Substrate is the second most important item in your tank other than Water. Because it can be responsible for doing things in your tank such as fertilizing your plants and changing the pH Level in your water it is necessary to take careful thought on your needs and goals before purchasing any sort of substrate. Are you aiming for a Nature Aquarium? Are you planning to keep and Breed High grade Crystal shrimp or others of that species? Or are you thinking of keeping fish and Yamatos and cherry shrimp? Will you have this tank for long term or just a couple months to a year?
First of all before we go through the different types of substrates you need to know two very important things - What shrimp you want to keep and what water you will use. Only after you decide those two things can you start thinking about substrate.
There are two main types of substrate – Active and Inert substrate. Basically inert substrate does nothing to your water. When added to your tank it does not change any of your water parameters.
Examples of inert substrate:
· Regular aquarium gravel.
· Regular Aquarium Sand (there are many non-inert types)
Active Substrates will purposely change the value of some parameters in your water, mainly pH. They are used for this reason, to buffer your water’s pH to stay at a certain level. Examples of Active Substrates are:
· Breeders Soil
· Crushed Coral
So in order to decide weather you need an Active substrate or can simply use an inactive substrate depends on what the pH level is in the water you are planning to use and what pH is required to keep the shrimp that you want to keep. Once you know what pH you have and what pH you need then you can decide what kind of substrate you need.
First of all lets take a look at the differences between using inactive substrate and just leaving your tank bare-bottom. Obviously if you are planning to have plants that are not attached to driftwood or rocks you would absolutely need some kind of substrate on the bottom to act as the soil for the roots to anchor itself and to grow. Also any form of substrate whether inert or active will add beneficial bacteria into your tanks ecosystem. It also gives a place for these bacteria to stick or hold to or settle into at the bottom of your tank. Without substrate there is less surface area for this bacteria to cling to. All this free-floating bacteria can make your water appear cloudy. Not to mention a bare bottom tank is rather boring aesthetically. There are inactive substrates out there that do not change water quality or pH level but have other purposes. Flourite is one of those, which is a substrate that is specifically made as a nourishing planting medium. There are minerals and nutrients present in this type of substrate that will fertilize your plants and help them grow healthier and more beautiful. Substrates like these are great for planted tanks if you are serious about having a beautiful aquarium landscape.
Now as we said earlier, the type of shrimp you would like to keep and the type of water you are planning to use will ultimately decide what kind of substrate you need to use – If you can settle for an inactive or need an active substrate. The cherry shrimp family (all Neo-Caradinas) as well as ,Yamatos, and Red Noses are the hardier than the more sensitive pricy crystal and tigers. So you can get away with fluctuations in pH which means you will be fine with an inactive substrate.
If you are using tap water and are planning to keep Crystals or Tigers, you will need to have an active substrate that is designed to buffer the pH level to keep it acidic. Substrates that are designed to do this include Fluval, ADA, Akadama and Breeders soil. Because tap water is made to be alkaline your sensitive shrimp will have a hard time living in those conditions. They will not be able to breed and they might die from the stress of a harsh environment. The easiest, most reliable and stable way of changing your waters pH level is to use these substrates. Likewise crushed coral has the opposite affect. Crushed coral basically raises the alkalinity of acidic water and buffers it to stay higher. This is needed for river shrimp such as Suwelesi shrimp that live in more alkaline environments.
If you are using RO water then you are a step ahead because RO water is acidic. Perhaps if you really wanted to you could try and use inactive substrates because it wont make your pH any higher. However it is still recommended to use an active Substrate as an extra precaution and security. This ensures that you have stability in pH and will not suddenly go up or down.
The type of water you are using will greatly affect the lifespan of your substrate as well. If you are using tap water it has to work harder in keeping the pH at a certain level. Because of this the lifespan of your substrate will be shortened, by as much as half its lifespan compared to when it is used with RO water. So that is something you really need to consider in the long term.
It might be more money earlier on but investing on RO water and a good quality substrate can insure that you spend less money-replacing shrimp, replacing old substrate and will give you consistent water quality. It is possible to have a mix of substrates or even different types of water. However, this could lead to problems if you are not throughly aware of what each type of substrate or water is capable of. When problems arise you will have a tough time trying to figure out why and how to fix it. But if you are knowledgeable and prepared for complications it may be a budget friendly option as well have a few other benefits depending on the mix you choose.
When choosing a specific substrate it is always best to look at all your options. There are always new and improved substrates coming out into the market so please look at reviews and information about each before deciding to buy. Each brand and type has its pros and cons. Local fish stores may be the cheapest option if you are on a budget, because shipping costs for substrates tend to be high because of the size and weight of the package. If you cannot find the substrate you want locally and there are no other good quality alternatives then shop around online.
Lastly! Next we will tackling the Cycling, bacteria and Filtering…Coming soon
For the other parts in this series:
Part 1: Things to Plan before heading to the Aquarium Shrimp Store
Part 2: Access to water
Part 3: Shopping and Equipment