A companion of the Betta fish, I was a proud student for two and a half years.
My privilege of having aquatic animals sailed out of my room in a tide wave of aquarium water when I was 12-years-old, and with it, my I-can-do-anything attitude for a short time.
When my beloved guinea pig disappeared on me, and I soon found him under the dresser my fish tank sat, I sized up that 10-gallon and thought to myself, if my dad could move this tank (as I had seen him do in the past) I could too!
The child me acted on that twelve-year-old sound logic, and I picked up that fish tank.
As with every fantastic family legend, accounts differ. People who weren’t there, saying I dropped the tank.
I’m here to say the bottom cracked from the 8.8 pounds per gallon of water.
Two Gourami, fish décor, and a further two pounds of gravel cascaded across my floor.
After that, I was forbidden from having aquatic animals for thirteen long years.
Červená the Betta
Restarting my aquarium hobby at the age of 23 took time; I had the usual Tetras, some Danios, a temperamental Gourami, and some African Dwarf Frogs. In time, they lived their lives and died.
Staring at my tank in 2020, the beginning of the COVID pandemic, I wanted something new, something I hadn’t experienced before.
Everyone visits a pet store to buy essentials, to add to the toy horde at home for their pets. And more often than not, especially if you have kids, you will find yourself in the aquatic department at least once.
On a shelf floating in tiny plastic cups outside that department are the Betta Fish, also known as the Siamese Fighting Fish. Blobs of different colors, some muted, others vibrant, sit there, waiting to be chosen.
Some go to great homes. Others it can be a nightmare. It blew my mind to know there are people out there who leave their new betta in the cups they came in, their entire lives.
There I saw Červená.
He was facing his neighbor: a vibrant red Half-Moon, his fins flared in a spectacular display of three inches of attitude.
Trying not to jump at the first Betta I saw, I couldn’t help looking back at him, something pulling me to him. And so, in September 2020, Červená came home.
I remember the moment I let Červená go in my 10-gallon aquarium. He floated, frozen only the filter current pushing him. Then his tail moved, and he sank to the bottom, tipped forward as he took in his surroundings.
You could see the cogwheels in his brain churning. (The average size of a Betta brain is almost identical to a Goldfish, another above-average intelligent fish) He glided along, studying everything, and poking everything. It was as if he knew he was home at last.
Before entering that pet store in September 2020, I researched Bettas. They fascinated me long before I decided to adopt one. And, the ever-diligent parent my mother ingrained in me from an early age to always do extensive research before owning any animal. She refused to have a living creature in the house not taken care of, a rule every parent should follow.
Therefore, I set Červená loose in a tank at a temperature of 78 degrees; the ideal temperature for Bettas is between 75-80 degrees.
I am also a firm believer in at least a 10-gallon tank for any fish, a 5 gallon, the minimum. Imagine living in the same 8.5 x 6.25 x 9.25 space, the average size of an Aqueon 1-gallon Betta tank, for 2-5 years, the lifespan of a Betta.
Sound terrible? I think so too.
If I had more space, I’d get a larger tank, but at the moment my lofty desire isn’t feasible.
The décor was heavy, I was trying my hand at live plants, trying to break away from the traditional plastic, mostly because of Červená’s long flowing fins, I didn’t want him shredding himself by accident. Two and a half years later, I’m still trying to find a balance for the aquatic plants.
His two favorite centerpieces were a large twisted hollow “dead wood tree,” He’d spend hours squeezing between the many nooks and crannies; and his other, a sunken ship.
Weathering the Change
I’ll never forget the first time I cleaned his tank, trying to be the disciplined fish hobbyist. I managed to catch him with a net and transferred him to a bowl. I removed all his décor, planning to rotate a new scene to stimulate his brain. (Fish deserve a change of scenery, again that 20 x 10 x 12, a 10 gallon, must get awfully redundant after a while.
I was proud of myself. New décor for Červená to explore, a clean tank, what more could any fish want?
Červená’s reaction was comical. It is hard to take a 3-inch fish seriously when they’re mad. For the first time since I had brought him home, his fins flared, his 3 inches of being becoming almost 4. He was mad I changed his tank around. Most fish would swim around, confused for a moment and then get on with their day, not Červená. He sat behind the filter for the rest of the day, interesting since he hated the filter because of its current, an innate throwback to his ancestors living in puddles in Asia. Bettas are not fans of hard currents.
He did eventually accept the fact his domain would be switched around.
Living in a predominantly snowy part of the USA, I am no stranger to power outages. And with that, I had a new worry, dread of the next storm that may throw us temporarily into the dark ages. Before, I welcomed such events, it was Nature’s way of making Man slowdown in my opinion, get off your devices and enjoy the break. Having a fish who depended on 75-80 degree habitat that welcoming turned to a real dismay, so much so, I asked my dad if he’d hook the tank up to the generator. I am very fortunate to have that luxury where so many do not. With my smartphone, I googled how to keep a tank from losing its heat too fast. No method is 100%, but you can slow the process, giving your fish enough time to survive to the return of electricity. Saran wrap and blankets is what I found on the numerous Betta forums. That and prayers.
An Busy Little Fish
Every day, at least twice, I’d kneel at his tank, just watching him, no doubt my brain churning out oxytocin, a hormone experts say is released when interacting with your dog but they’re finding out, if the human-animal bond is strong enough, such a bodily response extends to all pets.
He'd supervise my movements on whichever side of the tank I was closest, studying me as much I studied him. A fascinating little fish with new wonders.
And boy, did the wonders keep coming.
Three months in, I came home from work, a collection of bubbles congealed in the far left side of the tank. I panicked. Was something wrong with the tank? Did the filter malfunction? What about the thermometer, it was the original, 5 years old, by the time Červená graced the tank.
Back to google.
Three months earlier, so focused on how to keep a Betta healthy, I never saw information about the Bubble Nest. A happy Betta is a healthy Betta. And happy, Červená was.
In nature, the male Bettas build their bubble nest, made of spit and mucous, they spit to create bubbles, like bubble packaging for shipping, only in Červená’s case packing for potential kids. Unfortunately, for him, no female was around to be wowed by his creation and the filter current eventually dissolved the bubbles.
He got me a few times, thinking maybe I’ve be able to watch him build a new nest when he’d rise to the surface, alas, it was only to feed his body oxygen. Unlike most fish, Bettas have a labyrinth organ. The Betta rises to the surface, gulps air, the air is forced into the labyrinth organ, a fascinating evolutionary ability to breathe oxygen.
The Eternal Bond
Two and a half years we spent together, not to sound melodramatic, so imagine the dismay when I noticed he wasn’t eating as much. I did the usual water changes, water tests, even changed his décor once more. On a Saturday morning, I checked on him, he had been hiding quite a bit in the last week, to the point where I thought he crawled in somewhere and died. He eventually poked his head out before retreating. I left for the day.
Coming back that evening, I was shocked to see the left side of his face had swelled in my absence, his eye bulbous. I questioned my attention to detail. Had he been this way that morning? No, he hadn’t.
Back to google once more.
Was it dropsy, a buildup of fluid in fish bodies that if not taken care immediately is life-threatening? Popeye? Was it some other infection? Had he injured himself on the aquarium safe slate I put in three days earlier? I was horrified at the thought I might had caused his condition.
I put him in a floating hospital/breeding tank, that sat comfortably in his aquarium. He stayed there for a few days before I released him, his condition hadn’t exactly improved but it hadn’t gotten any worse either. I diligently added Melafix, a fish antibiotic I since had been told to avoid, and use Kanaplex, performed water changes, before realizing the next day the thermometer malfunctioned, a sharp drop to 65 degrees in less than 24-hours, a big no-no.
I raced for a new thermometer, Červená seeming to improve again, though his face was still swollen.
He stopped eating, only indulging me a few times, before returning to his favorite perch, the plastic piece holding the thermometer in place, an easy access to the surface to breathe.
Dog-sitting as a side hustle, I was away when my mother called me and said I needed to do something about Červená. He was floating near the top of the aquarium, tilted slightly. He was suffering she said.
Going home and seeing for myself, you couldn’t deny it.
Unlike the kind gesture we can give our dogs, cats, rodents and birds at the end of their lives, what could be done for a fish? So many languish in their tanks, indeed suffering until they eventually died.
Having gone to school for the veterinary field and working in it, I never thought I develop that veterinary technician mindset regarding end of life. It is one thing to be a grieving pet owner and having a veterinarian carry out the deed. It is a whole another, when it has to be you.
One last time, Google.
I read the various humane ways to euthanize fish. From the not so humane, in my opinion, blunt trauma because really you can’t be 100% on the first try with that; to the use of clove oil.
Červená was unfortunately in luck.
Being a nosework student, I had clove oil, an odor dogs are taught to seek out.
He wasn’t hard to catch, a sad fact proving he was dying, at one time he was fantastic at evading me.
Warm water with a little oil mixed in, then adding more oil over a 5-10 minute period.
In my kitchen, I cried over this 3-inch Betta, a hole deep within me I didn’t know I’d feel when he left this world.
The extinguishing of the greatest fish I ever had the pleasure of having in my company. He sits in my freezer, waiting for spring when he can join the other animals, dogs and guinea pigs, in eternal rest.
For a week, the aquarium light has been off. The urge to go to the tank and look for him so strong. Fearing he may have had a disease that could be transferred to others, I dissembled the tank, using white vinegar on everything. I got rid of the gravel, technically not a good idea as the good bacteria was most certainly destroyed, meaning I’d have to complete a hard reset of the tank.
I have since put the tank back together, new gravel, new décor.
Diligently cycling, so that it will be ready for the next Betta rescue.
© 2022 Regin St Cyr