Introduction to Scatophagus argus
When you try to provide a fish species with a good home in captivity, it is always a good idea to learn a lot about its native habitat and wild habits. Scatophagus argus is a scatfish native to Asia and Australia. In Asia, its geographical range is very large and you can find Scatophagus argus in Iran and Oman as well as in Japan and Fiji. It is included in various Chinese medicines and can also be found live at fish markets in South East Asia. Since this fish can grow up to 40 cm long it will need a large aquarium to do well. Its natural habitats are brackish estuaries, harbors, embayment regions and mangrove forests. It can also travel up the lower parts of streams. Scatophagus argus feed on crustaceans, insects, worms and plant matter.
Housing Scatophagus argus
When you first obtain Scatophagus argus, you should ideally place them in a quarantine aquarium where they can acclimatize slowly without having to deal with other fish. In the quarantine aquarium you will also be able to elaborate with salinity, magnesium content etcetera without having to care about the requirements of any other fish. If you have less than four Scatophagus argus, a five gallon aquarium is large enough.
Scatophagus argus appreciates floating plants that will provide shelter and dim the light. You can for instance use Elodea. Your fish will also need a really dark place to hide in, such as a semi-cave or large tunnel. Ideally build a cave/tunnel yourself and provide it with openings at both ends. Each Scatophagus argus must be given its own cave/tunnel.
Scatophagus argus and salinity
Since Scatophagus argus can live in embayment regions as well as quite far upstream in freshwater rivers, they can adapt to varying salinities. Changes in salinity must however always be slow and gradual and rapid changes can cause serious harm. A majority of the specimens caught for the aquarium trade lives in brackish environments along the coast and are normally transported in brackish water from their own habitat. During a later stage, a lot of them will however be transferred to fresh water, or to brackish water that may not have the same salinity as the water to which they are used. This means that when you purchase Scatophagus argus, they are often seriously weakened by the sudden transfer from brackish water to freshwater or brackish water with a higher/lower salinity. You must therefore be prepared to nurse your Scatophagus argus back to health. Keep in mind that not all specimens hail from brackish environments; some are in fact caught upstream and will do best in freshwater.
Scatophagus argus and water chemistry
Another factor that can cause problem for Scatophagus argus in captivity is being kept in water with too little magnesium in calcium, and with a wrong ratio between the two substances. Simply adding salt will not correct this problem. Sea water normally contains around 1,294 ppm. (parts per million) magnesium and approximately 413 ppm calcium. The ratio between magnesium and calcium in tap water varies dramatically depending on your water source. Some water sources contain less than 2 ppm magnesium and less than 10 ppm calcium. Boosting the levels of magnesium and calcium up to brackish water levels is seldom necessary; correcting the ratio will often be enough to drastically improve the health of Scatophagus argus. You should therefore purchase Magnesium sulfate (Epsom Salts) and add to your aquarium.
N.B! Salt and magnesium will not evaporate. When you need to replace evaporated water, ordinary tap water must therefore be used. If you use water with extra salt and magnesium, you will gradually change the water chemistry to unhealthy levels.
Scatophagus argus and phenol
During shipping, fish are often exposed to phenol, a slow acting nerve poison. Phenol can also occur in aquariums, especially 4-8 hours after each feeding. This is especially troublesome for Scatophagus argus, since this species is extremely sensitive to phenol and accumulate phenol in bodily tissue. Normal filtration is seldom enough to prevent phenol poisoning and a filter containing activated carbon should therefore be installed. Remember to change the carbon regularly. A poisoned fish will act nervous and skittish and may also recklessly swim around the aquarium ramming itself against the glass. Burying the head deep into the bottom substrate is another weird symptom of phenol poisoning.
Scatophagus argus feeding
Wild Scatophagus argus feed on crustaceans, insects, worms, and plant matter, including algae. They will also eat feces from other animals. Moving back and forth between freshwater and brackish conditions can cause disturbance in osmotic pressure. Scatophagus argus regulates osmotic pressure by eating certain algae and marine fish feces rich in urea. The fish must therefore be provided with urea in the aquarium to prevent acclimatization problems. Be careful, because too much urea will kill them.
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