Teri Cadeau column: Joining the fish tank lifestyle
Reporter Teri Cadeau is learning to love caring for a tank of fish.
DULUTH — I didn't choose the tank life. The tank life chose me.
More accurately, my friend, K, chose the tank life for me.
Back in January, I woke up to a text from K. She was passing through Duluth and had an hour to spare before she headed to The Snake Pit store to pick up supplies on her way up to the Iron Range. K has her own menagerie: cats, bunnies, lizards and an adorable puppy, but mostly she has fish. This is the same person who might have stopped to take photos at an aquarium between her wedding and her reception. The girl likes fish.
So when she was talking about setting up a new tank, I had feelings of admiration for her expertise and a desire to emulate her. Then I voiced those feelings.
"Yeah, I've thought about getting fish again," I said. "Someday."
"You want to come with me and get some now?" she asked.
"No, I mean like someday, way, way in the future, not this afternoon," I said.
"But if you do it another day, you'll have to do it on your own," K replied. "I'm here today. I can help you set everything up."
It was the last bit that got me. I'd had a couple beta fish in the past, but whenever I set things up, I felt like I was winging it. I'd consulted websites, but the pet fish community isn't always straightforward with answers. One website would say, "Yes, that's absolutely fine," and another would contradict them, then another would say, "Well, it's fine, but it's not optimal. What you really need is this other thing ..." and on and on it went.
But K was right there. She knew what she was doing; she'd kept fish successfully for years. She was even offering to bring a few fish from her own tanks to populate mine. And if I had questions, she'd be a text message away.
We picked up everything we'd need between World of Fish and Petco that afternoon. We set up the tank so it would have a chance to partially cycle before we added the fish a week later.
To start out nice and small, she brought me seven male Endler's livebearers. They're small, growing to only about 1.8 inches when fully grown. They're super-colorful and active fish. As soon as we added them to the tank, I knew what I was going to call them: "The Dude Squad."
Red from "Overly Sarcastic Productions" on YouTube refers to the group of men who fight against the vampire in Bram Stoker's Dracula as "The Dude Squad" in a video review of the book . I had that nickname through my head when I read the book for the first time last fall and loved it. So my little guys are technically named Arthur Holmwood, John Seward, Quincy P. Morris, Jonathan Harker and Abraham Van Helsing. But that's only five, so the other two took on the villains' names of Renfield and Dracula.
It's been about four months now and The Dude Squad is thriving. There have definitely been questions along the way. I ended up with an additionally thriving snail population thanks to some plants we picked up. They've done their best to help keep the tank clean.
I'd never known that fish can recognize you and gather together at the top of the tank when you're near. Whenever 2 p.m. rolls around, I walk over and say, "Hello, boys!" They've already gathered expectantly at the top, waiting for me to deliver the goods. It reminds me of my parents and their dog who likes to lay down expectantly in front of his dish whenever it's suppertime.
One time Dracula, the biggest fish, looked a little bloated. He kept swimming around near the bottom of the tank and didn't come up to eat for a couple days. I turned to K and she recommended getting supplies to set up a hospital tank to separate him from the other fish if he kept acting weird. I went out on my lunch break and got everything I needed, but decided I could keep an eye on him overnight. But by the next morning, he was less bloated and back to his usual self. If you'd told me before December that fish constipation would be a concern in my life in 2021, I wouldn't have believed you.
One unexpected benefit that's come from having to do regular tank cleanings: Whenever I vacuum out my tank's substrate, it reminds me to vacuum my apartment as well.
Speaking of, it's Partial Water Change Day, so time to go tend to my boys. I'm incredibly thankful to K for helping me get into the tank life. It's been a rewarding journey so far.
Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 218-404-3534.