Family Friend 1856, pp 192-197.


image of rectangular with a propagator jar aquarium in front

[THE remarks on Aquariums, made p. 130, having excited some interest, we are urged to enlarge, and, as regards the rock-work, to correct the instructions there given. The following article is contributed by one who has had great experience in forming Aquariums, and who is fully conversant with the treatment necessary to be observed towards its tiny occupants. His teaching must produce the most satisfactory results. We are indebted to the courtesy of Messrs. Dean & Son for the illustrations.-ED.]The novel experiment of attempting the domestication of marine and fresh-water animals has proved so successful, that vivaria have already taken a place among the indoor recreations of persons of taste; and the stupid old gold-fish globe has been abolished to make room for the more scientific tank, with its rare display of waterweeds and curious creatures. Although so short a time has elapsed since the public were admitted to a peep at the bottom of the sea, as exhibited in the tanks of the Regent's Park Gardens, the vivarium has already become a common household ornament, to share with the geraniums and the pet-birds in adding to the resources for tasteful recreation and study.
Scientific men had long felt the want of some simple means of keeping alive such creatures as lie out of the way of every-day observation, and several eminent zoologists had adopted cylindrical glass vessels, in which to preserve, for purposes of study, creatures which it was not possible to observe in their natural haunts, and which, except for such contrivances, could only be studied when defunct, and preserve in spirits. The experience acquired in this way led to the extension of the plan, and it was found that if sea-weeds were introduced to the vessels along with the animals a system of compensation was established, by which the two kinds of life mutually aided each other, and the Aquarium or Aqua-vivarium was the result.

An Aquarium is a collection of aquatic plants and animals placed in conditions as nearly natural as possible, so as to afford at all times a view of their modes of growth and reproduction, and of such particulars of their habits and economy as are open to observations through the medium of the glass vessel which contains them. It is the simplicity of the Aquarium that ensures its success, and most excites the admiration of the scientific observer; for, like the Wardian case, it is an adoption of the means employed by nature to secure to certain kinds of life the conditions essential to continuance and prosperity.

If we take the obsolete fish-globe which gold-fish have perished by do we find that, to maintain the lives of our pets, we must change the water frequently and whenever this is forgotten or neglected the fishes get exhausted, come to the surface to gulp air, and very soon perish. Their condition in such a vessel is analog to that of a number of persons shut in a room or dungeon with no supply of fresh air; the fish-globe is a sort of crystalline Hole of Calcutta, and the finny prisons die for want of oxygen.

But if, instead of changing the water - a troublesome and dangerous operation - we throw into the vessel a handful of common water-weed, gathered from nearest brook or river, a great change takes place; the fishes cease to show signs exhaustion, exchange their dull movement for playful gambols, catch flies at the surface, and in various ways show that thier health and happiness have been vastly increased. Unless the vessel be unduly crowded with fish, it will be found possible to discontinue entirely the changing of the water; or, if crowded, the necessity for a change will be less frequent.

The philosophy of the matter is very simple: the fishes exhaust the water of atmospheric air in the act of breathing, but the plants increase their substance by absorption of hydrogen, and in so doing, set oxygen free for the respiratory use of the fishes; so that in water, as on land, vegetable life performs the essential service providing animal life with the gaseous element of respiration.

A vessel containing aquatic animals and plants in a flourishing condition, is a miniature ocean or fresh-water lake, according as it may be a marine or, fresh-water Aquarium; the chemical changes that take place in it are of the same nature as those which take place in seas and rivers everywhere; and this imitation of nature is the foundation of every Aquarian experiment.

So far the construction of an Aquarium seems simple enough, but experience proves that many minor details must be studied to ensure success in the enterprise and pleasure in the result; and here we offer a few plain instructions on the domestic management of marine and fresh-water collections, the result of several years' experience, during which we have been so fortunate is to succeed in making many improvements in the management of both kinds of Aquaria.

The construction of suitable tanks offered the first difficulty: Dr. Badham and Mr. Gosse both paid high prices for very inferior vessels, but which, at that time, were thought admirable in their way. The late Professor Forbes, Professor Bell, and Mr. Yarrell had, for many years, no better vessels than tall cylinders, similar to confectioners' glasses, or the tall glass jars used by druggists, and of very limited capacity. At last, Messrs. Pellatt, and Mr. Bowers of Ipswich, succeeded in producing cylindrical vessels of about fifteen gallons capacity, costing about fifteen shillings each, and these were regarded as triumphs of art for the service of science, though they could not be safely made of any greater capacity than twenty gallons, and were very liable to fracture even from mere change of temperature.

Such vessels were soon superseded by rectangular tanks, and the Messrs. Sanders and Woolcot first surmounted the difficulty of constructing these of sufficient strength to bear the enormous pressure to which they are subject, and of uniting the joints by means of Scott's cement, which accomplishes the firm union of the sheets of glass without communicating to the water any poisonous taint. The first tank made by them proved so successful that Mr. Mitchell, the enterprising secretary to the Zoological Society, at once determined to produce an exhibition, and the Aqua-vivarium soon became the most attractive feature of an establishment which might have been thought to have exhausted the exhibitional resources of the animal world.

The next step was to unite the Wardian case and the fish-tank together, for the growth of water-weeds and fish below, and ferns above. This experiment is on the eve of completion, and the public will shortly, be delighted with the spectacle afforded by the combination of two ingenious contrivances - the mimic lake below, with its green banners and aquatic flowers, peopled by the curious creatures of inland waters; and above, the rockery with its waving ferns drooping over the water's edge, or towering aloft, under the shelter of a spacious glass dome.

But a tank is expensive, and cylindrical vessels must still be used by those who cannot afford plate-glass and mahogany. Fortunately, the mechanical imperfections of the cylinder are now compensated by its cheapness; for, while Dr. Badham and Mr. Gosse were racking the brains of anxious glass manufacturers, every glass warehouse contained a much better and far cheaper form of vessel than any produced for those gentlemen by the united efforts of suggestiveness and mechanical skill; and glassblowers need no longer torture their wits, or waste their breath, to produce expensive vessels that only partially serve the purpose. Mr. Hall, an experienced taxidermist of Finsbury, solved the difficulty in an instant, by turning a common propagating glass upside down, and, by this happy thought, abolished the objectionable cylinders, and brought the Aquarium within the means of the humblest student or poorest schoolmaster that ever had a taste for natural history.

From that time an Aquarium was as accessible as a few pots of mignonette, and actually cost less than a singing canary. The propagator may be obtained almost anywhere; its form is so far regular, that the objects within are but lightly magnified, and by no means distorted; and it can be stood upon a properly turned foot, or on a wooden box with a hole in the centre, or even upon a common seed-pan or flower-pot; the price of this simple tank is as low as a shilling for a small size, and no more than seven for the largest, the latter holding from twelve to fifteen gallons of water.

But it was soon found that the propagator might be improved. The writer of this suggested to a London manufacturer - Mr. Phillips, of 116, Bishopsgate Without - the advisability of producing a vase-shaped vessel, in the form of a major convolvulus, and this suggestion has been carried out. The bell-glasses of this new pattern are made of stouter and whiter glass than usual; and that portion of the sides between the spreading of the lip and the base on which the vessel rests, is rendered as nearly straight as possible, so that a distinct view is obtained of the whole of the mid-water, which always affords the most interesting view.

Supposing the student to have made his choice of a vessel, his next step will be to determine whether it shall be stocked with marine or fresh-water specimens; marine stock is the most expensive, and the most difficult to manage. One great difficulty of the marine tank, that of obtaining fresh sea-water, is obviated by the use of the pre pared marine salts, by means of which we can manufacture sea-water out of the water-butt; and, more interesting still, if properly managed, this artificial sea-water is in some respects preferable to the genuine article, on account of its freedom from organic matter.

But those who use artificial sea-water for the first time need a caution. As at present prepared, it is not so pure as might be desired, and it deposits a reddish sediment consisting of oxide of iron and particles of lime and sand. To obviate the consequences of such impurities, it is advisable to dissolve it in a separate vessel placed at a higher level than the tank into which it is to be transferred. First place your tank as it is to remain, -for when filled you will be unable to move it, - then dissolve the salts in clear spring or river-water, and test its strength by the hydrometer till its specific gravity is 1.028. It should be left undisturbed for four-and-twenty hours, in order that any sediment may be deposited; and it may then be drawn off into the tank by means of a syphon of glass or gutta percha, and the deposit left behind. The object of placing the pan at a higher level than the tank, is to facilitate the action of the syphon. A loose glass lid, to keep out dust, is a necessary addition to the tank in any case.

In stocking, a marine tank, a stratum of sea-sand and pebbles should first be laid down, or, if these are not easily procurable, common silver-sand may be used if the precaution be taken to wash it well previously, so as to dissolve out any solvent matters. From this point the difficulties begin. A beginner may introduce plants that speedily, decay, and animals that perish in a day or two. If a sea-side rambler, he may gather many curiosities for the tank, and soon have the mortification of finding that some of the prettiest of his specimens have ruined the whole by their rapid decomposition.

But if the specific gravity be first a acurately tested, one or two plants of the genus Ulva, or sea-lettuce, should first be introduced, then one or two of the genus Enteromorpha and in eight or nine days these will convey to the water certain properties which fit it for the reception of animals. Long experience proves that plants of any genus, except the two first-named, are utterly unsuitable for a new tank, and many months must elapse before Rhodosperms and other delicate weeds can be used with safety. The fact is, that artificial seawater is deficient of some minute quantities of certain chemical ingredients, as iodine and bromine, for instance and in process of time, these materials are communicated to it by the Ulva and Enteromorpha and it becomes fitted for more delicately constituted plants and animals.

If fully exposed to the daylight, the seaweeds will in the course of eight or ten days disseminate their spores, and the stones at the bottom will begin to evolve from their surfaces bubbles of oxygen. Now common sorts of anemones may be introduced, such as Actinia Mesembryanthemum, A. clavata, and A. bellis, but crassicornis and Anthea cereus are delicate for early experiments.

Some pretty molluscs maybe introduced at the earliest stages, if all goes well, even a few days after the sea-weeds, especially species of Trochus and any of the common sorts of periwinkle. Bivalves are less hardy; another ten days ought to elapse before specinema of Venus and Pallustra are added. When the last named are introduced, a few Chitons, Scallops and Aplysia may be added. As the weeds grow, there will be oxygen sufficient to render the initiation of crustaceans safe, and such crabs as the fiddler, the soldier, and the pretty strawberry crab may follow, as well as a few prawns and shrimps.

The time will now come for increasing the amount of vegetation, and Laminaria, phyllitis, Cladophora rupestris, Rhodymenia palmata,, and the lovely Griffithsia, with the curious Padina if you can get it and indeed any green or red weeds except tangle and oar-weed.
Marine fishes are suitable for none but very ripe tanks, and even then are difficult to preserve for any length of time. Gobies, blennies and wrasses are, however, too beautiful not to be worth an effort to domesticate them, and the experience gained in establishing the collection will enable the possessor to proceed with proper caution in the introduction of such lively and intelligent inmates. If the weeds hang out their gay banners and put out their slander fingers with certain signs of healthy growth, pipe fishes, suckers, marine sticklebacks, small lobsters, and nudibranch molluscs may follow, until an extensive collection is formed of creatures that we never before had opportunities of observing alive, many of which we were never previously acquainted with, even when dead.

As a domestic ornament, combining instruction with a novel kind of recreation, the fresh-water aquarium has already taken precedence of the marine, and will doubtless keep it. The marine tank is certainly the most attractive to the eyes of student, but the fresh-water tank is at once cheaper, more easily stocked, and managed, and unattended with the risks that beset marine life even under the most favourable circumstances. The nearest brook or pond will furnish fluviatile specimens, and generally speaking these are so easy of management that a child might set up a tank of this kind and maintain it in a flourishing condition.

Yet it must not be supposed that there is nothing to learn even is this case, though the experience acquired through many trials and disappointments may be very briefly told for the benefit of beginners. As a rule, it may be held that either rockwork or branching coral is a necessity as well as an ornament of a marine tank, but rock-work of any kind is a positive injury to a fresh-water collection; it soon gets covered with confervae, which is the greatest enemy to the collection. It may here be mentioned too, that propagating glasses are not strong enough to bear the weight of rock-work; and if they were, it is scarcely an ornament to any cylindrical vessel: so that in the case of marine stock, a piece of branching coral is the only ornament of the kind suited to a cylinder.

In forming the bed of the fresh-water tank, we should advise the use of sharp sand only with a few small pebbles, the whole well washed previously. Writers on aquarian subjects have invariably recommended the use of mould, but the tank can be kept more free from objectionable vegetable growths, and hence more brilliantly transparent, if pure sand be used, while all the ordinary weeds, Vallisneria, Anacharis, lilies, &c. grow just as well in sand as in mould, and if the barbel and stone loach are inclined to stir it up with their bearded snouts, there is no muddy deposit on the sides of the vessel in consequence. Indeed, when a hungry leach smells a worm, he will stir up the bottom as violently as a cook would stir up batter; and if there be any solvent matter there, the leaves of the Vallisneria and Stratoides will soon be coated with slime, and upon that slime fucus will soon appear.

As to the plants for a, fresh-water tank, there is scarcely a weed to be found in any brook or river but may be safely trans planted to it, a little washing and trimming being necessary to remove decay Vallisneria spiralis is essential for it is one of the best oxygen makers, a free grower, and very elegant in outline; the great water soldier (Stratoides) with its Spiny leaves shaped like those of the Yucca gloriosa, and with its elegant offshoots starting up like so many umbrella frames on very ling stems, is another good oxygen maker. The new water-weed Anacharis alsinastrum, the pretty Ranuculus aquatalis, Myriophyllum spicatum and Potamogeton of any species, besides the smaller kinds of water lily, flourish amazingly, and give the tank a fresh and luxuriant appearance. To those who live in the north, we commend a little plant which may be found on the shallow margins and lakes at great elevations. It is the pretty awl-wort, Subularia aquatica, a member of the extensive family of Cruciferae. It produces numerous rush-like leaves, each of them curved at the point like a cobbler's awl - whence its name; and in July sends up a little head of tetraform which blossoms strongly resembling those of the watercress. Though somewhat rare, it takes o its indoor home kindly, and blooms freely beneath the surface, very much to the astonishment of non-botanical observers.

Unlike the marine tank, the fresh-water vessel may be stocked with fishes and plants at the same time, but the precaution must be taken to throw in a few handfuls of some common weed, which should he left to float about and supply oxygen until the plants at the bottom have fairly taken root. A mass of floating weeds is a decided improvement to the tank, and creates a rich green shadow in which the fishes delight, and most of the succulent weeds from brooks will flourish in this way for many months, and even increase considerably by the numerous white rootlets they send down from their joints, some of which will probably reach the bottom and produce a forest of vegetation.

Among the animal stock, minnows, carp, barbel, stone loach, perch, dace, roach, bream, bleak and chub, and water lizards, are all suitable. Dace and roach are perhaps the most delicate, carp and minnows the most hardy. We have at the present time about a hundred of various kinds of fresh-water fish, some of them so tame as to take food from the hand, and even nibble the fingers sharply; they swarm to the side of the vessel when we tap on it with the finger nails, and will hunt a piece of bread or white of egg, as we move it up and down outside, in a lively style that would make phlegmatic dullness laugh itself into hysterics anytime.

The molluscs to be most strongly recommended are Planorbis corneus, a handsome snail of ram's-horn shape, Paludina Vivipara, all kinds of Lymnea, Bithinia tentacula, and the very useful bivalves , the swan mussel, Anoden cygneus, and the duck mussel, Unis pictorum. Thuogh we recommend these, we are bound to add that the Lymnea, though good cleaners, are given to the vice of eating the Vallisneria and the Stratoides; that Paludina is of little use as a cleaner, his beauty only recommending him; and that Planorbis is the best of all clearners, and rarely deserts the side of the vessel, where snails should remain as much as possible.

We seldom deed our marine stock, but occasionally the flesh of a cooked prawn, or a few minute shreds of mutton, may be given; fresh-water stick delight in the crumbs of home baked bread, white of egg minced very fine, soft insect food of any kind, particularly maggots and flies, and above all, small red worms. A romp may be got up at any time, by dropping in a lively worm; the minnows seize it and fight till they tear it in half; before they can gorge it. The loach attack them, and there is so much floundering, that the fragments of the worm are dropped in to the jaws of a newt, who seizes it in the manner of a cat seizing a mouse, and the game ends by the newt retaining a firm hold, with half the worm projectin from his mouth, and half a dozen fishes scrambling to tear it out, till the newt triumphs by a sullen pereverance, and gets the prey fairly swallowed, in little less than an hour, during the whole of which time it is worried, in vain by almost every one of its more lively neighbours.

In every case the success of an Aquarium depends uon the adjustment of a fair balance of forces and if care be taken to remove any matter that might decay and create corruption, and to introduce only as much animal life as the plants are capable of supplying with oxygen, death will then be a rare event. The water should not be changed at all, that is one of the leading features of the Aquarium, and if you cannot keep your stock in health without a change of water, depend upon it you have gone the wrong way to work, and must begin again de novo. An important matter is to avoid overstocking; keep down the amount of animal life, until the plants are strong, and then increase it slowly, so as to see your progress safely. Whenver you find your fishes gasping at the surface, be sure, that there is insufficiency of oxygen, and remove a few to another vessel; for when ever a fish stands upon his tail at the surface for any lingth of time, it is certain that desease is at work, and that his hours are numbered.

The use of a common syringe will revive the stock if accasion require it, and is a much more effectual method than the bee-glass recommended by Mr. Gosse; but in our opinion, aeratior is a troublesome operation, only necessrary to palliate the effects of most injudioious overcrowding. A good supply of plants, a full exposure to daylight, and with shelter from the sun only during the mid-day in summer, protection from frost in winter, and the avoidance of any sudden changes of temperature, such as might result from the keeping of large fires in a room one day and none at all the next, and an occasional supervision, and regular but moderate feeding, are the main elements of success; and for all the minor accidents, common sense will readily point out the proper course for sustaining the health of the tank and the happiness of its pretty inmates.

                                                                           woman and child looking at a large bowl aquarium

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