Sunday, March 14, 2010

Amazing cichlids

Do you see the little yellow fish in front of the big yellow fish? That's a baby electric yellow (or Labidochromis caeruleus). It's also one tough little fish. There are two more just like him/her. Why do I think they are so tough? Because they are survivors extraordinaire.

On Friday I realized that one of the two filters I have on my big tank was running pretty poorly. It wasn't pushing out hardly any water from the outflow and I knew I needed to clean it out. The thing is, I hadn't cleaned it out in quite some time and in addition, it's been getting a tad overcrowded what with all the breeding going on in the tank. The thing that pushed it over the edge for me was that one of my females had apparently died and someone (or someones) had disemboweled her. Which is horrifying enough in it's own right, but in this situation was even worse because she was full of eggs. So, yeah, eggs everywhere and a filter that's barely working forced the issue. I shut down the filter and removed it to the kitchen sink where I could work on it.

To say it was "dirty" is kind of like saying a Hell's Angel is a tiny bit anti-social. It was filthy, disgusting, filled with sludge and downright abusive to my fish. So I spent about forty five minutes completely cleaning it out before putting it back together and starting it up again. After spending an additional fifteen minutes cursing at it to get it to start back up again, it worked a whole lot better.

At this point, I knew I needed to clean out the other filter. I mean obviously it's in the same tank and was most recently cleaned at about the same time as the other filter. But I was tired. It takes a lot out of you to curse out a filter while trying to get it started. So I decided to wait another day and tackle it Saturday.

Saturday rolls around and I spent the better part of the day avoiding the inevitable. I just had no motivation to deal with that filter. I knew it was going to take another forty five minutes to an hour to do it. I knew I was going to end up smelling like fish water. I just. had. no. desire.

Eventually though, I run out of other things to do and start the process all over again. I shut down the second filter, detached it from the hoses and got it to the sink. I pulled the lid off and was greeted with the same horrifying mess as the previous day. I cleaned the motor part up and then started on the next layer. These filters have three layers of "baskets" that hold filter media. Each layer holds filter media that is more dense than the one above it in order to get more filtration. I pulled off the top layer and start running water through the big rocks that are this levels media.

As I'm running the water I see something moving and my first thought is that some bug has flown into my filter. It only takes a second to realize it's actually a baby electric yellow. I immediately call Mister C because he is the fish catcher, not me. I love to look at my fish, but I don't generally touch.

Unfortunately, it quickly becomes obvious that I'm going to have an easier time catching the little guy than Mister C, so I force down the skeeviness factor and gently start working. I get him out from between the rocks and take him back to the tank and toss him in. He swims off kind of spazzy and hides in a plant. Awesome! I am so happy he survived his little adventure!

I start up the cleaning process again while Mister C and I discuss the amazing fact that the little guy even survived his trip through the filter. I pull out each remaining basket and clean out it's media, checking carefully to be sure no other babies are in it. When I look into the bottom of the now empty filter case, I notice movement. Looking carefully, I realize there is not one but two more babies in the filter. We try to net them but that brings up too much filth. Mister C suggests pouring the water through one of the baskets and then plucking the babies out by hand. That works very well and within about a minute we have two more confused babies hiding in plants.

I finished cleaning up the mess and as I'm putting it back together I realize that there is no way those three fish got through the filter's lid & basket at the size they currently are. Not alive anyway. The only possible way for them to be the size they are, in the location they were, is if they went in smaller than they currently are. Which means they most likely have been living in my filter for at least two weeks and possibly up to a month. Those poor babies!

Which brings me back to the beginning where I refer to these babies as being tough. To have survived the vortex of the trip into the filter itself was amazing enough. To have thrived on whatever food debris came through the filter and actually grown while they were trapped is beyond amazing. Then to be tossed into the big tank with all the bigger fish and still be swimming around today like nothing happened? Incredible.

I haven't done a thorough check yet, but I'm fairly certain these little guys probably have tattoos of a bulldog and pin-up girls somewhere on their little fishy bodies. I'm not sure how else to explain it other than these guys are the Marines of the fish world. Tough and resilient, thriving where they had no business being and coming out of the ordeal with an attitude.