After repeated struggles to grow emersed plants on the Shrimphaus river using a variety of substrate set-ups, I’ve switched over to actual LECA – lightweight expanded clay aggregate.  For this experiment, I’m going with two reputedly robust to low(er) humidity emersed growth anubias:  Anubias coffeefolia, and Anubias gracilis.  This is the second attempt with Anubias coffeefolia, but the previous go seemed encouraging, with some new leaves forming before ultimately the plant was done in by rhizome rot.

Adapting plants to grow in LECA

Although aquarium plants are generally grown in emersed form in the nursery, they are typically potted in rockwool in a near 100% humidity hydroponic ebb and flow environment.  Transitioning terrestrial plants to LECA can be challenging and there are a lot of helpful resources with great tips available including to make sure every last bit of non-LECA substrate has been removed from the roots before planting in LECA.  The process seemed straightforward but the plants started wilting almost immediately.  It’s pretty well established that misting plants directly doesn’t meaningfully raise humidity so I did an improvisation with the conical plastic sleaves the plants shipped in.  Cutting off the bottom of the cone to fit snugly halfway up the pot gave a large surface area on top that could be misted to both keep a lot of water droplets around for a reasonable length of time close to the leaves and to provide a locally semi-isolated environment.  I kept the plants in the enriched humidity setup for three weeks, misting a couple times a day.  That seemed to mostly do the trick to give the plants enough time to adapt to being rooted in LECA; the gracilis didn’t really lose any leaves to wilting, and although the new coffeefolia did lose half its leaves it seems to have stabilised (hopefully).

Repotting to get rhizomes out of substrate

Five weeks after planting, it was time to take the plants out of the LECA to see how the roots were doing and repot if necessary.  Pretty much things were looking good, with healthy looking whitish roots with good structure.  There were however some brown rotted aspects in places, in particular where the rhizomes had been embedded in the substrate.  I used pinsettes to trim off those portions and gave the root systems a good rinse.  Then I replanted taking care to have the entirety of the rhizomes out of the LECA.  This meant essentially having the plants growing on the side relative to how they arrived in rockwool.  Possibly an ebb and flow hydroponics system in the nursery is more permissive since plants can dry out during the ebb phase, compared to the steady-state semi-hydroponics method of sitting LECA embedded plants in the Shrimphaus river.  The repotting process was easy and the repotted plants look good so far, but the real test will be whether the rotting stops and we start to get some new growth.

There’s an interesting new inhabitant in the Shrimphaus, what looks like a spontaneous mutation in the bloody mary shrimp lineage.  Bloody mary shrimp are generally a solid translucent red throughout but this little fella (I think it’s a boy) is mostly clear and colourless, except for a red head, red stripe just above the tail, and one red horizontal back segment.  This is the “rili” pattern, and is reasonbly easy to find in red cherry neocaridina shrimp, but there isn’t much information on ‘bloody mary rili’ shrimp.  The eyes seem to stand out a lot more as well.  I think this is because in the usual bloody mary shrimp the eye region surrounding the black pupils is reddish pink, whereas this googly eyed individual has completely white surrounding tissue.

bloody mary shrimp
“regular” bloody mary shrimp

Bloody mary neocaridina shrimp have a reputation as being reasonably genetically stable, so this seems a little unusual.  I’ll keep a look out to see how this one develops – I’m not actually certain it is a bloody mary shrimp – and whether any more different and interesting mutants come up.

passive hydroponics pots
passive hydroponics pots

It’s been difficult with the emersed plants on the Shrimphaus shelf.  Some descriptions of the tribulations below.

Growing on the slate surface directly (doesn’t work)

First I tried simply tying Chirstmas moss down in the flow on the riverbed to see if they would grab onto the river bottom, but that didn’t really work – it seems they need something for the roots to hang onto.  Even though Christmas moss roots can grab onto surfaces, they didn’t do that in this context and the green parts didn’t really thrive either.  I’m now growing Christmas moss completely submersed in the Shrimphaus and it seems to be doing reasonably well.

clay balls
clay balls

Clay balls roll away (doesn’t work)

So, this could have been obvious, but nearly perfectly spherical clay balls won’t say put in a swift-flowing water current.  They all immediately washed away into the tank.  Also, although these are sold as ‘hydroponic grow media’ what I was hoping for was LECA – lightweight expanded clay aggregate – which is frothed up with air holes and texture to retain water, but these clay spheres are smooth and solid and don’t seem to hold much moisture.

Lava rocks don’t stack and stay too wet (doesn’t work)

lava rock
lava rock

The next attempt was small pieces of irregularly shaped lava rock.  The lava rock doesn’t just instantly roll away and can be successfully piled up.  The odd piece does come lose and escape, but at least you can make a pile of lava rock in the current.  The issue with these is that unlike the clay spheres, the lava rock stays really wet.  I made as high a pile of these as I could without them falling over into the tank and the top of the pile was still completely saturated with water.  I tried growing both Echinodorus grisebachii ‘Tropica’ and Anubias coffeefolia sitting on top of the lava rocks, but the wetness was rotting both of these plants and I suspect also drowning the roots.  This was at least partially successful for a while as both the echinodorus and the anubias put out a few new leaves (before the rot set it) so at least there is some potential promise.  I think the top of the plant needs to kept drier as do the upper parts of the roots for this to work.

Aquaponics

Anubias coffeefolia
wick hydroponics – wick ‘feet’ sticking out the bottom

Combining an aquarium type system with a hydroponics set-up is termed ‘aquaponics‘.  Since it is the emersed plant part that has been problematic I’ve been browsing literture on how to have a successful hydroponics part.  There are a number of proven techniques, none of which resemble the setup on the shelf of the Shrimphaus, naturally.  I’m giving a go to passive wick-system hydroponics, where inert media, in this case the clay spheres, is kept moist by the proximity of a wick that can carry water from the base of the container to the top.  The wicks used here are cut up strips of an automobile synthetic chamois cloth – this part seems to be working really well.  Three wicks seem to be needed to keep the clay balls reasonably moist/damp without being altogether wet.  The echinodorus and anubias look pretty sad in these pots so far, but they might rally…

mineral debris from an airstone
mineral debris on the wall

The airstone does a great job of keeping the surface of Shrimphaus clear from biofilm, but how it does that exactly isn’t clear.  One idea is that when the bubbles break on the surface they fling water and biofilm in random directions, including over the side of the open topped tank.  For sure this flinging of water happens, whether or not biofilm goes with it.  This leads to a gradual build-up of minerals on the sides of the tank above the airstone from broken bubbles after the water has evaporated.  I was going to be ok with that, but it turns out the amount of water flung over the side is sufficiently substantial as to wet the wooden surface of the table supporting the Shrimphaus.  Wet wood is not a good idea so this is a problem.

Try putting the airstone in the middle

I’ve moved the airstone to the middle of the tank on the bottom.  In this location the bubbles spread out evenly over the surface of the water but don’t get close enough to the sides to fling out water (and biofilm), or at any rate this happens to a greatly reduced extent vs with the airstone mounted on the side wall of the tank.  This arrangement of having the airstone away from the walls will be a pretty good test of whether the main mechanism by which an airstone removes biofilm is through simple mechanical disruption in which case the biofilm won’t come back, or rather by evicting biofilm from the tank by throwing it over the side.  If the mechanical disruption from the centred airstone isn’t sufficient to keep the biofilm in check, the usual way of removing biofilm is with a skimmer, but that’s another piece of complicated kit to have in the tank which isn’t entirely shrimp-safe and you don’t get the benefit of additional oxygenation (as much?).

The shrimp don’t seem to have noticed or cared about the relocated airstone yet.  I’ll update on the effectiveness of biofilm prevention, any residual flung-out water/mess and any emerging shrimp behavioural changes as the new set-up settles in.

Two week update:  airstone in the middle is working

It’s been two weeks now since relocating the airstone to the middle/bottom of the shrimphaus and the airstone is working great.  There has been no sign of biofilm formation and no more mess flung outside the tank.  It seems the mechanical surface disruption is preventing biofilm formation.  All together, I’m really pleased with how this worked out.  I also found a piece of slate to keep the airstone in place, even though that seemed not really necessary.

Particularly after a water change, the shrimp like to collect on the river run shelf.  I’m not sure what they’re after here, but this is a consistent behaviour of theirs.  This is the kind of thing you’re not going to be able to observe without a shallow flowing water component to your shrimp habitat – something which I suspect is pretty unusual.  They also like to sit in the flow generally, but the water change seems to really get them going.  Others have seem similar behaviour from their shrimp during water changes.

Cherry shrimp generally stay in the water

Here’s an interesting example of a bloody mary shrimp (Neocaridina davidi) lifting itself out of the water.  Fortunately, they don’t do this very often and are sensible enough to get back in the water directly.

I’m becoming more fond of Cryptocoryne as submersed aquatic plants.  They come in a wide variety of colours, sizes and textures, tolerate low light and are pretty much maintenance free.  I always plant these after cutting off the emersed leaves to promote faster Cryptocoryne adaptation to submersed form growth whilst avoiding ‘crypt melt’.

Cryptocoryne walkeri in a low tech aquarium

C. walkeri raised by Aquadip was sourced from Pro Shrimp and has been thriving in the Shrimphaus for a little over three months now.  As usual with potted Cryptocoryne, you tend to get many individual plantets in a single pot. 

I may have shaved these down a little close to the crown.  Going forward I’m going to leave a small amount of the emersed form stems on to avoid scalping the new plants.

Aquadip says C. walkeri is ‘easy’ and that has certainly been my experience.  The submersed form has attractive medium-dark green leaves.  Walkeri and most other crypts are generally considered to be slow growing, but I have found the growth rate to be pretty reasonable even without injected CO2 gas in the ‘low tech’ Shrimphaus.

Three weeks after the first sighting of a new baby shrimp we seem to have arrival of the next crop.  These guys are really tiny which does suggest the earlier one had been hiding out for a week or so before debuting.  There was a 50% water change today – the usual story with EI dosing – and I was a little concerned the new baby shrimp might get inadvertently changed out along with the water, but they seem to have hung on well and are none the worse for wear.  The successful shrimp breeding suggests we may shortly be inundated with shrimp in the Shrimphaus, but we’ll worry about that later.

Even newly hatched bloody mary shrimp are red

Even the tiniest of these new bloody mary shrimp have an easily distinguished red colouration.  So far the colour has bred really true, which is pretty typical for reports of bloody mary shrimp.  I saw an interesting video where a guy with a pretty normal looking bloody mary shrimp tank went and did an actual count during some rescaping that came in at 600 shrimp in a 5 gallon tank.  That’s about the same size as the shrimphaus!  Everything was looking happy and healthy there so maybe overpopulation isn’t such a concern after all.

Unintentional yet still welcome residents of the Shrimphaus, copepods are a form of zooplankton.  Like their much, much larger relatives the shrimp, copepods are also crustaceans, and also have ten (?) legs, an exoskeleton, the whole works.  Copepods tend to be sub-millimetre in length, whitish looking, and capable of very rapid jerky movement covering several centimetres at a time, making them the fastest animals on the planet (in terms of body lengths travelled per second).  Happily, copepods eat algae from the water column so are members of an aquarium clean-up crew.  They are a highly nutritious food source for fish, but I don’t think the shrimp eat them.

In the pictures above, both copepods are photographed at 10x optical zoom.  Both are “heading” to the upper right.  The female has two egg sacs to both the right and left of the bottom bit.  The male? copepod doesn’t have these, but that might simply be a female that doesn’t have eggs.  These two were resting on the surface of the glass; the ones swimming around in the water column don’t photograph very well…

Copepods are abundant in the Shrimphaus but I haven’t ever noticed them in the Fireplace Aquarium, either because they were never introduced in the first place, or because the fish do a super-efficient job of keeping the population down.  I might try a water transplant from the Shrimphaus to the Fireplace Aquarium at some point to cross-introduce these little guys.

There’s a new citizen in the Shrimphaus!  Recently a juvenile bloody mary shrimp has started openly exploring.  It seems strange that there is only one so far, but there was a mother shrimp that dropped most of her eggs and maybe this is one she held onto.  The new shrimp has already successfully moulted and has been touring the slate and plants in the Shrimphaus.  I take it as a good sign that the shrimp overall are happy and healthy.

The newcomer first showed up about a week ago, which would have been around 6 weeks since the shrimp first went into their home.  If I had to guess based on neocaridina lifecycle, this youngling has been hiding out for a couple weeks before debuting.  I do think there are some other females in there with eggs so there may be some younger siblings on the way as well.

Shrimp like to hang out upside down

The shrimp seem to enjoy hanging upside down from the under surface of the river run.  I don’t know if this is a practice that ordinarily goes unobserved, but it’s a pretty common sight in the Shrimphaus.  In the photo above there are three resting upside down (juvenile on the far right) and one more slightly out of focus right-side up sitting in the river itself on the top of the slate shelf.  Sitting in the flow of the river is something the shrimp also seem to enjoy.

Pangolino’ from Dennerle is thought to be the anubias with the smallest leaves and thereby very suitable for nanotanks.  I’ve been looking for this plant for a long time but it has been consistently unavailable until very recently when I noticed some in stock at Horizon Aquatics.  As a bonus Horizon is also a sponsor of the UK Aquatic Plant Society so I was happy to be able to pick up some Pangolino and support the society at the same time.  The pots arrived promptly and in great condition.

Preparing tissue culture plants for the aquarium

As usual, tissue culture plants arrive in sealed pots suspended in a nutrient jelly.  You rinse off the jelly, separate out the individual plantlets, cutting them apart if necessary and trimming off any debris, then you’re ready to plant.  I have noticed that it’s not unusual to get some strange growth patterns included in amongst normal growth form plants with tissue culture pots, presumably because the plants don’t always grow completely correctly in culture.  There was a pretty good mass of this material to be removed with the Pangolino, but not to worry, there were still a lot of quality individual plantets to be had.

Anubias barteri nana 'Pangolino'
emersed and submersed Pangolino

Planting emersed and submersed

My main goal with the Pangolino is to try to grow it emersed in the river run of the Shrimphaus, where the hope is the small compact leaves will keep it from drying out and will also maintain a reasonable size anubias for the space.  Eight of the pangolino plantets are planted emersed in lava rock on the shelf of the river run.  With so many nice plantlets I couldn’t resist also planting some submersed – these are the five circled in cyan in the picture.  Tissue culture plants are something of a hybrid situation between emersed and submersed growth so we’ll see how those compare as the plants develop.