Setting Up Your First Amazonian Aquarium

Photo Credit: Andreea Filip CC BY-SA 2.0

Setting up an Amazonian Aquarium? Use this guide to set up the perfect Amazon Biotope.

The Amazon is home to over 5600 species of tropical fish which is one of the largest numbers of freshwater fish species in the world.

So if you’re looking for lot’s of options setting up an Amazonian Aquarium will surely have you covered.

Let’s begin…


Equipment For Your Amazon Biotope Aquarium

What is an Amazonian Aquarium?

Basically, it means your aquarium will mimic the natural environments found in the Amazon. This is called an Amazon Biotope.

Check out this really great looking Amazon biotope tank by Biotope Aquarium.

In this post, you’ll learn about the key characteristics found in many of the Amazons 1100 rivers, streams, and lakes.

Let’s start with the water.

Amazon Water Chemistry

Most of the water found in the Amazon will be a darker color and have a pH range somewhere between pH 6.0-6.9. But in the slow-moving streams of the rainforest, it’s possible to see ranges around pH 4.5.

Most fish species in the Amazon will be able to thrive in a temperature range between 74-78 degrees F. But this can fluctuate depending on the time of year.

With that out of the way let’s look at some of the main types of biotope you can find in the Amazon.

Amazon Biotope Options

Because the Amazon River is so large and covers so much of South America there are many different types of biotope you could use in your aquarium.

Below is a list with a brief overview of each biotope.

1. Blackwater Amazon Biotope & Amazon Rainforest Biotope

Amazonian Biotope

The Blackwater streams emerge from the slow-moving water found in the rainforest streams where large amounts of leaf debris accumulate.

As the leaves decay, they slowly start to leach tannins (acids) into the water giving it a dark brown tea color. This is one area in the Amazon where you can see lower pH ranges around 4.5 – 6.5.

The typical substrate in these blackwater streams might be sand, fine clay covered with lots of leaves. Check out this great setup by George Farmer.

With this in mind let’s bring it all together with a few tips to create a Blackwater Amazon Biotope in your aquarium.

The Blackwater Amazon Aquarium Set Up

  1. Dim/Soft Lighting
  2. Use a slow flow rate on your filters to mimic the slow-moving waters of the steams
  3. Use sand or fine gravel substrate and cover it with leaf/stick debris
  4. Use things like oak, alder cones or Indian almond to help keep the water stained
  5. Use types of driftwood that will release tannins

Blackwater Aquarium Plants

Plants used in this biotope should do well in a low light setting. A few plants that could work well are;

The Fish

Here are a few common Species of fish that would do well in a blackwater aquarium;

  • Angelfish
  • Discus fish
  • Tetras
  • Corydoras catfish
  • Dwarf cichlids
  • Hatchetfish

2. Amazon River Biotope

0811 ~ New Amazon River Bank Biotope Aquarium

The amazon river biotope is very similar to that of the blackwater streams and shares many of the same characteristics.

The water will appear muddy due to debris and sediment becoming suspended in the water column and the water will also be soft/acidic in the range of pH 6.0-6.9.

The river would also be full of branches, roots, and driftwood with a minimal amount of plants and the substrate would be dark fine gravel with a small amount of leaf debris.

So how would you bring this together so you can recreate an Amazon river aquarium setup?

The Amazon River Biotope Set Up

  1. Med/Soft Lighting
  2. Use a med/fast flow rate on your filters to mimic river flow
  3. Use a dark fine gravel substrate and cover it a small amount of debris
  4. Use lots of sticks, branches, roots, and driftwood

Amazon River Aquarium Plants

Plants used in this biotope should do well in a medium/low light setting. A few plants that could work well are;

  • Amazon sword
  • Vallisneria

The Fish

Here are a few common species of fish that would do well in a river biotope aquarium;

  • Acaras
  • Oscars
  • Angelfish
  • Piranhas
  • Hatchetfish
  • Tetras
  • Corydoras catfish

3. Amazon Basin Biotope


As the Amazon river flows it occasionally chances directions which will create a crescent-shaped laked call an oxbow lake.

Most of the oxbow lakes will have a temperature range between 76-80F and a pH range of 5.4-6.8.

In these Oxbow lakes, the substrate is very muddy with a lot of debris and almost no water flow making it extremely cloudy.

To get this look in your aquarium try these tips.

The Amazon Basin Biotope Set Up

  1. low/soft Lighting
  2. Use a very low flow rate on your filters to mimic river flow
  3. Use a dark use soil and cover it a lot of organic debris

The Plants

Try to plant densely along the back and sides of your aquarium and leave lots of swimming area open in the middle.

  • Amazon sword
  • Vallisneria

The Fish

Here are a few common Species of fish that would do well in a basin biotope;

  • Hatchetfish
  • Tetras
  • Piranhas
  • Pike cichlids
  • Catfish
  • Freshwater Stingray

4. Amazon Clearwater Biotope


Some streams found in South America will be clearwater and typically appear clear. These streams can either be fast or slow depending on the area.

Two of the most popular Clearwater rivers are the Rio Xingu and the Rio Tocantins

In this tank, we will start to find pH levels around 6.9-7.3 with the temperature at a constant 75-82F.

But unlike the other Amazon Biotopes, you will need a good filter to help keep the water crystal clear.

The Amazon Clearwater Biotope Set Up

  1. Normal Lighting
  2. Use a high flow rate on your filter with good filtration
  3. Use sand and gravel for your substrate
  4. Try to avoid organics that will cloud the water or darken it

The Plants

Try to plant densely along the back and sides of your aquarium and leave lots of swimming area open in the middle.

  • Amazon sword
  • Vallisneria

The Fish

Here are a few common Species of fish that would do well in a clearwater biotope;

  • Corydoras catfish
  • Loricariid catfish
  • Discus fish
  • Pike cichlids

What’ You’ll Need For An Amazon Biotope Aquarium Setup

Although we’ve covered off a few of the different Biotopes you would find in the Amazon and how to recreate them in your aquarium at home there are a few more things we should discuss.

Below we will provide a bit more detail on some of the more common fish species found in the Amazon along with the types of plants, rocks, and driftwood.

This is important because as you start your own research you will learn that not all plant and fish are compatible with the water parameters and conditions found in the Amazon River region.

When it comes to the hardscaping always be sure to decorate using natural-looking elements to give your tank a true authentic Amazon Biotope feel.

But what’s a tank without life, let’s get into all the different fish species found in the Amazon.

Types & Species Of Amazonian Aquarium Fish

Apistogramma cacatuoides

Now as we mentioned above the Amazon has literally over a thousand freshwater fish species to pick from and many might not be available at your local fish store.

That said here is a quick list of some of the most popular Amazon biotope fish.

  • Most Types of Tetra
  • Whiptail Catfish,
  • Bristlenose Pleco
  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Hatchetfish
  • Pencilfish
  • Silver Dollars
  • Dwarf cichlids
  • Angelfish
  • Discus
  • Apistogramma

Large schooling fish create an incredible display in your aquarium. To discover the most stunning species for your tank, check out our guide on large schooling fish. Create a breathtaking underwater world by adding these mesmerizing fish to your aquatic habitat.

Amazon Biotope Fish List and Stocking Ideas

For a 55 Gallon Aquarium:

  • 4 x Peppered Cory
  • 1 x Bristlenose Pleco
  • 5 x Angelfish
  • 12 x Rummynose Tetra

For a 30 Gallon Aquarium:

  • 6 x Neon
  • 2 x Bolivian Rams
  • 6 x Serpae Tetras
  • 3 x Otocinclus cats
  • 3 x peppered cory’s
  • 5 x Silver Hatchets

For a 20 Gallon Aquarium:

Types Of Amazonian Aquarium Plants

Amazon sword

When it comes to plants in an Amazonian Aquarium it’s important to know there aren’t a lot of plants found in the water. Instead, you would see more floating plants or plants located in the shallow streams and shores of the river.

This is because of the issue with the water conditions preventing adequate amounts of light getting to the plants.

That said there is still a wide range of plant species available for anyone looking to set up an Amazonian aquarium.

Here are just a few;

List of Plants For Amazon Biotope

  • Echinodorus (Amazon Sword, Dwarf Sword, etc.)
  • Brasilian Water Ivy
  • Water Stargrass
  • Water milfoil, Christmas Tree Plant
  • Pygmy Chain Swordplant
  • Amazon Grass Plant
  • Vallisneria
  • Hair Grass;
  • Cabomba;
  • Myriophyllum.

Aquascaping Amazon Biotope Tanks

When you’re ready to get your hands dirty and start scapin’ you’ll give thought to just how you will recreate the natural look and feel of the Amazon.

To do this we recommend using lots of driftwood and rocks.

Why use Driftwood?

Driftwood is found all over the Amazon and actually serves a lot of purposes. Most Driftwood will release tannins which will lower the pH levels to help Amazon fish species thrive.

The tannins that are released aren’t bad for your water but it will give your tank that Blackwater, tea color. If you don’t like this “Yellow” water look try placing your driftwood in a bucket, fill it with boiling water every two days and wait until the water is more clear.

The driftwood will also help provide shelter and hiding places for smaller fish to help avoid some predatory fish found in the Amazon.

Using Rocks

Your aquarium isn’t just for your fish, it’s also for you and you should want something visually appealing.

Rocks can help with that by adding depth to your tank. Place the larger rocks and some driftwood together until it looks good to you. You fish will also enjoy exploring, hiding and swimming through these areas of interest.

The Right Substrate

When it comes to the substrate of the Amazon there are really only a few types to pick from. Pick the one that best represents the biotope you are trying to recreate.

Here they are;

  • Sand
  • Clay/Mud/Soil
  • Fine Gravel

Amazon Biotope Lighting Options

Lastly, you’ll want to consider the lighting you will use.

However, as we mentioned above the water conditions in Amazon don’t exactly provide the best lighting conditions.

Most of the streams and rivers are covered by overhanging rainforest, floating plants and covered in leaf debris letting very little light left to provide for plant life.

With that in mind finding an inexpensive LED light that will be suitable for most low light plants will work just great for your Amazon biotope aquarium.

Final Thoughts

Creating any biotope is a fun thing to do but creating an Amazonian Fish Tank will be a fun “Challenge” and you’ll learn how to provide for specific fish species and enjoy watching them live in their natural environment right in your home.

Setting up your first amazonian aquarium pin

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