Now that you have or are about to receive a box of very carefully packed fish from Tangled Up in Cichlids whether via UPS, retrieved from the airport, or picked up/dropped off in person, there are some important steps to follow which will ensure the fishes successful introduction into your aquarium(s).
Below is my only recommended method for acclimating the fish I have personally packed and sent to you from my facility with my method of packing. This is also how I successfully acclimate the several thousand fish that I bring into the facility throughout the year. Typically, from time of delivery, the average small or medium box package size should take no longer than 30 minutes to unpack, acclimate and release. I do not recommend any other procedure that may be used to acclimate fish from your lfs or any other ecommerce vendor. Failure to follow my procedure will make any consideration for reimbursement null and void. The use of the 'drip method' automatically voids any consideration for reimbursement.
First and foremost, will always be to be sure you are available to physically take possession of your newly delivered live animal at the exact time of delivery. It is at this moment when the fish are considered delivered when referencing my live arrival guarantee. Delivery time is counted at the time electronically logged by UPS, or the airline. This includes delivery to be held at a UPS customer care center at customers request.
(Note: In the event that a bag containing fish arrives severely lacking water via puncture of bags by fish spines (a common occurrence when shipping larger cichlids and catfish), the fish should be introduced immediately to the aquarium. It is a much better solution to get the fish into a preferred environment versus an unfavorable environment such as that of a leaked-out bag.)
1. Turn off the aquarium lights:
Keeping the lights off on your tank during acclimation and for a couple hours post-introduction of new fish will reduce stress. The fish inside the box will have been in total darkness anywhere on average from between 15-25 hours and possibly even up to 30hours depending on the destination. Immediate exposure to bright lights will shock them. I recommend keeping the lights off for the remainder of the day. Whenever possible even keeping the lights in the room dim will be helpful when unpacking the fish.
2. Float the bag:
Floating the unopened bag as it is delivered in an unlit tank for 10 - 15 minutes will ensure that the water temperature inside the bag is exactly equal to that in your tank. Laying the bag down horizontally will ensure that maximum surface area of water is exposed to the remaining pure oxygen in the bag during this time. Provided of course that the fish can be comfortable when the bag is in this position. Although 10 minutes is regarded as sufficient time to float a bag typically. Please keep in mind that I ship all fish in multiple 3-4mm thick bags with a layer of newspaper between the last two bags, so they need the extra few minutes to be brought up to temperature through the multiple layers of thick bags. Float the bags as they arrive, I do not recommend removing the inner bag from the outer bags because in the event that the inner bag is punctured, it may be the 2nd or 3rd bag that is keeping the 1st bag from leaking out entirely. Also, if the first bag is punctured and leaking you may then introduce the polluted bagged water into your aquarium. So, it is recommended to float the bags as they arrived. After about 15 minutes let the fish loose.
During winter months it is crucial to follow this procedure. If the fish become chilled it is not uncommon for the respiratory system of a long-chilled fish to slow down to the point that you may not even visually detect immediate gill or mouth movement. Once slowly warmed up they will pop up and almost always are fine. Some, actually many species, can slow their respiratory system significantly when cold and will appear dead. I see this on a mass scale during my winter season imports. While it is scary, don't get too upset right away. Instead, look at the fish closely and make sure it is indeed slowly breathing. Then safely place the bags in the uprigth postition as they arrived in the box. The allow the bags get up to room temperature before you begin floating them tank temp. This method provides a slower and more gradual rise in bag temperature. It is less dramatic of a temp swing in a short time as compared to floating it right away. Central American cichlid species, larger characins like silver dollar types, and any of the larger growing catfish are wizards at playing dead when cold but in most cases will pop up when properly brought up to temperature and acclimated.
3. Opening the bag:
Open the bag by either untying the (latex free) rubber bands or by just carefully cutting the tied part of the bag off. Once you have opened the bag the fish is at great risk of poisoning from the newly created toxic environment. It will be critical to remove the fish from the bagged water and into the new aquarium environment immediately.
The fish are shipped in new, fresh, clean, temperature-controlled water, a few ml of a clear 4-part additive is added to the bagged water, and the bag is pumped with 100% pure oxygen. However, like all living creatures they use oxygen to breathe and they will produce waste. Waste production will occur during transit even from fish that have been allowed time to ‘purge’ before being bagged. The living animal in the bag will use the oxygen in the bag to breathe and that will be replaced by C02. The waste in the water will produce toxic ammonia. Because of this closed environment the C02 is absorbed into the water and will somewhat help for a short time by lowering the pH in the water. Lower pH in this closed environment helps keep the ammonia level slightly less toxic. However, once you have opened the bag the C02 will be immediately released and will cause a significant spike with the pH of the bagged water which rapidly increases the toxicity of the ammonia that has built up during transit. Each of those factors can cause permanent damage or death to the fish within minutes. Both simultaneously, can cause near instant death. Do not add tank water to the bagged water. This can poison and /or permanently damage the fish even at the cellular level. It is always best to remove the fish from the unfavorable environment to a stable environment as soon as possible.
4. Transferring the fish:
It is not advisable to add any shipping water into your aquarium or add aquarium water to the bags. Although the fish are packed in fresh clean water by the time of arrival it is often visibly polluted with fish wastes and may be discolored from the breaking down of wastes that occur while the fish is in transit. So, either netting (pre-wet the net with aquarium water) the fish from the bag, scooping the fish by hand out of the bag, or pouring the fish into a pre-wetted net placed over a bucket or sink will allow you to avoid adding shipping water into your aquarium and is the best practice.
While the newly added fish are transitioning to their new environment they are most vulnerable to harassment from any preexisting residents, you should take this opportunity to feed any current residents of the tank something that they really enjoy. While the ‘home court fish’ are busy feeding, their attention will be diverted from the new arrivals that are probably overcoming shipping stress and learning their way around their new home.
Larger fish invariably take longer to transition to a new environment than smaller fish. Some species will proceed to lay down upon being released into a new tank. I call these ‘rock fish’ because they drop to the bottom and stay put like a rock or some species will do headstands. Examples of this behavior may be witnessed upon receipt of many round-bodied or laterally compressed South American cichlids such as oscars, chocolate cichlids, severums, festivums, Uaru, discus, angelfish, and frequently, most large adult cichlids of varied origins.
This is often more stressful to see for the new owner than it is for the fish in question. This behavior is expected and seems to be the rule rather than the exception. During this time, the new residents may be at risk of harassment from any pre-existing residents. Do your best to ensure that new fish are not picked on by the current aquarium inhabitants while they ‘come around’ or ‘transition’ in their own time. This may take anywhere from an hour or two to overnight. Please also keep the aquarium lights off for as long as any fish are still in this transition state.
5. Feeding the new arrivals:
While smaller/younger fish may begin feeding almost immediately post introduction to your aquarium, larger species may take a day or even a few days before they are comfortable enough to resume feeding. I would not worry too much about this. It is not likely that the fish will starve themselves to death and they will eat when they are ready. This of course is under the presumption that they are being offered the correct food(s) for the species and size of fish.
If you have any questions at all regarding immediate or long-term care of the fish I have shipped you, please do not hesitate to email with questions. email@example.com
see it in action
Here is my recommended method for acclimating the fish I have personally packed and sent to you from my facility with my method of packing. This is also how I successfully acclimate the 1,000s of fish that I bring into the facility throughout the year.
why or why not?
The majority of species I offer, coupled with the average packing density, I do not recommend the method known as ‘drip acclimation’. This method can be more stressful or fatal than helpful for many fish. It can cause a severely toxic fluctuation in the shipping water environment and is often inadequate to accomplish the act of water temperature equalization. Keep in mind that every single 'drip' changes the water chemistry slightly and creates yet another temporary environment for the fish to adapt to prolonging and creating a more stressful transition. This method will also require additional equipment needed to effectively use this method. Below are my top reasons for not using this insufficient 'old school' method.
Drip acclimation can and often will cause a reaction in the shipping water by which the wastes produced by fish while in transit accompanied by the instant release of the pure oxygen and the chemical additive added to the shipping water will be fueled to reach toxic levels upon introduction of aquarium water. This will occur almost instantaneously when the bag is opened.
Only a relatively small amount of water is used during transit. I generally ship fish using about 1/3 the volume of bag with water and 2/3 the volume of the bag containing pure oxygen pumped into the bag upon packing. There is enough water to provide safe and relatively comfortable transit of the fish while keeping packing size and water weight inside box at a reasonable level.
Once the bag is opened the C02 and remaining oxygen they were shipped with is taken off the fish, the clock spins extremely fast towards oxygen depletion, pH spikes, and toxic ammonia spikes in the small amount of shipping water. This spike can can not only burn the fishes gills but will strip the slime coat from the fish and burn the skin which will increase its susceptibility to new diseases or infections from its new environment that it may have never been exposed to. Although aeration can be provided by an air pump and air stone to the acclimating fish, as can a water conditioner to fight off the ammonia spike nothing can be done about the sudden pH spike. At this point you will now be putting the fish through multiple chemically separate environments within a relatively short amount of time prolonging and inevitably increasing the stress level of the fish. Remember, every single 'drip' changes the water chemistry slightly and creates yet another temporary environment for the fish to adapt to.
In the average home the tendency for this water to be cooled by ambient air temperature (room temperature) outside of the heated aquarium will prevent temperature of water in the bag (or bucket if you have transferred fish from shipping bag to another receptacle for acclimation) from reaching exactly that of the tank by merely slow dripping aquarium water into a bag.
As mentioned above, you will be required to have additional equipment to effectively use this method. i.e. air pump, airline, and air stone(s), more airline to use as ‘drip lines’, a separate receptacle to hold ‘at temp’ tank water to float the bags in, a heater to keep the same displaced tank water at the exact same temperature as the tank for proper temperature acclimation, and finally a good water conditioner to control the immediate toxic spike in water chemistry that cannot be addressed with a slow drip.
Time. To properly use the drip method it would take multiple hours even a few days for osmoregulation to benefit the new fish. So, all you really are doing is prolonging the stress and increasing the chances of loss or unrepairable damage to the fish.
Yes, what about all the other water parameters right? Like nitrite, nitrate and pH right?
Well like mentioned previously, they are bagged in fresh, clean, temperature controlled water of the same pH as they holding tank I have removed them from. The levels of nitrite and nitrate should be at or very close to near zero as should be your aquarium. The ammonia level in your aquarium should be zero whereas the water in that bag can be at levels of 4 - 6 or even higher depending on how much waste has been produced during transit. Removing the fish completely from that toxic environment and into a stable, safe environment is far better than prolonging it and slowly changing it, literally drip-by-drip. By time of delivery the pH will have already been lowered over time from its holding tank here and the bagged water during its transit due to the reasons I have already mentioned above. Transferring the fish from that water into its stable aquarium is far better than having the fish go through multiple pH changes and ammonia levels as the slow drip method is being performed.
This 'old school' method was thought to be okay back before the days of ecommerce and regular shipping of fish. When you only had the option of purchasing from your local fish store (lfs) that was likely just a few minute drive. However, it was more likely that the bagged fish would have only been in the bag for a few minutes and have not caused much change in the water chemistry or even temperature. In that event the only real concern would likely have been the pH swing from the lfs water to the water in your aquarium. Even that in many cases would have been overkill because it was likely the lfs was in the same or very nearby town and on the same water source as your own home.
In the end, it is unnecessary and arguably cruel to the animal to prolong or in most cases create more stress. Remember to keep it simple. Remove the animal from the bad environment to get into the stable and favorable long term environment as soon as possible.