Fish keeping is not an exact science, and sometimes you lose fish for no apparent reason. On the other hand, many of the decisions you make can have catastrophic consequences. Sadly, a poor decision on my part during the repositioning of rock work in my 75g resulted in just that, a catastrophe. This is a Tanganyikan tank containing river rock, clay pots, ceramic caves, and various snail shells. Yesterday, during routine maintenance, I decided to add some holey rock that I picked up from my LFS. I removed about 75% of the objects and vacuumed the sand substrate. Among the objects removed was several snail shells. I looked into each shell and emptied them of water individually, at which point I proceeded with the rescaping. I intentionally left about four shells out of the tank.
Fast forward more than 24 hours and, as I’m feeding the tank, I did a head count. The only fish missing was a single Telmatochromis vittatus. The tank housed two of them, and one was out and about as usual. I sat and watched, thinking the other one would make an appearance shortly. It didn’t. After about 15 minutes, I began looking around the tank. Experience has shown me that dead fish will rarely be stuck inside rock work. They usually float out or will be on the tank periphery somewhere. Not seeing the missing vittatus and knowing that, if it was not dead or sick, it would be feeding with the others, I realized I had a problem. Then it hit me! I looked over at the four shells that I had removed the day before and thought to myself, “surely not.” I picked up each one and, sadly, there it was, curled up just inside the 2nd shell I picked up.
I truly care about my fish, and losing one is hard enough under any circumstance. When it’s my fault, I get a real hollow feeling in my stomach. I should have put all four shells back into the tank and then, if I didn’t want to keep them in, I should have removed them again once everyone was accounted for. I made a grave mistake, and a fish paid for it. I’m not afraid to say it. It hurts!