Please help my Tetras!! - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 14 Old 04-23-2010, 11:56 AM Thread Starter
Please help my Tetras!!

I have a 20 gallon tank with 3 peppered corries, 3 blackskirt tetras, 2 serpae tetras (I had another one until last night), and I just added a bushynose pleco. I'm sure that my problem stems from not quarantining my pleco. (I'm really new to this and didn't know about it til now). Anyhow, one of my Serpaes was swimming kinda sideways and had a bulging/red eye. The blackskirts have a shiny granular look to their skin (like glitter). I ran to my LFS they gave me pimafix and ick cure. I removed the filter then I used 1 tablet of the ick cure and 2 capfuls of the pimafix. The serpae died during the night. The blackskirts are hanging out at the top of the tank. (They've never done that before). I took the dead serpae to the LFS they said it could be septic something or other. They told me to do a small water change, and add the filter back in. Then treat with API"s General Cure (anti-parasitic med) and Triple Sulfa (anti-bacterial med) in a couple of hours. They also said not to feed them today. Does this sound right? I did the water change about 2 hours ago. Oh, and I had them test my water last night and today and all readings are in the good range.Oh, and the tank has been healthy and running for 5 months now. I think this stems from the Pleco.
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post #2 of 14 Old 04-23-2010, 01:15 PM
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Its hard to diagnose from your description but if you feel your local retailer is knowledgeable I'd tend to trust them. The fish hanging out at the top of your water column sounds like they are deprived of oxygen probably resulting from your filter being off. You don't say whether your tank is planted or not (also assisting in oxygen).

Its easy to think your problems stem from your pleco, but it may not be the reason. I know you've read about quarantining your new purchases but trust me, most don't; that doesn't make it right - just reality, that's why your problems may not be from the addition of the pleco, then again it may be.

First if you want and need a quarantine tank, the cheapest way to find one is to hit your local "used" stores like Value Village and your local Sally Anne's; they often will have 10 gallon tanks with hood, filter, heater being sold for next to nothing, like $15. Just keep looking over months, the tanks seem to come in groups, first for weeks there will be nothing, then suddenly two tanks for sale.

If you just unplugged your filter then turned it back on after it was off for a long period of time, you've probably flooded your tank with some nasties. The best recommendation I can give you is to purchase an API water test kit (one of the best out there) and track your tank for ammonia, PH, nitrites and nitrates. Its possible the tank experienced an ammonia spike from your pleco but if your lfs said you water is fine, then this is ruled out.

Ich is easy to see, kind of like chicken pox but white spots instead.

I'm sure others will chime in, but start following the water conditions you have. And is your water parameters suitable for the fish you own. There can be some fluctuation but if it is extreme from the needs of the fish, this could be your problem. This is where testing can help out.

The more info you can provide, the more helpful folks can be. So ph, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, hardness, water temp, planted tank or not, what filter (is it adequate with your conditions), how frequent are your water changes and what percentage, etc; this info can be helpful to prevent you losing further fish.
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post #3 of 14 Old 04-23-2010, 01:21 PM
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I took the following from another forum when some one had similiar problems to yours. You will notice the problem can be from a variety of problems, including the source of your water and problems it may present (like water from wells and water coming through old pipes in the house). This is why it is necessary to know the answers to the questions I post in my previous response:

"Ammonia Poisoning
Ammonia poisoning is caused by the buildup of organic waste due to overfeeding, fish or plant deaths and decay, or improper cycling. Ammonia poisoning especially occurs when the pH exceeds 7, when benign ammonium becomes ammonia. Symptoms of ammonia poisoning include sluggish behavior, panting, and gill discoloration (gill burn). Fish may hang just below the water surface. The easiest way to confirm ammonia poisoning is by testing the water. Ammonia poisoning can be reduced by reducing feedings, making water changes, lowering the pH, using zeolites, and increasing aeration.

Nitrite/Nitrate Poisoning
Nitrite/Nitrate poisoning is caused by the same activities as ammonia poisoning. Nitrite/Nitrate poisoning has the same symptoms as ammonia poisoning, and can be tested by a Nitrite/Nitrate water test kit. The best course of action, is to reduce feeding, make frequent partial water changes until the compounds are reduced, and increase the aeration in the water.

Chlorine Poisoning
Free chlorine, present in most tap water, is toxic to fish. Chlorine affects the gills and causes death by asphyxiation. Chlorine can be removed by boiling the water, letting the water stand for a few days, vigorously aerating the water, or by adding a water conditioner.

Heavy Metal Poisoning
Heavy metal poisoning can result from old pipes and/or metal in the fish tank. Heavy metal poisoning is evident when fish gasp at the surface for air and breath rapidly. Tests are available to measure the amounts of heavy metals in your water. The best way to remove heavy metals is to utilize a reverse osmosis system, although filtering the water through activated carbon and using water conditioners can be substituted."
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post #4 of 14 Old 04-23-2010, 01:52 PM Thread Starter
Thank you for your quick response. I usually trust my LFS but there are certain people there that I trust much more than others. The one that I trust the most has been out sick. Unfortunately, I've gotten conflicting opinions from the 2 that I dealt with. One said to use the primafix and Ick Clear. The other said to do a SMALL water change,( which I did a %15 pecent) put my filter back in then use both Triple Sulfa and General Cure. I did have my water tested last night and this morning and both were in the good range. So I know it's not a water quality issue. I'm pretty sure that the Blackskirts have Ich. But would that cause them to hang out at the top? I've also been told to add 4 teaspoons of Aquarium salt. But I don't know if that is in addition to the other treatments. My son is soooo attached to his fish. He's alrady devastated by the loss of the one Serpae, I really don't want to lose any more. Any help you can give would be so appreciated!!!
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post #5 of 14 Old 04-23-2010, 02:02 PM Thread Starter
I also forgot to mention that my tank contains 2 sword plants, a piece of driftwood, and various other fake decorations. I do regular water changes and use Prime to condition my water. My fish are well fed with flakes, shrimp pellets, and veggie pellets. They also get a frozen cube once a week. They seemed fat and happy until last night. I'm really at a loss. And I hate to think that they are suffering.
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post #6 of 14 Old 04-24-2010, 11:21 AM
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I think a bacterial infection is a likely cause, from the sound of your symptoms, but, as stated before, it's very difficult to diagnose fish problems without doing things like tissue biopsy, which is pretty much out of the question for ornamental aquarium fish.

At any rate, API's Pimafix is primarily used as an anti-fungal agent, and though it does have some antibacterial qualities, it's typically not the best medication to use for a bacterial infection. The bulging/red eye is caused by a fluid buildup behind the eye. The "shining" you see on your tetras may be due to a fluid buildup within the body cavity. Both of these are typically initiated by bacterial infections. API's Melafix (not Pimafix) is typically what gets recommended for bacterial infections, though the Triple Sulfa (also an API product, if I remember correctly) should work fine as well.

As for what caused it -- that's up for grabs. Sometimes the introduction of a sick fish will cause such issue, but, the fact of the matter is: alot of the bacteria that cause these infections occur naturally within the aquarium environment. Typically, a healthy fish's immune system has no difficulty in ridding the animal of the little pests, but when a fish gets stressed (just like us, or any other animal), the immune system goes to pot, and those naturally occurring organisms can gain a foothold.

What people are talking about when they say "Ich," is a protozoan parasite called ichthyophthirius multifilius. It is very easy to spot. It looks like your fish are, quite literally, "salted." Tiny little white spots that look like grains of salt. The problem with these guys is: once you see them on the body of your fish, there are ten times that many in the gills and other soft tissues -- that's where they hit first. Once you actually notice the parasites on the body, it's become a more serious issue. Fortunately, ichthyophthirius isn't a very tough organism, and it's actually pretty easy to kill. Alot of times, just an elevated water temperature will do the job. The addition of aquarium salt is also a good option. If you're looking for a medication to treat it -- stay away from anything that turns your water colors. Heh. These medications are typically based on some pretty harsh chemicals, and can positively murder your bacterial boifilter. If you want to go the medicine route, something organic like Kordon's Ich Attack would be more appropriate.

On a side note, quarantining is an important practice, not only for introduction of new fish, but also treatment of sick fish. Treating within a separate quarantine tank provides several advantages:
A) Quarantine tanks are typically smaller, and thus, you save a ton on medications due to smaller dosages.
B) Quarantine tanks, being bare glass, with simple filters (often just an aerator) are extremely easy to clean, and small enough to store between uses.
C) Keeping fish alone in a quarantine tank allows you to more closely monitor their progress, or, in the unfortunate event of fish loss, allows you to easily remove the dead fish without having to dismantle your decorations to retrieve it (something that is a real pain in display tanks).
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post #7 of 14 Old 04-24-2010, 12:31 PM
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I dunno if this is likely...

but in my experiance, plecos can be aggressive. Maybe he was abusing your tetras when you weren't looking?
in which case them swimming near the surface could have just been a sign that they wanted to be as far as possible from the pleco.

Sorry, I don't remember what kind of pleco it was... If it was anything other than a bristlenose though, it gets too big for a 20G.

Especially the common pleco- I saw one nearly 2 feet long once- it's mouth was bigger than some angelfish I've seen...

Is returning/exchanging the pleco an option?
Personally, I think snails and shrimps clean better than plecos... but the BN pleco is a good choice.. I don't think stores should even sell the other kinds of pleco without requiring a liscense or something...

Ottos work really well too, but IMO they're kind of hard to keep alive. :/

Originally Posted by Christople View Post
^^ genius

Soil Substrates Guide:
Part 1
--------- Part 2

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post #8 of 14 Old 04-24-2010, 02:18 PM
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I certainly agree with DCR that diagnosing specific diseases is very difficult for most of us; experienced aquarists who have had or seen the particular disease can usually diagnose it, but otherwise it can be next to impossible. Photos often help. DCR's other point about stress is one I frequently hammer, and intend to again here. This is more for the future, to help you (and others reading) avoid many such issues.

Stress weakens the fish's immune system so they are more susceptible to disease and parasites. One significant factor of stress is fish behaviour, requirements, compatibility and tank size as these are all interconnected. Serpae tetras, like all characins (tetras, hatchetfish, pencilfish) are shoaling fish that need to be kept in groups. Group sizes usually start around six, but with Serpae most recommend 8 or more; same may be said for Blackskirts. Both these fish, like many characins, establish a "pecking order" within the group, and the more fish there are, the less any one will be bullied more than the others. And given sufficient room (tank size), with suitable places of refuge (plants, wood, rocks, caves according to what the individual species prefer), the group usually fare well.

Serpae are notorious as aggressive fin-nippers, both among themselves and with other fish. In a large group in a large tank, they can be fine. Iggy Tavares has an article on this species in the current (May) issue of AFI [Aquarium Fish International], and he recommends nothing less than 90 gallon tanks for Serpae, and groups of at least 8 but preferably more, and heavily planted to allow the "picked on" fish places of refuge. Two lone Serpae in a 20g is likely to cause trouble eventually, and while I can't say this was the source, it may well have been. At the same time, three Blackskirts is too small a group, and these fish can sometimes get nippy too in an unsuitable (to them) environment.

If the last Serpae survives, I would recommend asking the fish store to take it in exchange or even just take it. Without 7 or more Serpae's, it will not be in the best environment, and a 20g is in my view too small for this species. You could increase the blackskirts if you like that species, up to 5 or 6. The corys at 3 is OK, but 2 more would make them happier too; they are also shoaling fish and most cory authorities recommend 5-6 or more, although different species often do well together, say 3 of one and 3 of another if you prefer variety.


Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The aquarist is one who must learn the ways of the biologist, the chemist, and the veterinarian. [unknown source]

Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]
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post #9 of 14 Old 04-24-2010, 03:47 PM Thread Starter
Thank you to all that have responded. Sadly, since yesterday, we have lost a cory and another Serpae. I am still confused as to which medicines to use. Now, it's appearing that the blackskirt's fins are looking raggedy. Yesterday, per another's advice, I used Ick Clear and 3 teaspoons of aquarium salt. I am just sick about losing all of my fish one at a time. All of the fish got along great, so there wasn't any fin nipping going on. Sometimes the two kinds of Tetras schooled separately, sometimes together. The bristlenose ALWAYS stays to himself, so I know he's not to blame either. It appears it's either, bacterial, fungal, or parasitical. I saw one kind of medication at the LFS that supposedly treats everything, but it said that it wasn't recommended for scaleless fish. (I'm pretty sure my cories are scaless, and maybe the bristlenose, but the girl at the LFS said that I was wrong.) I just don't want to keep adding stuff. I know they've all got to be so stressed. And I'm not even sure if I should continue feeding them...I've heard conflicting information about that. Any advice is helpful.
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post #10 of 14 Old 04-24-2010, 04:05 PM
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It's good that you don't want to keep dumping things in the tank -- I generally recommend against it. Heh. The sad thing is, fish are somehow, at the same time, both incredibly durable, and phenomenally fragile. Their immune systems can, at times, seem indestructible, yet, other times, fish just get sick and never recover. The most important thing is to never let yourself get discouraged. Every aquarist will, at some point, experience fish loss (sometimes I call it TOD, which is so semiotically layered it's almost, almost amusing).

I still say it sounds like a bacterial problem, to me. Ich will be blatantly obvious, and visibly detectable if it is, indeed present. The fin decomposition, swollen eyes, and puffy body all sound like tell-tale signs of bacterial infections. I would get a bottle of Melafix and begin the recommended treatment the bottle suggests. Or, if you have some Triple Sulfa left, that would work as well. As with any antibiotic, keep a close eye on ammonia and nitrite levels during treatment. The packages claim that they don't harm biological filtration, but I only trust capitalist propaganda about as far as I could throw it.

I would cease treating with Ich medication unless you can visibly see the Ich parasites on your fish. Look for little salt grains. If you so see it, you will need to continue medicating, as Ich can cause secondary bacterial infections that complicate the issue.

If you do decide to go the Melafix route, make sure you remember to remove activated carbon from your filtration system. It'll suck it out just as fast as you add it in.

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