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  • Species: Barilius bakeri

  • Species: Cichlid Section

  • Species: Cirrhitops fasciatus

  • Species: Colisa fasciata

  • Species: Cryptocentrus and Alpheus

  • Species: Equetus acuminatus

  • Species: Etroplus maculatus

  • Species: Mesonauta festivum

  • Species: Panaque bathyphilus L90

  • Species: Pimelodus ornatus

  • Species: Trichogaster trichopterus

Store visit: WaterZoo in Peterborough

Our visit to the WaterZoo in Peterborough revealed a modern high street tropical fish shop offering a wide range of livestock covering all the different niches within the hobby. Unlike the bright blue aquaria seen in most stores, the freshwater tanks all had dark backgrounds and suitable decorations that encouraged the fish to exhibit their nicest colours and more outgoing behaviours. We were also pleased to see that the WaterZoo is a store that actively promotes good fishkeeping: we saw lots of nicely written leaflets covering the needs of all sorts of fish, from basic community species through to more specialist topics such as shrimps and Rift Valley cichlids. A “buy 6, get one free” deal encourages shoppers to keep schooling species in good sized groups, something that not only makes species like neons and danios look nicer, but also improves their overall health and good behaviour. Best of all were notices stating clearly what it is goldfish need to thrive, and wisely suggesting shoppers with tanks smaller than 100 litres stick with minnows, variatus platies and other coldwater and subtropical fare.

The WaterZoo is at 439, Lincoln Road in Millfield, just north of Peterborough town centre. There’s off-street parking nearby. By public transportation the WaterZoo can be easily reached using bus route 1 from Queensgate Bus Station, a few minutes east of Peterborough Railway Station. The bus stop at New England adjacent to Occupation Road is closest to the shop.

Community fish

The range of community fish was impressive and included all the usual schooling species such as neons, danios, rasboras and barbs. Among the more unusual species was the Blue-Spotted Hill Trout (Barilius bakeri). Despite its name, this species is more closely related to the barbs than the trouts, but like trout, this brightly-coloured fish comes from fast-flowing hillstream habitats where the water is clear, relatively cool, and very well oxygenated. Similar conditions will need to be provided in the aquarium, and that means the tank should be maintained at 18-22 degrees C and provided with filters and powerheads that keep the water moving quickly around the tank; a turnover rate not less than eight times the volume of the tank per hour is recommended. Slightly cooler conditions in winter are useful for conditioning these fish prior to spawning, which can be done in much the same way as with barbs or danios. Both sexes are pretty, but the males tend to have orange edges to their tail and anal fins, whereas those of the females are edged with white. Because this species requires subtropical conditions care should be taken when choosing tankmates, but these are obvious and excellent companions for hillstream loaches, subtropical Corydoras and Scleromystax, goodeids such as Ilyodon, and other fish that require cool, well-oxygenated water conditions.

Gouramis are consistently popular with aquarists looking for personality fish. Mostly they are easy to keep, the notable exception being delicate and virus-ridden Dwarf Gouramis (Colisa lalia). Several excellent alternatives were on sale at the WaterZoo, including the superb Banded Gourami (Colisa fasciata), a species that gets to about 8 cm in length and has dark blue and orange banding on its flanks not dissimilar to that of the Dwarf Gourami. Unlike that species though the Banded Gourami is hardy and easy to keep, and an excellent addition to most community tanks. The slightly larger gouramis of the genus Trichogaster are popular among aquarists as well, and we saw Moonlight Gouramis (Trichogaster microlepis), Pearl Gouramis (Trichogaster leerii), and both the orange and blue forms of the Three-Spot Gourami (Trichogaster trichopterus) on sale at the WaterZoo. Males of these species can be bullies in small tanks, especially male Three-Spot Gouramis, so it’s best to keep just a single male per tank.

Aquarists looking for fish suited to hard water conditions often think their choices are limited. To be fair, most barbs and tetras prefer soft rather than hard water, but there are some good alternatives if you know what to look for and where to go shopping. We were pleased to see that the WaterZoo had some excellent and unusual hard water community fish, including Endler Guppies (Poecilia wingei), Liberty Mollies (Poecilia salvatoris), Butterfly Goodeids (Ameca splendens), and Tanganyikan Killifish (Lamprichthys tanganicanus). Endler Guppies are like smaller, more colourful versions of common guppies. Quality varies, and it’s probably fair to say that most of the fish in the trade are hybrids to some degree rather than pure-bred Endlers. But that aside, these are hardy, easy to keep little fish with much to recommended them. As with all livebearers they should be kept in groups where the females outnumber the males, preferably by a ratio of at least two to one. Liberty Mollies require much the same care as standard mollies, but unlike standard mollies they are generally quite hardy provided water quality is good and they receive a mixed diet including suitable green foods such as Spirulina flake. Liberty Mollies get their name from the brilliant red, white and blue markings seen on well-maintained, sexually mature specimens. Butterfly Goodeids are feisty, nippy fish not recommended for tanks with slow-moving or long-finned tankmates. They are very pretty though, the females speckled black and silver and the males shiny blue with a yellow band along the edge of their tail fins. They are herbivores and will eat soft plants such as Indian Fern. Tanganyikan Killifish are often used as dither fish in Lake Tanganyika biotope tanks, but they work just as well as schooling fish in hard water community tanks. Their colours vary with ambient lighting, but they are basically iridescent with metallic blue speckles and yellow markings on their fins.


We were impressed with the comprehensive selection of cichlids including species from Central America, South America, West Africa, Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika, and South Asia. Lots of shops specialise in cichlids, but usually one or two groups; what made our trip to the WaterZoo so memorable was the richness of the offerings from all of these geographical locations. So besides the standard bread-and-butter cichlid species like angelfish and kribs, we also saw some much less frequently traded species that should make this store a mecca for cichlid-keepers across this part of Eastern England. Among the less often seen South American species, we spotted Uaru fernandezyepezi, Red-Breasted Acara (Laetacara dorsigera), True Parrot Cichlids (Hoplarchus psittacus), and Paraguay Eartheaters (Gymnogeophagus balzanii). But one species with much to recommend it is the Flag or Festivum Cichlid (Mesonauta festivus).

In fact there are six different Festivum cichlid species known, of which two are said to be traded, Mesonauta festivus (which is exported from Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru) and Mesonauta insignis (from Brazil). Telling these Festivum cichlid species apart is difficult, and for all practical purposes unnecessary, since maintenance of all species appears to be very similar. They are all docile outside of breeding, and as singletons at least Festivum Cichlids are trustworthy additions to community tanks in much the same way as angelfish. They do look very nice in groups though, but as with angelfish and many other community tank cichlids, spawning pairs can be aggressive and will try to take over part of the tank, shooing away any other fish that gets too close. Although basically golden-green most of the time, Festivum Cichlids are remarkable for this colour changes, and at times may be dark green or pearly pink. Their body shape is somewhat similar to that of Severums, but they have very long pectoral fins more similar to those of angelfish. Festivums also have an unusual oblique band running from the jaws to the top of the dorsal fin, and a black eyespot on the upper half of the caudal peduncle. When stressed they exhibit dark bands like those seen on Discus. Festivums are opportunistic feeders, and while they enjoy flake and small frozen foods such as bloodworms, they will also eat very small tankmates such as neons given the chance. As with other South American cichlids they prefer soft water; aim for 3-15 degrees dH, pH 6.0-7.5. Water temperature should be slightly warmer than average, 25-30 degrees C being ideal. Festivums dislike strong water currents and prefer deep tanks with lots of plants and overhead shade. They don’t dig, but may nibble on very soft plants from time to time.

The WaterZoo maintains a selection of Malawian and Tanganyikan cichlids that includes many of the popular mbuna as well as some of the more specialist species. Among the species rarely seen in aquarium shops is the Tanganyikan sand-sifting species Enantiopus melanogenys. This species gets to about 15 cm in length and has a goby-like shape. It lives on the substrate and therefore dislikes cluttered aquaria; an aquarium 200 litres or larger in size with a sandy substrate and a few hardy plants around the edges is recommended. They are omnivorous and greedy fish that do well on sinking foods as well as frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, etc. Males are brilliantly coloured with bright blue and yellow fins, black patches on their faces, and yellow throats that they inflate when displaying to females and rival males. It is a schooling species, but it is best to keep more females than males. This species should not be mixed with other cichlids except Cyprichromis species that school harmlessly above them and actually work quite nicely as dither fish. Tanganyikan Killifish or Swordtails might be used in the same way. Breeding is possible, the females mouthbrooding the eggs for about a month before releasing them, at which point the fry are best removed and reared separately.


The WaterZoo maintains a good stock of Corydoras catfish, almost all of which are good choices for low-to-middling temperature community tanks maintained at between 22-24 degrees C. Among the less often seen species that we saw on sale were Corydoras elegans, Corydoras imitator, Corydoras punctatus, Corydoras trilineatus (as Corydoras julii) and Corydoras zygatus. We also saw Corydoras sterbai, a species that is tolerant of warmer water than other Corydoras catfish, and consequently a good choice for community tanks maintained between 25-28 degrees C. Because it does well in warm water, it’s the species of choice for use alongside discus and cardinal tetras. Basic care of all Corydoras catfish is remarkably consistent. They need good water quality, a soft substrate such as smooth silica sand, and suitable offerings of sinking catfish foods. While they are excellent scavengers, they should not be expected to get by on leftovers alone!

Among the larger catfish we were pleased to see one of our favourite species on sale, the medium-sized Ornate Pimelodus (Pimelodus ornatus). This handsome catfish gets to around 25 cm in length under aquarium conditions making it more easily maintained in home aquaria than the bigger pimelodids. It’s still a sizeable fish though, and will need a tank upwards of 250 litres to do well. As with most of the other pimelodids water chemistry isn’t critical, but water quality should be excellent, so generous filtration and lots of water circulation must be provided. Also in common with other pimelodids is its dislike of excessively high temperatures; between 22-25 degrees C is recommended for long-term success. This carnivorous catfish will eat small tankmates, but gets along fine with fish too large to viewed as food, for example severums, large barbs, plecs, and so on. Ornate Pimelodus are gregarious catfish, and whilst they have been maintained as singletons, they do much better in groups of two or more specimens. Overfeeding this greedy catfish is easy, so care should be taken to ration out its meals carefully. It eats all sorts of prepared foods, as well as chunks of tilapia fillet and seafood.

Another big catfish on sale when we visited the WaterZoo was the Aluminium Catfish. Over the years this name has been applied to several different African catfish species, but the specimens we saw were probably Chrysichthys brevibarbis, a Central African species from the Congo River system that favours fast-flowing regions around rapids. It gets to about 40 cm long in the wild, though aquarium specimens are usually a bit smaller than that, around 20-30 cm being usual. As with other members of the Claroteidae these catfish are essentially peaceful but they are powerful nocturnal predators and tankmates should be chosen with care. Water chemistry isn’t critical, but water temperature should be low to middling, 20-25 degrees C being recommended.

L-number catfish were well represented, with more than twenty species dotted about the tanks in the showroom. One species we were particularly taken by was the Papa Plec (Panaque bathyphilus). This deep-water relative of the more commonly seen Royal Plec (Panaque nigrolineatus) has the same basic colouration but a more slender body shape and dramatically longer extensions to the tips of its tail fins. It also lacks the bright red eyes seen on Royal Plecs. Otherwise basic care is the same, though given that wild fish come from deep river channels, some care should be taken to keep this species in a deep, shady tank without too much overhead light. The use of floating plants is highly recommended. Maximum length is around 30-40 cm under aquarium conditions.

Brackish water fishes

Unlike most other aquarium shops, the WaterZoo maintains a dedicated brackish water section. On our visit the list of species included Green Spotted Puffers, Shark Catfish, Silver Scats, Monos, Archerfish, Siamese Tigerfish, Zebra Blennies, Bumblebee Gobies and Orange Chromides. We were especially pleased to see both the wild-type Orange Chromide and the bright orange artificial form were on sale. Maintenance of both types is the same, but the wild-type fish exhibits much more dramatic colour changes when spawning that make it a more interesting fish to keep. Outside of spawning males and females look the same, basically green with orange speckles. When spawning males and to a lesser degree females develop extensive black patches across their throats and flanks. Orange Chromides are not difficult to keep. They do best in slightly brackish water around SG 1.002-1.005 and will not dig up plants. Tankmates are ignored outside of spawning, and even when breeding they are not as psychotically aggressive as some other cichlids. Mollies and Knight Gobies make particularly good companions since they enjoy the same sorts of conditions.


The marine side of the WaterZoo is well-stocked with fish suited to both saltwater community tanks and reef tanks. Among the reef-friendly species we saw a variety of gobies, tangs and dwarf angels, but our favourite reef tank residents are the hawkfish, a family that contains numerous small, pretty, and above all very hardy species well worth keeping. Among the ones on sale was the Red-Barred Hawkfish (Cirrhitops fasciatus), a species that gets to about 12 cm in length and is marked with a complex pattern of red spots and bars. Like other hawkfish it is predatory and will eat shrimps, including cleaner shrimps, as well as small fish. Otherwise it’s an entirely peaceful species that won’t damage corals or polyps and leaves slow-moving invertebrates such as molluscs and echinoderms alone. One of the best things about hawkfish is their personality: these are fish that like to perch on rocks that allow them watch the world go by. It’s important that there are a few rocky perches in the tank that aren’t covered with corals or polyps otherwise they’re likely to get stung, as revealed by damage to their pelvic fins and underbelly. In all other regards these are extremely adaptable little fish that happily take prepared foods include flake.

The High-Hat (Equetus acuminatus) is one of the drums, a family of largely nocturnal predatory fish suited to community rather than reef tanks. Juveniles are striking fish with a few bold black and white stripes and very tall dorsal fins; as the fish mature the stripes become thinner but more numerous, and the dorsal fin becomes proportionately shorter. Although peaceful, the High-Hat gets to about 20 cm in length, so tankmates should be chosen with care. High-Hats are so-named because of the tinny sounds they make at times, particularly when kept in groups. They are carnivorous so require a meaty diet, and long-term success depends on them being provided with regular offerings of thiaminase-free fish and seafoods such as tilapia fillet, lancefish and cockles. Foods that contain thiaminase, such as prawns and mussels, will certainly be consumed, but should amount for only a small proportion of their diet. As with all carnivorous fish, the use of a vitamin supplement is very highly recommended.

Watchman gobies (Cryptocentrus spp.) are quite widely sold, but it’s uncommon to see them on sale with the shrimps with which they live. In the wild individual gobies or pairs of gobies share their burrows with the shrimps, typically snapping or pistol shrimps of the genera Alpheus and Synalpheus. The shrimps do most of the digging, while the gobies act as guards. The gobies have much better eyesight than the shrimps, and the shrimps use their antennae to feel where the gobies are. When the gobies dart into the burrow, the shrimps follow suit, both species needing to hide from similar predators. We were thrilled to see matched goby-shrimp pairs at the WaterZoo. Maintenance isn’t hard, but because they’re shy, burrowing species some care should be taken to provide a deep substrate of coral sand and rubble in at least one part of the aquarium.

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