Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Really Fishy Tale

Dear friends,

My kids love fish!  Not to eat, because I personally don't like seafood and rarely serve it.  I'm talking about the ones in aquariums.  We've had fish in small tanks on and off over the years, but in the past year, it's been more of a consuming focus for them.  They'll gladly pull weeds at a penny for every 2 so they can buy more fish and supplies.  Unfortunately, they had their aspirations for a BIG tank of fish, and were trying to figure out how to pool their resources (including next year's birthday money!) to pay upwards of $100 or more to get at least a 20 gallon one from Walmart.  Hmmm.   They had done a lot of research on-line about different kinds of fish and what they need to survive, which types can live with which, etc.  Quite impressively educational, I might say!

Then a few weeks ago, my friend Kim e-mailed and asked if I could let the folks on my local contact list know that she had a 55 gallon tank she wanted to give away.  No way!  We weren't going to spread the word, because we were going to claim it for ourselves!   (Mwa ha ha!)   Kim's tank came complete with all of the supplies and six convict cichlid fish, so named because their stripes make them look like jail birds -- um, I mean jail fish!

We went to pick up the goodies on a Saturday earlier this month.  Kim's husband transferred the cichlids into a small bucket and drained the tank so we could load it in the van.  While the adults were doing this, the kids were out in the back yard looking at their chickens and tortoise.

Back home, we gave everything a good cleaning out on the driveway, hauled it inside, and set it up in the dining room on a sturdy desk that one of my teenagers didn't need anymore.  I know virtually nothing about aquariums and my husband was out of town, so I was letting my 11 year old son call the shots.  He did well.  His research had paid off!  We conditioned the new water with the drops and then let it sit for several hours, as you're supposed to do.  Meanwhile, we put the fish into one of our smaller tanks to await resettlement in their home.  The littlest one didn't survive the trip to our house, so we were down to five convicts, one for each of the five younger kids.  They named them Wolfgang, Artemis, George, Einstein, and Pocahontas.

We also decided to move three rosy reds and a gourami from the smaller tanks into the big one.  Later, we were told that it's surprising the cichlids didn't eat them.  If they had tried to do that, we would have removed the little ones.  They haven't yet, so we not only left them in, we bought some more small fish (two platys, a molly, and a smaller firemouth cichlid) a week or so later.  So far so good!  The only snag was the the new firemouth got stuck underneath the elevated back of the gravel rack, which we then removed.

About the most excitment that happens in the tank is that the cichlids tend to be a bit agressive with each other.  Two of the bigger ones will often face off and swim at each other, then seem to bounce backwards.  They bounce back and forth several times like this and then swim away for a while.  This happens pretty continually.  I guess this is some kind of turf war over who gets to hang out in the castle or something.  Sometimes, there are two sets of fish doing this side by side, which reminds me of synchronized water ballet.

For the most part, the big cichlids leave the little fish alone.  The cheerful looking red and yellow platys (Spark and Sunshine) tend to swim with each other most of the time.  My elegant black molly, named Ink, wanders around with them sometimes, too.  And our snail just crawls along the glass munching algae.

It's really fun watching all the fish.  We keep a chair there at the desk just so someone can sit there and gaze at them.   We can even pull out the keyboard tray and use it as a place to eat or do school work while fish watching.  It's a great way to relax when you're stressed out, too.  Even watching the currents and bubbles from the filters is soothing.
And that's the end of my really fishy tale!

Virginia Knowles

P.S. A little update on the fishy tale: Two of them started nesting a few weeks ago.  They would pick up pieces of gravel in their mouths and move them somewhere else.  They dug a pit right near one of the hollow rocks so they could get inside from underneath it.  Then they laid eggs just outside it, and soon enough probably about 200 baby fish hatched! A couple of the other cichlids gobbled up lots of the babies, so we removed those two to another tank.  The mommy and daddy cichlid spent the first week or so very carefully and nervously guarding their babies, and they are still hovering nearby though they are letting them swim a little farther away.  If one would stray too far, they would suck baby into their mouths, swim back over to the designated nursery area, and spit them back out.  The parents have also banished all of the other adult fish to the other end of the tank, nipping at their tails if they dare come near.  The babies are still pretty small, probably less than 1 centimeter long still.  We'll have to find a good home for most of them soon, especially since I've seen the mommy and daddy nesting again!  The two aggressive fish that we moved to a smaller tank have also been nesting.   It's mesmerizing to sit and watch the fish and wonder what it would be like to have to guard such a large brood instead of just the 9 of our own kids we still have at home.  These fish parents are quite an example of vigilance to me!

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