Fish swim. But they also walk.
I’m a tidy autistic. Compared to most of my friends, my home is uncannily organized; my routines are rigid and often inflexible. When I last moved house, my new home was 90% unpacked within the first week and firmly lived-in by the end of the first month, thanks to packing my previous home with destination rooms in mind and having a new floor plan for my furniture worked out in PowerPoint a month before moving day. With tape measures, notes, and detailed pro/con analyses, I worked out the best places for my sofa, television, display cases, desk, aquaria, and each individual houseplant, along with which new items to order and where those would go. Waste is sorted immediately and removed on a schedule, and cups never accumulate away from the drying rack. Mess makes me anxious and staying on top of these things is both a gift for and the result of my executive function, not done for others but to keep my home liveable for me. I pride myself on that level of masterful order and accept the neuroticism that comes with it as the price of success.
I’m not used to the idea of “favorites.” I definitely have favorites, but I don’t naturally catalogue things that way. As a child, I had to memorize lists of my own favorites for the omnipresent class exercises involving children informing the class of theirs, and only began to find the process natural once I started comparing things in detail, sometimes with written pro and con lists, to suss out the fine gradations of my own enjoyment. Most of the time, I am too aware of things other people put in the same bins as different from one another to try to quantify them with the same measuring stick, but associative games are another talent I have, and I learned to play them with the best.
So, I set myself a challenge, with a joking Facebook meme inviting people to ask for my Top Fives in categories of their choosing. My friends, being my friends, offered up a downright bizarre selection for me, with which I now do what I do best: give needlessly well-thought-out answers.
On another dare and as a gift for someone else who asked me for art in 2017, here’s a story based on a vignette I wrote on Facebook, starring the Doctor…or someone like her.
China is home to a fish so rare that photographs of living specimens can be counted on two hands. Its lineage is so bizarre that it has only one close relative, found a continent away, and its skeleton straddles the anatomical cues that divide cartilaginous and bony fish. Even within its kin group, its habits and anatomy are unique.
The Chinese paddlefish or báixún, Psephurus gladius, is the only apparent preferential piscivore in the order Acipenseriformes. (The North American paddlefish is a planktivore, and sturgeons prefer shellfish.) Unlike its American sibling, its “paddle” is conical, and it is sometimes termed the “Chinese swordfish,” “white sturgeon,” or “elephant fish.” As an active, predatory schooling fish, it was once known for leaping across the surface of the Yangtze in large numbers. Rumor holds it can exceed seven meters in length and therefore rivals the beluga sturgeon for status as the largest freshwater or anadromous fish on our planet. However, the largest recorded specimen did not exceed a still-impressive four meters. Chances are, no Chinese paddlefish ever will.
CN veterinary imagery
My navel piercing was exhilarating. I got it the last time I was in Miami, surrounded by my Miami friends who had no idea why I’d just signed up for such a feminine-coded body modification. Having friends there made the event exciting; having Ania made it safe. I faced the needle with enough nervousness that I had to fill out the “I’m the right age” form twice.
Ania has a picture of the face I made when it went in. I’m not sharing it.
Afterward, though? The soreness commingled with a heady endorphin rush that I should have expected but most definitely did not. I was giddy with delight. If we weren’t already at our financial limit, I might have signed up for another piercing then and there, in that euphoric haze. I’m looking forward to that feeling again.
It is a bad idea to enter the aquakeeping hobby on a lark. Not only is this a recipe for any of various easily-avoided mistakes that beginners make, but it encourages a cavalier attitude about one’s new pets. It is easy to treat fish and other small-animal pets as easily replaced decorative accents rather than animals with their own needs, behaviors, and beautiful uniqueness, especially since relatively few fish respond well to attempts to physically interact with them.
I started on the path to fishkeeping as a precocious child, and my parents and other adult models were not themselves hobbyists. What I learned about the best practices for populating and maintaining an aquarium, I learned by reading every fish book I could find…and by trial and error.
There were a lot of errors.
Every fish that perished prematurely under my care stung my precocious heart. I felt affection for every individual fish, even if I couldn’t tell them apart or if I replaced them quickly. For every one of them, seeing them sicken and die as a result of something I did felt like a crime I was committing not just against them, but against their whole kind. This idea stuck in my mind, each failed effort seeming like an un-redressed wrong as well as an unsolved problem. I convinced myself over the years that I could assuage my conscience by revisiting each species and giving it, with that later effort, a home in which it could thrive. There is no possibility of effecting restitution for the fish I killed long ago with my overzealous and poorly-informed attempts, but I can still do right by others. Even if that reasoning is decidedly irrational, these stories may spare other aquakeepers from making the same mistakes and other fish from these often-gruesome fates.
It’s a tricky thing to use animals as examples of behavior for humans. The psychology of an earthworm or dragonfly has virtually no resemblance to that of a vertebrate, let alone a vertebrate with an unusually large cerebral cortex. Arthropods in particular labor under a “sensor-heavy paradigm” that doesn’t rely on a single massive body of nerves for integrating information and determining behavior.
But here and there, we find animals whose mores and activities prove illustrative. In light of the latest explosion of rape allegations that has rocked the atheist/skeptic community over the past several weeks, today’s example is the humble guppy.
In my previous two installments of Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, I looked at general advice about setting up and maintaining an aquarium and at common fish-stocking situations and principles. This third and final visit to skeptical aquakeeping looks at some more specific situations that an insufficiently skeptical aquarist might encounter.
Continue reading “Skepticism in the Aquarium Store, Part 3”
Earlier this year, I gave a presentation at Ottawa Skepticamp 2013 titled “Skepticism in the Aquarium Store.” It definitely got some smiles out of people, not least the radio host who interviewed one of the organizers about Skepticamp and spied the unusual title. My presentation took the axiom that skepticism is vital to virtually every human endeavor and brought it to one of my dearest hobbies: aquarium keeping. And now I’m bringing that to you.
I like fish. Fish provide a truly astounding variety of shapes, sizes, and behaviors to observe, comparable only to insects. Their diversity puts more conventional pets to shame, and they have the added perks of being confined to specific places in people’s homes, being hypoallergenic, and providing relaxing waterfall background noise. There’s an artistic and collection-building aspect to fishkeeping that isn’t present with other pets, which appeals to me.
One other thing that differentiates fishkeeping from many other pet-related hobbies is that there isn’t really a fishy equivalent to a dog rescue. Sure, one can pick through Craigslist and Kijiji for people giving away their kits or their animals, but that’s a time-consuming and risky method. For better or for worse, fishkeepers are stuck with pet stores, and that means getting stuck with a lot of bad advice. Like car dealers and the slimy cads who sell people fancy audio cables, the underpaid and often unprepared sales associates who staff the fish section often have priorities other than the best life for their livestock.
Aquakeeping, like car sales, treating disease, and politics, is an endeavor that requires a little background and a lot of…skepticism. And it starts right at the beginning.