Mad About Science: Awesome aquarium fish

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Staff

As the days of responsible isolation stagger onward, many of us have found ourselves exploring new hobbies. Some people have started drawing and painting, others are learning about all of the cool things you can make out of toilet paper, while others are stepping into the wild world of hobby aquariums.

While not as dangerous or sexy as owning your own exotic cat zoo, setting up a home aquarium is far more socially acceptable and responsible.

Having your own aquarium can be a lot of work, but it can be an extremely fulfilling experience that is both interesting and addictive. You might think it’s all goldfish and bowls, but it’s so much more.

Orange blotched peacock cichlid. Courtesy photo.

Let’s start with my personal favorite freshwater aquarium fish: the silver arowana. The silver arowana is a bony-headed fish from South America. Aside from appearing very elegant, it is a lively and energetic fish as well as a voracious predator. Due to these traits, you can’t put an arowana in a tank with just any other fish. Large fish like cichlids, certain plecostomus catfish and knifefish make good tankmates for the silver arowana. As a general rule, never pair a fish with another fish that could fit in its mouth — it will only end in heartbreak.

Though not directly related to the silver arowana, another unique and extremely rare fish is the Asiatic golden arowana. You won’t be able to order one of these guys from a pet store unless you’re flush with cash, as illegally bred ones will usually start around $10,000 per fish, with adults easily selling for over $300,000. In China, the fish is believed to bring good fortune to anyone that possesses it, though it appears to me that anyone in possession of a golden arowana already had some great fortune.

Another popular freshwater fish is the cichlid. Cichlids traditionally hail from the African great lakes and come in a huge variety of patterns and colors. The most widely known breed of cichlid is the oscar, which originates from South America rather than Africa and, because of this, doesn’t mix well with the colorful African cichlids.

One of the only animals on the planet with a natural shade of blaze orange on its body, oscars are gregarious and intelligent, as far as fish go, happy to socialize with the human that feeds them. Given enough space, the oscar cichlid can also grow to an immense size, which is made doubly impressive by its stark orange and black body color contrast.

Having raised oscars before, I can tell you they are great fun to watch when feeding time comes around and they’re relatively easy to raise.

If the appearance of these fish is a little too bland for you, why not give the dragon goby a try? Dragon goby fish, also known as the violet goby, are snake-like fish with a prehistoric appearance. 

Native to the brackish water bays of both North and South America, they prefer a little salt in their water. Despite having sharp teeth and looking like a creature from your childhood nightmares, their primary method of feeding is filtering through the substrate for scraps of expired food.

Dragon gobies are generally shy fish, which only makes their frightening appearance that much more special when they finally emerge from their hiding place.

Ever wanted to raise your own shark? There are a shocking number of freshwater sharks for every skill level of aquarist. My late grandfather’s favorite fish, the red tailed shark, is a small, stealthy fish with a brilliant red tail that is surprisingly hardy. Another, larger alternative is the bala shark, a silver freshwater shark that can grow to be more than a foot long and will school with other bala sharks in the tank. These guys are fun to watch while you hum the Jaws theme, sprinkling their preferred fish flakes into the tank to trigger a feeding frenzy.

Speaking of feeding frenzies, ever wanted to raise piranha? While raising piranha is illegal in most states, you can easily raise the freshwater pacu, a direct cousin of the feared piranha. An adult pacu can reach up to 30 pounds in captivity — as much as three fully grown cats. Unfortunately, irresponsible aquarists have released their huge fish into the wild and created a cascading ecological disaster throughout North America. The pacu is extremely hardy and highly invasive, capable of destroying an aquatic ecosystem in years, requiring millions of dollars of your taxes to eradicate — all because someone didn’t want to be a responsible pet owner.

While all of these fish are really cool, it’s paramount to be a responsible pet owner, whether your pet has fur, feathers or scales. If you aren’t ready for all of the challenges involved with owning a pet, you shouldn’t own that pet. It’s always important to do your research before shelling out cash for a fancy new pet and never release it into the wild if you get bored or overwhelmed. It’s cruel and inhumane to the pet and the ecosystem you’re dropping it into. Don’t be that person.

Stay responsible, and stay curious, 7B.

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