Jump to content


Darters in a 5 Gallon (and general stocking questions)?

9 replies to this topic

#1 Fmajalis

  • NANFA Guest
  • New York

Posted 12 December 2018 - 06:40 PM

Hi all!  


I'm new to this forum,  and to caring for native fish. 


Since I've learned of their existence about 5 years ago,  I have always wanted darters,  but,  due to space reasons,  I can only keep a 5-gallon tank.  So my question is,  would a pair of banded darters (or any other smaller,  but still colorful darter) do well in a 5 gallon tank?  If not,  would swamp or brown darters do well?   I would prefer a species with colorful breeding males,  but the very small ones (slough and Iowa that I know of) seem not to be for sale online.  Wild collection is impossible,  since I live in NYC.


Tank info:

The tank is a standard 5.6 gallon,  with dirt under a sand cap,  sloped from 3.5"  inches substrate in the rear to <1" in the front.  The hardscape items are river rocks,  on which I'm attempting to start moss and algae.  The Tank is pretty densely planted,  Sagittaria subulata dominates the front,  and Juncus repens the rear.  I expect the plants in the rear of the tank to grow taller,  but I plan on keeping the foreground short (S subulata tends to stay short in my tanks,  either because of my water parameters of lighting). 


My water parameters are:

pH:  Varies between ~6.7-~7.0 due to a day-night cycle caused by plants

Temp: Unheated,  but in a room where there are always people,  so the temperature is pretty close to 75F at all times.  Water temps seem to be 74-76 degrees,  but I haven't checked in the dead of night.  I have a temperature regulator,  so i could set up a fan to cool the water,  if needed.

KH: 2-3

TDS: 80 ppm,  but I am currently  mid-cycle (tapwater 30-60 ppm)

The tank is only one week into cycling,  so parameters may change. 

I currently have a small HOB filter,  but could up the water flow rate if needed with a secondary pump.


If no darters would do well,  would sticklebacks?  I also find them interesting,  and I think I saw them sold a few years ago,  so someone may sell them again.  I know many keep Elassoma in that size tank,  so they would be my "falback" species.  Ultimately, I would prefer to keep a fish that would be comfortable in a small tank than one that would fit but be unhappy.  I'm fine adding more plants for a species that needs a more densely planted tank.  Thank you for reading this long post,  and any help!

Edited by Fmajalis, 12 December 2018 - 06:42 PM.

#2 Matt DeLaVega

Matt DeLaVega
  • Forum Staff
  • Ohio

Posted 12 December 2018 - 09:58 PM

How are you cycling it? Nitrogen source? The small size is not ideal, but you get that. I would go with rainbow darters. A pair at most. Good starter darter with color. Plants and water changes will keep your water in good shape if you stay on top of it. There are some species that would be more suitable, but give the darters a shot. Stickleback's are mean nasty fin bitey critters. Cool species, but few are willing to deal with their aggressive nature. Maybe a darter and one or two least killi?

The member formerly known as Skipjack

#3 JasonL

  • NANFA Member
  • Kentucky

Posted 12 December 2018 - 10:04 PM

What you describe is an ideal biotope tank for a couple swamp darters and a half dozen or so Elassoma. With Elassoma the more plants the better. You can keep both together but likely won't have any Elassoma fry survive with darters around. You'll have to replenish them every so often since Elassoma only live a couple years at most. I've kept a similar tank in the past but did add an air stone though not sure that's critical with these species. Swamp darters should handle mid 70 temps no problem They will all take frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp in my experience. Small live foods will work too. I would give it a shot if legal in NY.

#4 littlen

  • NANFA Member
  • Washington, D.C.

Posted 13 December 2018 - 07:59 AM

^ what they said.

If you want some color, movement, and potential breeding as well, look at Bluefin killifish.  Lucania goodei might be just what you're looking for that is not a darter. Swamp darters in that set up would provide some action under the Bluefins. 


Even if you swear to serve the Dark Lord, Sauron, you couldn't get a 10 gallon?  We're talking 72 more square inches of foot space.  Point being, that would really open up your options.  Seems like you know what you're doing though.  Good luck. We'd love to see pictures if you get the chance.

Nick L.

#5 Fleendar the Magnificent

Fleendar the Magnificent
  • NANFA Member
  • Ohio

Posted 13 December 2018 - 04:48 PM

JMHO, but banded and rainbow darters are a nice, smaller and very personable fish that do well in tank life. I kept 3 in a 10 gallon before up upgraded to a 29 gallon. However, even a small 5.6 gallon tank will need some cover spots for them to hide under and a space to call their own. In my 29, I have banded darters, rainbow darters, Johnny darters and fantail darters. I have about 18 darters altogether not counting the shiners, stonerollers, crayfish, a single stonecat madtom and green sunfish, plus LOTS of rocks and spots for them to hide in and under. However, once adapted, they're outside and in view more than hiding and with exception of the fantails, are pretty sociable. My bandeds swim to the top of the tank when they see me coming to feed them.


That said, I'd recommend banded darters and rainbows myself and no more than two fish. Even now, out of breeding season they're colorful.  They're also fairly easy to get started on frozen blood worms and Mysis shrimp. Here's a few of mine including a black-headed fantail.

Attached Images


#6 Doug_Dame

  • NANFA Member

Posted 13 December 2018 - 06:51 PM

IME, rainbow darters are a lot more fun than swamp darters. The swamp darters have a sly appeal, but they're cryptically colored and don't jump out at you. Rainbows are fish with personalities and apparent intelligence. Plus they're colorful and outgoing.


Can you make the argument that a half-filled 10g is a 5g tank? You'd get a lot more footprint and usable space for darters that way. I've caught a lot of rainbows in 5 or less inches of water, albeit mainly females and juvvies. 

Doug Dame

Floridian now back in Florida

#7 Fmajalis

  • NANFA Guest
  • New York

Posted 13 December 2018 - 08:58 PM

Thank you all for the responses!  I have a bit to think about.


Sadly,  I just don't have the footprint for a 10 gallon anywhere;  the only places it would fit would be on a radiator,  or directly next to a lot of electronics.  Neither position seems wise.


Matt, I'm currently cycling off the ammonia leaching from the soil (keeping it < 3 ppm).  I'll then start adding in ammonia to the tank to keep the cycle running  once that source is used up.  I don't plan on buying the fish until after the holidays at the earliest.


Thanks for bringing up the legality of swamp darters,  Jason.  It seems when reading up on the threatened species in my state,  I missed them,  somehow.  Because I know that they are pretty common in many areas,   I just assumed they would be okay. ><  As such,  no swamp darters for me.  I could substitute Johnny darters as a buy-able, slow-water darter,   although they seem to like slightly more water movement.  


Those are really nice fish,  fleendar.  I would really like rainbows or bandeds, but I'm worried that even with frequent water changes, they would be more sensitive to any organics in the water. Even though the plants would take care of the nitrogenous waste,  I'm not sure if they would add back too many organics,  themselves.  Since more people recommend rainbows,  that is the direction I'm leaning.  If so,  I would probably craft a few rock caves.  Even if I just get the Johnnies instead,  I think I will add some airstones to keep the oxygen up.  

#8 Matt DeLaVega

Matt DeLaVega
  • Forum Staff
  • Ohio

Posted 13 December 2018 - 09:20 PM

Cool. You have a good handle on cycling. I Think Michael Wolfe has said a few times that these riffle dwelling fish are plenty happy when provided with plenty of oxygen and plenty of food. More or less. I agree. I don't think the current is the reason, I think it is the food. By all means provide the best habitat possible, but current associated darters are not likely to sink into depression if they have full bellies.

The member formerly known as Skipjack

#9 Fleendar the Magnificent

Fleendar the Magnificent
  • NANFA Member
  • Ohio

Posted 14 December 2018 - 02:23 PM

In my tank I have no current aside from what's generated by the air bubble curtain and all of my darters are happy and eat well. In my experience with them, as long as there's plenty of food and the water is well oxygenated and not too hot, they'll be fine. As for sensitivity, I change 5 gallons of water out a week in my 29, the parameters are all in the green and the tank is cycled. As long as you keep the parameters in the green and do your partial changes, both the rainbows and banded will be fine. I have been highly successful with all 4 species of darters in my tank, but the most important part to keeping any fish is a fully and properly cycled tank and it seems like you have that well in hand.


Lastly, I used native river rocks and water from the river they were caught in. I am assuming that due to restrictive NY laws, you are having to buy your darters from an online seller? If so, find out if he keeps these darters in native "wild" water or he uses tapwater. My tapwater is horrendous, so I take 5 gallon buckets from the river weekly to change the water with. If I used our tapwater here, it'd kill them even after treatment.

Anyhow, you'll be pleased with rainbows. Beautiful fish that keep some nice coloration outside of breeding and are quite personable.

#10 Michael Wolfe

Michael Wolfe
  • Board of Directors
  • North Georgia, Oconee River Drainage

Posted 14 December 2018 - 11:18 PM

Matt, called me out so I should jump in here a minute.  I have kept rainbows in a ten gallon with almost no flow, so I would think a pair would be OK in a 5 gallon.


But as a guy from way down south, I would have to say that a 5 gallon would be perfect for brown darters.  Amazingly colorful little guys that you would really be able to appreciate up close in a small tank like a 5 gallon.  Of course its a lot easier drive for me than you.  But I think you might be able to purchase browns, and I think they are well worth keeping.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. - Benjamin Franklin

Reply to this topic


0 user(s) are reading this topic

0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users