The Amazon Biotope Aquarium


Apr 21, 2009
The Amazon Biotope Aquarium

by Andy Gordon of England, and Michelle Stuart of Ontario Canada
Reprinted, with permission, from their web site

Cardinal tetras Photo by Andy Gordon

A biotope aquarium simply means one that only uses flora and fauna from a single region. These aquaria tend to look very natural and are worth the effort.

The water in the Amazon is soft and acidic and usually highly coloured because of all the humic acid. Much of the light is cut off by overhanging trees, but where the light does penetrate through there is a rich density of aquatic plants. Those are the wild conditions, but the fish that come from there have also become domesticated over many generations, and because of this they are more accustomed to living in harder and less acidic water than their wild relatives. Quite a high proportion of all the common community fish originally come from this vast region.

Basic care is exactly the same as any other community aquaria in most regards. Allow the bogwood to colour the water slightly - this will give the tank a far more authentic look and will also alter the light spectrum to one that suits the higher plants more than algae.

A careful eye must be kept on the pH, since bogwood has a tendency to cause the pH to drop to dangerous levels. It may be necessary to add something to buffer the water from time to time (Kent pH Stable is ideal). Regular partial water changes of about 20% weekly should be carried out, and the new water should have some trace elements added to it.

You will need
The tank can be of any size but big is best. Because of using a large amount of real plants, two lighting tubes should be used with reflectors. A power-filter will create good localised water movement. Several large pieces of bogwood are used for the main hard landscaping. Set up the tank with all the equipment and then arrange the bogwood - try to aim for a tangled effect as though the wood had collected there after drifting down stream. Once you are happy with the arrangements put the plants in place.

External power filter, used mainly for biological and mechanical filtration. No chemical filtration, as this would remove vital trace elements needed for plant growth. Because of the large number of plants reduce the normal level of filtration and aim to filter the tank's volume of water once every 4 hours.

Use two or three tubes with spectrums for plant growth. The tubes must be the entire length of the aquarium and they must have properly made reflectors. This seems like a lot of light but without it the plants will fail regardless of what else you do.

Water Conditions
Temp. - 74°F to 78°F.
pH - 6.0 to 7.0
GH - 3 to 7
KH - 2 to 4
Ammonia/Nitrite - no trace
Nitrate - < 10ppm

All the fish will thrive on a diet of flake and live or frozen food. The bristle-nose catfish will also keep any algae at bay.

The herbivores will generally leave the plants alone if they are fed with -
- Lettuce
- Cooked peas without their skin
- Algae pellets/wafers
- Sliced cucumber

Omnivores will require flake food and some live or frozen food two or three times per week.

All the following plants will do well:
- Echinodorus amazonicus
- Dwarf sword plant (Echinodorus tenellus)
- Hair grass (Eleocharis acicularis)
- Amazon sword (Echinodorus paniculatus)
- Cabomba
- Myriophyllum

Once planted up the plants should be allowed to settle in for at least one week before the fish are introduced, but longer would be better. There must also be LOTS of plants if they are to out-compete the ever present algae.

The Fish
There are lots of suitable fish for this tank. Stocking level should be kept reasonably low for the best and most natural effect - try to keep to just one third of the normal stocking density.
- Almost all of the small tetras
- Hatchetfish
- Pencilfish
- Larger characins (such as silver dollars)
- Bristle-nose catfish.
- Whiptail catfish
- Angelfish (but not with small tetras)
- Discus (need a high temp. and the plants may not thrive)
- Corydoras catfish
- Dwarf cichlids

Fish, Tanks and Ponds 2002 - 2004 All Rights Reserved


Author: Andy Gordon and Michelle Stuart
Title: The Amazon Biotope Aquarium
Summary: How to set-up, stock and maintain an aquarium that replicates the Amazon watershed.
Contact for editing purposes:
email: Michelle Stuart:
Date first published: 2003
Publication: Andy and Michelle's web site:
Reprinted from Aquarticles: ARTICLE USE:
Internet publication (club or non-profit web site):
1. Credit author, original publication, and Aquarticles.
2. Link to and original website if applicable.
3. Advise Aquarticles
Printed publication:
Mail THREE printed copies to:
#205 - 5525 West Boulevard
Vancouver, British Columbia
V6M 3W6
We will forward one each to Andy and Michelle.
Last edited: