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Introduction to Biotope Aquariums

Learn about biotope aquariums and the characteristics of each type.

Exotic fishes from distant corners of the world make any aquarium look good. They liven the appearance of the tank and add to the overall diversity of the fish population. Many hobbyists might want to go a step further and create a natural environment that mimics a particular region. This type of aquarium is called a biotope.

What is a Biotope Aquarium?

A biotope aquarium has a specific geographic theme. The environmental conditions, fish species, and plant species used in a biotope aquarium are the same as the natural aquatic habitat it represents. For example, the South American black water biotope aquarium would consist of driftwood, a murky sandy seafloor, and corydoras.

Setting Up a Biotope Aquarium

There are several things to consider when setting up a biotope aquarium. The most important of which is the water conditions. Each aquatic habitat has a certain temperature, pH, and salinity. Temperature can be regulated with a water heater , while the pH can be adjusted through peat filtration, by adding a buffer, and through regular water changes.

The next thing to consider is the environment. The substrate of the biotope should be similar to the natural habitat. It could consist of sand, gravel, or mud. The structures of the natural environment should be included, such as coral reefs and plants.

The last thing to consider is the type of fishes to add. Include a mix of species that are native to the biotope. Make sure they are not aggressive towards each other. The following biotopes contain different types of fishes, water conditions, and environment.

Lake Malawi Biotope

The Lake Malawi biotope is characterized by a rock-filled seafloor and colorful fish. The bottom of the tank should be covered in sand and dotted with stones. Plants aren’t usually used for this biotope. A large tank with a capacity of 50 to 65 gallons, a hang-on-back filter, and fluorescent lights are sufficient for this aquarium.

Water Conditions:

  • Temperature – 75-80°F
  • pH – 7.8-8.5
  • Salinity – freshwater

Fish : Cichlids from Lake Malawi – Malawi Golden Cichlid, Electric Yellow Mbuna, Aurora Cichlid, Synodontis

Australian and New Guinean River Biotope

Aquarium biotopes of the Australian and New Guinean rivers consist of dense plants and a sand substrate. The water flow in the tank needs to be high to duplicate the natural environment. Use a container or interior power filter. A large tank with at least a 50 gallon capacity is recommended.

Water Conditions:

  • Temperature – 75°F
  • pH – 6.5-7.0
  • Salinity – freshwater

Fish: Red Rainbow Fish, New Guinea Rainbow, Emerald Rainbow

Plants: Potamageton Crispus, Najas Tenuifolia, Cryptocoryne Wendtii

Southeast Asia Black Water Biotope

The southeast Asia black water biotope is a marine environment with a low waterline, red colored rocks, and plants that extend beyond the surface of the water. The substrate should consist of sand, red gravel, and multi-colored stones. Laterite should be included in the substrate to provide nutrition for the plants. Broken red clay pots scattered throughout the tank floor enhances the biotope. The tank should be large – roughly 50 gallons. The water should be very calm, so a standard hang-on-back filter is fine.

Water Conditions:

  • Temperature – 75-79 °F
  • pH – 6.0-6.5
  • Salinity – freshwater

Plants: Bamboo Plant, Giant Hygrophila

Fish: Tiger Barb, Siamese Fighting Fish, Clown Loach

Setting up a biotope aquarium can be a rewarding experience. Choose the particular aquatic environment you want and build the aquarium to match it. Most pet stores will have the equipment, materials, and fish you will need to construct a biotope. The live plants may be more difficult to find in stores. Once the biotope is setup, maintain it regularly to ensure the water conditions and tank appearance continue to represent the natural aquatic environment.


Model Biotope Aquariums.” Saltwater Aquarium Guide

Biotope Aquaria.”

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