Wednesday, 28 February 2007


So, as usual, I start off with a burst of energy, but it isn't sustained. It's been over a week since I last posted...after starting off with many posts a day. On the other hand, I have to ask myself why I am bothering to write - thanks to the sitemeter, it's obvious that I am just writing for myself. With zero readers it's pretty pointless.

So anyway, to update on what's happened - a lot. I continue to have health problems with the platies. I took two more of them out this past week, put them in the small tank and dosed them with Melafix. The female died, the male, who was in much worse condition, seems "fine" as you can be when you are missing a chunk out of your tail fin anyway. The rest of the platies in the main tank seem ok...the big male keeps getting bigger and keeps bullying all the others. The babies (14 at last count) keep getting bigger too.

I moved the male fighter into the breeding box in the main tank, so I could use his tank as a hospital tank. After a few days I let him out into the main tank where he chased every other fish around for a while...and then settled down, but kept following the female around. Eventually things went badly again, she ended up with bloody fins, and he was back in isolation. Unsurprisingly, she hangs around his box all the time.

The 3 surviving pandas seem to be doing well. They aren't as boisterous as the other corys, but they will school with them from time to time. And the latest additions to the tank are four baby angels. They are a lot of fun. They are really cool fish.

Now I need another tank ;) I need to do something to reduce the platy overpopulation, and maybe to do something about the sex ratios (the five remaining adult platies in the main tank include three males and two females. I should really remove two of the males...that would leave the 2:1 (females to males) sex ratio that they recommend. I wonder how a males-only tank would get on - whether they would still bully each other if there aren't any females to fight over...

Saturday, 17 February 2007

Female fighter

We released the female fighter out into the tank yesterday. Figured that the babies have grown so much that they were probably safe from her. It turned out to be a reasonable assumption. Of course, she took it upon herself to chase every other fish out of her space (i.e. the whole tank). For the most part the platies ran from her, although the large male held his ground a while. Eventually she made it down to the bottom of the tank, where she discovered the corys. She stopped, tried to threaten them, but they were oblivious of her (and substantially larger than her), so she moved on to fish she could intimidate.

Twenty-four hours later she has given up on chasing the fish, but spends most of the time sprinting along the length of the tank.


The nitrite levels are down to zero (i.e., below the detection threshold of the water test strips), which suggests that the tank is cycling properly. I suppose that means that I could buy some more fish. Three weeks - I suppose that's reasonable.

Friday, 16 February 2007

Sick fish

Initially the female platies looked significantly stressed, but since the major water change it has been the males that look worse. Basically the water change sent to platies sex mad, and the largest male started bullying the smaller males. The second largest male is the one the got the most harrassment (perhaps because he was more willing to stand up to the largest male, unlike the smaller males who just ran). Anyway, he has had a moderately large whitish patch at the base of his tail fr a couple days - it looks more bacterial than fungal, but I am hesitant to add an anti-bacterial to the tank for fear of disrupting the biofiltration. I added Stress Coat - not sure if it will help, but anything that speeds wound healing (it's basically aloe vera) has some potential to help the fish. I'll see what happens - if need be, I'll isolate him and treat him with something stronger.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

Fish and water

The water chemistry seems to be improving - the nitrite level appears to be around 1 ppm, down from somewhere between 1 and 3 ppm. Hopefully that means that Nitrobacter populations are growing, doing a better job of converting nitrite into nitrate. The alternative hypothesis is that the Nitrosomas populations have collapsed for some reason and the ammonia isn't being converted to nitrite. It's possible, but I think it's unlikely (though I suppose I should test the ammonia levels again).

On the other hand, the second largest male platy isn't looking good - he has splotches of on him, and he is being harrassed terribly by the largest male. I'm guessing the two are related. I need to get something to treat that...if I knew what that was. Anyway, I have a heater to return (it was too big for the small tank).

One real problem with trying to treat anything is that I have two things to manage - the fish and the tank ecosystem. Most anti-bacterials will destroy the biofiltration system, which will put the rest of the tank at risk. I really wouldn't want to start this whole process over. That said, of course, the health of the fish is important. A diseased fish means a much larger population of pathogens in the tank. Even though they were there to begin with, it's that reserviour that has the potential to infect the other fish, the ones that are less stressed.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Mother of millions (or a dozen, anyway)

This is a shot of the first female platy, in the interval between giving birth and dying. I really just did this to try out the feature which lets you email images from your phone to your blog. But anyway, that was one of my platies, on an Echinodorus leaf. Hopefully this makes the blog a little more visually appealing (I think it matches the background colour pretty well).

Dramatis personae IV: snails

While I had to spend money to get the fish and plants, Kingdom Mollusca came along for free. Within a few days of getting plants, I started to see snails in the tank. First one, then another, then a third. I also saw what appeared to be snail eggs (although the most exposed ones soon became Cory food).

After two weeks there's a large - and well-established - snail population going. And there's some decent species diversity - while I know almost nothing about snail identification (or even where the species are from), there are several distinct shell morphologies, including one with a largely translucent shell. With hard water and a high pH I'm sure the snails are happy enough. And while there isn't any algae to speak of in the tank (yet), there are enough plants (and, presumably, epiphylls) to keep them alive. Of course, the plants that brought in snails could have brought in all sorts of other parasites...we'll see how it goes. For the time being there's nothing that eats the snails, so a population explosion is very likely. Of course, I really want Angels...who are moderate molluscivores. Still, I doubt any casual snail eater will really be much good at managing the snail population.


One thing is obvious from these posts. While there are some good people there, overall I'm not sure that the pet store really knows what's what with respect to fish. Of course, it's a big corporate chain. I need to find some small, local fish stores, even if it means taking a trip up to the city.

Dramatis personae III: the fighters

And rounding off the piscine participants are the fighters. I figured that in a 55-gallon tank with a decent amount of plants, I could probably get away with a female fighter or two. I actually find female fighters to be as interesting as the males - while the males are impressive fish, sometimes I think they are too big and long-finned. I really like the basic Betta shape, and these show up in females and juvies. Males are impressive, but the basic shape is lost.

Anyway, we narrowed it down to two females, but we couldn't make a decision, so be brought them both home. Once we got them home I realised that introducing them into the tank would have a devastating effect on the fry. I thought about putting them in the old fighter tank, but the water was too cold, so they spent the night in their little jars on top of the aquarium. The next day, once the fighter tank was warmed up a little, we put them into the tank...and I discovered that one of the females was probably a short-finned male.

So for the time being the female female is in a breeder box floating in the big tank, while the probably male female is in the old fighter tank.

Dramatis personae II: the Corys

My second purchase on fish included not only more platies, but also four Corys. Petsmart had them labelled as Corydoras aeneus, which is one of the things that drew me to them, but once I got them home and looked at them under the lights in the tank, I had my doubts about that designation. One of them looks like a classic C. aeneus, but the other three have broken stripes along the length of their bodies that made me have my doubts. The shape of the head is a little different as well. In addition, while they all school together, the three probable non-aeneus fish tend to school together most of the time, while the clear aeneus fish tends to spend more time alone.

Anyway, whatever they are, Corys are cool fish. They're usually frantic swimmers (although they aren't very active this morning). But what draws me to them most is nostalgia. I had Corys when I first had fish, but after we moved to Dow Village they stayed downstairs and I paid very little attention to them. And then one day I looked in on them and there was at least one more than there had been originally. That discovery really fascinated me, and it has stayed with me ever since. I suppose I was also drawn to C. aeneus because they are a Trini fish, and other than guppies, perhaps the only reliably available Trini fish.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Dramatis personae I: the platies

Since they were the first fish I bought for the tank, I should introduce the platies first. My first purchase was a group of five "sunset coral dwarf platies". I asked for 2 males and three females (they recommend 2:1 female to male sex ratios for platies), but turns out the guy at Petsmart couldn't tell a female platy from a male and I ended up with four males and one poor female...who was very pregnant from the start. (I don't have any pix uploaded, but this is a picture of sunset coral dwarf platies).

As I mentioned before, I returned to the petshop a few days later and got 3 more (female) dwarf platies, and one (female) "mickey mouse platy" which looked something like this one. Shortly thereafter the first female had babies, and a day or so later I noticed major fin rot on both her and the "mickey mouse" platy. Without knowing what to do, I separated out the sick fish...and they died overnight. But after a 10% water change and an increase in temperature, the rest of the fish were ok. Since then, and especially now since my second water change, the male platies are going crazy, trying to mate with everything else (including the Corys). The females (and the second largest male) are looking pretty harrassed. Two of the females are huge with babies - the smallest (and fattest) female is ridiculously large.

And then there are the real stars of the aquarium - the platy fry. But I've said enough about them already.


As of this evening (prior to the water change) we appear to have 12, maybe 13 fry. It's quite a difference from the two or three I initially thought survived. A few days ago I was thrilled with four fry. Now there are a dozen.

I'm really impressed with the fry. They have real personality, real spunk. It's one thing to see them grab a piece of flake food the size of their head. It's even more impressive when they go after the Cory food. The Cory food sinks, obviously, and the platies are as eager to go for it as anyone. It's one thing when the adults grab at it, or try to approach the (far larger) Corys to grab a bit. It's even more impressive when a platy fry finds an untended piece of food and take a bit of something more than five times their size.

More water chemistry

I did a major water change. Several of the female platies were looking very unhappy, so I decided to try a major water change. I changed about 12.5 gallons, probably about 25% of the total water in the tank. I managed to bring the NO2- levels down to between 1 and 3 ppm, down from the "danger" zone to the "stress" zone. Obviously I lowered the NO3- level as well - nothing I could do about that. Hopefully the plants won't mind too much - after all, from what I have read, Fe is the major limiting nutrient.


Of course the most interesting part of an aquarium is the plants. Well, maybe not the most interesting (it's hard to beat the entertainment potential of fry), but they are certainly key components. But given all the other drama, I really haven't managed to give the plants the attention I'd like to.

The most interesting stuff is the Echinodorus - I have two species of it (ok, actually I am not totally certain that the smaller one is an Echinodorus, but it has a similar growth form. Pretty cool plants - really are emergents, of course, but they seem to be happy enough submerged. Since they grow all the way up the the water surface they seem to fulfil the role of floating plants. What amazed me was the way the platies (and snails) demolished one of the near-dead leaves. Once they had a starting point they stripped the leaf and stem down to fibres in a day. The platies are pretty dedicated herbivores when they set their mind to it, but the plants seem to be doing ok overall.

Water chemistry

And then there's water chemistry. We seem to have awfully hard water with a high pH. The pH has been pretty consistently around 8, the alkalinity between 80 and 100, and the hardness above 150. Since I started checking it the ammonia levels have been low, but the nitrite levels are still in the "dangerous" range - around 5 ppm. Nitrates are around 20, which is ok. I suppose that if NH3/NH4 and NO2- are stable, that means that all the added N will either end up as NO3- or plant biomass (i.e., until I do a water change).

Although the NO2- levels are still "dangerous", the fish seem happy enough. High levels of nitrite reportedly will damage gills, but the fish seem to be able to cope with current levels. As long as they don't get any higher I suppose I should wait a while to change the water - presumably, the Nitrobacter will grow faster the more substrate there is for them. According to this site, Nitrosomas and Nitrobacter do best at a pH between 7.4 and 8, so I suppose there's some good to be said for the pH of the water. (Of course, I have no idea whether that website is a reliable source of info or not, and I'm too lazy to figure that out).

Sunday, 11 February 2007

More fighters

I bought a little breeding tank (which is supposed to float in the main tank) for the female fighter. It gives her more space and ensures that she has clean water (or, well, the benefits of filtration) and warm water. Hopefully I can let her into the main tank once the fry get a bit bigger. I bought a heater for the other tank, but it turned out to be too big for the little tank (the heater is as tall as the tank). I feel pretty sure that the other fish is a short-finned male, but I may be wrong. Anyway, for the time being, the water temperature in there is ok (I bought a little stick-on thermometer), so hopefully he'll be fine.

Looking at the 'Bettatalk' website, it would seem that trying to breed "petstore bettas" is a horrible idea that is bad for me and bad for the species. But, the truth is, I'm far more interested in breeding fish, not raising generation after generation of "superior" fish. I'm not going to be a professional breeder, and if I am (a) I'm going to learn how to breed and raise the fish before I get into specific strains, and (b) I'm a big fan of "mutts" and of trying to see what they may have to offer.

We got pretty close to buying a new tank today. I think we could fit another 10 gallon tank, and a full kit runs around $50, which isn't all that bad. It could work as a quarantine tank, or as a breeding tank for fighters - or both, if I clean it up well enough in between. I'll see what happens. I suppose I have a heater to return. I'll make a decision in the next day or two as to whether I want to buy another tank and setup. What's really sad is that I can get the tank (sans all the other stuff) for just $9.00 - that would be enough to breed fighters at home, but here you can't run a tank without a heater. Oh well.


Yesterday I decided to buy a female fighter and add her to the tank. I figured a female or two should be ok in the tank, and that I could buy a male later on. We were unable to decide between two of them, so I figured I would get both of them. Once we got them home I realised the flaw in my plan - the platy fry. While the fry are large enough to escape their parents (and the cory's don't seem very interested in them one way or the other), they are still snack sized for a small fighter. So we ended up putting the two fighters in the old fighter tank this morning...and realised that we don't have two females - we have a female and a short-finned male. At first she seemed interested - getting vertical bars and then went deep red. But then the male started to attack her, and she went pale. After a while she was almost colourless and then I saw some damage to her fins, and what appears to be blood. We took her out, put her back in the cup we bought her in, and floated her in the aquarium. Not sure what to do next.


The large female platy (the only female in the first bunch) gave birth to babies a day or two before she died. Since the tank was moderately planted, a few survived. I noticed that they were able to dive down between the gravel, which probably provided a better hiding place than the plants. To begin with I saw two or three babies. After a few days they became bolder, since the adults didn't both them. Eventually I figured there were at least four fry, and eventually confirmed a fifth.

For a few days I accepted the figure of five, but yesterday I started to wonder if there weren't more. This morning I confirmed 10 fry, some happily nibbling at flakes on the surface, while others were pecking at the Cory food on the bottom.


Linz got me an aquarium for my birthday, and so the adventure began. After a 20+ year hiatus, I was once again fish-crazy. And I made a new discovery - cycling. Back in "the old days" the books I had never mentioned cycling. No one talked about "New Tank Syndrome". It made sense to me - after all, I'm an ecologist, I am aware of the nitrogen cycle. But it still seemed an awful imposition :)

Anyway, with a 55-gallon tank and "magic" bacterial cultures to add, I figured I could cheat a bit. So I added plants, figuring they would help things along, and Linz's fighter. And after a couple days I bought a few platies. That's where the problem started - everything I read said more females than males, so I asked for 3 females and two males. I figured that the guy at the pet store should know what he was up to, but once I got them home and had a look at them I realised that I had four males and one female. So a few days later, since she was being harrassed so much, I added four more females. And, of course, some Corys.

A few days later, after the first female had given birth, I noticed fin rot on her and one other the other females. Not sure what that meant, I moved them into the old fighter tank, where they promptly died. (The fighter had also expired the previous day - I felt really badly, since he wasn't mine). Only then did I got looking online, and realise that rather than being a contagious disease, fin rot was most likely to be a symptom of bad water quality. So I did a water change - about 10%, because I didn't want to mess up the cycling too much.

The next day I noticed that the remaining females in the tank didn't look well either, and had some fin rot. I was going to attribute it to (harrassment by the males, but then I noticed "shimmying", and I remembered seeing something about it on a disease page. So I looked into it, and realised that my water temperature was set really low. I raised it any everyone seemed happy.