I Did Everything Wrong

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Oct 5, 2021
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Atlanta, GA, USA
I started a new 15 gallon aquarium right at the beginning of September. I have kept aquariums off and on since I was 12 years old and I have never tried to update myself on new stuff as it came along- I just always did it like I did when I was 12- mostly it worked out (with some casualties along the way) and once I had to dump it all and start again.

This time I was intent on catching myself up on the right way to do things. I knew the hobby had to have advanced quite a bit since 1979, and - shocker - I was right!

I wanted to start a nano reef tank- small and easy. That was my thinking. DAMMIT! The opposite was true. Reef tank was out- I didn't want the size tank it would require to make it reasonably easy to maintain. Plus, the money involved in salt water scared me.

I decided on a 15 gallon Fluval Flex. I have not been disappointed. I bought some of the fancy Fluval Stratum along with regular small river rocks (because I'm still pretty close to 1979). The tank comes with a filter that works great, I added a heater, etc. and I was ready to roll.

I bought a couple of pieces of wood and just dropped them in the tank. I later read you're not supposed to do that. Well....dangit. Oh, I also bought these little things that are like some kind of nut pod (Schimma Pods) from India (10 of them) and just threw them in- that had an effect too (the ad said they wouldn't lower PH).

I bought some plants at the local fish store and stuck them right in there too. Later I ordered more online and they came with instructions to bleach them etc.- that's when I learned about plant prep, but I wasn't sold that it is a big deal. More on that later...

The plants are amazon swords, some kind of dwarf grass, Anubias Afzelii, Cabomba Caroliniana, Java Moss, and a plant that looks like Lilly pads (see the pics). I stuck them in that stratum stuff and they have grown quite a bit.

By this point I had read (several times) that I should wait at least a month before putting fish in. I have never done that, but was determined to do it this time. My desire to see little creatures swimming or slithering around overcame my good sense.

The first "livestock" I got was snails. I think that's wrong too- also, I got them a week after putting water in the tank. 2 mystery snails.
Then I got 5 neon tetras. That was in week 2.

I lost 3 of the neons and felt bad that they didn't have buddies so I bought a few more. One of them had Neon Tetra Disease, so I had to remove him. I can't remember for sure, but eventually I ended up with the 6 neon tetra that I have now. I think I lost 5 altogether.

During that time (this is 2-4 weeks after the tank was set up), I ordered some shrimp and 3 green fire tetras (beautiful fish). They sent me extra shrimp and extra tetras, but one of the tetras was Cochu's Blue Tetra and not the green fire. I had read somewhere that different types of tetras can often school together if they're peaceful. I thought ALL tetras were peaceful. So, I put him in there with the 2 remaining green flare (1 died in transport).

I got 5 shrimp and added them also. This is in addition to 3 shrimp I had purchased prior. I never saw 5 of them again. I thought I had lost 6, but to my amazement, I just saw 3 cherry shrimp at the same time the other day, so I have more than I thought. (during this time I did go buy some Quick Start and add it to try and make up for my killer lack of patience).

So, pretty quickly, it became obvious that Mr. blue tetra is a terrorist. He kept himself stationed on the more open end of the tank and wouldn't let any other fish come on that side. Big time bully. I spent a couple of days reading and trying different methods to get him out of there without destroying the rest of the tank in the process. I tried the net, I tried 2 nets, I tried a tank divider (the Fluval Flex is bowed out in the front, so he always escaped through the gap where the bow is), my wife tried (she was uninterested in my fish until she found there was a bully- then she was determined to help the poor neons and green flares), none of this worked. I ended up trying one more time before trying something more drastic (lord knows what) and I got lucky- got the net under him and was able to scoop him out.

So, to this point, I have
  • added wood without proper preparation
  • added those pod things the same way
  • put shrimp, fish and snails in way before I was supposed to
  • added fish that are not compatible
  • added plants without proper preparation
  • I'm sure there's something else....
Negative impact:
  • wood turned all white with that weird fungus (snails ate it or it just disappeared eventually)
  • water turned pretty brown and ph dropped to 6
  • shrimp and fish died
THE PLANTS- this is a horror story turned out great. Those plants I added without preparation- I ended up with damsel nymphs (see the thread here). When I saw it, I thought, "oh, look at that little cutie"- I kind of felt like Will Ferrell in Elf after reading the responses on the thread. These things are killers! However, I've noticed the green fire tetras like to poke at the plants and get stuff off them - I was worried the nymph would attack them. One day I found a nymph hanging out of the mouth of the green fire tetra. YAY! As one of the folks posted, "circle of life and all that." Couldn't have turned out better.

The snails survived, I did lose several fish along the way (lost one neon tetra to neon tetra disease- which I had never heard of) and several shrimp also. I was mystified by the shrimp being gone, so I ended up reading that you're supposed to have the tank for 6 months prior to adding them (I read this after I had all my crustaceans finally stable).

  • I did change the water a couple of times a week at first (10%-20%)
  • keep tabs on the water quality (it was oddly mostly good minus a dip down to PH 6)
  • try to regulate how much I fed the fish
  • add some of that shrimp starter stuff and some other kind of shrimp powder (too lazy to go look them up) to try and keep them going

So, I wasn't totally negligent- just mostly.

Anyway, I ended up also buying 3 bamboo shrimp- they are my favorite. When I put them in the tank I didn't see them for DAYS. I thought that I had lost them too. Now, they are all over the dang place and not afraid of anything. They worked out very well (and I think are aided by that shrimp stuff I add).

Oh- and I added 3 ghost shrimp and 2 dwarf mexican crawdads. I thought the crawdads were dead for a long time, but they're both out and about now. Ghost shrimp are doing well also.

So in total I have:
  • 6 neon tetras
  • 2 green fire tetras (which have schooled with the neons)
  • 3 mystery snails (oh yeah, I got one other because the 2 I had were doing it ALL the time, and I read somewhere that adding a 3rd may help- now they do it even more, though)
  • 3 bamboo shrimp
  • 3 ghost shrimp
  • 3 cherry shrimp
  • 2 mexican dwarf crawdads
  • Chinese (or Siamese?) algae eater (oh yeah, forgot to mention I got him too)
So, 15 gallons:
  • minus 8 for the tetras
  • minus 1 for the snails? (that's my calculation, anyway, since they're cleaning crew)
  • minus 4 for the bamboo shrimp (really more like 6, but they're cleaners too, right?)
  • minus 2 each for the shrimp and crawdads- again, I would say total of 8 (crawdads might make it 10, but they're small now), but again- I am offsetting because they're cleaning crew.
  • Then minus 2 for the algae eater
So, I'm overpopulated. And, if my "eyballing it" estimation for "gallons per inch" is garbage, I could be WAY overpopulated.

I will say, I have always had overpopulated tanks since I was 12. That doesn't make it right, but I do know (somehow) how to keep them alive and (mostly) thriving.

The ones I have now are GREAT. No signs of stress from any of them (they've all pretty much come out to play now and are no longer hiding) and they all look very healthy. So, I'm gonna keep them and just keep the water changes regularly, etc.

My Current Maintenance:
  • change 2.5 gallons of water weekly (17%)
  • scrub the the inside glass every time
  • I vacuum the bottom (unplanted part) once a month or so
  • I trim the plants as they grow (some I replant, others I just throw out)
  • I check the water quality every 2 weeks- it has yet to be bad- the PH will get lower than I want (I'd like it at 7 all the time), but I know the tetras like it lower. I just have to balance that with the shrimp and snails, though
  • make sure the temperature of the water I add back is right at the tank temp (I never did this before)
  • add the dechlorinator before I put the water in (for some reason, I never did that before- I'd add the water and then the dechlorinator)
  • watch the food I add
    • the shrimp powder (as I call it ) I add a tiny amount once per week.
    • I feed twice daily with flake.
    • I add an algae wafer twice a month or so
    • I add those shrimp lollipops about once every other week)
    • I feed the plants with food - about 3/4 dose once per week after water change
    • I bought a magnetized clip for veggies and put bok choy or romaine lettuce in so the snails get calcium (about once a month)
    • I leave the bamboo shrimp husks in the tank- they seem to get eaten and I'm guessing they have calcium
  • I bought Neo CO2 and have it going - made a big difference with my plants
  • I keep the light on a timer
  • ...I think that's it. I stare at it a lot...I guess that counts, because I see beard algae and trim it out etc.
I do have algae- it's kind of a medium case, from what I've seen. I bought some algae treatment but once I read the bottle it isn't good for crustaceans. On the website it said that it didn't contain copper...I read the bottle just in case....that's one thing I did right :)

So, anyway, I did about everything you can do wrong, but the tank is a lot of fun and the creatures I have in there now seem to be doing really well. I hope that this can help some other bumbling hobbyist like me- I just love to look at them. I can't stand it when they don't seem to be doing well- a lot of that happened because of my impatient and ill-informed approach to starting the tank, but I think I've learned. So, if I do this again, it'll just be my lack of patience.

I'm not gonna say I'll get everything right going forward, but I will say that thanks to this group and other articles I've found, I will have no excuse LOL.

If you read this far, thank you! It's a lot. See link to pics & videos of my tank over time.
Heh, quite an entertaining read on what NOT to do when setting up a tank :lol:

The damselfly nymph was easily done as those usually hitchhike via plants from LFS but worked out nicely when the tetra ate that as a snack!

But as long as you’ve learned and hopefully a couple of readers will learn as well so that’s the best you can do going forwards and bet you’ll do things differently if you set up a new tank in the future.

Looking at your pics, all looks neat and pretty good.

Just one question, what is that mass of egglike lump on the last picture?
LOL that is a clutch of mystery snail eggs. I'd like to see them hatch, but don't have room for 100 babies....
LOL that is a clutch of mystery snail eggs. I'd like to see them hatch, but don't have room for 100 babies....
Wow, really, those are mystery snail eggs?

Never seen a picture of those before, that’s cool, learn something new every day!
Anyone know what these "eggs" are? I'm assuming they're eggs. I think they might be eggs from a dwarf Mexican crawdad, but not sure. They're sitting on driftwood (and not moving- I saw some links about some kind of bug).


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Have never seen “eggs” like those before to be honest with you.

I know very, very little about crawdads and sorry am not much help.

But hope someone may know what these are in your picture.

Kinda fascinating though and I’d like to know more what it is if you find out.

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