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The babies are gone
John Shepard ( - Thur Oct 21, 2010 03:26:25 GMT - 1124
''The fry are all dead.

I know what happened. ''

I had decided to remove the plastic tree stump decoration. It was occupying space where live plants were trying to grow.

When I pulled it, it uprooted one of the plants, which I didn't realize had wrapped its roots around the corner of the thing. It lifted up a large section of the black sand, stirring up a huge cloud of crud from underneath it - and instantly the entire room was filled with the smell of rotten eggs. And you know what that means. There were corys running for their lives.

I did an emergency water change, and this probably saved the corys.

But the mini tiger barbs, being a third the size of the smallest of the corys, were apparently too small to withstand the temporary cloud. They spent a day or two gasping at the surface, and started to disappear, until the last (and largest) two were found dead in the basket. I think the sulfide cloud damaged their gills and they were too small to recover.

It's the first time I've buried tiger barbs. Only the last two were big enough to bury.

I'm more disappointed than upset.

I expected some losses through attrition. The reason fish lay 300 eggs at a time is because not all of them are going to make it. I know that I caught and transferred a total of twelve fry into the basket, but at no time did I ever count more than seven alive in the basket at once - I think the larger ones may have eaten some of the tiny ones, I think some died of natural causes, I think some may have even been eaten by the snails that got into the basket. But I didn't expect to lose every single one of them.

It would have been another month at least before they were big enough to turn loose in the open tank.

I counted four separate batches of fry - four distinct stages of development, four sets of eggs - and the breeding seems to have stopped before we went to Indiana. It has not resumed.

This is not how I wanted the overcrowding problem to be solved.

But at least now I don't have to worry about what I'm going to do with all of them.


And what of the other fish? What are their fates?

Hose had gotten so big it had trouble swimming. After the die-off of the tiger cubs, I took out the mesh basket and put in a clear plastic breeder basket and migrated Hose into it - where the crazy abdomen continued to swell up. I tried starving it, which made it even bigger - it got so big it could not actually swim, only scoot along the bottom of the basket. So I started feeding it again, whereupon it had difficulty reaching the food because it could not swim to the surface to get it nor orient its mouth toward the bottom to pick it up.

Expecting to find an exploded fish within 24 hours, I moved Hose to the hospital tank and doped it up with methylene blue, at a thicker dose than I normally dare. Not permanently - just for a few-hour soak. Then back to the basket in the big tank. Intention was to do this once every day.

By the same time the next day, Hose shrank enough that it could start to swim around.

A day or two after that I released it from the basket and allowed it to rejoin the general population.

Now it's back to the size it was in May or June.

I can't prove it was the methylene blue soak. It could also have been water changes, pH balancer, or maybe the disorder just naturally ran its course.

What was it? Well, it was obviously a fluid buildup of some sort, not gas - it was the same density as water or slightly denser, which is why Hose had to struggle to get off the bottom. It was more on one side than the other, suggesting a single organ - with dropsy, everything swells up, every cell in the body, scales stick out like a pinecone, eyes bulge out, etc. It seemed to rise and fall very slightly in reaction to changes in water quality, suggesting an osmotic problem. So I'm guessing something renal, like a kidney taking on too much water.

Hose is fine now. Hose also has wrinkles and bumps where its abdomen was stretched to the diameter of a cherry tomato. A fish with stretch marks.

Or let's characterize fine. Hose was born deformed. It came from the store with a distinct sharp downward bend in the spine just under the dorsal fin. From what I've read, this deformity is a known and common thing in fish - a single missing vertebra in one particular spot - and it always causes the internal organs to bunch up towards the front. This is where they get the round-bodied "fancy" goldfish, among other hideous genetically altered freaks. Anyway. Hose's body length is stunted and its tail points an odd direction, but its organs continued to grow as if they belonged in a normal-sized adult danio - but all pushed toward the front.

Which means that when Hose is healthy, it's still bizarre-looking.

And I say 'it' because the cues we'd usually use to tell if Hose is male or female are decidedly distorted. The other danio is clearly female and we've never seen any signs of them breeding, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything - Hose could be physically unable to spawn because of the deformity.

But at least explosion is no longer imminent.

All the other fish are OK. Only the babies did not survive the cloud. Current tank standings: two zebra danios, four tiger barbs, four Corydoras habrosus, one Siamese algae eater or something that looks like one, one Amano shrimp, and various snails.

I know what induced the tiger barbs to breed in the first place.

I bought these barbs at half their current size. They grew into monsters pretty gradually - such that the only real clue of how much they'd grown was, one day, noticing that one of them hadn't grown, probably because it was being chased away at feeding time.

The quarantine tank was at the time freshly unoccupied - except for the first three red cherry shrimps - so I moved that one barb to it, so I could make sure it was eating.

After a few days, when I could no longer get an accurate count of cherry shrimp, I decided it was no longer in danger of starvation, so I moved it back to the main tank.

About two weeks later I started noticing pairs of eyes near the waterline.

All the sources I've read say the tricks to inducing at least the easier types of fish to breed are:
- separate the male
- feed everyone really rich, high-protein foods such as frozen bloodworms, to simulate bug spawning season
- do a water change using cold water to simulate the rainy season
- reintroduce the male.

Well? Unintentionally I had discovered this same formula. Apparently the runt is a male. I was feeding everyone bloodworms already but apparently red cherry shrimps are good too. And I always do cold water changes, to keep strange stuff from leaching into the water from the water heater.

So now that I know how to do it, the question is, should I try again?

I have to admit it's pretty cool to have fish that can make more of themselves. The original plan anyway with the barbs was to increase their fleet to the magic number of six, at which point they are supposed to stop brawling and start schooling. So why bother buying more, when it's cheaper to make them in-house? It really won't take much, now that I know how to make it work: just move that one barb (if I can figure out which one it is) to the quarantine tank for a few days. Maybe this time I'll use frozen mysis shrimp or something instead of red cherry four-dollar-a-shrimp.

Or... instead, go find a really healthy-looking male zebra danio and put that in the quarantine tank for a month, feed it mysis shrimp, and introduce it to the females. I have to admit it's tempting. Ironically the store with the best-looking zebras right now happens to be the one that used to have the awful black brush algae problems, the one I swore I'd never buy fish from.

The ones I really want breeding are the corys. But they are not cooperating. I'm not even sure which ones are which gender. (Nor do I think they could even get a whole red cherry shrimp into their tiny mouths.)

The really nice thing about breeding your own is that you know where it came from. It wasn't abducted from a river in Venezuela, it wasn't a refugee from the feeder tank, it wasn't fed live tubifex worms with parasites. It was born in your water, presumably if it survives infancy it must have adapted - and if its parents were wild caught, it should outlive them twice over. Assuming you don't uproot any huge plants and flood your tank with death, that is. So don't do that.

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