I have a particular fondness for eel-like fishes, possibly because of their resemblance to snakes. I also think that, because they are able to move their heads more independently from their bodies, it gives them more body language and therefore makes them more interesting (even though our interpretation of that body language is generally flawed and processed through an anthropomorphizing filter). It goes without saying that I find ropefish very enjoyable to watch, but I had not ventured into ropefish-keeping until I started my current job.
Other stores would get maybe one ropefish in every few months. They were high-priced, and about half the time were found dried up on the floor. A dried ropefish is a very sad thing. Their little faces are human-like, and it hurts my heart to think of what they experienced when they unwittingly played a nasty trick on themselves. Contrary to what most people seem to believe, fish that jump or slither out of their aquariums are not "committing suicide" or even "stupid". In the wild, fish that find themselves in a shrinking or stagnant puddle of water can often jump out and land themselves back into the main part of a stream, either directly or by flopping around, letting gravity take them to the water (water flows downhill, after all). Ropefish, eels, lungfish, and other similar creatures take this to another level by being able to direct themselves out of their current body of water, not having to rely on gravity and desperate flopping. They move through wetlands that might be a centimeter deep or even less; the small amount of ground moisture being just enough to keep them hydrated as they search for a suitable place to hang out.
In captivity, these creatures are engaging in their natural behavior, but they are in a very unnatural situation. Evolution prepared them very well for life in streams, lakes, and ponds, but not for life in a box of water, four feet off the ground, with the surrounding area dry as a desert. Some fish crawl or jump out to escape foul conditions in the aquarium, while others simply have an instinct to roam. Either way, keeping these fish alive means doing everything possible to seal up the tank. I suppose keeping a shallow pan of water on the floor for wayward eels and ropefish might not be a bad idea, either.
Long story short, my current workplace tends to get not just one ropefish at a time, but ten or so. A tank full of ropefish is an impressive sight; all those little heads peeking out of their hiding area is adorable and amusing. Having ropefish eat frozen bloodworms from my fingers makes me all giddy, too. Their movements are so graceful and deliberate; when they are searching for food, they appear to be very intelligent, looking all around them, carefully inspecting every crevice, and moving slowly and carefully.
We started having problems with the ropefish soon after I started the job. I hadn't realized that they'd had these issues before I came to work with them as well. They would get an illness that would eventually kill every single one within a week. The deaths were protracted and horrible, and none of the medications were working.
My first step was to ban copper-based medications and aquarium salt from their tank. They improved somewhat, but not enough. This last batch was going downhill fast, and I couldn't stand to see it happening. My personal ropefish at home was thriving; he has been with me nearly a year now. I decided to take the remaining fish home and see if I could reverse the illness with some intensive care.
First, they received a dip in penicillin, and the entire tank was treated with a food that contained penicillin (I also have several sickie refugees here that the boss was going to euthanize). I added Maroxy, Melafix, and Pimafix to combat the bacteria and fungi, and I added two powerheads, each spewing a steady stream of bubbles, to circulate and oxygenate the water. Dried foods were suspended in favor of frozen bloodworms and plankton.
The two ropefish that I brought home are 100% better now. They are happy, healthy, eating, and exploring the tank. A big change from the illness that caused the other fish at the store to go from "okay" to "massive internal hemorrhage" within 24 hours. These two were showing the beginning symptoms (skin patches, lethargy, gasping) when I brought them home; the others were already on the brink of death when I made this decision.
I have a couple of products on order from Seachem that I believe will help the next bunch of ropefish. I blame myself for these guys' deaths, though, because I did not catch the signs soon enough. That, and we lost one to the floor; people keep leaving their canopy open. I am learning as I go how to give these guys the best possible start on captive life, but it has been at a very unfortunate cost.
When I get some photos of the ropes in my aquarium, I'll post them. They're extremely difficult to photograph, though, as their heads are very small, and they move quite a bit.