Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Story of Igor the Feisty Female Hunchback Guppy & her Tragic and Inevitable Demise

Cicciatello and the Guppy Gang, at the wake

The saga of my goldfish "habit" started a long, long time ago. As a child unlucky enough to be allergic to every conceivable pet-like animal except for goldfish (and rodents, which I hate), my parents (who were also neat freaks) were happy to by-pass the whole "family dog" thing.

Instead, my dad kept and managed an amazingly large tank of fish. Most commonly we had sword tails, mollies, neons and, of course, guppies. I grew to appreciate the delicate balance that is the
aquatic world of fish: cannibalistic mothers, inter-family fights, agressors, runts - they've got it all.

For various reasons, after I first moved out of the parental home to go to school abroad at the age of 17, I stopped having pets - until our first year in London, a little over two years ago, when I decided in a fit of ecstatic and probably hormone-driven maternal instinct to buy Matt a giant fish bowl and two beautiful Pearlscales for Valentine's Day. We named them Timo and Tima and those two fish, believe it or not, brought us (or at least me) as much joy as any dog could have.

Timo & Tima: a love story akin only to
Old Dan and Little Ann of
Where the Red Fern Grows

Pearlscales and goldfish in general can live a very long time - 20+ years if the conditions are right. They interact with people in basic ways, dancing around when they see you near, or if it's feeding time, sucking at your finger and even allowing you to "pet" them sometimes (I know, you're not supposed to, but who could resist!). It was these lovely little fish who taught me exactly how intelligent fish can be.

They were also the reason that even after their unfortunate and debatebly shady deaths (the pet shop had a break out of Ick in their tanks the week after I bought some Black Moors and put them in my tanks; Timo died a slow painful death from Ick and Tima soon followed, dying of heartbreak; the pet shop owner pretended she didn't know what I was talking about), I continued to buy more fish and eventually encountered Igor, the hunchbacked female fish, who, sadly, passed today.

The Story of Igor the Feisty Female Hunchback Guppy
and her eventual and tragic demise

a likeness of Igor; photo credit.

I bought Igor, who was really not named Igor until she became a hunchback (something Matt throws in my face as proof of my cruel and callaced nature in dealing with the fish), along with four other female guppies and two male guppies about a year ago. I had been burnt pretty badly with the pearlscales so I figured guppies would be easier to deal with - there's more of them, they are smaller, and they don't generally dance for you when you are about to feed them the way Timo and Tima did.

Plus, I remembered my dad breeding the guppies as a kid and thought that might be fun.

After months and months of "trying," one day I woke to find a swarm of midget fish in my fish bowl. Luckily I had supplied them with ample hiding places by adding lots of plants to the bowl. They successfully avoided the cannibalistic, ravenous mothers and grew. After about two months we had gone from having six guppies to having about 40-50, plus a morbidly obese pearlscale who I couldn't resisit buying at the pet shop named Cicciatello ("Ciccia" in Italian can be slang for "chub," btw).

Basically the quality of life for all the fish deteriorated from there. There were too many of them and despite my attempts at keeping the bowl clean (both literally and figuratively), the mating did not stop and the males, in fact, seemed to become more determined to harass the females now that they had about a million to choose from.

The natural habitat could only sustain this for so long, and after Christmas break I noticed the population had regulated itself. All but two of the original females survived, and one of those died
soon thereafter, leaving only Igor. Over the course of January and February, Igor, Cicciatello and only about 10 other baby guppies survived. Three of the mature babies were males who seemed to find joy only in bothering Igor. After a few weeks, she became a deformed hunchback, able only to swim sideways and spending most of her time floating at the top of the tank on her back or hiding in the plants, earning her the infamous moniker.

Admittedly I wanted her to die. I hoped she would perish quickly on her own and so it took me a lot longer than usual to administer fish medicine. It was around this time that she started to actually HOBBLE as she swam (maybe calling her Igor was cruel?). But despite the many handicaps, she could still hold her own in fighting the other fish off and was often the first to get at the food and nip at Cicciatello for being a pig. Every morning at feeding time I would yell out "Igor is still alive!" and Matt would yell back "You are such a jerk! Put her out of her misery!"

This morning, after a long sad battle with what was either a severe swim bladder problem or a case of old age combined with pitiless sexual harassment, Igor gilled her last oxygen.

This post is in memoriam of Igor the feisty hunchback and all the other undeserving casualties (past and future) of my little fish world.

* * *

Things I've learned from Igor's Sad Demise
or, why fish are people too, dammit

3. Amateur Guppy Breeding - not exactly child's play.
One thing you may or may not have know about me, even if you know me pretty well, is that I dabble in amateur guppy breeding. And by that I mean that I allow my guppies to indulge in copious amounts of unprotected sex (as is their wont by nature) and procreate in my fishbowl. As I mentioned, I even bought a maternity tank for the purpose and had some success with it, fighting bouts of cannibalism among the mothers and sexual harassment among the males. I'm hardcore, what can I say?

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Among the less known facts of guppy life is that they are essentially the nymphomaniacs of the fish world. The males will relentlessly harass the females to mate, even unto death, if you let them. Which is why your fish supplier (pet shop guy) should really advise you to have at least 3 females to 1 male guppy in your tank.

When my older guppies started dying off, the "torrid and tangled" part of the guppy sex life came out. The ratio was thrown off, and I'm convinced that Igor, once a happy middle-aged female, was actually hounded-about-sex-to-death by the younger male bucks. Pretty awful.

Lesson learned. Fish are people too. So if you're gonna breed them, keep an eye on the ratios and living conditions or you just may end up with an Igor on your hands.

2. Believe it or not, there is such a thing as fish euthanasia.
I did read up on the possibility of euthanizing Igor. I wanted to be humane (despite what Matt may tell you), but in the end the idea of actually killing Igor seemed worse to me than just letting him fight it out to the end himself.

I mean, oddly and morbidly enough, I spent yesterday afternoon considering issues such as the need for a last will and testament, and even after a few minutes of that felt irrepressibly wronged by the universe despite not being dead. I had this intense sensation that all I wanted to do was keep-on-keepin-on and that nobody and nothing should ever be able to take that away from me. I guess maybe I thought Igor might feel the same.

1. I need a dog. Or a child. Preferably both.
It might be time for me and me Elmyra-esque fish obsession to take a chill pill.

I think the best cure for that would be a more vocal "pet." :D

Elmyra on pets: "I just wanna hug them and love them and squeeze them to pieces!"

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  1. hahaha you're so funny!
    but that's sad about the fishies...

  2. The title of this should be "The Dichotomy of a Fish Story". I went back and forth from laughing and being sad for Timo, Tima and Igor.

    But you certainly know your fish! My dad also kept an aquarium but I was more fascinated by the plastic 'treasure chest'. The last fish that "lived" in our parents' home were Romeo and Juliet (goldfish so christened by little sister) who were kept in a windowless bathroom. They weren't 'gold' for very long - I didn't know one could 'make' albino fish.

  3. Oh, a very nice tribute to Igor. Like most plants, I've attempted to grow, gold fish fall in the same catagory - I do not have waht it takes to be a nurturer.

    Hope all is going well. We had dinner with some friends, where the wife is Aussie, who are due in two weeks, and she told me how they struggled with coming up with names - too many sounds pretention (can't please both sides), a few were determined to indicated evening time occupations , or a pre-determined fondness for the opposite sex. It is much more complicated than I realized!

  4. Tangled Noodle - Oh no! Albino fish...hahaha! Horrific but kind of amusing actually. I guess we all wreak havoc on innocent pets without realizing it sometimes! And yes, we had one of those treasure chests too (the kind that blow bubbles and open and close). :)

    Oysterculture - Yeah, the name thing. Oh the name thing. I pretty much recommend to everyone now that they never share their choices unless they are entirely prepared (and you never really are!) to be shot down. I have never encountered a more shocking display of opinionated-ism than peoples' views on a future child's name. It's like they forget all courtesy and make faces, make claims, and demand changes. Bizarre and bewildering! Glad ours is finally taken care of and that people will just have to deal with it when he's born, no matter how weird or wretched they might consider it. :)