Did you know that fish possess body language? If you familiarize yourself with the good body language in fish, you’ll be able to also recognize bad fish body language. Then you’ll be able to diagnose and treat your fish before any illness or situation becomes too severe.
Let’s first take a look at good body language in your pond fish:
Some examples of bad fish body language include:
Loss of appetite
When fish lose their appetite, numerous possibilities loom but without any additional symptoms, you could suspect some deterioration in water quality. In particular, warm water with low oxygen adversely affects fish appetites, which you’ll typically see during the hottest summer months. In ponds that are more than four feet deep and without water movement in the deeper areas, the oxygen levels sag, which can result in suffering fish. In either situation, adding an aerator to boost oxygen levels in the pond could be a simple fix.
Fish may also lose their appetite if nitrogen is imbalanced. When the nitrate levels climb in established ponds, fish will lose their appetite. A quick water test will let you know if nitrate is to blame. If nitrate is ruled out, then it could be a parasite problem. You’ll also notice a loss in appetite when the pond water temperature falls below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is normal.
When fish hold their fins close to their body, it’s a symptom of illness. Poor water quality and parasites are the likely culprits. Fish with clamped fins look like a fish with only a tail because all the other fins are pulled in close to the body. The fish may just rest on the bottom of the pond with its fins clamped. An assessment of water quality is the place to start. If nothing is found, the fish likely has a parasite that needs to be addressed (see how to identify and treat fish parasites).
Resting on the bottom
A common sign of illness is when the fish rests on the bottom of the pond. The most common cause of this bad fish body language is high water temperatures, high nitrates, and low oxygen levels. Parasites could also be the cause. Test the water, and if nothing is found, you’ve probably got a parasite issue.
Laying on the bottom
This behavior is slightly different because the fish will lay on the bottom of the pond on its side. This is a sign of severe, life-threatening stress. Usually, very cold water is the cause of this bad body language. Water quality and overwhelming parasitism can also cause this.
Stiff swimming with clamped fins
Stiff swimming is a serious sign in fish and almost always points to poor water quality, but the most common cause is parasitism, which is then swinging into a full-blown bacterial infection. Start by testing the water, and if nothing is found, a biopsy can be conducted to confirm the presence of parasites. You can also closely check the gills of your fish for signs of bacterial infection.
Piping at the pond surface
When fish are gasping at the surface of the pond, it’s highly illustrative of two things. Either the pond water doesn’t have enough oxygen in it, or the fish can’t get that oxygen because its gills are being wrecked by something. Adding an aerator typically alleviates this problem but if it doesn’t, you likely have a parasite problem.
Less active or floating in water
Less activity isn’t necessarily a sign of illness, but you’ll want to keep some things in mind. Low oxygen levels can cause the fish to resist higher activity and foraging behaviors. This would be especially true if the listless less active fish are the larger ones whose oxygen demand is higher. Warm water carries less oxygen and if the pond is warm and there’s minimal water turnover from a waterfall or aerator, this could be a contributor. Adding a pond aerator will remedy this problem within four to six hours. If the fish becomes actively engaged again, you’ve solved the problem. If not, suspect the presence of a parasite.
Flashing, or scratching, is bad body language when it’s common among your fish. It’s not uncommon to see a fish flash or scratch on the pond bottom of other submerged ornamentation. This isn’t considered a problem. However, if you see many fish scratching or flashing every hour, that would be bad body language and considered a problem. Flashing can be caused by several things, but your main suspects are the pH level of the pond or a parasite.
Once you become familiar with good and bad body language in your pond fish, you’ll be better equipped to remedy any negative situation and provide them with a healthy, happy home.
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Which type of pond owner are you? Do you love fish and enjoy keeping koi as pets? Or maybe you’re an avid gardener that desired a pond so you could expand your outdoor plant and flower options. The majority of pond owners choose a pond in order to enjoy its overall beauty in addition to the soothing sound of the waterfall and/or stream. Regardless of which type of pond owner you are, it’s important to understand why you need plants in your pond and how they enhance the overall ecosystem.
Plants Play An Important Role In An Ecosystem Pond
Aquatic Plants provide beauty and naturalization while offering the plant enthusiast a whole new world of plant choices. Most importantly, they help balance the pond ecosystem by providing valuable biological filtration that removes nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates, and other minerals from the water that algae would otherwise feed and flourish upon. All this minimizes pond maintenance, leaving more time to enjoy your beautiful water garden. Without hardworking aquatic plants, your pond would not be able to function as its own little ecosystem.
Aquatic Plants Provide Food and Shelter
The plants in your pond provide food, shade, and protection for the fish, wildlife, and aquatic life that live in and around the pond. They also provide areas for fish to spawn and a safe place for frogs and toads to lay their eggs. But plants don’t even need to be in the pond in order to help your wildlife. Plants placed around the edges of your pond attract birds looking for food and shelter, while blooming plants attract beneficial insects, butterflies, and others to your watery paradise.
Waterlilies, the most popular of all aquatic plants, spread a multitude of leaves across the surface that shades the water. This natural umbrella comes in beautiful hues of green, providing shade that keeps the water at a comfortable temperature for your fish, as well as aids in preventing algae growth.
Aquatic Plants Add Visual Beauty
Aquatic plants also provide pleasure to the pond lover. There’s something special and delightful when seeing a frog pop its head up between the lily pads, or watching him pause on top of the round leaf. Equally interesting is spotting a dragonfly zipping around the pond and coming to rest on a waterlily bloom. This euphoric paradise wouldn’t be possible without the plants.
Being in the presence of all of the lush plantings creates an atmosphere of a tropical paradise without the expense and travel time of a formal vacation.
What Happens If There Are No Pond Plants?
Eliminate plants from the ecosystem pond and what you have is the equivalent of a lawn without a landscape. Not to mention, you’ve greatly reduced the beneficial filtration in the pond. By itself, clean and clear water has an attractive quality, but in order to make it naturally clear, plants are an absolute necessity.
A common misconception is that pond plants are hard to grow and difficult to maintain. The fact is, most aquatic plants are easy to grow provided they’re planted at the right depth and are receiving the proper amount of sunlight for that particular plant.
Aquatic Plants are Nature’s Filters
Each type of aquatic plant has its own set of requirements for optimum growth. The more a plant grows, the more food it needs. Pond plants thrive off the same nutrients as algae, so when they’re larger and consuming more nutrients, they’re starving algae of its food source. The more your plants consume, the less algae you’ll have in your pond. Bonus!
Some plants prefer to be planted in the stream because they thrive on higher oxygen levels that exist in moving water. Other plants prefer calm, still-water environments. Each aquatic plant species has its own requirements for water depth. Some prefer to grow in deeper areas of the pond, while others will only tolerate getting their feet wet in very shallow water. Having a good assortment of plants whose roots reach different depths, consuming different nutrients at each level of the pond, will provide your pond with broad-spectrum filtration.
Mix It Up with a Variety of Aquatic Plants
It’s always best to select a variety of plants for your pond. Mix it up and have fun with the colorful array of flowers, textures, and plant heights. Variety is what makes a water garden so interesting!
For an exciting color palette in your pond, try different varieties of waterlilies. And don’t be afraid to invest in tropical waterlilies, too. They come in unique colors and some bloom at night which is an advantage for people who work during the day. When you head out to your pond for a bit of relaxation after work, your night bloomers will greet you with open petals: welcome home!
When it comes to marginals and floating plants, there is an almost overwhelming array from which to choose. You can go with old standbys such as pickerel plant, cattail (dwarf is best for most backyard ponds), lizard’s tail, etc. Or you could try more exotic options like cardinal flowers, cannas, taros, and rushes.
Now That You Know Why Plants are Important in a Pond
Learning a little more about the role of plants in your pond is important to help you better understand the ecosystem you have in your very own yard. When it comes to keeping plants in your water garden, remember to stay educated and have fun. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new plants, but for best results, read up on their requirements before adding them to your pond.
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Yes, we DO have a Fall season in Phoenix, albeit not very darn long. And there are some things you should and should not do to prepare your pond for the "winter" ahead.
Decaying leaves and foliage produce toxic gases that can harm your fish so you want to remove this debris before they can get saturated and sink to the bottom. If you have a skimmer on your pond, this helps tremendously. If you have any deciduous trees around, our Fall winds can blow them right into your pond. You don’t need to remove every single last leaf, but try to remove the majority. If you have a skimmer, check it weekly.
DO NOT Trim & Thin Your Plants Too Much
It's tempting to get everything "cleaned up" to prepare for winter. This is actually the worst thing you can do for your aquatic plants. We typically don't get any hard frosts in Phoenix; however, we can get a freeze or two. If you've trimmed and thin your aquatic plants too much, they will have no protection, and a frost could kill them. After the last danger of frost has passed (around the end of February), THEN you can go after any dead stuff and reveal the new lush growth getting ready to "spring" forward.
Aside from protecting the plant, if you have any amphibious life in your pond, they need the protection from the cold, too. They'll snuggle down into the heart of the plants and hibernate for the winter.
Use Cold Water-Formulated Bacteria
Add Cold Water Beneficial Bacteria to the pond once the temperature drops below 50 degrees, if you need to use any at all. You may not need it, especially if your pond is mature.
Stop Feeding Your Pond FIsh
Once temperatures drop to 50 degrees at night (remember, pond water more closely follows nighttime temps rather than daytime temps), stop feeding your fish. They need to get ready to hibernate and you’ll want to avoid any metabolic complications. You can feed them Cold Water Fish Food, or give them natural treats like melon, oranges, lettuce, and even Cheerios.
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My fish died overnight, and I don’t know why!
It’s absolutely heart-breaking to wake up in the morning and find your fish floating in the pond – especially when you don’t know why it happened. If they don’t have any visible wounds on them, and it’s mid-Summer in Phoenix, the cause is probably suffocation.
Several factors can contribute to this issue:
If any (or all) of these factors combine with the already low oxygen levels in warm water, the pond fish can suffocate. Here in Phoenix, during the summer, our nighttime lows can remain above 90 degrees! This sets up a very oxygen poor environment in our water to start with. Warmer water naturally holds much less oxygen than colder water.
What goes in must come out
An over-abundance of plant life provides plenty of oxygen in the daytime, but exhales carbon dioxide at night (photosynthesis). That’s right: too many plants allowed to grow out of control actually rob your pond of oxygen at night. Now, that’s not so bad in the wintertime, when cold water is oxygen-rich and the fish’s metabolism has slowed to a dormant rate, so they’re not in need of as much. But in the summer, the fish are more active, their metabolism is at full-throttle, and they need all the oxygen they can get.
Plants grow like wildfire in Phoenix from Spring through Fall, taking up the nutrients from the fish waste and adding shade and oxygen to the water all day long. Then nighttime comes along, and the plants reverse this process, stealing oxygen from the pond and releasing carbon dioxide, just like a human inhaling and exhaling. If you have a lot of fish (measured in inches) competing for that oxygen, someone’s going to lose -- and the plants can hold their breath longer than the fish.
Sun exposure, aeration, depth, plant varieties, etc. play a role in healthy pond-keeping practices. The following preventative measures are rules of thumb, and you need to remember that each pond is an individual and unique unto itself.
Pond Size & Fish Load
The first rule of ponding is to not over-fish your pond. Yep, there are a lot of really cool fish out there, and people are tempted to collect them all. If you want to do that, build a bigger pond with appropriate filtration for that goal. Otherwise, choose wisely.
Experts agree that you should keep your fish collecting to between ½” and 1” of fish per ten gallons of water. And if you have other aquatic life in the pond, such as a turtle, you need to take that into account, as well.
A well-maintained ecosystem pond really should only need a complete drain & clean every 3-5 years here in Phoenix. Preventative measures can extend that timeframe, or even eliminate it. That estimation changes depending on how many fish you have, other aquatic life in the pond, and how much food and waste accumulate.
The toxicity of the mulm building up on the floor of a pond depends on many factors: the types and size of your fish, the circulation system on the pond, the filtration system on the pond, etc. Preventative measures like netting the floor or adding sludge digesters to the pond regularly could actually keep you from ever having to worry about this issue.
If your pond wasn’t originally planned for abundant fish-keeping goals, you should err on the side of caution when adding fish and stick to the ½” of fish per 10 gallons of water recommendation.
If you’re just starting to think about a pond, you need to make sure you (or the professional you’re hiring) are clear on your goals of desired fish-keeping so that the design of the filtration system is appropriate.
Keep plants under control
This is a big part of maintaining an ecosystem pond. In the wintertime, it’s no big deal because the water is cold and both the fish and plants are fairly dormant. Plus, a bit of extra dormant plant material in the pond makes for great cover for over-wintering amphibious life.
But once Spring hits, those plants start growing like crazy! Just trimming off the dead leaves isn’t enough. You need to make sure you’re keeping the roots under control – which also has the added bonus of preventing water displacement leaks. A good rule of thumb is to keep your plants from covering over 50% of the pond’s surface area. If you have stellar aeration, you can have more; less aeration, less coverage. Sun exposure and depth play a role, as well.
Pond Maintenance Programs
Ponds need regular maintenance. Most well-built ecosystem ponds with appropriate filtration for their size need as little as 10 minutes a week, and provide hours of enjoyment. But it has to be done.
If you are unable, unwilling, or just plain too busy to do the maintenance, but still want a gorgeous living water feature, The Pond Gnome has maintenance programs for folks who want to do a little, a little more, or not a bloody thing!
How can we help?
My wINTER Pond Is Different
Yes, every pond is an individual when it comes to how it will act in the Winter, or any other time of year, for that matter. Differences include: age, size, depth, filtration, fish load, additional wildlife load, exposure to sun and wind, adjacent terrestrial plant life, amount and variety of the aquatic plant life, and a plethora of other micro-climate variations. Add to this how much fish food gets thrown in the water (any, a lot, none). It all goes together to make up the body of water that is your pond.
CYA Statement: Every article or blog that we write is based on the rules that we understand in average circumstances in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan area. Your pond is an individual, with a unique set of circumstances, so please understand that what we discuss in any of these articles is the rule of thumb and may not be precisely descriptive of what you are experiencing today in your own personal backyard pond.
Fish and Water Temperatures in A Winter Pond
With winter temperatures, as the water dips down below 55 degrees (water temperature follows the nighttime temperatures, NOT the daytime highs), we recommend you stop feeding your fish. In colder water, the fish don’t metabolize high protein food like they do in the summer, and if it goes through their digestive system too slow, it could begin to rot inside them and result in a fish kill. We get a couple of calls a winter from people who have literally fed their babies to death. It's a very sad thing to have to tell people.
As always, natural treats like zucchini, melon, lettuce, oranges, and even Cheerios, can be given.
Algae Blooms in Winter Ponds
We don't freeze over here in Phoenix (typically, that is), so we tend to experience a big algae bloom in the Winter. We just had a caller this week tell us that we must be wrong about this because she had always heard that algae was more of a problem in the hot weather. She is not wrong, and neither are we. What’s the deal then? Our ponding system relies on a healthy ecosystem full of micro organisms and zoo plankton to keep the water healthy and clear. In a healthy ecosystem pond, zoo plankton are very active and do a great job in the warm weather, but they hibernate in the colder water temps. How much will YOU get? Well, that goes back to that ponds are individuals thing.
Using copious amounts of beneficial bacteria in the winter is a waste of money. It does nothing to combat the algae. Beneficial bacteria is for cloudy water, not algae blooms. You can use other water treatment products, but take care to use them during the day, and never in the later afternoon or evening, because they steal oxygen from the water at night, which could kill your fish.
The algae can also be hand-weeded out, and even used in composting operations or as mulch around plants because it's full of nutrients. But remember: aquatic life likes a little algae to snuggle up in during the winter.
Plants in a Winter Pond
DO NOT thin or trim back your aquatic plants too severely just yet. In Phoenix, we technically have a chance of frost through the end of February. Many years, that seems practically impossible, but we've been surprised from time to time, so better safe than sorry.
Your annual cleaning should be done when the water is COLD. So, plan to do that before the end of March. We provide that service, or you can certainly do it yourself.
Before you know it (and for those of us getting older, it seems to be in the blink of an eye), the water will begin to warm, your fish will become more active, and your aquatic plants will burst forth with new life. Then, we can all start complaining about the heat again...