Freshwater Styles

Updated May 23, 2023.

Warning! This article includes personal opinions and speculations!

Chapter shortcuts:

· Introduction to freshwater styles

· I suggest to ask yourself

· Normal common standard aquarium styles

· Great lake cichlids aquarium styles

· Big monster fishes, tankbusters aquarium/pond styles

· Mini monster fishes, small predator aquarium styles

· Killitank styles

· Livebearer styles

· Nano styles

· Biotope styles

· Biotype, biotopy, or environment type styles

· Dutch planted aquarium aquascape style

· Nature aquarium, planted aquascape styles

· Paludarium styles

· Undergravel filter (UGF) aquarium styles

· Dirted aquarium styles

· Underground cave style

· Mud/clay pond style

· Rubber lined pond, with bog and waterfall, aquascape style

· DIY, home made elaborate background styles

· Commercially produced 3D backgrounds and inserts styles

· Suspended rock styles

· Bare bottomed aquarium styles

· Plastic fintastic styles

· Outro comments

Introduction to freshwater styles:

There are different styles of keeping freshwater aquariums and ponds.

Several main styles are based on different ways of thinking, that follow different philosophies and aim towards different goals. The main styles may focus on different aspects, on how to run the aquarium, on what inhabits the aquarium, and/or how the habitats are set up. The main styles can be further divided into several branch styles, that may be more, or less, extreme. Some of the branch styles share parallel commonality traits, with branch styles from other main styles, and/or may sometimes be identical, making those branch styles part of more than one main style, in a multidimensional web of styles.

Aquarists may also choose to make their own combination styles. Parts of the ideologies from more than one main style, and/or branch style, can sometimes be combined inside the same aquarium, and/or using several connected aquariums, sumps, refugiums, special filtration systems etc.

Different types of filters have their uses, in the hobby and the industry. Unfiltered freshwater styles also have their places. If it works, it's not an issue about who's doing it right, or who's doing it wrong. It's about recognizing that there are lots of different ways to do something. Aquarists and other aquarium keepers/observers have different personalites and experiences. There are lots of different freshwater styles, that have potential to work, that can provide a healthy environment to live in, for fishes and other inhabitants to thrive.

Some aquarists are set in their ways and go all in with one style, or a few similar/compatible styles. Other aquarists remain much more open and like to use different styles for different projects, but it is still common for aquarists to have one, or a few, favorite styles.

Usually, something (either good, or bad) may happen, that from that point forward sets a psycological personal preference (or obsession etc.). This may last a lifetime in some people, or maybe only a short period of time, depending on the individual person's personality and what events may continue to develop. Interaction with other aquarists, visiting public aquariums, viewing impactful aquaristic videos, and/or reading aquarium books and so on, may either change, or confirm, your choice of favorite freshwater styles. You may also want to try experiments and tweaks to your own setups, to see what works best for you.

All freshwater styles don't work for everyone, on all occasions, in every circumstance. There are plenty of examples of people with bad experiences, from trying one, or several, freshwater styles. Such experiences, that unfortunately ended badly for them, often make those people afraid, and/or repulsed, by all similar freshwater styles, and/or the entire hobby and industry. In redeemable cases, some people may try other freshwater styles, or get some good advice from someone. Perhaps, those people may do a lot better with those other freshwater styles, or the advice may help them to succeed in becoming happy aquarists. However, in less fortunate cases, the people may give up, become bitter and start spreading anti petkeeping propaganda.

It is human nature to blame the freshwater styles when things go wrong, but sometimes its more of a compatibility issue, or an accident. Such issues and disasters may, or may not, have been preventable, and/or predictable, with common sense, and/or long time experience.

The issues and disasters may be related to almost anything. It may be related to, for example, not understanding the nitrogen cycle, the local tap water getting flushed with chemicals, hurricanes/storms/flooding that cause electricity black outs, emersed grown plants that melt when planted submerged (since they do not have submersed grown leaves), a neighbor that feeds the fishes way too much during a vacation, a canister filter that starts leaking (perhaps when a hose gets chewed by a dog), accidentally buying sick/unhealthy fishes, or predatory tankbusters eating tankmates and get too big for their aquariums etc.

Choosing one, or more, freshwater styles that are highly compatible with your local circumstances, your way of life and your personality, can help you succeed and feel more motivated as an aquarist and as a person.

I suggest to ask yourself:

  • What are your goals with the specific aquatic setup?

    (Is it for the sake of your personal feelings, someone elses feelings, economical reasons, and/or fish breeding etc.)

  • What styles can help enhance feelings and emotions that you like?

    (Happiness/joy, relaxing/tranquility, amazement/awe, satisfaction/contentment, and/or inspiration etc.)

  • What styles gives you the best emotions when you observe it?

  • What styles do you think fit your personality to maintain?

    (Some people may enjoy pruning live plants and dosing plant nutrients meticulously. Other people may prefer something else.)

  • What sudden influences may happen during the next few decades?

    (Who takes care of your system if you get sick, or go on vacation? Do you sometimes have weather disasters, and/or temporary tap water issues? Are there any children, itchy fingered people, wild animals, or domestic animals, that may gain access to your system?)

  • What styles gives you fair chances of success?

    (Depending on your budget, prior experiences, electricity reliability, volume of water in the system, water available for water changes, time constraints, surrounding temperature etc.)

  • Do you enjoy difficult challenges, or do you prefer safer bets?

  • What styles do you really want try to keep, and/or continue keeping?

Below are a few examples, of some (but far from all) freshwater styles.

Normal common standard aquarium styles:

Aquariums with substrate/sand/gravel, but without an undergravel filter and also without nutrient enriched dirt. These aquariums may be filtered by external canister filter, and/or hang on back (HOB) filter, and/or internal cartridge filter, and/or internal matten filter, and/or small air driven sponge filter, and/or trickle filter, and/or fluidized bed filter etc.

Great lake cichlids aquarium styles:

Often populated with cichlids from the African Rift Valley, including Lake Malawi, Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyka and other lakes in Rift Valley.

Central American cichlids from Lake Nicaragua and its surroundings may also be kepts in similiar ways, as the African Rift Valley cichlids. Lake Nicaragua in Central America, although on a different continent, share some similar traits with the African Rift Valley lakes.

Some cichlids, usually males, may sometimes digg, making breeding pits, or excavating caves under rocks, or moving sand from shells etc.

In aquariums, the cichlids may either be separated, or grouped, by size and compatibility, and/or their behavior and their preferred natural environment type, or may be separated by lake, or even separated by each specific location in a specific lake, that they originate from.

Some catfishes, and/or loaches, and/or labeos, and/or eels, and/or puffers etc., may also get to be permanent guests. Some of these permanent guests may originate from the great lakes, while some of them don't. A few cichlids from other places may also become tankmates, if they can adapt to similar water etc.

  • Community Central American and African great lakes cichlids style.

  • Community Lake Nicaragua cichlids style.

  • Community Rift Valley cichlids style.

  • Community Lake Malawi cichlids style.

  • Community Lake Victoria cichlids style.

  • Community Lake Tanganyika cichlids style.

  • "Haps" cichlids style.
    Focusing on Haplochromis and similar cichlids from Rift Valley.

  • Mbuna cichlids style.
    Focusing on mbunas from Lake Malawi.

  • Tropheus cichlids style.
    Focusing on Tropheus from Lake Tanganyika.

  • Peacock cichlid breeding group style.
    Focusing on keeping both males and females of a specific species/variant of peacock cichlid from Lake Malawi.

  • Peacock cichlids males style.
    Focusing on keeping only males of various colorful species/variant of peacock cichlids from Lake Malawi. When there are no females around, the behaviour of the males is generally much less aggressive towards each other, making it easier to keep the males together without females. The male peacock cichlids are generally much more colorful than female peacock cichlids. Dominant males are generally much more colorful than subdued/opressed males.

  • Frontosa group, Lake Tanganyika tankbuster cichlids style.
    Focusing on Cyphotilapia sp. from Lake Tanganyika. This style is both a specialized tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Tanganyika tilapia, Lake Tanganyika tankbuster cichlid style.
    Focusing on Tanganyika tilapia (Oreochromis tanganicae) from Lake Tanganyika. This style is both a specialized tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Giant cichlid, Lake Tanganyika tankbuster cichlid style.
    Focusing on giant cichlid (Boulengerochromis microlepis) from Lake Tanganyika. This style is both a specialized tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Wolf cichlid, Central American tankbuster cichlid style.
    Focusing on wolf cichlid (Parachromis dovii) from Lake Nicaragua and surrounding lakes. This style is both a specialized tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Petrochromis school cichlid style.
    Focusing on Petrochromis from Lake Tanganyika. This style is both a specialized borderline tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Community with large Malawi cichlids style.
    Focusing on various large cichlids from Lake Malawi. This style is both a specialized borderline tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

Big monster fishes, tankbusters aquarium/pond styles:

Tankbusters are monster fishes that grow too big and/or act like bullies and/or are very predatory. They do not fit into most normal sized community aquariums.

There may be a main aquarium an/or pond, but with monster fishes there is often an additional need for multiple grow out aquariums etc. There is sometimes "fish tetris" going on, which means moving fishes depending on their size, growth rate and temperament etc. Fishes that get bullied and/or injured may need to recover in a separate aquarium, and/or the bully may need a temporary time out in another aquarium.

Warning! Tankbusters are best kept by extreme enthusiasts, with huge aquariums and/or big ponds, devoted to monster fish. Some species of monster fishes are banned, and/or restricted, in several countries in the world and several states in the USA.

  • Community tankbusters style.
    Multiple different tankbusters can sometimes be kept together.

  • Freshwater stingrays, tankbusters style.
    Usually, focusing on Potamotrygon sp. from South America.

  • Giant gouramis, tankbusters style.

  • Oscar cichlids, "puppydog" tankbusters style.
    Focusing on Astronotus sp. as interactive pets.

  • Frontosa group, Lake Tanganyika tankbuster cichlids style.
    Focusing on Cyphotilapia sp. from Lake Tanganyika. This style is both a specialized tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Tanganyika tilapia, Lake Tanganyika tankbuster cichlid style.
    Focusing on Tanganyika tilapia (Oreochromis tanganicae) from Lake Tanganyika. This style is both a specialized tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Giant cichlid, Lake Tanganyika tankbuster cichlid style.
    Focusing on giant cichlid (Boulengerochromis microlepis) from Lake Tanganyika. This style is both a specialized tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Wolf cichlid, Central American tankbuster cichlid style.
    Focusing on wolf cichlid (Parachromis dovii) from Lake Nicaragua and surrounding lakes. This style is both a specialized tankbuster style and also a variant of the great lake cichlids aquarium style.

  • Red terror, South American tankbuster cichlid style.
    Focusing on red terror (Mesoheros festae), from Pacific coastal rivers in Ecuador and northern Peru.

  • Basses and/or peacock basses, tankbusters style.

  • Various big eels, tankbuster style.
    Focusing on big eels, such as fire eel, freshwater moray eel etc.

  • Electric eel, tankbuster style.

  • Big electric catfishes, tankbusters style.

  • Huge gluttonous maneating monster catfishes, tankbusters style.

  • Big gluttonous monster catfishes, tankbusters style.

  • Pacus, tankbusters style.

  • Piranhas school, tankbusters style.

  • Arrowanas, tankbusters style.

  • Arapaimas, tankbusters style.

  • Gars, tankbusters style.

  • Lungfishes, tankbusters style.

  • Big knife fishes, tankbusters style.

  • Big pike cichlids, tankbusters style.

  • Big bichirs, tankbusters style.

  • Big/huge snakeheads, tankbusters style.

Mini monster fishes, small predator aquarium styles:

Mini monster fishes don't grow extremely big, but some of them may still act like bullies and/or are very gluttonous/predatory. As adults they may still fit into medium sized, or large sized, aquariums. However, they may perhaps not be good tankmates with small community fishes, since the mini monster fishes may view them as prey. Mini monster fishes may perhaps, or perhaps not, be good tankmates to other fishes. Often it may depend on if the mini monster fishes can, or can't, fit the community fishes into their mouth, or may, or may not, view them as prey.

Warning! Some species of mini monster fishes are banned, and/or restricted, in several countries in the world and several states in the USA.

  • Various mini monster fishes, community style.

  • Gulper catfish style.

  • Small/medium sized electric catfishes style.

  • Various small/medium sized predatory catfishes style.

  • Bucktooth tetra (Exodon paradoxus) style.

  • African butterly fish, freshwater butterflyfish (Pantodon buchholzi) style.

  • Small/medium sized freshwater puffer fish style.

  • Small/medium sized knife fish style.

  • Small/medium sized pike cichlids style.

  • Small/medium sized bichir (Polypterus), and/or ropefish/reedfish (Erpetoichthys calabaricus) style.

  • Small snakeheads style.

Related external links and references to this chapter:

Killitank styles:

Some killies may be kept in community aquariums, but most species of killies are best kept one species to each tank. Most killifish enhusiasts develop multiple tank syndrome (MTS). Breeders can send eggs through the snailmail to each other. It is strongly recommended that the tanks should be covered somehow, to prevent the killies from jumping out. Spawning mops, made from acrylic yarn and a floating cork (or a piece of styrofoam), is commonly used for breeding killies in captivity. The killies may also choose to spawn among the plants, peat, leaves, or coconut husk fibers etc.

A few of the commonly available killies in pet stores:

· Blue lyretail (Fundulopanchax gardneri)
· Golden wonder killifish (Aplochelius lineatus "gold")
· The common lyretail (Aphyosemion australe)

Killitank branch styles:

  • Densely planted killitank style.
    Some aquariums with killies are set up with very dense plantation, usually with java moss, or similar plants. Usually, the plants fill/cover about 80 percent of the tank water volume.

  • Blackwater killitank style.
    Some aquariums with killies are set up with fallen leaves, peat and/or coconut husk fibers. This style often has a strong yellow/brown hue to the water, due to the tannins.

  • Tanganyika killitank style.
    Aquariums with Tanganyika killifish (Lamprichthys tanganicanus) are usually set up with plenty of flat stones, since the females prefer to scatter their eggs in stone crevices when they spawn, although java moss may suffice as a substitute. The water and environment share similarities with aquariums for cichlids from Lake Tanganyika.

Related external links and references to this chapter:

Livebearer styles:

Endler's, guppies, mollies, swordtails, platies, limias etc. Most livebearer enhusiasts develop multiple tank syndrome (MTS), keeping and breeding different color varieties, fin varieties, wild strains, or mutts, hybrids etc.

Nano styles:

Nano fishes is a general stereotype of small fishes, which do not grow as large, even at adult age, as most other common aquarium fishes. Nano fishes can be kept either in small aquariums (nano tanks), or in medium sized, or larger, aquariums.

It is generally not recommended to keep nano fishes together with larger fishes that may eat them, or bully them, but there are some exceptions, since some fishes don't seem to bother with adult nano fishes. However, if you want to breed nano fishes, their eggs, and/or fry, should also be taken into account, when selecting tankmates, in case the eggs, and/or fry, may be seen as food by the tankmates.

Various small shrimps, and/or snails, can be kept by themselves, or together with nano fishes, in nano tanks, or in tanks of other sizes.

Biotope styles:

Please, notice the second "o" in the word biotope. All fishes and plants need to originate from the same very limited geographical region. (For example from the same location next to a specific part of the coast in a specific lake, or the same part of a river system etc.) They should all together, as closely as practially possible, mimic a natural wild population in a specific real biotope in nature. Some biotope enthusiasts go even further, by choosing only specific snails, shrimps, frogs, fallen terrestial plant leaves and submerged wood, stones, sand, clay and so on, that all originate from the same geographical place.

The water parameters, water flow and water tint (color hue), should also somewhat mimic the original biotope in the wild, where the species live. If practically possible, it is an authentic advantage (but not a necessity) to use algae and other microorganisms collected from the same original biotope. Biotope aquascapes should mimic nature and look very realistic with a bit of randomness and, usually, some decaying plant matter, as long as it also exists in the specific natural biotope being simulated.

Related external links and references to this chapter:

Biotype, biotopy, or environment type styles:

Please, notice the letter "y" in the words biotype, biotopy and type. There is confusion about exactly what to call it. The words to describe this concept in English are not fully mainstream popularized and fixed yet. Unfortunately, the words to call this concept in English can be confusing. It is because of other biological meanings of the same words and also other words that sound almost the same.

In a biotype aquarium (or whatever you prefer to call it), atleast the majority of the fishes and plants should originate from a similar type of water, with similar type of water parameters and a generally similar naturalistic ecological habitat niche environment type in the wild.

There is no emphasis on whatever actual geographical position they originate from, unless you yourself choose to limit yourself to make it so. Fishes, plants, amphibians, invertebrates (and so on) can be mixed, if they all live in a general type of natural environment, that somewhat resemble each other's natural environment, even if they originate from different continents. However, if you so choose, you can optionally limit yourself to a specific continent, or other general broad geographical zone, but the fishes do not have to originate from the same exact location.

For example, in a very big lake there are probably hundreds, perhaps thousands, of distinctly separated biotopes. (Isolated habitats, in specific parts of the lake.) In a biotype aquarium, it is permissible to mix species, or local population variants, from different parts of the lake, that do not naturally live together i the same specific biotope location in the wild. It is ok to mix fishes from different biotopes in a biotype aquarium, as long as they originate from a generally similar type of environment.

The environment in a biotype aquarium should, preferably, somewhat visually resemble that same mutual general type of natural environment. There is no geographical emphasis on the origin of the sand, gravel, wood, and/or other decorations. It is possible to keep man made breeding strains and hybrids in a biotype aquarium, even though the may not exist in nature. It is ok, as long as their different ancestors originated from that similar type of environment, but a few exceptions may also be allowed. It is preferable if most of the fishes and other inhabitants look somewhat natural, but it is not strictly necessary, so exceptions can be allowed.

Warning! Biotype aquariums are, unfortunately, often wrongfully labeled as biotope aquariums. This confusion is especially common when a biotype aquarium is inspired by a specific biotope, lake, or river system. Most of the fishes may come from generally the same geographical area. However, unless ALL of the specific fishes in the aquarium can actually be found living naturally together in the wild, preferably before modern humans started moving fishes all around the world (leading to local changes and establishing invasive feral populations etc.), it is not really a biotope aquarium. Even if all fishes accurately originate from the same place, if the species of plants in the aquarium can't also be found in the same specific place in nature as the fishes, it is still not really a biotope aquarium. Such partially specialized biotype aquariums may, perhaps, be called: "Biotope inspired biotype aquariums."

Dutch planted aquarium aquascape style:

The Dutch style of planted aquariums, that was first popularized in the 1930's in the Netherlands, require frequent plant trimming. After some time, if the plants are regulary trimmed in a skillful manner, the Dutch style aquascape may resemble a classic European royal garden.

Traditionally, there is usually no wood, no large stones and no other decorations used, although exceptions can be made. Plants with contrasting colors, different height and different texture, will form a living artwork. The plants are usually planted in small sized gravel, with clay, or laterite. Plant fertilizers are regulary dosed, usually including nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, iron and minerals. The plants are frequently inspected, to see if they exhibit signs of lacking any specific nutrients, or exhibiting algae growth etc. In modern times, to increase plant growth and give the plants an advantage when competing against algae, extra CO2 is now usually added.

Related external links and references to this chapter:

Nature aquarium, planted aquascape styles:

Invented and made popular by Takashi Amano, nature aquarium planted aquascapes often resemble miniature Asian gardens, and/or miniature terrestial landscapes (sometimes, but not always, in a diorama style). The aquascapes often, but not always, make use of both plants and hardscape (wood, special decorative stones, steep slopes etc.), usually in visual harmony. Rocks in the aquarium may correspond to boulders and mountains in terrestial landscapes.

There is often use of layout framing concept rules, related to landscape photography and art, such as, for example, the golden rule, or the rule of thirds. Often (but not always) a dao path, or a few dao paths, may lead the viewer's sight through the aquascape, into an imaginary horizon, around a bend, or over a mound.

Amano shrimp (popularized by Takashi Amano) and a few, carefully selected, species of algae-eating fishes are often added as a cleaning crew. Snails and various species of shrimps, may join the cleaning crew.

To increase plant growth and give the plants an advantage when competing against algae, CO2 injection is usually used. The use of regulated CO2 injection into planted aquariums was also invented and made popular by Takashi Amano. Takashi Amano used Riccia and several other plants in ways that other aquarists had not imagined possible. It was made practical thanks to CO2 injection, pruning, the use of bonding threads, layers of substrate, and/or preparation in dampened emersed conditions etc.

The use of high quality specialized stainless steel aquascaping tools, such as various tweezers and scissors, was also popularized by Takashi Amano. Other aquascaping tools and equipment, such as various brushes, spray bottles, mist makers, strainers, trays, cups and so on, may also be used. Aquascaping tools and aquarium maintenance tools can make planting, pruning, algae removal and various scaping easier, more enjoyable and/or efficient. Aquascapers often develop personal preferences for some of the specific tools and generally use them more than others.

A few branch styles has emerged, also from Takashi Amano, such as the iwagumi aquascape style, the ryoboku and the Wabi-Kusa. Diorama is also a style that can be either incorporated into, or onto, a nature aquarium, but diorama may also be merged with many other freshwater styles and is not exclusive to nature aquarium.

The nature aquarium jungle planted aquascape style is also a legacy from Takashi Amano. A simple wild grown jungle style was already in use earlier, but Takashi Amano evolved the jungle style. Takashi Amano included the jungle style in some of his aquascapes, fusing it with the nature aquarium style, taking the jungle style to a new level.

Related external links and references to this chapter:

Paludarium styles:

A paludarium, also known as aquaterrarium, or waterfall aquarium, is a combination of an aquarium and a terrarium.

The plural form of paludarium (more than one paludarium), can be paludaria, or paludariums. Both options are valid, so you are free to choose which option you prefer to use.

There is also a type of paluarium that is called a riparium, that focus on the riparian zone (the riparian area).

Paludariums are often used to provide a habitat for amhibians, or other semi-aquatic animals, such as crabs, or reptiles. There is both an aquatic part (sometimes with fishes swimming in the water) and a terrestial part with land and/or a wall, inside the paludarium. Paludariums usually have high air humidity and often, more or less, mimic swamps. A paludarium may also act as a type of aquaponics setup, if the water from the aquatic part provides nutrients to emersed growing plants.

In modern times, automatic mist makers and sprinklers are often used to keep the paludariums wet, moist and humid. In some types of modern paludariums, without big animals in the terrestial part, but lots of plants, CO2 injection to increase plant growth may be used.

Related external links and references to this chapter:

Undergravel filter (UGF) aquarium styles:

Undergravel filters can be spread out throughout the whole bottom of the aquarium, or a part of the bottom, or in a separate container etc.

  • Undergravel filter with very fast down flow.
    Water is sucked down through the gravel quickly.

  • Undergravel filter with regular down flow.
    Water is sucked down through the gravel at medium speed.

  • Non flowing, or very slow flowing, undergravel filter.
    Water is not continiously flowing much, if at all, through the gravel. Muck will still continiously, but very slowly, settle and collect loosley in the gravel bed. However, during regular water changes, the gravel may quickly and easily get flushed through with aquarium water. It is a simple way to remove excessive loose muck, together with the discarded water.

  • Reverse undergravel filter.
    Pre-filtered water, usually from a canister filter, is pushed upwards through the gravel.

Dirted aquarium styles:

Waterlogged dirt (soil), that preferably (but not necessarily) has been mixed with a carefully selected recipe of various nutritious compounds, is placed and spread out on the bottom of the aquarium, then capped with a layer of sand. Some aquarists use gravel, or a mix of gravel and sand, instead of only sand, but sand seems to generally work better than gravel. The best grain size and the thickness of the cap layer is up for debate, but a smaller grain size, of relatively fine sand, allows the cap layer to be slightly thinner and still do its job, compared to a cap layer of coarse sand, or gravel. The choice of grain size may also depend on the preferences of the species of rooted plants and the species of fishes.

Generally, the waterlogged dirt layer is suggested to be about one inch (about 2-3 cm) thick. You can get away with a thinner layer of waterlogged dirt, if you do not plan to keep the aquarium going for more than a year, but if you want most of the nutrients in the waterlogged dirt to last for several years, or maybe decades, it is better to use a thicker layer. You may want to have a slightly thicker layer of waterlogged dirt in the back of the aquarium, compared to the front of the aquarium, because you are more likely to put large rooted plants in the back of the aquarium.

Generally, the cap layer is suggested to be about two to three inches (about 5-8 cm) thick. A rule of thumb is to have a cap layer that is atleast twice as thick as the waterlogged dirt layer on the same spot. If you have chosen to make the waterlogged dirt layer thicker at the back of the aquarium, you should also make the cap layer thicker there.

The layer of sand prevents excessive oxygen gas O2 in the open water column from reaching down into the dirtmix. This creates an anaerobic and anoxic environment in the dirtmix. Anoxic and anaerobic microbial life forms live the in the dirtmix. Rooted plants can use their roots to reach down and extract nutrients from the dirtmix below the sand. The layer of sand prevents excessive nutrients from leaking directly up into the water column above the sand. This prevents algae and cyano bacteria, above the sand, from directly taking advantage of the nutrients in the dirtmix.

Dirted aquarium styles are also known as dirted tanks, or the Walstad Method, named after Diana Walstad who wrote the book Ecology of the Planted Aquarium. Dirted aquarium styles have evolved over the years and may not completely follow how Diana Walstad used to do things. Father Fish (Louis Foxwell) and other aquarists have made adjustments and continue to try to make improvements, while spreading their tips, personal conclusions and opinions.

Often, part of the goal of this kind of setup is to let the aquarium develop a food web and let it take care of itself. It will become like a diverse miniature eco system, a slice of nature. Fallen leaves and pieces of wood may be added to the dirted aquarium, if you aim for a biotype that requires it. Usually, it doesn't need much maintenance and can go for long periods of time without feeding. Fish fry and small fishes usually find lots of small organisms to eat in dirted aquariums, making it easy to raise fish fry into juveniles, without having to frequently feed them yourself.

Aquarists with dirted aquariums, that have comparatively low fish bioload, usually only top up water, to replace the water that evaporates. They normally try to avoid doing actual water changes, or only do small partial water changes sparingly. Some dirted aquarium keepers may occasionally do a waterchange, usually with rainwater, or RO/DI water, to trigger some fishes to spawn.

Dirted aquarium keepers usually prioritize enjoyment and a naturalistic stable aquarium, with less work compared to aquarists who prefer most other styles. Some aquarists keep many dirted aquariums, since each aquarium doesn't require much time, or effort, to maintain. Dirted aquarium keepers may get more time to enjoy their aquariums, when they feel like it, but mostly sit back and relax, or periodically get busy with other time demanding things in their life.

It is possible to add additional filtration and/or circulation of the water in a dirted aquarium, but many dirted aquarists choose to not do so, or only add some minimal filtration, or sometimes connect several aquariums together. Connecting individual aquariums to each other into a system, if done in a good way, can lead to water quality stability benefits.

Warning! In dirted aquariums, I suggest to avoid keeping fishes that are extreme diggers, and/or burrow themselves deep into the substrate. Furthermore, if you happen to have circulating water and fine sand in the aquarium, be extra careful how you direct the water flow. The water current may move the sand and create danger of diminishing the thickness of the layer of sand above the dirtmix in certain spots, where the water current is strong. In a bad case, the water flow may excavate a deep crater in the fine sand and may even expose the dirtmix. This is not allowed to happen in a dirted aquarium with a cap layer. Breaching the cap layer in this way can potentially create a very dangerous situation for the inhabitants in the aquarium.

  • Biotope dirted aquariums.
    Please, notice the letter "o" in the word biotope.

  • Biotype dirted aquariums.
    Please, notice the letter "y" in the word biotype.

  • Various dirted aquariums.

Related external links and references to this chapter:

Underground cave style:

Usually, aquariums with dim light, populated with blind cave tetras. The scape is usually very fake, but made to resemble a cave stereotype, often with imitations of stalactites and stalagmites.

Mud/clay pond style:

Koi in Japan are often grown out in mud ponds. Mud ponds have very low visibility, because of the stirred up mud and clay particles that gets suspended in the water column.

Rubber lined pond, with bog and waterfall, aquascape style:

Usually, a hole is dug, then some padding and one, or a few, sheets of rubber lining is used, preventing water from leaking out into the ground. Water is circulated from the pond up to a bog with plants. The water goes down a waterfall, back into the pond.

DIY, home made elaborate background styles:

  • DIY, moss background style.
    A mesh and/or mattenfilter is used as a base, growing java moss and similar types of plants.

  • DIY, cork bark background style.

  • DIY, sculptured styrofoam and/or polyurethane foam style.
    With varius types of coating etc.

  • DIY, real rocks background style.
    Real stones, gravel and sand siliconed to a wall.

  • Glass mirror background style.

Commercially produced 3D backgrounds and inserts styles:

There are several brands, of nature inspired 3D backgrounds and inserts, that are commercially produced for aquariums. Here is a short list with a few examples of such brands, and/or wholesalers of multiple brands.

Suspended rock styles:

  • Overgrown planet style.

  • Pandora/Avatar suspended floating mountains style.

Bare bottomed aquarium styles:

  • Bare bottomed laboratory and experimental aquariums.

  • Bare bottomed quarantine and treatment aquariums.

  • Bare bottomed wholesaler aquariums.

  • Bare bottomed fish breeding aquariums.

  • Bare bottomed aquariums for holding and/or breeding invertebrates.

  • Bare bottomed discus aquariums.

  • Bare bottomed betta tanks.
    Store holding tanks for male Bettas. These are controversial due to the often tiny tank size and often prolonged stress due to seeing other males for long periods of time. Some stores use very tiny individual cups, or bottles, right next to each other. Meanwhile, other stores use tanks of relatively more adequate size, sometimes connected to a central filtration system. They may also include ways to block the males from viewing each other, either permanently, or temporarily. Letting the male bettas sometimes view each other, for short periods of time, may give them some excitement and exercise, without prolonged stress. There are some regulations in the EU about betta tanks.

  • Almost bare bottomed aquariums.
    A small amount of sand, and/or gravel, sprinkled on the bottom.

  • Tiled bottomed aquariums.

Plastic fintastic styles:

  • Plastic shipwreck diver style.
    One, or a few, plastic shipwrecks, with bubbly plastic diver, bubbly treasure chest and maybe some green plastic plants.

  • Clown puke gravel style.
    Usually, with some glass marbles, plastic juwels, a no fishing sign, a hollow fake human skull cave and plastic plants in neon colors.

  • Green soccer field style. (European football style.)

  • Hawaii luau tiki volcano island style.

  • Disney's Frozen style.
    Frozen plastic castle. Let it go...

  • Star Wars style.
    Walkers and crashed spaceships. Figurines of Yoda, R2D2 etc.

  • Disco style.
    Tiny colored party lights, illuminated bubble wall, and/or disco ball.

  • SpongeBob SquarePants style.
    Pineapple house and figurines.

  • Smurf village style.

  • Lego style.

  • Nintendo style. (Super Mario Bros. style.)

  • Dinosaur style. (Jurassic Park/World/Dominion style.)

  • Fake skeletons style.

  • Western desert plastic diorama style.
    Fake plastic cacti and Grand Canyon vibes.

  • Fake coral style.
    Fake stony corals, fake anemones and fake marine rocks.

Outro comments:

This article is still under construction and iteration. I intend to slowly continue updating and adding more examples of freshwater styles to this article, while also iterating and adding more details, including more related external links and references etc.

Are you a beginner regarding freshwater aquatics? If so, before you decide on what style you want to try, I suggest also reading my article about freshwater aquarium basics.

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