A Field Guide to Aquarium Carbon Dioxide Systems

People who visit my living room are often struck by the sheer, jungle-like lushness of the vegetation in my 125-gallon aquarium. The tank has such a profusion of plant life that its fish sometimes fight for the clear spaces or disappear for weeks on end in the thickets, living as they would in only the most abundant natural settings. This is a far cry from the aquaria I maintained as a child, when the only plants I could keep alive were the most beginner-friendly, least demanding species, if even then. Perseverance got me to my current skill, and a key part of that perseverance is learning my way around more advanced tools of the aquarist trade. And for someone who takes great joy in aquatic plants, that means carbon dioxide (CO2).

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A Field Guide to Aquarium Carbon Dioxide Systems
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Operation Paludarium

For the past several years, I have known that I had space for exactly one more aquarium in my office and my tank-maintenance routine, bringing the total in my home to three. I have been hemming and hawing about what, exactly, to do with that space ever since. My original hope was to set up a marine system designed for a mantis shrimp, in fulfillment of a childhood dream, but my research into that quest showed it to be far more expensive and challenging than I was prepared to take on, especially as a third system. I ultimately settled on a different childhood dream to pursue: a paludarium. Continue reading “Operation Paludarium”

Operation Paludarium

What’s to Love about Aquariums?

Everything.

Aquaria are beautiful, diverse, interactive, complicated, and so many more adjectives. Their sounds bring peace, their sight brings smiles, and millions of people around the world bring these boxes full of water into their homes. But why? What are the joys that aquaria provide to those who keep them? I’m so glad you asked.

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What’s to Love about Aquariums?

Life from Death in the Desert of Wet: Whalefalls

The deep ocean is one of the most impoverished biomes on the planet. It encompasses more area than all of the world’s land biomes combined but exists hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away from the nearest solar ray, a lightless void punctuated almost entirely by the wispy phosphorescence of the creatures within it. Such light cannot sustain an ecosystem, for the energy that powers it comes from within that very ecosystem. Nearly all of the resources available to the creatures that call the deep ocean home fall from above, nutritious plankton remains forming the dense sludge called “marine snow” that coats much of the seafloor. There is productivity at the seafloor, involving chemical reactions at geologic sites called hydrothermal vents, and these locations occupy an outsized portion of the public imagination. But there is another deep-ocean ecosystem that is no less fascinating for its obscurity, and is proving to be instrumental to the persistence of hydrothermal vent life: the whalefall.

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Life from Death in the Desert of Wet: Whalefalls

When a Mantis Isn’t a Mantis

Mantises are some of the most distinctive insects, with their elongated bodies and grasping claws. They are big, a bit clumsy, and curiously human, with their large eyes and partially erect posture. They’re famous for a much-exaggerated quirk of their mating behavior, in which females eat males after mating, and also for the multitude of highly camouflaged versions found among them, looking like grass, flowers, leave, and more.

The thing is, mantises are not alone.

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When a Mantis Isn’t a Mantis

Octo-Nope: Six Reasons Not To Get A Pet Octopus

If you’re building a marine aquarium and the thought of putting an octopus in it crosses your mind, consider not doing that. Consider not doing that so hard that you put this ill-conceived notion to permanent rest, no matter how much fun Finding Dory made it sound. An octopus makes for a difficult, finicky, and potentially even dangerous marine-aquarium inhabitant, best left to nature and specialists.

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Octo-Nope: Six Reasons Not To Get A Pet Octopus

The Eerie Sadness of China’s Paddlefish

China is home to a fish so rare that photographs of living specimens can be counted on two hands. Its lineage is so bizarre that it has only one close relative, found a continent away, and its skeleton straddles the anatomical cues that divide cartilaginous and bony fish. Even within its kin group, its habits and anatomy are unique.

The Chinese paddlefish or báixún, Psephurus gladius, is the only apparent preferential piscivore in the order Acipenseriformes. (The North American paddlefish is a planktivore, and sturgeons prefer shellfish.) Unlike its American sibling, its “paddle” is conical, and it is sometimes termed the “Chinese swordfish,” “white sturgeon,” or “elephant fish.” As an active, predatory schooling fish, it was once known for leaping across the surface of the Yangtze in large numbers. Rumor holds it can exceed seven meters in length and therefore rivals the beluga sturgeon for status as the largest freshwater or anadromous fish on our planet. However, the largest recorded specimen did not exceed a still-impressive four meters. Chances are, no Chinese paddlefish ever will.

CN veterinary imagery

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The Eerie Sadness of China’s Paddlefish

Ask Alyssa Anything

This week, I expanded my blogging horizons by giving my readers the option to ask me questions they’ve been curious about. The result was a mix of questions about me and things they hope I write about at greater length in the future, and it’s been fun to read and to contemplate.

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Ask Alyssa Anything