A blind cichlid

Blind, adult Neolamprologus cylindricus. Photo by author.

Yes, I have a blind cichlid, a Neolamprologus cylindricus to be exact.

How do I know he’s blind? Observation.

I got him just before Christmas in 2018. Was he blind then? No. How do I know that? Because he would immediately seek shelter when I approached the tank. And when I vacuumed the sand in its tank, if the Pex vacuum tube got within a foot of him, he would swim away in a burst from where he was.

Up until about a month ago, his home was a 75g. I noticed a few weeks ago he began spending more time out in the open, which was highly unusual. He typically laid low underneath a rock or inside a cave in the tank. However, I noticed when I went to feed the tank that he increasingly was hanging out in the back next to the glass. I thought that was odd.

Even vacuuming the sand didn’t seem to bother him like it used to. I determined that something must be wrong with him so I netted him and moved him to a sick tank. I didn’t realize his blindness at that time, even though it was way too easy to net him. I just thought he was sick and lethargic. If his vision wasn’t compromised, he would have darted away from the net the same way he did when the Pex tube got too close. Was he blind then or just getting sick.

Even though his behavior changed, I knew he must be eating because he’s not emaciated and has continued to look his normal size. It occurred to me however that I had never actually seen him eat anything…ever. But last night I was determined to see him eat.

The sick tank he’s in is a 20g long. I have some dither fish (danios) in there that I use to keep it cycled. I dropped a couple of small shrimp pellets in the tank last night, including one that I managed to drop right beside him. He didn’t move. I even waved my hand right beside the glass where he was. He didn’t move.

So I watched him some more. At one point he swam over one of the shrimp pellets, stopped, backed up and extended his jaw as if to eat it but he was too far behind it. However, the inflow he generated was enough to pull some of the now dissolving pellet toward him, which he clearly sensed and he inched forward. At that point, his next attempt hit jackpot. That’s when it hit me.

I fed him again today with a different pellet food and watched. He routinely swam right by them within inches with no idea they were there. Every once in a while he’d get close enough to sense the food, probably based on the current and dissolved particles from them, and would attempt to eat but would just miss. But he would be close enough that his second try would be successful.

So when did he become blind and how? Those are the two million dollar questions. I never treated his tank (the 75g), so I don’t know what could have caused it. Before the light bulb in my head came on that he couldn’t see, I had treated the 20g long with four doses of antibiotics (two doses of Kanaplex and two doses of Furan 2). These were administered correctly and water was changed as appropriate. Is it possible he had some reaction to one or both of the medicines and actually WAS NOT blind when I removed him from the 75g? Sure. Is it likely? I don’t think so. None of the danios appear to be blind, and they were subject to the exact same treatment. That isn’t proof, but those two antibiotics are used together often and I found no information that using them together is a blindness risk.

Nonetheless, this is heartbreaking. However, he swims around like normal. Every once in a while he’ll sense one of the danios close by and charge it with a quick burst. Most of the time he’s not near anything when he does that, but if he is, he rams into it. Otherwise, he just calmly swims around until he just barely nudges something and keeps going.

I will eventually move him to his own, smaller tank. Fish are aware that other fish occupy the same water because of the chemical cues. I can only suspect, based on his current behavior, that the hormones exuded by the danios don’t make him feel threatened…but he knows they’re there. Otherwise, I doubt he would cruise the tank like he does. Regardless, the danios eat what I put in the tank, and I thus risk him not getting enough food.

Even if I put him in a tank by himself however, feeding him will be a challenge. It’s a fine line between making sure he “encounters” food versus leaving it too long in the tank, spoiling the water. But if this causes me to do more frequent water changes and/or extend greater effort to ensure he eats, I’ll do it.

Leave a Comment