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We are a group of middle school students that need help with sick pleco


Mr. Buzard
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We are a group of four middle school students that are responsible for taking care of our school aquarium. We have a 75 gallon planted community tank that has been established for about 9 years. Each year, a group of students trains the next group of students to take care of the tank. We are in our second and final year of being the aquarium team and will be passing it off to a new group next year.

We are in need of some help with identifying a pleco's sickness. We have two nice long-fin albino bristlenose plecos that are about 7 or 8 years old. They were born in our teacher's father's tank and are fairly special fish in our aquarium. We noticed some white spots on them this week on the fins, tail, and body. We haven't noticed any spots on any of the other fish in the tank, and we haven't added any new fish since last school year. Any new additions to our tank are always quarantined for 3-4 weeks and are treated with salt while in the quarantine tank.

We have our quarantine tank being set-up again right now so that we can move these fish, if needed. We have the quarantine tank filter running on the main tank to try to speed up the cycling process. 

Based on our pictures, can anyone identify what we are dealing with and how to best treat them? We do not think that it is ich, especially because it is not on any of the other fish, however, we might be wrong. Please advise and help us keep our school tank healthy : )

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The spots are two big for it to be ich it doesn't look like epistylis either what I would do is treat with a small amount of aquarium salt 1 table spoon for 10 gallons the salt will add essential electrolytes and aid Gill and do a course of kanaplex or maracyn2 which ever is more readily available just in case there's a bacterial component @Mr. Buzard

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@Mr. Buzard and students,

When you catch the fish, use a cotton tipped swab and roll it gently against the large spot.  Use that swab to roll against at least 2 different microscope slides, and then swirl it around in a drop of water on a third slide.  Place a cover slip on the third slide right away and lay the other slides to dry flat.  You could probably do some extra slides as back ups.

Gently heat fix the 2 dry slides, then stain them using Gram’s Stain and some version of a Giemsa stain - DiffQuik is one that’s easy to get.  Look at them under the microscope going all the way up to oil immersion (1000X magnification).  You can take pictures using your phone (you may need to use a short “stand off” tube (shooting through the center of a narrow [about 1/2” wide] roll of tape usually works well) to be best able to center and focus on the image.  If you can attach the images here, we may be able to help you identify what you have and how best to treat it.  If you have extra slides and other types of stains available, then methylene blue would be a good option.  Anything that stains fungal hyphae would be good.  Even the purple counterstain works OK to use wet under a coverslip as the last slide you make after the water only slide.

If you can take a video of anything that’s moving in the wet mount slide (the one with the cover slip on the water drop), that can be very helpful.  Use the newest phone available for the video since many older phones don’t capture movement as well.  If you have a special camera for the microscope, that would be even better.

I would definitely start salt in the water in the quarantine tank at 1 tablespoon per 5 gallons and consider starting the Kanamycin (Kanaplex is one brand) or Minocycline (Maracyn-2) so you can start to reduce any bacterial component that might be part of this infection.  I’m working today until 10 pm and may not be able to,eat back online after this, but I’m off the rest of this week and will be able to check back frequently to see if you’ve been able to send any pictures.

If you don’t have all the equipment and materials needed to do the slides and stains, that’s OK, don’t feel bad!  Most people don’t have those things and we can still figure out a treatment that should work for your lovely pleco!

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Thank you Colu and Odd Duck for the awesome responses!

 

Odd Duck- This is super generous of you to give so much time to helping us figure this out! We have talked with our teacher and we have a microscope that has video and picture capabilities. We also have microscope slides and two teachers that are willing to help us on Friday afternoon. Our issue is that the only stains that we have are bromothymol blue and phenol red, which we are assuming will not work for this purpose. We have looked into purchasing a Gram's Staining Kit and a Wright Giemsa stain kit and have been approved to make that purchase, but it seems that it won't get to us until Monday. Is that too long to wait? Should we move the fish now to our QT tank and start a salt treatment? Will that throw off our ability later to identify what we are dealing with under a microscope? Is there another medication we should start in the mean time? Thanks again for all of your willingness to assist us and teach us how to take care of our fish. This was a super cool message to wake up to and seems like a good learning experience for us!

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Here are some important questions, I think.

How they are behaving? Are they lively, eating, and otherwise behaving normally? They sound relatively young, are they still growing? If yes to all of those, I would say don't panic. It's possible to overreact and put the fish through unnecessary stress. 

Are the white spots fuzzy? Gooey? Solid? Do they conform to the scales, perhaps even look like discolored scales or tissue? 

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On 10/4/2023 at 9:02 AM, Mr. Buzard said:

Thank you Colu and Odd Duck for the awesome responses!

 

Odd Duck- This is super generous of you to give so much time to helping us figure this out! We have talked with our teacher and we have a microscope that has video and picture capabilities. We also have microscope slides and two teachers that are willing to help us on Friday afternoon. Our issue is that the only stains that we have are bromothymol blue and phenol red, which we are assuming will not work for this purpose. We have looked into purchasing a Gram's Staining Kit and a Wright Giemsa stain kit and have been approved to make that purchase, but it seems that it won't get to us until Monday. Is that too long to wait? Should we move the fish now to our QT tank and start a salt treatment? Will that throw off our ability later to identify what we are dealing with under a microscope? Is there another medication we should start in the mean time? Thanks again for all of your willingness to assist us and teach us how to take care of our fish. This was a super cool message to wake up to and seems like a good learning experience for us!

That’s excellent that you have the microscope with both video and picture!

You can make the slides now that will be dried and stained.  Once dried, they are stable is stored carefully away from moisture.  Just save them and do the staining later.  One of the reason’s for the Gram’s stain is because it stains differently for different cell wall structure.  That different cell wall structure is the first clue we use to pick an antibiotic treatment since different antibiotics work differently.  Many antibiotics work against the bacteria’s cell wall so that first clue on the structure of that cell wall is how we decide which antibiotic to use.

So, catch the fish, collect the samples, you can lay the swabs down on something sterilized for safekeeping, then transfer the fish to quarantine.  Once the fish is safely transferred, then you have time to make the slides.  Make your slides to be dried and stained first since the sample will tend to cling to the swabs.  After that, make the wet mount slides since it can “wash” more of the sample off into the water droplet on the slide.  Take the video and pictures of the wet mount slides first since they have to stay wet.

Start the salt treatment with the fish now in quarantine.  We may be able to suggest something to get started based on the wet mount images.  If the wet mount doesn’t give us answers, then once the new stains arrive, we can take a look at those stained slides.  If you can make enough stained slides we can try each of the different stains and see how they look different under the microscope, starting with the stains you already have on hand.  Phenol Red is actually fairly good for fungal hyphae, so that would be good to try.  Bromothymol Blue might be interesting to add to another wet mount to see if it would help us see otherwise clear organisms better.  Use just a tiny droplet of the Blue added to the water under a coverslip after rolling the swab in the water.

You might want to have a couple of swabs ready and very quickly roll one right after the other over the larger spot so you can make multiple slides once the swabs are collected.  Each swab should be able to make several slides, then at least 1 or 2 wet mounts, too.  Save the first slides rolled out dry for the Gram’s Stain and the Giemsa Stain.  Then do a couple more for dry staining with your Phenol Red and Bromothymol Blue.  Do one wet mount to look for motile organisms with no stain.  Then try a wet mount with a tiny bit of the Bromothymol Blue.  I don’t know if any motile organisms will stay motile with the stain present but it is worth trying even if they don’t stay motile.  If they do stay motile, it will be interesting to watch blue stained organisms swimming around!

 Bit rambling here, it’s very late and I can’t sleep because I’ve had a cold.  Making a plan is probably a really good idea so everything is organized and ready to start.

The fish catching, swabbing, and transferring to quarantine is the most important part that takes the highest priority.  After all, we’re doing this to help the fish, not accidentally hurt her.  The quarantine tank should be set up, ready to go at the right temperature, ideally as close as possible to the same pH, and with nice clean, dechlorinated water.  I typically don’t add the salt until the fish is in the quarantine tank.  I measure my salt dose carefully for the amount of water in the tank, mix the salt into a cup of tank water, then gradually pour it into the tank so as it mixes in, the fish can adjust more gradually than if the salt is already in the tank.

After your fish is all taken care of, then the slides can be made.

Make your list of how many slides you want to do.  
Mark each slide on which slide will get which stain.  
Make your wet mount slides with and without stain.  
Leave the dry stained slides to dry completely before staining while you get the videos and pictures of the wet mount slides.  
Stain the dry slides with each of the stains you have on hand and get your pictures.  
Hold the unstained slides until the new stains arrive.

My schedule is a little different than most because I work in an animal emergency hospital and work very long shifts on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.  I’ll be off and on the forum over the next couple days this week.  My schedule means I won’t be on the forum much at all on my work days and might not get on the forum at all on those days.  But I’ll be back on Wednesday to see your progress after the new stains arrive.  If you tag me by typing the @ sign, then my screen name, then clicking on my name on the list that pops up, it will create this tag -  @Odd Duck and I will get notified about your posts the quickest possible and respond as quickly as I can.  Others on the forum are also very knowledgeable about fish care and treating illnesses in fish, so they will be able to help, too.

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