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A visit to Maidenhead Aquatics@ Syon Park
The Maidenhead Aquatics branch at Syon Park was redeveloped last year and moved to a new location close to the Refectory. Although it is quite a small branch it is sensibly stocked with a good range of tropical, coldwater, pond and marine fish species. There's a clear focus on smaller fish species, mostly community fish but also dwarf cichlids and various small oddball species. The branch also offers a services as well that includes installation of new aquaria, routine maintenance of existing aquaria, and supplies of reverse-osmosis (RO) and artificial seawater.
Getting to Maidenhead Aquatics at Syon Park is within the Syon Park complex that lies between the A315 and the River Thames. It is clearly signed and there is ample free parking close to the garden centre. Syon Park is about a 15-minute walk from Syon Lane railway station on the Hounslow Loop line from Waterloo. For further details including opening hours and a location map, visit the Maidenhead Aquatics at Syon Park page elsewhere on this site.
Danios are among the best all-around schooling fish for low to middling temperature community tanks. They aren't too picky about water chemistry, and while soft to medium hard, around neutral pH water is the ideal, most species adapt perfectly adequately to hard London tap water. We saw several species on sale on our visit to Maidenhead Aquatics, Syon Park, but one that we haven't seen for a while was Danio tinwini, sometimes called the Gold Ring Danio because of the brilliant gold and black pattern running along its flanks. This Burmese species gets to about 3 cm in length and like other danios can pester its tankmates if it isn't kept in a group of at least six specimens. But otherwise a robust, reliable schooling fish for community tanks.
We did see a few tetras Maidenhead Aquatics, Syon Park, that would appeal more to experienced aquarists. One of these was the Blue Emperor Tetra, Inpaichthys kerri. This South American species needs soft water to do well, preferably 2-10 degrees dH, and as such it won't do well in London tap water. So to get the best from this species rainwater or RO water will be required. An economical approach would be to mix the local tap water with rain or RO water at a 50/50 ratio, which should provide acceptable conditions of 10 degrees dH hardness and about pH 7.5. Blue Emperor Tetras are shy and should not be kept with larger or more boisterous tankmates. Good companions would be things like pencilfish and hatchetfish, as well as other small tetras.
Another schooling characin for the more experienced aquarist that we spotted was the Slender Hemiodus, Hemiodus gracilis. Although not difficult to keep by any means, this species does get quite large, up to 15 cm or so, and it is also quite active, even boisterous, so tankmates should be chosen with care. Loricariid catfish and South American cichlids would be ideal companions. Slender Hemiodus are not fussy about water chemistry, but they do need swimming space and a decent current. It's also worth noting that they're omnivores, and soft aquarium plants may be nibbled. Otherwise these are lively, attractive fish ideally suited to communities of medium-sized fish. They are jumpy though, and shouldn't be kept in open-topped tanks.
Catfish and loaches
Baryancistrus sp. L142 is one of several L-number catfish we spotted on our visit to Maidenhead Aquatics, Syon Park. It is a beautiful fish, greenish-black with large white spots and, when young, yellow edges to the tail and dorsal fins. Unlike some of the other white-spotted catfish, the spots on this species remain large and contrasty even when the fish becomes fully grown. With a maximum length of 25 cm it is a large species, but not nearly as big as some of the other suckermouth catfish widely sold, and consequently much easier to house properly. Like other Baryancistrus it is basically peaceful if territorial fish, and generally easy to keep if given space, lots of water flow, and a high oxygen concentration. It isn't fussy about water chemistry, but won't do well in overstocked tanks with poor filtration. Baryancistrus are omnivores rather than algae-eaters, and need a mixed diet with plenty of meaty foods like chopped seafood and bloodworms as well as catfish pellets, algae wafers, and sliced vegetables such as courgettes.
Among the cichlids that we spotted at Maidenhead Aquatics, Syon Park, we were most impressed by some very healthy-looking young Geophagus brasiliensis. These "eartheaters" get fairly big, around 20-25 cm long, and are very sensitive to poor water quality, so they aren't suitable for beginners. But for the aquarist with a very large aquarium (realistically, 450 litres upwards) a group of these cichlids can form the heart of a stunning South American display. They work extremely well with midwater characins such as Silver Dollars or Bleeding Heart Tetras, though Congo Tetras would work just as well. Like all eartheaters, they need a tank with mostly smooth sand in the front and centre, and any bogwood or plants should be arranged around the sides of the tank to provide shade. In terms of diet, eartheaters are omnivorous and sift out insect larvae, small invertebrates, algae, and plant debris from the substrate. Under aquarium conditions they seem to thrive of a varied diet based around similar foods.
We saw several dwarf cichlids on sale at Maidenhead Aquatics, Syon Park, on our visit including the reliably adaptable Bolivian Ram, the rather more difficult to maintain Common Ram, and at least two varieties of the Apistogramma agassizii, the standard sort and a bright red artificial "Flame" variety. By comparison to most of the other members of its genus Apistogramma agassizii is considered to be fairly easy to keep, and it will tolerate moderately hard water up to about 10 degrees dH, though softer water, 2-5 degrees dH, will be needed for successful breeding. Apistogramma agassizii is a harem spawner, and while singletons or pairs can be maintained with success, they are most rewarding when one male and several females are maintained. Because they are both shy and territorial, they are not especially good community fish, though they will get along well with schooling fish that swim about in the middle and upper levels of the tank, for example South American tetras or some of the more peaceful barbs.
Herotilapia multispinosa is an underrated Central American cichlid that gets to about 8-10 cm in length and does well in hard, alkaline water conditions. It is hardy, adaptable, and by cichlid standards fairly peaceful. It is also very pretty, basically reddish-brown with black markings when young, but developing blue, red and yellow highlights once sexually mature. Its colours are notoriously variable, hence its common name, Rainbow Cichlid. Differences between the sexes are minimal, though males tend to have longer, more pointed tips to their dorsal and anal fins. A good cichlid for medium-sized community tanks alongside Swordtails, Mollies, and other hard water fish. Eats anything it can swallow, though good quality flake makes a fine staple.
Spiny eels are amongst the most popular oddballs, and we spotted at least two species on sale when we visited, the rather large Fire Eel, Mastacembelus erythrotaenia, and the much smaller Peacock Spiny Eel, Macrognathus siamensis. This latter species only gets to about 20 cm long under aquarium conditions, and it also has the advantage of being sociable, in fact working best if kept in a small group rather than singly. Feeding spiny eels can be tricky, but this species readily takes wet-frozen bloodworms and other small invertebrates. Although predatory, this small species shouldn't be too much of a threat to anything the size of a female Guppy or larger. To keep spiny eels successfully, there are three things to remember. The first is that they compete poorly for food with nocturnal bottom-feeders like loaches and catfish, so it's best to keep spiny eels with day-active barbs, tetras and so on. Secondly, they need a soft sandy substrate, smooth silica or pool filter sand is ideal. Gravel invariably damages them, and once their skin is damaged they are very prone to secondary infections that are hard to treat. Finally, they are notorious escape artists. If there's a way out of your aquarium, your spiny eel will discover it!
Among the other excellent oddballs we saw on sale were Spotted Ctenopoma (Ctenopoma acutirostre), Senegal Bichirs (Polypterus senegalus), Rocket Gar (Ctenolucius hujeta), and Purple Gudgeons (Mogurnda mogurnda). None of these are hard to feed, and all are small enough to be housed without serious expense or difficult. It's nice to see shops bringing in sensible oddball species that moderately experienced aquarists can purchase with confidence, knowing that such fish should live long and happy lives.
The marine section at Maidenhead Aquatics, Syon Park is small but well stocked with species for both reef tanks and fish-only systems. Among the reef tank species we noted things like Purple Firefish (Nemateleotris decora), Green Chromis (Chromis viridis) and clownfish, as well as various shrimps, snails and echinoderms. Among the larger fish species on sale were lionfish, angels, and a couple of different pufferfish species. Corals and polyps were dotted about the tanks, and there was also some live rock on sale.
Overall, we were impressed with the revamped Syon Park branch of Maidenhead Aquatics. The focus on small to medium-sized community species, both freshwater and marine, makes a lot of sense for a store this size. At the same time, there were enough oddballs and unusual species to pique the interest of hobbyists who've got beyond simple community tank fishkeeping. We couldn't help but notice how clean the tanks were and how healthy all the fish looked, and have no problems at all recommending this branch to aquarists in this part of London.
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