No sisterhood between fish

Yesterday was not so fun – I had planned to do tank maintenance on my three running tanks, but when I got up, I noticed that one of my two saulosi females was behaving very strangely in a very bad way. She was “wagging” back and forth and obviously had some difficulty swimming. So much so, in fact, that I very easily netted her. Cue #panic – a fish that can’t swim properly is on its last legs, usually. So to speak. I had no idea what the problem was – nobody else was behaving oddly or showing any symptoms – but I knew I had to do something. So I ended up cleaning my quarantine in phases over the course of the day (bleaching, rinsing, and dechlorinating the heck out of it and the equipment) which turned into a day-long nightmare. Because of course the HOB filter would start dripping from the motor o-ring. (Let this be a lesson to everyone: never procrastinate cleaning your quarantine tank until you need it again, it sucks to have to do that while you’re worried about one of your pets!)

Observing the female in the net, which I perched in the main tank until the QT Hotel was ready, I spotted one of the dreaded bloat symptoms. So, not knowing exactly what was wrong, and wanting to give her the best chance possible, I decided to treat with Clout. It’s a 24-hour medication, not one of the “dose this for a week” varieties. I’m glad I chose that rather than one of the longer-running medications, because in the evening I finally figured out the most plausible cause for her symptoms.

She got in a fight, and lost.

African cichlids have two fighting modes – fin nipping/scale biting, and ramming. The first mode is the “general aggression” mode and with proper water quality, the injured fish heal very rapidly, even regrowing large portions of their fins if necessary. (I would use a breeder net to isolate a fish that got nibbled that much, however.) The only previous time I’d seen ramming injuries is when the males got into fights and decided that the loser would be shuffling off the mortal coil entirely, rather than submitting to a lower rank on the pecking order. I hadn’t seen females getting that aggressive with each other before, but I think that’s what happened.

Right now, I have a holding female that’s about ready to spit – I’d catch her and have her spit in a breeder box if I could, gotta work on a new plan other than “chase with net” because my score is 0-10 her favor – and my “alpha” female (ironically the largest saulosi in the tank – I think she outmasses the alpha male by a smidge) is now holding as well, though just in her first week. The two other females started fighting amongst themselves, and I didn’t think much of it, because that’s never been a problem before. But the “winner” is just about ready to pop, she’s so egg-heavy – I expect her to spawn any time now – and breeding females can get very aggressive towards their tank-mates!

So I think that’s what I’m dealing with – ramming injury. The quarantined girl is not swimming normally yet, but she’s showing enough control that I think she’ll be able to recover as long as I don’t screw something up. I hope. No way to tell for sure that she doesn’t have major internal tissue injury – there’s no visible bruising, at least – but the way she was acting was exactly what you’d expect from a fish with very sore sides and some pulled muscles.

I think I even managed to fix the leaking filter, but I’m not impressed at all with the Aqueon Cascade 200, let me tell you! Though I’m thankful I’ll be able to keep using it, at least for now – I’ll pick up some activated carbon filter media for it later today to start stripping the used medication out of the water. I’m not sorry to have used it even if it turns out she’s not “sick” with anything, because the dreaded bloat can come on as a result of stress. And losing a fight, being netted, and being the only fish in a small bare QT is very stressful, if you’re a fish! I may leave her there until the other female is holding, however, because once the female has a mouthful of eggs and settles down into “her spot” (a defensible nook) for the duration, she seems to stay out of the dominance fights and adopt a “leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone” policy!

The December babies can’t grow up fast enough to fill in the numbers – my stocking ratios are all out of whack. (I’m at 3m/4f when I want to have somewhere between 3m/12f to 5m/15f) And I’ll be lucky if I get three females out of that batch of seven, I think – saulosi are known to breed male-heavy which is probably useful in Lake Malawi but not so much in a glass box. But there are more on the way, and once the juvie males start showing color I’m going to be removing them to new homes asap so the male vs. male fighting doesn’t get too bad. The three I have right now have figured out how to coexist with each other, and I don’t want anything to disrupt that fragile peace. Although I guess the females fighting with each other shows that you can’t always guarantee how their fishy personalities are going to interact!

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About pancakeloach

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