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Mary's Problem


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We got an email from Mary, who said that most of the fish in her 55-gallon aquarium had died.

Two or three fish had died each day. We exchanged emails, and I tried to help her. But the deaths didn't seem to be the result of any of the usual causes.

Finally the fish deaths stopped. She had only a few fish left and decided to move an Archer from her 20-gallon aquarium into the 55-gallon aquarium, and the next day the Archer Fish died after having the same symptoms.

Mary then took everything out of her 55-gallon aquarium and washed everything in freshwater.

Then she set the aquarium back up, and she said it was all fresh and clean. She added some fish and they seemed to be doing well.

Still she wondered about what had killed her fish, and if her new fish were safe now.

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Here's what I wrote back to Mary.
Mary, it's my best guess that there was something toxic in your aquarium that poisoned your fish.

I have been told that there is no known disease that will kill any fish within 24-hours of exposure to that disease.

Since your Archer Fish died within 24-hours, it did not die from a disease that it got in 24-hours.

I have learned over the years that many people take it very personally, when it is suggested that their fish were poisoned.

This is unfortunate. I have never suggested to anyone that they have purposely poisoned their fish, and I am not suggesting that you did.

I have been able to investigate a few cases like yours in person and found out that the gravel was not intended for aquarium use, or there were rock ornaments that were never tested as safe for fish.

Some gravel and some rocks have poisonous minerals.

In one case, that I remember, some rocks were eventually tested and found to contain a poisonous arsenic mineral, which was rather insoluble in water, and so took a long time to dissolve in the water.

The arsenic mineral is known to accumulate very slowly in fish, and apparently is only toxic, after it reaches a certain concentration.

In most aquariums the pH is slowly dropping everyday. Changing 20% of the water brings the pH back up.

But if the pH drops to a certain level, some minerals in the gravel or rocks may become much more soluble and quickly poison the fish.

I have also documented cases of iron poisoning, and cases of poisoning from ceramic ornaments and plastic plants.

I mention this to you because your new water may be good now, but the process of dissolving something toxic out of your gravel, rocks, or ornaments may start again, and you may have a problem in the near future.

So you should review everything in your aquarium. Did you buy gravel labeled for use in aquariums? Where did the rocks come from?

The ornaments and decorations? Shells and pieces of coral also dissolve in freshwater, and they will dissolve much more rapidly as the pH decreases.

You should also think about insect spray and other aerosol sprays. Many of these products are very poisonous to fish. Of course, I know that you would never do it on purpose, but it is something to think about.

Maybe someone else did something and by accident some fumes got into your aquarium water.

Remember there is no known disease that would have killed your Archer in less than maybe 48-hours at the minimum.

So it seems likely your Archer was poisoned. You'll need to be a detective to figure this out.

It may never recur, and you may never know, but you should think about this carefully.


Customer Comments

I just read about Mary's dead fish ... Somthing I learned 3 years back on a salt water fishing trip, bug spray, sun block, perfume, and anything else you rub on your skin will kill fish in a heart beat, I see it done all the time, mostly by the caretakers.
People forget and the poison will stay on till it is cleaned off the skin. I will not put my hands in any tank without rubber gloves, (no powder please). Maybe this might help with the mystery.
Reply. Hello Doneva. Thank you for your comments. I agree with you, something like that might be the explanation.

We ask the workers in our facility to wash their hands everyday, before they start work, just in case they have something on their hands that might be toxic to the fish.

Touching an aquarium or putting your hands in the water is just like touching your dog or any other pet.

It is not dangerous to touch them, but it is important to wash your hands after touching them.

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