The Papercut Test

Coral stocking for the new 65g continues to remain on hold due to car repairs that continue to go up and up and up, while the car itself continues to run worse and worse and worse.  I took it on the highway over the weekend and there are some downright frightening noises coming from the engine when I take it over 70mph… what, fish blog?  Oh.  Fish blog.  Right.

An easy way to tell if your fish are being exposed to a mild electric current (top) or a strong electric current (bottom)

An easy way to tell if your fish are being exposed to a mild electric current (top) or a strong electric current (bottom)

A problem with the clownfish showed up two weeks ago and vanished as unexpectedly as it came – I’m more worried about the vanishing bit than the problem itself, since I can now no longer identify the source and treat it.  And the problem is rather serious, so if I suddenly turn up dead on my living room floor, please point my parents towards this blog and tell them that I tried my best to not be an idiot but some things are inevitable.

There’s a diagnostic technique that some aquarium hobbyists use when they suspect that a mild electrical current is coming off of the equipment in the tank (pssst: here’s a writeup on the difference between current and voltage in aquariums).  The external layers of skin on our hands is overused and desensitized to subtle environmental changes, but the stuff beneath it is virginal and useful when trying to detect something the eye can’t perceive and chemical testing equiment can’t measure.  I had heard that some hobbyists give themselves papercuts to get through the desensitized skin and use the newly-opened nerve endings to test if there is a small “shocking” sensation when they put their fingers in the water.

Now if you’re anything like me, you just read this and the two thoughts that went through your head were (a) “What is wrong with you people?” and (b) “Did you honestly expect to cut open your finger and put it in salt water and not expect it to hurt?”  And I had forgotten about this particular form of self-mutilation until I fed the fish in the 65g with the hand that had a hangnail.

Segue: I went to a hippy college with livestock on the campus.  One day while wandering the fields and woods, I found a flock of sheep someone had left out to graze.   I leaned on the rope surrounding the herd to scratch a sheep behind the ears and … OW!  The rope felt spicy and hot.  I looked at my hands, looked at the rope, and … OW!  The rope felt spicy and hot.  I looked at my hands, looked at the rope, and … (this is, by the way, why I’ll end up dead on the living room floor).

The shocking sensation that ran up the finger with the hangnail was very similar to the sensation coming off of the electric fence surrounding the sheep.  More mild, certainly, but definitely the same type of pain.  And as with the fence, it took me about ten tries to figure out why, although at least this time I have the time-honored Open Wound In Salt Water Confusion defense.

It also explains why I keep losing baby clownfish to suicide.  The first clownfish jumped about ten days ago, and a second suicide occurred a few days later.  While the remaining clownfish seems to be healthy, his mate disappeared a few days ago and hasn’t reappeared, so I think she jumped and the dogs ate her.  I’m guessing that one of the pumps has an intermittent problem in its insulation and when the shock hits, it startles the babies.  Unfortunately, I have no evidence whatsoever of any of this, as the tank seems to be current-free and the last remaining clownfish hasn’t jumped.  The current has also been too weak to hurt Slime-atron, which has experienced no losses.  I am not, however, comfortable with sticking my hand into water that could potentially shock me at any time, so I’m getting rid of the pump (Maxi-Jet) that is most likely to have caused the problem.  The other option is to invest in a grounding probe, but there are some pretty decent reasons to avoid adding a ground if possible.

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~ by KBSpangler on June 22, 2009.

4 Responses to “The Papercut Test”

  1. Okay, *that* has talked me out of getting into a reef tank. Poisonous inhabitants? Sure, fine. Plumbing issues? Also fine. Electric shock on purpose? Not fine.

    Also, I like that you describe the fence as spicy and hot.

    • I think you have to be a special kind of fish-geek to do it to yourself on purpose (unless you’re like me and you do it by accident, then do it over and over again trying to figure out why the Ouch is a novel kind of Ouch).

  2. Wait… surely you’d only risk death of ALL the fish are dead in the tank and THEN you put your hand in?

    Also… I wouldn’t trust an open wound in salt-water to detect a current. Salt in a wound is going to set your nerves popping (and technically would produce a minor current due to redox potential and osmotic pressure I think)

    • “Wait… surely you’d only risk death of ALL the fish are dead in the tank and THEN you put your hand in?”
      People seem to think I’m smarter than I actually am…there’s a very real chance I wouldn’t notice all of the dead fish, or would see them but wouldn’t think “electrocution” and would stick my hand in anyhow.

      “I wouldn’t trust an open wound in salt-water to detect a current.”
      I wouldn’t either but it does work! It’s a different type of pain… salt water in a cut is more of a sting, while water with a strong charge in it is different than anything else and is an actual shock that runs up your finger.

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