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Amazon biotope advice

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Ok guys, I am thinking about starting an Amazon biotope in a spare 29 gallon tank I have. Specifically I want to construct a natural habitat for my Sterbai Corydora. I really like these fish and want an environment where they feel secure and can establish a nice shoaling group. I am not really concerned with adding a variety of fish, I just want a bunch of cories with South American driftwood and maybe a few plants.

I have done some research into the Amazon biotope and have discovered that there are several classifications of Amazon water conditions. I found that cories are found in shallow streams of still water and that they frequent the sandy river banks to rummage for food. I know that they enjoy slightly acidic waters with low water hardness and warm, not quite tropical temperatures.

So my plan is to use a sandy substrate and some driftwood to mimic a sandy riverbank. I was thinking to add some moss to the driftwood and maybe a couple plants. I don't think plants are really a natural feature of the cory habitat but I think a couple plants would look nice as long as they are South American. Any suggestions for substrate, wood, or plants?

Or anyone with experience making an Amazon biotope that could give a few pointers would be great!
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For substrate: Dark sand or fine gravel or even Fluorite Black. I don't recommend Eco-Complete since it's sharp-ish, Fluorite, fine gravel, and sand are all rounded and with bottom-swimming fish, that's really important since Cories have sensitive whiskers.

For wood: Trees are everywhere in the Amazon so dead branches (driftwood) should litter the floor of the tank.

For plants: Amazon sword (obviously :p), A. Reineckii, Water Stargrass, Pennywort, and I think Christmas moss? are all plants that are typically found in an Amazonian setting. The problem is if you're not running a tank made for plants, these plants won't thrive. Amazon swords are heavy root feeders so you need to feed it root tabs and A. Reineckii is a red-leaved plant which means it needs high amounts of light to maintain that color. Don't know too much about stargrass but Pennywort and Christmas moss are easy to keep though.

For fish: Most tetras, bristlenose plecos, pencil fish, guppies, hatchetfish, dwarf rams, angelfish are all native to the Amazon
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks for the detailed suggestions Jack!

I have been looking at substrate today. I would prefer something that is dark in color or black and must be rounded grain. I have ruled out the Caribsea Tahitan Moon Sand because of the rough edges that can be found on some grains. I checked out the Fluorite black sand and although it looks like a great choice it is also $25 for each 15 lb bag. To get a good slope I estimate I need at least 3 to 4 bags at a considerable cost - no good. I am leaning toward finding a pool filter sand because it is so cheap, maybe something that is a darker brown or at least a good beige. So long as it is not white I could be satisfied.
 

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CaribSea has a nice sand called Sunset Gold. It is really small and soft. Kinda of a brownish-tan color.
I think Sterbai cories do like warmer water than most cories. I would look more into them on planetcatfish.com
You can go with plants or no plants. A lot of Amazonian waterways have very little plants, just sand, driftwood, and tannin-stained water. If you decide to go with plants you could also make it more realistic by not putting too many varieties of plants in the tank. Nature usually doesn't look like a dutch scape. XD But this is all up to you!
You can use peat in order to stain the water and reduce your GH and pH. This may be very helpful for fish health. I have an assumption that tannin-stained waters are better for fish health. Less bacteria growing in them.
You could add oak leaves or almond leaves, or other leaves to your tank. They will sink and the cories will like hiding around in the leaves. They will also help with staining the water and lowering GH and pH.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
I would love as dark a sand as possible because corydoras live in the muck and I want to try to recreate that feel with the tank. I saw a video of about 100-200 cories in their natural environment and it was a two foot deep river with a deep bank full of tree roots on one side and a wood lined, mucky mud looking shallow sloped bank to the other side. I know a soft substrate is important, but I don't want a tank full of stewing mud so a dark sand would be next best.

I am definitely putting driftwood in the tank. I would like to use some type of native South American wood if possible. I'm still looking into native woods. I might try a blackwater tank because I have oak leaves readily available. I'm not sure that Sterbai Cories are blackwater though...

I think I will keep plants to a minimum because there aren't many found in these shallow rivers. I was thinking that floating Amazon Frogbit would provide good shade and then maybe one other type.
 

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I was having fun looking for Corydoras in the wild too. Loved the video with all the Corydoras.

Medium brown muck, lots of wood and leaves and floaters sure. I also saw young lilies sprouting with bright red leaves. Perhaps you could use a lily?
 

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If you want a dark sand substrate look into black diamond blasting sand. $9 for a 50lb bag. Ive got it in my 75 gal planted. I have peppered, juli, skunk, and habrosus cories along with kuhli loaches. All love digging in the sand and all have healthy long barbels.
 

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I really like that you decided to set up a tank like this. It can be fun planning out a habitat for your fish and making it come to fruition.
I think your idea of adding frogbit is great! I remember reading that a lot of the amazon is dark stained waters and driftwood and a great deal of floating plant mass.
You should look into Red root floaters (Phyllanthus fluitans) and Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) for other floating plant ideas.
Red root floaters are beautiful and native to the Amazon basin. Water lettuce was not initially native, but due to human spread water lettuce grows throughout waterways in tropics throughout the world. If you look at pictures from the Amazon you can see the waters full of water lettuce. So I guess it would be an accurate plant for a biotope that's set in the present day. Hahaha.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
If you want a dark sand substrate look into black diamond blasting sand. $9 for a 50lb bag. Ive got it in my 75 gal planted. I have peppered, juli, skunk, and habrosus cories along with kuhli loaches. All love digging in the sand and all have healthy long barbels.
I looked up diamond blasting sand and it says that stuff is coal slag and the picture of the product labels it as a blasting abrasive. These things make me think that this might not be an ideal substrate for a soft bellied fish. I appreciate the suggestion but if I'm going to go cheap I'd rather end up with a lighter sand than a risky substrate.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I am looking forward to getting my first biotope started and I appreciate the suggestions from everyone!

I like the idea to use a thick floating plant mass and after seeing the red root floater I am sure that is exactly what I need. If I went with a blackwater or slightly blackwater tank those red root floaters would add at least a bit of color. The Amazon frogbit and some red root floaters would be a great start.

I want to get some driftwood to toss on the tank bottom part submerged in the sand and then maybe a good branch or two to angle into the water. I can't find South American driftwood anywhere so I am considering Manzinita. Does anyone know of a South American driftwood?
 

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A black sand that comes to mind is Fluorite Black Sand. Also Tahitian Moon Sand.
Idk how good Tahitian Moon Sand is for cories.
I have heard multiple cases where people keep soft bellied fish on Black Diamond blasting sand and they have no problems. It seems that poor water is what causes cories to lose their barbels, not really sharp gravel. However, I don't have hard proof of this. Sharp stuff probably isn't good for them anyway, but like I said it seems that people have successfully kept cories and loaches on the blasting sand.
As for the wood, you can always find your own in some woods near where you live. Most deciduous woods like oak/maple work well. You want to find wood that is old and dry. The bark should be sloughed off already, although it may be okay to use wood which still has the bark attached. Don't use any pine/cedar/yew or any wood that has a distinct pine or chemical odor.
I think finding real South American driftwood will be hard. I remember reading a South American biotope that George Farmer set up. He sourced a lot of things from South America...but one thing he didn't source was the driftwood.
I think Malaysian driftwood might look good in a South American tank. Also Manzanita. But again, if you want to save money you can just look into collecting your own wood. I found a nice piece recently and will be adding it to my tank.
 

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I looked up diamond blasting sand and it says that stuff is coal slag and the picture of the product labels it as a blasting abrasive. These things make me think that this might not be an ideal substrate for a soft bellied fish. I appreciate the suggestion but if I'm going to go cheap I'd rather end up with a lighter sand than a risky substrate.
I can see where you might be concerned, but if you read around on this forum as well as other you will find out that black diamond absolutely does not harm fish. I feared the same thing and did extensive research before making the decision. The particles in black diamond are no more abrasive than the silica in sand can be. If a soft skinned, scaleless Kuhli is happy burrowing in it, it definitely will not bother any fish. With a 29 gallon using actual aquarium substrate is a far more affordable option. With my 75 I needed 100lbs of sand so that pushed me toward the blasting sand as it was far more cost effective.

Bump: fishhes, what kind of bike are you rocking in your avatar?
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
If were to use black diamond blasting sand, which grain size is commonly used? Their website lists 5 different grain diameters. I assume a smaller grain is best but I have read that too small a grain diameter causes anaerobic gas pockets to form under the surface, like with play sand.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
I found a recommendation to use grain size 20-40 if I decide to go with the Black Diamond Blasting Sand. After what I have read about it, I don't see any reason not to either. It sounds like plenty of people have been growing plants in it and housing bottom feeders without problems.

Maybe a river bank undercut made of foam for something to hide under,
my Corydorus Swartzi's like to hide under the vegetation a lot.
I agree, I was thinking that I should provide some kind of hiding place. A river bank is what I'd like to try to simulate, but there are some space limitations in my 29 gallon tank. I was thinking about maybe finding a stump or larger split branch to position in the tank and then carving out a nook in the sand. I want to add some discarded wood around the tank floor as well , so that could add some shadows to duck under especially if I add some leaves. The problem is finding good driftwood and also that it all seems to be quite expensive. I suppose if I am saving on substrate...

I have never done anything with foam and I am not familiar with the process. Do you need to glaze or waterseal the foam after carving it?

Bump:
I can see where you might be concerned, but if you read around on this forum as well as other you will find out that black diamond absolutely does not harm fish. I feared the same thing and did extensive research before making the decision. The particles in black diamond are no more abrasive than the silica in sand can be. If a soft skinned, scaleless Kuhli is happy burrowing in it, it definitely will not bother any fish. With a 29 gallon using actual aquarium substrate is a far more affordable option. With my 75 I needed 100lbs of sand so that pushed me toward the blasting sand as it was far more cost effective.

Bump: fishhes, what kind of bike are you rocking in your avatar?
Thanks for the advice. I did look around a bit more and am convinced that the substrate itself doesn't cause any harmful effect.

The bike is an 09 Yamaha FZ1 that I stripped naked. It's a sweet bike, but I live in the midwest and can't ride for the next couple months so here I am.
 

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I made a foam background out of 1" thick pink insulation foam,
used spray adhesive glue to build up the thicker areas and painted
it with interior latex house paint then siliconed it to the glass.

edit:leave the back of the foam raw so the silicon sticks
or else the buoyancy of the foam could peel the paint off the foam.
 
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