A fishy story

Vicki’s tropical fish tank has been set up for years, and I hadn’t realized how run-down it was getting until we started working on it a few months back. Adding some new angel fish was a bad idea; we introduced a disease that killed off all but one of our clown loaches and all but one of the new angel fish. Either that or the water quality problems that we already had were borderline-dangerous, and adding the new fish pushed it beyond livable.

Whatever the reason, we’ve cleaned up the tank nicely, added a vastly better light with a clear glass top – that’s when I realized just how gloomy it had become – cleaned the sides, and started adding more fish.

We’ve always liked the clown loaches more than any of the other fish we’ve had, because they have such interesting behaviors. I would say that they have personalities, if ascribing a personality to a cold water creature with barely a brain wasn’t such a stretch. They school, they find the strangest places to hide, they can sleep – or at least, be inactive – in odd positions. So it was a big disappointment to lose two of the three after having them for so many years.

The final loach hid behind his rock, and we rarely saw him. After I added the light, he started following the angel fish around occasionally – not exactly schooling, but usually being in the same part of the tank.

Then, when we added plants and several other fish, he spent all of his time out in the open. He nibbled on the plants and swam around with the brightly colored neon tetras. Vicki was especially happy to see him out and about all the time, and we plan to add more clown loaches.

But… apparently our water quaility problems aren’t over, or at least we have some issue still that affects tetras. All of the red tetras we added died very quickly. The neons took a little longer, but they started to succumb. I know that tetras are sensitive to some kinds of water conditions; you can’t make the water slightly brackish, which helps keep most fish healthy, because salt is toxic to tetras. I don’t think we have any salt in the water, but Texas hard water may have other problems, and I need to look at what might be going on before I try adding more tetras.

Everything else is fine. The catfish, the gouramis, the one angel fish that we still had, and the loach, all seem healthy. The plants are doing fine. But for a couple of days I was flushing tetras when I found them (and there are several I haven’t accounted for).

Then, yesterday morning, I saw what must be the oddest thing I’ve ever encountered in years of keeping tropical fish. The clown loach was swimming around with a dead neon tetra in its mouth.

It wasn’t eating it. It was just carring it around the tank. It looked as if – and, of course, this is even more ridiculous than claiming that a fish has a personality – it looked as if the loach had found one of the fish it had been schooling with, and wasn’t willing to let it go.

Yeah, it’s ridiculous – but since yesterday morning, the loach has gone back to his old hiding place. He doesn’t come out from behind his rock.

I’m sure that there are good reasons for the events, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that I saw the end of a tiny tragedy.