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The Beta Fish: a no-brainer, do-nothing pet perfect for life in college, right? Almost… not quite. That fish takes some commitment, and I learned it the hard way.
I have a tank full of neon tetras and betta fish. As a fish owner myself, I have come to realize that fish are living things that don’t do well without proper treatment. My first experience with fish was when I bought an aquarium, after browsing on fishlab.com. It was elegant and promised to be the perfect decoration for my apartment. In my excitement, I went and bought four different kinds of fish (including an aquatic frog). And I put them into the aquarium that day, expecting from then on to do little more than feed and change the water – that is, whenever I could remember. Weeks later, I woke up to floating bodies in my aquarium.
Feeling disgusted, I flushed the fish down the toilet and ran to PetSmart to buy more. While there, I learned that my fish had died of a disease called ick, which is caused from chemically unbalanced water. I further learned that an aquarium must run for a month with no fish in order to create the correct chemical environment. Okay.
I started over. A few months later, my fish were looking good. However, upon closer examination, my little frog was nowhere to be seen. I searched my room, but no luck. My little frog never returned. Weeks after the disappearance, my roommate would wake up in bed, thinking she had felt something hopping in her covers. The more likely story, of course, is that that little body turned to frog dust and was sucked up while vacuuming.
With deaths, disappearances and the constant lugging of the aquarium back and forth from Littleton to Boulder every break, I downsized to a beta. Betas are the beginner’s pet. They, too, however, bring with them responsibilities. They, too, are affected by poor care. My beta, Mr. Fish, has a tail that shrinks whenever the water has gone unchanged for precisely one week. Once changed, it grows back in hours. So many people buy beta fish in college, because they are the easiest animal to care for. And though the maintenance is not intense, that doesn’t mean it is nonexistent.
Imagine you lived in a glass bowl, and the only other things in there with you were blue glass pebbles. I have seen many beta fish in these types of environments that have no circulating water, no plants and no shelter. Betas are a kid’s fish, but that doesn’t mean they are pieces of decoration. The best solution in preventing stagnant water is to get a filter.
So, what else does a fish need? To answer this question, put yourself in the bowl. Once there, look out. Your universe is a tiny bubble floating in space. Get a background to paste to the back of the bowl so that his world feels more like a pond and less like a bubble. Also, get plants. Not the sparkly plastic kind – the photosynthetic, real kind. Plants offer shelter as well as oxygen. Finally, give the fish a hiding place. My hollowed out castle that went into the tank only for aesthetics has become Mr. Fish’s sanctuary; it’s where he curls up to sleep.
Fish, especially a Beta, are great solutions for a pet-deprived college kid. Still, it’s important not to forget that it’s a pet, and it takes a lot of work if you want your fish floating in its aquarium and not in your toilet.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Katrina Winograd at Katrina.firstname.lastname@example.org