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Aquarium Equipment Explained Part 3 - Heat, Light & Decor

Nov 28, 2007
In order to keep tropical fishes alive and in their optimum condition, they need to be accommodated at their natural temperature. This is usually achieved with a thermostatically controlled aquarium heater. The optimum temperature for individual freshwater species varies; however, a suitable temperature range common to most tropical fish would be between 72 and 80 degrees F (22 to 27 degrees C).

Fluctuations in temperature are hazardous, and will tend to lead to a lower resistance to disease; it is therefore necessary to keep the temperature stable in a tropical aquarium. It is a simple matter to install a thermostatically controlled heater, and once set, it will keep your water at a stable temperature. Obviously, to set this up, and to keep a regular check, you will need a good quality aquarium thermometer.

Set the heater to approximately 76F (25C). Place the heater on the rear glass of the aquarium at an angle of about 45 degrees, close to, but not touching the gravel. It should be placed near a filter outlet, or where there is water movement, so that heat can be distributed around the tank.

Do not plug an aquarium heater into the power socket until it is submerged in water, irreparable damage could be caused. Be sure never to touch an aquarium heater until is unplugged and had sufficient time to cool down. These things are hot enough to severely burn when switched on and not in water.

Heaters are rated in watts, and your choice will depend on the amount of water in your aquarium. As a rule of thumb, simply multiply your aquarium capacity (in gallons) by 7.5, this will give you the approximate wattage required, e.g. 40 gallons x 7.5 = 300 watts.

Fluorescent light tubes are used in the vast majority of aquariums, and although one tube looks much like another, there is actually a significant difference in performance between the various products available. Broadly speaking there are two categories of tube according to their light intensity.

Standard intensity tubes are suitable for freshwater aquariums, whilst high intensity tubes are predominantly used for marine aquariums where more demanding light requirements are necessary, although they can also be used in freshwater aquariums.

The mix of wavelengths, known as the spectrum, varies considerably between products, for instance, a standard tube could predominantly use yellow-green of the spectrum to give an overall neutral white light. On the other hand, there are tubes that emit more blue and red, ideal for photosynthesis in a planted aquarium.

Another specialised example are the blue tubes, as their name suggests they give off a blue light by boosting the blue of the spectrum, this can simulate nocturnal light, they are generally used in the marine aquarium to fill in the holes of the spectrum produced by other lights.

Getting the light right is often overlooked by many fishkeepers, although how much light, and the quality of light is a matter for much speculation, you will find there is a lot of conflicting advice around. What everyone agrees though is that for planted aquariums the correct spectrum of light is essential to encourage vigorous photosynthesis.

Fish only aquaria are the easiest to light, the quality and intensity of light is not vital to their survival, although the majority of fishes are diurnal, therefore will benefit from the day-night routine.

Fluorescent tubes are rated on their length and wattage, 25watts = 30inch tube (76cm), 30watts = 36inch tube (92cm), and so on. As a rough rule of thumb, to calculate the tube or tubes you require, multiply your aquarium capacity (in gallons) by 1.5, this will give the approximate wattage required, e.g. 40 gallons x 1.5 = 60 watts = 2 x 30 watt tubes.

To operate your fluorescent tube, you will need a control unit; these are rated specifically to tube sizes, they are remote from the tank and incorporate the motor and the switch. As with all light bulbs, these tubes will dim over time, it is therefore necessary to change them at regular intervals, approximately 9 months or so.

As far as decorating your aquarium is concerned it's down to personal choice, although you will have a better effect if you keep it looking natural. If you're using rocks in your decor, be sure to use inert materials, such as sandstone or slate, and also bear in mind the weight of any large rockwork you design.

If you use a lot of rocks be sure the structure is stable, you could consider gluing it together with aquarium sealant, this would avoid it toppling over and injuring fish or damaging the aquarium. These structures are useful as they give shelter to the shy and more nervous fish of the community.

There are certain types of wood available to use in your aquarium. Bogwood and Mopani wood, these woods are quite attractive, especially in planted aquaria, but you must remember to soak Bogwood for at least a week before putting it into your tank, this will leach out the dye, although you can never get rid of it all together. The water will have a subtle brown tinge to it, which I find quite warm and effective.

Mopani wood, on the other hand, doesn't have this effect; it is a harder wood, (an iron wood of Southern Africa) therefore it will not rot as quickly, and it doesn't leach out colour the same as Bogwood. The use of these materials in your tank will naturally make the water more acidic over time, due to the slow decomposition of the wood.

You could consider using film decor, this sticks onto the rear of the aquarium, it completely covers the glass at the back of the tank, and there are various designs that simulate vegetation, rockscapes, etc. It is bought by length, off the roll, and it does have a pleasing effect, especially if you don't have much decor in the aquarium.
About the Author
For more information about freshwater tropical fishkeeping please visit my site at www.freshwatertropicalfishkeeping.com for 30 years or more of fishkeeping experience. Or watch out for more fishkeeping articles from me, Kevin Yates at FWTFK
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