How to Arrange Lighting for Your Aquarium

Nowadays aquaria are normally illuminated using one or more tubular fluorescent lights, or less commonly – and mainly for marine aquaria – mercury vapour or metal halide lamps.

Types of Lighting

Fluorescent lighting consists of two parts, the controller and the tube. The former lasts for years, the latter requires replacement from time to time, when it burns out, or, if you are growing plants, when it starts to fade. A whole host of tubes is available, producing light in various areas of the spectrum for various purposes, often at a high price. None of these tubes has, to the best of our knowledge, been proven to outshine others as regards plant growth. You should ask to see a selection in use above a tank in the shop, and choose the one whose effect you like best. Some people use two different tubes to produce light across the spectrum, an effect that can be produced using simple household tubes costing a mere fraction of the price! Mercury vapour lamps are available in 80- or 125-watt pendant spot lamps. They can be used for both marine and (some) freshwater applications as they encourage good plant growth and exhibit the fish favourably. In addition, mercury vapour spot-lamps produce a pleasing rippling effect across the underwater scene, reminiscent of sunlight shining from above. Average bulb life is about a year, comparable to the cost of a good quality fluorescent tube. Metal halide lamps provide intense lighting for particularly deep tanks or where a particular wavelength requires emphasizing. Prices per unit and for replacement bulbs are very high compared to previously discussed lighting, but if light-loving marine invertebrates are to be kept, the investment may well be worthwhile. As with mercury vapour spot-lamps, a pleasing rippling effect is achieved.

aquarium lighting How to Arrange Lighting for Your Aquarium

Arranging Lighting

The amount of lighting should be related to the aquarium occupants, both fauna and flora. Although sonic fish, for instance those that live near the surface in lakes and on the coral reel, spend i heir daylight hours in generally bright light, many others live in the shade of plants, rocks, roots and branches, or at depths where the sun’s rays do not penetrate as brightly. Glaring illumination may actually damage delicate eyes as well as causing psychological discomfort. Of course, if you decorate your aquarium properly, with adequate cover for the fishes, they can make use of this shade – but then you may never see them! At the same time, remember that your plants require light to grow. Where freshwater aquaria are concerned, if you (or rather, your fishes) do not require plants, then a single fluorescent tube the length of the tank should suffice; the fishes will not only swim around actively in this moderate lighting, but they also will show better colours. They commonly lighten their coloration under bright light, for camouflage. Brilliantly coloured coral reef fish, on the other hand, originate from a brightly lit environment, and may require several tubes to enable the viewer to fully appreciate their splendid livery.

When growing plants you may need additional tubes, and therefore to make a compromise: perhaps bright light and plants with long stems and near-surface leaves, so the fish can swim in the shade underneath; or plant one end of the aquarium with shorter plants and light it more brightly – there is nothing to stop you using one tube which is as long as the aquarium and another only half or two-thirds its length.


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