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Species: Dimidiochromis compressiceps
Species: Boraras maculatus
Species: Geophagus tapajos
Species: Rummynose Tetra
Species: Macrognathus mekongensis
Species: Polypterus ornatipinnis
Species: Tahuantinsuyoa macantzatza
Species: Zebrasoma flavescens
Species: Xanthichthys mento
Species: Pterapogon kauderni
Species: Opistognathus aurifrons
Species: Echidna nebulosa
Visiting Maidenhead Aquatics at Bracknell
On our visit to the Bracknell branch of Maidenhead Aquatics we were impressed by both the range of fish on display and the immaculately turned out aquaria. The staff clearly make a real effort to ensure that the store looks its best. It’s a medium-sized branch that specialises in community tropical fish, discus, reef aquarium fish and invertebrates, and pond fish. At the time of our visit (early November) the selection of pond fish and plants was inevitably limited, but otherwise the range of livestock on sale was broad and very carefully selected.
The Maidenhead Aquatics at Bracknell shop is within the Wyevale Garden Centre on Forest Road (B 3034) in the village of Binfield, a couple of miles from the centre of Bracknell. The westbound 153 bus service from Bracknell Bus Station (opposite the railway station) stops a short distance west of the garden centre. For shoppers going by public transportation, this is probably the most convenient way to get there.
Stocking small community tanks can be a problem, but we were pleased to see a good selection of small tetras, catfish, rasboras and killifish eminently suitable for tanks in the 10-15 gallon size range. Among the schooling species was the Spotted Rasbora (Boraras maculatus). This is a tiny jewel that only gets to about 2 cm in length. Like other rasboras, its colours depend very much on its environment, and in holding tanks it tends to be a bit plain. But it is a lovely reddish-orange fish when kept in a shady planted aquarium, preferably with a dark substrate and blackwater extract used to tint the water. Water chemistry is important as well, because this species will only do well in soft, slightly acidic to neutral water conditions. Keep in large groups, preferably twenty or more, for best results.
A step up in size is the Rummynose Tetra (Hemigrammus rhodostomus). This fish is one of the most dramatic and impressive tetras for medium to large community tanks. It is essentially hardy and very peaceful, and makes a superb companion for things like gouramis and even discus. While all tetras look good in groups, this species really does come into its own when kept in large numbers, and groups of at least a dozen should be considered the minimum worthwhile number.
Whiptail catfish are a low-maintenance alternative to loaches, Corydoras and plecs, and offer the community tank owner something peaceful but distinctly different. One species on sale was the Royal Loricariid (listed as Loricaria sp., possibly Loricaria parnahybae or a related species). While little is known about this species, it can be assumed to be completely peaceful, omnivorous, basically hardy, and happiest in a tank with a sandy substrate where it can burrow. Maximum length should be around 15 cm. Water chemistry should be soft to moderately hard, and the temperature should not be too high. Otherwise a group of these weird, lizard-like catfish are undemanding and would make interesting bottom feeders for any peaceful community tank.
Choosing cichlids for community tanks is always a challenge, but an old favourite making a comeback is the Festive Cichlid (Mesonauta sp.). The taxonomy of this genus is a bit confused, with several species being known but virtually impossible for aquarists to tell apart. All are similar in their needs though. They are large (to 20 cm) cichlids comparable to Angelfish in terms of character and maintenance. While they will eat small tetras such as Neons and Glowlights, they are otherwise harmless and work well with medium-sized tetras, gouramis, loaches, catfish and so on. Their colours are subtle rather than striking, and they can dramatically change their colours with mood and environment.
There was a good variety of L-number catfish offered by Maidenhead Aquatics at Bracknell on the day of our visit. One of the most eye-catching species is the Gold Nugget Plec (Baryancistrus sp. L18). This species is noted for the bright yellow patches along its dorsal and caudal fins. It also has a green-brown body peppered with small off-white spots. Maximum size is about 30 cm, but unlike some L-number catfish that are only colourful when young, this species keeps its looks throughout its growth. Gold Nugget Plecs are omnivores that consume both animal and plant foods. Newly imported specimens can be a bit thin, but the ones we saw on sale looked in good health. They can be tricky to settle into busy community tanks, but mix well with small, peaceful fish like tetras and rasboras. Like most L-number catfish, Gold Nugget Plecs prefer water that is soft to moderately hard, around neutral in pH, and fairly warm, around 28 C being ideal. Gold Nugget Plecs are aggressive towards their own kind and other similar-looking fish.
Another L-number on sale was the Blue Phantom Plec (Hemiancistrus sp. L128). This is a medium-sized species (to 18 cm) highly recommended for community tanks that are not too warm and with water that isn’t too hard. Aim for a temperature around 24 C and water chemistry around pH 7, 5-15 degrees dH. As such, this would be an ideal companion for species that appreciate similar conditions including Corydoras catfish, loaches, danios, minnows, and neon tetras. Wild fish come from habitats with a good strong current, and unsurprisingly this fish will not adapt well to tanks with poor filtration or gross overstocking. Once settled in though this fish is reasonably hardy and does well in the usual mix of algae wafers, soft vegetables, and small invertebrates such as bloodworms and mosquito larvae.
The Leopard Frog Plec (Peckoltia sp. L134) is a small, omnivorous catfish well suited to community tanks. It is remarkable for the stripes the cross its body and fins, and because it doesn’t get any more than about 10 cm in length it makes a good choice for systems were larger L-numbers wouldn’t be appropriate. If allowed about a square foot of space each, multiple specimens can be kept in one tank. This species has been bred in captivity. Sexing them is tricky since both sexes look the same in terms of colours, but males have more spines (odontodes) on their cheeks, pectoral fins and the flanks on latter half of their body.
Discus and dwarf cichlids
Maidenhead Aquatics at Bracknell has a dedicated soft water section given over to Discus. The fish on offer were all in excellent condition and clearly feeding well. Great care is taken with their diet to avoid feeding them foods, such as bloodworms, that might introduce disease. There were literally dozens of varieties on sale, including Pigeon Blood Discus, Super Reds and Solid Yellows. Sizes ranged from about 7 cm through to over 15 cm.
Various dwarf cichlids were on offer including Kribs, Nanochromis transvestitus, and Steatocranus casuarius. One new variety that will doubtless sell well is the Electric Blue Ram (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi). While very attractive fish in their way, it’s important any prospective purchasers understand that Ram Cichlids are not easy to keep and do not make good choices for the average community tank. Ram Cichlids must have very soft, very acidic water, preferably around pH 5.5-6.5, 5 degrees dH. They also need very warm water, around 28-30 degrees C, which is much warmer than most other fish appreciate (but fine for Discus, and the two species get along quite well). It’s usually best to keep Rams on their own or with species specifically chosen for their tolerance of similar conditions.
Advanced aquarists will find numerous oddballs, cichlids and rare catfish on sale at Maidenhead Aquatics at Bracknell. Among the cichlids was the famous Malawi Eye-biter (Dimidiochromis compressiceps) from Lake Malawi. Despite its rather scary name, this fish is much appreciated for being a rather peaceful species, and makes a good community tank resident when kept alongside other non-aggressive Malawian cichlids and catfish. It is of course a predator, but it ignores fish too big to swallow whole. This species prefers live foods, such as earthworms, but are easily acclimated to wet-frozen foods and eventually to pellet foods. They don’t dig, and in the wild live hidden among thickets of Vallisneria, a habitat that could be easily replicated in the aquarium.
The Tapajos Red-head Eartheater (Geophagus tapajos) is a relatively uncommonly seen but very attractive South American cichlid. Like all geophagine cichlids they are extremely sensitive to poor water quality, and should only be kept in big, mature tanks with excellent filtration. Regular water changes are needed to keep the nitrate level as low as possible (ideally below 20 mg/l). This species is noted for its brilliant colours: the fins are marked with red and blue, the tail fin in particular having bold longitudinal red stripes. As the name suggests, the head is marked with red. This is a social species generally kept in groups of five or more specimens. Maximum length is around 20 cm under aquarium conditions. Like all South American cichlids, soft to moderately hard water with a slightly acidic to neutral pH is recommended.
Other cichlids on sale included the Inca Stone Fish (Tahuantinsuyoa macantzatza), Tropheus sp. “Kaiser”, and the Cupid Cichlid (Biotodoma cupido). While they aren’t cichlid, some other perciform fish that might interest advanced fishkeepers were Nandus nandus and Microctenopoma ansorgii.
Several spiny eel species were on offer, including one species we hadn’t seen before, the Red-finned Zebra Eel (Macrognathus mekongensis). This is a relatively small (to 20 cm) gregarious spiny eel species that can be kept in community tanks except with the smallest fish. It has red markings on its body and fins, and a very long, trunk-like snout. Like all spiny eels, some care should be taken when keeping this fish. A soft, sandy substrate is essential otherwise these eels will scratch themselves and eventually this leads to bacterial infections. Feeding is problematic, since only live and wet-frozen foods are accepted. They are not scavengers, and will not survive unless given plenty of the right types of worms and other invertebrates.
For jumbo community systems, the Ornate Bichir (Polypterus ornatipinnis) is hard to beat. At up to 50 cm in length this is a bit of a monster, but while predatory towards small fish and territorial among its own kind, this fish gets along very well with peaceful midwater species. Oscars, Giant Gouramis, Clown Loaches, Siamese Tigerfish and so on make excellent companions. It is an opportunistic feeder that consumes all types of fresh and wet-frozen foods including lancefish, mussels, squid and prawns. Earthworms and river shrimps are also enjoyed. Pellets are usually taken eventually, and these are useful for ensuring the fish gets all the vitamins it needs, since at least some seafoods (such as mussels and prawns) are notably vitamin deficient.
The marine section of the shop reveals how much thought the Maidenhead Aquatics at Bracknell staff put into providing their livestock with optimum care. We were impressed by the bucket of coral sand and rubble into which the tubeworms are put, so that these filter-feeding animals can feed normally while they’re on display. The jawfish tank has a huge mound of rubble with numerous caves and crevices, and this provides the perfect conditions for these burrowing fish.
Favourite community species in stock included Banggai Cardinals (Pterapogon kauderni), Cherub Angelfish (Centropyge argi), Pearly Jawfish (Opistognathus aurifrons) and Yellow Tangs (Zebrasoma flavescens). Less often encountered species included the Black-spotted Puffer (Arothron nigropunctatus), Crosshatch Trigger (Xanthichthys mento), Achilles Tang (Acanthurus achilles) and a very big Snowflake Moray (Echidna nebulosa).
Gobies were particularly evident, and being small as well as colourful, we were very pleased to see the variety on sale. These included (Elacatinus puncticulatus), the Neon Goby (Elacatinus oceanops), the Zebra Goby (Elacatinus macrodon) and the bizarrely named but very beautiful Dracula Goby (Stonogobiops dracula).
Among the more demanding fish on display was the Red-Spot Cardinalfish (Apogon parvulus). This is a notoriously sensitive fish that often fails to adapt to life in captivity. The keys to success are to provide them with a strong water current; to keep them in a large group, realistically, a dozen or more; and to feed them on a very regular basis, i.e., at least three times per day. In the wild they feed on zooplankton continuously, and they simply don’t adapt to the one meal per day regimen that works for more robust species like damsels.
Aquarists looking for corals and polyps will find the display of frags and small coral pieces very interesting. There are dozens of types on display, each clearly labelled and priced, and held up on supports to prevent them being damaged by each other or roving invertebrates. The prices are competitive, and the variety runs from mushroom polyps and other soft corals through to the more demanding staghorn and antler corals. Many of the corals in display have been grown in the shop, and such “frags” are particularly good value.
Although not the biggest shop in the Maidenhead Aquatics chain, the amount of stuff crammed into the Bracknell branch was astounding. All the more remarkable given this was the fact that all the livestock appeared to be in first class condition. We didn’t see any dead fish, and those fish that weren’t ready for sale were clearly marked as being treated.
Care had been taken to house those fiddly species like Hatchetfish and Snakeheads that are nervous and prone to jumping. The choices of livestock were almost entirely sensible, and apart from a surprising number of Tetraodon mbu, a species almost impossible for hobbyists to house properly, everything else on sale was eminently suitable for home maintenance. The selection of freshwater plants covered most of the bases, let down only slightly by the almost inevitable non-aquatic plants not clearly labelled as such.
A number of display tanks provide inspiration, from Amano-style planted tanks through to big reef tanks. In short, Maidenhead Aquatics at Bracknell is a store that aquarists at all skill levels and with all interests will find well worth visiting.
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