Creating An Amazon Biotope Aquarium: Amazonian Plants & Fish

Estimated read time 18 min read

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

Creating a Natural Habitat in Your Amazonian Aquarium

Mimicking Specific Natural Settings

One of the keys to a successful Amazon biotope aquarium is to mimic specific natural settings found in the Amazon region. Whether you aim to recreate the blackwater rivers of the Amazon Basin or the bright, clear waters of the main river, understanding the specific environment is crucial.

Incorporating Tree Roots and Large Rocks

Incorporating tree roots and large rocks not only adds visual appeal but also provides hiding spots for your fish. It replicates the natural environment where fish seek shelter among submerged roots and rocks.

Utilizing Leaf Litter and Seed Pods

The use of leaf litter and seed pods is essential for creating tannin-stained water, characteristic of blackwater biotope aquariums. These materials release tannins into the water, giving it that muddy brown color found in many Amazonian water bodies.

Aquascaping Techniques for Authenticity

Aquascaping your Amazonian aquarium involves arranging plants, rocks, and other elements to achieve a natural look. Research the specific biotope you want to recreate to employ aquascaping techniques for authenticity.

Amazonian Aquarium Water Quality

Maintaining the Right Water Temperature

Maintaining the right water temperature is vital for the health of your Amazonian fish. Many species thrive in warm water, reflecting the warm climate of the Amazon region.

Adjusting Water Hardness for Authenticity

To replicate the acidic water of the Amazon, you may need to adjust water hardness using specific additives. This creates an environment where fish are comfortable and healthy.

Managing Water Level and Seasonal Changes

Understanding seasonal changes, such as the rainy season, is crucial for long-term aquarium success. Some fish species require fluctuations in water level, so managing water level and seasonal changes is essential.

Importance of Humic Acids in Blackwater Aquariums

Blackwater rivers are known for their high content of humic acids. Learning about the importance of humic acids and how to introduce them into your aquarium can make a significant difference.

The Role of Aquatic Plants in Your Amazonian Aquarium

Types of Aquatic Vegetation for Amazon Biotope

Selecting the right aquatic plants is essential for replicating the Amazon biotope. Species like water lettuce and sword plants are common choices.

Choosing Good Background Plants

Good background plants provide hiding spots for fish and create a lush backdrop for your aquarium. Research and select the ones that thrive in your chosen biotope.

Promoting Plant Growth in Your Aquarium

Plant growth is a critical aspect of a healthy Amazonian aquarium. Ensure you provide the right conditions, including lighting, nutrients, and water quality.

Sword Plants and Water Lettuce in Amazon Biotope

Species like sword plants and water lettuce are iconic in Amazon biotope aquariums. Discover how to care for these plants and make them thrive in your setup.

Aquarium Fish Species for Your Amazon Biotope

Cardinal Tetras: A Jewel of the Amazon

Cardinal tetras are one of the most iconic Amazonian fish species. Learn about their habitat, behavior, and how to care for them in your aquarium.

Apistogramma Cacatuoides: Colorful Cichlids

Apistogramma cacatuoides, known as the cockatoo cichlid, adds vibrant colors to your Amazonian tank. Discover their unique features and care requirements.

Rummynose Tetras: Vibrant Schooling Fish

Rummynose tetras are known for their striking red noses and schooling behavior. Learn how to create an environment where they thrive.

Blue Acara: Cichlid Beauty from Amazon

The blue acara is a stunning cichlid species native to the Amazon. Explore their characteristics and tips for keeping them in your aquarium.

Stay tuned for the next installment where we’ll delve into stocking ideas for different aquarium sizes and much more in our quest to set up the perfect Amazonian aquarium.

Stocking Ideas for Different Aquarium Sizes

Ideal Fish Combinations for a 55 Gallon Aquarium

In a 55-gallon aquarium, you have more space to work with. Discover ideal fish combinations that allow for diversity while ensuring compatibility and comfort for your Amazonian inhabitants.

Setting Up a Thriving 30 Gallon Amazonian Tank

For a 30-gallon aquarium, you’ll need to be more selective in your choices. Explore species and numbers that work best in this smaller space.

Creating an Amazon Biotope in a 20 Gallon Aquarium

Even in a 20-gallon aquarium, you can create a mini Amazon biotope. Learn how to maximize your space while still offering a natural habitat for your fish.

Small Tank Options for Amazonian Fish

If you’re limited by space or budget, don’t worry! There are small tank options for Amazonian fish enthusiasts. Discover which species are best suited for compact setups.

Maintaining Water Quality in Your Amazon Biotope Aquarium

The Role of Bacterial Filters

Bacterial filters play a crucial role in keeping your aquarium’s water clean and safe for your fish. Understand how to set up and maintain them effectively.

Monitoring and Adjusting Water Parameters

Regularly monitoring and adjusting water parameters is essential for the health of your Amazonian fish. Learn about the specific requirements of your chosen species.

Regular Water Changes and Testing

Performing regular water changes and testing helps maintain stable water quality. Find out how often you should change the water and which tests are essential.

Ensuring Optimal Water Quality for Amazon Fish

High water quality is non-negotiable in an Amazon biotope aquarium. Discover tips and tricks to ensure your water quality meets the needs of your fish.

Seasonal Changes in Your Amazon Biotope

Understanding Rainy Season Effects

The rainy season has a significant impact on Amazonian habitats. Explore how it affects water levels, fish behavior, and aquatic plant growth in your aquarium.

Adapting Your Aquarium to Seasonal Shifts

To create an authentic Amazonian experience, consider adapting your aquarium to seasonal shifts. Mimicking these changes can promote the well-being of your fish.

Replicating Amazon Region’s Climate Patterns

Understanding the climate patterns of the Amazon region can help you create a more realistic environment in your aquarium. Learn about temperature, humidity, and more.

Water Level and Water Quality Adjustments

As water levels change in the Amazon, so should your aquarium’s water level. Discover how to make water level and water quality adjustments for your fish’s benefit.

Notable Amazon Biotope Experts

Heiko Bleher: Pioneering Amazon Aquarist

Heiko Bleher is a renowned figure in the world of Amazonian aquariums. Explore his contributions to the hobby and how his work has influenced Amazon biotope setups.

Contributors to Amazonian Aquarium Knowledge

Many experts have contributed to our understanding of Amazonian aquariums. Discover other contributors to Amazonian aquarium knowledge and their valuable insights.

Learning from Experts in Aquatic Habitats

As you embark on your Amazonian aquarium journey, learning from experts can be incredibly valuable. Find resources and individuals who can help you along the way.

Sources for In-Depth Amazon Biotope Research

For those seeking in-depth knowledge, there are numerous sources for Amazon biotope research. Explore books, articles, and organizations dedicated to the Amazon region.

Lighting and Background for Your Amazon Biotope

Choosing the Right Lighting Options

Selecting the right lighting options can enhance the visual appeal of your Amazonian aquarium. Learn about different types of lighting and their effects on your setup.

Creating a Black Background Effect

black background can make the colors of your fish and plants pop. Discover how to create this effect and its impact on the overall aesthetics of your tank.

Bright Light vs. Subdued Light in Amazon Aquariums

Consider the balance between bright light and subdued light in your aquarium. Different fish and plants have varying preferences, so find the right balance.

Enhancing the Visual Appeal of Your Tank

Your Amazonian aquarium should not only provide a natural habitat for your fish but also be visually stunning. Explore ways to enhance the visual appeal of your tank.

Amazonian Biotope Beyond the Amazon River Basin

Exploring Similar Conditions in Southeast Asia

While the Amazon is unique, there are similar conditions in other parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia. Learn about species that thrive in these environments.

Incorporating Orinoco River Basin Elements

The Orinoco River Basin shares characteristics with the Amazon. Discover how to incorporate elements of this region into your Amazonian aquarium.

Adapting to Different Habitat Types

As you gain experience, consider adapting to different habitat types within the Amazon region. Each offers unique challenges and opportunities for aquarists.

Diverse Aquarium Fish Species from Amazonia

Explore the incredible diversity of aquarium fish species from Amazonia. From tiny pencil fish to large cichlids, there’s something for every enthusiast.

Planning Your Next Amazonian Aquarium Adventure

Conducting Little Research for Success

Embarking on your next Amazonian aquarium adventure? Remember that even conducting little research can lead to success. Learn from your past experiences and keep improving.

Setting Up Your Next Tank: Lessons Learned

Each tank setup offers valuable lessons. When setting up your next tank, apply the knowledge you’ve gained to create an even more authentic Amazonian experience.

Expanding Your Aquatic Expertise

The world of Amazonian aquariums is vast. Consider expanding your aquatic expertise by exploring different biotopes, species, and techniques.

Thanks and Acknowledgments

Finally, we’d like to express our gratitude to the community of Amazonian aquarium enthusiasts. Thanks to your support and contributions, the world of Amazon biotope aquariums continues to thrive. Happy fishkeeping!

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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