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Robyn's Fish Care Page Too

Last Updated: 2/25/10

Animated Bubbles

Tearing Down Setups
Dealing with Unwanted Fish and Why You Should Never Release Your Pet Fish into the Wild
The Secrets of Pantyhose
Common Household Supplies that Aquarists Can Use
Power Outages

Tearing Down Setups

Occasionally, you may decide to tear down a tank. This means removing everything, cleaning everything, and setting everything back up. Reasons to consider such a drastic step include: uncontrollable pest or disease outbreak, large change in water quality to dangerous levels, large amount of fish deaths, a tank too beyond dirty to clean without tearing it apart, a total crash (that means everything dies), a lot of live plants dying, lots of algae, simply creating or getting rid of a setup, etc. I have torn down tanks when I have gotten new tanks and moved a lot of fish around, due to uncontrollable planaria outbreaks, a few times when most of my fish died, and also when the tank gets super dirty.

The first step is to provide a temporary home for any plants or animals. A small tank or bucket works. Fill it with water from the main tank (unless you are tearing down due to water quality in which case well-aerated, fresh water with additives at a similar temperature is better) and aerate it well. Move the fish and any other living things. Separate the little and big fish so they do not harass each other. Next, drain most of the tank water. Then, remove all the ornaments, rocks, gravel, etc. Soak these in a 1:20 bleach solution for a few hours. After that, soak them in fresh water with dechlorinator for a few hours. In the mean time, wash the tank out. After getting all visible dirt, algae, etc. off, rinse with the dilute bleach. Then rinse with fresh water with dechlorinator. Rinse and rinse a lot. If there are no fish to worry about, you can fill the tank back up and add some bleach to let it soak for an entire day. Then, drain and refill with fresh water and dechlorinator. Let that soak another day and then drain again.

Set the tank back up. Rinse the gravel in a bucket again and put back in the tank using water to help. Fill the tank half full with tap water. Put in any ornaments, etc. You can also wash the live plants in the same bleach solution and then dechlorinator but for only about 10 minutes in each. Remove dead parts, rub off algae, re-clump certain plants together, and put the plants back. Fill the tank to the top and add any additives (dechlorinator, live bacteria, and a little aquarium salt are important choices). See here for information on water additives. Add aeration and full filtration. If any live animals can stay in their temporary quarters overnight, that is best. Aerate the water overnight before adding animals back. Watch them for distress. Now, you have essentially a new tank.


People often ask what to do about their fish and aquaria while on vacation. If you are gone less than a week, you need not do anything. Simply do routine maintenance and do not feed while gone. Also, do not feed extra food before leaving or upon returning to "make up" for being gone. If gone for a week or more, you should change the water and vacuum the day before leaving. Change however much water you normally change, between 10 and 50 percent. Be sure to add additives. See water changes and additives on my fish care page one. Also, repeat this the day after you return.

As far as feeding, you have a few choices. First, you could chose not to feed. Fish in well tended tanks with enough room, algae, and/or plants to nibble on can live for two weeks just fine without added food. If you have live plants, keep the lights on timers. Never leave lights on 24 hours a day. The fish cannot sleep. If you do not have algae eaters, live plants, or algae for eating, turn off all artificial light. Indirect window light is fine. The fish will be less active when it is darker. To achieve this, you could also turn down the heater if the fish can take it.

Second, you could have an experienced aquarist care for your fish. This would be your best choice.

Third, you could have an inexperienced person tend to your fish. If you chose the last choice, it is important that you leave certain things for them. Put each day's food in small ziploc bags or other containers so that the person will give the correct amount of food. Be sure that they know what to do about the filters if a problem should come up. They also need to know what to do if the power goes off. This can mess up timers, filters, etc. Most importantly, they must have your phone number and check with you regularly. If you are gone for more than a few weeks, you will need to arrange for someone with experience to change water and clean the tank.

Fourth, you could use battery-driven automatic fish feeders. Even with these, it is good if someone checks on the fish every once in a while.

Another choice is to use time-released hard foods that look like white rocks. I do not recommend these since they just foul the water, and the fish do not like their "taste" anyway.

Dealing with Unwanted Fish

Most aquarists will find themselves with an excess of unwanted fish at some time or another. Maybe the aquarist is moving and cannot bring the fish along; does not have the time, money, or space for the aquariums; has no desire to keep the fish any longer; had a batch of fry arrive with nowhere for them to go; has a particularly aggressive or incompatible fish; or any number of reasons. If the person has a pond, then the fish may reproduce so much as to endanger the lives of all the fish due to excess wastes. If a fish or more needs to be relocated, the following are the possibilities.

1. Try to find another aquarist or ponder to take the fish.
2. Ask the local aquarium stores if they will take the fish either for store credit or free if there is no other choice.
3. If the fish is rare, an aquarium may take it but they usually have too many fish as it is. They will not take common "tank busters" like red-tailed catfish or huge cichlids.
4. If no one will take the fish, consider getting another tank or a larger tank.
5. If the fish is small like fry and other fish in the household eat fish, then the fry can feed the piscivores.
6. Only as a last resort, the fish can be killed. The least painful way to do this is supposedly to place the fish in a small container of water and stick it into the freezer. Some research suggests that before death, the fish suffer intense pain as their organs rupture while still conscious. I personally have never purposefully killed a fish this way or any other way.

These are ways to get rid of fish that should NEVER be done:

1. NEVER flush a live fish down the toilet. Imagine being tossed around in human wastes, detergents, and all sorts of repulsive things where you would suffer for hours or days before dying. Flushing dead fish is fine but be sure they are really dead.
2. NEVER, ever release a fish into the wild. The only exception is if you release a wild fish exactly where you found it, and that fish has not contacted any other fish while in captivity. The reasons are many for not releasing the fish. First, consider your pet. It may not be suited for the local waters. It could starve, die of stress, be eaten by a larger animal, or live until fall when it would die from cold if it comes from warmer waters. More importantly, consider all the other animals that live in the water. The pet fish may carry a disease or parasite which could kill off native fish or other critters. The pet fish may compete with (space and food), harass, or outright eat the native fish and/or their eggs and fry. After pollution and loss of habitat, the introduction of non-native fishes to waters is one of the main causes for the decline or eradication of native fish populations. Another problem is hybridization of native fish with a similar pet fish that can so dilute the native fishes' genes as to negate their genetic identity.

For an article on the problems of releasing exotic fish into the wild in the USA, go to The Nonindigenous Fish page article on the topic.

The Secrets of Pantyhose

Pantyhose has many little-used applications. Some are aware that it can be used to tie tomatoes and other plants to stakes. It is also great to cut off just about 8 inches of a foot and use these for your fish. First, I bleach the footsies (stocking toes) for about half a day and then soak them in dechlorinator for half a day. You can put floss, carbon, zeolite, peat moss, or anything in the stocking. Then tie it closed. Put it in the bottom of an Accuclear filter, in the back of a Penguin filter, in a box filter, in a canister filter, or any number of other types of filters. This is cheaper than buying the carbon built into a floss holder or some other fancy filter.

Another secret of pantyhose is over a filter inlet. Are those fry getting sucked into the corner filter or fancy goldfish tails getting torn up by a Magnum 350 inlet (in my case) or other suction problems? Use whatever size footsie you need to cover the inlet. Voila! Filtration without sucking up fish! A lady reading this recounted a story of her husband using a plastic tampon container as a temporary strainer for the filter after the extension tube came off! There are things lying all over the house that can be used for your aquaria! See my new section below for more ideas!

Common Household Supplies that Aquarists Can Use

Here are some household supplies that I use for my aquariums that you may not think of:

1. Pantyhose - see above.
2. Vaseline or other petroleum jelly - use to grease o-rings on filters to make a non-leak seal.
3. Toothbrush (new) - use to scrub filter uplift tubes, scrub hard to reach places in the tanks or among any equipment.
4. Turkey baster or plastic pipet (used by scientists) - use to suck up wastes from the gravel, use to suck up fish eggs and newborn fry for moving them.
5. Pin (sewing pin) - use to pull off java moss out of filter impellers.
6. Small plastic cup - use to transfer small fish (instead of a net), use to hold fry while moving them, use to mix chemicals (a different cup), etc.
7. Cups and buckets of various sizes - use to mix up tank additives, hold fish or plants temporarily, cleaning, moving, etc.

Carol had these to add to the list:
8. Vinegar - use vinegar to remove hard-water stains from the outside of the aquarium. If used to clean the inside of an empty aquarium, be sure to rinse very well before using it.
9. Plastic storage containers - use to hold water for aging, water changes, etc. I have also used plastic storage tubs (most of about 15 gallons) to hold turtles, fish (quarantine or temporary holding), and as ponds. My first pond was a buried 50 gallon Rubbermaid storage tub. Some plastic containers may leach plasticizers but I have yet to have a problem. Rubbermaid should be safe.
10. Egg crate - used extensively as aquarium lids (keeps in fish, lets in light and air exchange) and/or support for aquarium lighting. Can be used to create a divider in an aquarium to keep larger fish separate from each other but allow water exchange and socialization through the bars. Sold in the fluorescent lighting section of stores.

Let me know if you have any more to add to the list!

Power Outages

Concerns when the power goes out

1. The temperature will drop too low in winter or climb too high in summer. Most fish can survive this if the change is gradual except discus in winter and other fish that need hot water.

2. The fish will suffer a dangerous drop in oxygen levels and/or increase in carbon dioxide levels. This is usually not serious unless the tank is warm, and there are a lot of fish.

3. The ammonia and maybe nitrite will increase to dangerous levels without filtration. This can be a real problem in tanks with lots of fish.

4. The bacteria in the biological filter will die. Bacteria start to die right away without food, air, and/or water. They cannot survive being completely dried out for long.

5. When the filter is turned back on, dead bacteria and hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs, will be released into the tank and harm the fish.

6. In planted tanks, plants may begin to die off.

What to do while the power is out

(#) refers to which of the above concerns is addressed.

What to do when power returns if it is out more than a day

Note that if the power is out for less than a day that nothing (beyond the ordinary) really needs to be done.
If the power is off for more than a day, the tank's pollutants must be diluted, and the tank may have to go through the nitrogen cycle again. Even with days without power, the filter should retain some bacteria to restart the colony. See the nitrogen cycle section for more information.

(#) refers to which of the above concerns is addressed.

For information on what to do with a pond during and after power outages, go here.

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