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Custom aquariums or standard aquariums, saltwater or freshwater, aquarium terms will remain the same. No matter if you are an expert or beginner, chances are there are a few aquarium terms you don't know or never heard of. This page is devoted to those terms and brief descriptions. If you are new to the hobby it's best to get acquainted with the terminology before buying, after all, not all web sites or stores will be tolerant to someone that has not done some homework on the subject.

If you find a term and need equipment, check out our online store for most of the aquarium supplies you will need and even some that you don't. We are in the process of updating our shopping cart and therefore we do not list our entire line of aquarium supplies, but over the next few months we will have a complete line of aquarium supplies, reef aquarium supplies, acrylic aquariums, glass aquariums, reef tanks, coral decorations, aquarium lighting and aquarium stands and canopies.

Actinic: A type of lighting that provides the proper spectra for photosynthesis. Best used for aquariums with live plants or chlorophyll containing species such as reef coral.

Activated Carbon: Solid carbon which is used to adsorb impurities from the water, fresh water or salt water. It can also be used for removing residual ozone from the air and removing yellow tent from the water.

Alkaline: A water condition which has a pH higher than 7.0.

Air Pump: A pump which is used to deliver air to the aquarium. Air is delivered via an air line or in some cases, PVC pipe. The two main functions of an air pump is to deliver air to your fish via air stones, and is the key factor in UGF's (under gravel filters). An airstone is placed in each clear tube. As the air bubbles travel upward, they create a steady current which draws water from the bottom, through your gravel and back to the surface.

Algae: Self explanatory, but for those who do not know, it's the green stuff that often looks like mold. It's actually a plant and therefore loves the sunlight, one way to reduce the amount of unwanted algae is to remove or lessen the amount of direct sunlight on your aquarium.

Ammonia: This is the first step in the nitrogen cycle. Ammonia is generated by fish waste and by the decay of dead fish and plant material. This is one of the leading causes of fish death. Test your water often making sure your biological filtration is working properly. Always keep your ammonia level near zero. (Except when cycling your aquarium for the first time)

Ammonia Tower: A biological filtration system which consists of a plastic chamber with a biological filtration media. Water runs through the media, which mixes with the air, and reacts with the bacteria which serve to remove ammonia and nitrites. It is this wet / dry exchange that promotes bacterial growth. Most commonly referred to as a wet/dry filter.

Anaerobic: Living without oxygen. This is a living situation most commonly associated with "bad" bacteria.

Aragonite: This composes the calcium carbonate skeletons of reef coral and some shells.

Bacteria: Small single celled organisms from the Moneran kingdom. They are known as prokaryotes, which are classified together because they lack nuclear membranes. They are the most primitive living beings, but help in the nitrogen cycle.

Ballast: The power supply for fluorescent and metal halide lighting. This is usually the heavy black box that connects to your lights.

Biological Filtration: A loose term which describes the process of removing harmful compounds with bacteria. Actually, it is not filtration at all. Instead, it is the mixing of aquarium water with beneficial bacteria that transform harmful material into un harmful compounds. This process is accomplished by trickle filters (ammonia towers), UGF (under gravel filters) and various other specialty filters. This is also associated with the nitrogen cycle.

Berlin Method of Filtration: A biological method of filtration which involves only live rock and a protein skimmer.

Brackish Water: A type of water which is between fresh and marine climates. It is usually found where large lakes or rivers flow into the ocean. The salinity leans towards freshwater. Brine Shrimp: A very common food for fresh and marine water fish. They are very tiny crustaceans that are easy to breed and maintain for long periods of time. They are a great source of food for young fry. They grow to about 3/4 inches max.

Bubble Filter: This type of filter involves a few long, plastic tubes which remain upright in the aquarium and are attached to a plate on the bottom. In each tube is an air stone attached to an air pump. As the air bubbles rise, a current is generated which continuously brings water from the aquarium, through the substrate and to the top of the tubes.

Buffer: A substance used to treat the water and to counteract changes in the pH.

Bulk Head Fitting: Plastic fitting that goes through your aquarium to connect to various components outside your aquarium.

Canister Filter: A filter which pushes water through an external canister which contains a filter media such as filter floss, polyester or carbon. This type of filtration is mostly used on a closed loop system.

Carbon Dioxide: It is a molecule known as CO2, which is a bi product of respiration. Plants require CO2 to photosynthesize, which generates molecular oxygen.

Chemical Filtration: The process of filtering the water through a chemical substrate, most often activated carbon.

Chiller: Unit used to lower the waters temperature. Heat is generated from different sources, pump, lighting, ambient room temperature, check to see what your species optimum temperature range is.

Chloramine: Municipal water treatment and storage facilities use chloramines to treat water. It is easily removed with many commercially available additives; this is toxic to your fish. Always use a declorinator agent when adding new untreated water.

Chlorine: Municipal water treatment and storage facilities use chloramines to treat water. It is easily removed with many commercially available additives; this is toxic to your fish. Always use a declorinator agent when adding new untreated water.

Deionizer: A filtration device used to purify tap water before it is introduced into the aquarium. They are normally composed of many chemical and mechanical filtration media. Detritus: A mass of dissolved organic compounds. It is often noticeable as a layer of oily stuff or gunk that builds up in mechanical filter systems or under gravel filters.

Diatom Filter: Filters which use a diatomic filter media.

Dosing Pump: A pump which serves to maintain a specific water level in an aquarium. They can also be used to add a constant supply of additives or trace elements, much like a hospital IV.

External Filter: A filtration device which is kept outside of the aquarium. This could be any type of filtration, bio, chemical, and mechanical.

Fry: Newly hatched or born fish.

Genus: A scientific order of taxonomy which contains the names of species.

Gill: This is the respiratory organs used by fish. It allows dissolved oxygen to be extracted from the water in which the fish swim.

Hard Water: A water condition which has a lot of dissolved salts.

HO lighting: High Output fluorescent lighting.

Hydrogen Sulfide: Anaerobic. A molecule composed of a hydrogen and sulfur atom. It is a toxic compound which has a rotten egg odor. It is synthesized anaerobically by unwanted bacteria.

Internal Filter: A filtration unit which is kept inside the aquarium.

Invertebrates: Scientifically speaking, they are any animal which lacks a backbone. It is most commonly used to describe coral, but scientifically describes snails and other shelled fish. Iodine: A diatomic molecule consisting of two iodine elements. It is needed by reef invertebrates. Protein skimming may deplete the supply, so additions are quite necessary.

Kalkwasser: A term referring to water with dissolved calcium hydroxide. It is used to add inorganic calcium to the water.

Live Rock: A term used to associate the many strains of bacteria on rock which has been removed from part of a tropical reef. Live rock is essential for reef aquaria as it initiates and maintains the nitrogen cycle. It is the main element in the berlin method of filtration. This can be a very expensive and extremely sensitive.

Livebearer: A fish which gives birth to live young.

Mechanical Filtration: Filtration which serves to eliminate particles from the water. It is usually filters water through a substrate such as polyester, which can remove impurities as it passes through the media.

Metal Halide Lighting: Metal halide is considered by many to be a best method of lighting reef tanks. They burn much hotter than incandescent, high output (HO) and very high output (VHO) lighting. They deliver a very wide spectra of light which is in close association to natural light. Almost always, a chiller is needed when using this type of lighting.

Nitrification: This is the process in which the nitrogen cycle works. Ammonia is created by urea and decomposition. Ammonia is turned into nitrites by nitrosomonas bacteria. Nitrites are less harmful than bacteria, but still pose a threat. Nitrites are converted to nitrates by nitrobacter. Nitrates are much less toxic and is used as fertilizer for live plants. It is harmful in great quantities, however, and should be avoided in the reef tank. There are special denitrifying filters which convert nitrates to nitrogen gas, which is explosive in high quantities.

Nitrate: Chemically speaking, it is the molecule NO3, which contains a nitrogen atom, three oxygen atoms and a lone pair of electrons. It is the last stage of the aquarium nitrogen cycle and is converted from nitrites. In high concentrations, is harmful to aquatic animals.

Nitrites: Chemically speaking, it is the hybridized molecule NO2, which contains a nitrogen atom and two oxygen atoms. It is converted from free ammonia and is harmful at any level.

Nitrogen Cycle: Ammonia is created by urea and decomposition. Ammonia is turned into nitrites by nitrosomonas bacteria. Nitrites are less harmful than bacteria, but still pose a threat. Nitrites are converted to nitrates by nitrobacteria. Nitrates are much less toxic and is used as fertilizer for live plants. It is harmful in great quantities, however, and should be avoided in the reef tank. There are special denitrifying filters which convert nitrates to nitrogen gas, which is explosive in high quantities.

Ozone: Ozone gas is a molecule which consists of three oxygen molecules. It is naturally occurring in the earth's atmosphere at all levels and is essential to reef keeping. Ozone functions by sterilizing the water and relieving it of unwanted bacteria and microscopic organisms. Ozone is explosive and is harmful to fish and to humans, if in large quantities. Use caution when in direct contact with rubber, deterioration is rapid.

Peat: Peat is a moss which is used to soften water and to decrease the pH.

pH: (Power of Hydrogen) The pH of water is a scientific measurement that describes how acidic or alkaline (basic) the water is. A pH of 7 is neutral. Most freshwater fish prefer a neutral pH, or a pH between 6.5 and 7.5 Cichlids generally prefer a lower pH whereas livebearers prefer a slightly alkaline environment. Marine fish generally prefer a pH between 8.1 and 8.3.

Pectoral Fins: Fins located behind the gill covers. They are generally smaller and very delicate.

Photoperiod: Refers to the number of consecutive hours that light occurs in a day. In the aquarium, it is the number of hours that the lights are kept on.

Power filter: A power filter is a generic term used to describe any type of filtration that is powered by an electric pump.

Power head: A power head is a small, submersible pump which is used to power wave makers and UGF's (under gravel filters).

Pre filter: A pre filter is used mainly in marine tanks to remove large particles as the water leaves the tank, en route to the sump. This is also common because of the fact that the filtration system necessary for a marine tank requires an open system, open loop system.

Redox: This is a scientific term referring to the reduction-oxidation potential of the water. Its measurement gives an indication of how an aquarium will be able to sustain life. A high value is better than a low. The redox potential refers to an electrical charge on a molecule that has transformed in a chemical reaction. In a nutshell, it tells you how easily chemical reactions are taking place in the tank.

R. O. Reverse Osmosis: This is a purification method for tap-water. Pre filtered tap water is pushed through a reverse osmosis membrane. Water that makes it through is considered pure, while water that does not, is sent through a special tube and is rendered impure. As it relies on water which is able to pass through the membrane, it also generates a large quantity of "waste" water which cannot be used. This is one of the best, but slowest methods of tap water purification and will increase your water bill. Reverse Osmosis units produce purified water at extremely slowly, sometimes as low as 10 or 15 gpd (gallons per day).

Phosphorous: An important trace element in the marine tank. Phosphorous is an element that helps composed ATP (adenosine tri phosphate) which is a building block for genetic material, specifically DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid).

Protein Skimmer: A protein skimmer is perhaps the most important piece of hardware for the salt water tank. It is a filter used to remove organic impurities from the water. Water is sent through a fractionating column where many tiny air bubbles are pushed through it. The air bubbles generate "foam", which actually consists of organic impurities. The "foam" is channeled out of the device and is kept in a collection cup until it can be discarded. There are three main classes of skimmers: counter current, co-current and venturi.

Reactor: This is a device used to force a controlled reaction with a given substance. The most common reactor is an ozone reactor, which forces water through a pressurized column of an air-ozone mixture.

Salt: A generic term which scientifically refers to a cation and an anion. However, in aquatics, it refers to the proper combination of inorganic salts, composed mainly of sodium and magnesium chloride.

Scale: Small places which are scattered throughout the body of the fish. They are the primary source of protection for most fish.

Species: The most useful taxonomical name. Every living creature is assigned a unique species name, which is composed of two parts.

Specific Gravity: A scientific term which is used to describe the salt content of water.

Strain: A variety of a certain species. The freshwater guppy, for example, has only one species name but several strains.

Strontium: A trace element which is essential to the growth of reef coral.

Substrate: Material used on the aquarium bottom. Examples include gravel, crushed coral, crushed seashells, etc...

Sump: A collection container mainly used in marine tanks. As the water leaves the tank, it is delivered via gravity to a sump, which is often nothing more than a small aquarium. From there, it is pumped through the filtration system and delivered back to the aquarium. This is an example of an Open system.

Trace Elements: A term used to describe the many necessary elements in a marine aquarium, although usually in very small amounts. Among them are calcium, strontium, iodine and ozone. (for purification).

Trickle Filter: A biological filtration system which consists of a plastic chamber with a biological filtration media. Water runs through the media, which mixes with the air, and reacts with the bacteria which serve to remove ammonia and nitrites. It is this wet / dry exchange that promotes bacterial growth.

Under gravel Filter: This type of filter involves a few long, plastic tubes which remain upright in the aquarium and are attached to a plate on the bottom. In each tube is an air stone attached to an air pump. As the air bubbles rise, a current is generated which continuously brings water from the aquarium, through the substrate and to the top of the tubes.

UV Ultraviolet Sterilizer: A purification method which uses ultraviolet light to kill harmful bacteria and micro organisms. It is recommended that you turn off UV during cycling of tank.

Under gravel Filter: This type of filter involves a few long, plastic tubes which remain upright in the aquarium and are attached to a plate on the bottom. In each tube is an air stone attached to an air pump. As the air bubbles rise, a current is generated which continuously brings water from the aquarium, through the substrate and to the top of the tubes.

Venturi: A popular protein skimmer design. It is a protein skimmer with a cylindrical body, used to draw air through a rapid current of water.

VHO Lighting: Very High Output fluorescent lighting. These lights are powered by special ballast which deliver a wide spectra light.

Wet/Dry Filter: A biological filtration system which consists of a plastic chamber with a biological filtration media. Water runs through the media, which mixes with the air, and reacts with the bacteria which serve to remove ammonia and nitrites. It is this wet / dry exchange that promotes bacterial growth.

Zeolite: An ammonia removing substance. It can only be used in freshwater tanks.


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