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200-liter Riparium Setup for Synodontis Catfish


22 Aug 2009
I am putting together another riparium setup. This one is going into a 200-liter tank (60cm wide X 45cm tall X 45cm deep), which is a shape that I like a lot. I have a few pictures already, but start here with the first that I got of the setup the other night.


This display will will be different from most of the ripariums that I have done before. I generally fill riparium tanks to only ~40% of depth with water, leaving the remaining open top area for the emersed growth of plants, but this one will be filled most of the way to the top.

This tank will also have a strong fish theme. My other ripariums have included mostly small community tropical fish, with greater emphasis on the plant life, but this tank will feature the fascinating little Tanganyika catfish, Synodontis petricola, in a species display. I will add one or two other species, but I intend for the cats will be the stars of the tank.
I got some more pictures and I should be able to post another update later today.
Here's a quick update. I added a few stones, two different kinds of gravel and a group of Poecilia chica.


The fish are tentative at this point, but I will eave them in this setup for a while and see how they look and how they interact with the catfish.
Nick16 those fish that I have there are a molly, Poecilia chica. I collected them down in Mexico.

The box with the S. petricola arrived last night in the post.


They were all lively and swimming about. The seller packed them very well.

I'm going to add some more plants soon.
Here is another shot of the Synodontis, acclimating for a while in the bag.


This is one of the large female Poecilia chica.

I have made some more headway with this project. Tonight I got the now rimless tank in place and applied a painted background to the rear panel. I got a few pictures and I'll post images a little bit later on.
wow, looks good.
i find molly's bought in LFS's are very prone to dying. they used to be classed as hardy fish but now due the amount of interbreeding i find them quite the opposite. platies arent quite so bad but are heading that way as well.

i take it yours a wild caught?
Mollies, even genetically fit ones, are in general not especially hardy fish. This is especially true for the sailfin species and hybrids. Getting large, attractive mollies requires careful feeding, frequent water changes and roomy accommodations.

I collected those P. chica a couple of years ago in Mexico. Here is a shot of one of the spots where I found them in the Purificación River.

The other night I took some time to make some room for this new setup. I plan to put it in the same spot where I had my ~250-liter riparium display. Here is a picture of that one half way through teardown.


It was a little bit sad. I really liked that tank a lot, but I'm stoked for this new one too. I am using the same stand, filter and light fixture for the S. petricola tank. Here is a picture of the 65 from some time ago.


I had a short journal with highlights from that tank over in another thread...

Great Journal, what a treat to be able to collect your own fish!

What is the plant on the far Left side. is it a amazon sword? I would like somthing similat that grows out of the top of my tank. Do you think the emergant leaves would survive in a non-riparium set up?

Nice photography too, Tom
That plant on the left is an Echinodorus palaefolius sword. Do you mean whether or not the air would be tood dry for a sword in a non-riparium setup? Emersed swordplants actually do best with somewhat drier air. That tank above was open-topped, and the air inside was not much more humid than the room air.

I set up and the new tank and here it is with water in it.


It's a little bit more than 2/3 full. I applied a black painted background just to the portion that will be below water.
Here is the setup with gravel, filter, heater and hardscape.


The hardscape might change. I attempted to use the stones to build a few little caves for the Synodontis to hang out, but I couldn't get them to look right. I might just add the fish and watch their behavior to see if they really need to have hiding places.

Today I got some plants and fish in there. This is not the final layout--I just stuck the plants in there quick. It's not much to look at now, but once the plants get a chance to grow in it should be pretty nice. Here is a quick rundown of the selections that I included, beginning with the red-stemmed Limnophila aromatica on the left.

  • Limnophila aromatica , this is an excellent riparium plant for creating a floating carpet of stems. Here it is planted in a hanging planter, then trained to grow across a trellis raft.
  • Cyperus ??, I don't know which variety this is. I wish that I had not lost the variety information, because this one is perfect for riaprium culture. Most of the other ones that I have tried grow to be too large.
  • Bacopa ??, I am not certain, but I believe this one to be madagascariensis. It is really great for creating a floating carpet. It looks thin here, but I will trim the growing tips to encourage branching and make a nice dense green carpet.
  • Cyrtosperma johnstonii, this thing is really cool. It is a tropical aroid with unique red-veined leaves. It might eventually grow too large for this setup, but for right now it is only growing very slowly. I wrote an entry about it over in the Plants sub-forum,
  • Lipia nodiflora, this is not a true aquatic, but it grows as a creeping stem in wet areas. I have seen it a few times in Florida.
  • Echinodorus cordifolius 'Tropical Marble Queen', this is an excellent riparium plant. Here it is sort of competing with the C. johnstonii as a centerpiece, but the two also make an interesting contrast with each other. The leaves are about the same size on each, but white-variegated in the sword, but re-veined in the aroid.
Here's a new update It still needs to grow in, but this gives an impression of the general idea.


I don't know if it is conveyed well in this picture, but this layout has more of the feel of a pond than a fishtank. The plants interact visually with the space in the room around the tank.

There is some logic to my plants selection. The Cyperus umbrella sedges are intended to be most of the background. I like using those because they make nice forms without throwing a lot of shade, which will leave plenty of light for the plants growing as carpets on the trellis rafts. These include Lippia nodiflora, Bacopa sp. and Limnophila aromatica. Two arrowhead-leaved plants, Cyrtosperma johnstonii and Echinodorus cordifolius 'Tropica Marble Queen', add interest with red and white variegation. The one plant that doesn't seem to fit with the looks of the rest is the Spathiphyllum peace lily there on the far left, I might try moving that one in from the side, or replace it with something else.

I have added fish too. I have some shots of them and will return with some more images. The layout seems to have too much empty space in the underwater area. I am considering an underwater plant or two to add more dimension there. I think that I will use something with long strappy leaves, such as Crinum that won't obscure the stones.
Well, mollies are often sold to beginners as "easy beginner fish", but they are probably not the best choice for this. They can get sick and unless they get plenty of good food to eat and favorable tank conditions they don't grow to size very well. A number of mollies are good selections for brackish setups, but that P. chica is from clear streams up in the mountains, so it might not be such a good choice for brackish water.

This planting does look kind of thin right now, but it should be more convincing as it starts to grow in.

Here is that cichlid that you can see there in the foreground of the tank, an Archocentrus cutteri.


That species moniker is probably wrong. I think I heard that the genus Archocentrus was revised, and cutteri might not be a valid species either. Anyway, he's a real pretty fish. His colors are rather washed out because the light is so bright. I hope that when the plants grow up and throw some more shade his colors will brighten. He looks real nice when the tank lighting turns off and I see him just with the ambient room light.