I've been urged by a Vine friend, after a couple of very nice conversations on their articles, to publish some of my copious knowledge about aquariums and fish keeping in general. I thought I'd start with a topic near and dear to my heart, namely biological filtration.
So, biological filtration - Hype or help? I pose this question since, one would think, common sense would dictate that it is a help, but after 40 years of fish keeping and various relationships with numerous aquatic stores, it seems that it is not. I have heard employees tell customers that it is not necessary, it's filtration overkill, etc., etc. Hence this particular article.
To start, there is no hype about it. It's all help. You need a healthy colony of bacteria in order to have a healthy aquarium, hence healthy fish. Certainly, this bacteria will live in the substrate of your tank. Biological filtration, depending on which route you take, will add a rather large area for colonization by this bacteria and possibly assist in filtering your water. So, let's look at the two major types of biological filtration, outside of canister type filters with permanent medium within.
Bio wheel filters:
There are several types out there but probably the best known is the Marineland/Penguin brand. They have reengineered their filters a few times over the years, but it has remained a reliable workhorse in the aquarium field. Until I converted over to a canister filter it was *the* filter I relied upon to keep my tanks clean. The basic premise is the wheel, which you can see exposed on the right side of the photo, provides an area for the bacteria to colonize. The constant rotation through the water ensures the colony remains in contact and healthy. The constant contact with the water is needed for the bacteria to do their job, such as disposing of that nasty ammonia from fish waste. Nothing more than a monthly rinsing with water would be required as the inherent discoloration that develops is normal and healthy. I'll note that over the years I have replaced the wheels, but always one at a time to ensure the continual good working of the filter. Additionally, when I do replace the wheel, I submerse it within the tank for several days to allow the bacteria to colonize it before actually replacing the wheel.
This is the second major type and there are many, many brands to choose from. Why a sponge filter? The surface area is ginourmous and allows for a huge colony of beneficial bacteria. Additionally, since sponge filters work with the aid of an air stone and air pump, water is pulled through it providing an additional filter media for your water and additional oxygenation of the water for your fish. Even large particulate matter is suctioned in to an area around the sponge allowing for a compact cleaning area. The sponge filter can be used with (recommended, imo) or without an air stone and can also be hooked up to a powerhead without the use of special adapters. Unsurprisingly, since I am a huge fan of over filtration, I have always used both a sponge filter and the Marineland Bio Wheel filters simultaneously in my tanks. There are many brands of sponge filters, as mentioned, to include little triangular ones you can buy most anywhere. I tried one of these many years ago and was not happy. The one inch lift tube on the Hydro series allows for a larger area for water movement and bubble lift. There is no such thing on those smaller ones and I always opt for the ability to upgrade later (think addition of powerhead) and maximum efficiency now.
Cleaning the sponge filter:
Cleaning the sponge filter is really easy, but does require a little more effort than the Bio Wheel. The sponge filter will get clogged. that is part and parcel of it's function, so must be the one to maintain it. Vlad, in another article, showed a picture of the Python cleaning system. I use this also, but you must revert back to siphon and bucket for proper maintenance of the sponge filter.
1. Simply siphon out a couple of gallons of tank water into a bucket.
2. Carefully remove the sponge filter from the tank, taking care not to squeeze the water out while still in the tank.
3. Immerse the filter in the bucket of tank water and squeeze repeatedly to remove particulate matter and captured algae from the filter.
4. Return sponge to tank and reconnect to air source.
If you do this on a regular basis there should be no problem and the once a month cleaning should enable the filter to work perfectly for you. If you tend to forget about it, you may need to repeat the steps above a couple of times in order to get all the goop out of it.
Now, if you have plecos, you might run into another problem. Depending on the species of pleco, some are pretty voracious and will literally eat your sponge filter. These are mainly the bigger species like the Vampire, Gibboceps and the regular Hypostomus. This is unavoidable. So, you will need to replace it upon occasion. One thing I like to point out is that the Hydro series is one that you can buy *just* the sponge itself without all the assorted hardware that comes with it. This is a cost saver worth noting as the conventional Hydro V purchase price is around 18 to 20 bucks, yet you can buy the replacement sponge from places like Thatpetplace.com for under 3 bucks each. That is significant, in my view. To replace a sponge filter that has seen better days I have always done the same thing. Immerse in your aquarium for several days, weighted down or otherwise it will float. After several days the colony should have settled in and you can remove the old filter and install the new one in it's place. Does this process take away from the beauty of your tank? Oh yeah, it can, but in the long run I have always considered it necessary for the overall benefit of my fish. If I'm not going to do what is right for them then why bother having a tank?
To finish this article, here is a photo of my Hydro V sponge filter:
Oh yeah, that's right...you can't actually see it. You can barely see the lift tube in the back. This is intentional. That rock facade represents many hours of meticulously cutting and cementing to create the wall you see, complete with little cubbies for my babies or miniature catfish to inhabit. There is enough room for me to disconnect it from the powerhead and lift it off it's base for its maintenance, plus there is room back there for my clown loaches and a few catfish plus one Queen Arabesque pleco to inhabit. What cannot be seen is the pumice wall on the left that fully encloses this area. Maybe more pics in my next article.
This is just a quick hit and run piece, but I hope it imparts some knowledge from my experiences in the hobby. All comments are welcome, just play nice. And, thanks Katheryn for the push. I've been away far too long from publishing, mainly because of my schedule, but still.