Friday, January 23, 2015

The Terror of the Tank

Over winter break, S revamped the fishtank, which had become overrun with algae. In the process, he woke a monster.

Meet Gyrinocheilus aymonieri. When we took him in a few years ago, we thought we were doing a good deed. About 5 cm long, he was one of a handful of fish we inherited from a neighbor across the street who was trading in her tank for a hamster.* Sold by pet stores as an algae eater, Gyrinocheilus is a reclusive fish; we saw ours only a few times a year.

When S overhauled the aquarium, he temporarily moved all of the fish into two smaller tanks, upon which we discovered that Gyrinocheilus had grown. He was 12 cm long and angry as hell. He spent his days seething, saving his energy for darkest night, when he would fling gravel across new abode in a futile attempt to dig himself a hole to hide in. The gravel-flinging clicks intrigued our cat Schroeder. We covered the temporary tanks with cardboard, lest the cat spend his nights plotting ways to remove the lids. Then I donated a long, narrow, oval soda-fired pot to Gyrinocheilus; he moved in immediately and found his new cave-like space calming.

With the 45-gallon tank scrubbed clean, furnished with new lighting, new gravel, and new plants, and with water quality stabilized, all of the fish moved back in. Gyrinocheilus had an especially untraumatic transfer, as S moved him in the safety of his pottery cave.

We bought a few new fish for the tank: six wee rasboras, six black neon tetras, and, because we're the local fish orphanage, one black skirt tetra to fill out a small school we had inherited from yet another friend who was shutting down her tank.

Because we're now in month four of a two-month upstairs bathroom renovation, we sleep downstairs in our living room near the fish tank. The night after new-fish move-in day, we drifted off to the sound of flicking gravel. Come morning, every single wee rasbora was gone. "Et," as we say in the south.

After lecturing the perpetrator ("Bad fish. Bad. I hope you get a tummy ache"), S turned to Google and discovered that Gyrinocheilus are not actually great algae eaters. They get big and cranky with age and "develop an appetite for meatier fare."

We attempted to freecycle the carnivorous beast: "Free to a good (preferably) or bad (we don't really care) home: one Gyrinocheilus aymonieri" etc. Our honest ad received but one response: "Great, that sounds perfect for my prahok. Is he still available?" Alas, the responder never came to pick up the fish.

We nixed the idea of donating Gyrinocheilus to E's school, as we didn't think it would be any more pleasant for young children to witness fish carnivorism than it was for us, no matter how great the potential for instructional lessons about predators and prey. E immediately rejected my suggestion that we give Gyrinocheilus to Schroeder. (Hope springs eternal in that feline breast: someday, Schroeder knows, through a combination of razor-sharp extended claws, the powerful springlike action of highly evolved hind legs, and sheer will power, he will crush the quarter-inch thick aquarium glass that stands between him and the fish.)

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. A few days later, when our school of six mid-sized black neon tetras turned into a school of five and an eighth, it was time for the Terror of the Tank to go. Sic semper tyrannis. Suffice it to say that his demise was, we hope, gentler than being eaten alive.

Two weeks later, peace has returned to the tank. Some of the new plants are sending squiggly shoots up to the water's surface to bloom. A committee of six industrious nerite snails now handles algae control. And with the voracious carnivore gone, the schooling fish are intermingling. A friend says our tank is a fine metaphor for corporate America.

*When I first mentioned Gyrinocheilus in this blog, I wrote that we purchased him ourselves. S is adamant that we inherited him, which is entirely possible--although I wonder, now that Gyrinocheilis has revealed himself to be a voracious carnivore, whether we're saying we inherited him in order to put greater distance between ourselves and his crimes.

The Terror of the Tank, belly full, poses in front of his handmade soda-fired cave