After many years in the marine aquarium hobby—I’m not talking Paul B years here, but let’s just say a reasonable length of time—I like to think I’ve acquired a certain degree of wisdom with respect to keeping saltwater organisms. What I don’t care to admit is how much of that wisdom was actually gained as a result of making really strange and downright inexplicable blunders from time to time.
Some of these are too dark and horrifying to recount here, but I’d like to share a few of the less-mortifying ones so other salties out there can benefit from my experiences—or at least avoid making the same sorts of mistakes I’ve made.
(Note: some details may have been changed to protect the innocent—or to make me look like less of a moron.)
The Blood Shrimp Debacle
One of the species that really got me jazzed about the marine aquarium hobby was Lysmata debelius, a.k.a. the blood shrimp, scarlet cleaner shrimp, or fire shrimp. When I was a kid, I’d seen one in a little out-of-the-way tank at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium. This blood-red shrimp with snow-white antennae and “stockings” was absolutely mesmerizing, and I knew I had to have one. (If I were Nigel Tufnel, I might have even posed the question, “How much more red could this shrimp be?” The answer, of course: “None, none more red.”)
Anyhow, when the opportunity presented itself, I bought one at my local fish store—plunking down what would have been a considerable sum for me at the time, I recall—and introduced it to a 55-gallon tank, which it shared with a variety of peaceful fish species.
I could not have been happier with my acquisition! The blood shrimp took up residence under a rock ledge positioned right near the front of the tank where viewing was extremely easy. God was in his heaven, and all the planets had aligned! What could possibly go wrong?
Turns out I went wrong. After molting, my beautiful blood shrimp was hiding and hardening off its new exoskeleton somewhere in the rockwork. Around that same time, I observed that the powerhead located at the right rear corner of the tank, which I used to create water flow behind the rocks, was piling up substrate at the opposite end. “No matter,” I thought. “I’ll just take this pair of aquarium tongs and level out the substrate between the rocks and back glass.”
Bad idea. Completely forgetting to account for the whereabouts of my blood shrimp, I accidentally crushed the poor thing with the tongs as I was scraping at the piled substrate. Apparently, it had taken up refuge on the back of the rock pile right near the aforementioned mound of substrate.
The Salty Rhododendron Affair
The next gaff I’m willing to share actually involved two of my avocations—aquarium keeping and horticulture. A few decades ago, I was keeping both saltwater and freshwater aquariums. Whenever I did a water change in my freshwater tank, I would carry the bucket of dirty water out to my planting beds and use it to water the shrubs and perennials. As every gardener/aquarist knows, nitrate- and phosphate-rich water from a freshwater aquarium is great for watering plants.
What’s not great for watering plants is salt water, however! One fine day, while performing a water change in my saltwater tank, my lone functioning brain cell misfired. Without giving it a second thought, I carried the bucket of dirty salt water right out the front door and dumped it all over my rhododendron, soaking the foliage and root system. What I’d done didn’t even occur to me until I was walking back inside with the empty bucket.
The Decoy Damsel Discombobulation
Last, but certainly not least, in my long and distinguished list of saltwater slipups is the Decoy Damsel Discombobulation. When I first set up my current 125-gallon aquarium about eight years ago, one of my early stocking plans included a shoal of blue chromis (Chromis cyanea). I knew my LFS had them in stock—and even precisely which tank they kept them in. So I headed there with plans to come home with five or six specimens.
Once in the store, the proprietor asked, “What can I interest you in?” Distracted by other fish—or perhaps a shiny object or squirrel outside the store—I gestured vaguely in the direction of the tank that I knew housed the chromis and replied, “I’d like a half dozen of your chromis there if you don’t mind.” It didn’t register in my mind when, following my request, the store owner flashed me an odd look that seemed to say, “A half dozen of those? Really? Well, I guess you know what you’re doing!”
While he caught and bagged up my chromis, I figured I’d check out the rest of the tanks to see if there were any other specimens I couldn’t live without. After all, he knew what he was doing and didn’t need me looking over his shoulder the whole time.
It wasn’t until I got the fish home, acclimated them, and released them into my quarantine tank that I finally scrutinized them closely. Turns out they weren’t actually blue chromis at all. They were blue devil damsels (Chrysiptera cyanea). Now, these damsels can be maintained in groups if you’re careful to keep several females to one male, but if you end up with the wrong gender ratio, you could end up with non-stop squabbling.
These were very small specimens, and I couldn’t be certain of their gender, so I didn’t want to chance it. With as much dignity as I could muster, I captured the decoy damsels and returned them to my LFS. Fortunately, being in a small quarantine tank (the one thing I did right), they were easy enough to capture.
What’s your story?
So, fellow salties, what’s the biggest marine aquarium blunder you’re willing to share? Let us know in the comment section below!