Bullying does not exist in fishtanks

GaryE

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There, that title should get some opinions.
The basic definition of a bully is a person who gets pleasure from dominating, coercing or harming someone whom they identify as vulnerable. It's a power dynamic, and it gets people what they want, the enjoyment that seems to come from being mean. It's a choice. For years I worked with anti-bullying programs in schools, and every bully I ever sat down with explained their behaviour as something they enjoyed. They knew what they were doing, although they couldn't always figure out why they did it.

Fish operate differently. I don't think they get any kick from being obnoxious. When one fish takes over your tank and starts pushing other fish around, it is always something you as an aquarist has created as a situation. It is always the result of some level of mistake.

A predatory fish eats its victim. It may enjoy a good meal, but it isn't bullying. It's in the wrong tank, or its victiims are.

A territorial fish attacks at certain levels, with the goal of holding the turf instinct has wired it to need. If you stick a red tailed shark in a tank and it terrorizes its tankmates with sneak attacks at night - well, that's what they do. If you had done some research prior to buying, you would have known that side of them. In nature, other fish stay away. In a tank, the glass walls force them to suffer the aggression. The fish didn't make the walls.

If you put two males of an intolerant species together, again, your mistake. Your solution to find.

It sounds harsh because we don't all have the resources to fix our mistakes easily. But we are the only ones who can do it.

When you see what people here like to call bullying, immediately:
read about the needs of the fish attacking;
look at the size of your tank. Bioload is a tiny bit of what we work with, and test kits analyze water. Look at the behaviour of the living things;
look at male female ratios. Some of the most surprising aggression, from normally calm species comes from lone fish left over, or fish in tiny tanks. Your definition of tiny and what the fish thinks can be very different. Did you know the breeding territory of P. pulcher, the common krib, can be 3 square metres or larger in nature?
look at the flow in the tank. Some species swim against current all the time in nature, and in slow tanks, energy has to go somewhere;
Look at your decor. Is it right for the fish?
Look at diet. There are fish species that eat scales and tails as a hardwired preference. In lake Malawi, there are fish that harass mouthbrooding females til they are forced to spit out their fry, which are then lunch for the fry predator. Mom can get away in nature. She can't in a tank;
Never keep 3 of a species, especially of a Cichlid. The 3rd wheel has an awful life. That can extend beyond Cichlids.
Always try to have a Plan B.

A friend has offered me juveniles from a species I would like to breed. They are unsexable, so the usual plan is to take 6, and as they grow, you have a good chance of both males and females. But once a pair forms, what do I do with the other 4? The breeders will see them as a threat to their babies, and will kill them if they don't go away. What sensible fish would hang around? They have to be psychos to stay and try to kill the babies of an amped up breeding pair. The idea they are trapped by a glass wall and would love to run away will not occur to a fish.

Before I get them, I need to have a plan in place, and homes lined up if I have 3rd wheels. If I create the problem, I have to solve it.

I have only learned this by screwing up a million or so times, but I'll throw it out there as a thought of the day.
 
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People say a lot of cichlids are aggressive, but they’re not. Give them a tank bigger than their territory and they’re peaceful, as long as other fish (cichlids especially) keep their distance. Aggression comes from that need for a territory, and the fact that the other fish are confined within that territory, unable to leave.
 
Allmost in all cases in which fish show differently behaviour than expected / agression we humans made the mistake. Or our expectance was the wrong one or we didn't provide the right conditions.
 
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I agree with you 100%! I have always disliked the use of the term bullying as relates to this hobby. Well said, all of it, Gary E. Thanks for a terrific & insightful post.
 
Allmost in all cases in which fish show differently behaviour than expected / agression we humans made the mistake. Or our expectance was the wrong one or we didn't provide the right conditions.
It’s like that British lady used to say on her TV dog show: There are no bad dogs.
 
A lot of erudite nonsense. The term "bully" as applied to human psychology may not have a place in the fish kingdom, but it's a perfectly useful descriptor for some types of fish behavior. I suggest you view the video in the link below. What you will see in that video is an event that occurred every hour of every day over a period of 3 months. I finally had to remove the offending fish, at which point community peace ensued.

 
Don't exactly know why you use the chosen words but okay.

What you're saying is that the vid shows a fish bullying other fish? And when you took the fish out the peace was restored? Isn't that exactly what I was trying to say. Put fish in a wrong environment (tanksize, wrong companions, wrong ratio, etc etc and it will expose "unwanted" behaviour.
Probably the offending fish when put in a bigger tank with bigger fish / a different environment has found his peace as well.
Often we remove the offending fish but sometimes it is even better to remove the "offended" one.

I once adopted a single angel and tried to add some company. There was a massive fight which I caused (with the best intentions).
 
I hate the word "bully". It is far too often abused and used in the wrong context...regardless of animal species.

Every community...whether it be an aquarium, a herd or a street...will always have the one who thinks it is the boss, the top dog.

The classic example of top dogishness is the deer stag. The "I'm the boss, its my way or the highway and if you argue with that you'll end up with a headache cos I shall attack you til you do as you are told or go away"

It can get vicious...often leading to serious injury or even death. But to call it bullying is wrong imho.

It is essentially nature's own way of sorting out the strongest from the weakest, the leader from the follower. Just cos fish we keep are in glass boxes does not make things any different.....if anything it looks worse due to the confined space that it happens in.

The easiest way, but not always the right way, to deal with it would be to remove the more assertive one. Trouble with that is there will always be another one to fill that vacancy just waiting for its opportunity.

To me, at least, having an assertive fish in an aquarium is a natural replication of what happens in the wild (or in the street that you live in). There will always be the alpha assertive one and there will always be those who push the buttons to get a reaction and those who just stay peacefully out the way of the fracas.
 
If you put man in a closed room with a few mice, ants and cockroaches , the bigger man will kill the mice and insects asap to claim a peaceful territory.
 
If you put man in a closed room with a few mice, ants and cockroaches , the bigger man will kill the mice and insects asap to claim a peaceful territory.
Then, if you decide you want an Australian biotope tank and add a saltwater crocodile, or a Canadian theme with a polar bear...
 
Then, if you decide you want an Australian biotope tank and add a saltwater crocodile, or a Canadian theme with a polar bear...
Hahahaha.

In the Netherlands we have our own problem with wolves. Invested in their return, but hey suddenly appear to eat our sheep. Oooppsss
 
Hahahaha.

In the Netherlands we have our own problem with wolves. Invested in their return, but hey suddenly appear to eat our sheep. Oooppsss
Yeah, I tried to explain that to a guy in a northern Scottish pub about 25 years ago when they were first thinking about reintroducing wolves. They are beautiful, majestic, magnificent...and they eat sheep and calves like jellybeans!
 

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