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February 14, 2014

Good day, folks!

China is not exactly known for its aquarium fish exports – most of the massive country falls into temperate zones and, as tropical fish hobbyists, we tend to get our pets from further south in Southeast Asia and Oceania.   However, there are a few species regularly available from China that are perfect for a hillstream biotope community!

First, the aquarium needs to be set up to replicate the hillstream habitat. A long tank is far better for this than any standard, taller sizes – a 20 gallon long aquarium would suit a small community, while the four foot 33 gallon long model could house quite a few more or larger fish. While not necessary, a canister filter with excess capacity is ideal – the spray bars included in these type of filters are an excellent way to get a fair unidirectional current. Currents can be further enhanced by the addition of powerheads at the sides of the tank, enhancing the flow from the filter. Most hillstreams are a bit on the cool side – 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit is typically suitable, though check your chosen species to be sure they’re not going to get too chilly in your hillstream habitat.

Aquascaping a hillstream biotope is quite simple – use plenty of smooth, water-worn rocks such as river rocks or tumbled pebbles, perhaps with a bit of sand, if desired. Grade the aquarium’s substrate if you like to provide greater viewing in the front of the aquarium and imitate the slope of a stream towards the bank, though this is not required for the comfort of your fish. This hardscaping is not particularly conducive to plants, however, a piece or two of wood can be used to emulate fallen branches or overhanging roots and, if desired, java ferns or Anubias can be rooted to this to add a bit of greenery.

When a hobbyist thinks of the hillstream, the most common fish to jump to mind is, of course, the hillstream loaches. P. laticeps “Chinese Red Tail Spotted Sucker Loach” has quite a mouthful of a common name but features gorgeous coloration -- the Loach displays beautiful golden tones over their spotted bodies and their dorsal and caudal fins are stunning bright red-orange.   P. laticeps only reaches two inches – if you are thinking of a 20 gallon long aquarium for your hillstream setup, P. laticeps would be a perfect choice in a group of four to five specimens.

Pseudogastromyzon laticeps

While these loaches will suitably habitate the substrate and glass surfaces of the aquarium, dining on awfwuchs and other algaes, another interesting Chinese hillstream bottom dweller is available – Rhinogobius brunneus “Wolf Goby”.  I’ve tried to find information on these fish but with little avail. We can tell you that typical specimens grow up to about two inches with exceptional males reaching three inches in length. While often listed as amphidromous, or migrating from fresh to saltwater and vice versa, adults live their lives in subtropical or temperate lakes and rivers. If these are anything like our other Rhinogobius species, the males will be slightly territorial to other males and show off by opening their mouths and flaring their gill plates. Mind you, this does not mean that specimens must be kept singly – provide enough rockwork to break the lines of sight between the R. brunneus specimens and enough floor space for each male to claim a territory. These lovely little gobies won’t bother your hillstream loaches or schooling fish: you don’t have to choose one or the other! Many other Rhinogobius species are also native to China and good fits for your hillstream tank as well, so choose the Goby that’s right for you!

Rhinogobius brunneus

With all these bottom dwellers, how will we fill the top of the aquarium? Most Danio and Rasbora species are native to Indonesia, Myanmar and India. While these fish are gorgeous and many Danio species a great option, if you don’t want to stick with only Chinese fish there is one beautiful and popular species of schooling hillstream fish native to our biotope habitat – Tanichthys albonubes, the “White Cloud Mountain Minnow”. Easy to care for and hardy, these little schooling fish enjoy swimming against the current of the hillstream habitat in the upper third of the water column. They won’t bother your substrate-dwelling loaches or gobies, though they are ravenous feeders and care should be taken to ensure the gobies get enough protein-rich foods – the White Clouds will show little interest in any green supplements to the loach’s diets. These beautiful golden-silver fish grow to just over an inch and display brilliant white lateral lines bounded below by a thin black pinstripe. Each unpaired fin is cherry red and rimmed in shining white and their snouts as well carry this cherry color. While these fish are beautiful, some folks prefer the fancy color morphs also available – T. albonubes is available in both the leucistic “Gold White Cloud” form as well as a long-finned variety.

Tanichthys albonubes

Tanichthys albonubes "Gold"

Tanichthys albonubes "Long Fin"

A hillstream aquarium can be presented in many different ways depending on the temperature and whether or not the source location for the fish is important – a school of small Danio choprae “Glowlight Danio” or the much larger and beautiful Barilius canarensis “Royal Danio” would look fabulous with shoals of Homaloptera tweediei “Tweedie’s Hillstream Loach” or Sewellia sp. “SEW01” “Spotted Hillstream Loach”, perhaps with a group of coolwater Corys such as Corydoras paleatus “Salt and Pepper Cory”. One could even construct a cool hillstream habitat with Macropodus operculatus “Blue Paradise Fish” as long as currents are kept to a moderate level. Slanted rockwork leaning with the current adds a sense of motion to a long tank absent when only rounded river rock is used. Most important when setting up a hillstream biotope is, of course, to have fun and create a habitat that both you and your fish will enjoy.

Thank you for reading once again!

Jessica Supalla