The pearl lace gouramis seem to think spring is in the air. While the female is looking fatter than usual, the male’s chest is brilliant orange and he keeps blowing bubbles. Gouramis build bubble nests on the surface of the aquarium, but, what the water movement in the tank, such a nest is unlikely to survive. He needs something to protect the fragile construction, and the best thing I could thing of would be a plant…something close to nature. So, off I went to the local aquarium place. Floating plants never survive in this tank, but I had seen some green and growing things attached to bits of coconut shell and sporting suction cups. I could grow one just below the waterline. The fronds would make a perfect protection for the bubble nest, should the fish actually decide to spawn, and would offer some hope of survival to the babies if it all happened behind my back. Perfect.
The plants proved to be less than half the price I expected, so two were chosen, fished from their tanks and unceremoniously dumped in a plastic bag by an assistant who was, quite obviously, on his first day in the job. Aquatic plants are usually sent home with at least a little bit of water.
Failing miserably to resist temptation, he also caught and bagged a baby ancistrus for me… a tiny white bristlenose with a tail almost as long as its body, and a body no bigger than a pea. Even I could justify that.
It took the cashier a while to ring everything through as he had yet to learn the ropes. Then there was a twenty minute drive back home, before emptying the car, greeting the dog and letting her out, and crucially, filling the kettle while I floated the little ancistrus in the tank to begin its acclimatisation.
It was only then that I started messing with the tank. The airlines needed sorting, which upset the poorly fish who has just come out of hiding. He fell ill at Christmas and has hidden in the plants ever since. With his immune system down, finrot set in and he lost his tail. Meanwhile I dosed him and his tankmates with anything that might help. I didn’t expect him to make it, but make it he has, growing back almost all the lost tail and finally emerged from hiding. He is so pale he is almost translucent, swims with a strange motion, his body has curved from the sleek lines of his species, but he is swimming, eating and starting to play again.
I managed to get the new plants positioned in the tank and immediately noticed something odd. All the little shoaling fish what would normally swim at the bottom of the tank, were now happily exploring the mid-level. Giving the aquarium a more natural feel, with plants both above and below, changed their behaviour straight away. They felt safer, I think, with the cover above them… more at home. The gouramis seemed to love the new decor, and I was pleased with it too; it looks far more natural, apart from the horrid blue gravel that really has to go.
It would be easy enough to just scoop it out and replace it with something more pleasing, but the stuff is full of all the bacteria that keep the tank healthy. Although I have worked out a way to do it safely, the fish are happy and that is what matters most. My own preferences are aesthetic… but while they are in my care, the needs of the fish come first.
I released the little fish into the tank and watched him explore for a while, then set about clearing up the bits of airline and plastic bags. It was only then that I noticed the corpse. In the bottom of the bag in which I had brought the plants home, with the couple of teaspoonfuls of water that had drained from their leaves, was a little eel-like loach. It lay there looking like a brightly coloured wet worm… and as I have a real phobia of wet worms, I was not best pleased.
I was none too pleased for the poor fish either. The inexperience of the shop assistant had cost it dearly. I picked up the bag gingerly, and was debating disposal methods when it wriggled…or maybe it was just the movement of the water? It could not possibly have survived for so long in so little moisture, and chilled from the journey. Either way, I nearly dropped the bag… that phobia is very real and is one reason I don’t have loaches. Another is the gravel… wholly unsuitable for a fish that loves sand. I really would have to change the blue gravel to have loaches. And they are sociable and need to be kept in groups.
Apparently, they are pretty hardy too, because it wriggled again… this time unmistakably. I put some aquarium water in the bag and floated it to warm it through. It swam around frantically…definitely more alive than dead. Fifteen minutes later, I watched it disappear into the undergrowth, perfectly happy… but about to be very lonely. I now have a loach.
It was at this point that disaster struck. The power went off. A quick call to the power company suggested it would be off for up to four hours. Aquarium fish rely on a balanced ecological system and healthy colonies of bacteria in order to survive. If the power goes off, the bacteria in the filter use up all the oxygen in the water and begin to die after just one hour. When the power comes back on… if the fish in the tank have survived falling temperatures, rising biological pollutants and lack of oxygenation, the dead bacteria and their toxins flood the tank and can cause health problems for days and weeks afterwards.
As soon as you begin to care for another species, you realise how interdependant everything is on every other part of nature. The enclosed world of an aquarium allows you to see this in action very clearly, from birth to death, from predation to territorial disputes. The unseen life that maintains the life of the fish must be tended, the plants and other organisms that clean the water and devour detritus are essential, as are the cycles of light and darkness, the warmth and the food. Threaten just a single link in that chain and the whole collapses. The lives of the fish mirror our own more closely than we might care to think.
Fifty five minutes later, with me still dashing around gathering covers and pricing up battery operated oxygenators, the power was restored. Hopefully, everything will be fine and everyone will survive. I am more than pleased about that… between Mother’s Day and Easter gifts, all the lonely shoalers have become part of shoals again. Except… I now have a lonely loach who needs company. And sand. And I need a bigger tank…