Tails Blog

Water and an aquarium set up

Steve Coppell - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It really does't matter how big your fish tank is or what you plan to keep, the condition of the water in your fish tank is often the difference between success and failure.

Why can't I add fish to my fresh clean water?

When you set up an aquarium for the first time, it's important that you age the water you intend to use in the tank before adding fish. Failure to do so will almost certainly end badly for your fish. 

What does it mean to age the water?

You will need to allow at least a week ( but it may take 10 to 14 days) between filling the tank and adding fish, during which time the filter system will develop a population of bacteria necessary for biological filtration. At some stage during this period a very high nitrite level will occur; when nitrates return to zero after this peak it will be safe to introduce fish.

So these bacteria are actually good for my fish?!

Yes, your tank water becomes polluted from fish waste, decomposing left over food and plant material. Ammonia is a by product of this process. The good bacteria convert the ammonia in tank water, to nitrites and then into less toxic nitrates. Nitrates are consumed by any plants in your tank and the water is made safe for your fish.

Can I speed up the process?

You can buy additives which speed the maturation process, but always monitor the nitrite levels with a test kit rather than relying on time estimates on the container. An alternative solution is to obtain a couple of handfuls of substrate from a mature disease free tank, which can be sprinkled on to your substrate to act as a bacterial starter culture. Likewise an active filter can be transferred to a new tank. 

Test the waters

It's a really good idea to regularly test the ammonia levels of your tank water. This doesn't have to be expensive or time consuming. Click on the device above to learn more about an easy to read stick on ammonia monitor.

Building a pond

Steve Coppell - Saturday, April 21, 2012
Ponds add a real sense of tranquillity to your home environment. They also offer an opportunity to raise fish, turtles and other water loving creatures in a setting completely orchestrated by you.  

It might be something simple. A feature that adds value to your garden setting.

Or something really special, that lifts you each time you visit. 
What ever you have in mind for your pond, here are a few key points to consider before you get started.

Spend some time deciding where best your pond will feature. Mark the area out using your garden hose. Consider how close it is to trees that might drop leaves into it, and where it sits in relation to the days sun. 

When you know where your pond will feature, you can better determine what kind of pond you want. Will it be dug into the ground or raised? Will it be modern or more natural? If you want a raised pond, will you use manufactured materials such as concrete or ceramic tile; Or would you prefer natural stone and earth to hold your waterproof liner? 

Are you planning to have fish in your pond? 
If so, you need to consider how you will add oxygen to your watery habitat. 
You might add a waterfall, fountain, stream, or pump powered aerator to increase the movement of the water, thus adding oxygen to the water. 

Sometimes it's a good idea to call on some help from your friends before you start the dig. Notice the pond in this shot has been dug to achieve a variety of depths. This has been done so that the fish can swim in the warmer shallows and because you can vary the plants you grow in the pond. Some grow well in the shallows and others are more suited in deeper water. 

Once the hole has been dug a layer of sand will cushion the waterproof liner and offer it some protection from stones and gravel.

Next comes the waterproof lining.

Build up the sides with rocks and stones.

Add the pump and any other electrical equipment your pond requires, using rocks and stones to hide the hoses and chords.

Fill the pond with water and leave the pumps and fountains running for at least two weeks before you consider adding any fish. Like an aquarium the water needs to condition before the fish are added.

Plant your new environment as you see fit. But seek advise about suitability when buying plants for your pond. Remember as well your fish will use them both as cover and for food. 

Let us know if we can help

Tails can help you with many products associated with keeping a pond and the creatures inside it.  If your looking for a product and you don't see it listed here on tails website, please don't hesitate to ask. We will gladly make enquiries on your behalf and help where we can.

Creating a really effective aquarium display

Steve Coppell - Saturday, October 29, 2011

Planning your aquarium layout

Deciding what fish you want to display in your aquarium is an important first decision. The size of your tank and how the different species interact together will play a part in how well your display works. Many advanced aquarists keep only fish from the same region in an aquarium. 

The selection of fish and plant types has a major effect on the appearance of an aquarium. Rather than going for a two of everything approach, select a small number of fish species in larger shoals. 

Keeping and displaying plants in your aquarium.

Keeping live plants in your aquarium can add another dimension to your display. Growing your own aquarium plants is not always easy. Many people struggle with this. Good lighting is important if your plants are going to do well in your tank environment. This means;

Having plant specific light tubes on for 10 to 12 hours daily. Get a timer! regular photoperiod is important and remembering to turn the lights on and off again at the same time every day is a big ask for most people. 

Light reflectors on the hood of your tank will double the amount of light reaching the water. 

Purchase a good quality fertiliser for your plants, read and follow the instructions provided. 

Display similar plants in smaller groupings. Keep tall fast growing plants at the rear of the aquarium and low plants at the front of the tank. 

Good filtration

Buy good quality filter equipment, don't skimp on the filter. Often the filter will also be providing the water circulation and aeration, and both of these are vital to the success of your aquarium. Ideally your filter will turn over the entire volume of water in your tank at least four times an hour. 

Every fish keepers hate!

Algae, it's a challenge for many keepers who take pride in the appearance of their pristine tanks. Actually algae control in aquaria can be made easier. 

Rapidly growing plants suppress the growth of algae in your tank. You can't reduce the light or the nutrients you have added to make the plants grow, so make sure you have plenty of plants. 

You may decide to add a few algae eating fish to your tank. 

You also have at your disposal biological additives. These consume waste, suppress algae and help prevent fish disease. The trick is to use them regularly, not just every once in a while.

Final advice

Do the basics well: do partial water changes, clean the filter, trim the plants and clean the glass regularly.

Plants and Ornaments for your fish tank

Steve Coppell - Saturday, June 11, 2011

For a well furnished fish tank , include plenty of plants, rocks or ornaments in the decor. The purpose is not just aesthetic. Fish like to have places to swim in and out of, where they can breed, hide from other fish, or just pass the time.

Siamese fighting fish and cool water temperatures

Steve Coppell - Sunday, October 17, 2010

Despite having a reputation for a slightly hot temper, the siamese fighting fish is surprisingly adaptable to cooler water.
While 30 degrees celcius is their ideal water temperature in their tropical home climate, Siamese fighting fish will tolerate water down to just 18 degrees celcious.

However, while they can survive in cooler its not water they thrive in. So keep it warm and your fish will be healthier as a result.

The best way to keep a close eye on whether your fighter is feeling a bit hot  under the collar or going cold on you is by using either an in tank thermometer or a simple strip thermometer that you can stick to the outside of your tank.

Keeping fish happy and healthy

Steve Coppell - Friday, September 24, 2010

The first basic to grasp is that fish kept in good conditions with minimal stress rarely get sick in the first place. Look after the water and the water will look after your your fish. Do the basics well and regularly. Carry out lots of partial water changes, service filters regularly, check the water temperature daily (If you keep tropical fish) Also test the water regularly. The exact tests required and water quality required and water quality you want to maintain will vary depending on what fish you are keeping, but the majority of community aquria (90 % of them) should be 25 degrees C with a pH of 7 to 7.5.

The second basic has to do with feeding. You often hear about  the dangers of over feeding ornamental fish. Overfeeding is certainly a common problem, but beware: overfeeding refers to left over food, which will decompose and pollute the aquarium. This misconception has led to fish ending up poorly nourished as their owners are afraid to feed them. Fish need to be feed little and often, at least once a day, if not twice. The exception is for garden ponds that are lightly stocked with fish. Here, there will usually be sufficient food naturally and anything supplied by the owner is supplementary. Fish should also be fed a variety of food. You can keep your fish alive using only flake food, but fish fed a variety of foods including frozen and live food, will be healthier, live longer and be more colourful. Don't forget that some species are specialist feeders too. Some, such as catfish and loaches feed off the bottom and others including suckermouth fish are largely herbivorous. Therefore, appropriate foods need to be supplied.

Fin Mates

Basic number three is to consider tank mates carefully, as not all fish live together happily. Some will simply eat each other and as a general rule, if a fish can swollow another one whole it probably will. More commonly though, health problems arise as a result of vigorous 'fin nipping' or territorial fish being kept with more placid tank mates. Typically, the more placid species will hide a lot, feed poorly  and either succomb to disease or simply waste away.

Moving in

It is essential to introduce your new fish to an aquarium gradually. For a fish, one of the greatest stresses, and therefore precursors of disease, is being netted, bagged, transported and placed in a new tank. Always float the bag containing new fish in your aquarium for 15 minutes to allow water temperatures to equalise, and then allow some tank water to the bag and leave another 15 minutes. Finally net the new fish out of the bag and place  it in the aquarium, then dispose of the bag water. Don't add the bag water to your tank!


Right, so you have done all the basics well and still your fish get sick. What to do? the main thing is to act quickly, as tomorrow or in the weekend may be too late. First seek advice, which usually means a good aquarium store. Make sure you have a good description of the symptoms, and a clean jar of aquarium water with you.The store will do a water test and advise accordingly and if your fish has a disease, will offer a cure.
If you are treating the fish in your aquarium first remove any carbon that may be in your filter as it may filter out the medication. Having covered most of the ways to avoid disease, here's a brief description of the common diseases and other health related symptoms that fish may exhibit.    


This is the most common fish disease and, as the name suggests, the main symptom is white spots on the skin- almost as if the fish has been sprinkled with salt. The spots are actually cysts where the white spot parasite lives. A cure will take several days but there are a number of very effective treatments on the markets. White spot often occurs after a chill so check your water temperature regularly.

Fungus looks like growths of white cotton wool on the fish. Fungus is a secondary infection and often grows on wounds or other areas of infection. You can purchase treatment for this problem over the counter and some antibiotics will also be effective, but these are only available from your veterinarian. Often described as mouth fungus is a bacterial infection called Columnaris. It looks like white fungus around the mouth but is actually a secondary infection, and no amount of treatment for fungus will cure this complaint. Instead, you will need to purchase treatment specially formulated for Columnaris.

Flicking is the term used to describe a fish scratching itself repeatedly against gravel, plants,or aquarium decorations. It can indicate whitespot or it can be a sign of ammonia in the water.

Gasping is when a fish constantly mouths at the waters surface. This may mean low oxygen levels in the water and is often the result of too high  a temperature,  warm water naturally holds less oxygen. Be wary of tanks that dont provide good surface area for optimum oxygen transfer.
There are many other fish disorders and many books of information if you want to know more about them. For fish keepers, prevention is far better than the cure.

Keeping an Axolotl for a pet in NZ

Steve Coppell - Saturday, September 04, 2010

These creatures are found in the wild only in the canal system of the former lake Xochimilcho in Mexico. These strange amphibians are easy to keep, and make  attractive, if unusual, aquatic pets.
Although officially an endangered species, Axolotls have been available from captive breeding stock since the 1830s.
They will grow to 30cm and should live for 10-12 years in captivity. However, older species of some 20 years have been reported.
An unusual feature of Axolotls is that they do not go through a normal amphbian life cycle in which eggs are laid in water by the adult hatch into tadpole like larvae and then metamorphose into adults. At this stage the animal frequently leaves the water to take up a more terrestrial lifestyle. Axolotls have forgone the need to metamorphosis. They remain in the aquatic, larval stage and reproduce without the need to become adult. The ability to do this is called Neotony.

                       MEXICAN SALAMANDER

An Axolotl can only change into adult form when the hormone thyroxine is introduced into the diet or when there is an increase of iodine levels in the water. The Axolotl gradually loses its gills, the tail reduces, and upon leaving the water, becomes a  Salamander. Metamorphosis will not normally take place without this special treatment.

Amazing Fact
The Axolotl is studied in earnest because it has the ability to regenerate lost or damaged limbs. A lost limb will regrow over a period of about 8 weeks. The new limb will be just as good as the old one, and full flexibility will be retained.

Have a think about how you might best lay out your tank intended for your axolotl. Keep in mind these creatures can ruin a delicately planted environment. Large structures, rocks and the like create visual appeal and give your axolotl some platforms from which to rest.
An external filter is recommended to clean and aerate the water but is not essential. Weekly cleaning of the furnishings and partial changes of the water is an acceptable, although more time consuming alternative.
Lighting  the aquarium can help to add to the visual appeal.
Generally speaking, Axolotls are best housed separately, since they have a tendancy to eat each others limbs. Keeping these creatures seperate does not usually cause problems, since they seem totally unconcerned about the lack of company.
Keep the water in your tank about as deep as the axolaotl is long.

Handle your axolotl only when it is necessary to, for example when your maintaining its tank environment. Be gentle cradling them in your hands or with a net, and always transfer them between waters of similar age and temperature so as not to cause them to go into shock.

Foods and Feeding
Axolotls are predators and they will eat a large variety of foods. Worms, crickets, small fish, fish pellots that sink or float, cubes of heart or lean meat are all suitable foodstuffs. Keep food pieces small. Mouth size chunks because axolotls cannot chew.
Axolotls tend to suck their prey in literally.Their teeth are very fine and they will not hurt the more adventurous keeper willing to hold a piece of food between finger and thumb.
Feed every second day. Hungry Axolotls seem to patrol their environment more than their well fed companions inducating more feeding may be required. Remove uneaten food as soon as possible to minimize fouling of the water environment.

Once your pet is 2 years old the sexes can be distinguished easily. Viewed from above, the male axolotls head is longer and narrower than the female's, his tail is longer, and the swelling by the cloaca is greater.
In captivity, the breeding season coincides with our winter and spring, when a change of temperature often triggers breeding behavior.
This can be done artificially by raising the water tempurature to 22 degrees celsius for about a week or so, then allowing it to drop quickly. With luck and a good diet, breeding behavior should follow. The female becomes attracted to the males sweet excretetions produced from his cloaca. She follows him around the aquarium, and they dance and swim around each other for some time. Eventually the male releases triangular jelly masses, called spermatophores, that sink to the bottom of the aquarium.
The female is led over these masses until she takes some up into her cloacal opening. Some hours later she will start to spawn, and some 300-600 fertilized eggs are laid.
The egg masses are best reared seperately from the parents to prevent them from being damaged or eaten. The eggs need good but not too strong aeration from a pump. After about two weeks at 20 degrees celsius, the larvae will hatch and can then be fed on brine shrimp, tubiflex, powdered fish food, or other microscopic foods. As they grow, daphnia, glassworms, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae can also be consumed. Ample space is required to ensure a good survival rate for the hundreds of young, otherwise they will constantly snap and bite each other.

Did you know?
The name Axolotl comes from the Aztec god Xolotl, who, legend says would throw himself into water and become one of these creatures to escape his enemies. It has a number of translations including water beast, water dog and water doll.
Axolotls are frequently born as albinos.
Females have a wider head than males, while males have two large swellings between their legs.
Axolotls are native to Mexico where sadly due to predators, they are now a critically endangered species. However captive bred stock is plentiful and continues to be sold in pet shops around the world.
Light coloured axolotls develop darkened toe tips when they become sexually mature.
Axolotls get most their oxygen through their gills and skin, but they also have lungs meaning they can breath above water as well.
Axolotls don't have ears.

Did you know? Pets and Feng Shui

Steve Coppell - Saturday, August 14, 2010

Feng Shui is about environments and people and originally pets would not have played any part in the design of homes at all. Animals were domesticated as long as 8000 years ago but until quite recent times they were mainly used to work for their owners, and regarded as property rather than as best friends to human beings.
Although we get pleasure from our pets and studies have shown that stroking animals can relieve signs of stress, we should not be blind to the fact that they can cause health risks in the home.

Just as human beings enjoy better health with good food and excercise, so pets will remain healthier if they are not imprisoned in confined spaces and fed on poor diets for the duration of their lives.

Fish symbolise success and wealth in China, and an aquarium by the entrance or in the sitting room is thought to encourage this. Eight  gold fish and one black one in a tank are believed to be an auspicious combination.
When fish die it is not regarded as a sad occasion since it is thought  that they are absorbing the bad luck of the family and the fish are replaced immediately.

The use of animals as luck symbols
 is widespread in China, and their symbolism lies deep within the culture of the country. In chinese lore the money frog, (or Chan Chu) carrying a coin in its mouth and placed inside the front door is thought to drive away evil, protect goods and money, and attracts wealth to the house.

Aquarium equipment starting out

Emma Coppell - Sunday, August 01, 2010

Transporting your new fish home

Goldfish are transported home in a plastic bag.  Ensure that the bag in half-filled with water from the tank which the fish was taken from.  Ideally put the bag into a box or pet carrier and make sure the fish doesn’t get too hot or too cold on the journey home.  Be sure not to bounce the fish around too much either.

Gently put the fish (still tied up in the bag) into the water of its tank.  It will float on the top and leave it floating for 20 minutes.  This allows the temperature of the water in the bag to become the same as the water in the tank.  After 20 minutes open the top of the bag and scoop some of the tank water into a jug and pour it gently into the bag, wait for another five minutes so that the water can mix, then push down the side of the bag and your fish will swim out into its new home.


In spite of considerable knowledge available today on tank design, manufacturers still produce the traditional globular bowls with a narrow neck.  These vessels have nothing to recommend them other than their cheapness.  They lack a fundamental requirement, which is that of the surface area ratio of the water they contain.  Fish breath oxygen just as we do, but they extract it from water that is passed over the gill filaments.  The surface area of the water will largely determine the amount of oxygen that a given volume of water will contain.  The ideal shape of a fish tank is oblong, with the tank’s length being about twice its height; this will grant a suitable surface-to-air ratio.

The tank can be all glass, plastic (acrylic) or metal-framed glass.  As a rule always purchase the largest tank you can possibly afford, as it will look better, offer more potential for aquascaping and will allow more fish to be contained in it.

Theoretically, if you have a good balance between plants and fish, then the water will remain in good condition without filtration.  In reality, however, this is rarely the case, and it is advisable to purchase a filter that will remove debris created by the waste of the fish, uneaten food, and dead organisms that sink to the bottom of the tank.

This could be overcome by changing the water in the tank each week; however, this is both extra work and is not actually beneficial to the fish or plants, which require water that is matured - by which is meant that the water has within it the right balance of organisms and minerals conducive to good health.  

The amount of oxygen contained in the water of the tank can be increased by the use of an air pump attached to an airstone or similar porous material.  The airstone should be set near, but not on the bottom of the tank.  Goldfish require more oxygen in the water than do tropical fish, so air pumps are very useful extras; they have the further advantage that the currents they create will help to keep the temperature at a more constant level throughout the tank.  

The tank should be set where it will benefit from daylight - but not direct sunlight. Lighting will be required for healthy plant growth, so a suitable fluorescent or tungsten light should be fitted under the tank canopy.  A glass sheet should be fitted on the top of the tank to act as a condensation plate and to reduce surface evaporation of the water.  Light will be required for about 12 to 14 hours daily.

Goldfish will survive within the range of 0 to 22 degrees centigrade.  There are numerous thermometers that  can be fitted to either the inside or the outside of the tank.

Goldfish kept in home tanks are normally subjected to temperatures at the higher end of the temperature range, and that presents no problem.  In fact, many of the fancier varieties of goldfish prefer a warmer environment.  No fish should be subjected to abrupt temperature changes.

Although goldfish do not have the same need for specific water conditions, water than is neutral to slightly alkaline is probably best.  A pH reading of about 7-7.5 will be required.  Fill the tank up to about 5cm from the top.  It is best to leave the tank alone and running for at least three days so that the water time to matures or you can use a water-aging product.  

Selecting good healthy fish

Steve Coppell - Saturday, July 31, 2010

Check that all the fish in the tank look clean and that their fins are not torn or that any have white spots on them.  The fish’s skin should look bright and shiny, and their eyes clear.  The tank itself needs to be clean and the water must be clear.

Do not buy a fish if there are any dead fish in the tank.  All the fish should be moving around the tank not sitting on the bottom or floating on the surface of the water.

It is best to buy goldfish when they are still quite small ie no bigger that 8cm (3in) long.