Aquascaper 1200 - Hypsophrys Nicaraguensis tank

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Wills

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The tank is here so I thought I'd start a new journal for the second my two 300 litre Aquascaper 1200s. I've bought it used from Facebook Marketplace - really good find! It's come with a Fluval 406 and JBL Cristalprofi, 2x Kessil a160we tuna sun lights, loads of extras and all the kit I'll need so really happy.

Screenshot 2023-09-04 at 11.20.15.png


The tank is an Evolution Aqua Aquascaper 1200 120cm long 60cm deep and 45cm tall, its a rimless and braceless aquarium with optiwhite glass and clear silicone. On the tech side I need to learn the two filters as not had them before - I'm not 100% I'll keep them, I might try to sell these and put it towards something I prefer like an Oase Biomaster or maybe one of the FX's a 4 or a 6 see what I can get. The lights are also new to me but exited to try these as I've heard good things about Kessils, I know nothing about them so big research route. Both filters have come with glass lily pipes which I've never tried before but again I might change these to steel as I prefer the look.

I got this tank to go in my office building, we have an old stables that my wife and I work out of and I'm getting to the point with work I need a space to meet clients and also a bit of a break out room from my office as, although I love my office, I spend too much time in one spot and having this extra room will give me a bit more freedom and I wanted this tank to make the space mine and also since deciding on Mbuna for my other tank I still yearn for a Nicaraguan Cichlid (or a few...) and this is the space I can do that with.

So onto the fish, its going to be a Central American tank - ideally I want to try and stick to species from Nicaragua or Costa Rica as these are the range of my main focus Hypsophyrys Nicaraguensis the Nicaraguan Cichlid, which is tricky as both countries have export bans on fish and other than live bearers and cichlids few other species are found in the hobby.

Lets look at the Nicaraguan Cichlid first - I've covered a lot of this in my other journal but just so we have it in one place and I feel I've learned more about them now. They are a unique cichlid in Central America, the females are more colourful than the males, grow smaller and lack the unpredictable nuchal hump that the males get (occasionally they can look good but I generally find them disfiguring). They are found between Lake Nicaragua and the San Juan distribution on the Atlantic slope of Costa Rica, historically the species was split between 4 species based on a number of features such as markings, location and behaviours - I personally believe there is more than one species in here but its been reviewed a couple of times but both times I feel problematically, a 2007 study was done from preserved specimens with the authors never seeing them in the wild and then the 2016 Central American review looked at them (and to be fair very respected authors) but it was at a time a lot of the Central American Cichlids got reclassified and regrouped and all that was done for Nics was to put them back singularly in Hysophrys. Which I am glad about as they were paired with Neets - Neetroplus Nematopus, which are essentially the Nicaraguensis sworn enemy...

In the wild Nicaraguans are seen in a variety of really incredible breeding and social activities I enjoy this article from the cichlid room for this passage

Hypsophrys nicaraguense is a fascinating fish. As many aquarists know, "nics" (as they are sometimes called) are the only Central American cichlid to lay non-adhesive eggs. The bright yellow ova often bounce around the bottom of an aquarium. I now know why: H. nicaraguense is a tunnel nester. It was only on my third trip that I finally decoded the signal the nics had been giving all along. On my first two trips, I had been puzzled by the sight of nics hanging out next to a clay bank for no apparent reason. They weren't feeding, and they weren't going anywhere - the two things cichlids do most often in the wild!

On my second trip I noticed that these "layabouts" often seemed to be in characteristic areas, and once I thought I saw one of them dash into a black hole in the bank. I probed with my hand but found nothing. The answer would have to wait another year. I returned the next year armed with high technology: an underwater flashlight. Within minutes it opened up a new world. When I peered inside one of these holes (a tunnel three inches in diameter and 9-10 inches long) there at the back, in a nice little pile, were the bright yellow eggs that aquarists have come to recognize as unique to this species. I had found the missing nest of H. nicaraguense. Within half an hour I had found several more, and the mystery was solved: nics make horizontal tunnels in the clay banks. They are sometimes found in close clusters. I suspect this is because the correct consistency of clay is restricted to particular areas. These areas change from year to year as storms move logs and sand from place to place, exposing or covering the clay. The nests are made by both the male (8-9" long) and the female (6" long).

Just to flesh out the rivalry between Hypsophrys Nicaraguensis and Neetroplus Nematopus this video is extraordinary (and from other reports not unique). Towards the end of the video you can see a male Nicaraguan Cichlid raising the brood of a female Parachromis Dovii - the natural predator of Neetroplus Nematopus, I've read a few theories of why this happens and it comes to the Neets moving the Nics out of their breeding grounds and reducing the males chance to breed so it takes over the missing male Dovii cichlid - where the explanations differ is some argue its to allow the female Dovii to go out and hunt, others argue its to raise more Dovii into the lake but I think we can agree both routes are fascinating and for lack of a better word badass!


I also like this bit of information from Fish Base - quite a comprehensive profile for fish base too. Unfortunately it does not have the reference linked correctly and I've never been able to find it.

Deposits eggs in sand depressions. Produces about 200-400 non adhesive eggs with females practicing communal care during the post spawning period (an unusual behavior referred to as "creching", Ref. 44091). A group of 3 or 4 females stand guard over their combined spawns, encircling the expanded group and do not allow any intruders or predators into the rearing arena.

If anyone can help me hunt that bit of info out that may be interesting?

These are a few videos I'm trying to be informed by in terms of how they appear in the wild


These videos show the San Juan in Costa Rica which also give a good indication of the habitat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znz89M0YrVw&ab_channel=HansvanHeusden,withcichlidsinthewild.

I've found a big range of other footage of Central American lakes and this is far and away my favourite its like ASMR for me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzYsKdKwlZs&ab_channel=HansvanHeusden,withcichlidsinthewild.


I'm a bit stuck as to how best to keep them really, I don't particularly want to breed (though there is a bit of me...) and I prefer the females to the males so I am trying to choose between keeping a single female but I could also consider a group of females - largely led by the Fish Base account of groups of females "creching" in the wild. I've discussed this in the past and not fully got to an answer, though others have generally assumed you won't get that behaviour.

I am considering, if I kept just one Nicaraguan if I could keep other cichlids with her? Amatitlania Nanoluteus, Altoflavus, Cutteri could be an interesting option - all small growing 'Convict' species that I think could work as a small group. I've always had my head turned by Rainbow Cichlids but never kept them so again I wonder about them, Cribroheros species are interesting too but rarely seen but not impossible. I also wondered about an Electric Blue Jack Dempsey but I feel the smaller gregarious cichlids are a better choice as 2 bigger cichlids like a Nic and a JD in one tank could just go at it constantly.

Past cichlids I'm interested in some live bearers, I'm trying to decide between colourful and interesting at the moment - if anyone has any suggestions feel free to shout! I have been wondering about some Mexican Mollies which I've kept previously for the steel blue males, also interested in Swordtails - tempted by some of the colourful options but worried about quality after some recent reports here. On the rarer side I'm considering Xiphophorus Montezumae (though I worry about the long fin around cichlids) Skiffia Multipunctata, Zoogoneticus Tequila, Alfaro Cultratus, interested in some of the smaller species too that come from Lake Nicaragua but no decisions there at all.

Beyond these two groups I'm going to struggle to stay biotope correct as the fish don't come into the hobby that often. Sicydium Salvini is a bit of a holy grail for me at the moment as thats an algae eating goby from Costa Rica, bright blue metallic males and get to a decent size (4-5 inches) but don't think I'll ever find them. From the characins the closest option is the Blind Cave Tetra - Astyanax Mexicanus, but I'm not 100% from them, Pier Aquatics get really nice ones in but not sure what they will look like at home, I'd be interested in the non-cave variant or any other Astyanax tetra for that matter but very very rare - though not impossible. One other that may appear in the trade is the Semaphore Tetra - Pterobrycon myrnae - could be an interesting choice but few reports of them in trade.

For catfish I've found two solid Central American species but they are very rare in the hobby (and in all honesty I'm not sure I like them, they just fit my niche) they are Pimelodella Chagresi and Hoplosternum Punctatum. I would quite like something to zip along the sand to stir up detritus when I don't have my hands in there. The distribution of other Hoplo species isnt great so I don't want to blur that line but some of the Colombian Pimelodella species venture quite coastal and are very similar to Chargresi which makes me consider - you do get some of them in the hobby occasionally too. In the catfish group still there are a couple of Whiptails in Panama and there are Ancistrus and Chaetostoma species thoughout Central America which led me on a recent rabbit hole of research and discovered that most Chaetostoma species come from regions that get very hard water on a seasonal basis in Colombia around the Rio Orinoco distribution - which may further yield other viable options for this tank but I'm not 100% yet.

Based on this above blurb I'm currently working on an assumption of

1x Nicaraguan Cichlid (F)
5x Swordtails (type TBC)
4x Rubber Lip Pleco (species TBC)

But it might change a bit - I might do a group of female Nics, I might do 1 Nic and a group of Amatitlania, I might have 2 groups of live bearers (these could be colourful strains or different wild types) basically it will have between 1 and 4 female Nicaraguans, 4 Rubber Lip Plecos and some livebearers of some sort. I want to leave it this vague as it might be down to some on the day decisions in a store, even though this is a 300 litre tank I want to leave it light for now incase I see any of these unusual imports on my travels over the next few years and I want to make sure I have space to jump on it if I see it.

Planting and scaping this tank is another challenge as I want to make this tank easy to maintain, it will have emergent terrestrial plants from the surface, I'm not sure which species though I think Peace Lillys are biotope correct for Central America. I've just dumped this wood in as a starter for 10 at the moment but it will definitely change I have a lot of Frodo Stone, Oak Branches, a bucket of Seriyu Stone and also some really good bog wood that came with this tank.

I've shared this article before but need to here as I love reading it, such an idyllic sounding trip and excursion this paragraph really stays with me
Still moving closer to the mouth, the river was forcefully channeled through a gap of only one meter, where it rapidly gained velocity over a rocky step. A concrete barrier nearly 2 meters (6½ feet) in height had been constructed to keep cattle separated, as the river’s riparian vegetation began to deteriorate. The river’s substrate was now completely fine, and before the water depth grew no higher than my ankles I found a young female Hypsophrys nicaraguensis seeking camouflage amongst a congregation of fallen branches and coconut husks. As with the color comparisons of Cryptoheros nigrofasciatus between wild and captive stocks, I was intrigued with the colors of H. nicaraguensis. Shades of red streaked through her dorsal fin as blue tipped the edges of the dorsal spines, and she displayed a dark and evident lateral blotch and stripe.

Seeing as I have a large collection of tree branches that is currently my favoured starting point for an aquascape. MD Fishtanks recently posted a video of Aquarium Design Group in Texas which turned me onto their kind of scaping with really dramatic hardscaping with lots of layers and textures. Some aspects of their style are a bit too clinical for me but it works for me with what I want to achieve in the office space - this is as ever secondary to fish welfare though just to get that out there. The downside to this is the style really depends on epiphytes rather than rooted plants and there are none in the Central American systems (happy to be proved wrong!).

Biotope correct species I've found so far include a few Echinodorus species which I'm interested in, some are in the hobby too! I need a bit more reading to fully understand that as some of them you start reading and one turns out to be an other etc. Mayaca fluviatilis is an interesting one - conflicting reports as to how hard it is to grow, Najas guadalupensis gets a mention in some biotope profiles, never had it but not sure how easy it is to control? I usually just see it in breeding tanks in a big tumble? Pistia stratiodes, Salvinia auricalata, Lemna Minör, Ceratophillium Demersum, Bacopa Caroliana, Lobelia (Cardinalis?), Ludwigia Palustris all on the list - I like the floaters which will probably feature but not sure on the rest. I do also have Vallisneria Americana as an option too but it grows a bit too well for me - though thats in smaller tanks maybe a bigger tank this might be ok? Any other pointers on biotope plants for Central America are greatly appreciated!

So after all this whats the actual plan.

The tank is here, which is a usual hurdle with my projects! But its here now, you can see from the picture above the room needs a bit of TLC, what you can't see in the shot is the left side of the room which is where we are going to be adding in a small kitchen space - double sided need to this, I'd like somewhere to make a drink but I also need a water source for this tank so we might be a bit cart before horse at the moment but it wont be too long! I'm hoping we will have the refurb and painting etc completed by the start of October so 3-4 weeks really at that point then I have a new baby daughter arriving at the beginning of November so if I can get my stuff together I might be able to get set up, scaped, planted and seeded potentially with the first fish in before she arrives (need to get the balance of priorities right though!). Then once I have the tank set up and the first fish in (probably some livebearers) it might just tick over for a while.

The hunt for my Nicaraguan(s?) is going to be interesting! I alluded above that there are a variety of shapes and colours available for Nicaraguans and I want a specific type. My 'dream' Nicaraguan looks like this.

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This is from Wildwoods facebook page - going to ring them when I'm ready to set up and see if they have some but for the less obsessed let me explain the difference! This Nic has a clear blue head and yellow body with one single black marking down the body. The Nicaraguans I've been seeing recently have much more irregular markings a more orange/brown body than yellow and not much blue in the face or dorsal fin, some of them also have stripe markings in the back half of the body - which are likely hybrids tbh. Which is why I want the Nicaraguan(s) to be the later in the tank once its established and matured a bit and also just take my time to find the right ones.

I'll likely be sharing some more updates soon as I get the lights set up, the background on and trying various layouts with the rock and wood before adding the substrate. Ahhhh this is a very satisfying brain dump! All of this has been swirling in my head for a few months really and getting it down really helps!

Wills
 
YES! Here is comes! I've never had any interest in Rift Valley cichlids, for some reason, but the central Americans are really fascinating. For plants, I recommend getting all of them and seeing which ones work out. :) I've had decent luck with Mayaca fluviatilis and Bacopa carolinia. The latter isn't the prettiest IMO, and it seems rather short lived in my tanks--grows like crazy for a few months, then sort of fades out. Vallisneria would definitely be on my list for a bigger tank like this. It's easy to trim, and once it gets established it might actually be bomb-proof enough to withstand the attentions of your cichlids.

Looking forward to seeing this one develop!

By the way, what line of work are you in, if you're comfortable sharing? I've tried workplace aquariums a few times, but they don't really fit well in the life of a traveling, elementary music teacher. :(
T
 
Wow you've clearly done tonnes of research into this! Look forward to following along and seeing your progress.
Thanks :) its been stuck in my head for so long really happy to see it coming to fruition :)

YES! Here is comes! I've never had any interest in Rift Valley cichlids, for some reason, but the central Americans are really fascinating. For plants, I recommend getting all of them and seeing which ones work out. :) I've had decent luck with Mayaca fluviatilis and Bacopa carolinia. The latter isn't the prettiest IMO, and it seems rather short lived in my tanks--grows like crazy for a few months, then sort of fades out. Vallisneria would definitely be on my list for a bigger tank like this. It's easy to trim, and once it gets established it might actually be bomb-proof enough to withstand the attentions of your cichlids.

Looking forward to seeing this one develop!

By the way, what line of work are you in, if you're comfortable sharing? I've tried workplace aquariums a few times, but they don't really fit well in the life of a traveling, elementary music teacher. :(
T
Its interesting isn't it so many people go one way or the other - quite interested to experience the Mbuna but overall probably more excited by this tank... but its a 10 year itch so not a truly fair on the Mbuna. I am interested to see if you get the interaction with Malawis that you do with Central and South Americans.

The planting is going to be a tough one with digging fish but I think I can probably do it around the wood and rocks in a way that protects them. I am interested in the Mayaca Fluviatilis and good to know you've had success with it! A lot of places say use Co2 but when you read about how invasive and widespread it is, that does not seem to add up haha. If I can work out the Sword Plants and go with the Valis though I think that could look really good. At some point I'll lay out all the hardscape I've got to just show all the options I've got going forward with it as it is an unholy amount I've hoarded recently...

I run a design and marketing agency so usually in the office maybe head out to meetings a few times a week but probably able to have some of them here now too.
 
So the room is moving on! Kitchen built, water and electrics sorted next week. In the meantime I’ve had to store most of my hard scape in the tank and had to get a pic!

I don’t hate it but it is too much haha

IMG_0290.jpeg
 
So the room is moving on! Kitchen built, water and electrics sorted next week. In the meantime I’ve had to store most of my hard scape in the tank and had to get a pic!

I don’t hate it but it is too much haha

View attachment 327321
That's a great setup for cave-dwelling species...Don't pencilfish like to live in crevices?
 
That's a great setup for cave-dwelling species...Don't pencilfish like to live in crevices?
I was thinking it would be pleco heaven at the moment. It could look great with loads of small fish swimming through the big structure with loads of moss in there but not me right now…
 
The room is now fully decorated so more or less ready to set the tank up - a few practical life things as to why it might take a bit longer but definitely getting into the end game :)

I've got started on the hardscape with proper intention this week it started out as this one

Screenshot 2023-10-31 at 18.17.24.png


And its evolved into this

Screenshot 2023-10-31 at 18.15.20.png


The first version feels a bit lumped together and there is actually more wood and rock in there. As I got to the second picture I took out quite a bit of wood and rock to make more swimming space - I'm going to take out a lot of the smaller rocks before I put the substrate in as I think it will look more natural.

I want a frosted background on the tank again as I prefer it to black at the moment. I need to work out planting but some of my favourites are going to make an appearance - Anubias Coin, Trident Fern, Limnophilla Sessiflora will all make an appearance but past that not too sure yet...

Wills
 
Excited for updates on the dream tank and fish when you next make some progress! Definitely prefer the second scape out of the two above, just looks more natural. :D
 
This sounds like a really fascinating plan! I don't know a ton about cichlids (although you seem to and they sound really cool), but I had always wondered what the biotope that livebearers come from is like, since you don't see a ton of other Central American fish. The hardscape is looking great, I will be following this thread!
 
I've not updated this for a while and that is largely because until yesterday the tank looked exactly like the second picture... and the reason that it changed is because I've changed my mind...

I want to do an all male Haps and Peacock tank... my Mbuna tank is awesome far and away the most enjoyable tank I've got and possibly ever had. The Mbuna tank is so low maintenance vs a planted tank, even though its much bigger than my other tanks it takes me less time to keep on top of and with a few tweaks in the future I can do it even faster. I think the space and what I want from this tank will mean that the Peacocks will be the way forward for me.

So here is the tank as of today


Screenshot 2024-03-05 at 14.47.04.png


I've got the black background on and a set of stainless steel lily pipes and taken all of the wood out and made a rock pile, Peacock tanks are meant to be more minimal than Mbuna and I worry this may be too much but I like it, certainly for now!

These are the fish I want to get and I've managed to track down two places I can source all of these species from. There is a mix of small Haps and most of the smaller mid-aggressive peacocks in there. Quite a specific list of 10 but hopefully the stars will align and I can pull it off!

Screenshot 2024-03-05 at 16.58.49.png


The group on the right will likely be the first in... but I am in a pickle as just before I added the sand I checked the level of the tank with a spirit level and its out front to back... I think the only thing I can do is get some shims to resettle it but open to any other solutions!

Wills
 
I've not updated this for a while and that is largely because until yesterday the tank looked exactly like the second picture... and the reason that it changed is because I've changed my mind...

I want to do an all male Haps and Peacock tank... my Mbuna tank is awesome far and away the most enjoyable tank I've got and possibly ever had. The Mbuna tank is so low maintenance vs a planted tank, even though its much bigger than my other tanks it takes me less time to keep on top of and with a few tweaks in the future I can do it even faster. I think the space and what I want from this tank will mean that the Peacocks will be the way forward for me.

So here is the tank as of today


View attachment 338096

I've got the black background on and a set of stainless steel lily pipes and taken all of the wood out and made a rock pile, Peacock tanks are meant to be more minimal than Mbuna and I worry this may be too much but I like it, certainly for now!

These are the fish I want to get and I've managed to track down two places I can source all of these species from. There is a mix of small Haps and most of the smaller mid-aggressive peacocks in there. Quite a specific list of 10 but hopefully the stars will align and I can pull it off!

View attachment 338097

The group on the right will likely be the first in... but I am in a pickle as just before I added the sand I checked the level of the tank with a spirit level and its out front to back... I think the only thing I can do is get some shims to resettle it but open to any other solutions!

Wills

All those fish are stunning! So much colour.... the only thing that puts me off of cichlids is having to learn how to balance the territorial and aggression stuff. It's a lot to learn! I can definitely see why they appeal so much! They're probably the closest thing to marine fish the freshwater hobby has in terms of colour and wow factor! They're so entertaining to watch in a beautiful tank too, like the ones in the video you shared.

I've been wanting to ask for ages but kept forgetting - where do you get the frosted backgrounds for the tank(s) you've used those on, and how do you apply it properly? I've already done black paint on my largest tank, but would like to try the frosted for the two smaller tanks.
 
All those fish are stunning! So much colour.... the only thing that puts me off of cichlids is having to learn how to balance the territorial and aggression stuff. It's a lot to learn! I can definitely see why they appeal so much! They're probably the closest thing to marine fish the freshwater hobby has in terms of colour and wow factor! They're so entertaining to watch in a beautiful tank too, like the ones in the video you shared.

I've been wanting to ask for ages but kept forgetting - where do you get the frosted backgrounds for the tank(s) you've used those on, and how do you apply it properly? I've already done black paint on my largest tank, but would like to try the frosted for the two smaller tanks.

I've really enjoyed learning about Malawis, never touched them in the near 20 years I've been keeping fish but I've realised they are exactly what I've always wanted, a tank full of cichlids with loads of colour and interesting behaviour.

I also just enjoy the thrill of doing something new, its not been too hard to get a basic understanding and start to form some of the rules I think I need to succeed. Its an interesting side of the hobby as a good 80% of the people that keep them are either strict authoritarians about what you should or shouldnt do OR complete anarchists who do what ever they want and in all honesty it seems each group has as much success as the other. So I've tried to learn a bit from both sides and not stress too much about exact gender ratios or going too much on certain species reputations.

For the backgrounds I used a brand called Rabitgoo which is on Amazon, just a window backing but does a good job. If you get it though one bit of advice make sure you keep hold of the backing sticker, its a little tab near the top of the roll and it makes it super easy to peel the backing off, without it its really hard!
 
Just got the lights set up for the first time they are kessils which I’ve not had before… they are quite noisy! They have fans in them and while I do like the look they may get sold and swapped for a twinstar!

IMG_1204.jpeg
 
So having got the scape near finalised I had to take it all out so I could level the tank which I've done with furniture shims, that was done last night so today I've rescaped the tank and added in the sand, its a Hugo Kamishi White Quartz which isnt the finest sand but is a really nice colour, not too light for it to cause fish problems and a natural tone without being yellow. The guy I got the tank also gave me half a bag of ADA La Plata sand which I added on top, just to be fancy!

Really happy with it, I did move it a bit to the right overall which I think has benefited the scape, I think the height is just right, high enough to be impactful but low enough to give the open water swimmers as much room as possible.

Screenshot 2024-03-07 at 16.57.02.png



Next step is to set up the filter, I have a Fluval 407 (I think) and a JBL Crystal something. I need to work out which will suit best but long term I am going to get an Oase Biomaster 850 on here, just need to find one on Facebook at a good price close enough or en-route to somewhere I'm traveling :) I have a 300 watt heater for the tank but I'd really like to have it external and keep the tank clear.

Wills
 

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