When bad things happen to good fish

Months ago I related the tale of my daughter’s MIRACLE GOLDFISH, Sunny & Blackie.  Who, though small in stature, survived hours in the back of a bouncing UHaul truck in a cracked aquarium w/out water.  Who, though shaken and scarred, not only escaped the icy grip of death but went on to thrive & grow.

sunny and blackie

Until 4 weeks ago, when we moved.  In order to get the fish from our apartment to the new house, we had to drain their hefty tank and transport them in a modest glass bowl.  The fish seemed fine the first day.  We cleaned their tank and got it filled, but during the next 48 hours, they began to struggle.  Days later we woke to find Sunny gone.


15 minutes after a proper burial in the yard, our younger daughter was READY TO FILL THAT VOID.  By evening, my husband had whisked her off to the nearest pet shoppe for replacement/s.  They quickly returned w/ three tiny goldfish, and by bedtime they were swimming in the tank with Blackie.

The following morning we knew something was wrong.  One of the new guys appeared to be sick.  He’d developed some sort of spot on his side.  It didn’t look good.  In fact, it looked seriously bad.  My husband scooped him out and placed him in the quarantine bowl, and for good measure, added his two comrades.  By the next day, all three were exhibiting signs of the same illness.  ANCHOR WORMS.  Neither nice nor pretty, Anchor worms are seriously nasty parasites.  They burrow into fish and expel their eggs out through their sides.

anchor worm

We were horrified to think we’d not only brought home fish that were infected, but had also exposed our own (mourning) Blackie to the disease.  My husband took the 3 fish back to the pet shoppe from whence they came.  After explaining that he’d just purchased 3 parasitic fish from their store, and that he expected a refund, they very grudgingly gave him back the money, but were not going to take back the “merchandise.”  John stated firmly that he was NOT leaving the store with the fish.  After several iterations of I DON’T WANT THEM< YOU TAKE THEM, the manager finally took the bag.  Mostly b/c other customers were beginning to take notice.

In the ensuing days, we have watched Blackie develop one lesion after another.  We have seen the sprouting of at least a dozen anchor worm egg sacks, trailing from his sides and tails like streamers on a newlyweds car.  This morning I resolved to take photos and write this post, in an effort to spread the word.  FISH OWNERS TAKE HEED!!  Do not make the same mistake we did.  When purchasing new fish – even from a reputable pet store chain – never EVER put them directly into your established home tank.  Sure, we waited for the water temps to equalize, but we didn’t quarantine the new fish.  Being fairly new to fish ownership, I didn’t know this was customary.  But that is no excuse.  Please, don’t let THIS happen to your pets.



We have been trying to treat Blackie for the infection.  First (and unsuccessfully) w/ an over-the-counter remedy from the pet store – Ironically – the same pet store that sold us the infected fish.  We have attempted to cure him by NOT FEEDING HIM & subsequently, not feeding the parasites living off & on his flesh.  No Luck Yet.  Tomorrow my husband is obtaining some Potassium Permanganate from a chemist at the university where he works.  It’s a poison, and is supposedly a foolproof way of treating the disease.  Historically it was used to disinfect drinking water.  I will keep you posted as to the results.  Till then, send Blackie your well wishes.  The poor guy needs them.

29 thoughts on “When bad things happen to good fish

  1. What a sad tale! Poor blackie, lonely and sick is just the worst combination! Flap your fins at him for me ! I wish him a speedy recovery! It’s lucky that John is able to get the best information so hopefully Blackie has a good chance of survival! I’ll keep my flippers crossed for you all!

  2. Oh Hayden, I know! These anchor worms are REVOLTING. I cannot tell you how awful I feel for having inadvertently done this to our fish. Meanwhile he is so irritable, he just swims from side to side looking irate. Can you imagine having parasitic streamers literally FLAPPING off your sides?! DIE anchor WORMS DIE!!

    Thanks Daff – you are the sweetest. Poor Blackie. Losing his best bud wasn’t quite enough to cope with – I had to give him WORMS. Ughhhh… I suppose I could be blaming the pet store more, but we all know – it’s MY FAULT. NEVER AGAIN!

  3. Wow! That is horrible and gross. Those two fish sure went through a lot…We have fish and I will pass this experience along to my wife and we won’t be in such a big hurry in the future to get everyone together.

  4. Guh-ross! That is truly a sad little tale… and tail. We had a psychotic goldfish once, but that is as bad as it got. You and your little fishy have my sympathy.

  5. I had a moment of thinking how “zen” it would be to have a beautiful fish in a glass container languidly (?) floating around…then I thought of our cat and read this…

    I am so sorry about your fishies and hope Blackie is well soon.

  6. Thanks Bouncy babe! Had to laugh when I read your comment about poor Sunny — she really does look like that. Boy I miss her..

    Daff — yes we have tweezered them out (all the ones showing so far) and it was beyond VILE. Will be writing a follow-up post about treatment soon.

    Hey MTAE – glad to know this was helpful. If I’ve saved another fish from anchor worms, it’ll be a job well done.

    Thanks Trace — I had a dream last night you posted pictures of your house. It was a stunning victorian mansion and I was positively drrooooling over the photos. Not sure why I had the dream. Do you have a lot of antique furniture in real life??

    Ohh Connie – it is Zen, when there aren’t anchor worms hanging off the fish and making their life hell. Poor Blackie. He is hanging TOUGH.

  7. Ok, I’m done laughing now – no, wait – okay, I’m good. 🙂 We did use to have really old furniture. I referred to it as “early hand-me-down” – you know, where people say, “I was going to take this to the dump, but then I thought of you…” but fairly recently we were able to redo stuff and get brand new furniture. I do have an antique Singer sewing case/table that’s been in the family for ages. You know, with all the little carved drawers and stuff. It’s pretty cool. No sewing machine though, which doesn’t matter since I don’t sew. (I do love my home, by the way. Not a mansion, but more the “a man’s home is his castle” variety).

  8. I have had hundreds of fish over the years. I prefer the African Chiclids.

    When you stop to think of a fish’s environment you really have very little room for error. I mean even in my 300 gallon tank if you think of that as “how many fish are in this tank” vs “how big is the ocean and how many fish are in the ocean”… very little room for error.

    Filtration is your friend. Of course depending on the type of medication you are giving Blackie charcoal filtration may not be recommended.

    Don’t forget to siphon the gravle in the bottom of the tank while you are trying to fix this. Lots of unwanted stuff settles in the bottom.

    Stay on top of this and you should have good results. The fewer the fish and the larger the tank the better results you will have.

  9. Glad to make you laugh, Tracie! Your home sounds lovely.

    Believe me Nat. You ain’t whistling Dixie. The heeby jeebs don’t even fairly describe it. *shhhhuddderr*

    Hey Mssc54! We’ve also had cichlids – both african & south american. All very nice. One of ours even had babies! We didn’t know it – until he opened up his mouth and the tiny things swam out – and then back in. TOO COOL. As for your tips – all very helpful. Many thanks. We are in the process of disinfecting the aquarium. First w/ more potassium permanganate, then w/ a boatload of bleach. We are going to scrub everything by hand, then soak it as well. If we can’t get the gravel & rocks clean enough – we’ll replace them. If Blackie survives this torturous event, there is NO WAY we’re taking any chances.

  10. @Dish: Just remember that your tank needs “good bacteria” before you put the fish in. Maybe you can find someone who will give you some of their bioballs.

  11. @dish: regarding bio balls, I certainly understand your the genuine concern you express when some guy on the internet recommends a fish tank filtration product that sounds like it could be part of genetically altered “guy thing.” To ease your concern I have found a link that may more accurately describe this valuable biological friend to your Blackie. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/bioballfaqs.htm

    I used a wet-dry system when I had my 175gl and 300gl tank. If you can find someone who also has a fresh water tank and are willing to give you some of their “dirty” bio balls that would go a long way toward fixing Blackies home.

    Incidentally, I was only able to keep my 300gl tank until the first Christmas season rolled around. It was 10 feet long and my Mrs. wanted to put the Christmas tree there. I suggested a litttle silver tree on top of the aquarium but NOOOOOOO. 🙁 However, it was pretty easy to sell her on the smaller 175gl tank! 🙂

    We recently went to the Riply’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach and the African Cichlads they had there were just amazing.

    I gotta get another tank.

  12. Thank you for pics to help me confirm the name of these things. A word of caution about these I have. I had a minor wound on hand and was adjusting aquarium rocks in tank. I woke the next morning to find an anchor worm embedded in my skin.

  13. aw, this story ouches me, and guess what i have the exact same fish as your daughters, plus mine is named blackie too, GET WELL BLACKIE!!!! 🙂

  14. John – that is awful beyond belief. Hope you are pulling my leg, if not – I seriously hope you are better.

    Thanks Bianca – Blackie is completely recovered. Truly a miracle goldfish! Long live them BOTH.

  15. I purchased 4 goldfish and a black moor from a very reputed store and I have never had parasitic issues in my tank. This was a first. The very next day, I found two of my goldies dead and another the day after that and another the day after that. It was heartbreaking since I had never had such a bad time with fish. Almost all my fish have lasted for a minimum of a year.

    The day before, I noticed that shadow [my black moor] was not responsive and looked sick. I knew something was wrong. Yesterday, I noticed the worms clinging on my fish and I had no idea what was going on. Thankfully, I saw that I could pull the worms off with a pair of tweezers. Pulled 4 off, noticed another one later. I dont have a quarantine bowl – my cat broke it =/ I have no idea how to treat my fish. I dont wanna lose him 🙁

  16. How long did Blackie have to soak in the PP when you were treating him? He looks amazing now. Also you can find PP in the Jungle Clear Water product, so next time you won’t have to go to a lab 😉

    1. Panda, we left Blackie in the PP “dip” for only a few minutes at a time. Between that & tweezing out the worms, it really did seem to work. Thanks for the heads-up w/ regard to Jungle Clear. Good news for anyone looking to try the same technique. 🙂

  17. THANK YOU for posting this. —> VERY HELPFUL.
    In the past few weeks my fiance & I have aquired a 38 gallon tank (we had a 10 gallon w/ 2 fish before) & we now have a total of 8 fish 🙂 . We had different ones but some died & so we bought more. Before today I basically knew nothing about fish & i regret that because now mine are sick… 🙁 I did some research & I’m sure they have Anchor Worms. My Lionhead Goldfish is the only one that has them protruding out of his skin right now — that I can see anyways. Today I purchased Coppersafe by Mardel Brand. It’s the only thing i could find at my local Pet Co. I have heard of the Potassium stuff but I couldn’t find it. :/ I am scared to pull out the ones i can see & im also worried about him or any of the others getting secondary infections… I really hope this works.

    1. You are so welcome! Really hope you have success treating your fish. It is a pretty grueling process (for you all) but totally worth it. Our Blackie lived many months he wouldn’t have otherwise had. Best of luck!

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