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Re: Live sand

Steve Lacy wondered:
"I've seen marine tanks where the substrate is alive with many types of
worms and other goodies that digest waste, and keep the substrate aerated
and "alive."  When I ask my marine tank friends, they say that it "just
happens" and they never added anything to their tank (other than live rock)"

Actually, it doesn't really just happen. While _any_ substrate, fresh or
marine, will, over time, become the home to a variety of microbes, "live
sand" as the term is usually used, refers to a substrate that contains a
wide variety of both microscopic and macroscopic life.

There are 2 ways of getting there from here, depending upon how patient a
person you are. Many pet stores and on-line dealers sell "live sand" which
is merely sand collected from either the wild or cultivated sites, and
shipped complete with all of the little critters which live there naturally.
This is the quick route. The other way, for those patient enough (and
lacking the money to buy live sand in the first place) is to just depend
upon the fact that high quality live rock contains many off the same
organisms in the many nooks and crannies - given enough time and a lack of
predators, these organisms will eventually migrate into the general
substrate and increase in number through reproduction to turn your dead
substrate bed into "living sand". The actualy number of different species
present might not be great, but it can be fascinating to peer at a marine
substrate through a magnifying glass - the things that you see are amazing.

"I've never seen a freshwater tank with similar beasties.  Why not?"

Many people collect fish/invertebrates/plants from the wild and maintain
them in aquariums. Quite often, they also include some natural substrate and
you can bet that some of the little creatures are brought along as well.
This is a fascinating aspect of the hobby and a great way to teach children
(and the not so young) about both nature in general and aquatic life in
particular. No matter where you live, if you have access to a local pond or
stream, you can try this out for yourself - just set up a 15 or 20 gallon
aquarium using "found" materials (be careful about collecting in restriced
areas or collecting endangered species of fish). You can do it indoors or
even outdoors in the summer.

Check your local library for a copy of Dynamic Aquaria (Audey/Loveland) -
this is the "bible" for such work. There doesn't seem to be any complete
field guides in current print on "pond life" in general that are written for
an adult audience - none that I can find anyway -  you can find specialized
guides to insects, fish and plants as well as microscopic aquatic life, but
nothing which covers all topics well. If anyone knows of one, I'd appreciate
the ISBN.

One thing to be aware of is that many of the organisms found in freshwater
environments are really aquatic larvae of flying insects - mosquito larvare
can turn into pests and damsel fly and dragon fly nymphs are predators which
could kill any fish in the tank. So you have to be a bit selective over what
you include/exclude.

But it can be a lot of fun, and a very educational project that you can do
for minimal cost. If you get really serious about it, you could buy cultures
of specific algae/microganisms/macroorganisms like Daphnia from a biological
supply house to round out your collection.

James Purchase