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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Could the Tank of Death curse be lifted?!?!?!

As anyone who has ever had a fish tank knows, tanks go through cycles. You have to get them up to speed good-bacteria-wise before fully stocking them with fish (this is actually called "cycling the tank"). And then you have to be prepared to replenish periodically as that modest gourami you bought turns out to be a savage predator, or ick (yes, that's really the name of a fish disease) culls the school, or old age (1 fish year is like 30 people years, or something like that) catches up to them.

And then, there are those times when your tank--for reasons no one, not even your most trusted local fish store (LFS) guy can explain--suddenly turns into the Tank Of Death. When this happens, your 27 gallon room-brightening conversation starter turns into a grim lesson in the laws of nature. One fish after another assumes the final pose at the water's surface. Or appears half-gnawed in the corner behind the big rock. Or simply disappears. First, you think, "Oh crap, another aggressive fish." So, you watch vigilantly. But the thing is, nobody seems really to be chasing anybody in that tank. And anyway, they're all pretty much docile "community" fish. And the algae eater is way too small to have killed the bigger, faster fish that have recently died. So you wait, and change water, and test the water, and take samples of the water to your LFS for them to test with their more sophisticated test kits. And something else dies. And you clean things really well, and you try the antibiotic food, and you try treating for ick, and you double-check the filters. And something else dies. And you keep watching and obsessively monitoring. And you change the water again. And just when a week or so has gone by and you think things are better, another one goes belly up.

It is so incessant a march of death that (if you're me) you even want to shield your pre-schooler from the full scale of the catastrophe. And this is the only place on the planet where up until this moment I've actually been honest about death. It is over the fish-tank that Son created his definition of death: "When you are dead, you can't swim anymore. And you don't have anything else in your mind." But when our tank turned into the Tank of Death, I just quietly kept scooping out all the casualties I could find. And periodically making trips to the LFS to buy new fish. "Cheap ones," I'd explain. "The tank is still a Tank of Death." They weren't overly concerned; this just happens. They'd test the water again to humor me -- but of course, there was nothing wrong with any of the water's parameters. So, they'd sell me something cheap and cheerful, in red, preferably (yes, I realize this is sounding like the purchase of hooker-wear, sorry). And we'd take the little guys home, and release them to certain doom.

When we were left with with one little neon as the last fish standing, we were completely certain that fish-on-fish aggression was not the cause of death. These things only get one inch long. (Photo copyright Practical Fishkeeping; see full article here.) But we were as completely uncertain about what actually was the cause of death.

Still, not wanting an empty tank, I make one more trip to the LFS, and bought a mini-school of five somethings. I don't know what they are. I chose them because they were pretty and cheap. They are an iridescent blue, with small red fins and tails. They are vaguely hatchet-shaped. I was sure they wouldn't make it.

And I was getting tired. So I let the tank cleanings slide a bit more, let the algae get nice and thick (the pleco that was supposed to eat the algae disappeared to the Death Squad a while ago, and no trace of it was ever found, despite the fact that it was a three-inch-long, fat fish prior to its demise). I noted the strange black markings on these newest fish, like little polka dots of charcoal, with resignation. They were marked for Death. I fed them the antibiotic food for a week but didn't really figure things would change. The lone neon died.

Weeks passed. It was holiday time, so I paid minimal attention except to feed and occasionally clean. I did notice that one of the fish was hiding an awful lot behind the plants, and I assumed it was going to be the first to go. I sighed but didn't figure there was anything I could do about it.

And then today, Husband was feeding the fish with Daughter, who had insistently dragged him through the house repeating "Show me, show me. Fish hung-ee." Somehow, half the container of food fell into the tank. This amounts to approximately three months worth of food for five 2-inch-long fish. So tonight I went to clean out the carpet of food that was already beginning to make the water cloudy. It was about time. The algae was serving as a fabulously cushiony carpet-pad for the food, the water level was low, the tank sides needed scrubbing. Basically, the tank looked sad and neglected.

And, lo, what did I find? A BRAND NEW BABY FISH!!! A tiny little silvery thing, darting around, as proudly hatchet-shaped as it parents. The Tank of Death has spawned new life! I called Son over to show him "the coolest thing ever." I was delighted to share what in my mind was a glimmer that the curse had been lifted. He watched the 1/2 inch fish, as I explained that the big ones were its parents. He looked at the five swimming around and, apparently reasoning that everything else in his world seems to have a maximum of two parents, explained back to me that these were also its "aunt and cousin and friend." There was a long pause, and then, "No," he said. "It's not super cool. It's just a baby fish."

If only he knew how extremely incredibly super fabulously cool that one tiny little baby fish is...a miraculous little creature, swimming around in what I can only hope is no longer a Tank of Death.


MultiplesMommy said...

You will be pleased to know that I have decided that your tank is NOT a Tank of Death. No, indeed. I think that your fish, living as they do in a preschooler's house, have watched Finding Nemo one too many times and are not dying so much as they are making a bid for freedom. They are not dead, they are PLAYING dead in the hopes that you will flush them down the toilet so that they can make their way back to the ocean (since, as we all know, all drains lead to the ocean). 'Course, I can't quite explain the ones whose remains are simply parts, except that perhaps they had their own bid for freedom that went terribly wrong (think filter, small pebble and fake plant that's too short...) So take comfort in the fact that all those little fishies are now on their way to the Great Autralian Current to visit their friends and family...

MommyTime said...

I like that...I don't know how the Great Lakes waterway ends up in the EAC, but then again, I'm not a marine biologist. And if fish store medicine can change the color of one's "sick" fish, then surely my drain must be connected to the EAC. I'll use it!

MIQuilter said...

As an expert on Tank of Deaths (I have, not one, not two, but THREE TODs in my household at this time) I can tell you, it goes thru phases.... for a while everything dies (except algae).. .then it goes thru a phase where everything doesn't die.. then everthing dies again. Once a TOD, always a TOD.

Sorry :(

MommyTime said...

NOOOOOOO.....say it isn't so, MIQ! I won't believe it. I just won't. As long as I have one tiny little new fish, I will believe there can be a turning point. (As long as I don't add an algae eater, apparently)


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