I was talking with a customer the other day about how we both got into the aquarium hobby, and it was surprising that we both got started because of a piranha!
I was a late bloomer and did not get the aquarium bug until my senior year in college. One of my fraternity brothers bought a 10 gallon tank and a small, dime-sized piranha. This poor fish had to live in an unlit, bare-bottomed tank with no ornaments and just a small corner air-driven filter. I do not believe it even had a heater. Of course, everyone wanted to see this “man eating” fish devour its prey, but this guy was so small, it could barely tear into frozen brine shrimp! Nevertheless, I was bitten and wanted to set up my own aquarium. Fortunately for me (and my new fish), one of my other brothers was an actual aquarium hobbyist, and he took me to the store to buy my first aquarium set up. I am a bit surprised at how vividly I remember this tank after 40 years.
I bought a 10 gallon “all glass” tank, which was the latest development in aquariums. This was one of the first not built with stainless steel corners and a slate bottom. They were still leery of all glass construction, so it did have plastic trim going up each of the corners to protect the glass. I also had a clamp-on 50W heater and a state of the art air-driven hang-on-back filter system with a diaphragm air pump. I picked out some blue and black pebble gravel and a few plastic plants and one oak barrel ornament. Quite the penthouse set up for my fish! I was given some Start Right crystals to remove the chlorine and instructed on how to acclimate the fish, which were taken home in those cardboard containers now used for take-out Chinese food! I am sorry to report that both my friend and the store allowed me to take home with the tank a complete collection of fish for the aquarium. I am happy to report that the fish all survived this experience, but I also remember changing about half the water every day for the first week.
My first collection of fish consisted of:
- Two Neon Tetras
- A pair of RedWag Swordtails
- One Corydoras aneus catfish
- One Plecostomus
- Two Tiger Barbs
- Two small Silver Angels
During the first couple of nights, these poor fish had to live without any water movement, as my roommate could not sleep with the noise of the air pump, so we would turn it and the filter off each night. Since this aquarium was set up during the Spring, I ended up placing the air pump on the outside window sill and almost closing the window to eliminate the noise. This way, I could keep the filter and water circulation running all day.
My fish seemed to be doing fine on their 4-in-1 Tetra Flake food and, outside of the male swordtail chasing the female all the time, everyone seemed to get along. (I must have been lucky with the Tiger Barbs and Angels!) After two weeks, I bought a Metaframe fluorescent hood with the stainless steel light fixture. I think they made them like this to be sure you would eventually get shocked turning on your light! About a week later, I had my first crisis: I could not see the Plecostomus in the aquarium. I double checked the oak barrel where it usually hid out, but it was not there. I looked around the tank and even accused my roommate of taking it out just to annoy me, but no Plecostomus. About a week later, I had to clean the filter floss out of the hang-on filter, and, low and behold, there was the Plecostomus! It had jumped/climbed out of the tank and ended up in the filter. I chastised the fish and placed it back in the aquarium where it immediately swam into the barrel to hide. Looking back on this tank, I think my favorite fish turned out to be the Corydoras catfish. It would sit and stare back at you if you were near the aquarium. Then it would “roll” its eyes and dart to the top of the water and sink back down to sit on the gravel. I just found this fish to be amusing.
As to the fish that started it all, the Piranha? My friend’s survived the rest of the school year. It was probably 10 years later, while I owned a pet store, that I finally had my own Piranha at home. It was a large Black Piranha that a customer had traded in because it was terrorizing the rest of his Red Belly Piranhas. I owned it for about a year and finally took it into the store to sell, only to replace it with a small school of baby Red Bellies. My housemate’s girlfriend asked me what happened to the big fish. As she was rather “naive” when it came to aquariums, I told her that is how the Piranha multiplied: the large fish would split up into several smaller fish, but that is another story…