Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Mistress of Misfit Pets, Part 1: Fish

Perhaps I should call myself the "misfit mistress of misfit pets" because sometimes it's been my fault!

Since I was a child I've been fascinated with animals. I almost changed my college major from music to biology, and even took extra science courses. I'd rather visit an aquarium or zoo than an amusement park, and I have to consciously NOT try to catch every spider, lizard, snake, etc. in my yard to keep as a "pet." (I do catch-and-release if I find them in the house, however.)

For my tenth birthday I received my first real aquarium with a filter and a light. Up to that time I'd had goldfish in bowls, but now I could observe some "real" tropical fish. Along with a pair of black mollies and swordfish, I selected a pair of guppies. Being a serious scientist I checked out books on fish and read that guppies were also known as "mosquito fish" because they eat mosquito larvae. I had to see that for myself, so naturally I found some mosquito larvae in a bowl of rainwater outside and dumped them in my aquarium.

After a day or two my mother remarked that "there sure were a lot of mosquitoes in the house." Oops! I guess my two guppies couldn't eat all the larvae I'd put in their tank.

I had as many as five aquariums at one time, in order to house all the prolific guppy offspring. I even "fish sat" my high school biology teacher's fancy guppies one summer, and took the opportunity to improve my guppy genes by breeding his long-tailed males with my hardy females. I did make a little money by selling some fish to a local pet store, but not nearly enough offset the cost of supplies. So another budding fish breeder went down the drain.
Me at age 12 (in back). You can see 4 of my 5 aquariums
The saddest fish story happened just two years ago. We had a 55 gallon aquarium with a large goldfish who began life as a feeder fish. When it was time to feed him to our garter snake, his little eyes looked so sad I couldn't bear to give him to the snake, so he joined the tropical fish in the big aquarium and outlived them all. He was several years old and about 10 inches long with a very (*ahem*) original name—Goldie.
55 gallon aquarium with tropical fish and Goldie
To keep Goldie company I bought a pair of fantails. Then a friend's stock tank sprung a leak and they offered me some of their feeder goldfish which had grown quite large. Of course! A 55 gallon aquarium is just BEGGING for more fish.
Goldie (in the middle) with his goldfish friends
All went well until my niece visited and, of course, we had to look at the fish at the pet store, and of course there was an unusual goldfish that we HAD to buy, naming it Gypsy because of the beautiful swirly fins it had.

I should have quarantined this fish, but I wasn't thinking, and by the next day Gypsy had developed ick and fungus and dropsy, and within 24 hours had died, even after I doctored the entire tank. Naturally, she was a plague carrier, and one by one the other fish died, too. Even Goldie. Only one of the fantails managed to survive another year. I moved him to a 10 gallon aquarium, and he might still be alive today, but he somehow managed to jump out through the only opening in the cover, which was smaller than his long body. I found him dried up one morning when I went in to feed him.

Maybe someday I'll work up the nerve to set up another fish habitat, but for now I'll just have to enjoy the fake but realistic fish in my bathroom "aquarium."
My low maintenance bathroom "aquarium"

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