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Aquarium.Net Jan 97 Move the Furniture

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Move the Furniture, Confuse the wife?

By Mark Lehr


I don't understand, I've never had a problem keeping Zebras with Neons before. Neither have I, says your fish clerk, but it sure is difficult to keep Neons with Zebras! What? What is that supposed to mean? Well, before you decide to start looking for another pet shop, perhaps you should consider what this crazy sales person is saying. Believe it or not, this may be the best advice you'll ever receive as you get started in this pastime that some of us dare call a hobby.

When attempting to establish a peaceful, coexisting community of fin-nipping, women chasing, semi-starving tropical fish, the most important thing you can do is to heed this advice. Although this may be a slight exaggeration of the aggression that can be expected from the most peaceful of fish, in reality this is not far from what seems to be taking place in the beginning hobbyists aquariums.

As I did when I first entered the world of fish keeping, most beginners have a small aquarium of 10 or 20 gallons, with an artificial plant in each corner and a castle in the middle. They then lumber off to the local pet shop to buy fish. Somewhere in the scheme of things a simple-minded employee recommends that they purchase a pair of starter fish. These will probably be a pair of Zebra Danios, or another inexpensive, hardy fish. Nobody at the store explains that what will actually happen over the next few weeks is the transformation of these newly purchased fish into aggressive serial killers. Many newcomers to the hobby mistake this aggression as a sign of hunger. Complicating matters further they then begin to overfeed. Yet the aggression continues. In reality the problem started before they even put the fish in the tank.

The first mistake is purchasing fish, especially schooling fish, by the pair. Within a school of fish a natural pecking order is established. When you buy two fish, one constantly picks on the other. The bully dominates the feeding area, grows larger faster, and eventually the weaker fish moves on to fish heaven, where it will be eternally happy. You see, in fish heaven, fish are always kept in groups. This way the bully of the group splits its time picking on all of the fish in the school. (Yes, there are bullys in fish heaven.) Here, no one fish receives constant bullying. The result is a school of healthy fish, content to spend the day searching for a potential mate, and living a long, happy life.

This same problem occurs even if fish do not naturally school. Just try putting two Swordtails together in a small tank. Because these are fish of the same species, in nature they compete with each other for mates, food, and territory. In an aquarium they are doomed to fight until the unfortunate demise of one fish. You could get lucky and get a male and a female. The odds here are one in four, so 25% of the time you should leave with a potential pair. That is, if the female is ready to breed. If not, the woman-chasing  male gets mad and chases the female around. Eventually you have a dead female and a single male. This happens with fish of almost any species. You could have avoided sure death by buying only a single fish.

So I should always buy only one of each species? you ask. Well, not exactly. If you wish to keep tetras, barbs, danios, rainbows, or almost any small fish regularly found at your local aquarium shop, it is best to keep schools of at least 3or more.. Schooling fish perceive information about their surroundings based upon the behavior of other fish in the school. Kept alone they may not even recognize a potential predator from a potential food source. Keep in mind, the more the merrier. If you wish to keep fish which do not naturally school in the aquarium, such as Gouramies or Livebearers, you should keep multiple females and one male in the aquarium. This will prevent male aggression and allow the male multiple mates to pursue , so that he doesn't stress any one female beyond the point of tolerance.

When adding your first fish you should also consider other species which you may want to keep in the aquarium. It is a very good idea to carry a notepad with you to the pet shop and write down all the fish which you plan on keeping. This way the fish clerk will be able to help you pick out the fish which will cohabit in the aquarium most comfortably. Together, you will be able to decide what fish you should add to the aquarium first.

It is a common mistake to assume that only aggressive fish are territorial. This is not true at all. All fish are territorial and resent newcomers to their home. Because of this, the most peaceful of the fish you wish to keep should be added first. You should especially refrain from adding fish to an aquarium which are smaller than the current occupants. The fish you already have may mistake the smaller fish for food! This leads us back to our Zebra Danios, which are about to become your worst enemy. Zebras are very likely to be nippy towards other fish which are added after them, especially if your aquarium is still in the cycling process. During this time the

Nitrites will still be at a stressful level, and we all know how well we get along with others when we are feeling stressed. Therefore, it is best to add only very peaceful fish to a new aquarium if you plan on maintaining a community. Of course, you could always....

.... add more decorations. What?! What does that have to do with my serial killer fish? I'm glad you asked. Fish determine their territory by the familiarity of the surroundings. That is, the decorations. If you just must start your aquarium with the most inexpensive fish available, ie. Zebra Danios, or if you have already bought fish which you feel may cause problems in the future, simply remove their territory. Yes, remove it. Before you leave for the pet shop take all the decorations out of the tank. Take 'em out. Then make sure you have cash in the wallet to buy more decorations. When you go home, put all the decorations back into the tank a different way, and add your new decorations. Your fish will be so lost that they wont even notice the new little bite-size Neon Tetras you just bought. Your Swordtails will be swimming around just trying to figure out where in the world the kitchen is. They won't care at all about the new fish. I believe in this strategy so much that I often use it even if I don't suspect a problem will occur. After all, why take a chance?

I know what you guys are thinking. Great, I'll go home, rearrange all the furniture, maybe even add an entertainment center. The wife won't even notice the new girlfriend...Sorry guys, I've tried it, this only works with fish.

Mark Lehr

Created by liquid
Last modified 2006-11-18 15:17