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My Clown Loach Aquarium

by Martin Thoene last modified May 12, 2007 11:25 AM
Personal account of setting up a tank for Clown Loaches.
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By Martin Thoene


Bamboo cane, horizontal (no leaves)

People keep asking me about my Clown Loach tank setup on the Loach Forum, so I thought I would write this article to refer people to in future. The setup of the tank was based on the requirements of the Clown Loaches as the primary concern. Good water management using equipment that I already had was the major focus as I had just moved and funds were tight.

 The fish originally lived in a 120 gallon 4' x 2' x 2' tank, but I wanted to give them more length so they had a longer distance to stretch their fins.

The Tank

Bamboo cane, horizontal (no leaves)

The aquarium is  125 gallon and 6 feet long. It has a quite "interesting" history. It used to reside in the reception of a somewhat dubious "massage parlour" and contained Lake Malawi Cichlids.

The city had a clamp-down on the type of business that the tank resided in and shut them down. Now it just happened that the business operated out of the same building where my wife's office is, so she was aware of all the goings on. She heard that the fish and tank were abandoned and that the building supervisor took them.

Quite a while later, she met him in the elevator and asked about the tank. It now lived in the basement apartment he created for his daughter. Her initial enthusiasm for the fish had waned and he was stuck with the maintenance. She joked that he should give it to her and he just said she could have it for nothing. He just wanted rid of it.

So we rented a U-haul and with the assistance of her cousin, hauled it all home. It came with a steel stand, Fluval 403 cannister filter, a 2 x 3 foot light unit, heaters, decor, the fish, etc, etc.

We fed up the fish for around a month and they all looked fabulous when we took them to a Big Als branch who said they would accept them. I was blown away to get $110 store credit for them! While we were there, I used the money to get the 2 Aquaclear 802 Power-heads I needed to set up my River-Tank.

 We decided the steel stand had to go, so I bought a cabinet stand from Big Als for around $200......the "free" tank still involves costs. The tank ran for a few years with South American cichlids and L-number Plecostomus.

Setting up for Clown Loaches

Bamboo cane, horizontal (no leaves)

In the Fall of 2005 we had split amicably and I had moved out. She wanted to give up fish-keeping, so we had given a couple of smaller setups to other Loaches Online members. I moved the rest of the tanks and equipment bit by bit to my apartment. This gave me the luxury of setting up each aquarium in a fairly relaxed way.

I wanted to greatly increase the water management and circulation in the new incarnation of this aquarium. The first task was to position the aquarium in my lounge.

Murphy's Law dictated that the site chosen was the only part of the apartment's floor that was not level. It took me a good part of two days to finally get the stand leveled
out using a spirit-level and test fills of the tank.

I extended an existing River-Tank manifold to fit the longer tank. It uses two intake sponges and is powered by two smallish power-heads that I had laying around. I'm not sure of the flow rates, but they give a gentle end to end current.

Here is the manifold placed in the aquarium. At the left end rear you can see two heaters and the intake for an Aquaclear 500 HOB.

Tank with River-Tank Manifold in place.

I had two Rena XP3 cannister filters running on existing tanks, so they were fully matured. I was looking to get this aquarium operational as soon as possible and standardize it's filtration, so they were moved to this tank. One sits in each end cupboard. In the centre is a Magnum 350 filter. I found this by sheer chance dumped at the side of a second-hand clothing donation dumpster. I grabbed it and threw it in the car. On getting home with it, I found the impeller had seized due to ingesting solid material and appeared to have burned out the motor. So I removed the impeller and converted the cannister as a flow-through unit. So now the left-hand Rena returns its flow via the Magnum. I filled the Magnum with ceramic rings and odd bits of sponge to act as additional biological filtration area. I find that it hardly impedes the Rena return flow at all.

Main filtration

The Renas intakes are all close to that of the Aquaclear 500. Their returns are via spraybars mounted on the right end panel of the tank.

Right-hand end showing spraybars

Water surface rippling.The lower bar is from the right-hand Rena and exits horizontally. The upper one is from the left-hand Rena, via the Magnum. It is mounted so the outlets are angled at around 30 degrees from the surface. This gives a lot of water surface rippling and increases gaseous exchange.

The substrate is regular play-pit sand. This was used before in the tank with the cichlids, so was very clean and only needed a brief rinse before placing in the tank.

The aquarium was decorated with masses of bog-wood and driftwood from the existing Clown Loach tank. This had lots of Microsoreum pterops (Windelov variety) growing on it. underneath and to the rear of this are two 90 degree, black PVC 4" diameter plumbing fittings fitted together in a kind of twisted S shape. This provides a nice hiding place for the Clowns to cram into with no chance of getting stuck. The rest of the tank was planted with Cryptocoryne species.

Here is the aquarium the evening of the day it was set up.

Aquarium in the evening of the set-up day.

Still a bit cloudy, but it looked lovely from the couch . The big black rectangle offset to the right is a Compact Flourescent light unit.

View at night from the couch

The next morning, it was looking good.

The tank the next morning.

The tank was set to run at a temperature of 82.5F. I introduced 3 very old Corydoras aneus to help provide some biological input and keep the filters going. Not long after introduction, they spawned and I ended up with 10 babies! So actually placing the Clown Loaches into the tank got delayed as I waited for the Corydoras to get to a reasonable size.

Here are various views of the tank before the Clowns were introduced.

View from right

View from left.

General view at night.

View from left end.Here you can see the River-Tank manifold intake sponges and filter intakes.
View looking down tank length from left end.The tank gives them a nice long run as can be seen from the left end view.

Eventually, the 13 Clowns were introduced. They seemed to like their new home and certainly appreciated all the water movement.

The fish in their new home.

Happy Clowns loach-dancing.

The tank has been set up over a year at the time of writing. I do 50% water-changes once a week. I clean one of the Renas every other week and the Aquaclear when it needs it. The River-Tank manifold's intake sponges get cleaned once a month.

Ikea halogen lightingThe biggest problem I have with the filters is bits of Windelov fern being broken off by the fish and blocking intakes. I clear these regularly, but had a disaster earlier this year due to a combination of circumstances. I had at one point 20 adult Tiger Barbs in the tank as dither-fish. One morning I awoke to find that maybe two had died, possibly the day before judging by their appearance. Overnight, plant debris bunged up the intakes to the filters and drastically reduced their flows. This caused a huge oxygen depletion and I lost 3 large Clown Loaches and a lot more of the Tiger Barbs.

 Such disasters need some reaction, so I added a small air pump which feeds one of the power-heads on the River-Tank manifold. This blasts a lot of air into the tank so should there be another serious blockage issue, I'm quite confident the fish will be ok.

I seldom have the lights on in the aquarium. The Clowns are far more outgoing without them on and the plants do ok. Every so often I harvest some of the Windelov and take it to my local fish shop where I get good store credit for it.

I added this Ikea halogen light unit over the tank. I used to have it in England and like it so much I shipped it here with my other effects. The shades are sand-blasted glass. I switched out the transformer to a 110V system. It gives a concentrated pool of light and wonderful water rippling shadows. The Clowns don't mind it at night because there are dark areas at either end of the tank.

The black unit behind lamps is the old CF unit that burned out its ballast. I converted the housing to hold a blue LED Christmas tree light string. This is on a timer and gives subtle blue lighting as a dawn and twilight after lights  out and before natural daylight gets very bright.

The tank now

Bamboo cane, horizontal (no leaves)

The 10 remaining Clowns share with 3 Botia kubotai, one adopted Botia dario, 4 Botia histrionica, the 13 Corydoras, two surviving Tiger Barbs and a lone Puntius filamentosus female.

They are fed, sinking catfish pellets, Hikari Sinking Carnivour Pellets, Hikari Algae Wafers, good quality flake, Hikari Frozen Bloodworm, chopped up Salad Shrimp and occasional cucumber slices.

Every morning they are all going up and down the tank waiting to be fed. If I ignore them they will start splashing water at the surface in frustration. The tank is open-topped and it's not unusual if feeding floating food to get splashed if you walk past the tank while they are eating.

They are out and about most of the day, but do tend to disappear in the evening. I never see the late night twilight activity others report under their blue lighting.

Planned upgrades

Bamboo cane, horizontal (no leaves)

I am planning to add bigger power-heads to the River-Tank manifold. As I said, when the tank was set up it was a case of throwing together existing equipment. I'll probably get a pair of Aquaclear 802's( now renamed 110's) I think. I find them utterly reliable. The ones that were bought using the store credit from the Malawi Cichlids are still going strong after over 5 years in my main River-Tank. They will increase the uni-directional flow of the tank.

Another thing that I would like to do is tidy up the wiring. There's a whole mass of different bits of electrical equipment on this tank. The rear of the cabinet stand is a mass of power bars, timers and cables. I would like to re-wire the whole thing and mount some kind of distribution unit in the cabinet with an external switch panel so individual units can be switched off without grovelling inside the cupboards around the filters and trying to work out which plug to pull.

Bamboo cane, horizontal (no leaves)

Chromobotia macracanthus, Smilie Circle

Martin Thoene

Bamboo cane, horizontal (no leaves)

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