Living with any creature brings Nature into your home. Living with fish gives you a window into their world. You become an observer, lacking true understanding, perhaps, but learning to recognise the behaviours and the silent language expressed by movement, interaction, and even colour.
There are the ones who will come to the glass to remind you they would like to be fed. They watch you as much as you watch them and recognise your movements, knowing when the net the vacuum or the fish food is about to be deployed.
There are others who die and tumble through the plants and wood, playing tag, chase and some type of aquatic football with whatever debris they can find. There is the bully… the most splendid fish in the tank… who spends all his time in hiding, until he comes out to prevent any other fish from eating first. His colours change with his mood, from pale when he is sulking, to brilliant orange when he feels amorous.
Others dance, flaring their fins and swimming on their sides, like teenagers displaying their finery to gain position in their group. Others warn you of any change in water quality by fading their colours, long before the test kit picks it up.
Each fish or shoal has its territorial zone in the tank and seldom leaves it… except the bully, who thinks he owns it all. Each one has a unique character, and I know them all as individuals, except the little rummy nose tetras.
The rummy’s do have their own traits… some are more adventurous than others… but they are shoaling fish and need the company of their kind. They function as a unit, swimming together most of the time along the front of the tank.
The fish are a joy to watch and teach me a lot about human behaviour, but somehow or other, a few weeks ago, something got into the aquarium and started killing the fish. First it was a little phantom, that stopped eating, became very thin and died within two days. At first, you just do the obvious…remove the fish, increase the frequency of water changes and housekeeping, check all the water parameters… because, after all, a fish can simply get sick, or grow old and die.
But then, a gourami went, and two of the threadfins, and it got worse, in spite of treating the whole tank. There was nothing to see. No warning… and the fish were dying within a day of falling ill. It didn’t give me any time to try and help. I stepped up the housekeeping yet again, kept on medicating, and after weeks of panicking, seem to have stabilised things at last. There have been no new deaths for over a week. The trouble is that some of the little shoals have been decimated and I daren’t introduce any new fish until I am certain that the tank is healthy. It wouldn’t be fair.
One fish, a little glowlight, is now alone. He is the only one of his kind left in the tank. They are pretty fish, sporting a vividly glowing orange stripe down their pale gold sides, with the same colour over their eyes. Except this one. He used to be a typical glowlight, until he found himself alone. He wandered the tank for a while looking dejected but finding no other fish quite like him, he attached himself to the shoal of rummy noses.
They are about the same size, but the rummys are white, with a red-orange face and striped tail fin. And, apart from the tail, which he can’t quite manage, so… now… is the glowlight. Glowlights are shoaling fish… they like to be in a group. Rummy noses are pretty good schooling fish, and swim as one much of the time. So, now, does the glowlight.
His appearance and behaviour have changed as he seeks acceptance from the shoal. Being an outsider, he doesn’t quite fit… doesn’t quite get it right or look right… but he’s trying. The shoal tolerates him, allowing him to join in, but do not actively include him. The situation is far from ideal, but at least he is not completely isolated.
Every so often, the little glowlight wanders off to be a glowlight again. His colour changes back to vivid within minutes and his true beauty can be seen. He is being himself, albeit a lonely self. The shoal does not miss him, but nor do they reject him when he comes back. He fits nowhere completely at present, and glowlights are the first fish I will replace when it is safe to do so.
As I said, I see a lot of ‘human’ behaviour in that tank. There is a gourami who is now alone too, but he is happy as he is, not seeking company. He would be happier with others of his kind around… but would still not seek them out very often. That is his nature. The only two corys that remain have teamed up and are seldom apart, spending much time touching each other.
There is an odd fish in another shoal… he was ill a year or so ago and recovered but came back with a drooping tail and awkward motion. He finds swimming harder work than the others and is rather bent and lopsided… but he is the happiest, most boisterous fish in the tank…constantly playing with his shoal and starting most of their games, wholly accepted as he is.
The glowlight is an outsider, neither welcomed nor rejected, but fitting nowhere. He changes himself ‘to fit’ in a desperate attempt to be accepted, instead of allowing himself to glow. So many people do the same. Thankfully, though, it is a simple matter to remedy for this fish… all he needs are others of his kind around him… and it will not be long before he can glow again.