Aquarium & Tropical Fish Site
August '99

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reclos1.jpg (27kb)

August '99 - George's 500L Planted Mbuna Tank.

This month's tank is a true rare gem: a well planted mbuna tank. I didn't even know such a setup was possible until Greek hobbyist George J. Reclos submitted these beautiful images to me! Due to the highly incompatible water requirements of mbunas (african rift lake cichlids) and most plants, plus the fact that these fish will readily munch on virtually any carbon-based life form, if you asked me couple of months ago I would never recommend such a setup. But from now on I will happily point to this page, and to George's great Aquaria Site, where further info and pictures can be found on this setup and others.

The tank has 500 liters (150x50x65 cm). It is filtered by two external cannister filters and two internal sponge filters (total 3600 L/h), and lighted by 7x40 W fluorescent tubes of various brands and colors. It also has a CO2 injection system, enriched gravel and continuous pH monitoring. Typical water parameters are Temp 26-30C, pH 8.3, GH 10 and KH 14. Maintenance routines include a 50% water change every week, and regular additives such as liquid plant fertilizer, aquarium salt, baking soda, and others. Among the fish species are Melanochromis auratus, Melanochromis chipokae, Melanochromis johanni, Metriaclima lombardoi, Cynotilapia mbamba, Labidochromis caeruleus, Choirorynchus acanthopsis and Pterigoplichtys multiradiatus.

Here are some very important comments given by George to anyone wishing to try a similar setup:
"I think that the best advice with this sort of tank would be to take care of the fish and not the plants - this is rule number one and should be followed strictly. I do my CO2 injections with the eye on the pH meter. The starting pH is 8.2, the KH of the tank is 14 (which means a very big capacity for CO2 without dramatic changes in the pH) and I stop it when the pH drops to 7,6 over a four hour period. Then I stop the injection and let the pH come back to 8.2 (it takes another 8 hours to do so). This is the normal day cycle. I always have heavy aeration with the internal filters pointing at the surface, even during the actual injection of CO2."

"When the tank was initially started I used a mix of teralite / gravel 1:3. I used some plant pellet fertilizer (buried next to the roots) for the first 6 months and then stopped it. The plants in the tank will not thrive. They will have a steady growth which is enough to compensate for the consumption of leaves by the mbuna. Mbuna when fed correctly, should always starve in order to be active, spawn and display their beautiful intense colors. The recommended feeding is small quantities every other day. This means that in the "non feeding" day, almost all mbunas will attack algae and plants. They will eat egeria densa (except the top of it, which is regularly replanted when the rest of the plant is consumed), will eat Amazon swordplants, Vallisneria gigantea (yes, they will eat that, too), Hygrophila corymbosa (which grows much quicker that mbuna can consume). They will even nibble on anubias (to a far less degree). The only plants they will not attack is cryptocorine and nymphaea lotus."

"If such a tank is to be aesthetically pleasing and safe for the fish, one needs to spend much more time on it than with a regular tank. You must remove eaten leaves at least twice per week and clean filter intakes every other day. Strong filtration is essential (at least 4,5 times the water volume per hour) and an established biological filtration of outmost importance. All plants should be planted with their pots (if supplied) or else secure them in place with rocks, big enough for the mbuna. It is even better to create "rock pots" fill them with gravel and whatever else you want to add (teralite, laterite etc) and then add the plant. It is a very good thing if you can decorate your tank before adding the fish. If you can allow some time for the plants to establish it will pay off later since the growth will be enough to compensate for eating. Another point is to use fast growing plants, able to survive and grow (not thrive) in a pH around 8 and a GH around 10. The exception is anubias which are not eaten so they will grow in peace."

If you'd like to submit an aquarium for Tank of the Month, just contact me.

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Lombardoi Male.

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Lombardoi Female.

Photos taken by George J. Reclos and displayed here with his permission.

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