Tropical Fish. #3

So I took the fish shop dudes apparent lack of concern at face value.

Shit happens sometimes.

Especially if your so far down the food chain you can’t be seen by the naked eye. The little yellow fish was about inch and half long, and maybe a quarter of inch across. That’s not a lot of space to pack in respiration, digestion, circulation, muscle, bone and a brain. Taking that line of thought further leads to a heart that would probably require a measurement in microns, and the blood oxygen exchange would be even smaller.

All of these systems have to function within my world, my scale, 1:1. The margin for error is very small. As was the fish.  An 18% failure rate, particularly for a novice custodian of fish appears to be an acceptable rate of attrition. If all six had turned over and died, then there would be a cause that could be identified and eliminated. One handing in his cards and leaving the tank can be filed under “Shit just happened”

I dipped my toe into the world of internet fish keeping advice. As a novice, it’s utterly horrific. Everyone with access to the internet has an opinion. These opinions often contradict each other. It is not possible to pick out specialist and qualified advice with a degree of certainty, and separate it from someone who has got lucky under a set of specific circumstances, or is just another idiot. The other factor to be considered is that the English speaking world is dominated by Americans. A full 80% of the available information applies to a different continent. I decided to leave that mess, and concentrate on the freely given advice from our local fish shop.

Maidenhead Aquatics.  Wonderfully patient and apparently knowledgeable staff.   Kind to idiots too. Not just in Maidenhead. Reassured that we had sufficient space for plenty more fish, and adding a few at a time would allow the effectively closed ecosystem to adapt, we chose the next batch. Three more Guppies, and for variety, three Platies. My dear wife chose a “panda” platy, a blood red, and one that looked like a miniature goldfish with a light belly. The only specification on the Guppies was male and bright colours. The actual selection was left to fish store guy.

I am a confirmed cynic, and, as many who are close to me would cheerfully point out, a bit of a miserable bastard. Despite that, I swallowed it, and chose to believe the guy was not selecting the fishy equivalents of runts. I will never be his biggest customer, but it’s still turnover. If it’s any consolation, I do hate myself a bit for thinking like this….

I soon got over it, paid the money and left with our combined choices. Another cautious drive left  a few more drivers wondering how I ever passed my test. Best word I can use here is eventually. I enjoyed the old driving test so much I took it several times before satisfying the examiners I was ready to go solo. It was over thirty years ago. Humm.

We were eventually in a position to conduct our second ceremony of the introduction of new fish. Five became eleven. I tried not to wonder who was going to be next.

As a novice, one of things I needed to do was a water change. I write this from the slightly smug position of having done several. The first time was a bit of a challenge. Let us begin with a simplified science bit. Aquarium fish live in a finite space full of water. They eat there, sleep there, swim about doing fish related stuff there and even poop there. It’s not like they are going to climb out of the tank and defecate anywhere else is it?

Basic biology, food in, and shall we say debris out. Various toxins build up, despite the best efforts of the continuously running filter. Not blessed with sophisticated chemistry set, or the ability to use it, and take correct action based on the results, the accepted method to manage these toxins is the water change.

Our bucket of bits to make it all work included a hard clear plastic pipe, connected to a thin and flexible plastic tube. Research identified it as an aquarium vacuum cleaning device. The aim is to siphon water out from the gravel bed, along with any accumulated debris, leaving space for clean water, free from floaters and sinkers. There was no motor, the vacuum need to be created by a standard human mouth. Literally, suck it up, and get on with it.

I do tend to overthink things, and feel the need to have contingencies planned. I picked up a new bucket, and rinsed/cleaned it. The bucket holds ten litres, so that’s the amount of water I change. There were still reservations. How would the fish react? How many would I suck up? How much water, debris would I inadvertently ingest? Tap water is not good enough, it has to be treated, so that bucket full was organised, The new water needs to be at a similar temperature, established by the finger test. Seems OK. The obvious nasty in tap water in Chlorine.

It’s not obvious to most of us, but as a novice keeper of fish this is as important as actually keeping them in a tank. The actual amount of chlorine in my tap water remains a mystery. Even if I knew, the science bit would go way over my head. Fortunately, the fish keeping industry recognises this and will sell you a bottle of premixed chemicals, to add at a per litre rate.

That Kids, is why you learn maths at school.

Chlorine will harm tropical fish. That is what I have been told. Sometimes it is easier and more ethical to accept a statement, than test it. Fairly sure the fish would agree.

Pipe and tube were applied to the water, and after checking no fish were in this apparatus, a vacuum was created in the prescribed fashion. One mouthful of shitty water later, and I was blooded. All manner of junk was vacuumed from the gravel layer. The fish apparently didn’t care, and were not burrowing into the gravel to get sucked in. Adding the replacement water was a simple matter of pouring it in, although a clean siphon tube would be better. The first one was the worst, the rest are easy. Bit like most things in life really.

Just to be clear, do not be tempted to use one of these to avoid the mouthful of shitty water.



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