Even Fish Can Get Along, Sometimes


The Delta Bohemian Parrot Cichlid hiding.

The Delta Bohemian Parrot Cichlid hiding.

Seven tanks and a backyard pond qualify and quantify Pontificus as something of an ichthyologist.

He first was turned onto fish when his mom bought him a 10-gallon aquarium as a child. Pontificus would watch and study his fish for hours, often waking up during the night to see how they behaved in the dark.

His first aquarium was populated with non-aggressive tropical fish such as guppies, mollies, tetras, and angelfish. Pontificus became so unwittingly adept at studying his fish that he could usually predict when a fish was due to have babies, and he was rarely more than one day off target.

Species, as well as individual fish, all have different personalities. Pontificus has seven different types of tanks, each having a different habitat and culture. The smallest two tanks each contain a beautiful Beta–one red and one blue. The two male betas cannot live in the same tank for the same reason that two men on a desert island cannot live with one woman–somebody ain’t gonna make it due to testosterone.

One 20-gallon tank has two Moon Lake catfish and some mussels from the same location. These guys just hang out huddled up next to one another in the corner and stare at the same spot in the tank day and night. Maybe catfish aren’t as wily as the coyote.

The 29-gallon tank has vibrant-colored guppies, Dalmatian mollies, fantail swordfish, an array of different types of tetras and a see-through shrimp. All of these guys are sweet cohabiters.

Pontificus has a 36-gallon tank filled with African cichlids–fish from Lake Malawi, Lake Tanginika, and Lake Victoria in Africa. These are hardy, aggressive, brilliantly colored, intelligent and socially inclined freshwater fish. They are territorial, love to dig and rearrange the gravel, and seem to live for chasing each other around the tank, even in the dark. They never stop moving nor tire from eating.

The 55-gallon tank is populated with New World, also known as South American, cichlids. The five, large orange Parrot Head cichlids are social, hang in a pack, love to hide often behind a plant and peek out with their Irish blue eyes. They are joined in the tank by two puffers–spotted green, bumblebee or blimp looking fish with independent eyes. Cute to look at, the puffer is toxic and aggressive. These two species get along famously in Pontificus’s tank.

Each freshwater tank has a plecostamus, a spiny, double ugly, bottom feeder, who scavenges all that lands on the bottom. They are hardy, not often noticed by the prettier fish, but essential to the tanks maturation and stability. God loves bottom feeders in every species he created.

The latest acquisition made by Pontificus is a 42-gallon saltwater aquarium. One of the fish is a bright, blue and yellow damselfish and the other a clown fish–think Nemo from the movie. Similar to what is often observed in the world of humans, the saltwater fish are by far the prettiest, but also the highest maintenance and hardest to keep.

If Pontificus combined all of these fish into one aquarium, there would be winners and losers. Some would hide in fear of the aggressors or those fish that just didn’t like their kind. Others would pick on the weakest species among them, while a few would even chase around the bigger fish. En masse, forced, cohabitation would lead to disastrous results for the keeper of the tank and his cold-blooded minions.

However, carefully select different tank mates and allow them to live together in the right environment, one where the aggressors are not feeding off the mob effect of their own kind, but rather are isolated among other more docile fish, and sometimes they all learn to get along.

Pontificus has experimented with this before and has not always seen different species of fish get along well–this includes one-gulp deaths, but sometimes, every now and then, fish that would normally not get along do so as a result of living in close proximity with others and realizing that “they ain’t so bad.”

Maybe if members of the human race would venture out of our own safe zones more often and encounter unique folks in different settings, then we might end up also “playing well with others.”

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  1. Thanks for that fascinating report. It must take a lot of time to care for that many tanks & inhabitants. I know an Episcopal priest who used to write in the weekly parish bulletin about life lessons learned from observing the fish in his backyard pond. That inspired me to take care of some goldfish in the pond at the school where I teach. I have learned much on the job. The more I find out about fish, the more I realize that they are more sentient than I ever knew…

  2. lasy, I’m not a keeper of the fish nor the tanks but I get the fish as do you. I enjoy watching them and learning each of their personalities and behaviors….all so different. Wonderful.

    Thank you for your comment. I love the word sentient. Perfect.

  3. Where was this Episcopal priest you speak of. Does the priest still write about lessons learned from the fish?! That’s cool stuff.

  4. When I watch my puffers I notice how the are different from each other personality wise. Not all of them expect food when you come up to the tank. My green spotted puffer Safferon gets very excited every time I walk into the room; he never does this when company comes over. When we watch fish we realize that even they have personalities that we can learn from.

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