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post #1 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-18-2019, 06:22 PM Thread Starter
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1 gallon tank experiment

Here is my first try at a tank journal! It's actually more of an experiment -- maybe it will help someone else, and/or more experienced fish keepers will chime in and give me advice!

I work for a school district that does a fish observation unit. After last spring's debacle of tons of dying livestock, I decided to learn more about the process and maybe how to improve it. In the meantime, I fell in love with the whole aquarium "thing." Eventually I'll post journals about my tank/tanks, but for now, I am looking to chronicle the experiment to improve the living conditions of the animals when they are in the classroom.

Details:

All tanks are 6 liter plastic/acrylic (?) observation tanks with a hard plastic lid that has a gridwork of square holes in it. There is about an inch of gravel, and two 8-12 inch strands of elodea in the tank. The livestock is 2 guppies (1 male, 1 female), one juvenile mystery snail (less than an inch in shell diameter), and 1 ghost shrimp. For the purposes of the experiment, we are doing without the shrimp, as we don't have any at the moment. Water is supposed to be kept filled to within an inch of the top. There are no heaters or temperature controls, though theoretically, the school is supposed to alter their temperature controls and NOT drop the temp in the classrooms when there are live animals in the building overnight. Last, I am planning to run this experiment for 1 month, which is about how long teachers usually keep the fish tanks.

I am running 3 tanks for the experiment:

Tank 1: (1st picture: shows the droplet bottle to left of tank) Getting a 3 cup water removal and then water (aged tap water with API Stresscoat + added) replaced to proper level every day, except on weekends (and snow-days, when I'm not supposed to work).

Tank 2: (2nd picture: shows filter in the tank) Getting the same 3 cup water removal and then water (aged tap water with API Stresscoat + added) replaced to proper level every day, except on weekends (and snow-days, when I'm not supposed to work). Also has a $3 sponge filter and a $7 Tetra "whisper" air pump.

Tank 3: (3rd picture: shows blue tray to right of tank) Being run according to original teacher instructions, which are "top off the water when it evaporates too much, and if the water gets noticeably dirty, empty most of it out and put fresh in."




I've made very few changes from the regular instructions, other than these two:

1. I'm using aged & treated tap water, instead of the jugs of spring water the district usually purchases (probably from Walmart -- or wherever is cheapest) for water changes. I read somewhere that the ph is likely to be lower with spring water? I'd love some insight on this, if anyone knows!

2. I've defined "a small amount" of fish food like this (see picture #4): literally 4 flakes (I also show how it looks all crumbled up...which may be confusing & cause them to double feed, so I'll probably change how I'm explaining it to the teachers). They are to feed this amount 3 days per week. The snails are not supposed to be fed (originally I think pond snails were used for this science unit, so we'll see if I decide to feed the snails part of an algae wafer or something, eventually). I am wondering if they should feed this amount every day... Right now they're given a full 1-2 ounce container full of food, and I'm guessing they're letting kids feed and they are probably getting a teaspoon or more of food per day, though it does say to remove any uneaten food after a few minutes (who knows if they actually do that -- this is a kindergarten classroom, after all!).

I'm sure I'll add details to this as I think of them. So far the tanks have been up for a week, and here are the ammonia readings:

Tank 1: .25ppm
Tank 2: hit .25ppm yesterday, and today is much lower -- almost no discernible green (using an API ammonia test kit - drops/test tube, NOT strips)
Tank 3: >.25ppm but <.5ppm

...confession: I put tank #3 furthest from my desk...I already feel guilty...
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post #2 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-18-2019, 07:32 PM
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What are you trying to prove with this "experiment".? What theory are you testing? That some fish will die? without proper care? I don't get it, especially in a kindergarten setting. Why not do the research that will ensure a healthy
environment for these fish from the start? Fish "observation" is much different than fish experimentation and can be an enjoyable activity without sacrificing any fish.

What are your plans for any fry should the fish start to breed? Guppies are prolific breeders. Those containers and conditions are not adequate. And what happens to the fish when your experiment is over?
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post #3 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-19-2019, 12:26 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by SueD View Post
What are you trying to prove with this "experiment".? What theory are you testing? That some fish will die? without proper care? I don't get it, especially in a kindergarten setting. Why not do the research that will ensure a healthy
environment for these fish from the start? Fish "observation" is much different than fish experimentation and can be an enjoyable activity without sacrificing any fish.

What are your plans for any fry should the fish start to breed? Guppies are prolific breeders. Those containers and conditions are not adequate. And what happens to the fish when your experiment is over?

I knew there was a lot more I needed to add. My point in the experiment is to convince the bosses to alter the instructions for caring for the fish. (NOTE: this experiment is taking place at the science center, NOT a classroom). The 3rd tank is being run in the way they have been telling the teachers to do it for years. The 1st tank represents the best I think I can do without spending any money, and the second is my recommendation, but would involve the district spending money (an air pump & sponge filter for each class, as well as some tubing).

When I took over "fish duty" at the science center for the district, common practice was to dump any fish that didn't die in the classroom into a tank or two that was kept in science center. They lived ok lives from then on -- assuming they made it through their month of horror in the classroom.

I started researching how to correctly take care of them so I could take care of them at the science center, and in doing so realized why so many of them died in the classroom (not just because teachers didn't do the minimal things we asked...though some didn't). Now I'm trying to fix it, but since there is so little published information on how to do things like this (and every "educational science units" provider of supplies I could find online also advocates for similarly-terrible fish treatment), I have to prove it, if I want any chance for them to change the recommendations, let alone devote money from the budget for it!

I'm sharing this on plantedtank because I'm hoping to help others in the same situation, and also because I'd love to get advice anyone feels would help. I'm fully (and unfortunately aware) that the fish in tank 3 are likely to die...I'm hoping that their pain will help save the lives of the fish who will be sent out in a few months into the exact same circumstances if I *don't* do this.

Also, for the record, all animals are returned to us after a month, and they live in the tanks I have at the science center. They're slightly overstocked, but I keep on top of water changes and test their water occasionally to make sure they're doing okay. I also have been given permission to quietly give away some of the extra guppies & snails as they've reproduced so much that we have more than we need for this year (my first move was to intentionally breed them so as to produce better stock than we usually got from the chain pet stores).

Thanks for taking the time to reply!
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post #4 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-19-2019, 05:27 PM
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I see more clearly what you seem to be up against - implementing a curriculum unit without proper resources or understanding from above. Still drives me crazy and I have some questions, but here's a few suggestions which may or may not be possible.

Sponge filters and air pumps are cheap. Is there a PTA that may have some funds to donate to this unit? Or perhaps just a few parents that could "sponsor" a tank or two? How many classroom "tanks" are running at once?

Would there be a LFS nearby - not a chain store? If so, they may take in any guppy fry and give you some credit toward store purchases like the filters, airline and pumps. But you'd have to get the fry to a certain size first. Are the tanks in the lab adequate for that? I bred guppies for several years and while it can be fun, it can also be overwhelming if plans are not made for all of the fry. I was fortunate to have a LFS to get me out of trouble.

If there is a local fish club in your area, they may also be willing to help with donations or even take some of the fry through their auctions, which many have. Even a 3g or 5g tank would would be preferable if it's only for the month in the classroom.

If you're in any way able to get additional sponge filters and pumps/airline for those classroom tanks, you'd want to cycle them first in the larger tanks in the lab before transferring to the classroom tanks.

I hope you can at least get better information out to the classrooms on feeding and water quality. It must be sad for the kids to see their fish die right in front of them.
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post #5 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2019, 03:21 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SueD View Post
I see more clearly what you seem to be up against - implementing a curriculum unit without proper resources or understanding from above. Still drives me crazy and I have some questions, but here's a few suggestions which may or may not be possible.

Sponge filters and air pumps are cheap. Is there a PTA that may have some funds to donate to this unit? Or perhaps just a few parents that could "sponsor" a tank or two? How many classroom "tanks" are running at once?

Would there be a LFS nearby - not a chain store? If so, they may take in any guppy fry and give you some credit toward store purchases like the filters, airline and pumps. But you'd have to get the fry to a certain size first. Are the tanks in the lab adequate for that? I bred guppies for several years and while it can be fun, it can also be overwhelming if plans are not made for all of the fry. I was fortunate to have a LFS to get me out of trouble.

If there is a local fish club in your area, they may also be willing to help with donations or even take some of the fry through their auctions, which many have. Even a 3g or 5g tank would would be preferable if it's only for the month in the classroom.

If you're in any way able to get additional sponge filters and pumps/airline for those classroom tanks, you'd want to cycle them first in the larger tanks in the lab before transferring to the classroom tanks.

I hope you can at least get better information out to the classrooms on feeding and water quality. It must be sad for the kids to see their fish die right in front of them.
Well, it is not a new program -- I'd say I'm attempting to improve an existing one, rather than implement a new one, but yea, I'm up against the dreaded bureaucracy, lol. As for your questions...:

1. Sponge filter & air pump is my tank #2 experiment, if you peek at the picture. I did not cycle the filter first, as I'm not yet convinced I'll be able to do that when all the kits go out to the classes -- transport time is an issue -- we generally deliver to 1/2 the schools on one day, and 1/2 on the other, and I'm not sure that even if we did a "live animals & filters only" transport, we would be able to get everything delivered in a timely manner -- though I will look into it. In the past, the boss has purchased the fish/snails/shrimp from the store, then taken it directly to schools... Also, it should be noted that 2 guppies and a small mystery snail (and a ghost shrimp, though I don't have any right now), have a fairly small bio-load, when fed lightly, so I'm less stressed about the whole pre-cycle thing than I was initially, especially if I can also implement a daily PWC standard. As for funding for the filter/pump, this is district wide, so it is an admin decision, not an individual school issue, where PTA/PTOs might be of service. Bringing this subject public carelessly & causing a ruckus would be an excellent way to get myself fired, and make my remaining years as a parent & volunteer in this district very, very awkward. I'm still hoping that admin will just approve the funding -- my quick calculations estimated that this would be an approximately $300 investment (reusable for years), which would include backup sponge filters and air pumps -- not a huge number at a district level at all.

2. The nearest LFS are around 40-60 miles away, in different towns. I have brought extra mystery snails to one of them, in exchange for a couple live plants. I don't know that they would want guppies (and at this point, I don't have a ton extra, though that will likely change, in the future).

3. I'm really hoping that the teachers being tired of the kids seeing fish dying will be an inducement to them, to take better care of them! Some of the teachers are great, but some are very, very careless.

********************
Update on the fish, day 11 (before water change):

Tank 1: .25ppm ammonia
Tank 2: <.25ppm ammonia
Tank 3: >.25ppm ammonia
(picture of tests side by side, at bottom of post)

The fish all seem fairly active. I am continuing to feed very lightly (they're finishing all the food before it can sink, I think). The snails are maybe a little less active than they were when they were in heated tanks, but are still moving about daily. The fish are regularly nipping at the elodea, so I wonder if I'm not feeding them a bit too little. I was also worried about the male guppies harassing the females too much, but I am not seeing that. The females seem to chase the males just as often, and they also spend plenty of time swimming near each other and/or separately, while poking around the gravel for more food.
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post #6 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2019, 07:57 PM
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"Bringing this subject public carelessly & causing a ruckus would be an excellent way to get myself fired, and make my remaining years as a parent & volunteer in this district very, very awkward"
=========================
Yeah, don't do that. I thought this was a single school thing where you might have relationships with just a few people. Not everyone is cut out to be a fish keeper or even care about this hobby. So it seems to be an unfair burden to place on all those teachers (not to mention the fish) who may not be interested (even small water changes every day can make a difference).

I guess it's fortunate that you're there and at least understand the issues and are trying to make some improvements with less than adequate resources. Unless someone higher up in the bureaucracy noticed a problem and accepted that some change is needed (or that this unit is not worth the many fish dying), you might just have to keep plugging away as you are. Being retired from State government (non-education) I've dealt with many levels of bureaucracy. Don't give up.
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post #7 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-22-2019, 01:53 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by SueD View Post
"Bringing this subject public carelessly & causing a ruckus would be an excellent way to get myself fired, and make my remaining years as a parent & volunteer in this district very, very awkward"
=========================
Yeah, don't do that. I thought this was a single school thing where you might have relationships with just a few people. Not everyone is cut out to be a fish keeper or even care about this hobby. So it seems to be an unfair burden to place on all those teachers (not to mention the fish) who may not be interested (even small water changes every day can make a difference).

I guess it's fortunate that you're there and at least understand the issues and are trying to make some improvements with less than adequate resources. Unless someone higher up in the bureaucracy noticed a problem and accepted that some change is needed (or that this unit is not worth the many fish dying), you might just have to keep plugging away as you are. Being retired from State government (non-education) I've dealt with many levels of bureaucracy. Don't give up.
Thanks, Sue -- I know it's an awkward thing for people "in the know," to hear about others spending time trying to make sub-standard conditions work! On the other hand, if no one will actually try to come up with minimum standards, many people will just give up trying to do the right thing, all together, imo... Meh, we'll see! Ammonia tests seem to be about the same as yesterday, though tank #3 (the one without the water changes) seemed to have a bit more ammonia -- not enough to hit the .5 mark, but getting there... the fish & snails in all tanks seem to be similarly active, at this point.

I'm still wondering if I'm feeding too little, with the small portion size, only 3 times per week -- on the other hand, it's only for 1 month, and I imagine it reduces the waste a LOT. I worry about the snail, too, with no direct feeding...

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post #8 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-25-2019, 06:10 PM Thread Starter
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Friday update:

Tank 1: .25ppm ammonia
Tank 2: <.25ppm ammonia
Tank 3: <.50ppm ammonia

I tested the pH today, and was somewhat surprised that the results weren't the same across all 3 tanks. Now I'm wondering about the science behind how the filter alters pH!

Tank 1: 7.2 - 7.6
Tank 2: 8.0
Tank 3: 7.2 - 7.6

As a reminder, tanks 1 & 3 are unfiltered. Tank 2 has a sponge filter. Tanks 1 & 2 get 3 cups of water removed every day (mon-fri), and is topped off back to it's original level. Tank 3 only gets topped off back to that original level if it needs it due to evaporation (that has only happened once, and it was barely 1 cup of water). They've been in these tanks for 2 weeks now. I have to say, I expected ammonia levels to be much higher at this point.

I found out that the teachers are given a huge container (relatively) of food -- something like a 1-2 ounce container, and it often comes back empty. I just cannot bring myself to overfeed the fish to that extent, even for the sake of this experiment... I'm feeding them very lightly (see picture in first post), on M, W, & F. I'm worried that they're spending an increasing amount of time nipping at the snail (who isn't getting any food except whatever falls to the bottom). I'm not sure if the aggression is due to boredom from the small tank, hunger, or something else.

Last, I came across this post that discusses "safe" levels of ammonia for fish, dependent on pH levels & water temperature. Has anyone read anything like this, elsewhere?

https://www.aquasprouts.com/blogs/ev...ling-with-fish

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post #9 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-25-2019, 06:49 PM
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It's always nice to see an experiment to prove a theory instead just theories.

I would not increase the food. It's normal for fish to pick at plants, gravel and tank walls - they are often feeding on things too small to see. Keep in mind if you go on holiday 7-10 days the safest option is to not feed at all rather than have a random relative dump too much in. Fish will happily survive that period without food with no noticeable ill effects.

Reducing the amount of food going in is the number one thing you can do to improve conditions. You could drop it to 1-2 days a week even as they are only on short rations a month - might be another test container to add to the experiment. I would be tempted to give them labelled days of the week i.e. only feed Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The more simple and specific the more likely it is to be followed.

I'm not sure how much the plant costs you, but another improvement would be to increase the amount of plant. Plant eat ammonia, so if you have enough they'll consume it even before filter bacteria do. Another experiment - pack a tank 50%+ full of plant and see if you get any detectable ammonia at all. You might also consider duckweed - very easy to grow yourself and excellent for sucking up ammonia/nitrates likewise a sprig of pothos sitting in the top would do the same.
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post #10 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-25-2019, 07:01 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tamsin View Post
It's always nice to see an experiment to prove a theory instead just theories.

I would not increase the food. It's normal for fish to pick at plants, gravel and tank walls - they are often feeding on things too small to see. Keep in mind if you go on holiday 7-10 days the safest option is to not feed at all rather than have a random relative dump too much in. Fish will happily survive that period without food with no noticeable ill effects.

Reducing the amount of food going in is the number one thing you can do to improve conditions. You could drop it to 1-2 days a week even as they are only on short rations a month - might be another test container to add to the experiment. I would be tempted to give them labelled days of the week i.e. only feed Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The more simple and specific the more likely it is to be followed.

I'm not sure how much the plant costs you, but another improvement would be to increase the amount of plant. Plant eat ammonia, so if you have enough they'll consume it even before filter bacteria do. Another experiment - pack a tank 50%+ full of plant and see if you get any detectable ammonia at all. You might also consider duckweed - very easy to grow yourself and excellent for sucking up ammonia/nitrates likewise a sprig of pothos sitting in the top would do the same.

Hmmm... more/different plants -- interesting idea! With the low ammonia levels and small bio-load I'm seeing, I wonder if that might be a better choice than investing in air pumps and filters for all the fish! I'll check into the cost of elodea. I already suggested to the boss that she buy all of it that she plans to send to teachers now, so we can put it in our tanks. It will only improve our tanks, and it will give the plants time to improve in health (when it first comes in it is usually thin and a little unhealthy looking -- it is greatly improved after a month in our tanks!).

I wonder if the fish would enjoy a tank full of elodea as well -- I think they would like weaving through it, and it would possibly help with any issues with having a single male & a single female in there...

Thanks for the note on feeding -- I was really second guessing myself on that one! I like the idea of labeled daily food portions, too... I can't imagine that a couple dollars in extra baggies would be a big deal, though it isn't the most environmentally friendly move in the world, lol. ...maybe tiny portion cups -- those would be recyclable, at least!

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post #11 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-25-2019, 08:38 PM
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You could try those daily pill organizers. There are hundreds of versions - here's just one sample

https://www.amazon.com/compartments-...2Bmonthly&th=1
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post #12 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-26-2019, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Cinnamonamon View Post
I wonder if the fish would enjoy a tank full of elodea as well -- I think they would like weaving through it, and it would possibly help with any issues with having a single male & a single female in there...

I think you'd probably find they do, and in my experience kids quite like the 'can you find it' factor of having to peer in and hunt around to spot things like snails and shrimps hiding in plants.



By the way, a really easy and cheap way to get them to stand upright in the water (which might be handy if you are adding extra) is to super glue a piece a gravel to the bottom of the stem. Just use regular superglue (gel is easiest) with no special additives. Aquascapers often use it to attach plants to rocks/wood but works for stem plants in gravel too


The difference between tap and bottled water depends a lot on your local water. You might find the water changes with stress coat are helping to neutralise the ammonia from fish as well as chlorine in tap. It is a more complicated set of instructions though.
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post #13 of 28 (permalink) Old 02-01-2019, 09:46 PM Thread Starter
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Guess what?! The tanks are ALL CYCLED! I have been in to work only Sunday night/Wednesday/Friday this week to test & feed fish (and take care of the real tanks at work), as we're in Michigan and have been closed all week!

I saw the ammonia going down on Sunday and thought I was imagining things, then Wednesday I wised up & tested nitrite and they were there! Today I measured all three and they are at 0 ammonia 0 nitrite (some differences in color, but all blue), and 5-20+ nitrate!

I am VERY glad I did this, as it appears that the guppies & snail have such a small bio load that they really seem to be much less tortured than I was led to believe.

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post #14 of 28 (permalink) Old 02-02-2019, 03:39 PM
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That's good news, my guess would be they are adding a lot more food than you tell them to/you have added in your test. What comes out is directly related to what goes in so if they are over feeding that could be a big part of the issue.
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post #15 of 28 (permalink) Old 02-04-2019, 03:32 PM Thread Starter
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That's good news, my guess would be they are adding a lot more food than you tell them to/you have added in your test. What comes out is directly related to what goes in so if they are over feeding that could be a big part of the issue.
That is exactly what I told my co-worker today, lol. I'm considering a second test run (after I finish this one up, next week). I'm going to see how low I can keep the ammonia just by doubling or tripling the amount of elodea -- I think I'll also purchase a couple ghost shrimp, to see if having one in there will change anything. I'm also going to look for ideas on how to organize measured flake food amounts. The pill box idea isn't bad, but I am going to see if I can find anything even cheaper, lol.

All in all, so long as we can feed them lightly and change some water every day, I don't feel bad about this observation unit any more...

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