Category Archives: Aquarium

Don’t feed your fish fish food!

Flake foods sold for aquarium fish are VERY expensive! The so-called large economy size can easily be $36 a pound! What you’re really getting the most of is AIR and PACKAGING!

For many years I’ve been feeding my fish canned cat food — mostly 9 Lives and Friskies. You want to get the regular chopped (pate) without gravy. For most tropical fish, just place a small chunk or two in the tank. For very small fish, use a plastic knife to crush a little piece into small particles.

One downside when giving canned cat food to cichlids is that the big guys “chew” their dinner. This spreads a cloud of food bits into the water. If there’s a number of guppies in the tank, they will clean this up.

Raising Fruit Flies for Food

To anoles, young pantodon bucholzi, tree frogs, red efts etc!

Fruit Flies (Drosophila sp.) Are a valuable food for many birds, fish, and herptiles. It is easy to raise these insects.

In an outdoor aviary you can take a bucket and throw in several pieces of rotting fruit. It is important that the fruit has gone bad, for Drosophila can’t colonize fresh produce. The container must be covered with quarter inch wire mesh. This size lets the flies in to breed and the progeny out for the birds to eat. The screen keeps the birds out of the foul mash. If the birds get at the mess they will certainly soil their plumage and possibly consume the tainted fruit with no good result. As long as the air temperature is generally above sixty degrees, wild fruit flies will soon appear. The culture will yield a steady supply of flies. This will provide as much psychological as nutritional benefit. Your birds will occupy themselves by hunting for the insects, as they would in the wild.

You can also culture fruit flies indoors. Mix one tablespoon of sugar with one cup of dried instant mashed potatoes, available from any supermarket. Add one inch of this blend to a wide mouth jar. Pour in water to the same level as the potato-sugar. Sprinkle a pinch of dried yeast on the surface of the mash. The jars must be very clean, preferably sterile, or you will be culturing a host of molds, instead of fruit flies! Cover the tops with a piece of paper toweling held in place by a rubber band.

Your best bet is to obtain a culture of WINGLESS Drosophila. Make sure you get the WINGLESS and not the VESTIGAL WINGED, for the latter will produce normal phenotype WINGED progeny under various environmental conditions. The WINGLESS fruit flies are easier for your pets to catch and are very convenient to transfer from culture to culture. With the WINGLESS flies you just tap the jar until they fall to the bottom and then pour them into new media. With WINGED you have to knock them out with ether or deal with them flying all over the place. Also, if the Fruit Flies escape, the WINGLESS won’t get very far. NORMAL fruit flies will wind up all over the house!

Many suggest placing some sort of stiff plastic in the jar as a roost for the flies and as a surface for the larvae to pupate on. I’ve found this to be unnecessary and an added complication when harvesting. The adults and larvae just use the sides of the jar.

WINGLESS Drosphila starter cultures are available from fish club members, friends at High Schools and Colleges, and by mail order from companies listed in aquarium magazines. Biological supply houses also sell them, but are generally very expensive.

For fish, just pour a quantity of the adults on the surface of the water. With herptiles you can also release a number of the flies as a meal. It is also possible, in a glass covered terrarium, to place a screen over the culture. This way, the flies will just crawl out and get caught.


More Than 600 Varieties of Aquarium Pygmies Afford a Fascinating Field for Zoological Study in the Home

By Ida Mellen

This article was originally published in the National Geographic Magazine of March 1931 and is presented for historical interest!

It would be interesting to know in what country little fishes were first placed in glass receptacles for purposes of esthetic enjoyment. Rumor names Egypt; but, although the fresh waters of Egypt are replete with curious and beautiful dwarf fishes and the Egyptians developed the art of glass blowing during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, after 300 B.C., there is no evidence that vessels of glass were used for aquaria.

The question can not be resolved with certainty, but it is well known that the lure of breeding fish in captivity took possession of the Chinese several hundred years ago, spreading to Japan, and thence over the Western World, with the goldfish as the original object of interest. During the past 75 years experimentation with the balanced aquarium has passed through various salt and fresh-water phases until, with tropical toy fishes, it has reached the peak of enthusiasm and success in Europe and America. ( See, also, “Goldfish and Their Cultivation in America,” by Hugh M. Smith, in the National Geographic Magazine for October, 1924)

Not that the goldfish has suffered a loss of popularity. Seventeen million are still reared annually in the Untied States, largely for martyrdom in the quart globe, and there is little diminution in the demand for bizarre and costly varieties. Among cold-water species it has no rivals.

Nevertheless, tropical fishes have superseded goldfishes in many of the smaller hatcheries, and some of the larger goldfish farms have built conservatories for rearing them.


Many shops in the larger cities are devoted exclusively to their sale, and a pet show without a display of these colorful midgets would be noticeable incomplete. But it is true, also, that, while most American and European homes have been ornamented at some time by the presence of a few goldfishes, the majority have not as yet succumbed to the allurements of the toy tropical, though fish “fans” spring up daily like mushrooms, enticed by the flash of color, the beauty of fin and form, the remarkable breeding habits undisturbed by captivity, and the ease with which the aquaria are maintained.

Many kinds imported into the United States are sold and shipped almost the length and breadth of North America – from Florida to Canada and from Massachusetts to California – but hundreds equally beautiful and interesting are as yet unknown to the fancier. The accompanying color plates present more than thirty kinds maintained in American aquaria, three-fourths of which have been bred in captivity.


The happy hunting grounds for toy fishes, explored and unexplored, range in the Western Hemisphere from the Carolinas south through Florida, and from Mexico through Central America, Panama, and South America to the most southern point of Argentina. In the Eastern Hemisphere, Egypt and other parts of Africa, Australia and Asia – including the island groups of the Malay Archipelago, India, China, Siam, and other countries – have been drawn upon for the supply of dwarf fishes appearing in the home aquaria of the Occident.

Tropical toy fishes are of many genera and species and even of many varieties – some natural, others cultivated. Their adult body length measures from one inch to five inches, the most minute of all not yet having been exported alive. These are four Philippine fresh-water gobies from Manila, Lake Buhi, Laguna de Bay, and Sitankai, in the Sulu Province, two of which reach a maximum length of one-quarter inch and two one-half inch.


The impossibility of transporting alive these smallest of all known vertebrates has precluded Occidentals, both laymen and scientists, from the enjoyment of one of the world’s greatest biological curiosities, the only specimen’s received having been forwarded in preserving solution; and the principal use to which the Filipinos put these tine creatures at present is a culinary one, many thousands being mixed with batter and baked into little cakes seasoned with herbs and spices.

From this we conclude that in flavor, as well as in nature and habit, dwarf fishes are not unlike their brothers of larger growth; but from the aquarist’s point of view they are separated into three diverse groups; the peaceable and the quarrelsome, the carnivorous and the omnivorous (few, if any, being wholly herbivorous), the oviparous and the viviparous (those laying eggs and those bearing living young and called “live-bearers:).

Subdivisions follow, such as delicate and hardy, prolific and unprolific, alkaline- and acid water species, and so on – details which may seem ponderous, but which the merest amateur masters quickly. The ichthyologist, on the other hand, recognizes the pygmies as belonging to definite species, genera, families, and orders, similar to fishes of normal size, and gives them Latin names (sometimes much longer than the little fishes themselves), which will identify them in any country of the world, for science speaks a universal tongue. The scientific nomenclature is known also to the fish fancier and even to the lad with his first pair of guppies.

Nor is the anatomy of the pygmies unique. Swim bladders and other organs common to larger fishes are common to them, and their fins are the same – caudal or tail, fins for swimming or propelling, fins beneath called ventral and anal, and pectorals (behind the gills) fro helping maintain the equilibrium; also dorsal fins (on the back), which indicate moods and physical states – health and contentment when erect, illness and depression when lowered. The majority have no defense against enemies except in such teeth as they possess.

Some are so peaceable that a number of species live amicably in one tank; others so quarrelsome that two males cannot occupy the same aquarium, and a male may kill his mate.

Some subsist largely on algae, but most favor small water animals, such as entomostracans (the minutest of crustaceans), annelids, and insect larvae; and the fish fancier may from time to time visit the wild ponds in search of their prey, rearing for them also, in boxes of humus, or leaf mold, the small whit earthworm, Enchytraeus of Europe and America, found from New Jersey to Maine, coastwise and along the shore, under stones and seaweeds; and whenever possible he supplies them with Daphnia, the tiny crustacean on which fancy goldfishes are reared.


But it is obvious that, if the finny tribe did not readily accept substitutes for live food, their maintenance in captivity would be impossible. Raw beef, cereals, roe, and shellfish, also dried shrimp and other desiccated foods, appear on their bill of fare, and many experiments have been made with concentrated foods, such as cod-liver meal and other glandular products, to ascertain their response to vitamin nutritives – experiments which have confirmed their amenability to a foreign diet and especially to substitutes for the lime, minerals, enzymes, and other catalytic agents present in live food, which aid digestion, purify the blood, and keep the skin lustrous.

The majority lay eggs and leave them to their fate, but some carry their eggs in their mouth, taking no food while incubation is in progress, and subsequently caring for their young, which swim back into the mouth at the approach of danger.

Some build nests and vigilantly guard the eggs and fry; others bring forth their young alive.


Nearly always when the fry receive any care it is given by the father, but in mouth breeding species it is usually the mother who gathers up the spawn, and among Cichlids, which include the Brazilian half-moon and Mesonauta, described in the accompanying biographies, both sexes guard the eggs and fry.

In yet another species, the Chanchito, the eggs are hatched in a nest scooped in the sand by the male fish. When able to swim the young rise and school, the mother leading the procession, the father bringing up the rear. The fishlets, allowed to swim only during the day, are stowed back in the nest at night.

In other species in which the male gives exclusive care to his progeny, his labors cease when they are able to fend for themselves. He suddenly apprises them of their independence by darting at them and eating a few, compelling the remainder to rush for cover. After that they know better than to trust any fish bigger than themselves. In aquaria, where they cannot escape, he usually eats them all, unless the mother precedes him to the feast, and the aquarist guards against this by removing either young or parents at the proper time.

Although these habits correspond in general with those of larger fishes, the latter do not breed in captivity, while a pair two inches long, in a two-gallon aquarium stocked with vegetation similar to that of their native habitat, and supplied with water of the correct quality and temperature suffer no nostalgia, and those equipped for breathing air accommodate themselves to smaller aquaria.

The only martyrdom to which the tropicals are subjected is accidental. Some expire from cold. Occasionally an aquarium is left uncovered and the fishes, many species of which leap like salmon, clear the rim with one jump and dry up on the floor; or an aquarist concerned for their comfort may transfer their tank to a radiator and forget until they are completely cooked.


Aquaria for tropical fishes are stocked with aquatic plants similar to those used in goldfish receptacles and may be of many kinds. The large-leaved Cryptocoryne, submerged spatterdock (Color Plates VI and VIII), and broad and narrow -leaved tape grasses (Sagittaria and Vallisneria, Color Plates I, IV, and V) provide the best oxygenation and for smaller aquaria the hair grass (Color Plate II) is much in favor because of its delicate green clumps, low growth, averaging four or five inches, and habit of producing new plants from rhizomes, like tape grasses.

More commonly sold in pet shops are anacharis, fanwort, and water milfoil, all with slight roots that require weighting with stones Anacharis (Elodea), a submerged herb of the frogbit family, (Color Plates I, II, III) is called “north American Waterweed” in Europe, where it was unaccountably introduced and has spread with great rapidity.

Fanwort (Color Plate VII) affords a depositary for adhesive spawn, and the firm ovate leaves and floating bulbs of the water-hyacinth (Eichhornia), as illustrated in the same plate, provide superior anchorage, for bubble nests, its feather roots furnishing excellent hiding and foraging jungles for fry and spawning grounds for fishes that cast their eggs among vegetation. Indoors, however the plant deteriorates, never choking an aquarium with the extensive growth with which it impedes navigation in Florida rivers.

Snails, familiar scavengers of the goldfish aquarium, figure also in the home of the toy tropical and have interesting habits. Pond snails with pointed spirals (Color Plates II and VI) and divers kinds of ramshorns, including the showy European red ramshorn (Color Plate IV), lay eggs in gelatinous masses which are devoured by the fishes. Snails in return eat the fishes eggs; and it is customary to remove them during the spawning season.

The Japanese viviparous snail (Plate VIII) brings forth living young with opercula, behind which they can retreat, and shells too tough for little fishes to manipulate.

For reasons biological, psychological, and social, the lure of the fish in the aquarium for many individuals is far greater that the lure of the fish on the line. This applies particularly to the pygmy fish, a hundred or more of the smaller species of which will live comfortably in quarters not commodious enough for a dozen goldfishes. When various kinds are placed in a sufficiently capacious receptacle, each species schools, thus massing and accentuating the colors.


Many facts of biological importance are to be discovered from a study of the toy fish. Abnormalities of shape and color – in other words “biological sports” – have not yet been taken advantage of, as in the rearing of goldfishes, to propagate new strains, though variation under domestication has given rise to many new varieties.

Thus far, experiments of breeders have been confined largely to hybridization, more with the expectation of producing an oddity, salable or otherwise, than of proving or disproving any principle of Mendelian inheritance, cross-breeding having been done with allied species of fighting fishes and Danios and related genera of top minnows (swordtails, moons, and guppies).

These non-scientific but interesting experiments seem to show that whether the male or female of a species is selected has a significant bearing on the character of the progeny, their color and “finnage” (a word coined by breeders). The expected sterility in the offspring does not occur or is confined to the male, and hybrids, especially among the top minnows, tend to be several times larger than either parent.

The great possibilities for the study of embryology, the development of new and desirable variations by careful cultivation, the extent to which the distribution of color and fin development are dependent upon agencies of temperature, environment, age, food, and other factors, and other biological features of the toy fish, commend themselves to the attention of the scientist, and in many a biological laboratory a collection of pygmies forms an important part of the equipment.

Lepidology, the study of the scales, in which the age of a fish is recorded, has not yet been applied to the pygmies to discover their natural term of life.


As among larger fishes, the young hatched from eggs are transparent, very delicate, and unable to feed, the umbilical sac (yolk sac) supplying nutriment for a few days and also retarding their movements. These require rich foods – love infusoria, diatoms, Daphnia; also the juices of meat and shellfish.

But pygmies born alive are as fully formed as adults, except in point of size and the development of the reproductive system. They are able to swim and feed immediately, and resemble nothing save two large eyes attached to an infinitesimal streak of animated protoplasm that can dart 25 times its own length in the minutest fraction of a second. These hardier youngsters, for whom nature makes no postnatal provision, thrive on prepared baby-fish foods, desiccated egg yolk, cracker dust, and oatmeal broth.

Males are generally smaller and more highly colored. Interbreeding has the same deteriorating effect as upon higher animals, and exchanges of breeding stock are made from time to time and new blood introduced through importations. Runts and giants occur in every batch, the former commonly disappearing down the gullets of the latter, though as careful selection is practiced by fanciers as in the cultivation of goldfishes and valuable plants. As yet, no purely albinistic stocks have appeared.

The psychology of the fish has been barely touched upon, and almost any careful observer may have the privilege of contributing new knowledge, for every fish is a law unto itself. Pygmies sometimes exhibit a discriminating sense of taste and an astonishing adaptability to change of environment, food, and temperature, and, when young, to the quality of the water they live in. Some are excitable; others phlegmatic; many active and playful. Some refuse to fight; others are incorrigible bullies. They learn most quickly where food is concerned and what time of day it may be expected. Some grow so tame they will swim into the hand; others never make human friends.

Exemplifying the dim dawn of vertebrate sensibilities, they display individual preferences and fierce jealousies; solicitude for their offspring or, in some cases, greater solicitude for the preservation of their own lives; some are curious and observing, showing an interest in form and color, being able to distinguish between the shadows of friends and enemies and between the two ends of the spectrum – that is, between red, orange, or yellow, as opposed to green, blue, or violet.

The young fish able to swim concerns itself very early with a recognition of its own species, and schooling has been observed among the fry of viviparous fishes less than a day old.


Exportations of toy fishes from Germany into the United States began about 25 years ago, numerous species having been first successfully bred in that country from parent stock captured in its tropical haunts. Though many thousands now are propagated elsewhere, a large percentage of those owned in the United States being “home grown,”considerable numbers, of a value variously estimated at from $50,000 to $100,000 per annum, still are shipped from Germany and South America.

The typical German traveling can is of tin, with a capacity of about four gallons, heavily insulated with felt wadding and paper and with an opening in the cover to admit air. Thousands of specimens have traveled safely across the ocean and into the interior of the United States in these cans, most of the shipping being done between May and October. For conveying by hand or shipping specimens shorter distances, one gallon thermos jugs are used.

Mechanics, chemistry, carpentry and aquatic biology all come into play in the keeping of the toy fish, and devices for its special care are numerous. In North America the temperature of the living room is adequate for the survival of some species, and they reproduce during the summer months; but the majority require water heated from 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and this is usually accomplished (in the suburban or country home) either by establishing the aquaria in a conservatory or specially heated room, or (in the city) by heating the tanks individually with alcohol or oil lamps, gas or Bunsen burners, incandescent lamps suspended in the water or electric heaters with thermostats for automatically regulating the temperature ( graphic on page 288 to be inserted).

Mechanical aerators for cloudy days, when plants fail to supply sufficient oxygen, are also in use, operated by water power or electric current and releasing oxygen in streams of minute bubbles finer that the spray from a watering can.

Among species that lay non-adhesive eggs and devour them, the female is placed in a breeding cage suspended in the aquarium. These cages are constructed of sloping wooden trays with small apertures through which the eggs may fall, or of glass, one popular type being made of glass rods narrowly spaced. With such a contrivance, the eggs come to rest at the bottom of the tank, the female can be removed to another aquarium after spawning, and in a few days the fry may be seen swimming about, secure from cannibalism.


More or less importance is attached to the quality of the water in which the toy fish is to live, Brazilian river fishes, like lake-dwelling species, requiring it less alkaline than those that live in or enter brackish water. With the help of chemical water testers similar to soil testers, acid sodium phosphate is used to produce the desired acidity, and plaster of Paris, calcium phosphate, or bicarbonate of so mixed with salt to create the desired alkalinity.

Europe boasts permanent and notable exhibits of toy fishes in a half a dozen of its public aquariums – those of London, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Frankfort, and Leipzig. The United States lays claim to two. That of the Lincoln Park Aquarium, in Chicago, consists of 58 tanks, showing many brilliant species from the Orient and South America. That of the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco, consists of 31 tanks of similar species and, in addition, many brought from Samoa and Hawaii, which display the vivid colors and fantastic shapes that characterize the fishes of those waters.

When finished, the new John G. Shedd Aquarium, in Chicago, will display 65 balanced aquaria in a tropical-fish room maintained at a temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, stressing beautiful setting and plant life rather than the rarity of the collection .

Besides these permanent exhibits, various societies of aquarists interested in both goldfish and tropical toy-fish culture hold annual exhibitions at which hundreds of aquaria are shown (the public usually admitted free), and prizes, including ribbons and silver cups, are awarded to both professionals and novices.

These societies exist for the purpose of stimulating both expert and amateur to greater interest by the exchange of ideas and specimens, some publishing instructive leaflets dealing with fishes, plants, successful experiments in rearing difficult species or breeding new varieties, and similar subjects. In the United States 25 such societies exist in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Illinois, Missouri, Wisconsin, Washington, California, and the District of Columbia. The largest are in Newark, Jersey City, and Philadelphia.

The Newark Aquarium Society, having a membership of 500, at a recent exhibit visited by 50,000 people, displayed 1000 aquaria, with 160 classified varieties of tropical toy fishes ( graphic from page 305 in original to be included).

Many members of these societies, besides maintaining special rooms or conservatories for their collections, have private daphnia breeding reservoirs, hatcheries, outdoor pools, and other equipment, and it is not uncommon for one person to own 12 to 30 aquaria.

In the vicinity of such organizations are lodged numerous dealers in toy fishes, some with large conservatories and ponds for summer rearing.

The breeding of pygmy fishes for sale is an industry of steadily increasing importance in both hemispheres. Aquarium keeping is a pursuit (called by its followers a “hobby”) calculated to subvert any designs Satan may have upon idle hands, and to draw its devotees closer to the heart of the world of water life, so different from our own, yet urged and governed by such similar impulses – a pursuit in which familiarity breeds no contempt. Little fishes and the gods still are mentioned in the same breath.

Like dogs, some species are never absent, and others have their day of glory and almost disappear, with two or three always in the ascendancy. These are mentioned more particularly in the accompanying descriptions.


Mohammed’s dream of heaven was of a place through which flowed limpid rivers and lakes cool as camphor; and the clown in Urvashi says, “heaven is just a place where they never shut their eyes – like fishes!” The fish fanciers dream of Paradise is of a place overflowing with warm placid lakes that part like the Red Sea, allowing him to walk between natural aquaria and to view on a level with his eye, which he never shuts, millions of angelic counterparts of the pygmy fishes he so loved on earth.

In the brief delineations of the species presented in Mr. Hashime Murayama’s strikingly lifelike color portraits, the subjects are grouped according to their breeding habits: oviparous species of many families, which include a few that care for their eggs and young, and the labyrinth fishes, which blow nests of bubbles; and viviparous fishes of the family of top minnows.

Note: The original illustrations to this article will be posted at a later date!

Aquaculture In The Inner City

Witch’s Brew! Aquaculture In The Inner City

Water-Filled Garbage Can With Paradise Fish Bubble Nest At The Top Left

The images in the article are the property of PETCRAFT.

Though I’ve kept tropical fish for over thirty-five years, it’s only over the last few summers that I’ve attempted to keep fish outdoors. Living in an industrial area of Jersey City, almost underneath the New Jersey Turnpike, it’s not very easy to establish a pond.

My first attempt was, believe it or not, with an old boat. It was about eighteen feet long . Originally, or so I thought, somebody was going to pay me to store it in the lot. After many months without seeing the good ship’s owner, I tried to get somebody to take it away. I was told that the boat was not exactly seaworthy — in fact it was garbage. I was going to have to pay to have it removed!

I decided to try to make the best of a bad situation. My reasoning went that if a boat would keep water out, then it would also hold water. To the great amusement of the local motorcycle club, I paid a homeless man to dig a hole. After about a week, the excavation was far enough advanced so that several people were able to drag the boat over to the deep ditch. We kicked it in and it settled — almost level. With the help of a fire hydrant, several hours later I had a pond.

I seeded my private lake with some bird droppings from my pigeon coop. With the bright sun, the water quickly took on a bright green tint.

I introduced ten “feeder” goldfish. They seemed very happy frolicking in the soupy water.

A few days later the boat seemed to be groaning, like a tall ship tossing in a heavy sea. The little ship cracked right down the middle! Before an hour was out, my ten fish were confined to about a gallon of water. Unfortunately, a boat is not very good at containing water.

The next year I tried a plastic toddler’s pool. When I noticed a heavy batch of mosquito larvae, I put in a pair of guppies. Some weeks later I looked to see how the guppies were doing. Since the mosquito larvae were gone, I first assumed that the fish must be fat and sassy. Alas, the fish too were missing. A number of very nimble dragon fly larvae had taken their place, in the manner of The Alien.

The summer after that I put out two plastic garbage cans, each holding fifty gallons or so. I put four “feeder” goldfish in the one and one in the other. I meant to divide the fish three/two into the two drums, but the fourth fish decided to jump in with the first three. Over the winter, the containers seemed to freeze solid. But, lo and behold, come spring, the fish were doing fine.

I decided that it was not right for the one guy to be all by itself. I put him in with the others.

A few weeks later I saw that the now fishless drum was teeming with mosquito larvae. Not wanting to be accused of maintaining a hazard to human health, I placed two Paradise fish in the barrel. I never saw the fish again, but the mosquito larvae did disappear.

Paradise Fish Bubble Nest

Late in August I noticed a mass of bubble on the surface of the water. I wondered if it could be a bubble nest of the Paradise fish? Since the fish seemed to be gone, I thought that maybe a rat had fallen into the water, had drowned and was now giving off bubbles through decomposition. But it turned out that the fish had found life in Jersey City agreeable. By the middle of September, Paradise fish fry were hunting along the surface of the water-filled garbage can.

It IS Possible To Do A Good Job!
A Very Nice Water Garden Just Across The Street From City Hall in Jersey City
These two photos are by Alton O’neill



The country of Malawi is located in eastern Africa, bordered on the West and the South by the country of Mozambique. Malawi possesses neither oil nor a strategic location. This has proved to be a boon, for no arrogant conqueror threatens this peaceful land. Though extremely poor (and now beset by the scourge of AIDS) the people of Malawi are noted for their courteous and out-going natures. The highest honor in this land is not some token of military victory, but, rather, a scholarship to the school set up by President Banda. Here students study the Greek and Latin classics, as did the British gentry during the reign of Queen Victoria.

On the East, Malawi is bordered by Lake Malawi, one of the world’s great lakes. This lake stretches for 600 kilometers, longer than America’s Lake Michigan. Lake Malawi is one of Africa’s Rift lakes, as is Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. Africa, over the course of millions of years, is being torn apart by geologic forces — the Rift lakes are `the dotted line’ along which the continent is being ripped in two. These Rift lakes are often described as inland seas, due in part to their magnitude and also because the water is very hard and salty. Hard water contains a great quantity of minerals.

Though Malawi has no rare minerals or weapons to force itself upon the world, it does have treasure in abundance, living treasure, the beautiful cichlid fish of Lake Malawi. One can travel to Africa to spot these jewels (actually Malawi is becoming something of a trendy tourist spot), but that is not necessary. You only have to go to your local aquarium store, for these cichlids are extremely popular right here in the States.

Some things must be kept in mind in order to experience success with these fish. Most of the Lake Malawi fish are `mbuna.’ This means that they come from extremely rocky habitats. In the wild each male establishes a home base that is defended against all trespassers. Females are courted as potential mates. If they decline the male’s advances, they too are chased off.

The aquarist must provide an abundance of rocks for these mbuna to feel at home. It is best to understock the tank – use as large a tank as possible. If crowded, the Malawi cichlids will constantly fight with each other; the stress will kill all but the strongest. I like to keep mine in tanks 50 gallons or larger, one species to a tanks. I initially put 8 to 12 small fish, 2 inches say, in the tank. As the fish mature, I take out all but one or two of the males, leaving in all the females. In some species the males are differently colored than the females. The males often have many light colored spots on the anal fin — the egg-spots — while the females only have a few. The males are generally more brightly colored. The males will defend the tank as his territory and court the females.

Most Malawi cichlids are relatively easy to breed. These fish are mouthbrooders; after the male fertilizes the eggs, the female takes them in her mouth and holds them for the sake of safety. In your group of fish, if you don’t witness the spawning, the mothers will be recognized when they stop eating. The best bet is to carefully remove an egg-laden female and to place her in a tank by herself. Since she is not eating, her strength will be reduced. The other fish may subject her to evil treatment. They might also eat the babies when they are released.

When the female does release the babies, again put her in another tank by herself. She may eat her own young; at any rate she does not feed or care for them. The mother will be too weak to go right back in with the male and other females. They would quickly kill her!

The young are very easy to care for. A week or two of newly hatched brine shrimp is a good idea, but not all-important. Also feed them the same food, flake, pellet or frozen, that you feed the parents. It may be necessary to grind the food in your fingers, or to allow it to soak, for the fry to be able to swallow the food. Don’t skimp on the food, feed as many times a day as possible. Don’t skimp on the filtration either. For starters you will need an undergravel or sponge filter to remove ammonia. Carefully perform as many partial water changes as you can. When the youngster get to be about an inch, you will want to install a canister or outside power filter to handle the increasing waste load. Be careful to not initially use too powerful a filter. You don’t want to throw the babies out with the dirty water!

Water quality is very important for the adults, also. Scientifically researched water additives are now available for the Lake Malawi cichlids. You want hard, alkaline, salty water to keep malawi fish happy. Be sure to also use a conditioner to remove chlorine and chloramine. You will want a powerful canister or outside power filter to remove particulate waste. The mbuna are great for moving the gravel about. This stirs up a lot of detritus, which is definitely unsightly and also seems to make the fish uncomfortable. In most situations, an undergravel filter does a good job of controlling ammonia. A large set-up might require a wet/dry filter for sufficient biological filtration.

Crushed coral makes a good gravel for these fish. It is just the right size for them to move around. The crushed coral will also slowly dissolve and help provide minerals for the water.

No matter what sort of filter combination you decide upon, do perform frequent partial water changes. Remember to keep using the special additives that Lake Malawi cichlids require.

Though not as important as with salt water reef tank, a tank of Lake Malawi fish should be brightly lit. You want the best lighting possible in order to enjoy the awesome colors of these fish. Light is important for another reason. Many of the mbuna are basically vegetarians. It is a good idea to allow as much algae to grow as possible. This provides a healthful snack for your crew!

Many good vegetable foods, some designed just for Lake Malawi cichlids, are on the market. My guys seem to prefer the ones that contain spirulina. You can also treat with a little cooked spinach — without the butter! Malawi cichlids are not fussy. They ravenously devour just about anything.

Most of the Malawi mbuna that you see in your local store will have been raised in captivity, for, as mentioned, these fish are not shy about reproduction. Some will have been imported directly from Africa. It is believed that wild-caught fish are even more brilliantly colored than those raised in tanks.


Discus Study Group
Visit the Discus Study Group Facebook Page for the most authoritative information on the king of aquarium fish.


Editor’s note: The interview took place in the early-’90s. The article originally appeared in Freshwater and Marine Aquarium.
Marc Weiss no longer uses beef heart for fish food and now suggests a seafood based diet. This formulation will be available soon.

Imagine, you are surrounded by great schools of discus, thousands of discus, bright, ruby red discus with brilliant, electric blue markings. The fish swim in self-confident schools. They hover in front of you, intelligently looking right into your eyes. This could be the vivid dream of any discus-lover, but it is reality at Marc Weiss’s fish room – the source for a healthy percentage of the discus brought to the U.S.

Marc Weiss has been involved with all sorts of animals for most of his forty -five years. Fish and herps have always been his favorites. After college, he decided to `grow up’ and go to work in his father’s advertising business. The fish-bug stayed with him. As a hobby, he started to keep, and then to breed, the aquarium royalty, the discus. Soon, Mark was producing several thousand discus every month in his New York City apartment. This evolved from a past -time to a full time occupation.

Eventually a problem developed – the sort of problem that all businessmen should have! Even though his tanks were bursting with discus fry, Marc Weiss just could not raise enough to keep his customers happy. On the other side of the globe Hong Kong fish-farmer Lo Wing Yat was also experiencing `problems.’ This huge facility was producing more superb discus than he could sell. Marc and Lo Wing Yat, known also as Sonny, had been friends for several years. One day Sonny mentioned to Mark how many fish were in inventory. An extremely lucrative partnership was instantly born. Marc Weiss now sells a host of the world’s best strains, bred by Lo Wing Yat.

Marc insists that discus don’t have to be difficult fish to breed. To support his claim he points to the fact that discus are not a rare fish in nature. He also contends that the Asians have no trouble producing the discus in quantity. The reason why they can do this, while so many Americans experience frustration, is that the oriental fish-culturists don’t fight nature – they instead let nature work for them.

Discus come from warm, soft, highly-acidic waters that are very low in dissolved carbon dioxide and ammonia. Discus are carnivorous. Provide these conditions and you too can make big money raising discus! Marc is happy to help the beginner. He has no need to fear competition; discus are in great demand. His customers keep the two phones in his office ringing night and day.

Marc insists that the very first thing to do is to test your water. Your local tap-water just might be perfect for discus. If this is your lucky situation, all you would need to do to satisfy the fish’s water needs would be frequent water changes with heated and dechlorinated tap-water. Since most water authorities are now buffering their water to prevent lead contamination, you most likely will need to `work’ your water to keep the discus happy. Marc treats the city water in two ways. A reverse osmosis unit removes the overwhelming majority of minerals and contaminants. The water is further conditioned with granulated peat moss, in order to lower the ph and also to soften the water as much as possible. A good wet/dry filter will do the job of removing ammonia and co2.

When kept in the proper water, discus are not shy. Marc’s fish quickly swim right up to the front of the tank to look over visitors. He also believes that poor water quality is also the reason behind many breeding failures. It is Marc’s belief that improper water does not allow the parent fish and fry to chemically communicate. Another problem all due to a failure to communicate!


Discus in nature consume small shrimps and insect larvae. Similar foods are available in frozen form at every pet shop. To make sure that these foods don’t contain any parasites, Mark Weiss advises the hobbyist to scald the frozen food in hot water for ten seconds. It is a good idea to fortify the food with vitamins. Beef heart and raw shrimp, the sort for human consumption, are another two good foods. When chopped up by a food processor they attain the consistency of peanut butter and don’t fall right apart in the water.

What we want to copy from the natural environment is the total set of factors that lead up to discus achieving maturity and reproduction. Those incidental elements of the Amazon that don’t help discus must be ignored. Marc Weiss says, “That when discus are starving during the dry season, they eat flower petals is of no interest to the discus breeder. You might find piranhas in the same stream. Would anyone suggest putting piranhas in a discus breeding tank?”

Marc Weiss vehemently states that most discus are not killed by disease but rather by poor care. A pathologist might be able to identify a large number of parasites and micro-organisms on a healthy, breeding pair of discus. With good water and good food, the fish possess the vigor to ward off any ills. Allow the water quality to deteriorate and/or feed the fish a diet that fails to nourish, the discus will then succumb.

Success or failure is not defined by one or two pairs of discus. If you have given your fish the best care possible and they still fail to reproduce, perhaps you just need different pair. Look at human society. Some people are infertile. Some humans, even from the best homes, abuse their children. On the other hand, beware of the experts, so-called, who have only one or two pairs. Again taking people as the example, look at the starving in Africa that manage to have children. Just because of this, would you advise starvation and pestilence for all people? Of course not! Some discus will manage to breed under any circumstances. These determined fish did not breed because of ill-suited water conditions, but despite bad water. Why make things hard for yourself and your fish?

For the beginner, the best fish might not be the most expensive. Attractive strains that are reasonably priced are often also prolific. These fish are the best to start with, for if they don’t breed you know that it is your own care that is at fault. The very expensive strains might be delicate or just difficult to get to lay eggs. The novice could be doing everything right and still not get these finned Tiffanys to produce offspring!


As always, the best place to buy fish is from your local store. Here you can see exactly what you are paying for. Maybe the discus strains that you need can’t be found locally. Maybe the stores in your area don’t sell discus at all. In this case it makes good sense to order through the mail. Marc Weiss suggests that the buyer should always find out what the `fine print’ of any guarantee is. Nearly all vendors promise live delivery, but Mark believes that this should entail immediate replacement of any DOAs, not just a promised credit against future orders.

It is also important to tell your supplier whether the fish are intended as breeders or for display. Female discus are often not as brightly colored as the males. If you state your desires, your supplier can try to fulfill them.

As I was leaving Marc Weiss told me, “you can’t quote me on how to keep and breed discus. I can’t tell you how to do it. God and Nature are the only ones that can tell you how to raise discus!”