What to do with fish that aren't getting along?
May 2, 2014 4:52 PM   Subscribe

Three days ago, I got three opaline gouramis (Trichopodus trichopterus) for my 20 gallon long aquarium. The tank is planted and has been up and running since November or so, but the only other fauna are some hitchhiker snails that I decided to keep. The gouramis aren't getting along. What would be the best thing to do for them?

Of the three fish, I think two are males (one big, one small) and one is female.

The males are both aggressive -- the larger male against the smaller, and the smaller against the female. At this point, I've moved the larger male to a five gallon "quarantine" bowl I keep running, but he obviously can't stay there. In the hour or so that he's been out of the twenty gallon, the female has been a bit braver than usual and has moved out from behind the filter more (where she's been cowering for about a day and a half), but the smaller male has also gotten more aggressive with her. A few minutes ago, I saw her cowering behind the filter again, and it looks like the smaller male has nipped off a good bit of her tail -- but now she's exploring the other side of the tank, calm as can be, so I don't know if that was just the smaller male asserting dominance or if he's really a danger to her or what.

I don't know what to do -- take them back to the store? Set up a new/separate aquarium? If I take some back, should I keep the larger male (who is also the prettiest and most active), or the female (who does not seem aggressive at all)? Is there any hope that I could keep a male and the female as a pair? How long should the pair's trial period be? I'm not looking to breed them, but I feel terrible taking any of them back. What would be the best thing to do for these fish? What would be the most humane thing to do?
posted by rue72 to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
There are aquarium screen dividers you can get.

*Edit: if the tank is big enough, divide it into 3? Maybe let the 2 smaller ones grow some before slowly combining all of them. I only have a year's worth of Petland Fish Department history, but I just want to say, make sure they all have enough swimming room.
posted by DisreputableDog at 5:01 PM on May 2, 2014

Best answer: 20 gal is on the small side for three opalines (they grow to 5" each) and the males get super territorial when they are feeling crowded. The fish store where you bought them should be willing to take some or all of them back. In your shoes, if I were not interested in breeding, I would keep the female and add a small school of non-aggressive dither fish (neons or danios) OR a trio of otocinclus (to keep the algae in your planted tank under control) and call the tank fully stocked.

One of the things I find most charming about gouramis is how they quietly explore their tanks with their little feelers tap-tapping the way, for me, keeping the shyest fish would offer the most reward.
posted by jamaro at 6:03 PM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 20 years aquarium experience. Mostly goldfish, mind you but have the ability to keep goldfish alive for at least 5 year stretches, for what it's worth.

Your 20 gal might be a little too small for three fish. I am not an expert on Gouramis, not sure on growth

*on preview, what jamaro said about that

I have had some experience with introducing new fish to the aquarium that wound up being aggressive to others in the tank. My advice? Wait another day or two max, but don't wait too long. Observe if there is one fish in particular being the troublemaker (there usually is only one instigator). Hold on to your receipt. If conditions don't improve, grab a ziplock, take the offending fish out and return it. And you don't want to wait too long because the female is getting injured.

I would get some Melafix at the fish store too. This will help heal any injured fins.
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 6:10 PM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 20 gal is not really a big enough tank for multiple aggro fish to coexist.

If I were you, I would take two of the fish back to the store. Call ahead just to confirm. I have returned fish at my LFS for the same reason and it was no problem.
posted by gnutron at 7:10 PM on May 2, 2014

Best answer: I'd return two of the fish if possible as others have said it's a bit small for three territorial fish. In the wild the looser fish will swim well away from the winner of a fight to show submission, in the tank they can't and so the aggressive fish will often keep attacking even if the other one has "given in". They will very likely end up injured, have horrible lives being hassled if they so much and peep out from behind where they are hiding or just get killed.
posted by wwax at 8:14 PM on May 2, 2014

Best answer: Gouramis are often like that. I agree with jamaro's advice. Get rid of the aggressive ones and have the remaining one as the big fish in your tank.

Good luck with your tank.
posted by irisclara at 9:58 PM on May 2, 2014

Best answer: Definitely take the males back. Other fish are not safe just because they are female or another species. I have seen torn up fish due to aggression. It is not a happy sight. You can't do first aid on a fish.

The sales staff should really have told you about the behavioral aspects of these animals. "How big is your tank" is an extremely basic question that you should be asked when buying. Their taking the animals back would be the right thing for the animals and the customer. You have no reason to feel bad at all.
posted by zennie at 4:27 AM on May 3, 2014

Best answer: If you are keeping three gouramis together, it's much, much better to have one male and two females. The male will chase the females, but since there are two of them, they can take turns and will not be chased to death.
The store should not have sold you this ratio of male to female. It's a bad decision on their part. Talk to them before fish get hurt.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:26 AM on May 3, 2014

Do pet stores destroy returned fish? I though there was a risk of passing on bugs to the rest of the store's stock if a returned fish is put back with the rest of them.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:23 PM on May 3, 2014

Best answer: Do pet stores destroy returned fish?

I can't speak for every fish store in the country, of course, but LFS with good stock practices put the returnees in a quarantine tank for a while. I've observed LPS with poor practices and chain stores just dump them right back into the same tank with the rest of the same species.
posted by jamaro at 10:37 AM on May 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody!

Sadly, the female died. I re-homed the smaller male with a neighbor, and now I've just got Marcus, the larger male. He seems happy in his new digs.

In a couple weeks, I'm planning to add a small school of zebra danios. Otherwise, any new additions will probably be more plants.
posted by rue72 at 5:05 PM on May 5, 2014

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