Sand and sun, barbecues and parades; everyone loves the summer! Unfortunately, "everyone" includes aquatic bacteria, which thrive in warmer waters. To fishkeepers, summer is a time where serious diseases like columnaris and septicemia seem to pop up at of nowhere. Fish store stock is suddenly plauged by disease, and shipping can be a nightmare for any breeder when day to day temperatures may fluctuate anywhere from 60 to 100 degrees. In short, summer is unkind to our fish, and nerve wracking for fishkeepers. So, here are a few summer tips on how to help keep your bettas healthy this summer season.
Is it Hot in Here?
To those of us who lack air conditioning, a summer of fishkeeping becomes a summer of nervously watching the tank temperature rise while desperately thinking of a way to cool things down safely. We may think of water as a way to stay cool in the summer, but if temperatures are consistently in the 90's indoors, you can make a fair bet that temperatures in your fish tanks will spike into the upper 80's. Not only can excessively high temperatures damage your fish's health, but they can also lead to the rapid advancement of diseases like columnaris. In fact, one of the leading causes of columnaris is a temperature spike. So, here are a few tips to help you "beat the heat."
- Aquarium hoods help keep the temperature more consistent, but they also keep it warmer. In a room heated to the same temperature, the difference between a tank with a hood vs. a tank with a screen is usually a minimum of 2 degrees, often more. By losing the hood, you can also lose extra degrees - and trust me, the difference between 82 and 86 is the difference between "safe" and "dangerous." However, going without a hood poses the problem of fish jumping. My solution? Buy a few sheets of plastic mesh (the kind used for needlepoint) and cut yourself a custom "screen" lid. It won't be attractive, but it will keep the temperature down.
- Permit consistent, safe highs. 82 degrees is ok so long as it is consistent. If you try dropping the temp down to 70 with every water change with the hope that it will stay cooler, longer, you are going to stress your fish almost as much as a temperature spike. Sometimes, something as simple as small partial water changes daily with cool water can maintain the safe high without stressing out your fish. Try it some time!
- If there is no realistic way to maintain the safe high with small water changes and careful temperature monitoring, you may be able to use the same methods we use when acclimating fish to keep tanks cool. If you take dechlorinated water and make ice cubes, you can float a bag of "safe" ice (lest the bag leak) in the tank all day, replenishing as needed, to keep the temperature down. Usually after a day or so, you are able to figure out about how many cubes it takes to keep your tank consistently cooled. Just remember to tell loved ones not to eat the "special ice."
Though a house at 90 degrees runs the risks of high tank temperatures, a house with AC has many challenges as well. Many homes run the AC only at certain times of the day to save energy. Others turn the house into a freezer, with temps lower than the standard winter room temperature. Still other air conditioners run continuously regardless of the room temperature, which can cause a great variation throughout the day. In short, having an air conditioner doesn't make your fish safe; while cooler temperatures may discourage rapid bacterial breeding, inconsistent temperatures weaken the immune system. Here are some air conditioning related tips to keep your water temperature more consistent.
- As much fun as it may be to have your fish staring at you from atop a computer desk, it may be more important to figure out which room is the most consistent, and relocate your fish to there. If you like to keep the AC blasting at 60 degrees all day, and don't own tank heaters, it may be better to keep your fish in a room with a family member whose system only runs if temperatures are above 78. In other words, if you lack one central cooling system and instead have a small personal air conditioner in each bedroom, it would do well by your fish to figure out which room is the most stable, and move them there.
- If your house is kept cold, bring back the heaters. Many people remove heaters once the temperatures start warming up, and with good reason. However, just because your house was a comfortable 76 in the spring doesn't mean it still is when you have the air conditioner going full blast 24/7. If your room temperature dips below 70, it is probably getting lower than 72 in your betta tanks, which can stress the immune system. Hot outside doesn't always equal hot inside, so please bring back the heaters if your tanks get too cold.
- Use your AC wisely. Part of pet ownership is doing what is right for your fish. Even though you might want to only run your AC at night, or keep it blasting on freezing all day, you must consider what is right for the animals living with you. Keeping the AC running only part of the day can cause temperature spikes during the off hours, and most definately causes inconsistent temperatures throughout the day. Keeping the house extremely cool when your fish have been kept roughly at room temperature for months will only stress them out. If possible, keep your AC set to a consistent temperature comfortable for everyone in the family - fish included! - night and day.
Do coolers ever get more use than in the summer time? Picnics, summer outings, barbecues, and of course - wild pool parties - are always marked by the ever present cooler, stocked with ice and drinks. But did you know that a cooler's usefulness goes far beyond storing ice and keeping drinks cold? Indeed, coolers are wonderful because they keep temperatures stable based on what is put in them, holding in coolness or warmth while the outside air temperature may vary dramatically. But what does this have to do with fish? Everything, if you're buying (or in this site's case, rescuing) new fish.
When you get into your car after a half hour in the store, what is the temperature like? If you've ever burned your hand on a seatbuckle, you probably know the answer: friggen hot! Considering the fact that the fish you just bought came from an air conditioned store whose temp was probably low enough to have allready weakened his immunity, do you really want to now put the said fish in a 120 degree car and wait for the AC (or in my case, opened windows) to cool things down? Of course not.
My suggestion for transporting newly purchased fish in the summer is to bring a small cooler, or insulated lunch box, with you when shopping for fish. Put nothing in it but some padding to keep the bag/cup from knocking around - you want it to stay the temperature the fish is allready in. Regardless of how many store clerks stare at you like you have five heads, bring it right on into the store and put your fish inside (after purchase, of course). Then load him into the car and drive home with peace of mind knowing that he isn't going through wild temperature changes in addition to the stress of transport. Considering how many of us rescue fish, temperature spikes are the LAST thing our little sickies need on the ride home in that dirty water!
Is Your Food Stale? So is Your Fish's!
Anyone who has reached into a bag of rubbery potato chips, or bitten down on a soggy pretzel, knows that heat and humidity kills food fast. What many people don't realize is that their pet food is probably getting equally stale unless it is stored properly. I often wonder how many bettas who regurgitate food are doing so because the food has gone bad, and the fish know better than us if it doesn't feel right. So, let this be your brief reminder to secure all of your food jars, double-check the seal on bagged food, check the expiration dates on your frozen food, and force any extra air out of those Hikari pouches. While you're at it, you might want to check mesh screens for food that got stuck and is now going bad; evaporating tank water condenses on the screens and often catches food. A moldy bit of food that got stuck in the mesh weeks ago can be a real health hazzard to your betta if it falls in the water.
Another special consideration for those of us who buy frozen foods, and have any considerable distance to drive home with them, is to bring a small cooler filled with ice when transporting such foods in the summer. While most companies work very hard to keep their frozen food sterile, let's face it: dead invertabrates aren't going to stand up to the heat very well. It is common knowledge that frozen foods repeatedly thawed and re-frozen increase the chance of internal infections when fed to bettas, so play it safe and keep your brine shrimp and blood worms frozen on the ride home.
While you're out having fun in the sun, please don't forget about your bettas. They can't drink a bowl of cool water like your dog, or hop in a bird bath like your parrot; as aquarium fish, they are completely at your mercy. Please, put the extra effort into keeping the tank temperature safe. Don't let your preferred room temperature take priority over their healthy room temperature. Do not let your new rescues wind up with columnaris because of something as preventable as a hot car ride. And do not cause internal infections and malnourishment with something as avoidable as food spoilage. With a little extra care and consideration on your part, this can be a safe and healthy summer for all of your fish.
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Edited by RandomWiktor, 27 June 2007 - 04:12 PM.