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· Fertile Myrtle
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By Russell D. Carroll

You'd think that once you buy a tank and put fish into it, that the
next obvious step is to watch the fish. However, it often doesn't turn out that way. You'd be surprised how many people buy fish and aquariums and then never look at them again. Though it may seem obvious, you will enjoy keeping your fish more if you watch them. I can promise you that both you and your fish will have lest stress if you spend at least 30 minutes a day looking at your aquarium(s).

This doesn't mean you need to spend 30 minutes for each aquarium that you have. In fact, you can even count the time you spend feeding the fish as watching. (provided you actually look at the fish) The main key is just to look. Look and see what the fish are doing.

One of the intangibles of the hobby is understanding how fish act.
You'll find that hobbyists that have been in the hobby for a long time seem to know just by looking at a fish whether or not it's breeding or sick. Many hobbyists can determine the sex of a fish just by observing its behavior. How does one gain this type of knowledge? By continued watching of the aquarium.

It would be impossible to explain all the different types of behavior that fish exhibit, but there are a few common things that you can watch for that will help you know what your fish is communicating.

Swimming style. Is the fish swimming 'normally?' That can be a hard question. Some things you should look for are whether the fish swims with clamped fins? Does it appear to be scratching against the rocks, gravel, or other decorations of the tank? Is the fish swimming upside- down? (usually a bad sign) Is the fish darting about? --All of these things can mean different things in different cases. For example, many cichlids will periodically scratch themselves against the gravel in a tank. However, if a cichlid is continually scratching itself, this is an indicator of a possible parasite infection. How would you know for sure? You would have to watch to see if the behavior was out of the normal for the fish in question.

Breathing. Is the fish breathing hard and fast? You may be able to
tell this by looking at another fish in the same aquarium, but you may not be able to depending on the fish. However, if you are keeping a watchful eye on your fish, you will probably notice if a fish or an aquarium of fish begin breathing heavily. This is often caused by a lack of oxygen in the water, perhaps as a result of high ammonia levels, or a malfunctioning filter. In either case, noticing this situation can help you quickly resolve the situation.

Hiding and lack of hiding. Many fish are skittish around humans and will dart into hiding places. Others will remain in hiding places
continually without ever showing their face. Depending on what kind of fish you have this could be natural, or a warning sign. Clown knives like to hide, for a fish like that to be hidden is completely normal, though many aquarists find it annoying. Cichlids also like to hide, but are better suited to staying out in the open. Often if you have some 'dither fish', fish that pose no threat and that swim constantly, cichlids will stay out in the open. This can help you in two ways. First off, you'll be able to see your cichlids, and secondly, your cichlids won't be under as much risk of darting into something that might hurt them.

Coloration. Coloration is a good indicator of many things. The most often times fish show their coloration is when they are breeding or being territorial. Clown loaches are a great example of this. If you see a 'school' of clown loaches what you are actually seeing is a group of fish trying to maintain their dominance. If you watch you will see the loaches go through a myriad of colors in a very short time. They may appear so pale that you wonder if they are well, only to color up a few seconds later to the deep orange and black that they are so cherished for. With many cichlids, you will see the female color up just before she is ready to breed. This can be a good sign to remove the 'pair' to another aquarium.

Body size. Often you will notice a fish get very large very quickly.
This may because the fish is a female getting ripe with eggs, or it
may be some type of bacterial infection. How do you tell the

I hate to say it, but you have to keep watching your fish, or you just won't know. Conversely, you may notice that a fish keeps eating and getting smaller at the same time. This often happens if the fish has an internal parasite. Some fish shipped directly from the wild will have many different internal parasites that can cause great stress to the fish.

Cowering. If you see a fish cowering at the top of the tank, there's a good chance that it's not happy. Fish will often cower if they have become the main target of a bigger bully. Though sometimes the fish under attack will escape without any wounds or torn fins, the constant amount of stress they are under can lead to disease. However, sometimes there is a bit of cowering that can occur if you are trying to breed a fish such as a cichlid. Couples don't often "hit it off," and that leads to one fish in the top of the tank. I wouldn't recommend allowing this behavior to extend beyond 24 hours, no matter what the case.

Watching your fish may seem to be elementary, but it is a very
important part of the hobby. Most of the time it is fun just to watch fish. If you watch fish you will see some of the most amazing behaviors in the animal kingdom. Every seen a mouthbrooder's fry swim to their mother's mouth for safety when a predator comes by? Or how about seeing a mother scout out a tank before signaling for the fry to leave the safety of the home? Or how about watching a male betta diligently grab every egg and wriggler that escapes from a nest made of bubbles and gently replace it back in the nest?

Fish are wonderful to watch, and if you do watch them, they will have less disease, and when they do have disease, you'll catch it soon enough that it won't cause many if any deaths. You'll be happier because they are happier. So after you set up your aquariums, don't forget to enjoy the best part. Watch your fish!

From Russell D. Carroll, of The Aquarian's Net
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