Knowing the Least Popular Style among Aquarists: Blackwater Aquarium

blackwater aquarium setting
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Blackwater aquarium is a tank contained with dark water that most aquatic plants could not live, let alone thrive, and fish are nearly visible. Thus, it is not an understatement to say that this kind of aquascaping style is the least popular among such hobbyists.

While it sounds impossible and nonsensical, however, excuses to do some investment in blackwater aquarium still exist. The first stage to do the job is knowing some fish species that could live well in the acidic, besmirched and soft water.

Wild-caught fish are one of the few options. Blackwater aquarium is close to their living environment in nature with minimum lighting that is handy to lessen the stress level. Furthermore, it could be of great importance to breed or grow some particular species.

 

Special Features of Blackwater Aquarium

what is blackwater aquarium
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Several natural blackwater biotopes could be adopted in your aquarium by utilizing different components. Though the outcome does not exactly resemble the real nature, you could still create a gorgeous wild-like aquascape.

To make it happens, feature these elements in the blackwater aquarium of your own.

The first one is, of course, dark water, the acidic and soft one. The color ranges from a rather tea-toned hue to deep brown. A yellowish bitter-tasting organic substance called tannins, which naturally present in plants, creates those said tints.

Therefore, the water in the ponds, rivers, and streams will become darker by the more falling tree branches, leaves, and organic rubbishes. Depart from the same principle, that is how your aquarium could get dark. Hence, the second element would be aquatic plants; as many as a tank could feature.

Plants and wood elements, especially driftwood and even decomposed leaf litters, are commonly utilized in blackwater aquarium settings.

 

Blackwater Aquarium Setting

The blackwater aquarium supplies usually consist of these following things.

Tank

Rocks
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Any size of the tank is not a matter of aquascaping this particular style. You could create a nano blackwater aquarium or, on the other hand, build a river type using 500 gallons of water.

Water Components

Water Components
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Besides acidic and soft, another trait that must exist in the water is low pH value. Tannins, which mentioned previously, may come in handy to reduce the acidity level a little.

However, if it is too difficult to reduce the pH value in your tap water, consider using reverse osmosis one instead.

Setting the exact acidity level to be as low as 4.5 like those of blackwater streams or rivers may be rather impractical. Therefore, it is a nice idea to set at 7 or lower as the fish and plants could dwell in.

Living Creatures of Blackwater Aquarium

 

Some factors that worth considering in involving invertebrates and fish are as follows.

The Species

Which one does fit in the environment of blackwater aquarium is something you should thoroughly research in advance, notably when recreating a particular biotope is your goal.

Nonetheless, if the general setup were okay with you, going for any fish and invertebrates that could strive in acidic, soft, dark water would do. While we are on it, more than 200 species of freshwater ones meet the standards. The list below consists of some of them.

1) Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi)

Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi)
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These types of fish require easy care and appear in bright colors of neon blue and red stripes. They could live up to five years under proper upkeep and grow to the maximum size of 2 inches or 5 cm long. Tetra-cardinals would best dwell in a 20-gallon tank with a 4.6–6.2 pH value.

As the type of schooling fish, cardinal tetra lives a peaceful life. Keeping at least six of them in your blackwater aquarium is recommendable.

They might be best to dwell in with neon tetra, dwarf gouramis, and catfish. Provide both some hiding spaces and an open area for swimming to give an ideal environment to them.

2) Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi)

blackwater aquarium fish
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Neon tetras’ maximum standard length is only 2–3 cm. The recommended tank size to keep these fish is 60×30 cm and larger. They do their best in growing under dim lighting and in acidic water of 4.0–7.5 pH value.

Inside the minimum of 10-gallon tank, neon tetras usually swim at the middle level. Their bright color of the neon blue, striking red and white combination will be a pleasant sight in your blackwater aquarium.

However, those visual characteristics will fade when they are resting at night, alarmed, or ill. That will be a strong indication not to choose the ones with faded colors when buying at the pet store. Like the previous tetra, it is better to keep them in a group of six at the very least.

3) Green Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon simulans)

amazon blackwater biotope aquarium
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P. simulans prefer warm water (21o–35oC) in blackwater aquarium with minimum dimensions of 45×30 cm. There, they could grow up to 1.5–2.5 cm long. The acidic environment of 3.0–6.5 pH values would be the best for them to live in.

Green neon tetra feeds on dried foods; yet offer them a variety of menu as well, like mosquito larvae, live bloodworm, or the frozen one. Keeping them in a group of 8 to 10 specimens is advisable. That way, they will be less shy and show more fascinating behavior.

4) Geophagus dicrozoster

blackwater extract aquarium
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There are two species of Geophagus known to live in an acidic blackwater environment only. They are G. dicrozoster and G. abalios, but the former is more likely seen occupying such aquarium. This fish could grow up to 20.2 cm long. You had better keep them in a group inside 180×60 cm tank or bigger.

Instead of coarser materials like small pebbles and gravels, a smooth and sandy substrate is more preferable to be the riverbed for G. dicrozoster. Besides, they like a kind of setup, which involves scattered branches, driftwood, and dim lighting.

The water to support G. dicrozoster should be at 26o–30oC temperature with a 4.0–7.0 pH value. Feed them on small live bloodworm or mosquito larvae. Alternatively, some prepared foods consist of dried fish food, fresh fruit, pureed shellfish, and vegetables are a good diet for this type of fish as well.

5) Red-Tailed Brycon (Brycon cephalus)

how to make blackwater aquarium
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This species has predatory traits. Thus, carefully choose their tank mates unless you want them to be eaten. Keeping them in a group of five at the very minimum would be natural as they belong to shoaling fish.

Their average standard length is 22 cm, yet some of them can grow longer. You should prepare a 180x60x60 cm tank of about 793 liters. As they like to roam freely, set an open space as large as possible.

However, ensure that the top part is covered properly as red-tailed brycon is known to be a great jumper. They feed on small fish, prawns, and earthworms yet fancy seeds, nuts, and fruits.

6)  Discus

aquarium blackwater extract
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Symphysodon aequifasciatus, or people recognize it as Discus, could grow up to 20 cm long in water with 6-pH value. There are some basic coloration variants known in the wild: brown, red, green, and royal blue.

Meanwhile, commercial breeders and hobbyists have bred them in more developed variations, some of which are pigeon blood, tangerine, pearl, snakeskin, and ghost. They are unique in terms of choosing mates of their own. This would hint you to have a pack or choose a pair from the very beginning.

To keep discus, you will need a huge tank for them to swim around freely. They favor large aquatic plants, such as Amazon sword, to be their cover and home. Feed them crustaceans in the proper size, small mayfly larvae, as well as black and white mosquito larva.

7)  Pimelodus Catfish (Pimelodus pictus)

blackwater aquarium filter
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This is another predatory species; do not combine them with guppies, neons, and other similar-sized fish. The best tankmates for Pimelodus pictus would be robust, rainbowfish, cyprinids, Loricariids, and Doradids.

P. pictus can grow as long as 12 cm as an active fish, thus you need a tank with minimum dimensions of 120x45x45 cm. Dim lighting and plenty of swimming areas are preferable. Nonetheless, they still need some places to hide and feel secured.

To provide habitat as close as theirs in nature, you should set up branches, driftwood, roots, sandy substrate, smooth rounded stones, and live plants, such as Anubias nana or Java fern in the tank.

8) Gouramis

best fish for blackwater aquarium
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Known as sparkling gouramis, their maximum size is around 4 cm. They strongly prefer barely moving water, thus perfect to live and grow in a tank. Prepare a 10-gallon reservoir if you want to keep them in your blackwater aquarium.

It is advisable to keep them at least in a pair or small group. They prefer a well-planted aquarium with many shady aquatic plants, such as floating varieties, tall stem types, and tropical lilies. As for the décor, driftwood, Microsorum, and Taxiphyllum would more than just do.

If you prepare unused empty camera film cases, lengths of plastic piping, small clay plant pots, or any similar objects, they would love to take them as shelter. They can dwell in a tank with some schooling fish as their tankmates.

9)  Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma agassizii)

popular blackwater fish aquarium
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Apistogramma tends to dwell in areas with many litters of fallen leaves. The male could grow up to 7.5 cm while the female 5 cm. Any tank sizes of 60×30 cm and bigger could be enough to accommodate the lives of a pair.

For dwarf cichlid, a natural habitat look would involve branches, dried leaf litter, roots, smooth and sandy substrate, as well as wood. They could strive in very acidic water with a 3.0–4.0 pH value. Bear in mind that they should not be kept along with other Apistogramma.

Their Compatibility

Do not be so immersed in looking for the perfect species of fish and invertebrates only that you are not aware of their compatibility with each other as well as the tank size.

For instance, both neon tetras and discus fish are suitable to live in dark water, yet that does not mean you could combine them because the former would highly likely be the latter’s meal.

Floras and Décors

To adopt an actual biotope of blackwater, plants and decorations take a big role here. Distribute them naturally like how they are in their real habitat. Choose those that do not require strong lighting. Below is the list.

Anubias nana

Anubias nana
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Anubias nana belongs to low-light plant species, which will strive in blackwater aquarium. It is very popular among aquarists due to its exceptionally easy growth. Attach the rhizome to a solid surface, like stones or wood, for it to grow best.

This plant can grow up to 7.5 inches, thus need a tank no smaller than the 10-gallon one. Placing it in any part of the aquarium is not a matter. It is ideal to cover the substrate and to be the habitat of bottom-dwelling fish.

Java Fern

Java Fern
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Java fern requires low maintenance as a blackwater aquarium plant. Similar to Anubias nana, it will grow to its maximum potential when you attach the rhizome to wood. A few varieties, such as narrow leaf, trident, wide leaf, and windelov, are listed under it.

Water Sprite

Water Sprite
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You can both anchor or float water sprite plants. In aquarium, they take the role to give beauty, shade, and place to hide for the shy fish. They can grow up to 35 cm, thus at least a 10-gallon tank is needed. In the middle or back part of the aquarium is a nice place for them.

Amazon Sword

Amazon Sword
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It has great endurance and a blade-like appearance. Its popularity to be aquatic plants is due to the ability to bring a vibe of forest in your aquarium and to reproduce while submerged. Amazon sword plants are compatible in 10-gallon tank and bigger

Amazon Frogbit

Amazon Frogbit
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Amazon frogbit belongs to floating type of plants that helps in creating a natural look in your blackwater aquarium with the long flowing roots of it. This plant serves as a biological filter to remove ammonium; so that you can reduce the use of a bacterial-based filtration greatly as using it needs many efforts.

Driftwood

Driftwood
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With the correct preparation and thorough thought, driftwood could be a great help in coloring your blackwater aquarium. Just like how a tea bag stain your clear drink with tannins contained within, this wood would color the water tank that exact way.

Loose Leaves

Loose Leaves
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Adding some blackwater aquarium leaves at the bottom part of the tank could make it looks natural. Besides, the tannins contained inside are what you use it for. Generally, any kind of leaf is fine, but Catappa (Indian almond) shows benefits to the aquatic environment if used there.

For at least a 10-gallon tank, you will need two Indian almond leaves. Replacing them with the new ones will depend on your observation. When the water tank has become darker than expected, then it is the replacement time already.

Other recommended leaves are Quercus robur (pedunculate), Quercus petraea (sessile oak), Quercus cerris (turkey oak), Quercus rubra (red oak), Fagus sylvatica (European beech), Crataegus monogyna (hawthorn), and Acer palmatum (Japanese maple).

Alder Cones

Alder Cones
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Alder cones could be utilized alongside or replace the loose leave since their function is generally the same. Furthermore, this Alder trees’ tiny fruit is assumed to have the properties of antibacterial and antifungal, which, of course, beneficial to the entire tank

Rocks

aquarium rocks
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Both smooth and rough stones are seen utilized in blackwater aquarium as a jagged outcropping or riverbed. Select ones that will not let out alkalinity or water hardness. Otherwise, they would likely increase the water pH level.

 

Lighting and Heater

Lighting and Heater
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Almost any kind of light would do as blackwater aquarium lighting. However, the most recommended one is an LED fixture style in white daylight. It helps you to see the dark tank easily. This kind of illumination also comes in handy for the growth of aquatic plants if set medium bright.

Meanwhile, a blackwater aquarium only requires a simple heater of submersible type that would stabilize the temperature of the water in range 75o–80oF or around 23.8o–26.6oC.

Filtration

aquarium filtration
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It is suggested to use mechanical filter media in terms of capturing debris. All of the items that come with the set, such as filter cartridges, sponges, and else, should be replaced or cleaned once a month.

In the meantime, activated carbon filtration would work in removing humic substances as well as unwanted organics that live and grow in the water. Using it for a week each month is the initial usage suggestion.

However, you can increase the quantity and intensity to reduce the water staining when your tank becomes darker than you expect.

 

Blackwater Aquarium’s Maintenance

Blackwater Aquarium’s Maintenance
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Water changing would be the priority in maintaining a blackwater aquarium, just like any other tank. If many fish are involved, check gravels or the riverbed for possible sludge. Clean those with a siphon would do. Add the water amount if you think the tank is too dark.

Conclusion

blackwater aquarium setting
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Hobbyists find keeping blackwater aquarium is challenging and fun. If you are new to this kind of biotope yet still want to experience the challenge, take it slowly. Let the water staining process be done naturally by the leaves.

 

 

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