Congo Swamp Monster (750l biotope)

gltjc

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Hello everyone. I’m a long-term fishkeeper and persistent lurker on this and various other fora. Thought it was about time I took the plunge and started sharing my thought process and plans for a new project, as tank and stand are now (hopefully…..) ~4 weeks away from delivery.

Been without anything fishy since a house move 18 months ago, so a lot of thinking/research/dreaming to communicate and get reactions to.

Definitely more of a fish person (been through killifish, anabantoid and cichlid phases at one time or another) than a ‘planted tank’ person historically, so will need to learn a lot as I go.

Itching to get started...

My overall aim it so satisfy a few different long-held desires at once:
  • A broadly biotope-ish home for a community of more unusual fish, with enough space to allow me to find, collect and breed things over a few years
  • A shallow tank with lots of emersed plant growth
  • Growing water lilies indoors and being able to view them from underneath and on top (not sure where this came from)
  • Keeping killifish in a large tank / community setting

Major inspirations are Tom’s peerless Bucket O’Mud and his Poco Pozo. I definitely tend towards the natural style rather than the manicured ‘nature aquarium’ style (particularly in its recent ‘aquascaping contest’ manifestations which to my eye can be very artificial).

Tank will be a big one: 3100 x 45 x 54, but will only be filled to 35ish deep – looking to get towards the shallow style of tank within the constraints of the space I have along one wall. Will definitely be a challenge to create any sense of depth with these dimensions…

Plan I have settled on is a biotope tank (without being 100% strict) set somewhere in the middle Congo basin / Lefini River / Ubangi River area.

There is a good list of potential inhabitants with at least some chance of getting hold of them over time from this broad area, but particular targets are some of the beautiful new tetras that have entered the hobby over the last few years, such as Phenacogrammus aurantiacus, Bathyaethiops breuseghemi, Alestopetersius hilgendorfi (or whatever the species being sold under that name eventually turns out to be..) and Distichodus teugelsi (if I can get comfortable they won’t completely de-forest the tank), in combination with a couple of local killies (e.g. Aphyosemion ogoense – worth googling if you want some immediate fish lust), a Ctenopoma/Microctenopoma, a mid-sized cichlid or two and perhaps some central African oddballs and catfish.
 

gltjc

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Thanks Darrel. I remember reading that one some time ago. Definitely coming from a similar place to me. I'm looking to do something a bit different in terms of the aquascape to the well trodden driftwood and Anubias style.
 

gltjc

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I have made a quick sketch to help explain what I am thinking of, across four distinct zones:

1. A jungle stream bank on the left hand side with a decent sized area for emersed plants transitioning into a slope supported by some rocks

2. A lily pond area that will take up most of the length of the tank. Will have some other rooted and floated plants in this area, but looking to keep it relatively open

3. A rock and wood 'island' that will emerge above the water level to provide some visual interest and a place for Anubias and ferns

4. A sandy 'back bay' area with shallow water and emersed aquatic 'grasses'. Again, don't want this to be too crowded with plants
ucuraY3.png

I have a few questions on substrate choice that I'm hoping some on here can help with. I'd like to have the top layer consist of a mixture of fine sand, coarser sand and some scattered gravel. I think a mix of substrate sizes looks very natural and I much prefer this look to specialist planting substrates. This raises two issues:

1. How to support the higher substrate in the 'land area' and the 'back bay'. I've seen some of the aquascapes on The Green Machine do this by simply banking up plant substrates with some plastic supports, but I'm a bit concerned that this could create deadspots in the substrate and is a high cost approach. I'm thinking about using a ceramic pond filter media (alfagrog) in cages made from eggcrate to build the height. Are there any potential problems with this approach that I'm not thinking of? Will emersed plants adapt to root in this? Should hopefully be similar to hydroton and other hydroponic substrates in this respect? Could I put the intake to an external filter in a big cage of alfagrog under the raised area on the left to ensure this doesn't go anoxic, hide equipment and add some filter capacity, or will the plants here not appreciate the flow of water over their roots?

2. Substrate requirements to grow lilies. I've seen some grow Nymphaea lotus in bare sand, but am also aware that lillies in general like a very nutritious substrate. Should I put a base layer under the 'lily pond' area to help with this, or will root tabs suffice? Any recommendations on what specific base layer to use here and how to stop it ruining the look of the top layer over time?

All comments / thoughts / reactions / questions welcome!
 

gltjc

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So, this is now installed and up and running. After a solid month of sand and gravel washing the hardscape perhaps 80% there and planting 60% done. Really tough to photograph in its full 10' length! Have been practicing with the iPhone panoramas but don't have a steady enough hand. Will need to crack out my DSLR and wide angle lens.

XxwyCb3.jpg


I think it is close to what I had in mind. There are 6 Nymphaea lotus planted in the sandy stretch in the middle. Need them to hit the surface before it starts to look right.

I've tried to stick to plants native to the central Congo basin and nearby as far as possible, but have made a bunch of compromises as listed below.

Current plant list:

Setaria palmifolia (this is an Asian species, but the similar Setaria megaphylla is shown as native to the area on e-monocot.org. Haven't managed to track down the African species)
Bolbitis heudelotti (listed at http://www.centralafricanplants.senckenberg.de)
Pteris cretica (recorded in DRC according to http://fernsofafrica.com/blank-species.php?species_id=101100)
Floscopa scandens (again an Asian species standing in for two species from the right area, Floscopa africana and Floscopa glomerata, see http://www.centralafricanplants.senckenberg.de)
Ammannia senegalensis (listed in the Congo at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/164331/0)
Anubias barteri var. glabra (the 1979 revision of Anubias, which can be found here http://edepot.wur.nl/165228, lists barteri var. glabra, gilletti, hastifolia, heterophylla and pynaerti as present in the Congo basin)
Nymphaea lotus (listed at http://www.centralafricanplants.senckenberg.de)
Glossostigma elatinoides (not from Africa at all, but came for free and so has gone in for now!)
Anubias congensis 'arrow' (congensis is a synonym of heterophylla according to the 1979 revision of Anubias... so hopefully these plants are heterophylla...)
Anubias barteri var nana (not from the right area. Despite their ubiquity in 'congo tanks', the barteri varieties other than glabra aren't found in Central Africa but further West...)
Anubias hastifolia (see above - hoping these will do well enough to become emersed.. there is one at the top of the run of Anubias on the front of the big piece of wood and two behind the sedge on the far right)
Aponogeton distyachos (this is a South African species. eMonocot lists a bunch of species from the right area but I haven't found any available. Will swap out if the opportunity arises!)
Eleocharis acicularis (not from the right area, but standing in for the large number of Eleocharis species that are found in the area and look identical!)
Juncus effusus (close to cosmopolitan, including in the Congo basin according to eMonocot)
Pistia stratiotes (listed at http://www.centralafricanplants.senckenberg.de)

Key immediate next steps are:

1. Covering the lighting cables in the centre. I've wrapped the others in masking tape which I've then painted to match the wall but haven't found time to do those two yet. This was worked pretty well.

2. Adding 10-15 vallis in front of the lighting cables. This will help disguise them in the short-term and may stay long-term to add some depth of vertical elements in the left centre when the water lillies have grow in.

3. Adding 100 or so dwarf Eleocharis between the tall Eleocharis on the right and the big piece of wood and a few in front of the rocks on the left and scattered through the left central part

4. Scattering some larger gravel and coarse sand to add some more interest to the substrate. Will also add some small branches and leaf litter

5. Upgrading the heating. Currently running a 200W thermofilter and a 300W in-line Hydor. These aren't getting the tank above the ambient room temperature of 21C. Need to add at least one more Hydor and a temperature controller to make sure they are all working together.

Then fish!
 
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Edvet

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DSLR and wide angle lens.
Stitching ie easy in PS nowadays:)
Indeed the transfer between the hill pebbles and the sand is too harsh, adding more gravel to the transition will soften it
Any chance to use some kind of frosted background? Perhaps with some light lighting behind it?
Maybe cover the frontside of the gravelmount with black tape or plastic, same on the other side?
 

gltjc

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Easy for you may not be so easy for me!

Agree with all these. The background is frosted but not v. heavily and, as you see, the cables still show very clearly. Would like to experiment with backlighting in the future - looking to give the impression of a cross-section through a swampy stream which I don't think I could get with a black background which tend to reduce the impression of depth. Really need the water lillies to grow before I know whether this will work out!.

Like the suggestion of black plastic on the left side. The gravel bank is hollow - there is only ~2 cm of gravel there before you hit an eggcrate structure - but I suspect the front of the gravel will still become unsightly with time.
 

Edvet

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may not be so easy for me!
Just select all pics and PS stitches them automatically, even i can do it:p

I didn't mean black on the back side , i meant on the other (smaller) hill:confused:
A continuous black border until say 5 mm from the top of the substrate, all the way from left to right
 

dw1305

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Hi all,
Juncus effusus (close to cosmopolitan, including in the Congo basin according to eMonocot)
I'd try a Cyperus spp., rather than Juncus effusus, they do much better as emergents. Juncus effusus is really better in wet soil, rather than in water.

Cyperus (alternifolius) involucratus is easy to source (I have a lot of it) and Tropical African (but I'm not sure about the Congo basin), Cyperus papyrus would be another option.

We have a member who lives in the DRC (@zanguli-ya-zamba), it might be worth looking through <"his threads"> for <"plant images">.

cheers Darrel
 

gltjc

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Hi all,I'd try a Cyperus spp., rather than Juncus effusus, they do much better as emergents. Juncus effusus is really better in wet soil, rather than in water.

Cyperus (alternifolius) involucratus is easy to source (I have a lot of it) and Tropical African (but I'm not sure about the Congo basin), Cyperus papyrus would be another option.
Thanks. I already have a C. involucratus (behind the large piece of wood). Missed it from my plant list! The native distribution does seem to include the Congo basin: http://e-monocot.org/taxon/urn:kew.org:wcs:taxon:237063

I hadn't picked up that the Juncus may not do well planted this way. If they do fail / struggle I may move the front one to the back of the 'land area' on the left, replace the one at the back with papyrus and put some more of the 'pond size' Eleocharis at the front right. Should keep more or less the same look.
 

mort

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That looks fantastic already. Definitely my kind of tank. I don't have any experience with the region to offer but looking forward to seeing it fill out. You mention you wanted to be able to see the water lillies from above and below for some reason, well thats something I really enjoy as well.

Can I ask what the emergent plants are on the left?
 

gltjc

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Can I ask what the emergent plants are on the left?
The plants on the left are Setaria palmifolia (the large wide leaved grass), which is doing well and already growing quickly, Pteris cretica (a fern, immediately to the right of the Setaria), which hasn't grown since I flooded the tank - not yet sure it will survive, two Bolbitis heudelotti (behind these two, not yet visible), a lot of Anubias barteri var. glabra (emersed and submerged, coming down the back of the slope) and in front there is a lot of Floscopa scandens and Ammannia senegalensis in 1-2 inches of water which I am hoping will grow out emersed and create a 'wabi kusa' type area and shelter for killifish and fry. Once the tank is established I'll play about with the planting in this bit!
 

mort

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Thanks for that. Always on the look out for nice emerged species as I'm planning something similar to your tank but only about 6ft with riparium planting either side of a lily pool. Still only at the thinking stage so please keep the inspiration updated.
 

dw1305

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Hi all,
I already have a C. involucratus (behind the large piece of wood).
Now you've told me where it is, I can see it.
Pteris cretica (a fern, immediately to the right of the Setaria), which hasn't grown since I flooded the tank
It doesn't like the wet, it used to grow on an outside wall in one of the <"basements in Bath">, but I think gentrification has done for it.

cheers Darrel
 
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tam

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Just wow! Can't wait to see it with the lilies grown in too.
 

zozo

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Regarding Nymphaea's they can be growen in inert substrates, but wont be at their best in low tech. Adding clay root tabs definitively is a pre. You got a N. zenkeri? At least that's the official name of the N.Lotus, it grows from a tuber, this stores energy, so kinda the grow habbit of this plant depends also a bit on the maturity of the tuber. If the this tuber is relatively small the lily will stay rather small for a long time.. I'm growing a large lily sp. from a tuber as large as a thumbs fingernail and after 2 years it still is in dwarf size. It grows floaters not much bigger than 3cm in diameter and only 4 at the time, i don't have enough light for it to realy thrive. The floaters have a life cycle only live X amount of time.. And actualy this lily is in mature state much to big for an average aquarium, it's a medium pond lily. :) Depriving them from light and rich soil forces them into dwarf growth.

They are real sun worshippers, so getting them off indoors to make lots of floaters in a relative deep invironment > 25 cm you need quite some light and co2 also will help.. Without it you need quite some patience.

I gt another smaller cultivar (no name) lily from a private collector, it made tons of floaters in medium light with co2 added.. This tank now also is back to low tech with lesser light and haven't seen a floater since.

Do you dim those kessils? If so than try to find the point to give to kessil above the lily as much output as possible without growing algae. :)

Would be awsome in this tank to get it going.
 

zozo

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Btw the Nymphaea i mentioned that floated so well is this one..
https://www.ebay.de/itm/Kleinste-Se...501676?hash=item33be16ddac:g:QgkAAOSwd0BVxNDN

I asked the nursery the real name but she went mysteriously quite and never answered this question. Doing investigattion myself, the smallest Nymphaea and the second smallest are both African Nymphaeas spp. She claims this is the smallest in the world, but the true smallest is almost extinct, so it likely is the second smallest and i got it to flower one day (well 5 days to be exact). I suspect it to be the Nympaea capensis rosea (pink).
:)
https://www.exotic-plants.de/seeds/aquatic-plants/Nymphaea-capensis-Pink.php
 
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