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FAQs on Behavior of Freshwater Organisms

Related Articles: The School of Hard Knocks. Adapting Their Behavior To Life in the Aquarium Isn't Easy, But Many Fish Manage To Do So Remarkably Well by Neale Monks,

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Have I got a question for you!! (fish training)   7/30/09
Hi there crew member!
I bet you have never been asked this, actually I looked.
I am really involved in operant conditioning (so-called clicker training-- gradual shaping of a trick with food rewards) and I have clicker trained my dog and my cat. I have heard about something called the R2 Fish training kit. http://www.r2fishschool.com/
<Have seen this... no idea whether it works or not, though Goldfish and various cichlids are used for animal behaviour experiments in labs, with success.>
Anyway, you use operant conditioning to train fish. Sounds like fun.
Eventually they can do soccer goals, retrieve, etc. Anyway, they use a goldfish.
<Indeed. Contrary to popular myth, Goldfish have comparatively good memories and are fairly smart animals, as you'd expect for an animal that can live over 30 years.>
But hey, I am experienced and have kept saltwater fish, soft corals and now have mudskippers. (They and my 1 foot tall mangrove trees are fine! :-))
<Would fully expect Periophthalmus to respond well to training; they are very curious, visually-oriented animals that feed on a wide variety of food items.>
I would like to keep something a little more "interesting".
<Than Mudskippers? Hard to imagine what's more interesting that a fish that lives out of water!>
I don't think this would work with mudskippers as they don't actually swim and most of the tricks involve swimming.
<But you could train them to come to a combination of a flashlight and a morsel of food, or tapping certain bits of bogwood and then depositing a food item, or whatever. The basic premise is that you display a stimulus (in the R2 kit, a coloured stick) and then you present a reward (in the R2 kit, a food pellet). This has been done for decades on all kinds of animals using all sorts of stimuli. With your Mudskippers, colours or lights would be obvious stimuli to try out, and the presentation of a small piece of seafood, like a chunk of prawn or mollusk, would be ample reward. Since they're extremely alert animals, I'd fully expect them to be trainable.>
I also don't know what effect the salt would have on this stuff either.
<Probably little to none, especially if you removed the stuff after 'playtime'.>
So I am looking for a small fish (under 3-4 inches), could be kept in a 10 gal tank, with current equipment (Whisper hang on the back filter). I want something not too skittish, and doesn't require live food or other fiddly things-I mean reasonably hardy. Or yes, can be fresh or brackish. Brackish is good as I could do immediate cycling. One water change of the other tank and bingo.
<Hmm... dwarf cichlids would be an obvious choice, but a 10 gallon tank would really only be suitable for things like Apistogramma, and they're definitely on the skittish side. They're also less interested in pellet foods than Goldfish; while they'd eat them if nothing else was present, they prefer live and frozen foods. Florida Flagfish would be another option, but they're herbivores, and how interested they are in pellets depends on how hungry they are. Dwarf puffers and other Carinotetraodon species could easily be trainable, my Carinotetraodon irrubesco quickly learning to come to the top of the tank and feed from forceps, but they have zero interest in pellet foods.>
Also I want a smart fish. :-)
<That's the tricky bit! Learning behaviour makes more evolutionary sense in animals that live a long time, and long-lived animals tend to be big animals, hence it's fish like Koi, Oscars, and Triggerfish that have the reputation of being intelligent "pets" in the full sense of the word.>
I have thought of, but then I am not a fresh water keeper, dwarf puffer (are they too skittish?), dwarf cichlid, or perhaps I could save a Betta from its life as a houseplant (though how is the water quality they keep these things in?).
<A female Betta would be quite a good choice perhaps; they seem rather smarter, and certainly more mobile, than male Bettas. If you could get a wild-type Betta, or some other Betta species that hasn't been inbred to death, like Betta pugnax, then so much the better.>
But am clean out of other ideas.
<Actually thing the Mudskippers are your best bet.>
So any and all ideas welcome. Thank you for taking this nutty question, your nutty fan,
<Cheers, Neale.>

Black calvus breathing really hard for air 03/19/2008 I bought a black calvus and it is breathing really hard for air. <... Mmm, all fishes (in fact all livestock) is damaged, stressed in shipping/moving... hence one part of the suggestion to quarantine, allow it to "rest up" before being placed in a community setting where it may be harassed, have to compete too hard for food...> I put him in well established tank, 80 degrees PH 7.9 nitrites and nitrates are in a normal parameters. <... need data, not subjective evaluations> The other cichlids he is with are doing fine and breathing normal. He just sits on the substrate doing nothing. He does not have any signs of disease no white spots or no cloudy eyes all fins are good he sits right side up no swaying or anything what do you think Troy <... Read more widely on the Net re fish physiology, husbandry, particularly the value of quarantine... there is very likely nothing "wrong" with this Cichlid than that it's new. Bob Fenner>

Night time fishes, lighting, eating, beh.    1/29/08 hi bob and friends I just set up a 20 gallon tank now cycled for 3 months. I just added in some nocturnal fishes and I was wondering, do I have to cover the tank up with a blanket or something to make the tank completely dark. <Blankets are a bit extreme, but obviously if the tank gets bright sunlight, the nocturnal fish will stay hidden. If the tank is in a dark corner things might be different.> I wanted to know because I don't want my other fishes taking all the food and leaving none for my nocturnal fishes. <They won't. Daytime fish won't feed at night, so food put in at night will only be taken by nocturnal fishes.> Also can daytime fishes smell the food and eat it? <Not really, no. Some fish such as Corydoras feed both day and night, but things like tetras and cichlids are daytime fish and hunt by sight. In the dark, they sleep.> Or is it okay to leave some light in it to create a moonlight effect for the fishes. <There are indeed moonlight tubes available for just this effect, though low wattage red tubes work just as well.> Last, how will I know when my fishes are sleeping? <Sleeping fish look dozy. Some retreat to favoured burrows or nest, while midwater fish often drift about among the plants. Several fishes change their colours at night when they are sleeping, most famously the Pencilfishes.> Thanks for your help. Thank you. <Cheers, Neale.>

Is it true that if you raise an aggressive fish from little to old it will be less aggressive?   1/1/08 <No, aggression is largely genetic.> For example instead of raising a 10 inch aggressive fish you raise it since it was 1 inch and it will be less aggressive. <Nope. Obviously not all fish are aggressive at all. But most territorial fish are aggressive to some degree, and in general they become aggressive once they reach a certain level of maturity. The classic examples are things like Mbuna, which as fry can be quite sociable, but once they become sexually mature the males especially can be ferociously hostile to one another.> This was a argument me and my friend had and I really wanted to prove him wrong. <"My friend and I"...> :) Anyway, thanks for replying. <Hmm... arguments on these sorts of topics can be fun, but I think whoever said that raising fish from babies makes them less aggressive has lost. At best, if you raise a juvenile territorial fish, say a Red Devil cichlid, from a baby in a tank with a bunch of other cichlids, say Convicts, often-times the Red Devil will "accept" the Convicts in the tank as part of the scenery. Provided the Convicts don't stray into the Red Devil's patch, they'll be largely ignored. But if you were to dump a different fish into the tank once the Red Devil was mature, say a Firemouth, the Red Devil would immediately see this as a threat, as something new, and chase it around the tank. Cheers, Neale.>

Fish staying near top of the tank Good morning, I have been reviewing your site and I am trying to find an answer to why my fish have decided to stay near the top of the tank.  I have a 30 gal tank with 2 Mickey mouse platys, 2 neon and 2 gold tetras, a 6 inch pleco, 1 2 1/2 inch clown loach and recent addition of 3 high fin black tetras (2 days ago).  I recently had some problems with nitrites spiking, about 2 weeks ago, (my theory is the person who looked after my tank for a weekend overfed them as she also majorly overfed the cat and rabbit we also have!).  I resolved the nitrite problem with frequent small water changes and the levels are back to 0 (as are the levels for ammonia and the ph is also good, these were never an issue).  The platys (they are moving around a little more everyday) and the black fin tetras are all hanging near the top sort of hiding in the floating plants and are relatively inactive despite the levels being okay.  The tetras which were hanging near the bottom while the nitrites were out of whack seem to be fine and are swimming around at their usual level of activity. Is there something else I should be checking or is it that perhaps these fish just like the top of the tank.   < High nitrogenous wastes may damage the gills and affect the fish's ability to absorb oxygen. Day by day they are probably slowly recovering. Keep the tank well oxygenated, keep the tank as clean as possible and feed only enough food so that all of it is gone in a couple of minutes each day.-Chuck> Thank you for your help.

Midnight massacre - help! This last week I have been losing my albino Longfin and zebra Danios during the night. In the daytime these mainly occupy the top layers of my aquarium, but ay night sleep in the cover of numerous plants and rocks. Each morning I find their numbers diminished and some with their tails completely chewed off and bloodied stumps. There is no indication of the culprit during the daylight hours, but I am wondering if my golden algae eaters are to blame as they seem very protective of their personal space. My tank:           300ltr  (80gal) with mix of artificial and live plantings Temp:              21oC      (70o F)  as I have a mix of goldfish and semi-tropicals PH:                  7.0 - 7.1 Ammonia:        0 ppm Fish:                Comets, Shubunkins, Calico Ryukins, Fantails                       Buenos Aires Tetras, Black Widow Tetras, Bitterlings                         Golden Algae Eaters, Chinese Algae Eaters                         Peppered Catfish, Tandanus Catfish                         Albino Longfin Danios, Zebra Danios I have suspected the Tandanus Catfish, but there is only one, a juvenile, no larger than the Danios. Until now, these fish have been socializing quite happily since installing this tank about three months ago. Can anyone enlighten me please? < My money is on the Buenos Aires tetras. These tetras are quite active and have appetites to match. I suspect they are out looking for a little midnight snack and find these albino Danios easy to find in the dark and easy to catch when they are asleep. As these tetras grew larger they have found that they can now eat at least part of these Danios when they catch them.-Chuck>

Who's the Culprit? Hi, <Hi! Ananda here tonight...> I have a healthy well-established freshwater aquarium, with red serpae  tetras, dwarf neon gouramis, bala sharks, sucking loaches, 2 monodactylus, and two upside down catfish.   <Ah...the monodactylus are brackish fish, needing more salt in their water than any of the rest can live with now, and needing full-strength saltwater as adults. They should be in their own tank.> Recently I was given 6 Neon Tetras, and one disappeared quickly.  I assume one of the larger fish ate it, but don't know which is the culprit. Before I got the Monos, one of the red serpae tetras also disappeared, so I'm wondering if the upside down Catfish are the predators.  Any ideas? <Those catfish are omnivores, but then, neither grouamis nor bala sharks are vegetarians, either... hard to say who the culprit was. --Ananda> Thanks, Eleanor

Carbon Hi there, I have two questions for you: 1. Can I use carbon to break up the bond between chlorine and ammonia rather then using conditioners (de-chlor)? <Yes> And how long should I wait, 24 hour? <Should be sufficient.> 2. My brother asked me a silly question, do fishes know their owner (I think he meant the person who feeds them)? <Fish can definitely learn who feeds them and respond by coming to the top of the tank. -Steven Pro>

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