The Book of the Aquarium/Part 2/Chapter 3

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To gather specimens is much more pleasant than to purchase them, though an inexperienced person would be pretty sure to bring home, from the sea side, many things utterly unfit for the tank. As a rule, green weeds are the best, the red sorts offer some lovely specimens that do well in an established tank, though none of them succeed in recently prepared artificial water. Brown and olive coloured plants are to be wholly avoided, they wither soon, and spread pollution around them so as to endanger the whole collection.

Ordinary shore gatherings are quite useless for the purpose of the aquarium; the drift is composed of torn specimens of unsuitable plants, and we must seek for specimens at the extreme low-water mark, or in the tide-pools which remain full during the whole of the ebb.

During spring tides is the best time for making collections, and it behoves excursionists who cannot go to the sea side very often, to make their arrangements for such trips, in accordance with the state of the moon as indicated in the almanac. New and full moon are the times in which the tide rises highest and sinks lowest, and much disappointment will be avoided if such proper times are chosen.

Any one who may wish to gather a few specimens for a tank, should be provided with a jar or two, and a basket. A geologist’s hammer and a chisel are also necessary. By searching the tide-pools and the boulders at low-water mark, masses of rock will be found covered with weeds of various forms and colours. Select the green grassy kinds, and chip off each with a portion of rock attached, for a sea-weed has no root, and if detached from its rocky site inevitably perishes.

Any one using a little perseverance and judgment may secure, at any part of the coast, sufficient good specimens to stock a tank of moderate size; and if the collection be watched closely for a week or two, the unsuitable sorts will make themselves known by their increasing shabbiness, and must either be removed altogether or treated according to the instructions to be included under the head of management in a subsequent chapter.

A few anemones may be detached from the rocky hollows in which they have ensconced themselves. The common smooth anemone, which may be known in a moment by its near resemblance to a large deep coloured strawberry, should be secured in plentiful numbers, for it is equal to most of its kindred in beauty, and is so hardy as to submit to the harshest treatment unhurt; the more delicate kinds of anemones, especially the white ones, should be obtained in the same way as the weeds; namely, detached with a portion of the rock on which they are found adhering.

In packing the collection for carriage, care must be taken not to allow any pieces of rock to press upon the soft anemones. The whole may be brought away in jars of sea-water, or packed in masses of wet fuci gathered from the beach.

There are very few of the specimens so obtained, but may be as well or better conveyed in wet sea-weed than in water, and if they remain a couple of days so packed, they will take little harm, and may be quickly revived if put into shallow bowls, with a little sea water, and oxygenised by means of the syringe before being placed in the tank. On this head I can say no more here, but must refer the reader for minute instructions to the chapter on specimen collection, in my work on Rustic Adornments, though, what should be sought on the beach, may be judged from the kinds recommended in the succeeding chapters, as well also as to what should be purchased from time to time. Before any specimens are placed in the tank, they ought to be rinsed with sea-water, and any barnacles or sponges scraped off the pieces of rock to which the plants are attached. Any neglect of this will be sure to be followed by the production in the tank of sulphuretted hydrogen, which blackens and kills all before it. Nor should any animal that appears exhausted be consigned to the tank until it has been kept some little time in a shallow bowl with a few weeds, and revived by the occasional use of the syringe. Otherwise, delays are dangerous, and no time should be lost in conveying the several objects to their proper home in the little crystal palace, where blue eyes are to admire, and ruddy lips smile approval of your work.