One google search away, I discover the answer that our friendly fishes do get an itch. Underwater, there are insects, or more accurately, parasites that act as the fleas to fishes.
Some other factors that could lead to itching are high levels of toxins like ammonia or metals like copper in the water. The parasites could be a result of poor water quality, in this case, I am not talking about pH levels.
The poor water quality in regard to the environment could birth bacteria and parasites which later infect the fish. In some cases, a fish might get infected with parasites due to bad food.
Also, to maintain the quality of water, keeps the pH level balanced and avoid changing in temperature. Additionally, overcrowding the fish tank can lead to this problem.
Normally, if you find a fish scratching themselves, I would recommend having it checked out. Itching is natural, it isn’t something to worry about unless you notice white spots.
If you notice white spots, it means your fish has an infection. It isn’t considered deadly but, if your fish is already stressed, throwing the infection into the mix could lead to their death.
On the first signs of white spots, I would recommend quarantining the fish because it is contagious. Afterward, when it is hopefully healed, I would recommend treating the entire aquarium just in case the parasite spread before the quarantine.
In the second stage, when it leaves the fish, you can increase the temperature and kill the parasite. To kill the parasite when it’s on the fish, you will have to treat it with malachite green or formalin.
The phenomena where fishes start swimming straight into things or rub themselves against objects is called flashing. If you ever find a fish rubbing themselves against the rocks or any object, it’s trying to scratch an itch.
If the objects or rocks are too sharp, the fish could end up hurting itself or losing their scales. The fishes you’d commonly find rubbing against the sand are Peacocks and Has.
It isn’t a cause for concern, because the fish won’t hurt itself scratching against the rocks, as long as it’s not sharp. Other symptoms to the infection are scratching, gulping for air, or jumping out of the water.
The term ICH or “Ice” is very likely a generic carry-over from the freshwater parasite Ichthyophthiriius. A saltwater ICH fish outbreak in a marine or reef aquarium is a serious matter.
In aquariums and aquaculture environments, fish loss due to an ice outbreak can be very high. Let’s take a closer look at this parasite and learn how to avoid it and if necessary, treat a marine ICH outbreak.
Sometimes the ICH parasites infest primarily in the gills, showing no white spots or other outward symptoms, so it might be worth trusting your gut instincts if you are pretty sure the fish is sick, based on your observation of their behavior. The feeding or profit stage is where the parasites are swimming around under the skin and gills of the fish.
The parasites eat cells and fluids, damaging tissues and leaving the fish in a weakened state. ICH treatments generally do not affect the profits because they are protected under the skin of the fish.
Once the Marine ICH Profits are fattened up, they leave the fish as a protocol. Protocols lose their ability to swim, fall to the bottom of the tank and in a few hours become a moment.
The parasite becomes a hardened cyst, like an ICH egg, waiting to hatch. After a number of days or even weeks, the cyst opens up and the infective parasites are released as free-swimming herons, seeking to attack your fish.
Depending on the severity of the outbreak, an aquarium or shop full of marine fish can be wiped out due to the reoccurring nature of the parasite life cycle. Articles on the topic, including those I’ve written in the past, are often littered with clichés like, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” because once the parasite gets in your tank, it is extremely difficult to get rid of.
The best way to protect your saltwater fish tank or reef aquarium is prevention. If it is carrying saltwater ice, a fish will likely show signs during the quarantine.
If it does, your quarantine tank helps you keep from infesting your main aquarium and also provides you with a small, safe location to treat your sick fish. There are several ways to treat ICH in a quarantine aquarium, which will be covered in the next few sections.
One method involves making 50% water changes every day for two weeks, paying careful attention to being able to siphon off anything lying at the bottom of the tank. If you remember back to the third step in the lifecycle (listed above), the protocols fall to the bottom of the aquarium and become Toronto.
The idea here is that since you are vacuuming up the bottom of the tank, each and every day, you should (in theory) be able to remove all the Toronto/cysts before they become problems. Of course, since a single parasite can explode into many copies of itself in a short period of time, this method certainly does have an Achilles heel.
One of the forces of chemistry that every aquatic creature must face is called osmotic pressure. Osmotic pressure is the principle behind reverse osmosis water purification in your RO/DI filter (if you have one).
Once you feel fairly certain you have eradicated all the ICH parasites, slowly increase the salinity to the normal range over a few days to get the fish acclimated to full-strength seawater, before placing it in your main aquarium. The freshwater dip is an old yet effective method against a variety of parasites, including saltwater ICH.
If you are observing extreme stress, it is probably best to return the infested fish to a quarantine tank and treat the infestation a different way, but if your fish handles the treatment reasonably well, you may be able to kill off enough of the parasite for this method to work. The transfer method is perhaps one of the oldest and still remains one of the best ways to treat marine ICH.
The basic premise with the transfer method is that you move the infected fish to a clean, disinfected tank every few days. The reason I consider this to still be one of the oldest and best methods for saltwater ICH treatment is that even if your fish are infected with a persistent strain of the parasite, like the parasites in the studies that survived as a cyst for 72 days and 5 months, respectively, the saltwater ICH will all be removed and either cleaned out or killed during the 24 hours dry period.
Under-medicating the aquarium carries the separate risk that you won’t even cure the infestation. Using copper to treat a marine ICH infection is probably the gold standard method.
It is recommended that you take 2-3 days to reach the therapeutic level, to avoid any unintended toxicity towards the animals you are trying to treat and protect (DE Beck 2003). Copper is notoriously unstable in saltwater (an unfortunate characteristic for the ‘gold standard treatment’), which is why it is recommended that you test your copper levels in the morning and the evening with a high-quality test kit.
Formalin is an effective agent in treating saltwater ICH, especially when combined with hypo salinity. Unlike some other treatments (like copper) which are unstable in saltwater, chloroquine remains active in your saltwater until you remove it with water changes or activated carbon, which makes it a unique marine ICH treatment.
In Coral magazine, there was an article by Speak that highlighted the method used at Roger Williams University. They essentially use copper along with a freshwater dip and the transfer method, in order to be extremely certain they are not introducing parasites into their tanks there.
Using different, complementary methods to eliminate parasites makes a lot of sense if you want to control the risks of contamination. The best way to deal with an ice outbreak is to prevent one from happening, in the first place.
Remove all fish to quarantine/hospital tank and treat Leave display tank fallow for >5 months to wait out any rogue Toronto Consider increasing the temperature a couple of degrees, if you can do this safely, to speed up the saltwater ICH lifecycle and increase your chances of eliminating the parasite Consider adding biological and UV controls on re-entry (if you didn’t wait the 5 months) Haha, that was a dirty trick, for me to use a headline like that, but I regret to inform you that there is no magic cure for saltwater ICH fish parasites.
I don’t want to bash any products here, but if you have any doubt, I encourage you to try and find out from others in the hobby if the miracle elixirs work. My recent research into what has been published about marine ICH treatment has expanded my understanding of this tenacious parasite and its ability to survive in our tanks, despite our best efforts.