Betta Died After 4 Months. What Did We Do Wrong?

HBW2

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I’ve read many threads on Fishlore and learned so much — thank you all. This is my first post. Sorry it's so long but I tried to provide a lot of data in the initial post to help zero in on what went wrong.

Background:

My daughter’s been asking for a fish tank for years. I always said no because I thought they were a lot of work, I didn’t know anything about fishkeeping, and I had a bad memory of getting a tank for my 10th birthday (neither I nor anyone in the family knew anything about fish, including the gift-giver) and all the fish died after a few weeks. I didn’t want any more innocent fish to suffer. My daughter forced my hand 6 months ago when she came home from a State Fair class field trip with three common goldfish in a plastic bag which she’d won at an arcade game. I reluctantly went up to our local big-box chain pet store where she spent all of her saved allowance money on an Aqueon 5-gallon kit, gravel, plastic plants and decorations. The store employee said a 5-gallon would be fine for 3 goldfish plus a pleco he said would be good for algae. I know you know where this is going... three weeks and four dead fish later, searching for answers I found FishLore and learned a lot about just how badly we’d failed those poor fish. We felt awful.

We learned about the Nitrogen Cycle and proper stocking, bought an API Master Test Kit and went to work on the now-empty tank. It took about 6 weeks to do a fishless cycle. Once our readings were consistently 0-0-5, we went Betta shopping, having learned from Fishlore that was a good choice for a 5-gallon. We found a nice locally owned LFS who sold us a charming Black Orchid Crown Tail Betta my daughter named Humphrey. They suggested we try some live plants and gave us a grab-bag of small amounts of five different kinds of floating plants to see which ones we liked/would do well in our tank, plus some lava rocks to seed bacteria with an eye to upgrading to a larger tank down the road. They told us we did not need a heater or an air pump.

Timeline Month 1:

Humphrey seemed pretty happy in his new home, I liked how the floating plants looked, and we settled into a routine of weekly testing and 50% water changes. Our numbers were pretty consistent:

Ammonia: 0

Nitrites: 0

Nitrates: 20 - 40

Our tap water tests around 0.25 ammonia with Ph: 7.5

Our house temp is around 68F.

We started out feeding Humphrey freeze-dried bloodworms but after more reading on Fishlore decided those should be treats and switched him to Omega One brand Betta Buffet Pellets, 2-3 pellets twice per day with one day per week fasting.

Timeline Month 2:

About a month after we got Humphrey and the plants, we noticed a tiny snail. Again turning to Fishlore, we identified it as likely a pond snail who stowed away on the plants. (translucent, upright shell with symmetrical spiral) We left it alone, thinking either Humphrey would eat it or it would grow and we’d just wait and see how it turned out. We named him Gary.

The floating plants were slowly dying off; I don’t think the tank kit’s lighting was sufficient for them. My daughter found them annoying during water changes and the duckweed kept getting stuck in the filter intakes, so after a few months she scooped out all that was left. Until then she had diligently removed all dead and dying plant material, never letting it remain in the tank for any length of time.

Timeline Month 3:

Reading more of the Betta threads on Fishlore, I decided that despite the LFS recommendation, that Humphrey DID need a heater, so I splurged on an Eheim Jager 50W, the smallest one I could find, and cranked his tank up to a toasty 78F. He became more lively and seemed very happy, swimming up to the top for meals, following us around the room and chilling out amongst the floating plants until they died off. Unfortunately, with the introduction of the heater, brown algae appeared and began to grow on everything. We scrubbed the decor during water changes but it was back within days.

Timeline Month 4 — The End:

My daughter wanted to try rooted plants so we went to the chain store and got two small ones, an Anubias Frazeri and a Dwarf Amazon Sword. About 3 weeks later, we were horrified to discover tiny white worms swimming around during a water change. Rushing straight to Fishlore, we decided they were detritus worms and were gross but harmless. The Betta threads said Humphrey would eat them, which made sense because we’d noticed his appetite had decreased, and he had been a fish who was always begging to be fed. My daughter said he’d been ignoring most of his pellets, which dropped into the gravel, so she’d dropped in a few more until he caught one. I told her the uneaten food was causing a dirty tank plus feeding the worms and algae so she cut back on how much she was feeding him. She would only do one pellet per meal unless he begged for more, which he didn’t. We figured the worms had hitchhiked in on the new rooted plants. Gary the snail was spotted occasionally. The brown algae continued to grow. Yuck.

Over the next week, Humphrey’s appetite continued to decrease and he grew lethargic. On his second-last day, my daughter found him on the bottom but upright. He would only move when gently nudged with the net, and even then only swam briefly before coming to rest on the bottom again. Alarmed, I hopped onto FishLore for help but couldn’t find any obvious solutions. He looked fine, he just wasn’t eating or wanting to move. The next day, my daughter found him dead on the bottom. We tested the water after he passed to make sure we hadn’t missed a sudden crisis. It was spot-on at 0-0-20, 78F, 7.8Ph.

We are devastated. After the goldfish tragedy, then finding Fishlore, we thought we really had this whole fish-keeping thing figured out. We were really fond of Humphrey; I feel so bad we let him down and that he suffered in the end. What did we do wrong? Could something harmful have been introduced with the new rooted plants? Could what we think are detritus worms be something more sinister? Did the heater cause a harmful bacteria bloom?

More background on us and our tank:
  • Humphrey went into the same tank where the goldfish died. Several weeks passed by before I learned about cycling and ordered the test kit; the tank was filtered and maintained throughout this period. I figured the poor goldfish had given me a jump-start on beneficial bacteria so I started the cycle using the old goldfish water and tank setup. The tank was empty but cleaned, maintained and cycling for about three months before Humphrey went into it. I was confident the goldfish had died from ammonia poisoning so I never thought they might have had a disease.
  • We dechlorinate with API Goldfish Protect (label says it removes chlorine and chloramines). The chain pet store sold us this product when we initially bought the tank for the goldfish; I figured we’d use up the bottle then switch to Prime. We add it to the half-empty tank then pour the new water in, letting it settle a few minutes before turning the filter & heater back on.
  • We read on Fishlore that we should not change the filter media until it falls apart, so we are still on the original filter insert which is about 8 months old now. We gently clean it in old tank water in a bucket about once per month. The bucket was purchased new and dedicated to aquarium use.
  • We have a small Python water-changer and vacuumed the gravel about every other week; less so since we added the two rooted plants.
  • The two rooted plants are dying back a little — some of the leaves look “skeletal.” Again, I figure the standard kit lighting may be insufficient for live plants.
  • Gary the snail is alive and well and appears more often in the open now that Humphrey is gone.
  • The brown algae slowed down after Humphrey’s passing. We are adding a few drops of ammonia per week so as not to lose our cycle.
  • We’d like to get another Betta but are afraid to do that until we figure out what killed Humphrey. I’d hate to break the whole tank down, sterilize and start over, but if you think we should, then we will.
  • We have a new 37-gallon kit still in the box which we bought before Humphrey got sick. We have put that tank on hold until we learn more about what we did wrong with Humphrey.
Thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing your advice.
 

OneLittleBubble

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The white worms could have been planaria which means the environment was bad enough for them to thrive in (Not implying that you did a bad job ) and sometimes they can get in the gills of the fish which could have killed him.
 

Lchi87

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I'm so sorry you lost Humprey. Bettas are some of my favorite fish to keep.

-Did you notice anything abnormal about him other than the decreased appetite? Bloating? Scales protruding? rapid breathing? odd colored poop?

It's possible that he could have been a weak betta to begin with. I was just saying to a friend of mine how most bettas are so inbred in this hobby that they don't last very long. I haven't had one last past the 2 year mark in recent years.

Planaria will look like this ( and can live in healthy tanks as well ):
planaria - Google Search

Detritus worms look like this:
detritus worms - Google Search

Oh an those plants. The dwarf sword could have perished from lack of light but it could also have been from lack of nutrients. Swords are heavy root feeders and need root tabs for optimal growth. The anubias should not have been planted. They prefer to be attached to wood, rock or some kind of decor. If you do plant them, the rhizome needs to remain above the substrate or it will rot the plant.

All that said, I wouldn't let this or your past experiences deter you from the hobby. There will be ups and downs for sure but IMO, its all worth it!
 

RainBetta

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I can't believe that they told that 3 goldfish and a pleco were OK in a 5 gallon!!!! Stupid. Stupud. STUPUD! I'm sorry though I can't say what happened the the fish... sorry
 
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HBW2

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Lchi87 said:
I'm so sorry you lost Humprey. Bettas are some of my favorite fish to keep.

-Did you notice anything abnormal about him other than the decreased appetite? Bloating? Scales protruding? rapid breathing? odd colored poop?

It's possible that he could have been a weak betta to begin with. I was just saying to a friend of mine how most bettas are so inbred in this hobby that they don't last very long. I haven't had one last past the 2 year mark in recent years.

Planaria will look like this ( and can live in healthy tanks as well ):
planaria - Google Search

Detritus worms look like this:
detritus worms - Google Search

Oh an those plants. The dwarf sword could have perished from lack of light but it could also have been from lack of nutrients. Swords are heavy root feeders and need root tabs for optimal growth. The anubias should not have been planted. They prefer to be attached to wood, rock or some kind of decor. If you do plant them, the rhizome needs to remain above the substrate or it will rot the plant.

All that said, I wouldn't let this or your past experiences deter you from the hobby. There will be ups and downs for sure but IMO, its all worth it!
Definitely detritus worms based on your photo links.
We didn't notice he looked any different during his decline but we are novices and very well could have missed bloating or other visual clues. Concerning his poop, I never once saw him poop in the entire four months we had him. I guess he was a very discreet little fish.
How do we attach the anubias to something solid?
Do we need to break down and sterilize the tank before adding a new better?

*betta
 

Lchi87

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HBW2 said:
Definitely detritus worms based on your photo links.
We didn't notice he looked any different during his decline but we are novices and very well could have missed bloating or other visual clues. Concerning his poop, I never once saw him poop in the entire four months we had him. I guess he was a very discreet little fish.
How do we attach the anubias to something solid?
Do we need to break down and sterilize the tank before adding a new better?

*betta
Hmmm well he had to have pooped at some point if he was a healthy fish....

Anubias can be tied down with fishing line or cotton thread (dye free of course).

If it makes you feel better go ahead and sterilize the tank before adding fish but if that includes the filter media, you’ll have to cycle the tank again.

Since Humphrey is no longer with us, there’s no way to figure out what went wrong since you can no longer observe him. When you get a new betta, make sure you really study him while he’s well and take photos often if possible so you have a reference point if you think he’s falling ill. Poop is very important to note so perhaps study your substrate prior to vaccuming it from now on to see if you can spot any. White or stringy poop can be an indicator of digestive problems or parasites.

The brown algae could have very well been diatoms, which often present themselves in newer tanks but most times they go away on their own but again without photos, it’s difficult to say what it is or what causes it.

Hope this helps.
 
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