The following incidents are true. Only the names have been withheld to protect the innocent.
Why do I need to wait?
Everyone wants everything now. Blame it on commercialism, but it does make aquarium care much more difficult. Many a sad tale started with the comment “all my fish died” followed up by “I just set up my aquarium 4 days ago”. People just wanted that completely stocked aquarium in under a week. Back in my retail store time (1978-1993), this was pretty much impossible. I would try to explain the importance of letting the tank cycle or age to be able to handle more fish. Even then I literally had customers who would comment that if I was not going to sell them more fish, they would just go to Store X and buy them there. Most I could convince to wait, but a few left as indignant customers. Today this is not as much of a problem. The advent of products like Stability or the Aquabella Water Treatment to instantly age the aquarium have eliminated the cycle period. But you still need to let the retail clerk know it is a new aquarium to make the right suggestions for the types of fish to start the aquarium. Hopefully the customer will take the advice or you know what the answer will be next time they come in with a problem.
Why did that happen?
Perhaps the most disheartening cautionary tale is one of a customer who came back with their new fish purchase in a bag a few days after the original purchase. The Pimelodella catfish was fat and happy, and that was the problem. The customer had added the catfish to their tank and the next day noticed that several of their smaller fish were missing. The Pimelodella was swimming along the bottom and they did not immediately associate it with the missing fish until it was feeding time for the freshwater aquarium. As soon as they placed tropical flake food on top of the water all the fish rushed to the top to eat, and the Pimelodella went into “hyper-drive” and rushed around the top swallowing the smaller fish as they tried to get to the flake food! Obviously the best way to avoid this scenario is to study all new fish before you purchase them and let the store clerk know what other fish are already in the aquarium to prevent tankmates from becoming part of the menu. To paraphrase, “if it fits, it will get eaten!”.
Please, won’t you take him back?
Sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. It is possible with proper aquarium care to actually grow some fish until they are too large for your freshwater or saltwater aquarium. With proper planning this is not an issue that causes too much trouble (buy a bigger aquarium) but without thinking it through can leave you with the proverbial 600 pound gorilla in the room. Many freshwater Cichlids or marine Groupers fall into the category of fish that can grow quite large, 12-18″L, but are still kept in aquariums larger than 100 gallons. Unfortunately, the “cute” RedTail Catfish and Pacu fall into the category of a fish that can outgrow just about any size aquarium. I used to advise buyers of a Pacu that the small, 3″ fish they just bought would probably be about 5″L by the time they got home. Nothing can grow as fast! These larger fish have a lot of personality and you will become attached to them so please plan ahead for upsizing the aquarium as the fish matures. Information is readily available on the web for almost all types of fish so be sure to read and see if you have the capacity to handle the adult size of the fish you wish to purchase. Many of these larger fish can live 15-20 years in the home aquarium.
Help! Everyone is sick!
Tropical fish vendors do their best to avoid knowingly selling a fish with parasites or disease, but accidents can happen. Back in my store days I usually found out several days after the sale when the customer would come in and lament that everything was sick and dying in their display aquarium. What can you do? Often the other fish in the display at the store would not show signs of disease, so it was the stress of moving to a new environment and new tankmates that triggered the outbreak. This seems to be particularly true with parasite infestations. At this point the conversation would turn to who is at fault and how were they going to correct the problem. Most of the time the fish could be treated. For general bacterial infections water treatments like MelaFix would do the trick. Parasite treatments, especially with saltwater fish could be more complex. This would always lead to the inevitable “Woe is me! How can I avoid this in the future?” Well….all hobbyist should do what every article on acclimation of new fish and every book about aquarium keeping says, always use a quarantine aquarium for all new fish to avoid introducing disease into the display aquarium! Like eating right and daily exercise, this advice is ignored by 99% of the people in the aquarium hobby. Most of the time the aquarium can recover and the fish restored back to good health, but even the few exceptions make a quarantine tank desirable. The cost of the aquarium supplies needed for a quarantine system can be minimal compared to the cost of a tank full of corals, inverts and fish. I think you see where this is heading, don’t make me tell you “I told you so!”