Fish Care

The Reality of Fish-Breeding

guppy fry Guppy fry

Just a word of warning to beginning aquarists, its better not to expect either to breed fishes too soon after purchase, or to rear too big a proportion of fry from eggs that have hatched. Reality probably hits most often in regard to the bubble-nest-builders.  Expectations are high because, in the first place, they are among the fishes most readily spawned. Secondly, their small eggs are usually numerous, anywhere between 300 and 600 or more being common. With luck most of them hatch. Unless eaten by a parent they live about a week, even without food. At that point the let-down begins, even with food, especially in a small tank, their numbers start to decrease. Indeed if the number reared to half-adult size is 50, it should be considered to be above average. All too often it comes down to half a dozen, or even less. One consolation is that the survivors must be the naturally strong ones, fit for carrying on the reproduction of the family. Is this infant mortality rate unavoidable? In an aquarium or tank under 15-gallon size the practical answer is yes. The newly-hatched fishes are very small and our guess is that in a small tank there are insufficient amounts of very small infusoria to give the babies a start until they can eat the sizes present in most cultures. At any rate, the larger the tank, the better the chances. This follows through until one reaches something like an outdoor pool say 5x5 feet, in which approximately 100% of hatched fry may reach maturity, barring other misfortunes. This may explain why the beginner with limited water space should not be too disappointed if only a small proportion of a hatching reaches maturity.  Another way to increase your chances of success is to place an EcoBio-Stone in your tank. EcoBio-Stone takes care of the toxins that are dangerous to fish while slowly replacing necessary trace minerals, creating a healthy environment for breeding fish and reducing loss. In referring to “pairs” of any kind, I must touch on the subject of “guaranteed” pairs, usually bought at a good fat premium price. They are usually a disappointment, and not worth the outlay, for they seldom make good. This is not meant to cast any reflection on the honesty of the seller, but pairs that are known to have bred may be "bred out". No one can tell when time has caught up with fertility. Besides a change of environment may throw a pair out of reproduction rhythm. It is best to develop one’s own breeders if possible. As to time required for breeding after acquiring a pair, there of course can be no set period of reasonable expectation. I refer mostly to the egg-laying type of fish. They may possibly be ripe for spawning almost at once, but ordinarily they need not only to be well-fed (on live food if possible), but must have time to adjust themselves to new surroundings and changed water. Several weeks are usually needed. Besides (although we do not know why) some species are difficult, even for experienced aquarists, to get to spawn at all. That is true of most of the Characins (Tetras). It sometimes happens that a beginner has acquired one or more kinds of fishes that are always difficult (or nearly impossible) to breed, even if they are close relatives of species that are easy to reproduce. Here are a few examples: Corydomr pazleaim, and C. azenezu are often bred, but that is not true of other members of that large family. Razrbommeinkeni is the only one of its numerous family, possibly excepting the "Scissors Tail" (trilineatur), from which success may be more likely. The live-bearers are more obliging and less sensitive to change. In fact new water and changed surroundings often stimulate them to early delivery. It is from the egg-layers that we should not expect too much too soon. In any case, optimism is good, but it should be tempered by what may be called “reasonable and realistic expectations.”



The Dreaded White Spot: Treating and Preventing Ich

fish with ichIf you keep fish, you've almost certainly heard of Ichthyophthirius Multifillis...or, more simply, Ich. Though many amateur aquarists misdiagnose their afflicted fish with Ich because of the presence of any kind of white spot, once your fish actually have the real disease it's unmistakable.

Ich is a parasite that first appears as a bunch of small white cysts on the fish's skin, generally concentrated around the gills and fins. These spots are "clean" and compact, looking much like someone sprinkled salt over your fish. If this does not describe the spots on your fish, it's not Ich...fin rot, columnaris and a multitude of other parasites and infections have some form of white or grey spotting. Ich can be deadly to the fish, though surprisingly most fish that have Ich do not die because of the parasites. Instead, most die from secondary infections from having less-than-pristine water or even from the harsh medications meant to treat Ich.

How do the fish get Ich? Sometimes it's from infected new fish, sometimes there are even parasites already living in the aquarium that you never know about until conditions are right for them to infect the fish. So what do you do? keep your fish as healthy as humanly possible. If a fish is active with a strong immune system and a healthy slime coat, their chances of being infected are minimal. In the event that such a healthy fish does get infected, they have a very good chance of fighting off the parasite and avoiding secondary infections.

The first step to keeping fish healthy is to feed them a high-quality, varied diet. The food sold at most pet stores do not qualify as high-quality, though if it's all that's available it will do for maintenance care as long as they have some dietary variation. It's easy to cultivate live food such as brine shrimp, vinegar eels, mosquito larvae or grindal worms to add necessary protein and variety into the diet. There are plenty of online sources of healthy fish food as well as recipes for creating your own top-of-the-line food for your finned pets.

The next - and most important - step to keeping fish healthy and preventing secondary infections in afflicted fish is to have a clean aquarium. Just because the water is clear, doesn't mean it's clean or healthy. A healthy tank will require a partial water change at least every two weeks, depending on stocking levels (though water maintenance products such as EcoBio-Stones can significantly reduce these), and nitrate levels need to be kept below 20ppm. Most books and sites will recommend no more than 40ppm nitrates, however some types of fish and invertebrates such as snails, shrimp, smaller tetras and angels do not like the higher levels, so it's always best to err on the side of caution.

Water changes help keep the parameters within acceptable limits, help remove excess organic material such as waste and uneaten food, and also replenish required minerals in the water that the fish use up over time. If you prefer not to do as many water changes or are physically unable to, there are alternatives to doing so many. My favorite is the aforementioned EcoBio-Stone, which is a water maintenance product that introduces beneficial bacteria into the aquarium (which keeps the biological filter healthy) and slowly leaches necessary minerals into the water to keep fish healthy. You'll still need to do a gravel vacuum occasionally to remove excess organic material or stir your substrate to get rid of potentially harmful gas pockets and bring the organic material up where your mechanical filter can remove it from the aquarium.

Finally, if your fish do get Ich, avoid commercial medications if possible. Most Ich medications contain Malachite Green, a chemical that is very toxic in concentrated amounts and is often used as a dye. This is very effective at killing parasites, but is also very hard on the fish and you run a risk of killing them too. Invertebrates and plants are at special risk with these products. Instead, make sure your water parameters are ideal (this may require a partial water change) and then treat with aquarium salt and a topical antibiotic such as Melafix. Exactly how much of each of these will depend on the size of your tank and whether you have invertebrates or scale-less fish such as tetras. While any medication is being used you should remove activated carbon from the filter. If you have EcoBio-Stone, vacation food, calcium blocks or any other leave-in or time-released products they will need to be removed before treating the aquarium. Keep EcoBio-Stone in de-chlorinated water if you'd like to avoid any extra re-starting time.

If you wish to decrease treatment time, raising the temperature will speed up the life cycle of the parasites so they can be killed sooner, but be careful if you decide to do this. Many sources suggest heating the water to 80F which is great for tetras, guppies and the like, but the safe temperature varies widely for each fish. The temperature of the water determines how much dissolved oxygen the water can hold, so it's safe to heat the water to the upper comfortable limit for each fish but not much warmer. This means that for many hardy community fish 80F works well, but for some goldfish or mosquito fish it shouldn't be any warmer than 75F while some types of cichlids may be able to handle 83F without a problem. Do some research on all the species of fish in your aquarium to determine how much you can safely heat the water.

Bear in mind that the salt will kill the parasites, but it cannot harm them while they are inside the fish. It can take up to two weeks for the cysts to burst and another couple of weeks after that for all of them to die. The aquarium should remain treated for the entire time, about 4-5 weeks. The antibiotic helps prevent deadly secondary infections. After the treatment phase is over the salt and medication may be removed by water changes or with activated carbon; then you just need to examine your feeding and maintenance habits to keep the infestation from happening again.

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