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A book leading up to Loach scouts...

Posted By: Tibor <tiborkun@earthlink.net>
Date: Sunday, 22 June 2003, at 7:54 p.m.

A tad over a month ago I moved to a new place across town to cut down on rent and help out a friend on his mortgage. Talk about stressful, but not just for me. Fish too!!

I moved the residents of my 55-gallon, including five clowns, seven tiger barbs, a handful of rasboras, a bristlenose pleco and a neon that just refused to die (all 40 of his brethren perished long ago, to the clowns), into my Clown Transportation Unit, a 10-gallon wheeled cooler with a sponge filter and battery-powered air pump. They spent about 5 hours therein, 45 minutes of which was drive time.

My clowns hadn't felt the net in over two years, when I moved them from my 20-gallon to the 55. Sure, it had come for others, but never for them. Four of the five had moved once, in a little styrofoam cooler, when they were wee little things no longer than my thumb. For this move, poor Gretchen, about five inches long (incl. tail) had herself so tangled in that net with those spines of hers that I nearly hopped in the truck to go buy scissors and hopefully cut her out; I came back with pliers I found behind my seat, though, not sure if I could manage anything worthwhile with them. She took one look at those things and had herself freed before I could figure out how to grab her so as to hold her long enough to work the mesh off the blades.

In the end, the immortal neon died in transit, as did half the rasboras and a tiger barb. As the night progressed, (and I stayed up until four in the morning monitoring them,) one after another the tiger barbs inexplicably died in the re-established tank. Test kits came back negative. Clowns were okay. Rasboras who made into the tank were fine. But the barbs kept following each other to the grave, one after another, in an odd sequence of one-by-one floating, then sinking, then giving up entirely. I was pretty unhappy, but at least my clowns made it. They're my pride and joy, and I've had the first couple for five years so far.

The next evening I was on a plane to Canada to spend a month there. I gave my roomate the food, told him how much to feed, and left the rest to them, and myself upon return. The tests came out fine, the filters were certainly colonized, life was good and any oddity in the balance would surely stabilize on its own. It did.

Last night, master returned! Pooped, but bearing brine sinkers, it wasn't all bad. I turned on the light just long enough to count heads, dropped in some food, and then declared it to be bedtime for all involved.

Today I've been able to pay attention to them, and am truly impressed by their social skills! They have a cave with large rocks at either side, a large flatter one for a roof, and a smaller one in the opening. All five spent *hours* with their chins on the front "stoop", watching my every move. Then, that satisfied, they started sending out scouts! They'd mill about for a moment, then out would pop a clown. He or she would swim slowly around, constantly watching me, as though tempting me to grab the net and give it a try. The other four would watch me warily, and then after a circuit or two of the tank, the recon would return to the school.

I've never seen anything like it! As the day has gone on, and especially after I dropped in flake a little while ago, they finally have come out to eat and play, though movement from me sends them caveward. I think they're satisfied it's me, or perhaps that I've learned my lesson about showing them the net, but don't want to take any chances just yet. Either way, I never would have imagined that fish could be this intelligent, not by themselves, but in a team. If they're this wise at four or five, I wonder if they won't be building an underwater assembly line at twenty (knocking on wood for my fishkeeping skills here...)

In a management class back a few years, I had to do the "ropes" thing, where we all showed up and did team-building exercises outdoors. Mebbe students should just sit in front of a tank of nervous loaches!

Anyone else experience anything like this with theirs? This has my curiousity really piqued as to just how smart these guys really are!


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