for the week of 8/13/98
Many popular freshwater and saltwater aquarium fish have a natural tendency to school. In the wild, many of the danios, barbs, tetras, tangs and wrasses are found in groups of dozens, hundreds or even thousands. Attempting to keep one or "a pair" of one of these species is not only unnatural, but may cause compatibility problems as well.
Schooling fish are often seen to be continuously "nipping" at others in their group. Perhaps this is a way for each fish to define its personal space - or maybe it's just plain playfulness. This generally causes no problem, since each fish is both attacker and attackee on occassion, and there are far too many fish in the group for any one to dominate. But if two such fish are kept in an aquarium, one quite commonly gets the upper hand on the other, and persues it mercilessly. If the weaker fish isn't simply nipped to the point of exhaustion, it is often intimidated into hiding - especially at mealtimes - then becomes even weaker and eventually succumbs to disease.
The behavior of a single schooling fish in a community is often hard to predict. Sometimes, the solo fish will appear "lonely," hanging out in the corners, plainly uncomfortable with its unrelated tankmates, perhaps longing for the strength in numbers that a school affords. Other individuals will attempt to "play" with other non-schooling fish, terrifying them or causing damage to their fins and skin.
Many of the fish with a reputation for nipping fins, such as tiger barbs and serpae tetras, behave much better in community tanks if there is a group rather than a couple. Four is probably the minimum number to purchase of any schooling variety - but a dozen is even better, and can make an awesome display.
Submitted by: Jim Kostich
"Tip of the week" appeared regularly in 1999 and 2000.
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