A Fresh Water Aquarium by A. W. Roberts
Many fresh-water plants have a tendency to grow above the surface. When
this takes place, the leaves become so different in shape that they can
hardly be recognized as belonging to the same plant. Therefore care must
be taken to keep all plants submerged that are intended to supply air
for the fish.
One of the most common plants is the mermaid-weed (Proserpinaca). I
have drawn it submerged and out of water, to show the change in the
leaf. It grows along the margins of ponds that partially dry up in
Water-thyme (Anacharis canadensus) grows in slow-flowing streams. It
requires coaxing to establish it in an aquarium, but when once rooted,
is apt to grow too fast, requiring thinning out. Heap plenty of gravel
on the root ends. Do not tie the bunch with string, as it will cause it
Nitella flexis is almost a rootless plant, and will grow without any
care. It is found growing in shady parts of cool ponds, streams, and
Fontinalis antipyretica grows in springs and cool, shady ponds. It
resembles a very fine and long moss. In color it is of a beautiful light
green. I have often stored up quantities of this plant during summer (it
becoming perfectly dry), that I might have it for winter use, and when
placed in an aquarium it started out as fresh as ever.
Duck-weed, or duck's-meat, is a small floating plant, covering the
surfaces of ponds and lakes in shady places. It is one of the best
surface plants for producing shade, or for cutting off light that enters
from the top of the water. Its thousands of rootlets afford
hiding-places for numerous small aquatic animals, such as the hydra,
crimson water-spider, and the brick-maker.
A small stone should be tied to each bunch of plants, to anchor them
till they take root.
After your aquarium has been in operation a few days, a green coating
will begin to form on the glass. This is a minute plant that is
developed by the action of light. It can be removed by means of a swab.
In all other parts of your aquarium allow it to grow, as it is the
favorite food of gold-fish and snails.
I have given drawings of the two best kinds of snails. One is shown with
its broad foot expanded, by which it moves along the surface of the
water, or on the glass when eating the green coating spoken of. Snails
also eat decaying vegetable matter.
For keeping the water very clear, introduce a small-sized fresh-water
mussel. Give him at least two inches of sand, in depth, in a corner of
the tank, to burrow in, but watch him well, for if he dies without your
knowledge your aquarium will be ruined.
In the illustration are figured three kinds of caddis-worms. These worms
are useful for consuming decaying animal matter. When a "cad" has grown
too large for his house, he makes a little case of silk, which he covers
at each end with pieces of leaves, wood, or straw, biting them to the
right length; some fasten on small bits of stone and shells. However
rough the outsides of their houses may be, the insides are smooth, and
lined with silk. When he changes into a chrysalis, he crawls up a plant,
and closes up both ends of his house with a strong net-work of silk,
which allows the water to pass through, but prevents the entrance of
enemies. As he has taken care to place himself near the surface of the
water, he easily escapes when he comes forth a four-winged insect
resembling a small moth.
Apple-smellers, or merry-go-rounds, are very interesting. They are of an
intense shining black in color, and generally school together, moving in
circles, with great rapidity, on the surface of the water. They are
called apple-smellers on account of the strong odor they possess,
resembling that of apples or quinces, and merry-go-rounds on account of
their merry circling motions around one another. Young apple-smellers
live on the bottoms of ponds, and look like centipedes. When the time
comes for them to change into real apple-smellers, they climb up a
plant, and make small bags of gray paper, into which they fasten
themselves till they get their swimming legs and shining black new
clothes, after which they burst open the paper bags, and swim off to
join their friends gliding so merrily on the surface of the pond. When
an apple-smeller dives to the bottom of a pond to take a rest or to
feed, he attaches a globule of air to his tail (see cut); this he
breathes while under water.
The nine and the three spined sticklebacks are, without doubt, the most
wonderful fish for their size that are common to our waters. They will
live well in either fresh or salt water aquaria, building nests and
raising their young under all discouragements. The male builds the nest
for the female to lay her eggs in. The nest is composed of plants
cemented together with a glue provided by the male, who also carries
sand and small stones to the nest in his mouth, with which he anchors
it. During the breeding season the male assumes the most brilliant hues
of blue, orange, and green; previous to this season he is of a dull
silvery color. When an enemy approaches the nest, be he large or small,
he will attack him, inflicting wounds with his sharp spines. Nor will he
allow the mother of the young sticklebacks to come near, as she is so
fond of her babies that she often forgets herself and eats them up. When
the young "tittlebacks," as they are often called, swim too far from the
nest, the male takes them in his mouth and brings them back, throwing
them out with such force that they make many somersaults before landing.
Sticklebacks are the smallest known fish when first hatched out of the
egg, being nearly invisible.
Here is the dragon-fly, as he looks before he gets his wings. He lives
on the bottoms of ponds when he is young; but at a certain age he
ascends to the surface, and crawling out of his old clothes, comes forth
an unmistakable darning-needle. When he lived under the water he had
very large and long jaws, folded up on the under side of his head. If a
fish came within reach, he would dart out this curious trunk, and
seizing it, convey it to his mouth. He also has the power of taking in
and squirting out water from his tail; this action forms a current,
which draws small insects within his reach. The taking in of the water
is also his method of breathing, and the ejecting of it with force
propels him through the water.
Water-boatmen, or boat-flies, are so named from their resemblance to
tiny boats with oars. As they have to swim on their backs, they are
provided with large and very observing eyes. When they breathe they come
to the surface, and by a quick diving motion, and the assistance of
numerous stout hairs on the hind parts of their bodies, they entangle a
mass of air, which, as they descend, spreads, giving their bodies a
bright silvery color.
It is best to keep these aquatic insects by themselves, as they are all
voracious feeders, and fierce in their habits. They are not so beautiful
in form, color, and motions as fish, but possess a much greater interest
as they pass through their many transformations. As most of them can
fly, the aquarium should be provided with a close-fitting frame covered
with mosquito netting.
The crimson-spotted newt is one of the most inoffensive of all animals
for the aquarium, and is valuable from the fact that he does not breathe
water, but rises to the surface to breathe. Every few weeks he casts his
skin, which he swallows, seeming to relish it, after which he comes
forth more brilliant than ever.
An aquarium without tadpoles, from which to obtain a supply of small
frogs, is not much of an aquarium; and as they are also surface
breathers, you can use them freely.
The rock-fish is a very safe fish for the aquarium, as it does not
breathe the water, but rises to the surface, and stores away a supply of
air, with which it descends to the bottom, remaining for half an hour
before it rises for a new supply.
All fresh-water fish (excepting the trout family) can be kept in a
fresh-water aquarium. Select the very smallest specimens; have all of an
equal size, to prevent their quarrelling; feed on shreds of raw beef, or
earth-worms that have been freed of all earthy matter by placing them in
damp moss or grass overnight. Look out for food not eaten.