by David Armitage

Like most hobbyists (that write- sadly a small proportion), I am quick enough to go into print to advertise a success in breeding or maintaining a species of anabantoid, but what you will rarely hear about are my crass mistakes or my continuing failures. However, sometimes there is as much to be learned from these as there is from the good things in life, so in this catalogue of confessions, I hope there may be something to learn.

To start with, there are those fish that I have never been successful in keeping alive, long-term. These include the chocolate gourami and Ctenops nobilis. The latter may surprise you, as was probably the first person to observe it spawning, but the truth is, that I was never able to maintain it for much longer than a few months and I was never able to raise any young. The distinction of being the first to achieve this, is held by a Danish member, Svend Bitsch. Similarly, after many years of trying with Sphaerichthys osphromenoides, one year is the longest I have ever maintained it.

The reason for these failures, I put down to my water quality. Both seemed susceptible to diseases like Velvet. Large filtered tanks seem more suitable for them than the still aquaria and infrequent water changes that are my norm. Like many people, I initially experienced difficulty with the Betta coccinagroup and licorice gouramis but since I switched from distilled water at neutral pH, to rain water at 5 pH (or less!), I find that their maintenance is routine. Nevertheless, they do not all breed as predictably as I would like and both tend to be susceptible to eye damage. I haven't tried chocolate gouramis since my conversion to rain-water so the time to try them again may be near.

The next list of failures can be summarised in one word- carelessness! How many times have you emptied fish from a bag into the tank, only to find the body in the bag, hours later. Always count the fish out of the bag.! The same can happen when netting fish. Scooping at a young C.damasi, I removed the net and could not find the beast in its folds- stranger still, I couldn't locate it in the tank either. Days later I found its sad, dry corpse on the carpet. It had flipped out of the net as I withdrew it from the tank. After removing some Betta persephone fry from their father in the proscribed manner, by removing the nest along with the floating tube, thumb and forefinger over each end, I was surprised to be unable to find the male later. Eventually I found his body in a jar of live food by the side of the tank. In his fury, he had jumped out of his tank, fortunately into the jar of cold water. Had I checked quickly, I would have been able to save him.Malpulutta kreteseri is particularly good at jumping out of tanks in my experience but everyone seems to have their own favourite candidate. What seems to happen, even with small fish, is that during chases, they speed into the tank corner and then rush up the angle of the corner. Unfortunately, this is just the place where we cut holes for access of filters, heater leads etc. Always use a cover plate and plug all holes- however apparently small.

Living in a cold climate and keeping tropical fish, puts us at the mercy of electrical power and the reliability of heaters and thermostats. Surprisingly, perhaps cooling is more acceptable than overheating. I have lost adult females of both Ctenopma occelatum andC.acutirostre from full size pairs that I had spent many years growing on for breeding (It takes at least 5 years!) to this cause, while the males recovered. I had a disaster at work where temperatures dropped to 15C, and eliminated many south-east Asian fish while leaving the Ctenopomas, unaffected. Generally the damage due to low temperatures can be moderated by checking temperatures when you feed - if the fish don't come forward, this is a clue- after all, this is usually at 12h intervals.

Windy weather used to cut off my power regularly in the semi-rural environs of Slough. If I had notice, I could borrow a small generator at work which would neverheles need refuelling every 2h. When this was unobtainable, I would have to stay up all night, boiling water, puting it into poly bags and floating them in my 11 three foot tanks.

More usually, though, the thermostat contact gets stuck and the fish get boiled. I have lost some real rarities like this, quartets ofC.pellegrini, C.oxyrhynchum, youngSandelia capensis. Nowadays, I try to keep a species in at least 2 tanks while the advice is always to use heaters that are only just powerful enough to heat the requisite size of tank. That way, the temperature only increases slowly. Unfortunately this is difficult for me as I have many tanks in the garage where ambient temperatures may fluctuate by 30C from winter to summer. Aquaria in the house should experience changes of less than half this. Usually the heater stick because they are relatively expensive and we allow them to become elderly. Sometimes it takes years to find a species or grow it on so it is a false economy not to replace elderly equipment-we all know this, but we all do it! These days I am happy to pay extra for the new breed of heater which is supposed to cut out, rather than overheat.

The next category of failures relates to breeding. I cannot consider it a success unless I raise the young in good numbers and can continue to maintain the species through home breeding. I have learnt that it is best to leave the fry with the parents, rather than move them into new water- at least a few will survive but it is much better to remove the parents or remove the fry with their home water. I still don't consider that I raise a large enough proportion of the young. This is mainly due to lack of preparation- not having enough cultures of the correct food (infusoria, microworm, grindal worm) at the right time. Despite all this, there are still mysteries that I have yet to fathom. After a small success in raising a few C.murei, I have been unable to raise any young subsequently, even though they spawn monthly, despite trying reduced water levels, buffered water, green water as well as infusoria. After 1-2 weeks, the entire batch slowly dies out. Having said that, what was it that allowed me to raise a few to adulthood the first time?

Occasionally, perfectly healthy fish will die from apparently unexplained reasons. Sometimes they will be found floating with no co-ordination after having been apparently healthy minutes before. I don't have any justified explanation for this, but have tended to put it down to heart attacks/strokes for which I mainly hold responsible my overfeeding. Our 'pet' fish tend to be pampered, obese and susceptible to this sort of malady. On at least one occasion, I have heard a door slam in the room beneath a tank and seen a fish react to this by rocketing across the tank, into the side, to float, almost lifeless to the surface.

Painful though it is to put this down on paper, there may be some point in it, if it warns you of my mistakes, so they are not duplicated. Sadly, human nature being what it is, I am by no means confident of repeating these old mistakes through carelessness.

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