Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A fishy tale

The good news is that I am feeling much better than I was a few days ago. Welcome back, brain! Fortunately I managed to recover in spite of receiving almost no sleep at all on Saturday night. Here is a fishy tale of what occurred:

We had gone to visit my brother and his wife who life a few hundred kilometers away and so were staying the night. Our bed ended up being on the other side of a brick dividing wall to his aquarium. This dividing wall did not go all the way to the ceiling and the door was open anyway, so we could hear everything from the fish tank.

A few months ago, my brother bought a red devil cichlid to go in his tank. This fish is huge (about 25cm), and much larger than any of the other fish he has (or had) in his tank. It looks very similar to the fish above. The rule of fish often states that a fish will eat anything that can fit in its mouth. Some people who have these huge cichlids feed them so-called "feeder" goldfish as part of their diet. Nice.

In spite of there being a fair bit of shelter in the tank, within a couple of months, the only things left in the tank were some small crayfish, a slighly smaller red devil (who is around a quarter of the size of the bigger fish) and a couple of catfish who somehow swim fast enough or don't attract the wrath of the killer red devil. I won't go into what I think about this. He already knows.

When we went to visit my brother, he had installed a mesh divider across one quarter of his tank and (God only knows why) had put in two baby barramundi. The divider and the fish had been in the tank for a few weeks, so I assumed everything was as it should be.

For those of you who either aren't Australian or who aren't interested in fish, a barramundi is an Australian fish found in the Northern Territory rivers. They grow to be quite huge, but when they are small they are very cute (and bite-sized to larger fish). Their legal take-home size if you are fishing and happen to catch one is a minimum of 58cm and a maximum of 120cm. Big fish.

Although I may be destroying the suspense of the story by sharing this, I can also say that they are very agile little critters and can dart around like lightening when the need arises.

I had been asleep for no more than an hour when I heard really loud splashes coming from the tank. Having a big tank myself (full of fish who don't eat each other due to equal size and temperament) I know that the occasional splash is normal. However, these just kept coming. I snuck around the corner and sat in the shadows to watch what was happening.

This red devil was having a hell of a night. The mesh barrier was dented in several places and was sitting at an angle, but was still holding. The splashes were coming from the smaller red devil who was alternating between trying to hide in the log shelter, into which the larger fish was trying to force itself, and above a large solid plastic plant near the surface, where the bigger fish had a lot of trouble fitting. The bigger fish was being very territorial and trying to either chase the smaller fish out of its tank, or kill it. Not nice. Considering that they had been living in the same tank for months, the smaller fish had been quite good at not getting itself killed. I wasn't comfortable with this, however there wasn't anything that I could do for this poor fish, apart from try to convince my brother to do something about the situation in the morning.

Lying there listening to the splashes was horrible. But then, after a little while, there weren't any more splashes. Which in a way, was much worse. I stuck my head around the corner, and saw that the big fish had actually knocked down the mesh barrier, and was now in the half of the tank where the smaller fish should have been. There was no sign of them, and the only other thing in the tank was one very angry-looking little crayfish.

I went to my brother's room, knocked on the door, and told him what had happened. He swore, told me to just turn the light off in the tank, and went back to sleep. I now doubt that he was actually fully awake, as in the morning he had no idea of what had transpired.

Thankfully my husband was also there. We spotted the two little barramundi, who had escaped to the other side of the barrier. We tried to fix the barrier back into place as best we could, and turned the light off. Once again, without a second tank or any other equipment, there was nothing we could do.

It was so hard trying to fall asleep. I had no idea whether this big fish had broken out and was doing his best to eat the baby fish. Occasionally I heard a small splash. Then I went back to sleep.

When the morning came, the barrier was still in place, and the barramundi had avoided being eaten by the smaller red devil who looked well-rested after having had the rest of the night on the other side of the tank to his nemesis. The big red devil was still on the smaller side of the barrier. Later that day, my brother rearranged his tank and organised to trade his two larger fish. So now, the little barramundi are free to grow huge and eat the next lot of smaller fish that my brother decides to put into his tank.

Rant: If you have fish, PLEASE research the composition of your tank before you set it up. In the wild, smaller fish have somewhere to run, but in a tank, they are trapped and will die an awful death if you put them in an area with something that will eat them as a snack.

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