It was a day after we replaced the first fish which died that Katie first noticed the ick on the fish. Ick is a parasite that looks like spores which attach to the fish. While not initially mortal to the fish if left unchecked the environment will breed the spores and eventually the ick spores will kill their marine hosts. Initially only one fish had the spores, but that did not last too long.
Katie is a great researcher and as soon as she saw the spots on the fish she began investigating and discovered the ick spores breed in cool water and can be neutralized either with medication or over time with warmer water at a temperature in the mid 80s. This meant we needed either medication or a heater for the water or both. I suggested to Katie there was a pet store on Lentz Trail just outside of Jim Thorpe called Jim Thorpe Pet Supply. Maybe they would be able to assist us.
In the day or two between the time we could get to the store, one of the remaining four fish died while the snail merrily trotted around the aquarium. I called Dan initially and explained our predicament and he confirmed that heat and medication were the only cures but we had to provide a home for the snail as it could not handle the medicine. We visited the store and met Dan in person. He's a great guy and really knowledgeable about pets. He was very patient with us and explained to us what he believed was happening in our aquarium.
He guessed that there was a combination of problems. First was the ick which we already discussed, but he also believed that the water may be somewhat toxic at this point. He asked if we noticed any thready substances in the water or fuzz on the building decorations. I acknowledged there was. Dan said, "That stuff you see is rotting fish food. Apparently you gave them too much food and they did not eat it so the food began to break down and decay."
He went on to explain that when the food decays it creates compounds in the water that are dangerous to most marine life. These compounds were acting as toxins to compound the ick problem and hurt the fish. I asked how we fix the problem and Dan said we could change out some of the water, move the snail into another bowl and then add the medication for three days. Next, he suggested we use a heater for the tank to warm the water up to an acceptable level as he felt the water temperature might be too low.
This was when I learned that smaller is not easier. He explained the heaters are not rated for a tank as small as ours which was about two gallons. He sold us a small one and said we could bring it back if it was not working out for us.
We took his advice as well as purchased a thermometer to better observe the water's temperature. I spent two and a half hours changing water and removing the decorations to turn the tank into the equivalent of a marine quarantine sick room. I also scrubbed all the gravel and filtered the water through cheesecloth to remove most of the rotten food debris. The snail ended up in a bowl with a big plant Dan suggested would be good for feeding him and he seemed content there.
We began our treatments on the water that evening. It was about six drops of medicine for the tank and while it said it might turn the water light blue, the medication really just dissolved into the water. The next morning when we awoke another fish had succumbed. Upon checking the temperature, we realized the water was now close to 90 degrees, much too hot for the fish. We turned off the heater and removed it.
In the next day or so, I returned to Dan and said the heater was too powerful for the tank but at least we tried that method. He told me he understood why I bought the smaller tank but with a larger tank and a scavenger fish or two the rotten food would not be such an issue. The water would dissipate the toxic elements and the scavengers would clean up the food before it rotted. What I thought was a simpler set up ended up being a major contributor to the problem. He said that if we wanted to set up a larger tank once the other fish were treated then he would help us get organized and ready for a new set of fish.
I thanked Dan and told him I would let him know how the fish were making out with the medicine. When I got home, Katie and I talked about what to do next and whether we should commit to the larger aquarium concept considering the small tank has been mostly disastrous for us. I went to bed that night and when I woke the next morning I walked into my daughter's room to check on the fish.
I sat down next to the aquarium and was in time to see one of the fish lose it and start swimming crazily. He was up, down and sideways frantically breaking the surface and then diving to the bottom almost like he was being asphyxiated and then he rested in a corner. I left the room, but when I returned an hour or so later, he also had passed leaving one tetra left.
Coincidentally, the last standing fish was the one that was originally sick with the ick.
Time was ticking.
Til next time …