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.



Tropical fish #2

…Its a slippery slope to spend too much time wondering what your fish are thinking.

Youngest wanted to give them names, oldest declared they were too small to eat. From a lanky teen that apparently eats his own body weight each day, I found that faintly reassuring. The little fish would be not end up a plate. Strangely enough, no similar comment has ever been made about the dogs or the rabbits. We do eat fish on a regular basis, usually the processed stuff wrapped in what is claimed to be batter or bread crumbs. That might be sufficient separation from the little wiggly fish in the tank to save them. We have never knowingly eaten rabbit or dog.

Two fish stood out to me, in the wasted time spent watching them. I formed the impression the little orange and black one was possibly insane. He spent a lot of time racing between the top and bottom of the tank, time after time after time. Usually in the same corner of the tank.

On reflection, it is possibly foolish to apply a human opinion of behaviour to a fish. Especially one that is only about an inch and a bit long. For all I know about fish physiology and anatomy he could just have a problem with his balance, or depth perception or he could just get some enjoyment from it.

The other one was a slightly deformed blue and yellow guppy who reminded me of Oscar from the film “shark tale”. This fishy dude was the complete opposite of orange and black fish. He would hover mid tank, with his slightly bent back, wiggling enough to hold station, in an apparent state of serene calmness. If you have seen the film in question, you will recall Oscar was a lot more hyperactive than this, but it suited the animators to give him a more upright pose, and the bent back guppy defaulted to this same position.

They seemed, overall to be a happy bunch. I chose to shut down my unqualified wondering about their mental health, preferring to think of them as in need of physical care, like a bit of food, a clean environment, and space to be. It is easier to think of them as happy little guppies, than to hear imagined silent screams of despair at perpetual captivity.

The only solace in this line of thought is they were bred in captivity, their natural habitat is thousands of miles away, and they would not be equipped to deal with it anymore. They are possibly hundreds if not thousands of generations away from the original wild ancestors. Even if I had the spare change to fly them back to some little lake in South America, and the necessary paperwork to export and import live fish, I suspect their lives would be short and full of terror. It appears they have been bred to be some sort of mobile art work gracing my dinning room. We all gravitate to a thing in life, this is theirs, and mine is to try to do the right thing to keep them alive, keep tummies full, and environment satisfactory.

Then the little yellow one died.

He had been in my care of ten days, and he died. Now we had five fish and a corpse. Great….

He had clearly had a final moment of fishy clarity, and popped his clogs or his fins, in a clear area of gravel. That made body recovery slightly easier. No less palatable, but easier. One of the many things we do not possess from the home aquarium and fish-keepers list of useful things to have, is a net. The depth of water is not an issue, provided I remember to roll my sleeve up this time. The thought of unintentionally squashing the corpse between clumsy fingers and having bits of fish all over the tank was not a welcome outcome. Its a wet and slippery thing, this could have gone horribly wrong.

In the end, a pair of tweezers was deployed, and little yellow fish was recovered from the tank.  Being an cautious optimist, I placed him into a small plastic pot, and gently prodded him several times to make sure he was not playing a fast one. No obvious injuries, no apparent growths, mouldy patches, just a dead fish.

Thus it was apparent he would swim no more, there was the matter of disposal. A very short Ceremony by the toilet, consisting of a tip into the bowl, a flush ( the long flush, not the short one ) and a pause to make sure he stayed flushed.

I don’t know what he died of, and when I admitted, somewhat shamefully, to the fish store guy that I had lost one to unknown causes, his reaction surprised me. I was expecting a mild rebuke or a lecture on how it was my responsibility to look after it, and how I had been entrusted with its welfare, and now I had let him down, the rest of the fish down, the shop down, and myself down. What I got, was a shrug, and a comment along the lines of,  it happens,  never mind,  the rest are alive,  are you looking for anything in particular?

My status as an idiot in the eyes of the fish store guy remains confirmed.



Tropical Fish. #1

I have realised its been several years since I have updated this blog. It will only get longer if I don’t start now.

I am blessed with having my significant day within a week of Christmas. I am used to this, but even after a pair of decades, it causes my wife some angst. Blessed with a pair of teenagers, a mortgage, and a modest income, the weeks after Christmas are traditionally tighter than a ducks bum. However, I was delighted and surprised with a gift of a tropical fish tank, filter, heater, lamp, and a bucket of bits to make it work. Its a testament to my wife’s deviousness, as this purchase was made several days in advance, from a gentleman who had lost interest in fishes, and the whole lot remained hidden until the big day. A fish tank was oft discussed, but there was always something else more pressing or needful on the family pocket. With a little help from Google, said tank was filled with water, and a trip to the fish shop undertaken. First lesson, no fish yet. The water has to clear its self of all the crap we add to it, so come back in a week, with a sample. Of water from the tank. Lesson two, always seek clarification if there is more than one possible outcome.

Ten days later, clutching a water sample, and full of anticipation, we returned to the fish shop. After a nail biting sixty seconds we were cleared to purchase fish. To be perfectly clear about this, there is no law that prevents you buying fish any time, the satisfactory, and complementary water test did not grant any sort of licence, its just the right thing to do. If you wish to have live fish for a reasonable period of time.

There are a bewildering number of fish types suitable for a 65 litre tank.

The advice was to keep to the smaller ones, and add a few at a time. Based on simplicity, and bright colours, a micro shoal of male guppies was decided upon. We opted for the very scientific method of letting the apparently knowledgeable store person chose six males. Females are duller in colour, and boy fish with girl fish soon leads to lots more little fish, the majority of whom are eaten by the adult fish, including parental fish. I already have responsibility for a wife, two teenagers, two dogs, and two rabbits. Six guppies looked manageable, I was not ready to be part of wholesale infanticide. There was still the question of survival on first contact with the tank, not to mention getting them home safely.

It became clear that I was not the first person to buy fish and need to take them somewhere else. I believe the store person thought I was an idiot. I certainly gave him plenty of evidence, sufficient for him to explain the whole process in low count syllable words.  The first bag held the fish, with a sufficient amount of water and air. this went into a second plastic bag, both independently sealed. this package then went into paper bag, and then into a plastic carry bag. These words were treated with the reverence of Testaments, carefully repeating them back, as if to prove I was worthy of taking responsibility for these six sentient beings. My status as an idiot was confirmed.

Its about five miles through city traffic from fish shop to home. I can only apologise to those very important people on matter of life or death missions who were temporarily inconvenienced by an old snot green car travelling slightly below the posted speed limit. I would qualify my apology by stating its a speed limit, not a bloody target. And no, I was not under the influence of alcohol, or anything else. Yes I was wandering about a bit on the road, but only to avoid the worst of the pot holes. These VIP’s took no cognisance of my new responsibilities. Perhaps a sign in the back window would have helped? I drove like new parent going  home from the maternity unit. The idiot tag grew quite a lot more.

After about a thousand years we got home.

Repeating the words of the fish seller like a mantra, the new fish were introduced to the tank in the thirty minute ceremony. It was like a ceremony, and they were kept in their inner transit bag, floating in the tank, for the prescribed fifteen minutes. Then there was the Opening of the bag. The Adding of the Water. A Little Bit At A Time. At the thirty minute mark, the new fish were introduced to the tank.

They swam about a bit, and that was that. They lived. Blood pressure returned to its averagely appalling level, the stress flowed away. They just swam about, bumping into the glass every now and again, and poking at the plant with no name that we had inherited with the tank. They were alive. I sat down heavily, which considering how much weight I’ve put on the past few years, was quite easy, and watched the fish, my fish, swim about for the next hour or so. What were they thinking? Why was I asking that question? Its a slippery slop….

To be continued……