Do You Bother to Quarantine?

by Daphne Layley

 alf a century ago, when I was about twelve years old, my life’s ambition was to have a 4ft aquarium upstairs in my bedroom – a community tank with all kinds of wonderful fishes – I knew nothing in those days about specific biotopes or different water conditions for different species – I just wanted all sorts, so long, of course, as my collection included some catfish.

My pocket money was precisely six shillings and sixpence a week, of which I saved every penny. For my birthday and Christmas presents, all my family were politely requested not to buy me presents – just please give me the money!

Eventually, enough cash was saved – an angle iron tank installed next to my bed (despite my mother’s misgivings about the excessive weight), and my long-awaited community of fishes began to take shape. In those days, tropical fish were expensive – a small Angel Fish or a tiny Neon Tetra was almost my whole week’s pocket money – equivalent to several pounds by today’s standards, and I could normally only buy one fish each week, so it took a long time to build up my collection. It also took a huge amount of self- will as I also wanted to spend my money on riding lessons and, as they say, you can only spend it once!

Every Saturday I would ride my bike to Queensborough Fish Farm, in Wraysbury, about 5 miles away, and I would choose my latest addition, which would be carefully placed in a jam-jar with the lid screwed down tight, then wrapped up with lots of newspaper to keep it warm, and then stowed in the saddlebag of my bike and wedged upright with more paper to stop it falling over (how times have changed!).

Anyway, in the fullness of time, my collection was almost complete – I had Guppies, Swordtails, Pearl gouramies, Opaline Gouramies, Tiger Barbs, Spanner Barbs, Schuberti Barbs, Firemouth Cichlids (small), Neon Tetras, Angelfish and Corydoras – please, don’t say anything – in those days I didn’t know any better! They all lived together – rather surprisingly, with hindsight, and the tank was my pride and joy. All I really wanted to finish the assortment was a Black Molly, which I duly bought and installed – my collection was complete and I was deliriously happy – for almost a week.

After a few days, I noticed a small white spot on the Black Molly – two days later every fish was plastered. The only medication for White Spot available in those days to a kid like me was Methylene Blue but I was fairly uninformed about such things then – there was no one to ask and it was too little and too late – everything died – total wipe out. You just can’t imagine how devastated I was – all those beautiful fish dead – all that pocket money wasted – all because of that one last fish that I just had to have!!!

The scars of that incident have never left me – I killed those fish and I have only myself and my ignorance to blame. Since then I have become totally fanatical about quarantine – every purchase is installed in an isolation/hospital tank set up especially for the purpose. It is kept well away from my stock tanks, to avoid drips or splashes of contaminated water, and I have a completely separate selection of buckets, tubing, tools and towels etc. that are only used for the quarantine tank. Every droplet of water from a new source is regarded as poison until proven otherwise. New fish are kept in isolation for a minimum of three weeks. They are closely observed – I have a large magnifying glass for the purpose – and they are not released into the main tanks until I am 110% sure that they are not carrying anything nasty that could infect the other fish – OK – call me paranoid, but it’s better safe than sorry!

Now let us jump forward to the present time – I have a friend who has kept fish for about four or five years. For reasons which will soon become apparent, she must remain anonymous. She came into fishkeeping by default – her daughter wanted a fish tank, which I supplied to her, but it turned out to be a five-minute wonder and my friend got lumbered with cleaning it out. She became quite interested and decided to take it over, since when her enthusiasm has known no bounds. She came to me for advice on various aspects of her new hobby, and we have subsequently spent many interesting and productive days and covered many motorway miles during our fish-buying expeditions.

The one piece of important advice that I gave her, bearing in mind my previous traumatic experience, was to quarantine everything.

But, her space is limited – she only has a few tanks, and despite having the best of intentions, every time she sets up a would-be quarantine tank, she promptly fills it with a fish from her ever-growing collection. Consequently, despite my gentle nagging and dark mutterings about playing ‘Russian Roulette’, when she does buy some new fish, she puts them straight into any one of her community tanks. Up to now she has been remarkably lucky.....

Three weeks ago, we went out on one of our trips, and she bought several new fish which were distributed amongst her various tanks.

At this stage in the story, it’s probably reasonable to assume that you’ve all worked out what happened next.....

One of the new purchases was put into an established Amazonian-style set-up, containing a stunning shoal of mature Cardinal Tetras, all of which took sick and died within a week. Ironically, the new fish, the carrier of whatever nasty disease it was that killed the Cardinals, survived unscathed. This particular phenomenon does sometimes happen – I’ve heard of it several times – making the catastrophe all the more frustrating.

It took courage for her to tell me about it – and I didn’t say “I told you so” – bravely, she said it first! In future, I’m quite sure my friend will apply the same quarantine rules to her new fish as I do.

Out of regard for her feelings, I asked her permission to tell this tale and, to give her credit where it’s due, she agreed on the basis that it might stop the same disastrous mistake from happening to someone else.

To sum up – if you don’t quarantine your new fish, you risk losing not only the new purchase, but also possibly all the fish already established in the tank, not to mention your hard-earned money! Is it really worth it?.

It’s easy to be blasé about this and think it could never happen to you, just because it hasn’t happened so far. Without quarantining, you’re gambling with your fish’s lives and nine times out of ten you’ll get away with it, but beware of a variation of Murphy’s Law, which states that “If something can possibly go wrong, then one day, when you least expect it, it probably will.....”

Daphne Layley


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