The Journey

It all started a couple of decades ago when I first discovered tropical aquariums in the homes of my aunts and uncles. I took a big interest in them. A few years later I inherited a cold water aquarium inhabited by Fantail fish. Much to my surprise they bred after the introduction of fresh aquatic plants. I was later horrified to discover the parent fish rapidly devouring their offspring. I kept that tank for many years and in the end it had one sole occupant named Fred the Fantail. Fred had become territorial and grown very large and would attack any new fish I would introduce so I learned not to try. Fred survived upwards of seven years in my care. I have no idea what age he and his companions were when I first inherited them. Fred was my first real experience in fish keeping.

I had seen Neon Tetras in home aquariums and fish shops and loved their colouring. I had always wanted to keep them. The start of my tropical fish keeping venture was salvaging a tiny unwanted 20 litre tank from a garden in 2008. It had previously been used for cold water fish but I wanted a tropical tank so I bought a heater and some LED lighting for it. I discarded the broken lid and plastic plants but reused the gravel and filter after a thorough clean. I set up my micro environment furnishing the tank with rocks, small stones and real aquatic plants.

A few months later the tiny cycled tank become home to a shoal of ten Black Neon Tetras. I had wanted red and blue Neon Tetras but only the black variety were available in the Oban pet store at that time. Many thanks to my mum who purchased them for us. Miraculously they all survived a five hour ferry journey to get here. I kept those Tetras for well over a year with nothing else in the tiny tank but I desired a much larger community aquarium with a greater variety of tropical fish.

In the summer of 2009 I was given a small shoal of Guppy tropical fish both males and

These colourful Live bearers were given to us in 2009 by Donald MacNeil

These colourful Live bearers were given to us in 2009 by Donald MacNeil

females that were bred locally. Many thanks to Donald MacNeil for his generous donation. They were much more colourful than the Black Neon Tetras and a delight to watch. They began to breed very soon after I got them. I was surprised by this as the tank really was too small for them.

So a short time later after a friend had set up a secondhand tropical aquarium slightly bigger than my own and asked for some fish I was happy to trade half the Black Neon Tetras and a handful of Guppies in exchange for two pregnant Platys. I had been told they were Swordtails but some online research later told me exactly what they were and also that my tank was far too small for them.

Sadly the Black Neon Tetras all died immediately after a filter clean and water change. A little more research and I discover that Tetras are very sensitive to sudden water changes and perhaps not the best starter fish for a novice like myself.

The Platy fish completely over ran my tiny tank as they were prolific breeders.I knew I

Pregnant female Platy Marie Brannigan gave us two of these summer 2009

Pregnant female Platy
Marie Brannigan gave us two of these summer 2009

needed to invest in another much larger tank but there was no local pet shop and a new tank including delivery to our remote destination was beyond my affordability. So I did the same thing again, salvaged another unwanted 20 litre tank from a garden. Many thanks to my neighbour Nellie MacArthur for giving us our second tank. I recycled the gravel and purchased more lights, a heater, filter and some aquatic plants.

It was a temporary measure to cope with the overcrowding due to the prolific breeding of the Platys. I had ended up with over fifty fish from the two I had been given and started trying to give away as many of them as I could to local fish keepers. After the introduction of these fish the Guppy breeding seemed to be less successful.

Now that I had two tanks and two different species of Live bearers I was able to have species tanks and the Guppies happily resumed their breeding. I suspect the pregnant Platys were hungry and their meal of choice was Guppy fry. Unfortunately an accident one night resulted in the Guppy fry tank being broken beyond repair. I was left with just one tiny tank again and far too many fish.

I also now had a snail population that was beginning to get out of control. They had been introduced along with the aquatic plants I would replenish so often. I found it really difficult to get used to a single tank set up after having had two for so long. I knew I had to get another one as soon as I could. I had no means of quarantining sick or stressed fish or just providing fry with a less predatory home. It also helped to be able to temporarily home fish in another tank whilst I was boiling gravel in an attempt to keep the snail population down. I was never able to completely eradicate the snails as the spawn would often survive even after scraping it off the plants and they would start to reappear after a few days usually.

Early in 2012 I finally got my larger community tank. It wasn’t the one I had been dreaming about with a 200 litre capacity. The 60 litre tropical aquarium complete with lighting, heater and filter was a real bargain for under £100 including delivery to my remote destination. The larger aquarium would have cost between 3 and 4 times that. I bought some more gravel and aquatic plants for it and got some free snails added yet again.

The new aquarium was a joy. I finally had a much larger, far superior home for my

My community tank, Guppies, Neon Tetras and an Oto hiding among the plants

My community tank, Guppies, Neon Tetras and an Oto hiding among the plants

Guppies and Platys but I still wanted a real community tank with a greater variety of fish. I gave yet more of my Live bearers away to make room, set up the smaller tank as a quarantine tank and phoned the Oban pet shop. After a great deal of research I knew exactly what I wanted. Smaller algae eating fish and a shoal of Neon Tetras. The algae eaters were ordered in for me especially and I arranged a day for collection. I set off for Oban to purchase two Bristlenose Plecos, five Otocinclus and ten Neon Tetras along with more aquatic plants and algae wafers.

I was delighted with the new additions. After a five hour ferry journey I arrived home with

Oto and Bristlenose not long after I got them

Oto and Bristlenose not long after I got them

the new fish to discover the filter in the quarantine tank wasn’t working. I didn’t know when it had ceased functioning and I made a huge mistake. Yes you have probably guessed what I did haven’t you. I put the new fish straight into the community tank without following the quarantine procedure and a few days later I was buying treatment for a White spot outbreak in my community tank. Fast intervention and treatment meant I was able to save almost all of my older fish but the majority of the Neon Tetras died within the first week. It was very disappointing. I went on holiday less than a month later. I had noticed my Bristlenose Plecos were fighting but didn’t think it could be that serious as they were still so small so didn’t separate them into different tanks. I came home to just one remaining. I can only assume they were both male and fought to the death as they are territorial.

I had actually been more concerned about the Otos as I had read they were more difficult

My Otos

My Otos

to keep yet they all survived and did very well initially. I did have a couple of unexplained losses with them though much later on. I put it down to poor water quality, not cleaning the filter or performing partial water changes often enough or even the snail infestation devouring their main algae food source. A year on in 2013 of the fish purchased from the Oban pet shop, I still  have three Otos, one Bristlenose and a pair of Neon Tetras which means the mortality rate was well over sixty percent.

I desperately want to breed the Neon Tetras and as luck would have it I do have a surviving

Neon Tetras Female above, below male

Neon Tetras
Female above, below male

pair. I have observed behaviour that should lead to spawning but have yet to be successful. Everything I have read on the Tetra tells me that my pair should be very stressed as they are best kept in groups larger than six because they are a shoaling species. They did seem healthy and happy enough but I wanted to get them some companions and follow the advice of the experts. I did not want to go back to the Oban pet store though.

There could be several reasons why I have not been able to breed my Neon Tetras so far. I have read that adult Tetras will eat their own spawn and fry and snails will also eat their eggs so anytime they have spawned it’s possible the eggs were eaten before they ever had a chance to develop. Also the eggs are photosensitive so light levels could have destroyed their viability. Then of course is the success of my Live bearers, that should tell me in theory that our water is more likely to be hard than soft and Tetras require soft acidic water for breeding. I have read almost everything I could find on breeding the Neon Tetra and I am determined I will eventually succeed but something I read the other day worried me. An article I read stated that female Tetras kept in water with dH 8 would have deformed ovaries and be unable to breed and that the eggs wouldn’t be viable in those conditions either.

I have been too successful with the Live bearing Guppy and Platy fish and their tank is overcrowded again. I have discovered that Angelfish are their natural predator in the wild and may eat them. Perhaps it is time to invest in a much larger tank and a few Angelfish.

Anytime I have voiced concern about my snail infestation people have recommended that I get a Loach. I have not followed their advice not only is my tank too small but they are also not native to South America and they should also be kept in groups as they are very social from what I have read. A bit more research though and I have discovered the Assassin snail, could a few of these be the answer to finally eradicating my pest snails?

Early in 2013 I was given another 60 litre tank with lighting. Many Thanks to Dad for the second larger tank. I had to purchase a heater, filter, gravel and aquatic plants for it. The acquisition of this tank led to yet another big mistake. I wanted new fish for it also. I wanted more Neon Tetras to accompany the surviving pair and a breed of Tetra that was easier to sex. I read that the adipose fin on Blue Emperor or Kerri Tetras was a different colour depending on the gender, males had blue and females had red ones.I had not learned from my last experience and the terribly high mortality rate.

I didn’t go back to the Oban pet shop but found an eBay shop selling live tropical fish. I messaged them to confirm that they could indeed be sent to this remote location and after being assured they could I placed an order for ten Blue Emperor and ten Neon Tetras. A month later after constant messaging I still did not have the fish I paid for. I was harrassing the seller almost daily about it until finally well over a month later they arrived. I had to collect them from the post office and pay a further £25 postage when I had already paid postage to the seller at the time of purchase. I wasn’t happy but was just relieved to finally receive them after what seemed like a lot of hassle. The worst was yet to come. Upon opening the box I discovered that almost all the Neon Tetras were dead or dying, one corpse was even mouldy. None of them survived. Five of the so called Blue Emperors did however, obviously a much hardier fish.

This order of fish resulted in a 75 percent mortality rate. The worst I have experienced to date. Not only had the seller messed me about but they had actually sent me the wrong kind of Tetra. I couldn’t sex them the way I had read I could but I did observe some notable differences in them. Some had green eyes and one had blue eyes. Some were slightly larger with a more colourful purple tint and yellow tinged translucent fins whereas the fins on others were almost colourless. Their caudal fins were slightly different too. A bit more searching online revealed that these are Emperor Tetras and not Blue Emperor or Kerri Tetras. No wonder they didn’t have coloured adipose fins. They are still beautiful fish though and a fine addition to my community tank. They also seem much hardier and easier to keep than their Neon relatives.

I swore I wouldn’t buy fish online again after this experience but I am already tempted to do so having sourced a different supplier that has the Blue Emperor Tetras for sale along with several different types of rare Bristlenose, Angelfish, graceful diminutive Otos and they also happen to sell Assassin snails too.

I love the three tropical aquariums that I have, but I have become obsessed. I found myself requesting a quote for delivery of a 250 litre aquarium just the other day. The bigger tank would allow me to keep Angelfish.

I currently have two 60 litre aquariums and one 20 litre breeding tank. One tank is overcrowded with Live bearer Guppy and Platy fish and fry and my mature male Bristlenose the other tank is home to my Tetras and Otos. My breeding tank has been overhauled twice this month in the hope of breeding my Neon Tetras successfully.

So this is my story documenting my tropical fish keeping journey over the last few years. It has been a journey of learning, observation and experience both good and bad, it has led me through copious amounts of research and left me hungry for more. I started off on a tiny scale filled with pride about my achievements and blundering through the mishaps, slowly growing my venture and with it my passion for these stunning South American tropical fish. I have no doubt that my interest will continue to grow and my aquariums continue to expand for the rest of my years.

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