I’ve learned a thing or two about neon tetras in the last six months.
There are many schools (schools – get it? Fish joke) of thought out there about these little fish and I’m tending to agree with those who say they are extremely sensitive. For those of you who have been following my Fish Tank of Doom saga, there’s more. I’m hoping some sort of fish police don’t pull up to my front door and cart me away to rehab for well-meaning fish keepers.
Neon tetras are silver with red and blue racing stripes and they are quite lovely. They zoom around the tank and are such fun to watch.
Unless they’re dead.
The whole saga started after the last of Boychild’s long-lived goldfish floated to the proverbial aquarium in the sky. We decided on neon tetras because they’re so flashy and because I had kept some years ago with no problem or fuss.
The story of our first batch of 14 ended badly. Some rather serious water chemistry issues led to 100 per cent mortality within 24 hours. We learn from our mistakes, though, and when we purchased a fresh dozen (from a different store – too embarrassed to go back to the first), we were certain we had solved all problems.
This is a great theory if you follow basic fish-introduction rules, primarily: float the bag, you idiot! Floating the bag is literally that. You put the bag of fish in your tank for a while so they get used to the temperature and so that you can slowly exchange the water. Dumping new fish directly into a tank results in shock. Their bellies puff up (swim bladders) and they swim funny and float to the top. If you’re lucky, like I was, they will survive the Fish Tank of Doom.
For a long time things went merrily along with our 12 tetras and two algae eaters. Then they got ick – a charming fish illness. I nursed all but two of them back to good health.
Over the past several months a few have died off for no discernable reason and I’m willing to speculate it is because it was simply their time. After all, I have learned a lot. I change water and clean tanks and use special stuff to keep things healthy and I test the water frequently and watch the fish almost as compulsively as I check e-mail.
When we got down to five, I suggested to Boychild that maybe we could replenish the population a little, so we went to a fish store that had come highly recommended. We got eight new neon tetras and four little peppered corys that look like spotted catfish and comb through the pebbles looking for debris with their whiskers. Very cute.
The tank was ready. I tested the water. I floated the bag. I tested the bag water. I exchanged the water. I slowly and carefully released the new fish. I tested the water again.
And we watched.
Things looked great. The new fish (which were frighteningly tiny) schooled with the old fish. They zoomed around. They ate. There was no sign of shock and no sign of ick – no sign of anything.
And then, one by one over 48 hours, each of the new little tetras went off by itself and, within half an hour of doing so, died.
Everyone else was fine, though, including the corys. A knowledgeable friend says it sounds as if I did everything right. I even chatted with a guy at a local bait shop who has been rearing minnows for decades, and he says fish stocks aren’t what they used to be.
I turned to the Internet, where you can always find reassurance if you look in the right places. I quickly discovered many websites and blogs proclaiming the hardships of neon tetra ownership. I have concluded that these fish are likely to die if you look at them funny.
Boychild is taking it well – better than I am. He is used to Bad News About Fish. My friend says that someday, years from now, he’ll say, “Hey, Mom, remember that time when you kept killing all of my fish?”
Published in The Perth Courier, Aug. 19/10