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How Can I Stop My Fish From Floating?
by Jonathan Price

Frontosa Bank is located 1. 5 miles off the coast of Cape Mpimbwe and home to one of the most exciting discoveries of the decade, the mpimbwe blue variant of Cyphotilapia Frontosa. The mpimbwe was discovered in 1991 and has been a much sought after variant among collectors and hobbyist alike. One of the most desirable qualities of the blue is its' "puppy dog" attitude. It has been called the Tropheus of the Frontosa world. Unlike other variants the Blue will not hide and will almost jump from the tank to greet you as you walk through the door. When feeding the Mpimbwe is voracious,more so than the other variants and will not stop until all possible food is inhaled. This behaviour along with a lack of genetic encoding for surface feeding is the source of the condition all Frontosa lovers will experience at one time or another, the dreaded float. This condition is not specific to the Mpimbwe and can afflict all variants, however due to its vast importation in recent years and the demeanour of the fish the Mpimbwe seems to be the fore runner when we think of floating.

When feeding the Frontosa will take in air along with the food. Surface feeding is very unnatural for them since their home range is some 50+ meters below the surface. The air bubble is usually dispelled but on occasion it will become lodged and if not cleared a membrane can encase the bubble resulting in a case of permanent float.

Over the years I have researched many different sources for this condition. I have considered decompression problems, stress, tank depth, food and even male to female affliction ratios and have come to the conclusion that air consumption is the culprit. The common denominator of float is the inhalation of air. While other causes such as stress have been discussed at great length I believe them to be precursors to the condition not the cause. In the case of stress for example a Frontosa will seek refuge in a safe environment free from its aggressor. Since it equates the surface with food, a good experience what better place to hide, not too mention it is usually devoid of other Frontosa. If you have ever watched your Frontosa chasing each other you will have noticed the aggressor usually gives up the chase when the persued fish reaches the surface. Not only has the sub dominant fish left the territory of the dominant fish but it is also retreating to an area that due to genetics is not common for the Frontosa. A Frontosa will usually claim some bottom structure as their territory and are rarely concerned with surface territory. There are however exceptions to every rule and we have all experienced the "Devil" fish that claims the tank, fishroom and entire house as its domain. Once at the surface the stressed fish will respirate rapidly and will inevitably consume some air. The same can be seen when fish hide near filter discharges that produce air bubbles. The conclusion being while stress is the reason the fish is near a source of air the actual consumption is the reason for the float.

While searching for a solution I removed all sources of introduced air such as air stones and discharges and placed a screen under the surface of the water at a depth of two inches. I used the grate from a florescent fixture which would allow me to feed but would not allow the Frontosa to the surface. I had used this method in the past when keeping Benthochromis Tricoti who are notorious for gulping air while gravid. All food was pre-soaked and air was squeezed from it prior to feeding. This method proved successful until live feeders were introducedand a few fish were "bumping the grate" the next day. Three fish to be exact were afflicted, all three males. After much deduction I once again came to the conclusion that it was introduced air. What was the source and why only males? The source was easy, I had neglected to take into consideration that feeders do carry a small amount of air in their swim bladders. But why only males and not females? Was it their anatomical make up, I decided to experiment and find out once and for all!

I waited a few days until all had settled back into their natural swimming patterns and reintroduced the feeders. I focused my attention on the three males and watched as they consumed three times the amount than any of the females.....ah ha at last the answer!!They were consuming so many feeders that when multiplied the tiny amount of swim bladder air was enough to cause a problem.

I was ecstatic, I had finally discovered the cause and cure, or so I thought. A few days passed and all had settled back to their normal routine of flying around the tank with the exception of one male, my prize alpha male. This when I look back makes complete sense since he consumed more than the other two males. I deduced that it would take a longer period of recovery due to the excessive amount of feeders. Although he was struggling to submerge he did eat and was not in a state of distress. I moved him to a hospital tank and started to experiment once again. I added Epsom salt to the water, this had no effect on the air bubble. I then drew upon my experiences with Tropheus and dripped small amounts of heavy mineral oil directly down his gullet, mineral oil is a laxative and will get the digestive tract moving possibly dispelling the air. This did not correct the problem, I was at a loss. Here was my prize male floating around my tank!

I then remembered something I had witnessed while fishing a bass tournament a few years back. Fish were taken from a holding pen and a needle was used to puncture a small hole so the floaters could submerge. Hmmm.....seemed plausible but how to go about it? After 30 years in the hobby I was familiar with the anatomy of fish and felt confident enough to try the procedure. I then spoke with a vet who deals with Koi and he assured me it was possible. The following is the procedure I used.

1) Hold the fish securely, belly up with the head pointing away from you. Thumb on one side, fingers on the other with the index finger holding the snout.

2) Locate the anus of the fish and look for a point directly in line but approximately one inch toward the head. One inch is an approximate and varies depending on the size of the fish.

3) After removing the plunger from a hypodermic needle insert it into the fish on a 45 degree angle in the direction of the head. Be careful of the depth,no more than 1/2 which will once again vary from fish to fish in proportion to the size.

4) Gently squeeze the abdomen until all air is expelled.

5) Applying a small amount of cyanomehtacrylate(crazy glue) externally to the wound is optional.

Vertebrate Fin Fish Drawing Illustration

Upon completion of the procedure I suggest placing the Frontosa in a hospital tank for a day or two. A mild anti bacterial agent can be used but is not necessary. If done correctly your fish should resume its normal swimming pattern within a few hours,sooner if it feels comfortable.

This method is one I have used with great success but I in no way endorse such a procedure unless you are completely comfortable and have a thorough knowledge of anatomy. I have also found feel to be a good way of determing an injection point. If you are considering this method then the fish in question will have a considerable air pocket,one that can be felt quite easily. Once the injection site is located do not waste any time as this will also stress the fish. Be careful of depth as the sex organs are in the vicinity of the area you are entering. Use a needle of considerable gauge as this will enable air to escape quicker thus reducing procedure time.

When done correctly this method is successful. However the problem will arise again if all sources of air are not removed. This is not something that should be done on a daily basis and should be considered as a last resort. Please exhaust all other avenues of treatment before trying this procedure. Remember extreme caution should be practiced as severe injury to your fish and yourself can result.
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