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clowns + plants

I'm hoping to generate exchanges of aquarium management for folks who keep
clown loaches and are aspiring to develop a planted environment for them.
Yep, I'm afraid that, for me, it's clown loaches first and plants second.
So here are my  anecdotal accounts of some clown loach behaviors and
interactions with plants.  Only clown lovers (or lovers of other potential
plant harassers) should labor to read this LENGTHY posting...


I have a 40 gallon tank with three large (4-5") clown loaches--these are my
pets.  Everything I do is to suit them.  They have been kept company over
the past five years by 2-4 opaline or pearl gouramis, 3 otos, 10-15
glow-light tetras and black neons, and a small pl*co (purplish brown with
crisp white spots--anybody recognize this?).  The tank also contains simple
stands of Hygro. polysperma that have waxed and waned over the past three
years I've had them, but are now stable (new bulbs and I'm using TMG).
Water changes keep the nitrates and phosphates at tolerable levels.  I
probably overfeed to appease my voracious clowns, but I'm trying to change
this.  Remember, it's all about the clowns!

Issue 1)  clowns jumping from tank.
	Due to a crazy work schedule and travelling, I had put my tank on
an automatic feeder.  Flakes and floating pellets morning and evening,
pellets and the occassional algae wafer in the middle of the night.  Months
later when I resumed a normal life, I began hand-feeding again.  First day
of this, I awoke in the middle of the night to a weird flipping sound on
the floor.  One  of my big clowns had jumped out of the tank (uncovered on
the back).  I tried to pick him up, got needled by his eyespine*, so I
picked him up with a washcloth and threw him back.  He was fine.  Next
night, a different loach did the same thing!  Ridiculous!  The water
quality seemed fine.  So I covered the back of the tank, but the next night
I could still here alot of bumping around and nipping sounds.
	I then realized that the clowns had become so accustomed to their
night time feeding that they were actually waiting for it, and when it
failed to occur, they were jumping up looking for the food source.  Lesson:
clowns learn their feeding regimen quickly and remeber it well.

*if anyone wants to discuss the eyespines, I'm all ears for more info!

Issue 2)  the sudden defoliation of my Hygro:
	I would find about 10 leaves floating on the surface every morning,
and it was always the lower leaves that were being lost.  But even with
iron etc. and a new fluorescent bulb, they did not seem to be growing.
Closer inspection revealed that the tips of the stems were rather
mascerated.  Though I'd never seen them do it during the day (my trio is
out and about alot during the morning), I reasoned that my beloved clown
loaches were attacking my pretty plants at night.  Having grown very fond
of the plants, I do what suburban dwellers these day have to do when their
young trees are threatened by deer--I erected fencing.  I took trimmings of
the upper portions of the Hygro. and placed them under strawberry baskets
that were worked down into the gravel (otherwise the baskets float).  This
worked quite well!  The plants tips began growing again and their leaves
remained on the stems.  The otos and tetras moved freely in and out of the
baskets.  The clown loaches had been foiled!
	Of course, as the plants grew, they stuck out of the basket's zone
of protection.  No prob!  Just cut the top off another basket, lash it to
the bottom of the first, and you have an upwardly expandable fence.  I know
people are smirking.  Who would want to have towers of strawberry baskets
in their tanks?  Not me, if I can help it.  Read on...

Issue 2)  reflection on the plant-clown loach compatibility issue:
	When my loaches were smaller, they never had any impact on the
Hygro.  Perhaps they couldn't inflict enough damage.  But why all of a
sudden, like in the period of a week, did they get the idea to "eat" the
stuff?  An apparently coincidental even during all of this had been the
death of my small basic pl*co (I honestly think that these guys are VERY
cute).  He had ended his days in fits of dashing up the sides of the
aquarium--the kind of thing starving pl*cos do.  However, I had been giving
him his algae wafer 2X a week, and so felt that he couldn't possibly be
starving and was perhaps suffering from an internal infection of some sort.
However, during the last days I began giving algae wafers and zucchini in
the evening in a last ditch effort to get the pl*co to feed.  With some
surprise, I observed that the clown loaches absolutely LOVED both of these.
In fact, they would battle for the algae wafer and the larger clowns would
actually pick it up and carry it around the tank.  Fins erect, black bars
faded to blue--very possessive!
	As for the pl*co, he sadly passed.  And I began thinking about
things.  First, I came to the realization that the pl*co had indeed
starved.  The clowns kept carrying his food around in a game of algae wafer
rugby, so the poor pl*co could never feed.  By the time I threw in
zucchini, he was just to weak to graze.  And I guess he didn't recognize
Hygro. as a diet alternative...but the clown loaches, on the other hand,
were  now completely outted as the plant harassers.
	But I really don't think that the clown loaches were EATING the
Hygro. as much as they are simply bored and are playing with it.  My clowns
are very (TOO) well fed.  They just love to pick at stuff, nipping and
snapping at anything they can sink their teeth in.  They've acually woken
me up at night with all of their snapping/clicking on the algae wafers.

Issue 3)  distracting clown loaches from plants:
	Combining my observations has lead to a means of growing plants
with tolerable abuse from the clowns.  Simply keep these inquisitive fish
occupied at night.  Feed them small pellets with an automatic feeder.  This
way they spend the night time ferreting out pellets from the substrate
instead of picking on the plants.  (IMO big pellets are bad because the
bigger loaches will just carry them around.  Pellets too small will fall
down into the substrate.  I've had trouble finding a good sinking pellet,
so I've settled on Tetra's Colorbits, intended for discus.  Others
suggestion are welcome!)  Also, give them zucchini or a fresh spinach leaf
every so often.  I used to put a zucchini slice in a clip--my new pl*co
certainly appreciates this.  But sometimes I just throw a quarter of a
slice into the tank and let it float.  When the lights go out, the clowns
will struggle to grab it and pull it under water.   The buoyant veggie will
keep popping back up to the surface.  This keeps the clowns very busy.
(Remove any uneaten veggies from the tank after two nights because they'll
disintegrate into mush.)   Another activity for them (if you're into live
feeding) is to put a dish filled with 1/2" of gravel into the tank and put
worms into it before you go to bed.  The dish keeps the worms from escaping
into the deeper substrate and the clowns will get to fish in a barrel.  But
they'll still have to dig a bit, and anything that makes the clowns work is
a good thing!
	So now I've taken the baskets out of my tank and the Hygro. are
thriving with very little damage.

Issue 4)  what plants are compatible with clowns?
	I write this as a question because I don't know much here.  With my
current regimen, the once-attacked Hygro is now OK.  I've seen little
damage to my Crypt. wendtii (sp), but every now and then a young leaf is
clipped off at the base of its stem.  The clowns did nip at my Echinodorus
(don't know which species) and ate off its developing bloom, but they are
now leaving it alone as well.  Info from various sources suggests that java
fern is pretty resistant to rough fish (like cichlids) as well.
	And does anyone know if clowns are more prone to attacking sickly
plant growth than the mature leaves?  Some of the worst plant attacks also
occurred while the plants were struggling (I ran out of trace mineral mix
and stupidly didn't rush right out to the store to replace it...weeks
later, well, pale leaves aren't so pretty.)

Issue 5)  recent tetra die-off:
	In the past two weeks, my tetra population of 7 glow-lights and 6
black neons has suffered a tremendous, inexplicable loss.  I had kept the
glowlights for 5 years with the occassional isolated deaths and
replacements.  Today, I am left with only 1 black neon.  My nitrites are
nonexistent, and with my slightly acidic pH and plants, I've assumed that
my ammonia is also low.  The water changes have been regular.  None of the
glow-lights seemed ill by behavior or appearance, and the larger fish in
the tank are completely normal. The black neons began to occupy an upper
corner of the tank by the filter current, which is strange.  But no gulping
for air, no darting.  One of these guys did show some septicemia and
swelling (he died in a hospital tank), but that was it.  Every day I'd come
home to find a little carcass, or wake up in the morning to one less tetra.
Very disturbing--I love my little schoolers.
	Could they have been attacked at night by my clown loaches?  Tetras
appear comatose when the lights go out and are often in the bottom area of
the tank.  Now that I've removed the baskets, perhaps they are no longer
protected from the opportunistic clowns.  BTW, I've been feeding the clowns
a little less.  Perhaps they took it out on the tetras?  If anyone has
observed bigger clowns eating little fish, please tell me about it so I
don't try to get more little tetras.

That's it!  Hope I didn't bore you too much.  Please share your clown loach
stories, particularly as they relate to plants!


Carmen C. Robinett, Ph.D.
Dept. of Molecular and Cell Biology
401 Barker Hall
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-3202
(510) 642-5971
FAX (510) 642-7846