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Rescue Tank - What Do I Have, And What Do I Do Next?

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#1 DestroyYouAlot


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Posted 15 May 2009 - 06:03 PM

Hi, folks,

I have just come into a badly neglected tank (and its inhabitants), and I'm not entirely sure how to proceed. Here's my story so far, so you have some idea of where I'm coming from.

First off, I'm just returning to the hobby after some 15 years - we used to keep aquariums when I was a kid, and I know a good bit about the basics. I recently came into a little 5 gallon tank, and I've been cycling it for a week or two (just gravel, filter and water). I was planning on introducing some starter fish into the 5 gallon any day now, when I happened to come across an ad on Craigslist for a 10 gallon tank with all the equipment, stand and all, for $10. The only catch was, it was currently inhabited by two fish, and was in rough shape. I figured this was a challenge, and an opportunity to save a couple of fish, so I went and picked it up yesterday.

Yecch. This thing was a disaster, all right. Right off, I could see that the whole top of the tank (hood, filter, etc.) was covered in huge crusts of mineral deposits. (The water here in New England is insanely hard.) The sides were covered in algae, the two plants were completely overgrown, and the bottom was adrift with rotted matter. Through the murk I could just make out a dejected-looking pair of what I believe to be cichlids of some kind - the gentleman selling them hadn't been the caretaker (as if anyone was!), and he wasn't sure himself.

I emptied the tank down to a few inches and packed it in the car padded with towels, preparing for an hour-long drive that included the ever-so-pothole-free streets of Boston. (LOL) The seller provided a plastic punch bowl to take along a few gallons of the murky water - as disgusting as it was, I didn't want to further stress these guys with foreign water right after a move. I got them home with a minimum of sloshing, set them up in the living room, and set about performing emergency procedures.

Before I put water back in, I scraped as much algae off the sides as possible, and rinsed all the mineral crust from the tank equipment. Changed the filter cartridge (the old one was a mess), cleaned the gunk out of the (nearly closed) filter intake. Placed a plate in the bottom, poured their water back in, and got a surprise - there were three fish, not two! Burrowing around in the tank bottom was a feisty little cat of some sort. Bonus!

Unfortunately, there still wasn't enough water in there to reach the filter intake. Luckily, as I mentioned above, I'd been cycling a tank for a week already, so I transferred a couple gallons from that into the new tank. We had filtration! From here, I did my best to let the immigrants calm down a bit - as you can imagine, they gave every sign of being badly stressed, although I can't say how much of that is the move, and how much is their environment.

Now, here's where it gets a little tricky. The conditions in there aren't at all conducive to fish health, but I don't want them to change too fast and shock the fish further. And I don't know exactly what kind of fish I've got, so it's tough to say what their ideal environment is. This is where I'm hoping you folks can help.

When it arrived, the tank was down to probably 60-65 degrees (F). (Let me know if I need to convert to C.) I got the heater running and up to 75 or so, but I don't want to go higher unless I know it'll be ok for them. The cichlids do seem to be hanging out by the heater, and they're displaying what I believe to be "fin clamping" (keeping them tight to the body - am I understanding this correctly?), so I'm guessing they may need it hotter, but first I need to identify them.

Then there's the Ph - when I got the tank, it was shockingly acidic (off the chart yellow). As I understand it, African rift lake cichlids like it super alkaline, but I can't say for sure that these are those. As it happens, our water is naturally EXTREMELY alkaline (off the chart blue - hard water, remember), so the water I cycled in from the other tank brought it up to around 6.5. Probably not their ideal range, but I don't want to change it more than than in a day.

As for the hardness and possible chlorination, well, there's not a whole lot I can do there that I'm not already doing. I've had the water cycling through an aerated tank for a week, which (as I understand) should let the chlorine evaporate out. (We have reservoir water, so it is relatively chlorinated.) Frankly, I can't spend much on the fish right now (yay, economy!), so buying dechlorination tabs is out of the question, for the time being.

The vegetation was completely overgrown when I got it, and I've spent a few minutes fishing out / pruning off rotten or dying leaves. One plant is apparently a rhizome-sprouter, 'cause there were about five new plants either floating around or tangled within its leaves. Those I've moved to the 5 gallon - hopefully I can get some new plants out of it, and the more plant life in that tank, the faster it should cycle. All of this upset the cat greatly, as this is his hiding place - I'm going to grab some aquarium statuary from my parents (a little bridge) that should give him a better place to lay low while I go about pruning and replanting this one. Once I know what kind of tank these guys like (heavily planted or no), I'll be able to decide whether to move the plants back a bit, or leave them in the center of the tank.

The gravel is still atrocious - I haven't dared to disturb it too much so far (for fear of what'll end up floating around in the water), but it needs some serious vacuuming. At this point, I honestly can't tell whether there's a sand substrate under the gravel, or if that's just rotten sediment! I vacuumed a small section of it, and picked off the layer of mucous-y strands, but I didn't have enough cycled water to replace it with, so only a bit got done. That'll have to wait for a day or so while the new water in the 5 gallon gets conditioned.

Lastly, we have the fish themselves. (Hi, fish!) For starters, I don't know what the hell they are! I've attached what pictures I could get below (excuse the crappy cameraphone shots), but they're still hiding most of the time, so I had to take what I could get. Without knowing what species they are, it's tough to say whether they're just naturally timid, or whether this is due to being freaked out from the move and all the subsequent renovations. The larger one ate a pellet or two when I fed them last night, and I'm assuming that the cat is getting food out of the bottom; I don't know whether the smaller one has eaten anything. (Matter of fact, I don't even know if they've been fed regularly, but the bleached-out flakes floating around on the bottom lead me to suspect they were being overfed.)

So, here we are. Mostly, I just need to identify these guys, so I have a better idea of their requirements, but any advice on how to make things easier on them would be more than welcome. Sorry for the somewhat verbose post, and thanks in advance. Here's the request form, in as much detail as I have:

Tank size: 10 gallon
pH: currently 6.5
ammonia: ?
nitrite: ?
nitrate: ?
kH: ?
gH: ?
tank temp: 75

Fish Symptoms (include full description including lesion, color, location, fish behavior): Hiding, occasionally crowding the heater, listlessness, "clamping," no appetite.

Volume and Frequency of water changes: As above.

Chemical Additives or Media in your tank: Ph reducer in the new water, otherwise nothing.

Tank inhabitants: You tell me! ;) Two cichlids (I think) and a catfish. Pics are below.

Recent additions to your tank (living or decoration): Non-horrible water.

Exposure to chemicals: None that I'm aware of, other than possibly leftover chlorine from the new water. (It's cycled for a week, so hopefully not.)

Digital photo (include if possible): Here goes:

Posted Image

Here's the big'un - 3.5 inches (head to base of tail). He's (she's) silvery with a black stripe from nose to tail; the dorsal fin, anal fin, and tail are orange-red. It seems like he's clamping his fins - when he's randomly spread them, they're rather pretty.

Posted Image

Here's #2 - 1.5 inches. Silvery with two vertical black stripes. I think he might be an angelfish of some sort, or possibly a barb. He's had the top of his tail chewed on at some point, but I haven't seen any of that behavior so far - the larger one is clearly boss, but they hang out more or less together.

Posted Image

And here's the cat. 2.5 inches. He's a shy little guy, so this is the best I've been able to do so far. He's got sort of a "hump" towards the rear half of his body. Very clearly wants to be hiding most of the time, but he'll suddenly go furiously digging through the plants once in a while. (Kicks up a lot of sediment when he does - hopefully that's all ending up in the filter.)

So there you have it. Any and all advice are welcome.

Thanks in advance,


#2 -SPB-


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Posted 15 May 2009 - 06:11 PM

The first fish is a rainbow fish, but I'm not sure which sort, I'm sure someone will tell you. Maybe Melanotaenia Parkinsoni, but i'm not sure.

The second, is a black skirt tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi)

Have no idea about the cat, anyway you can get a better picture.

Edit: The rainbow could also be a Melanotaenia praecox

Edited by -SPB-, 15 May 2009 - 06:22 PM.

#3 kizno1


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Posted 15 May 2009 - 06:12 PM

the last one looks like a really stressed out syno of some sort

#4 DestroyYouAlot


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Posted 15 May 2009 - 07:47 PM


From the pictures I can find, it is indeed a rainbowfish, and the banded variety looks about right. The tetra will be getting buddies once the tank calms down a bit. The cat sure looks like a syno of some sort. Good to know what I'm dealing with.

#5 silverrabbit


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Posted 15 May 2009 - 10:26 PM

Hello - well done on your rescue mission, I hope you can save your fishes!

Just wanted to say though that non-dechlorinated water will be making them stressed even more, and I know it's money to spend, but dechlorinator isn't that pricey, and with all the vaccuuming and WC's, I think you need some soon.

Good luck, should be a nice tank when it's happy again :)

#6 gaz gun man

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Posted 15 May 2009 - 11:00 PM

good job on rescuing the fish, however I wonder if it would be easier to slowly acclimatise the fish to your other tank, along with their old filter, then completely stripping down the tank for a good clean?

#7 DestroyYouAlot


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Posted 16 May 2009 - 05:25 AM

Well, I went ahead and spent the 7 bucks for some Prime, so that should be ok. Went and got the bridge, plopped it in, and then thoroughly stirred everything up - uprooted, pruned and replanted the plants, vacuumed out a good bit of the gravel, and replaced maybe a third of the water. It was relatively horrible in there for a while - just amazing amounts of rotten material under that gravel - but the filter made pretty quick work of it (aided by some manual filtration with the net). The water's clear again, the fish are eating and not apparently freaked, and the flow of the tank is immensely improved. The syno was pretty put out after I broke up his home (probably 10 separate Java fern rhizomes in that cluster - the other tank's full of'em, now), but he's quiet enough now. Over the next week I'll get all the gravel vacuumed out, and then see about getting that tetra some friends.

Thanks again for all the advice.

#8 Inchworm


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Posted 16 May 2009 - 05:49 AM

Hi DestroyYouAlot :)

Welcome to the forum. :hi:

It sounds like the tank you got was in a condition called Old Tank Syndrome. Here's some information about it that will help you understand it a little better.


Hope this helps. :D

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