Guppy

I’ve almost always had an aquarium in my home. Growing up, I can remember the very first tank we had and how the whole family gathered around in chairs just to watch this amazing little world we’d created. Apparently, it didn’t take much to amuse us back in the ‘70s because I’m pretty sure these viewing parties continued on a nightly basis at least for the first week we had the fish.

There were black mollies (Poecilia sphenops), swordtails( Xiphophorus hellerii), catfish (Corydoras nanus), angelfish (Pterophyllum,) and even an eel-like fish called kuhli loach ( Pangio kuhlii), but perhaps my favorite fish from the get-go were guppies (Poecilia reticulate). I don’t really know why since the first guppies we had were a rather plain variety — just little brownish-silver little fish that went about their business, poking around the tank for morsels to eat.

I think I was drawn to them because they’re live-bearing when it comes to breeding, meaning they give birth to teeny-tiny little baby fish instead of laying eggs that must then gestate. It is so cool to one morning look in the aquarium and see all these tiny, almost microscopic, baby fish swimming around.

Since we always had a mixture of fish in the tank, population control was easy since just about every adult fish in the community was more than happy to make a snack of those little juveniles. We had bought a “baby tank” that hung from the lip of the big tank, submerged in the water with some narrow vents to allow water to flow in and out and usually my mom, sister or I would be frantically trying to scoop up the babies in a net to drop them in the baby tank for protection until they were big enough to not resemble tasty little snacks.

Guppies, swordtails, mollies and catfish are all considered “beginner” fish for aquarium enthusiasts, probably because they can survive a wider range of conditions than other exotic fish. I really admire saltwater tanks, too, but they seem like way too much work for my addled mind. I just appreciate them in other people’s homes and in Chinese restaurants.

I’ve always taken a very casual approach to maintaining my aquariums. Once a month, I’ll change the charcoal filter, scrape the algae off the inside walls with a razor blade and add a bucket or two of water straight out of the tap here in Dublin with just a couple capfuls of a water conditioner that a clerk at One Stop Country Pet Supply recommended to me a few years ago, API Stress Coat.

No fussing around with pH levels for me! I remember Mom using test strips and little vials and drops to check levels and adjusting with more drops, worrying that the water wasn’t quite brackish enough for the black mollies (I think she added a little aquarium salt for them.)

I admire folks who have the wherewithal to that kind of dedication and every time I see a fish belly-up at the bottom of the tank, I hope it’s not because I’m such a slacker.

I’ve always wondered where tropical fish come from. I’ve imagined swimming in some tropical freshwater lake or river with a snorkel and being able to see those guppies in their native habitat. I’ve snorkeled many times in the Caribbean and seen some gorgeous saltwater fish, but where do those angelfish, those black mollies actually originate from?

Just a little bit of online research reveals that they come from all over the temperate parts of the globe. My beloved guppies, according to Wiki, come from northeast South America, Trinidad, U.S. Virgin Islands and Brazil, but have been introduced to other wild habitats around the world, often for mosquito control. This has had a negative impact on some native fish in their new locale.

Black mollies seem to have been created through selective breeding since wild mollies are a dullish silver color and come from Mexico. My little green catfish that have successfully produced little fry from their eggs in my tank are from the Amazon Basin, as do angelfish.

That eel-like kuhli loach comes from Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula and those orange swordtails come from Mexico and Central America. That orange color is from captive breeding since in their native habitat, they’re an olive green.

And you know those Siamese fighting fish that I always think look so bored in those tiny little glass bowls at the pet store? Commonly known as betta fish, they originate from Siam (now Thailand), Malaysia, China and Vietnam according to “Betta Origins” on bettacenter.com.

Interestingly, they were not originally collected for their beautiful, flowing fins. They lived in rice paddies, small stagnant ponds and slow-moving streams and were a greenish brown. In the mid-1800s, the aggressive males were collected for the purpose of fighting and betting.

As selective breeding of the most aggressive fighters progressed, the male fish would often fight for hours as families from a village would watch. Men were known to often lose their money, their house and even occasionally a wife or other family member as the loser of a high stakes bet.

Oh, my goodness! And to think my sister and I used to hold a mirror up to one when we were kids just to watch it puff up and freak out a little bit, fighting its own reflection.

Again, it didn’t take a lot to amuse us back in the day.