Danios or guppies?

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.


10 Responses to Danios or guppies?

  1. *m* says:

    Sounds great! But you omit one important piece of information. Do the fish have names yet? I don’t remember what type of fish my son got for his second birthday (way back when), but I do remember that he called them Zoe and Elmo!

  2. Stimey says:

    I am so very happy that you have the fish!

    Also, every pet owner should be so considerate about the animals they choose, even tiny fishies.

    Let me know if one of your guppies turns out to be one of the rare singing kind.

  3. Monica says:

    I was a big tropical fish lover as a kid. We had all of the above at some point.

    Don’t worry about the guppies breeding. No matter what we did to try to save them, they always ate every last one of their young.

    Keeps the kids on their toes to see nature at work. 😉

    • whymommy says:

      Oooh, I was so worried about that! We’ve decided to go with all boys for the time being, but perhaps we’ll get a female later, when we’re ready to have more than one tank. 🙂

      It’s so fun to have something new to think about.

  4. butterflyfish1 says:

    I’ve never had a guppy that could survive the initial tank cycling. I’ve always used zebras or white cloud mountain minnows for the initial set up.

    Keep us posted! (Also, though I’ve never commented here, my handle is misleading on this post. Butterflyfish does not actually blog about fish or aquariums.)

  5. butterflyfish1 says:

    Scratch that — prior post answered how you’re doing it. Good job!

  6. Karen says:

    Hi, this really brings back memories – which you’ll see from my rather long comment!

    I’m pretty sure that, when I was growing up, we had a tank with guppies, neon tetras, and 1-2 mini catfish. This was a pretty big tank, with colorful gravel, and perhaps a coral reef replica or castle or two. So it could sustain a few types of fish.

    I didn’t realize the tetras were so dangerous! : )

    Either the guppies or tetras had many, many baby fish and yes, some did survive to adulthood… though not all were successful. Perhaps this isn’t something for your children to learn, right this minute!

    I believe we also had some zebra fish and angel fish. And maybe some type of kissing fish(?) called grommits or something (kidding – I forget their name – they were silver and rather tall for their length).

    We also enjoyed the small local aquarium (in DC), especially the clown fish digging its nest into the gravel. Not sure whether this aquarium still exists…

  7. Karen says:

    Oh – and the clown fish, and perhaps the angel fish and ‘kissing’ fish may be salt-water fish. So, it’s good that you’re doing your research!

    And finally, if there are in fact kissing fish, it was G-rated. Good to know!

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