inches of highly porous substrate similar to CaribSea Flora Max planted aquarium substrate. This substrate looks somewhat like crushed porous lava rock and may be a little sharp for soft burrowing fish such as loaches. Also the substrate should be rinsed well before using. The size and shape of the substrate help to ensure the flow of water within the substrate helping to provide oxygen to the beneficial bacteria. The small holes or pores within the substrate helps to maintain a good population of beneficial bacteria within the substrate which in effect becomes a major portion of the filtration system within the aquarium as it helps break down waste and convert ammonia and nitrites into less harmful nitrates which can be used by plants as food.
The substrate also provides minerals and nutrients that help plants grow. The substrate has a black color which really helps to show off the Endlers amazing colors.
The substrate does break down very slowly over the years requiring us to top off the substrate from time to time. This also helps to put nutrients back into the substrate for the plants.
Other similar substrate products are Fluorite, Activ Flora and Eco Complete. We have been happy with both Flora Max and Eco Complete.
Plants: Plants are also a very important part of the Ecosystem for the majority of our aquariums. While bacteria found in the gravel and filter systems help to break down toxic ammonia into harmful nitrites and then less harmful nitrates, left unchecked these nitrates can build up to levels that can be harmful to fish. Fortunately plants use nitrates as a food source and given enough live plants nitrate levels can drop to nearly zero. Plants also help to oxygenate the water which in tern is used by the fish.
Our tanks are set up for health and not necessarily beauty. We set our tanks up with the plants that do best for our setup and lighting conditions. To help minimize algae growth we use low level lighting which requires us to use low light plants. Most of our plants we use in our aquariums are Cryptocoryne wendtii. We use Cryptocoryne wendtii because it simply does very well in our tanks in our situation and we have divided off the plants for years from what started as 6 plants to what has now grown to hundreds if not thousands of plants. We continue to divide the plants as needed to provide plants for new tanks as we set them up. We also have Java Moss in some of our tanks as it provides an excellent place for fry to hide and feed.
After a few years the Cryptocoryne wendtii may develop some yellowish lines in it. This is an indication that it needs iron or other nutrients. Topping off with additional substrate usually fixes the problem.
Filtration: Because of the substrate and plants little additional filtration is required once the aquarium has become well established. We use sponge filters as a secondary form of filtration, usually the type with two sponges. These sponges are very inexpensive yet highly effective once a good bacterial colony has been established. The advantage of having two sponges is that one of the sponges can be removed for cleaning while the other is left in the tank. Because these filters are air powered the air that escapes from them helps to provide good water movement and breaks up the surface of the water.
Cleaning one sponge and leaving the other in place prevents us from disturbing the bacteria in the sponges all at the same time. These sponges should not be cleaned with any cleaners or even under tap water. Water should be removed from the tank and placed into a container. Remove the sponge and squeeze the sponge in the water from the container until most of the dark gunk is removed and then simply slide the sponge back where it goes on the filter. Do the second sponge on a separate date.
One problem we have had with these inexpensive sponge filters is that the suction cup that holds the sponge filter to the tank wall sometimes stops working causing the sponge filter to float to the top. We fixed this problem by turning the filters down to a horizontal position and placing a 2″ potted plant between the filters.
Lighting: Lighting is probably the thing we could work on the most. Due to the number of tanks we have we use low cost LED aquarium lights. Using better lights would likely give us the opportunity to have a greater variety of plants however it works for us so we haven’t changed things yet. Our lights are placed on a timer with the lights coming on in the morning for about 5 hours and then shutting off for 5 hours and then back on in the evening for about 5 hours. This helps the promote plant growth while inhibiting algae growth.
Temperature: Although we keep the room temperature fairly warm in our fish rooms we also keep an appropriately sized aquarium heater in each tank. The consistent temperatures help to prevent the Endlers from getting stress and promote healthy growth. We try to keep our tanks at a temperature of between 78° and 80° Fahrenheit. We will sometimes raise or lower the temperatures as temperature seems to affect the gender of the fry being produced. Lower temperatures seem to produce more females while higher temperatures seem to produce more males.
Partial Water Changes: We try to do as few water changes as possible in an attempt to keep as stable environment for our Endlers as possible. In fact some of our tanks require no water changes at all unless they are disturbed. Testing the levels of nitrates, nitrites and ammonia helps to give us an indication as to when or if a water change is needed. When we do need to do a water change we try to keep it as small as possible usually between 10% and 20% depending on the pollutant levels.
We usually don’t use a gravel vacuum unless we see a build up of mulm at the bottom of the tank which seldom occurs in our well planted tank with lots of substrate. We do however use the gravel vacuum if we are making major changes to the plants in the tanks such as when we are thinning them. When this happens we will usually do a larger water change and thoroughly vacuum all the substrate. This process causes major changes in the aquariums ecosystem so most of the fish are removed from the tank until the aquarium stabilizes and the ecosystem is restored. Solids are usually stirred up during these major changes requiring us to shake off the leaves of the plants with a stick or net handle. Leaving the debris on the leaves of the plant will cause algae to quickly form on them. During this restoration period we will usually experience an algae bloom and sometimes need to control it using Flourish Excel.
No Perfect System For Everyone…Yet
We have shared this information with you in the hopes that you may find a portion of it beneficial. We understand that everyone’s experience levels and situations are different and that what works for us may not work for you. It’s amazing how far the hobby has progressed in recent years and we are looking forward to new innovations to help make the hobby easier and keep our Endlers even more healthy.
We would like to welcome anyone that would like to share what works best for you in creating a stable and healthy environment for your Endlers in our comments.
The Aquarium Wiki post on the Walstad Method