By Sameer Gudhate*

Setting up an Amazon biotope aquarium is ideal for a beginner, since all plants and fishes will need the same water conditions, water temperature etc. to thrive.

As we know, a biotope aquarium is simply an aquarium containing plants and animals from the same region; an Amazon biotope aquarium will for instance only contain plants and fish native to the Amazon region in South America. Many bodies of water out in nature are stained a dark colour by decaying organic material and there are lots of fish species that prefer something similar in the aquarium.

So how do we imitate those Amazon streams at home? It’s quite easy and makes for a spectacular aquarium set-up, so keep reading to find out everything you need to know.


An aquarium of a minimum of 400 litres is what is recommended when looking to create an Amazon-themed aquarium. For some bigger varieties of fish, a bigger size of 600 litres or more is recommended. Always remember, the bigger the better. These sizes of aquariums are always made to order and on the delivery make sure that there is no leakage.


The sun is very strong in the tropical South American region, but as mentioned above, the water in the Amazon region is often very dark due to high levels of some specific acid. The water is also shaded by drooping swanky vegetation in most parts of the Amazon. If the aquarium has low-demanding aquatic plants then it’s always better to stick to low-spectrum light. If the biotope has plants which need high-density lighting then you will need 2/3 lights with proper spectrums with reflectors, which stretches the entire length of the aquarium.


The substrate in rainforest streams is usually mud or sand over a layer of organic matter and decaying vegetation. The recommended substrate is fine clay or sand covered with a few inches of leaf litter. Pick brown, natural-coloured sand, so the roots of the plants can spread and the plants can be healthy. Make sure that the leaf litter to be chosen is all-natural and sourced at a distance from cities. If possible go for organic litter. Remember to deeply wash the litter before use in the aquarium.


To achieve an authentic, natural-looking biotope aquarium, you should stick to natural decor elements such as driftwood, bogwood, natural gravel, and rocks. The type and arrangement of decorations you use may depend on the kind of fish that would go in. If you plan for smaller fishes then a dense décor made of driftwood looks stunning. But in case you opt for bigger size fish, large driftwood in combination with some rocks will be helpful as it would give an open swimming area.


Depending on the high vegetation or low one, the plants need to be chosen. Anubias, Vallisneria, Java fern, Amazon sword, and Amazon frogbit are ideal if you want to go low tech. in case of high vegetation in the aquarium plants like Cabombafurcata, Cardaminelyrata, Nymphaea species, Utricularia species, smaller Echinodorus species, and Azolla species. For high-tech plants, it is recommended to use commercially available fertilizer for optimum growth. Also for these high-maintenance plants, diffused CO2 is needed to thrive.


The water in the River Amazon and its tributaries is soft and acidic and most waterways have dark water. The darkness is caused by naturally occurring humic acid. The recommended pH range in an Amazon biotope is pH 6.0–6.9. Some species will prefer even more acidic water, down to 5.0–5.5.  When it comes to water hardness, the GH should be around 3–7 and the KH 2–4. Keeping the water quality up is naturally important. The amounts of ammonia and nitrite should be below detectable levels and the amount of nitrate should never be allowed to rise above 10 ppm. Most fish species in the Amazon will be able to thrive in a temperature range between 23 and 26 degrees Celsius. Changing 20–25% of the water weekly is a good rule of thumb. Always keep an eye on the pH value in your aquarium since the bogwood can make it drop too far down.


Quality filtration is important to keep the water clear. Canister (External) filters are suitable for aquariums up to 75 gallons, but canister filters paired up with a sump filter are preferred for larger tanks. Choose a filter rated at least one size larger than your aquarium and use multiple filters on tanks larger than 55 gallons. Generally, a combined flow rate of at least 10 times the aquarium volume is recommended.


Flake, granule, and pellet foods make an excellent diet for virtually all fishes. Frozen and freeze-dried foods are also recommended, but avoid feeding tubifex and bloodworms, as many of these may contain chemicals in them which in turn go into the fishes. Do not feed live feeder fish to bigger fishes, as their nutritional value is limited and they can carry diseases.


Once the temperature is set and a water conditioner has been added, allow your aquarium to run for 48–72 hours before adding fish. Start with juvenile fish. They will be less aggressive and more accepting of one another as they grow to adulthood. You need to take into consideration which fishes would go and based on that the stocking should be done. Fish compatibility should be toughly checked.


If you want to set up an Amazon biotope aquarium, you can, for instance, use almost all types of small tetras, since a lot of them hail from the Amazon region. The Amazon region is also home to a lot of popular catfish species, such as Whiptail catfish, Bristlenose catfish, and Corydoras catfish. Other suggestions are Hatchetfish, Pencilfish, and larger characins, such as the commonly available Silver Dollars. If you have some previous experience in keeping water quality up, you can for instance go for Dwarf cichlids. Angelfish is another alternative, but not if you want to keep small tetras because the Angelfish will consider them as their lunch.

Whether you are a novice aquarium hobbyist or an expert, cultivating an Amazon biotope aquarium is a fun challenge. Not only will you learn a great deal about the native habitat of your fish, but you will be able to enjoy watching them thrive in a natural, authentic environment.

Happy Fishkeeping!!!

* The author of this article is an advanced aquarium hobbyist with an Aquarium at his place even before his birth. Today he promotes the pet keeping hobby apart from maintaining his own aquarium. He can be contacted on +919820270247 or

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