Posted: 2009.01.27(Tue)0:41 Post subject: Why don't my fish school like in documentaries?
I have some frustration with not achieving the epic nature documentary-like schools of fishes in the home aquarium. I know this is achieved in public aquariums all the time but bear with me.
I think I have come to the sources of the problem. My tinfoil barbs used to school neatly when they were little and there are various factors that might have enhanced this instinct.
*If this gives you the TooLongDidn'tRead attitude the headings should be enough to give you a basic idea.* Think my theory is wrong? SAY SO please.
-Schooling fish school better in big numbers!
*OK so I had 7 tinfoil barbs in the beginning. I lost 3 a little over a year ago while I was moving because they ran out of oxygen. The rest of my fishes were fine. The general rule of thumb is minimum of 6 individuals per shoaling species in an aquarium. This number may be enough for the fish to not die of stress (like glass catfish) but it is too low for any epic nature documentary display to become of it. I observed in the wild several separate shoals of fathead minnows, all within a few yards of each-other and each numbering at least fifty, schooling nicely and neatly, following one another perfectly.
I was inspired to bring this natural phenomenon to life in captivity when I upgraded my 29 gallon coldwater tank to around 38 gallons. (it broke) I chose the fathead because they are inexpensive, NATIVES that are already trained to eat flakes, easy to breed and cute. Also the male turns black which sounds intriguing.
There is a problem with packing a huge number of a schooling fish into the aquarium; eventually they don't school at all as they are always close to dozens of others. If you observe a tank of over nine thousand white cloud minnows they aren't schooling at all. Each of them can do whatever and still be part of the group. On the other end, I bought 10 of these little guys and five of them stuck together for brief periods of time, then went off to do their own thing or travel in pairs.
-Schooling fishes school better in huge spaces.
The fishes I observed in the lake had about 10 body lengths (30 inches) long in a school and swam at high speeds virtually unrestrained. In the aquarium this situation is very difficult to achieve. Lets say you give them enough shoalmates to make a 5 fish long blob and enough room for 5 shoal lengths in the tank. With fishes growing 2.5 to 3 inches long, that gives you a 14 inch group and 14 x 5 is almost 6 feet. 6 feet seems ludicrous for a 3 inch fish... because it is. A tinfoil barb would have a 25 foot tank, compared to my cruel in comparison forty inch 72 gallon. This wasn't an issue with the 3/4 inch white clouds I bought. In fact I think there was too much space for them. Try 2 neons in a 100 gallon tank and you will understand.
There is another problem with huge spaces and numbers: in the wild there is usually more than one school of any given fish even in a single lake.(you don't see 10 billion fathead minnows travelling together, a mass visable from outer space) ...So in an aquarium large enough with enough of the same species, eventually the fish will split into 2 groups. I suppose this is fine... but it is not exactly what I would intend.
-Some fish just school better than others
Rummy nose tetras are one of the best schooler in the aquarium trade. They look mighty fine in a group of eight while a group of eight white clouds are barely following each-other in pairs. Other fish noted for such tight formations are the harlequin rasbora and glass catfish.
I have 2 theories on this behavior. The first is that Rummy noses are OK with groups of around thirty in the wild, while the loose schoolers seek larger groups in order to make the illusion of a single fish. The loose schoolers would appear to be much larger of a group than they really are, due to the sheer volume they take up... while still having a fish in almost any possible point in the group from a two dimensional view.
The second theory is that the loose schoolers are more confident being outside the group for short periods of time. Most of the loose shoaling species still bunch up a bit when they feel threatened.
-Schooling fish often need a "threat" to school neatly
I figured I had this in the bag with my two 5 inch black moor goldfish. The minnows need something that makes them intimidated and feel the need to protect themselves by bunching together. Problem is I didn't count on the larger minnows noticing that the moors are slow and have poor vision, along with being docile in nature. My tinfoil barbs did school better when blood parrots would keep them timid and scaleless. I suppose there isn't much safety in numbers when you are perfectly safe, and their is no safety with pathetic numbers of fishes like eight. That means dither fishes like tiger barbs in a tank of cichlids will school better than the same barbs in a community tank where they rule the roost and send gouramis ducking for cover.
I observed mullet, silversides, porkfish, fathead minnows and bermuda chub schools in the wild first hand and I was inspired by the beauty of shoaling...
Sooo my plan was to pack a baker's dozen or so of fathead minnows into my 38 gallon tank and plant it enough that the waste is absorbed. This brings another problem: Do plants herd schooling fish together or do they make them comfortable enough to spread out? I will know in time. When I first introduced my first few fatheads they joined the four white clouds and made a tight group together. They still do hang together until lights out when the fatheads go to the bottom and the white clouds sit at the surface. I doubt I will ever get an epic school of fatheads but I will certainly try.
Will my dream of a school of tinfoil barbs ever be realized without over sixty barbs in a 5,000 gallon aquarium with a family of tilapia buttikoferi to kick them in the pants? ... Maybe. Just maybe. I am still gonna try it with a 150 or 180 gallon sometime in the near future. I am not allowed by my "tenants" to get a new aquarium at this time.
Question: what is the best shoal of fish-to-tank ratio for a 36 inch tank? AKA few enough that they can move as a group without already being at both ends, but enough that it looks like they are together? I estimate 13.
This brings the boring long read to a conclusion. If someone can show me a shoal of fish in the aquarium to act in a unified way that would be cool. I mostly just kind of wanted to rant or something similar. I started this idea and accidently posted it so I might as well finish.
Comments? Criticism? I want to hear ideas but most of all show me your own achievements of epic documentary proportions. I HAVE HOWEVER SEEN A FEW SHOALS I WAS GENUINELY IMPRESSED BY, A GUY ON "PLANET CATFISH" HAS AROUND 20 CELESTIAL PEARL DANIOS IN A LARGE AQUARIUM. Here is a link to a picture (56K warning!)http://www.planetcatfish.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=21831&start=40#wrap
Heck just post a picture of your schooling fish here. I want to collect data without a search function for once.
Last edited by seds on 2009.01.29(Thu)18:19; edited 1 time in total
I'm not sure how to respond to this. I say this because (with no offense intended) these observations are nothing that have not been noted before. But, I am glad you posted this, becuase it is a good read and many people will benifit from it. So thank you for your well-written post!
So, I will just respond to a few things about your experiences and my experiences as a person with schooling/schoaling fish in aquaria.
Abig thing to consider is schoal vs school. And I apologize, because I am terrible as separating the two.
About your tinfoil barbs: They schooled when they were younger becuase they were smaller, and it is instinct to stick together. Now being much larger and in a relatively small closed system (aquarium), they know that there is no threat. So like you said, If you have a ridiculously larger tank and throw in a large predatory fish, they will most likely stick closer together.
I have seen a few US Native tanks (90+ gallons) that will have a group of 10-12 larger minnows in a tank with a few sunfishes. In these tanks, the minnows stay in one large group all the time. But I bet if you remove the sunfishes and let the minnows adjust, they may scatter.
In regards to the plants...
I have some schooling fish in a heavily planted aquarium and they do not school at all. They just swim wherever they please. If frightened by my redbreas sunfish or bluegill, they scatter to the plants. They only come together when spawning.
I have a 'stream' tank with blacknose dace. With a powerhead at one end, they tend to all face the same way and sometimes the males bicker over best territory. You could certainly do the same with your fatheads and may get the same results.
In regards to species, I must agree with you about the rummynose tetras. My GF started with 3. They never left each other. We just upped her rummynoses to 6. They are even more impressive and more daring to explore the tank (they only in a 10 gallon). So best bang-for-your-buck is certainly rummynoses.
All of your observations come together when considering enormous schools of sardines in the ocean. (Large area, large numbers, threat) Thousands stay together when there is a threat. It is not to necessarily to make themselves look like one large fish, but the many numbers and flashes confuses the predators. The one fish that doesn't stay as tightly as the others, is the one that is eaten.
So all in all, if you want to make a serious testable experiment with schooling fish in aquaria you need to do a few things.
Set up a small tank with small numbers of a single species. Take notes. Introduce more numbers. Take notes. Setup a large aquarium, introduce a predator, plants, etc etc etc. And of course, there are always exceptions.
One problem with the pics in the link you provided, is most (or all) of those pics are taken when feeding. So they may not actually be schooling when behaving normally. Those are some beautiful pictures though.
Other pictures can be found if you do a Google search of something for aquascaping. Some the people's websites with show the process of aquascaping, and many of the final pictures have a nice school of one species.
I'm new around here, and am into the idea of schooling fish aswell. I'll be trying Black neon tetras and Cardinal tetras for obvious reasons..But heres a vid I've watch a hundred times, its my favourite.
Also I'd agree with your theory about having a predator fish around to make them school better, I'm reaserching this theory myself more ,so interested in what u find out here. But for now enjoy the vid
One thing I need to add. Stream fishes will act different than pelagic fishes. With open water fishes, they don't have to deal with current still act as one. Many of the fast water fish with face the same way and stay in groups and are considered a school. And I have notcied that if you move a group of fish from flowing waters into a still water aquarium, they tend to just move around the tank as they please. So those are also some things to consider. That being said, I managed to get a few pics of my group of Blacknose dace. They thought it was feeding time, so they are exibiting normal behavior.
UncleWillie thanks for the tip, I noticed my white clouds sit in front of the filter output thing sometimes. I will buy a hyperfilter that shoots water at an unbelievable rate! My tetra filter might not be enough for a tank this size anyhow.
They should think the moors should be considered more of a threat if they ate most of the small ones.. I even fed my moors live crickets.
I personally wouldn't trust that huge ghost knifefish with cardinal tetras but I don't have any experience with their killer instinct. It was a nice shoal indeed.
OH PS my observances have definately been noted before I know I know but hey
I searched for info on such things a bit but it is kind of obvious at times. _________________ Wizard!
Like a bomb!
Last edited by seds on 2009.01.27(Tue)13:44; edited 2 times in total
Joined: 29 Jan 2007 Location: Tulsa, OK / Toronto, ON.
Posted: 2009.01.27(Tue)13:25 Post subject:
There are numerous factors and variables that need to be analyzed. Some of which you stated, predators, numbers, space, etc. But also factors such as the time of year, time of day, and a few others.
Time of Year: This is important, at least in the wild, because it will determine whether or not it is spawning season. Whether or not it is spawning season would affect the size, shoal effectiveness, etc. An example of this is Discus. A study was done that showed that discus congregate in schools near the roots of fallen trees outside of the spawning season. Once spawning begins, they break off into pairs or trios and leave, to mate.
Time of Day: A species may be more likely to school in the middle of day when the sun is highest and exposes the fish most. The time of day will also influence it because it may or may not be feeding time, a species may shoal more or less during certain times of the day.
A few others: For this experiment to be successful IMO, you would need to closely examine the habitat the fish comes from. Try and simulate this the best you can in your aquarium. _________________ The Gymnogeophagus Study Group
That means dither fishes like tiger barbs in a tank of cichlids will school better than the same barbs in a community tank
I can only add that I have a tank containing two cichlid species, I added tiger and green barbs for ditherfish, and they do shoal together a lot due to this.
They do avoid my blue acara which obviously means they are afraid of, or generally respect the bigger fish, which I guess makes them shoal even more. They also all feed together.
Another thing I found odd too, there were two male barbs having a little scrap between themselves, nothing too nasty, and I was just watching them before I realised my blue acara was watching them too from the back. He then seemed to get so frustrated with the squabbling he swam straight through them, making them instantly stop and swim off. He didn't try and go for them or bite them or anything, he just swam straight through them in a sort of frustrated manner. lol
I think if I put my barbs in my community tank.........all hell would break loose and certainly no shoaling would take place! lol
sorry lol, slightly off topic in the middle, and certainly not scientific, just comments on my little experiences.
Okie dokie. All this talk about schooling and what not made me want to mess with my 20 gal long 'stream' tank.
You can see the blacknose dace in non-schooling behavior in the above picture.
Here they are fairly soon after I decided to reposition some driftwood and move large round stones to several different positions. There are NO other fish in the tank. At first, they just picked at the hairs on my arm, but as I took out pieces of wood and stirred up the tank, they grouped together. So this part was probably due to being frightened. This is when I took these new pics. About 10 minutes later, I checked on them again. They then had broken apart and had a few squabbles for best foraging sites in front of the powerhead. (Clearly the larger fish took best sites for food and protection)
So nothing out of the ordinary, but we will see how schooling will change when they start spawning in the spring.
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