Thursday, March 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, FishFish!

I am interrupting my current string of posts on What's Your Favorite Place to bring you this breaking news: my fish is an astonishing one year old today!

Given that fish are sensitive creatures and not well-suited for living in human environments, and that the average lifespan of a Betta fish is two years, the fact that I have had him for one entire year is truly a milestone.

Those die-hard readers of the Daily Apple may recall the day when I first brought home my Betta fish, a day of much wonder and excitement. He has since survived my first encounter with his natural tendency to make a bubble nest, his growing dislike of the vegetable food pellets he came with and my decision to start feeding him bloodworms -- which he absolutely loves and attacks with great relish.

Since then, he developed some unfortunate bacterial infections, which I did not report to you, fair reader, because I was unsuccessful in combating them. He developed pop-eye, an infection which made his eyes bulge rather cartoonishly, and then he developed fin-rot, which meant that his long lovely swishy fins were slowly getting smaller, appearing as though they had been nibbled by something.

Fins looking frayed or slightly chewed is a sign of fin rot
(Photo from Bettatalk's page on Betta diseases)

I read many Betta fish health websites and learned that I ought to buy one or more various kinds of antibacterial pills, dissolve them in water, and add a couple teaspoons' worth to his water each day. When the first round of antibacterials didn't work, I asked at the pet store how my fish could have gotten these infections, and the man in charge of fish shrugged and said pretty much anything can introduce bacteria into a fish bowl however vigilant you may be.

I tried a different course of antibacterials but alas, they did not make FishFish's pop-eye go away. I think the antibacterials did halt the spread of the fin-rot, but his fins are still looking quite ragged. I decided to accept the fact that I could not treat his pop-eye and his eyes are now permanently bulgy, and he has most likely gone blind.

Pop eye is clearly present in the eye on the left. It was hard for me to tell for a while whether my fish had pop eye because his scales are a dark color and also because both of his eyes looked about the same. But finally I concluded this meant that both eyes were affected.
(Photo by Sierraraptor, posted at the Fish Junkies site on Pop Eye)

Some days when he is lethargic, I hold a hand mirror up to his bowl. In the early days (oh, those happy days) when FishFish was still spry, when I held up a hand mirror, he'd see his reflection and think it was another male Betta in his territory, and he would flare all his fins in a most spectacular fashion. But now he doesn't usually respond. When I approach his bowl to feed him, however, he does still try to attack me, in true Siamese Fighting Fish fashion. So all hope is not lost.

Lydia is making her Betta fish flare by holding a mirror in front of him.
(Photo from Daniel Chia's Betta Barracks)

I also think that the frequent water changes were stressing him out. I moved him to a more secluded location in my kitchen, and instead of giving him partial water changes every day, I now only remove the visible nasty bits in his bowl as soon as I see them and give him a full water change about every ten days. That runs contrary to what most experts will tell you, but I do suspect that all the things going in and out of his bowl every day were way stressing him out and may have contributed to his illnesses. He is now a bit more sedate, less frantic, in his new secluded location and without me messing with him every fourteen hours.

He has also survived an inadvertent attempt on his life. One day a few months ago when I was cleaning his bowl, I screwed up and accidentally put him into hot water. Poor FishFish! When I do a complete water change, I fill an empty Cool Whip container with Betta-friendly water and put FishFish into that while I empty his bowl, rinse it out with very hot water and wipe out the insides, then refill it with more Betta-friendly water. I was so focused on getting that hot water ready to wipe out his empty bowl that I wasn't thinking and poured hot Betta-friendly water into his temporary holding bowl.

Another Betta fish-owner uses a plastic cup as her water-change container. This seems a bit small to me. She has a lightweight square of plastic on top to discourage her fish from jumping out.
(Photo from Betta Basics by Liv and Maria)

When I put FishFish into his dish of friendly but near-boiling hot water, he immediately started racing around the dish at absolute top speed, with much splashing as if he were trying to jump out. In horror I realized what I had done and wrung my hands in despair. How could I fix this terrible error? I couldn't just pour cold water from the tap into his holding dish with him because the chlorine in the tap water would kill him. I had no Betta-friendly water ready that was cold. While I dithered and shouted apologies, he had flipped over onto his back and was swimming upside down, his gills completely exposed to the air and gasping for breath.

I finally put his holding dish into the sink and ran cold water into the sink so that it ran around the outside of the dish. I clutched my hands to my chest and watched as my poor FishFish still struggled and gasped while the water cooled -- oh, so slowly! -- while I begged the water to cool off faster. Finally, he righted himself and seemed to be resting. He was still panting, but it appeared that the crisis had passed.

So despite my near-assassination and germ warfare tactics, FishFish has survived. Here's to FishFish! who lives in spite of my ministrations!

Picture this fish with pop eyes and looking generally battle-scarred and you'll have a good idea of what FishFish looks like.
(Photo from

I have hung blue and red crepe paper streamers in my kitchen where he lives, to celebrate the occasion. I plan to include FishFish in the celebrations by giving him a full water change -- without the near-boiling water -- and a few extra bloodworms.

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