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How Long Can You Go …

… without oxygen and water? If you are an algae-eater, that is? Obviously, quite some time!

This morning, while making Bill’s breakfast at about 7:00, I notice that the algae eater (a plecostomus) was not in the fish tank. Or, at least, I could not see him anywhere. I walk around on all sides of the tank to see if he is “hiding” somewhere. It’s not like he’s easy to hide; he’s much too big. Usually he’s down in the plastic “weeds” in one corner. But nope, not there! So where is he? All I can figure is maybe something happened to him during the night and Charles took care of the carcass, but really, the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim. Not of something happening to the fish, but of Charles taking care of it!

So, I finish breakfast and then forget about the fish. I know, I know … neglect of fish. So sue me!

I shower, check e-mail and start my regular Friday morning homeschool chat at 8. At 9:00, I suddenly remember about the fish. I mention to my fellow chatters that my fish was missing this morning and that I had better go look for him again. Which I did (go look for him). Nope, still not there! So where is he? I report back to the chat group and they suggest that maybe he jumped out. Well, maybe … So I go back to look around and . Oh my gawd … there it is, on the living room carpet! How did I not step on him earlier? And how long has he been out of the tank? Obviously since before 7!

I go to pick him up with a paper towel, being sure he is dead, but his tail moves when I touch him. He’s still alive! So I scoop him up and dump him back in the water, where he promptly sinks to the bottom with a small tail wiggle.

Now I receive all sorts of advice from my fellow chatters. One suggests I go “move him around the water,” sort of a fish CPR, I think. Right. Well, okay, so he is a cool fish and it would be nice if he survived. So I go try to hold him and “move” him in the water, but he is not going to have any part of that, quickly moving away when I touch him. Okay, so he it appears that he is healthy enough to move about on his own.

I go and report this back to my chatters, who by this time are rolling on the floor with laughter, thinking of me “moving my fish through the water.”

Now I am receiving suggestions of throwing frozen peas into the water and broccoli and hanging a “worm basket” full of kale or something. This is getting complicated! A “worm basket?”

So now my algae eater has three peas in the tank and he is not paying any attention to them.

One helpful suggestion, from someone who had past experiences with jumping algae eaters was to cover the area around the filter so that he can not jump out again. Now that makes sense! Tin foil is now in place.

Upon doing some research online, I have come up with several interesting tidbits of information on algae eaters. First and foremost, that in the wild they can go without water for long periods of time, burrowing down in the mud and extracting oxygen from the air they gulp. They do not have to rely totally upon oxygen through their gills.

Second, it appears that they actually need a lot of movement of water and a large tank. They can grow to be up to a foot long and live ten years or more. Our algae eater is about 8 inches long. I know lately he has not moved around the tank as much as normal and that has concerned me. Possibly, if the tank is not large enough or the current of water is not strong enough, he is not getting enough oxygen?

Third, they often gulp air at the top of the tank, which I have seen them do. They also like to jump out of the water, which I have seen this one do also, although not recently. And obviously his jumping did not make enough of an impression on me to worry about him actually jumping out of the tank, but that possibility was also mentioned online.

Fourth, it would appear that I am not feeding him enough. I thought he would have enough algae in the tank to suit him, but my reading indicates that I should be feeding him daily, or rather, nightly, since he is nocturnal. And that maybe he is not getting enough darkness, as our tank remains lit often from 7 a.m. to around 3 a.m. So I have thrown in a couple of algae wafers into the water, which the guppies are enjoying!

I’ve just finished relating my fish tale to Charles, and he tells me that that fish was going crazy last night around midnight. Jumping up in the water, splashing water out of the tank, hitting the tank lid with his body. So, maybe he jumped out some time after midnight? That algae eater is darned awful lucky that no cats spent the night inside!

Now that I think about it, I have noticed that, whenever I refill the tank (which is about every 4 weeks), the algae eater acts differently for a few days. About once a month the water level evaporates down far enough that the noise of the water falling from the filter drives us all batty. So I empty out more of the tank, maybe about 1/4 of the water total (it is a 30 gallon tank) and then refill till it’s full. I would think the new water would have more oxygen in it and make the fish happier, but it tends to slow up his activity level for a few days. Maybe because the water from the filter doesn’t fall so far to hit the tank water that it actually circulates less oxygen into the tank? Or maybe the new water isn’t to his liking? I think I need to do more research!

So, can anyone answer the original question … how long can an algae-eater go without water and oxygen?

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