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Fish Keeping Tip Sheets

South America Backwater Pool EnvironmentSouth America Backwater Pool Environment

About the Environment
Numerous backwater streams and pools make up a very unique environment in the tropical Amazon rainforest. These waters tend to be slow moving, low in oxygen, high in fish diversity and rich in nutrients due to the many plants, leaves and tree roots decaying here. Some of the pools are only temporary, as they fill up or evaporate depending upon the rainy season. These waters also tend to be reddish-brown in color, soft, and acidic as a result of tannins released from the high organic concentration. Dark-brown to black gravel is recommended to stimulate the natural substrate. Plenty of driftwood and plants are essential to recreate this niche.

Water Conditions
Indigenous Fish Species
Rare or Unusual Fish Species
Indigenous Plant Species

75-80° F

pH Levels

Water Hardness
Very Soft, 30-60 ppm

Glow Light Tetra
Silver Hatchetfish
Black Phantom Tetra
Head/Tail Lite Tetra
Red Eye Tetra
Red Eye Tetra
Otocinclus Catfish
Spotted Cory Fish
Skunk Cory Catfish
Panda Cory Catfish
Albino Cory Catfish
Farlowella Catfish
Whiptail Catfish
Neon Tetra
Serpae Tetra
Lemon Tetra
Banjo Catfish
Cardinal Tetra
Black Ghost Knife Myriophyllum Matogrossense

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Recreating the Environment
A 20 gallon aquarium is recommended to recreate this particular niche. A smaller size could be used, but with smaller fish. Fill the tank with two (2) inches of water. If an under gravel filter is being used, put the filter plate in the bottom of the tank at this time. Rinse the substrate (gravel/sand) and add it to the aquarium. Note: if using an under gravel filter, add 1.5 to 2 pounds of gravel per gallon. If an under gravel filter is not being used, then add 1 to 1.5 pounds of gravel per gallon.

Once the substrate has been added, fill the tank half full of water. Next, add plants and driftwood to recreate your South American backwater pool environment. Refer to our diagram, in this handout, on how to landscape this niche. Don’t forget to protect the roots of your plants as you anchor them into the substrate. A safe method is to gently ball the roots into your hand and make a loose fist. Using this fist, burrow a pit in the substrate and gently unfold your hand allowing the roots to spread out. Gently cover the roots with enough substrate to hold them down.

Finish filling the tank with water. Place the heater in the tank, but do not turn it on at this time. Allow the heater glass to acclimate to the water temperature in the aquarium for one (1) hour before plugging it in. You can camouflage the heater behind the driftwood and plants.

New Tank Water Conditions - Understanding the Nitrogen Cycle

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Filtration System
Equip the aquarium with a filter system. If you are using an under gravel filter, hook up the air pump or power head (water pump) to the uplift tubes. If you are using an internal filter, place it in the tank towards the back and hide the filter using plants or driftwood. If an outside filter is being used, place it on the outside back of the tank, or under the aquarium. Hide the siphon tube, which draws water from the tank to the filter, with tall plants or rocks. Put the thermometer in place, add water conditioner to the aquarium and turn on the filtration system. After testing the pH and water hardness, necessary adjustments can be made by using proper aquarium chemicals to recreate South American backwater pool water conditions.

Now, place the aquarium top in position and make any adjustments (cut outs in the back) to accommodate the heater, filter and cords. Turn on the light (a 10-12 hour light cycle is highly recommended) and the heater. Make any final adjustments to the heater in order to stabilize a temperature between 75-80 degrees.

All newly set-up aquariums must go through a filter conditioning process in order to sustain fish life. (Please see our “New Tank Water Conditions” tip sheet for additional information.) It will take the water approximately 4-6 weeks to condition, during which time only a small number of fish can be added to the tank. Once the aquarium has been set-up and running for a minimum of 24 hours, six (6) 1.5 inch fish per 10 gallons of water can be safely introduced. For this particular niche type, Serpae and Head/Tail Lite Tetras and Spotted Cory Catfish, are good choices to start with. Over the next several weeks when water quality tests of ammonia and nitrite reach zero, more fish species can be added.

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Feeding the Fish
Feeding the fish will vary depending upon the age of the aquarium. Early on, during the first 4-8 weeks, the fish should be fed a small pinch of food (about the size of a dime) once every other day. As the aquarium ages and conditions, 2-4 months of age, fish can be fed once a day. When the tank is over 4 months old, the fish can be fed several times a day, but be sure to use small quantities of food at each feeding.

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Water Changes
Partial water changes are the single most important procedure you perform on your aquarium. Remove 20% of the water every two (2) weeks, and replace it with fresh water which has been treated with a water conditioning chemical.

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Clean unsightly algae using an algae pad or a magnetic algae remover when necessary. However, keep in mind that some algae left in the tank can be beneficial. It provides a food source for certain fish, and also creates oxygen for the aquarium environment.

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