Super Sucker Fish!

Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)

Kirby J. Suckerfish

We recently left our house vacant for a few days—two whole days and most of two more on the front and back ends, to be precise—while we were visiting our close friends in Maryland. Well, vacant that is, aside from three small living creatures whom we left in the care of our neighbors’ teenage son. (Which, just meant checking on them once a day and giving them some food for the days we were gone.)

Patch, Midnight, and Kirby Suckers were fed by us on the way out, which would be enough food for the day… and then each day hence, our neighbor would be checking in on the fishies and giving them their daily allotment.

The problem was, I, knowing that he had been a fish owner since his young childhood (and his family are a veritable zoo with all the species of animal you can find in their home) didn’t remember to ask or remind him just how much to feed them once a day…

(Yes. You know where this is going.)

When we came home Thursday night we were completely exhausted by the 8-hour plus travel day in at least 90º temperatures. My left arm was bright, shiny red. We were hot, and our house was hot, having been closed up for most of four days. We went around the house opening windows and trying to cool everything down.

Finally it was time to go upstairs and get the kids ready for and in their beds. As we got to the top of the steps (where the fish tank is located) there was a thick, horrendous stench. First I supposed that we had somehow missed the largest, most overloaded dirty diaper we’ve ever seen, and that it had been sitting in the middle of the floor—open—in all the heat, with no escape. Then I said out loud, “It smells like something died up here!!!”

It had.

As I turned my head to the right (in the direction of the fish tank) what I saw was quite shocking. (It still is, even in retrospect.) The tank light was on, but there was no “water”, at least, not like you’d think of water. The water was a thick, nasty, brown. The filter pump had stopped, and all that you could see was 10 gallons of brown… something.

I rushed over to the tank, lifted the lid, and sure enough, floating at the top of this bubbly mess were the two goldfish, Patch and Midnight. (Interestingly, at this point, Midnight was more white than black—he was a Black Moor.) We couldn’t see anything in the tank, but I knew there was one more fish, so I jumped to action.

(The decisiveness of my action was likely at least equally motivated by the persistent odor of death. Or, perhaps more…)

I quickly—and quite unceremoniously—gave our two to that point longest-living fishes the toilet bowl burial (to the kids somewhat morbid delight) and then began draining out the disgusting water with our syphon tube. (Now, if you’ll recall, while I am beginning this rescue and clean up operation, we still have six very travel-tired kids, and two very travel-tired parents…) The water level was going down a gallon at a time (that’s the size of the bucket I was emptying it into) until finally one of the kids saw movement in the thick brown grossness.

Sucker fish was alive!

So, I increased my efforts (again, at least partially motivated by a strong desire to rid my nose of this awful smell, but also now with the hope of saving our sucker fish) and finally got enough “water” out of the tank to verify that he was indeed a live and… “well”?

At this point I could see a bit more of what may have happened to our tank. I was certainly still befuddled by how this could have possible happened in less than four days, even if our neighbor hadn’t checked on them even once! The evidence was the entire bottom of the tank was covered with a rather thick layer of their food. Covered. The plants and various objects in the tank were also covered with the slime of food, decayed food, and fish waste.


I really couldn’t think of how to clean all of that off, so I decided to let the filter give it a try. There was only at most two gallons of the brown water left, so I just started pouring fresh water back in, and now had 80% fresh, clean water. (It still looked really nasty!) The sucker fish was alive and moving around, and I reasoned that he had plenty to eat, since he feasts on the slime on the side of the tank! 🙂

I cleaned out the filter which had become completely full of fish waste/slime/gunk, and replaced the carbon filter part. Filled it back up with water and plugged it in, hoping the motor would work… it did! Success! At this point I could finally let the filter do its thing and (much later than I hoped to be doing so) turn my attention to putting our kids in bed.

First thing in the morning, I did another complete water change (replacing 8 gallons of the water in the tank) and this time I picked up almost all of the food that was caked in and on the rocks at the bottom of the tank. I did manage to remove most of that (along with TONS of fish poo!) in this second water change, and yes, Kirby Suckers was still alive and kickin’! (And suckin’!) 🙂

Finally, after a full day of filtering, and with the aid of our sucker fish’s sucking, well, the tank is back to normal! Albeit much more full of poop (and that all from only one little fishy!)

Oh, how did this happen? I alluded to it above, I think. What I neglected to tell our neighbor was that they really only need a very tiny amount of food when he feeds them once a day. TOTALLY my bad! So, when he came over the first day we were gone, he saw the three different kinds of food and figured they needed a goodly amount of each one. And, this he repeated two days more! (Oh, and one of the food types was algae wafers for the sucker fish. We do about one, maybe two of those per week… he did two or three a day…) Wow. So, the filter (and the fishes) just couldn’t keep up with it. Coupled with the heat, well, it’s really beyond words amazing what happened in that tank during those four days. It really looked like a nuclear bomb had gone off in there.

And the sucker fish survived!

So, if nuclear armageddon ever does occur here on this planet, well, at least we know the cockroaches and the sucker fish will survive!


  1. I feel for you on this one. People deciding to help me feed my fish are one of the reasons I have (temporarily) given up on keeping my beloved 10 gal. tropical fish tank. It was my baby. It was also a very expensive baby. After adding up how much I spent on my fish and creating the perfect environment, it was all nearly ruined by someone who decided to feed them.

    I had a healthy variety of small, non-aggressive, tropical fish along with a sucker fish, a snail, and some ghost shrimp. There were only two types of food to feed them: tropical fish flakes and algae tabs. Which as you know the algae tabs are used very sparingly.

    My dear friend, who shall not be named, *cough – Curtis* came along and decided my fish needed to be fed. Aside from a healthy helping of fish flakes they also received about 10-15 algae tabs. Within a matter of hours my tank was completely green and slimy. Good thing I was there to catch it. I had to make an emergency tub of treated water and start scooping fish into it. Then dump the entire tank, saving what fish I could, and as quickly as possible get their tank refilled, treated, and up to the right temperature. It was horrible and I lost several fish. Thankfully I was able to save quite a few too.

    I’m sorry to hear this happened to you too, at least one survived. He is a very hardy creature.


    1. And he still survives today! They really are pretty amazing. The rest are also quite fragile, but we still do enjoy having them around. (Despite the care required, as well as expense – though that’s not too much here.)

      And, we learned from this to leave very detailed instructions for anyone else who cares for our fish while we are gone!! 🙂


  2. You would think when arriving on the second day and seeing the mass of food still in the tank that he would refrain from pouring more in.

    Anyway, what I’ve found helpful in these types of situations to to get some little medicine cups or something like that and portion everything out beforehand (and hide the rest), then label it all and talk whoever’s in charge through what to do with it all.
    Kevin’s last post: What Is A Protein Skimmer And Why Do You Need One?


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