Tuesday Turf War – with Pictures!

The aquatic adventure has taken another step fish-ward with the arrival of five new critters: a second sand-sifting starfish, three more tubeworms, and a green spotted dragonet which my son promptly christened “Flappy” (after the pet dragonlings in World of Warcraft, which we often refer to as ‘flappies’).

For those who have never seen a dragonet may I proudly present….FLAPPY (image courtesy of my friend Wing, who took this photo and all the others appearing in this post).

Yes, that’s my dragonet hunting for food at the bottom of the tank.

A couple more images for those who’ve been wondering. This is the tank itself, viewed from the front. There are no corals because we’re waiting on a high-end light that’s currently on back order. The colorful things are tubeworms and one *cough* Thing That Does Not Belong.

Yeah, I’m talking to you, Ugly-green-silk-plant-front-and-left-of-center.

Wherein lies this week’s tale.

Three weeks ago we added a watchman goby (named Maximus). Max promptly claimed a series of caves on the left side of the tank and defended them vigorously – despite being the only fish in the tank.  Unfortunately little Max’s brain is much smaller than his ego, and with no other fish to dispute his superiority, he decided that the entire tank belonged to him.

This is Max:

Enter Flappy – a peaceful little creature half Max’s size and as peaceful as the paisley ties he bears such resemblance to. Max took one look at Flappy and decided he DID NOT WANT. Max drove poor Flappy around the tank all evening in a vain attempt to evict the trespasser from “his” turf. By morning Flappy was hiding at the back of the tank and unwilling to come out for more than a few seconds at a time.

Back in the days when I kept freshwater tanks I dealt with aggression by “rearranging the furniture” – essentially moving the plants around to redraw the boundary lines. When the dust settled (literally and figuratively) the fish re-established territories, usually without continuing conflict. I hoped I could do the same with little Max.

But salt water tanks don’t have much room for rearranging, especially when the live rocks are already in place and looking good. I moved the little “island” on the sand at the front a little farther back, hemming in the cave that Max had chosen as his own, but Max could still see all the way across the sandy bed and unfortunately watchman gobies are the Kings of all they survey.

The answer?

Something to block his line of sight.  Enter the Cheap Silk Plant. I drove to the store and purchased an inexpensive (and very ugly) plant (it was the best that I could find) which I plopped right down between the “island” and another piece of rock that formed the edge of Maximus’ cave.

Not two minutes later, Flappy peeked out.

And Max ignored him. In fact, Max ignored him all day long, except for the two or three times when Flappy approached Max’s new “guard post” on top of the island that borders his new demesne.

Two days have passed and still they get along. Max is still king of all he surveys from the mouth of his cave, but thanks to the Ugly Silk Plant, those borders now include about ten square inches of sand instead of the tank as a whole. Ironically, Max also ignores the dragonet when he ventures outside “his” space to look for food. On neutral ground, the dragonet is not a threat.

I just wish the Ugly Silk Plant method worked as well on every problem. Bad hair day? Grab a begonia! Fighting with a friend? Silk fuchsias to the rescue!

At least it worked for the dragonet and Max. Baby steps and small victories are better than none at all.

Once again – special thanks to my friend Wing, whose awesome photos now let me fish-blog with pictures of my actual tank and not just wikipedia’s “similar but different” ones. More to come!