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Fish Tank Supplies > Contests & Events > Tanked! Tales of Fishkeeping Woe


Aquarium hobbyists air their dirty laundry...

The stories below were submitted to a forum contest we ran, where we asked for your best - or worst, to be more accurate - beginner fish-keeping mistake stories. We were overwhelmed with great submissions and include them here in hopes that these stories will make you laugh, cry, and perhaps even learn something from the mistakes of others.

Special thanks go out to the hobbyists who were willing to share these tales with others!

My community tank was originally home to two celestial gold fish, three guppies, and a betta (odd company, but they get along quite well..also, the betta was separated from the others by a divider). It wasnít long before my one female guppy got pregnant and started having babies.

I happened to look into the tank one day and noticed three baby guppies swimming in the corner of my tank. Fearing that they would get eaten by the other fish or get sucked up by the filter, I took them out and placed them in a betta cup (the little cup that bettas come in when you buy them). I figured they would be safe there; no current, separated from hungry fishÖHeck, I even floated the cup in the tank so the water would stay warm!

I watched happily as the guppies grew bigger and bigger. I was so proud of myself. Then one day, I came home from school and found that the cup had tipped over and that my betta had swam through the hole in the lid of the cup! I found no baby guppies in the cup or in the tank; I was quite sure that my betta ate them. It was rather depressing.

The next day, however, I happened to find two of the baby guppies hiding in some plastic plants (never found the 3rd). I was so happy! I had thought I lost them all. So I put the baby guppies back in the cup and left it out of the tank.

A few days later I placed my betta in another betta cup so I could clean my tank without him swimming with the other fish. After cleaning the tank, I put my betta back into his side of the divider. I picked up the betta cup and dumped the water down the sink then returned to my room to look at my fish. I glanced over at my other betta cup to see how the babies were doing.

Thatís when I realized that I threw out the contents of the wrong cup! My baby guppies had been washed down the sink. *Sigh* All that hard work to keep them alive was futile.

The lessons learned? 1) Donít float a cup of babies with a betta and 2) Check to see what exactly youíre throwing out before you do.

Recently a neighbor of mine was moving and decided he didn't want to bother with his 30 gallon aquarium tank anymore so he offered it to me. I had always had fish as pets but never had gotten a tank larger than 10 gallons so I thought this would be great - more fish. Being a lover of Goldfish I immediately set up the tank, ran to the pet store and purchased a few fish to "fill" up the tank.

I know not to over stock the tank so I bought only a couple of small goldfish and a catfish knowing they would grow. That - as I soon learned - is an understatement!

This first "little guy" was so cute and small - only about the size of my thumb - that he kept disappearing in this huge tank. After a short period of time though I noticed that he was growing bigger and bigger each day. I mean this literally! By the second week this guy is huge. He was 3 times bigger than the others and dominating them at feeding time. Now after a month is he almost the size of my hand and eats like a horse.

The second one has grown some and is able to hold his own at feeding time so I don't worry about him not getting his share. But I noticed one day a few minutes after feeding them that he is floating on top and not moving. Oh give me a break. I open up the lid to see what is wrong and the poor thing had gotten a piece of the gravel stuck in this mouth and is suffocating. So here I am doing the Heimlich Maneuver on this little guy trying to save his life.

Sure enough after a few "pumps" out "pops" the piece of gravel. I put him back into the tank to see if he will live and as fish will be fish, the first thing he does is start looking for more food and acting as though nothing had happened. Of course I'm a nervous wreck, the cat is mad because she was just hoping for a free meal, and the catfish is sitting in the corner trying to figure out what all the commotion is about.

Lesson Learned: Know what you are buying. As with any animal just because they are little and cute doesn't mean they are going to stay that way for long. Also make sure the gravel you use is the correct size not only for your tank but for your fish. And finally - put the cat in the other room when dealing with your fish.

- Betty   

I had set up a 20 gallon long tank and everything was going nicely...until one night. My rowdy nephews drank a bit too much, got into a horrible fight, and the one nephew ended up with his head right thru the tank!!! Oh my god, what a mess! Water and fishies everywhere. Luckily, we put the fish in cups and glasses and managed to save them all...except for one little fish that I never did find. We even rolled the rug up and moved the furniture, so whatever happened to that fish is a mystery.

Another "oops" moment was done by my husband Dan as I was cleaning the tank. After we had the water in, Dan went and got the chlorine remover drops. He put them in, got the decorations, and placed the fish in. A few minutes later the fish were all dead. I asked him, "You did put the chlorine remover drops in, RIGHT?", and he said that he did and handed me the bottle. As I reached for the bottle, it caught my eye. It wasn't the chlorine remover drops, it was the wrong bottle! Argghhh! I forget now what was in the other bottle, but lesson learned, I now do it all myself matter how well meaning other people's intentions are.

- Sherry   

I was mid cleaning my 150 and instead of taking the canopy off of the tank I just slid it back on an angle so i could clean half the tank at a time. Well I'm pretty short and couldn't reach the bottom of my tank soooo I'm staging on a bucket to get down to the bottom, the bucket starts slipping from under my feet i fall off the bucket knock my canopy down with my lights they shatter while ripping out my overflows to my sump (1" overflows, 600 gallons a hr) so now i have about 50 gallons of saltwater onto 2 power strips and I'm standing in a puddle of water getting zapped, the fuse box is in the basement but if I shut off the breaker all the lights go off and I can't see the outlets or the overflows to try and get the hoses back on them, what to do? so I grab a towel and yank the cords outta the wall while getting zapped. By this time my water is down under my overflows so there's no point in trying to get the hoses back on them, i shoulda just shut the breaker off!! *sigh*
- Jim   

My story starts off under my loft bed (bunk bed like but with no bottom bunk) with my 10g fry tank full of about fifty or so platy fry. While feeding the fry I trip over some boards that's my sister's taken apart futon, causing it to fall and crash into the tank cracking it up the whole side, it didn't break until I tripped over the boards a second time. The glass just gave away and water was spilling everywhere. Thank goodness the tank is on a rolling cart, so I rolled it outside. I get a net and a bucket to put the fry in, it being a very windy day...I caught the fish in the net then they flew away. I didn't make an effort to find them in the tall grass. By this time I have tears rolling down my face because this is the first time I had a breeder tank. My dad comes out and tries to help me find fry in the tanks' substrate. I ended up with about ten of the larger fry and the mothers in a five gallon bucket till we bought a new 10g.

The lessons learned: keep nothing that can trip you around the tank, have a back up tank, and don't have fish outside on a windy day.
- fur43   

I of course went to Walmart, got a 5.5gal kit and fish at the same time. Too bad that wasn't the only thing bad about this! I didn't really have any sort of sturdy table or stand to put it on so I go and put it on my coffee table thinking that ooo that should hold the weight, it can't weigh that much can it? Well it held for a few days, and I was having a little get together that night so i was trying to clean the house and so on. The next thing that I shouldn't have done is I accidentally bumped in to the coffee table just barely enough to make it wobble. Next thing I knew, my tank was on its side and the carpet was full of water and fish. O man was I in trouble for that one! Always make sure the item you decided to set your tank on can hold it up!
- sweetpickles7   

No matter how hard I try, every water change I do ends up with my carpet being completely soaked. I have soaked every carpet in my home, except in the back room. I put an aquarium in there and was determined to not drench this carpet. I was going to use a new self priming canister filter. According to instructions after opening water valves and turning unit on, it was supposed to fill itself up. I was disappointed to see that it was not going to fill itself. I turned unit off and popped off the lid. I did not know that it was pressurized and water was shooting everywhere. I turned off the water flow to the first valve I could find. It was the wrong one and the vacuum in the hose kept the water shooting everywhere. I shut off the other hose and thought I was safe. While I was gone to get some towels one of the hoses fell out of the tank and water started draining from the tank to the floor. I ended up dumping 20 gallons of water on the carpet.
I tried to replace the water the next day. I decided to stretch my hose as far as it would reach and siphon water in a 5 gallon bucket and pour into tank. I left the water going into the bucket for a minute and came back to find the hose had came out of bucket and was flooding the carpet. I had just pulled the hose out of bucket when it came out of my tank and flooded my carpet in the living room. I started the siphon once more, the phone rang and I forgot about the hose. I dumped another 20 gallons of water on the hallway carpet.
- Richard Smith   

Early in my fish keeping, I decided to start a 10gal tank in my college dorm room. The room was small and 'very limited' on stable surface area. I had a roommate, we shared a long desk (sitting side by side), with two long shelves above. My roommate had an Apple Macintosh Computer (yes, it was that long ago) on one end of the desk, so we didn't have much space to do much else.
Finally, while he was in class, I decided to set-up the tank; I didn't care/know about cycling or prepping the tank in any way. I filled the tank, bought the fish, then realized it was too big to put on the desk - and actually sit there. I measured the shelf above and it was a perfect fit, with maybe a half inch to spare. I emptied the tank about half way, placed it on the shelf, and refilled. During the refilling, the tank shifted about an eighth of an inch. I'm a bit OCD, so I tried to shift it straight. The shelf was buckling under the weight of the tank, and when I touched it, the back glass (I still thank God it wasn't the front glass) cracked from one corner to the opposite corner, and the back of the tank exploded. Spilling 10 gal of water, glass and about 10 fish onto the desk, computer and carpet below. My roommate moved out.

After keeping fish for nearly 20 years, I was doing a water change and got side tracked with the TV. While refilling the tank 1 pitcher at a time, I forgot to check the water level. I "over-filled" the tank.
- SF.Derek   

I got a 20g tank and put fish in it a week or so after adding the water (oh yeah, and I didn't cycle it) There was a gap between the filter and the lid so I was worried my fish would jump out (later learned the gap was too small and my fish don't usually jump.) So anyway, I put a towel around my filter so the gap would be closed. The next morning I discovered the towel hanging in the water, sucking up the water, and dripping it behind the tank onto the other towel under my tank, the table, and then the carpet. There was probably at least one gallon of fishy water all over my carpet. I spent most of that day emptying the tank and cleaning up what I could. I had to empty the whole thing so I could move it, wash the towel under the tank, and wipe the table which now has water marks all over it. Meanwhile, my fish spent the day in a bucket.

So, what have I learned? Never hang a towel in the tank. The water will go up and over. Nice opportunity to "megaclean" your tank though...
- Kissyboots   

I bought a really small 2.5G QT tank. I had my lyretail swordtail in there 'cause I thought he had ich. (I'm now pretty sure he had some bacterial infection.) Because the tank was small and I wanted to protect it against temperature fluctuations, I wrapped a towel around it at night. One night (actually, it was shortly before 6:00am), I heard the filter making this awful noise. I ran into the room in which the tank was located and noted that ~80% of the water was gone!!!

Turns out one of the tips of the towel was in the filter outflow. It wasn't much, but it was enough to drain the tank. J. Todd survived that little incident, but he didn't survive the infection.
- Iapetus   

My worst mistake? Not putting my tank up high enough. My son poured soda into my tank!! Thank goodness there were no fish in there. But, I had to start ALL over. Could've been worse. In one of my freshwater tanks, he put (all at one time!) a pair of his "big boy underwear", McDonald's french fries, a bowl of cucumbers (bowl and all) and a used dryer sheet. Luckily, my hearty little goldfish fared well. They even enjoyed the cucumbers quite a bit. So, maybe, my mistake is just HAVING a tank period with a three year old!!
- laurahammock   

When my nephew was 4 years old he wanted a pet so I decided to get him a betta. Well we got him a very pretty betta and a 5 gallon tank to put him in. We told my nephew this was his pet to take care of which turned out to be a big mistake because he wound up feeding the poor betta pepperoni from his pizza. We did not notice that he did this until the following day when the water was all cloudy. The betta survived that but died the next day when my nephew decided to take him out of his tank and take him for a walk. Morale of the story: never leave your tank unsupervised around children.
- cra549   

Our son within a matter of 5 minutes of me being outside and smoking put a whole box of goldfish crackers, all our remotes, clothes, toys, 2 canisters of fish food and other variety of foods in our 55 gallon tank.
- RoxnSox   

All the towel stories and things in the tanks remind me of my mom. God bless her but she's how do we put this nicely....absent minded. She came home from work one day and put her purse on top of a 20 gal fish tank and went to watch TV. Four hours later we discover her keys, phone and the rest of her purse floating around the tank ... the top caved in. The little frog was hopping down the hallway with the dog barking at it and the purse strap was siphoning water all over the carpet. .... Ahh memories
- Bender   

Once upon a time I had this cute little hex tank. Had to be that same 5g hex that everyone keeps mentioning! Little undergravel filter and of course pink edges. My parents kept fish when I was really little so they knew the basics. With my 5 little danios in this tank, it got really dirty and I cleaned it all out once a month or so. When I'd clean the tank, I would pour some water into a pitcher (like in the kitchen that we'd have juice in or whatever) and net my fishies and put them in there while I cleaned their tank. I'd make it sparkle and then set it back up in my room and net the little guys out of the pitcher and put them into their nice clean home. Worked out great! Except this one time... I was all finished, put the fish back in their home and stepped back to admire my handiwork. Counted my fish ok they're danios they swim fast. Let's count again. 1..234...CRAP! I'm missing a fish! I panicked. Ran back into the kitchen and spied him on the floor! Grabbed a spatula and scooped him up and ran into my room and threw him in the tank. Little guy was covered in hair and dust and everything but dangit he was fine!

That's when I decided that Danios were the best fish ever I'm sure my parents just loved that I used our kitchen utensils for my fish tank activities haha
- FroggyFox   

Oh I still remember-
The day we first met-
You were trying your hardest-
To escape my well aimed net-
The day I brought you home-
Oh Flag Fin Shiners and Johnny Darters-
I smiled and laughed at your antics!
And then I brought a friend-
To share your happiness-
He was so small and sweet-
Just a little fish-
As time passed on and you all grew-
I left your side to catch a snooze-
When the morn came whizzing in-
I went to catch a glimpse of my sweetest little fins!
Oh and what I found, brings tears to my green eyes-
Your mangled bodies scattered it seemed so thoughtlessly-
And out of the corner of my eye-
With a wicked grin-
One big fat frigging Bream!
- Jocelyn   

Fish Boil

When I was in grade school my cousin and I set up our first fish tank. It was in the basement, the only place we were allowed to keep it, and it was fairly cold down there. My grandfather is a very accomplished breeder, and called asking how the tank was. When I told him the temperature, he suggested that we turn it up slightly for whatever fish we had (I can't even remember what we had) Our heater was a simple +/- knob control and I, having no experience whatsoever just turned it on up towards the plus +. After 15 minutes I impatiently kicked it up again. The next morning when we went to feed the fish, we found several nicely cooked fish floating at the top of the tank, and the thermometer on the side registered well above 90! Needless to say I've been paranoid about temperature ever since...
- Danny from Cleveland   

While moving to a new apartment, I put my Pacu in a small cooler for transport. While waiting to set-up the tank at the new place, I forgot I had put the heater in the cooler to get the temp back up to what the fish were used to. By the time I remembered, they were all cooked and floating. No longer delicious.
- SF.Derek   

I had a 75 gallon set up last year. I had everything going good for a few months, just upgraded from a 55 so I put everything from the 55 into the new tank. I was using RO water and everything.. went to the pet store to get a tang after acclimating it for the correct time I put it in the show tank, I didn't have a qt tank.. it didn't make it more than a few hours.. thought my water was bad so I did a water change, I checked with my test kits but it seemed that everything was in check, I had a lot of evaporation daily and didn't have a auto top off, so I would come home from work mix up some water and salt and top the tank off, well I gave it a few weeks and tried another fish, didn't do good at all, my corals started melting away and I couldn't keep a new fish if I tried.. Still not knowing what I was doing wrong I decided to sell everything, as I already found a buyer for the tank I was in mid process of emptying it out and I though you know what? I never tested my salt. No one ever told me that salt didn't evaporate with water! I guess its my own stupidity but every few days I added water with salt for my top offs.. I just had a hydrometer and when I put the water in it spiked all the way to the top and I'm sure it would have kept going if it could have! So now I already had the tank sold b/c I thought I couldn't keep anything and here it was just a salt issue.. oh well, live and learn eh? ..
- Jim   

My wife and I had just moved to Ft. Bragg, NC. We had moved into our house on post, and got ourselves a dog. At the time, we only had 1 child. We felt we needed something for our daughter (3 at the time) to be able to interact with. We decided on a betta. Now, you must remember, neither of us had ever truly kept a fish before.

Looking back, we ended up with a 5g hex kit system. No heater, or anything for the poor little guy. I'm not sure if it even had a filter. Anyway, we get this beautiful blue male betta. We did the normal rookie thing, and got the tank and the fish the same day. Got them at walmart even. Lucky for us, the tank came with some water treatment. So, we fill 'er up, treat the water, and drop in Mr. fish. Soon after, we go on vacation for a week. We decide to take the dog with us, but we can't take the fish, now can we! We don't know any of our neighbors whatsoever, so we can't have them coming in the house, while we're gone now can we? SO! We give him about a double portion of food, and leave for a week.

Upon returning home, my wife and I are expecting a dead betta. However, that wasn't the case, he was very much alive...hungry, but alive.

Surprisingly (well, at least now) he does rather well. We have him for a few months, never do a water change, or clean the tank. We do nothing but feed him his little pellets daily.

Time passes, and I start to notice green algae forming all over the inside of the tank. After being pretty lazy about it...I decide to clean it. I remove a good bit of the tank water, then the betta...putting him in his own water. Dump the tank, clean it up all nice and pretty. Then refill it, allowing it to come back to room temp, since that's where his water temp always was.

Then I put him back in his home...within a few hours he was dead. I didn't even thing about it till I was typing this, but I bet it was the chlorine in the water, since I'm sure I didn't treat the new water!! All these years and I just now figured it out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I guess knowledge really is power!
- d3sc3n7   

I am still new at this. We just bought a house with almost 40+ windows at the beach. I had a heck of a time finding a location for my tank. I spent hours researching and setting up my tank. Returned my heater twice only to find that my cheap sticky thermometer was defective. (suggested by this forum and never occurred to me).

My tank has only been up since 1/29. 36 GALLON and cycling with 8 danios. They are happy campers.

After only 5 days of cycling I started testing my water and since it read 0ppm for ammonia and nitrite I was impatient and I bought "Frank". Poor Frank was doomed. He floated for almost an hour acclimating to the water temp. I did the addition of tank water to his bag every 5 minutes, dumping off the old etc. When I finally released him, he went to the side of the tank. Rather boring I thought but had high hopes. I figured he was stressed and kept the tank lights off. Of course could I just leave him alone? NO. I had to bug him. He swam off and sucked onto another spot. I figured I'd leave him alone so checked later. 4 hours. Odd I thought that he was at the top of the tank standing straight up and down between my plants like balancing on his toes, yes I know he has none. I then put my net inside the tank and touched him and down, down, down he went to the bottom like lead. I fished him out and put him in his fish bag with tank water and did light chest compressions with my finger on his belly, (ok, haha I know) but I named him FRANK for god's sake and I had just killed my first fish.

POOR THING. I got the second degree from this forum about putting him into a tank with toilet water that's what I think someone told me. I left him in his bag overnight just in case he was resurrected. I flushed him the next day.
- djbids   

Set up my first tank approximately five years ago. It is a 55 gallon. Got the tank from a friend took it home and cleaned really well with diluted bleach (plants, gravel and all). Set everything up real nice added some plants and decorations to suit my taste. Next I did my homework, learned about the "cycle" slowly added the following fish in this order: first 3 Opaline Gouramis & 6 tiger barbs; second 3 keyhole cichlids; third 5 panda Cories; fourth 5 rosy barbs; fifth 3 giant danios; and finally a rainbow shark. Everything was going swimmingly. Tank looked great if a little busy and crowded. A few weeks after adding the rainbow shark, I was at Wal-Mart buying fish food and picked up some aquarium plant bulbs. I thought having real plants would be great. Well I followed the instructions on the plants and they sprouted in no time. I had 6 red lily plants that all but covered the surface of my tank and some grassy looking plants lined across the back. I was feeling pretty proud of my self. Well the tank was ok for a while but due to heavy aeration and lack of light, the plants started to die back. The grassy ones went first and then after much picking by the rosy barbs the lilies were gone too. A few months later, I started losing fish almost daily and could not figure out why. I finally got my hands on a 30 gallon when I moved to my new house. I relocated the rainbow the one remaining Opaline and 1 tiger barb (and a platinum Gourami which was added right before the die-off started) to the thirty. Seeing as how I was moving, I decided to totally teardown the 55 and that's when I found the problem. The plants that had died had left a huge cluster of decaying roots under my UGF which I suppose was a great source of anaerobic bacteria. Now all of my tanks are UGF free and all has been going swimmingly for about 3 years.
- Devon Greatwolf   

Our first salt water tank: We started off with the 10 gal Walmart fresh water tank and some happy little platties. Then we saw how colorful the salt water fish were and thought it could not be that hard to go from fresh water to salt. We did get a 42 gal corner tank and the right filter but that is where we stopped. It was getting to be a little pricey and we thought we would just get some hardy fish and cycle the tank with some dominos and three stripe damsels. Tough fish now that I think about it - seeing as we used tap water with that squirt in ammonia neutralizer (now have a full RO filter), no skimmer (just could not get the cem load worked out no matter how many times we netted them to clean the tank; max stress), some really bright PLASTIC decorations (live rock, now why would you need that), really cheap lighting, no UV filter (went through about three angle fish at 50 a pop) come to find out they have to have a UV and to boot are some of the hardest to keep, no circulation jets. Needless to say, if someone tells you that you donít need all those gadgets or that you can get by cheap on a salt water tank; think again before you pay for those colorful fish. And if they say that fish donít jump, donít believe them. Hawk fish will commit suicide if you donít have a cover.
- Grakin   

My first tank was a 20g i purchased 2yrs ago right before Christmas. My girlfriend always wanted a tank, and i thought it would be cool to set a tank up Christmas eve and put a nice engagement ring in the tank, then wait for her to see it. I bout 2 big Dalmatian mollies, 6 neons, and 3 albino tiger barbs along with numerous decorations and an undergravel filter (stupid mistake). Xmas eve I set up the tank, put in the water (untreated......hey we have well water) dropped in all the fish un-acclimated, set the heater to 80 and started her up. So the next morning she gets up and we walk to the living room and she sees the tank, walks over (it's under a sheet but you can hear it) and I tell her "go ahead, lift it off". She does and find 6 dead neon tetras, 1 dead albino bard (being eaten by the mollies.............and my ring is gone. The temp in the tank was 90 degrees due to a crappy glass (not submersible but was submerged heater). She just looked at me and laughed, apparently I was wearing a look of sheer horror and shock, after all the tank and accessories cost about 200 dollars, not to mention my missing ring! I removed the dead fish and moved around the decor until I found my ring in the ship.........fixed the decor and left it alone. About a week later I finally notice there is a missing albino barb and I figured it got eaten or whatever happens in these things. My ammonia was 2 ppm and everything that hit my tank was dying in 2 days because I was adding dose after dose of ammo-lock (like I was told) and I added a water softener pillow (don't even know what for) and just dumped carbon straight into the tank. I decided to change water and clean gravel, so I start moving decor around......lo and behold under my cave (in a hole where the mfgr. places holes to let out air) I found my missing barbs which was quite pleasant. Apparently he went in and then got trapped when I flipped the decor right side up. End of story is that the tank never cycled after 3-4 months of my screwing it up, I killed dozens of fish including multiple ick outbreaks that led to my dying everything blue with rid-ick and then ditched the tank................easily my most entertaining engagement story.
- catfishbum   

(If you'd like to share your own mistakes here, send us an email with "Tanked" in the subject line, and the name you'd like to be credited with. Stories are edited for spelling & clarity.)

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