V is for…Violence Under the Sea

We’re nearing the end of the A to Z blogging challenge, and today’s Tuesday Tank-Day Post is brought to you by the letter “V” and the violent lives of Phobos and Deimos the cleaner shrimp and my recently-acquired banded pipes – “Thing One & Thing Two:”

Thing 2 and Thing 1

I raised brackish pipefish many years ago, so I knew marine pipes were a challenge. Most pipefish are wild-caught (as opposed to farmed) and only eat live foods at first. In order to survive, they either have to be fed live food constantly or trained to eat frozen, pre-prepared foods (which isn’t as difficult as it might seem, though it does take a little more attention). I’m building a Sygnathid reef tank (seahorses, pipes and corals with a couple dragonets), but since tank-raised seahorses are susceptible to diseases and wild-caught pipes may carry them, it’s better to get the pipes first.

So I did.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 arrived Wednesday. They started hunting ten minutes after they finished acclimatization, but I could tell at once they didn’t eat frozen foods. I tried everything I could find, from mysis (shrimp) to copepods and even brine shrimp, but nothing attracted their attention. They swam past the food like toddlers hoping for cupcakes and finding only broccoli on the menu.

Anyone seen the buffet?

I tried live foods with no success. I drove all over town to find live copepods, but the pipes turned up their noses and swam away. Live brine shrimp elicited even less response (a surprise, since I’ve never known fish to refuse the wiggling “candy of the sea”).

By Thursday night I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d tried everything I could think of short of ordering live mysis shrimp at a price I didn’t want to spend on a wild guess. The pipes were hunting, but not eating. I had no idea what to do.

And then Deimos attacked them.

The shrimp means business.

The pipes escaped unscathed, since they’re faster and more agile, but the minute they reached safety they turned around and headed back, bobbing and weaving like prize fighters going in for the kill.

Which is exactly what they were doing.

Deimos (and Phobos, and several of the peppermint shrimp) was brooding a clutch of eggs. (You can see them in the picture if you look closely. She’s holding them in her swimmerets, beneath her belly and behind her walking legs.)

Thing 1 and Thing 2 had seen them and decided this was something they could eat. They spent the afternoon circling, rushing in to snap at the shrimp’s underbelly and racing away when the shrimp whirled around to attack.

It didn’t take long for the shrimp to decide the pipes were mortal enemies, and only a few minutes longer for the pipes to realize they wouldn’t get a meal without a fight. They didn’t stop hunting the shrimp eggs, but they swam away for periods of time as if hoping the shrimp would forget (they didn’t) or move to a place better suited for ambush (no luck there, either).

Two nights later, one of the peppermint shrimp “gave birth” and released live larval babies into the tank. Hundreds of tiny shrimplings flooded the water, and the pipes had a field day snapping them up. I captured several hundred in cups and jars, stuck half in the fridge and the other half in a net I hung in the tank. (Yes, I have an understanding husband, and one refrigerators shelf that holds a special kind of ‘snacks.’) During the past two days I’ve trained the pipes to eat not only live shrimp larvae but dead ones, too, the first step toward them eating frozen food.

I’d like to say Thing 1 and Thing 2 have surrendered their violent ways, or that all is forgiven from the cleaner shrimps’ point of view – but that would be a wicked, inaccurate lie. Thing 1 and Thing 2 are more determined than ever to reach those eggs. The shrimp have an equally vehement (if opposite) opinion.

The Hatfields and the McCoys have nothing on this bunch, and I doubt we’ll see a cease-fire any time soon.

Not that I blame them. Frozen dinners never look as good as scampi to me either.

(For the concerned among you: the pipes aren’t doing any damage to the shrimp, or vice versa, and as of this morning the sides had reached a limited truce. The pipes still check to see if the shrimp have eggs, but they keep a respectful distance – and probably will as long as they’re decently fed. When my current supply runs out, all bets are off.)

4 thoughts on “V is for…Violence Under the Sea

  • April 26, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    My gosh! This is more dramatic than most of the movies I watch. It’s like Aliens!

    • April 27, 2011 at 10:44 am

      That’s probably why I spend so much time staring at the water-filled box by the desk – it’s amazing to see what the critters do to keep themselves occupied. They get into more mischief than most toddlers I know!

  • April 27, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Wow! Tammy’s right. This sounds like an alien war movie. Lol. There has to be a book in there somewhere.

    • April 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm

      I agree, Piper – I thought about journaling the tank and seeing what, if anything, ever comes of it. There’s certainly material available!

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