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Creativity With Aquarium Decor
by Ruby Bayan

Aquarium Decor - Rock Cave The primary goal of the majority of aquarium hobbyists is to care for fishes by creating a mini-replica, or a simulation, of their aquatic pets' natural homes. Success in this endeavor, however, requires a working knowledge of what and how decorative items can be used for specific tank setups.

Fish health depends largely on the tank's water condition, which is why we ensure that temperature, acidity, hardness, and chemical make-up, are always ideal. The water, however, is not the whole habitat. In the wild, freshwater habitats contain plants, rocks, submerged parts of terrestrial vegetation, and rotting leaves, wood, and other organic material. Recreating this scenario makes for one of the most interesting aspects of the hobby.

But before we explore the many ways to stretch our creativity with décor, let's go over the "ground rules" to keep in mind when designing aquariums:

  • Address the requirements of all of your fishes. Especially in community aquariums, be sure to take into consideration the different habitat requirements of all the species in the tank. Nocturnal breeds, shell/cave dwellers, territorial species, and schooling fishes have special "natural setting" needs that cannot be taken for granted.

  • Avoid toxic décor. Anything metallic, oily, water-soluble, or otherwise dirty has no place in an aquarium.

  • Plan ahead. By aquascaping on paper beforehand, you will save time, effort, and money. By checking what your local vendors have (check out their displays, too, for ideas), you can design a habitat you know you can put together right away.

Eccentric Substrate

Much of the beauty of an aquarium is influenced by its "ground" or substrate, aside from the fact that the substrate serves to anchor plants and harbor good bacteria. Depending on the fishes you keep, you can use course sand or different grades of gravel in various colors.

Sand is best used when you have substrate-digging bottom feeders like catfishes (course, sharp-edged gravel can hurt their barbels and bellies), but sand easily flattens and loses its terrain effect. A substrate of purely large gravel or pebbles (great for texture), on the other hand, allows food particles to sink and become unreachable, and eventually decay.

Gravel is now available in various colors, and while an electric blue substrate may look attractive, it looks unnatural. A darker colored substrate will be ideal for fishes that thrive in low-lit habitats. Sugar white substrates look clean but they reflect more light and make the tank too bright for comfort for some species.

In short, aesthetically, there are many types of substrates to work with, but before you decide on what may look awesome, consider the possible "side-effects."

Rock-n-Roll Rocks

The most natural décor for aquariums are rock formations. However, before you dig up your neighbor's backyard, or haul the most colorful ones from the beach, consider that unless you really know rocks, there is the possibility that you will be decorating your tank with something poisonous to your fishes. The best place to acquire rocks is your reputable local fish vendor.

Aquarium Decor - Rock Formation

If you want to be creative with rocks, here are some tips to remember:

  • Check the rocks. It won't hurt to double-check if the rock contains minerals that you don't want in your water. Pour a little vinegar on the rock and if it sizzles, it has lime, and you don't want it in your softwater tank.

  • Don't lean rocks on the walls of the tank. Refrain from positioning them too close to the walls of the tank because a little settling of the substrate can cause the rocks to exert pressure on the glass (or to scratch the acrylic).

    Aquarium Decor - Rock Stack

  • Glue rock piles. Using silicone sealant, glue rocks that you want to pile up to avoid the danger of them toppling on the fishes or on the tank walls.

Rocks, green slates, riverbed stones, and colorful pebbles are great to work with because they look natural, and go well with plants and driftwood.

Versatile Driftwood

Like rocks, driftwood can be picked up from the beach and practically any waterlogged location. However, this is not a good idea because decaying wood can be contaminated with bacteria and parasites. It's always best to acquire wood from reputable sources.

Aquarium Decor - Driftwood

Taking care to scrub, rinse, and soak wood before introducing into the tank, you can be as creative as you can with it. Wood décor is best for creating shady areas and hiding places for shy and nocturnal species. Curved wood can easily be positioned to form caves and recesses, which is a little tricky to execute with rocks.

Try Out Other Décor

Rocks and driftwood (including their artificial counterparts) are the basic and favorite aquarium décor. But because your tank is your own little underwater kingdom, nothing can stop you from using other materials, as long as they are safe.

Aquarium Decor - Clay Jar

Technically, the objects made from the following materials are safe to use as tank decoration: clay, ceramic (glazed, unleaded), plastic, and glass. This means you can be creative with clay and ceramic pots, vases, and figurines, with lego pieces and all-plastic toys and action figures, and even colored glass menagerie pieces.

Sunken ship scenarios, outer space terrain, and whole legoland themes are just some of the aquascaping projects you can try. How about scenes of abandoned castles, Peruvian pyramid forests, or maybe your own version of Atlantis? The ideas are limitless! So, yes, let your creativity run wild!

Aquarium Decor -  Castle

See also: The Ideal Freshwater Aquarium Setup -- Basic Concepts

Suggested Reading:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Setting Up a Freshwater Aquarium

The New Aquarium Handbook : Everything About Setting Up and Taking Care of a Freshwater Aquarium

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