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A really weird story

by Francesco Zezza

Whenever I begin to do some serious maintenance work on one of my tanks (and the bigger the tank the more often this happens) I always expect to find something weird here’n there: a suction a cup (used to fix electrical services) fallen at the bottom and impossible to reach previously (even knowing where it was!), lots of waste matter (food, tiny pieces of wood and … the rest), a broken elastic band used to "fix" zucchini to stone (and feed loricarids) and some times the remainders of a M.I.A. (missing in action) which may become a K.I.A. (killed in action) fish: aka bones of a fish disappeared weeks (or months ago). Almost all my tank can handle, because of filter(s) size, a corpse of a given size thus – even if I would never suggest this to anybody – if the poor fellow is not in sight for some time I leave the filter’s bacteria and the scavenger team to finish the job … (warning: be extremely cautious with fish suspected or proven to be ill, especially when carrying a contagious disease…)

This being said one given day I decided to remove – from the main tak - a large, reddish, granite slate (and the two rocks above it) since there was a possibility of them falling and replace them with a large "Mopani Bogwood"; a leftover of the activity going on in the amazon tank. When I grabbed the slate to remove it I felt under my finger something "plushy" and I said to myself "here we go".. Indeed, this "something" proved to be a Paratilapia polleni (the smaller of the group) which I hadn't seen since my return from our holidays (August 26th 2003). I lifted the slate waiting for the corpse, while to my surprise what proved to be a fish "moved" away. It was alive ! Badly wounded – most it was trapped under the slate when it tried to escape from another fish. Its lateral fins were almost completely torn away … the poor fellow started to float in the tank, immediately chased by the rest of the gang hoping for a "fresh meat" meal. It took me seconds to net him and move that unfortunate fish to another tank. It was really difficult to identify the fish as a P. polleni: it had an overall dull gray, with missing fins, two/three bad wounds and a swollen belly) but in the end – considering the history of the tank during the last one and a half year – it couldn’t be different …IT should be a Paratilapia polleni!!!

This picture – no flash used in order to avoid further stress to the fish – was been taken minutes after the entry in the hospital tank: there are wounds close (over) to its left eye, in both sides of the body (I suspect these where the places of "contact" with the stones under which it was trapped - this assumption is based on the shape of the wounds) while there are practically no pectoral fins - all the leftovers are part of its hard rays. I immediately felt that this particular fish would recover, but I was worried about those fins (or better yet their "peculiar shape"). Any way the fish you’re looking at (upper pic) has just survived an one month (at least) entrapment under stones and at the same time, a period of starvation so, definitely, things could have been much worse than that.

The fish was gently but quickly moved to an hospital (30 lt) tank. The existence of this tank is to be credited to my son, Leonardo. After his birth (the best thing in my life) I have increasingly less time for my hobby so I have reduced the number of fish I keep thus getting this small tank. The tank was ready to be used at any moment since it had filters and lights running for months and it was fully aquascaped.  Since the fish appeared to have a normal swimming and breathing behavior, I decided to add only a tablespoon of salt (NaCl) as a precaution and feed furiously! The poor fellow took minutes to understand things were changing for the better (at last!) and started to feed promptly: flakes, frozen artemia and more were offered… (NOT all at the same time, of course!)

20 months later …

The following two pictures (each one is worth – to me – ten thousand words) show the result of such a long period of good care, correct water parameters, good food and the rest … of course few of the damages are not 100% restored (as I was worried about in the very beginning of this story) but, at least the fish is, now, happily living (even if NOT in the main tank). This is what I call long term caring of a fish …

Here we go : (above) the fish is looking well in general but, still, some "permanent damages" are visible … (the poor critter shares a 75 lt planted tank with an extremely shy Ancistrus pair). If you can't see the healed wounds, well here comes some help (see below):

I actually don’t know the value of this "strange" experience – despite the pleasure of sharing it with you. It could be a demonstration of the fact that "no matter how bad things look" there is always a chance (and not only in fish-keeping) that they will become better. In this context, you owe it to your fishes (and yourself) to give it a try.

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