Aquaria – tinkering and lights

The long-awaited breeding of my saulosi has gotten me back into a “meddling” mode with the tanks – caring for the fry, doing lots more water changes, making sure my 10 gallon and now my 20 long are fish-worthy as I need space for growout and for pulling extra males out. Mr. Psycho, the sole survivor of the sudden male deathmatch, has been caught and transferred to the 20.

I had to order a new tank heater for that one, as my old Stealth Pro had given up the ghost, and ended up with an Eheim internal heater. It seems to be working well enough at the moment. I also had to pull out another HOB filter from storage, one with a “surface skimming” feature from Dr. Foster and Smith that had sprung a leak around the motor housing because the O-ring had perished. Let’s just say I was not impressed that I couldn’t get a replacement from them, despite it being their own filter, and I note with some irony that the model is no longer for sale on their website. However, I’d taken the O-ring into the nearest True Value hardware store (Lowes and Home Depot being useless for this kind of thing) and gotten the two that were closest in size. Lo and behold, one of them worked! Which made me very happy, since that filter had been a gift. I set it up minus the surface skimming gimmick – yay for modular design – but quickly realized the second reason this filter was in storage. The thing seemed to cavitate like crazy and the sound of air bubbles hitting the impeller blades was not a nice soothing aquarium sound at all. (This was a very common problem back when Dr. F&S had the item and its reviews online.) Well, I figured out the problem. It wasn’t actual cavitation – it was that the totally unnecessary flow adjuster in the intake tube wasn’t airtight. So it was sucking air! Well, I have no use for lessening filter flow, so I grabbed my tube of aquarium silicone to simply seal it into the “fully open” position. It took some creative application of C-clamps to eject the plug of dried silicone from the tip – I used the stuff in a pebble pile project previously – and since the area in question is about an inch out of the water and on the outside of the part in question* I figured I’d just pop it back on without waiting for it to cure and see if my fix worked. Ah, blessed silence. Yup, shoddy design was the problem.

(*Hopefully I’m right about it not doing something nasty like contaminating the water. Perhaps I will let it cure properly after all. There’s a mini internal pump in there for water flow anyway.)

So the 20 long is good to go, pretty much – now with heater, filter, and extra “powerhead” for water motion. Now I just have to figure out the Lid Situation. You see, I got a really good deal on just the aquarium itself, and it fits perfectly on the bottom rack of my 55 gallon tank stand, and I had all the necessary equipment already – so I didn’t buy a lid at the time. And since this is a long tank – 30 inches – I decided to mount the HOB filter on the side instead of the back. That way the filter output can create a current that flows the length of the tank and the mini pump helps push the water back. But that configuration means that conventional lids do not fit. I tried rigging my own using some pieces of acrylic cut to fit, but the thickness I chose was too thin and the pieces sagged terribly. I may need to find actual glass panels instead. The filter’s so much easier to access when it’s on the side! And with its history of leaking problems I want it where I can keep an eye on it.

Lights – well, I realized that I’d totally neglected to do the usual bulb swap around back in June – Internet Knowledge says that the plant-useful lifespan of a linear fluorescent bulb is six months, though the human eye doesn’t notice a difference. Well, I’m cheap and I use a lot of low-light plants so my plan is to rotate out one bulb every six months and get a year of use out of each, since my tanks each have dual-bulb fixtures. However, with the addition of vallisneria to the 75, I can’t just take the year-old bulbs and put them on the cichlid tank anymore! So yesterday I went around and got some new bulbs. First at the local PetSmart, I picked up the Aqueon Floramax and Colormax bulbs – the spectral graphs on these bulbs are almost identical, though there’s no way to tell how much power they’re actually putting out at any given wavelength because lightbulb manufacturing companies are Evil Corporations that don’t want their customers to know just how awful their products really are. (No, I am NOT being too cynical. That’s important info and what other reason would they have to not publicize it than to pull one over on the collective customer base?)

But I digress. I then went to Lowes, where I had a hard time finding the T8 bulbs that I wanted because the shelves were organized kind of oddly. But eventually I snagged a pair of 5000K and a pair of 6500K lights. Now these lights are probably not outputting a lot of photosynthetically useful light, since human eyes see “brightness” in the green wavelengths, so that’s where the most power output’s gonna be in a for-human-use bulb, with just enough of the other wavelengths to tweak the color balance of the bulb. But they work really well for supplementing plant bulbs, since plant bulbs glow purple and look very dim to human eyes. Although I have to say, the visual effect of the Floramax and the Colormax bulbs both over the planted tank was really cool. The neon tetras in particular glowed so fiercely it was like they were little stripes of blue and red fire! But the tank looked quite dim and I have two tanks with plants, to the Colormax got moved to the 75.

I did also try various combinations of the regular bulbs over the 75 – but even the 6000K temperature is still a bit “warm” and with only those bulbs over the tank, the blue background looked washed out and there was a bit of a sepia feel to the overall look, which clashes terribly with my décor and makes all but the yellow fish look pretty bad. However, the Colormax bulb paired with a 6000K bulb is pretty much spot-on! It makes the acei’s lavender/blue bodies really shine. And if the saulosi females swim near the top they get an amusing orangey-red cast to their color for a moment, though lower down where the light from the two bulbs mix they are a proper sunny yellow.

On the planted tank I found that the 6000K bulb wasn’t a really good match, and the 5000K bulb helped the red-leaved plants show their color better, so I went with the warmer color on that tank. The black background goes with anything after all! I must confess, though, to being curious to see what an actual blacklight bulb would do over this tank. Make the neons glow even more, probably! Pity I don’t think I can find a 48″ fluorescent blacklight bulb locally. I know they do exist but I really don’t want to mail-order a single inch-diameter 4′ glass object! I might have successfully done it once before but whether or not the bulb gets to you in one piece is kind of a toss-up if one reads the reviews.

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