Fish Keeping and Aquascaping Blog

May 4, 2010

Tackling the Black Brush Algae ( BBA )

For a planted aquarist, there is not greater displeasing sight than the sight of algae invading his tank. Every planted tank enthusiast would, at some time or the other , have issues with algae in his tank. These algae are not only displeasing to the eye, but also take over the tank fully if not brought under control quickly.

Among them, the Black Brush Algae or the BBA is one of the most difficult algae to deal with. Some refer to this as Black Beard Algae too. This algae starts as a small black brushy patch on a leaf or decorative item, and then spreads rapidly all over the aquarium , turning everything it touches into a black carpet. I’ve seen this BBA grow even on my aquarium glass and the silicone tubing’s inside the tank. It is generally first seen on the leaves of slow growing plants such as Anubias and Ferns.

Here is a pic of how the BBA would look in a aquarium.


There are many causes and reasons cited for the presence and spread of this algae in the tank, and I would not like to go into the details of these causes. I would just like to mention here that nutrient imbalance and improper ( excess ) lighting are  the main cause of this algae .

I would like to detail here the various methods in use to prevent the spread of this algae and the methods that I used to control BBA in my tanks. ( Note that we do not talk about methods of preventing the occurrence of BBA, since BBA spores ( or for that matter any algae spores )  are present in almost all aquariums . Hence ‘control’ is a more appropriate word than ‘prevent’ in this context. )

a) Nutrient and Light Control

Excess light and nutrients in the tank are considered to be the main cause of BBA. For most aquarist’s it’s difficult to derive/predict the exact amount of nutrients required for the plants in the aquarium. We generally end up over dosing or under-dosing the nutrients. Same is the case when it comes to lighting, in terms of predicting the wattage( or lumens ) or the photo period required by the plants. Since excess of these generally leads to algae bloom, it’s better to err on the lower side. Hence, If it’s a newly set-up tank , start with small quantity of dosing and lower lighting period ( since the wattage is generally fixed on buying a lighting fixture. ). These can be gradually increased after seeing the response of the plants.

Similarly, on the out break of BBA, a sure-shot way of controlling the spread of BBA is controlling ( reducing ) the lighting period and dosing levels. Sure, your plants might get affected a little, but in my opinion , it’s better to have slower growing plants with no BBA, than having fast plant growth with equivalently fast spreading BBA in your tank. Since it’s very difficult to predict the ‘exact’ levels of nutrients and lighting period that would make the BBA disappear, at the least, reducing dosing and lighting period may help control the spread of BBA to a large extent.

You can then try some of the below methods to completely eliminate BBA.

b) Introducing BBA eating fish

Many aquarist’s have had varying degree of success in tackling BBA with algae eating fish. Some have reported no success . A few fish like ‘True’ Siamese Algae eater, Black Mollies, American Flag fish, Swordtails etc are know to eat BBA in the aquarium. The ‘True’ Siamese Algae eater is the popular choice among aquarist’s for controlling BBA in a planted tank. ( In some cases, the True SAE is also know to eat away the moss in the tank, as in my case ) . On the contrary,  I have also had fellow hobbyist’s complain that they have never seen these fish eat any BBA in their tanks. I have used Black Mollie successfully in reducing the BBA from my tank.

The trick here is to keep the BBA eating fish hungry. A well fed fish in a tank rarely gets interested in eating the not-so-delicious BBA. So you have to make sure that your keep your BBA eating fish hungry enough for them to go after BBA. But the catch 22 situation here is that you have to keep the other fish in the tank well fed, but the BBA eating fish hungry. How you accomplish it, is left to your creative thinking.

Some ideas include transferring your other fish from the BBA infested tank into another temporary tank and keep only the BBA eating fish in the infested tank and feeding them minimally.

c) Bleach Dip or Potassium Permanganate dip

Another quick way to get off BBA is to dip the BBA infested plants or decors in a 1:20 home bleach solution. Home liquid bleach ( i.e liquid cloth bleach )  is available in India under different brands such as ‘Rin Aala’, Robin Liquid Bleach etc . Though this is a very quick and cost effective method to get rid of BBA, it works only if the affected plants or decor can be taken out of the aquarium for the bleach dip. Hence it can be used for affected plants such as Anubias and Fern , but cannot be used for deeply rooted plants since you cannot uproot them as and when required.

Dip the affected plants or decor in the 1:20 bleach solution for about 10-15 mins and then thoroughly rinse the plant/decor in running water. Remember, bleach, if it enters your tank, can be dangerous to the fish in the tank. You can put back the plant/decor into the tank after rinsing them. The algae turns whitish in the next few days and can be removed easily by hand/brush or can be left to slowly fall off from the infected area.

The time for which you dip plants in the bleach solution depends on which plant is being dipped. Sturdy plants with stronger leaves like the anubias and fern’s can be dipped for upto 15 min, whereas soft leaved plants like bacopa and crypts should only be dipped for 3-5 min. I have lost a whole bunch of Bacopa Monarie after I left it in the bleach for 15 mins. ( I was rescaping my old tank and decided to uproot all my infected plants ).

The same effect can be obtained using diluted Potassium Permanganate ( KMnO4) as the dip solution. But bleach is more effective and a cheaper option.

d) Hydrogen Peroxide Nuking

For plants that cannot be taken out of the tank for a bleach dip, another solution is to spray Hydrogen Peroxide ( H2O2 )  to the infected area using a syringe. H2O2 is available cheaply in all chemist stores. Fill a 5ml syringe with H2O2 and spray it to the affected area in the tank. ( Remember to switch off the filter before doing so, else the water current will spread out the sprayed H2O2 ) . This is termed a ‘nuking’ of BBA. ( Never understood why it’s called so 🙂 ). After ‘nuking’ you can see a lot of nascent oxygen bubbles emanating from the area to which H2O2 was sprayed. This resembles the bubbles coming out of a champagne glass. Over the next couple of days, the BBA in this area turns whitish or pinking as in the case of bleach dip and fades away.

I have had minimal improvements with this method of BBA control. The issue with applying this method successfully is that since H2O2 is introduced directly into the tank, you have to be very careful of the quantity introduced( sprayed ). Since H2O2 can be harmful to the fish in higher concentrations, you can use this method on only smaller and restricted areas in the fish tank. Never-the-less, it still works fine on smaller patches on BBA infestation. You also need to be careful if you have delicate ‘soft tissue’ plants like Riccia in the vicinity of the place where you plan to inject H2O2. Riccia reacts badly to even the slightest dose of H2O2. My entire Riccia tied onto a stone turned pale yellow and withered away when I injected H2O2 on  nearby Anubias leaves covered with BBA.

Using the above methods, an aquarist  can successfully control and eliminate BBA from his prized tank.

There may be other methods too to control the BBA. If you know of any other method, do share it by dropping a note.  Suggestions or comments on this topic are always welcome.

Prabhu M


March 30, 2010

Aquascaping a 50 Gallon Tank

Filed under: Uncategorized — Prabhu M @ 8:47 am
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I was rescaping my 50G tank this week-end and thought about posting it .

Here are the tank specs.

Tank : 3 x 1.5 x 1.5  –>  8 mm glass   on a custom made wooden stand

Light : 2 x 36 W PLL Aquazonic fixture

Filter: Dolphin Internal Powerhead Filter

Had this tank running from the past 3 years,  so had to empty the tank first.  Moved the fish to my  4 footer while emptying the tank.  Here is how the empty tank set looks.

Wanted to aquascape it using the driftwood I had collected at Srirangapatana. ( Did not want to spend a lot on buying drift wood J ). Here are the pieces of drift wood I had in stock. The bigger one would be my main piece.

Thought of dividing the setup into 2 portions. A left bunch ( bigger & main view ) and a right bunch ( smaller view) . While the tank was being emptied, I tried the placement on the table. Picked up the below placement as the better  one among the various combinations I tried. Wifey gave the thumbs up too J

Decided on using Laterite as the base.  Would have loved to use ADA Amazonia, but Could not afford it  L Here is about 40 kg of laterite going into the tank…….

Wanted to give an elevation to the left, where the bigger and main view would be. A slighter ramp to the right where the smaller view would be……… Here is how it looked after it was shaped.

Tried to put the driftwood exactly as I had setup on the table overnight…… though had to change it slightly. The tank with the wood in place.

The plants that will go in. Had some plants from my old setup.

The tank after the ferns and moss went in…………….

Then The crypts ……………………..

Started filling the tank………… The flow from the pipe moved the gravel a bit from the front, but was able to set it back as before.

This is how it looked after filling it with water………..

Final inspection and seal of approval from my 1 year old kid……

Setup the CO2 at 1 bubble per sec….. This is how the tank looks after 1 day ….

Currently cycling it with 1 Black mollie, 1 red-flame gaurami, 1 swordtail and 1 Ram.

Comments, criticism, suggestions………….all are welcome.


Prabhu M

Update : Here is the tank after 1 month of setup, as of May 1st week.

Tank as of Aug 2012 :




February 3, 2010

Keeping and Breeding The Swordtail Fish

Filed under: Uncategorized — Prabhu M @ 4:57 pm
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Hello. This is my post on keeping and breeding the swordtail fish. If you are new to the swordtail fish or if you are looking for more info on breeding and caring for the swordtail fish, then you have hit the right page.  This post will go over the profile and characteristics of the sword tail, and look at it’s care and requirements. I will also discuss about breeding them and raising their fry ( i.e. baby fish ).

The Swordtail fish ( scientific name : Xiphophorus helleri ) is one of the popular aquarium fish. The name Swordtail is derived due to the unique sword-like tail seen in adult males. These fish are very active in the aquarium, hardy and easy to keep and come in a variety of colour , hence making them a popular choice for newbie’s in Aquarium keeping.

Swordtail Male

Now let’s look at some of the common profile specification of the Swordtail :

a) Common Name : Swordtail fish
b) Scientific name : Xiphophorus helleri
c) Origin : Commonly found in the flowing waters of Central America
d) Preferred Water Temperature : 22C – 28C
e) Preferred pH of water : 7-9
f) Max Size : Can grow upto 4 inches in the aquarium
g) Compatible Tank Mates : Generally Peaceful. Hence suited for a community aquarium with non-aggressive tankmates.
h) Breeding Class : Livebearers ( i.e Swordtails do not lay eggs, but give birth to live young ones )

Swordtails found in the wild are generally green ( olive green ) in colour with the sword being yellow with black or brown borders. Cross Breeding in captivity by fish farms and hobbyist has given many strains of Swordtails with varying colours like red, red velvet, red wag tail, marigold, pineapple colour, black, etc . Different strains like Lyretail a.k.a. ‘Double Sword’ and ‘high fin’ are also available, giving the aquarist numerous options to choose from.

Swordtails are very active and lively in the aquarium and unlike other fish, move around all levels of the aquarium ( i.e. They can be seen moving in the bottom , middle and upper layers of the tank ). Hence you need to house them in an aquarium which has adequate swimming space. Higher activity in the aquarium leads to higher oxygen comsumption by the fish, and hence they need a well aerated aquarium . This is also seen from the fact that they are usually found in fast flowing streams of Central America, which are rich in dissolved oxygen.
Swordtails are good jumpers and could jump out of the tank when they are disturbed, stressed or scared. Hence it is advisable to keep your swordtails in a tank which has a cover ( hood ) and keep the tank in an area with minimal noise and disturbance. Keeping the tank in an area with minimal noise and disturbance is necessary to have stress free and healthy fish, irrespective of the kind of fish you house in your aquarium. Another trait I have noticed in my years of swordtail keeping is that they seldom jump in a planted tank. They get a sense of security in a well planted ( read densely planted ) tank, and hence are not disturbed or stress easily in a planted tank. I have lost quite a few fish due to their jumping habit whenever I forgot to put the cover on my breeding and grow-out tanks. On the contrary, I have seldom seen them jump in my display tank, which is heavily planted.

Sexing of the fish : Swordtails are sexually dimorphic, i.e. you can identify the sex of the swordtail fish by their external appearence. The male of the species develops a distinct ‘Sword’ in it tail fin as it matures, while the females do not. Also, the mature males show a distinct male sex organ near the anal fin, called the ‘Gonopodium’. It is through this gonopodium that the males deposit their sperms into the females during mating. The above two features are a sure shot way to distinguish a male swordtail from a female swordtail. Other differences are in their relative size, while the males are thinner and look elongated, the females are more round and grow a little larger and longer than the males.

Now, why am I talking about sexing the fish so early in the post. Shouldn’t it come under the breeding section ?! The reason for this is simple. Swordtail males tend to become territorial as they mature. When there are fewer females in the tank, the males tend to fight with each other for these females ( or rather for the ‘right’ to mate with them 🙂  ). Hence it is advisable to purchase more females than males when you visit your pet store. I know that this would mean fewer fancy sword’s since the females do not develop a sword, but that’s the least you can do for a peaceful aquarium . The generally accepted practice is to have 3 females for every male swordtail in an aquarium. Swordtail breeders generally have 5 females  for every male ( so as to keep the male always  busy 🙂 )

To be continued…….

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