Setting up a new aquarium is always risky. There’s a lot of work to be done, from ensuring the water is the right temperature, pH, and hardness, to watching the levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate rise and fall in turn as the bacteria load grows to handle the level of fish inside.
My instinct when choosing fish for a child’s aquarium was to go with the hardiest fish. Luckily, those include some beautiful community fish, including zebra danios, tetras, cardinals, corydoras (the tiny catfish you see on the bottom of many tanks), and, slightly more difficult, the guppies.
The kids and I spent many hours reading about these fish together from the books shelved away in the basement, waiting for the time when they would be old enough to participate in such a task. They loved all the fish (Bear is partial to the sharks — sorry, bud) and were excited about the prospect of sharing our home with new little creatures.
The tetras were tempting, with their rainbow of colorations to choose from, but they’re fin nippers, and I was looking for peace, in the water at least.
The cardinals were cunning, slightly better bred than their cousins the neons, and we could have more of them in the tiny tank, but they just didn’t sing to me (and yes, Stimey, I know that fish don’t sing. Or hug.).
The corydoras were useful and fascinating, but only two would fit in my tank. (The rule is an inch of full-grown fish to a gallon of water … so a 5 gallon tank will allow only 5-ish inch-long fish, or 2 two-inch fish. Don’t even think about keeping a goldfish in that size tank … he’ll quickly grow and not be able to swim around comfortably, and you’ll be stuck with a huge 25c fish that no one wants to even look at.)
The zebra danios were clearly the front runners. Hardy, beautiful, and in both silver and gold, short and long finned varieties, they were the sensible choice. Zebra danios are also used extensively in breast cancer research — in INFLAMMATORY breast cancer research, in fact, and I am grateful to the species for being so close to ours in certain important aspects. I was also tempted by some new varieties of danios, created by injecting squid or jellyfish DNA, that actually GLOW in black light and have deep, vibrant colors under normal or plant-friendly light. Go ahead. Click the link. They’re absolutely amazing.
So the zebras were the front runners, and I felt I should choose them for many reasons (actually having a genetically modified pet? freaky. but in a very cool way. and if this bothers you, go click this link and read about WHY they were modified. Wouldn’t a fish that signaled poor water quality or dangerous chemicals be AWESOME and LIFE-SAVING in some parts of the world? I was sold). They were at my local fish store, and the kids and I went several times to look.
But in the end, we chose the guppy. The impractical choice. The one that breeds up to a million fish a year (IF you are optimistic enough to buy both male and female fish. Ahem.). The one with long fins that don’t particularly help them swim, and beautiful colors created by centuries of selective breeding.
The ones that flit through the aquarium as if they were gliding through the air, effortlessly, with all the grace and beauty of the birds of the amazon. The ones that are brightly colored and bring a smile to my face. The ones that do their brilliantly choreographed mating dance weekly if not more often. The ones that are partial to an aquarium of their own, away from the fin-nippers like the tetras. The ones that would bring my children joy with their bright colors, happy dances, and active lifestyle. The ones that would keep me company as I worked through the night after putting the children to bed.
Two blonde guppies with flowing red tails swim beside me as I write now, and I am grateful for the company as evening falls.