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by Lina Rehal
Living in a condo, we donít have the room and big aquariums are pretty expensive. I knew a goldfish in a bowl wouldnít last more than a week. I wondered if a small fish tank could work as I thought about the possibility of creating my own little sea world.
I googled tropical fish and aquariums and discovered a whole new world. There are so many options. I found several one or two-gallon tanks that could be kept on a small table or desk. They were decorative, had lighting and appeared easy to maintain. My husband isnít a pet person, but he loves things that light up. When he told me to get him an orange fish, I thought it sounded like a hobby we could both enjoy.
With goldfish and a two-gallon tank in mind, my twelve-year-old granddaughter, Katie, and I headed for a local pet store. I was told the small tanks were only for betta fish, Siamese fighting fish that should be kept by themselves. I wanted nothing to do with these aggressive fish. Besides, I wanted a bunch of fish to watch.
After exploring the different species, we decided Glo-fish, in gorgeous neon colors, would be a good choice. However, the water had to be treated and the tank needed to be cycled before adding the fish. About a hundred dollars later, we walked out carrying a ten-gallon tank with a filtration system and heater, a stand, gravel, plastic plants, something to treat the water and the items needed for dťcor. Katie was excited about a giant pineapple and something called Krusty Krab. I had no idea Spongebob Squarepants lives in a pineapple house at the bottom of the ocean and I certainly didnít know where he worked, but it looked interesting. I let her pick out the decorations. We left with all this and no fish.
With the help of Katie and one of her friends, via Facetime, we got the tank ready for the gravel and decorations, all of which needed to be washed first. Washing gravel, or substrate, as itís called, in your kitchen sink is a bad idea. When it started going through the strainer and I realized it could ruin my garbage disposal, I decided it was clean enough.
We glued the blue wallpaper background to the outside of the tank, spread the twenty pounds of substrate on the bottom and carefully positioned the plants and decorations before adding the water. Ten gallons is a lot when you donít have a hose and you have to add a little at a time. We each made several trips with small pans of water until it was finally full. I put in the chemical to take out the chlorine and fired up the filter.
A few days later, the water was perfect. We were finally ready for the fish. They suggested starting with two, adding two more in a couple of days then two more the next week. I was finding out that fishkeeping had a lot of confusing rules.
I chose a bright orange fish and a pretty blue one. Katie and I had already decided to name all six after Disney characters. I couldnít wait to get Nemo and Dory into their new home. I was told not to just dump them in. You have to float the bag they rode home in on top of the water for a while to acclimate them to their new surroundings. Then you get them in a net and lower them into the tank without getting any of the water from the bag into the new water. Easier said than done.
I watched Nemo and Dory explore their new home. They looked happy to me, but what did I know about Glo-fish? Apparently, nothing. I went out later and came home to find poor Nemo lying on the bottom of the tank. Iíd already lost one fish. Within the next hour or two, I lost Dory. I called the pet store in a panic and was told I could return them. ďBring back dead fish!Ē ďYes, if you want your money back.Ē
The next day, Katie went with me to return them. They told me at the store that the fish might have been stressed or it could have been new tank syndrome. Why didnít they tell me this before I blamed myself? We picked out three new fish in three new colors. I showed Katie the process for acclimating them to the water. Minnie and Flounder died within the next couple of hours. Cleo followed them later that night. Back I went the following day with my pets. This was not lowering my blood pressure.
ďIím done with Glo-fish,Ē I said. ďTalk to me about betta fish.Ē
The girl told me I could keep three to five females together in that size tank and make a sorority tank. I started with one beautiful blue female. I named her Sapphire. Maybe Iíll have better luck with gemstone names.
Betta fish like to hide. I had a hard time finding her against the black gravel, but she looked happy. She liked sleeping in the Krab house.
After a few days, I introduced her two sorority sisters, Ruby, another orange fish for my husband, and Diamond, a tiny white female. This is when I learned about bullies in the fish tank.
The next week was difficult. The tiny fish chased after the other two. Then, Ruby started picking on poor Sapphire. Ruby took over the Krab house, leaving Sapphire hiding in corners or burying her head in the gravel. Knowing I had to do something, I got a separate one-gallon tank for Sapphire. However, I was told there had to be an odd number of fish in the tank and I should replace her. Next came Amethyst. A white fish with a pretty purple tail. It didnít take her long to kick Ruby out of the Krab house and start going after little Diamond. When I lost Diamond, I was done adding fish to that tank. The last two would have to learn to get along or I would bring Amethyst back to the store.
I made a trip to a different pet store and asked some questions. I came out of there with a teal blue male betta fish. I swear he was begging me to take him out of there. Probably not a good idea for him. But Topaz was not a baby. I thought maybe heíd be stronger. I remodeled the little tank and got a small heater for it. It had no filtration system. I used only spring water, so I didnít have to worry about chlorine levels.
Meanwhile, things in the big tank werenít going well. Amethyst continued to pick on Ruby until the poor orange fish was so stressed, I had to remove the other fish. I took Amethyst out of the tank and put her in the cup she was in at the pet store. ďYouíre going back tomorrow,Ē I said.
Ruby didnít make it through the night. So much for building a sorority tank. Eight of the nine fish I bought at that store died. This hobby is not for me, I thought. Iím going to return this whole ridiculous tank. I wondered if I could turn the tank into a terrarium.
Later, I began to feel guilty about leaving Amethyst in the cup overnight. She was used to heated water. I dropped her back in the tank before going to bed and checked on Topaz. He seemed happy in his new home.
I left Amethyst in the big tank for a few days while I thought about what to do. It wasnít her fault she was an aggressive fish. I didnít like the idea of only one small fish in that big tank, but I didnít dare put any more in with her. I toyed with the idea of moving her to a smaller one and getting some kind of schooling fish for the ten-gallon one. That made me think I should get a bigger home for Topaz. This was getting out of hand. I couldnít have three tanks.
A little over a month after I started this hobby, Iíd lost eight out of ten fish. Amethyst was the only female left. All alone in the big tank, she appeared to be doing well, but not for long. When I lost her too, I emptied the ten-gallon tank and gave up on the idea of guppies.
Topaz, on the other hand, was doing great. After only two weeks, he began to recognize me and would come right over to the front of the tank the minute he saw me. I knew he wanted food, but it still made me laugh. He was fun to watch and play with. He recognized Katie too. We left sticky notes on the tank for him and tried to teach him to push a ping-pong ball around in the water.
I decided if I was only going to have one fish, he needed more room to swim around. I got him a two-and-a- half-gallon tank with lighting, heat and a filtration system. I gave him lots of greenery, a hammock, a giant clamshell and a rock. He didnít much like the transition, but once he settled down, Topaz loved his new home.
Itís been almost two years now and Topaz still comes to the front of the tank the minute he sees me near it. He knows I mean food. Sometimes, I canít find him. Heís that good at hiding. He likes to sleep in the clamshell I placed in the middle of the tank or up behind the filter. Once in a while, he sleeps on the rock.
My sorority tank didnít work out. But my one betta fish has brought me joy. I even catch my husband stopping to say hello to Topaz.
My advice to anyone wanting to take up fishkeeping would be, do your homework first. Make sure the people in the pet stores you talk to are knowledgeable. Donít try to take on too much at first. START SMALL. Know which fish get along and watch out for those aggressive females. Theyíre not called ďfighting fishĒ for nothing.
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