5 Of The Stupidest Things I Learned After Owning Fish

Last December, I got an aquarium. Because like most people who have never owned one, I thought, “This will be a simple, cheap pet that requires virtually no maintenance.” Six months later, I have sunk a couple thousand dollars and a hundred hours worth of research into this soul-crushing, bullshit hobby. So to save you the eventual mental breakdown that comes with learning how to not murder dozens and dozens of innocent fish, I’m going to myth-bust some of the misconceptions I had in the beginning. Here I go.


I’ll Just Throw Some Tap Water In The Tank And- Oh, Shit, My Fish Are Dead

Every town’s water supply is slightly different. Different levels of pH, KHlots of abbreviations that end in “H.” I’m not going to explain what all of those things mean, but my town’s water supply is so heavy in KH, that putting tap water in an aquarium has the same basic effect as filling it with human shit. In fact, human shit may actually be healthier for the fish.

The way it was explained to me is that the higher the KH, the harder it is for the fish to breathe. Too high or too low, and your fish will be as dead as anything that has ever died. To get around that, you either have to buy the right kind of water from the store, or you have to learn how to mix tap water with purified water, to get the exact right balance. And in order to learn how to mix the water properly, you’ll need one of these:

That’s a KH test kit, and also my hand. You won’t need my hand, but you’ll definitely need to buy the kit and learn how to use it. It’s not hard, so don’t freak out. I SAID DON’T FUCKING FREAK OUT! If the person at the pet store isn’t an asshole, they can show you how to use it. If not, give them the finger and pull up Google or YouTube.

I know there are some people out there who are like, “Dude. Bro. Homie. I just threw a bunch of tap water in the tank, and my fish are fine.” Well, congratulations on your perfect fish, swimming in your perfect water, in your perfect life. My water is so bad, I have to mix five gallons of purified water for every one gallon of tap. By the time I figured out how to mix and test it properly, I got an honorary degree as a goddamn chemist.

Even when you get your water exactly right, you’re likely going to wake up one morning and think someone poured a glass of milk into the tank. Again, don’t freak out like I did. I SAID DON’T FUCKING FREAK OUT! It’s just a bacterial bloom. Once ammonia builds up in the filter, the bacteria will retreat to there and leave your water alone.

Also, keep a skull in there to scare them off.

Oh, and by the way, if you think you can just chuck a bunch of fish in there once it’s all set up, think again. Not only does the temperature have to be just right — a lot of freshwater fish like it in the mid to high 70s, because they’re prissy little assholes — but you’re taking them from one galaxy to another, and they fucking hate that shit. You have to acclimate them to the new water, and it’s kind of a tedious process. It boils down to putting water from your new tank into the old water they’re still swimming in, inside the bag. Then letting them get used to that for a while. Then doing it again and again, until they’re finally like, “Alright, we’re cool. This new water is awesome. Also, I am a talking fish.”


Well, At Least It’s A Cheap Starter Pet, Right?

The simple reply to that is: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! But that probably isn’t very helpful. Here, let me give you a rundown of just the basic stuff I have in my smallest tank (20 gallons, pictured in the last entry):

The aquarium, itself: $130. Filter system: $16. Extra filter crap: $10. Twenty-five pounds of black “spectrastone” gravel: $30. Adjustable heater and thermometer: $17. Two live plants: $10. Two pieces of aquarium-safe cholla wood: $8.50. Wicked, awesome skull: $12.50. Weird, hollow rock thingies: $10. Stupid jewel rock things: $10. LED lights: $15. Eighteen gallons of purified water (to be mixed with my shitty, shitty tap water … seriously, my tap water is an asshole): $18. All the test kits (KH, pH, demon saturation): $15. Bubble-shitter, plus hose: $15.

To save you a trip to the calculator, that all adds up to a total of: a pooping assload of money. Notice, however, that I did not include the price of the fish, cleaning supplies (net, siphon, buckets), a stand sturdy enough to hold it, and fish food. Thinking of going with a bigger tank? If you’re thinking of doing something like my 55-gallon aquarium, triple the price:

Shy Octopus knows what you did.

The light on that tank, alone, was $140. Please don’t break into my house and steal it. I have a trained attack snake that will eat you right in the face. Right exactly in it.

Since I’m showing you pictures of my aquariums, did you notice that neither of them house fish? That’s because the big one is running for a week without them, so the filter can extract any floating bullshit, and the water can stabilize. The small one was hit with a fish apocalypse, and I didn’t get them medicated in time.

Wait, you didn’t know you’re going to eventually have to medicate your fish? Yeah, neither did I. So since we’re on that subject …


Once That’s Settled, Though, I Can Just Feed Them And Forget About Them

Let’s talk about feeding them, real quick. Don’t worry, it’s not as boring as it sounds … shit’s about to get weird.

You’ve heard that it’s easy to overfeed fish, right? I don’t think you quite understand just how easy it is, or what the consequences can be. This is one large fish flake, perched atop my strangely erotic-looking finger:

I’m not going to get into which fish eat what sorts of food, or how much to feed them. You’ll need to research that before buying yours. But my last tank had eight fish in it. That one flake was enough to feed half of them. So what happens when you put in, say, four?

The uneaten food will fall to the bottom of the tank and rot. That will make your fish sick, because most living things don’t get along well with rot. The greediest of your fish will eat too much … and if they don’t shit up your tank, they’ll get constipated. If you don’t soak the food in water before putting it in the tank, the fish will swim to the top and gulp both dry food and air at the same time because fish are stupid. The combination of the air and overeating can and will lead to “swim bladder disease.” Here’s what that looks like:

The fish starts floating on its side or upside down. When it tries to swim, it flops end over end. If it didn’t suck for the fish, it would be hilarious, but it’s probably best to not let them get it in the first place. The treatment is weird, too. You feed them peeled peas — or in more extreme circumstances, you put them in a tank with epsom salt to make them shit right out of their fish assholes.

Of course, now, you have to clean up all that poop, to which beginners will say, “Well, that’s what I bought those bottom feeders for. They eat shit and clean up all the algae.” NOPE! Not only do some algae eaters crap way more than regular fish, they can’t stay healthy on a diet of natural tank algae. You have to give them algae pellets or introduce more algae into your tank. Most of them don’t like eating shit any more than you do.

Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid swim bladder disease, you will likely end up dealing with a disease I like to call “The Fish Fucker.” Mortals, however, call it “ich” or “white spot disease,” and it’s believed to be present in pretty much all water, including your tap. Here’s what it looks like when it’s on fish:

I’m not going to go over the ridiculous, painstaking process of getting rid of this shit. Here’s an instructional video for that. If you’re an asshole, you’d just flush it, fish and all. But that’s still not going to unfuck your tank. The point is, whether you like it or not, if you own an aquarium, you are eventually going to be a fish doctor. Be prepared. It’s going to happen.


The Pet Store Worker Told Me The Solution Was Simple. I Just Have To-

No. Stop. Stop right there. I have to tell you something, and I need you to understand that I’m not joking when I say it: Never, ever, ever trust a pet-store worker. Managers? Maybe. But not a regular worker.

See, most of the ones I’ve met are high school or college kids who took the job for the same reason we all take jobs at that age: heroin money. Their jobs are to sell pets and all the bullshit extras that go with them. I’m not saying that they don’t care about the fish. I’m saying that they’re basically in charge of the temporary holding cells between the supplier and the customer.

I know that’s going to piss off a small group of people who work at these stores, and to that, I offer this apology: Suck my nuts. Every single problem I’ve encountered didn’t have a solution that came from a pet-store worker. The solution came from hours and hours of research on my own. To make sure that wasn’t just a problem specific to me, I asked several members of the Cracked staff, and every single one replied with, “Oh, Jesus Christ, no. Don’t ever rely on a pet-store worker for aquarium problems. Those people are the devil, and we hate them.”

That’s Cracked’s Josh Sargent, getting drunk at an airport and mourning the loss of the many, many fish he’s killed on the advice of pet-store workers. “You’re having algae problems? Well, I feel bad for you, son. Here, buy these two Chinese algae eaters. They’ll be fine in your four-and-a-half-gallon tank, swimming alongside your betta fish.” They were not. That tank was way too small, and it turns out those particular fish don’t just eat algae … they eat betta fish. Josh only found that by researching the problem, himself, after dropping nearly four million dollars on those fish. Josh makes a pretty good living.

The point is, even if you find an awesome pet-store worker, you can’t rely on them to solve every problem you run into. You’re going to spend as much time troubleshooting aquarium problems as you do trying to remove the virus that’s causing porn popups on your computer. If you’re not willing to do that, get a cat. Those are at least self-sustaining. If you forget to feed a cat, it’ll just eat you.


Well, I’m Already Ass Deep Into It, Now — At Least They’re Peaceful, Docile Creatures

All fish are assholes.

I don’t care what the person behind the counter told you. I don’t care what the online research says. There is no such thing as a peaceful, docile fish. Not when you get a bunch of them in the same tank. At least one fish will decide, “I am the most badass fish in this entire 20-gallon universe, and I am going to slam lips-first into any motherfucker who thinks otherwise.”

Mix the wrong type of species together, and one will eat the other. You could do what I did and get a bunch of the same kind … but then you find out that you got way more males than females, and that caused some horrifying problems. The males beat the shit out of each other to establish dominance. Then they all chased the females, nonstop, because they wanted that sweet fish ass. So the only way to avoid the problem is to stock the right ratio of females to males. Or start suplexing them until they realize you’re not putting up with any of their shit.

Of course now that you have the right ratio of sexes, now you have ten times too many fish because while you were sleeping, they had a fish orgy, and half the tank is now giving birth. So now you either have to find someone who wants some free fish, start a new aquarium to house them all, or start flushing live babies down the toilet while maniacally cackling. But in your mind, they’ll deserve it, because they’re assholes.

It’s important that you remember that: All fish are asshole, dickhead fuckfaces. If you don’t accept that now, you will gaze upon their water cube in horror, wondering why God would inflict such hatred and rage upon you and your family. And you paid for that. You paid with cash money. On purpose. All because you thought, “That’s a cheap and easy starter pet for my kid.”

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