Moving on, then, to another pet. People have been unintentionally barbaric to the goldfish, Carassius auratus, for quite some time. Not bothering to learn even a little about oxygen diffusion rates, pH, ammonia and nitrogenous compounds in solution prior to an impulsive pet purchase, we set up adorable goldfish bowls on our kitchen counters, toss in a delightful mock treasure chest, and call it a day. What fun we will surely have watching goldfish exist! This line of reasoning is all fine and dandy until the brutish, unforgiving laws of water chemistry come riding into town with their long leather coats and menacing facial hair. Inevitably, we’re left confused when poor Flippy goes belly up, gripped by an aggressive white fungus that raises new concerns as we carry the bowl to the bathroom with ungloved hands.
Listen. I can tolerate a pH range of 6.5 to 8.25. Do you understand this? pH? It’s a logarithmic scale that expresses the acidity or alkalinity of…you know what…nevermind. I’ll see you in hell.
Our collective ability to stamp out goldfish is all the more spectacular given that goldfish are actually fairly hearty creatures and will usually thrive for years if properly cared for. Yeah, like that’s going to happen. But there’s always hope.
In fact, the relative durability of the goldfish is exactly why the Chinese had so much success domesticating them over 1000 years ago. And the story is actually kind of interesting. Roughly paraphrased, the goldfish saga goes something like this: In the mid-to-late first millennium A.D., the Chinese began to dam rivers and trap colorful, ornamental carp in ponds. The Chinese people then started breeding the carp willy-nilly until the Empress of the Song Dynasty (c. 1162) officially decreed:
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, everybody. Stop breeding the yellow carp. Yellow is the Imperial Color. And, as you well know, I forbid you to own yellow possessions because I am a serious micromanager, which I’m working on, but the yellow thing is a deal-breaker. By the way, this includes, but is not limited to, pet fish. Ok, go to it. Oh – and the Chinese word for ‘problem’ is the same as the word for ‘opportunity.’ I just wanted to be the first of one billion people to point out this useless platitude. Anyway. No yellow possessions or I’ll kill you!”
Ah, the subtle shades of injustice.
Eager to get on with their lives, the Chinese commoners obeyed the demands of their Empress and took to breeding carp of the golden orange variety which were close enough to Imperial Yellow to be hip, but just different enough to avoid legal troubles. A wonderful solution indeed. As the Empress was fond of saying, the Chinese word for problem is the same as the word for opportunity.
An image found using the search term ‘Carp.’ After a little investigation, we discovered the tattoo says ‘Carpe Diem.’ On her lower back. Way to go.
As it turns out, the common people enjoyed keeping their gold-colored carp temporarily in ornamental jars in their homes (and then putting them back in the pond so as not to kill them like you did/do/will do). So it makes sense to think the carp were systematically selected for smaller and golder-er, and thus the new goldfish species was artificially extracted from the carp population.
Skipping ahead a few centuries, these so-called ‘goldfish’ were eventually exported to Europe and finally the United States, where a majority would meet tragedy after the cruel hand of fate guided the trajectory of a ping-pong ball into their bowls at the fair.
Ooof. Now that all that’s mercifully behind us, let’s move on to some interesting aspects of the modern goldfish.
First up: The word used to denote a group of same animals is called a collective noun. You might know this. So does everyone. But to review, you would say a ‘pod’ of whales, a ‘gaggle’ of geese, or a ‘bunch’ of jerks, for example. The collective noun for goldfish is a ‘troubling.’ True story. It’s not clear if that refers to the situations goldfish often find themselves in (e.g. under the exclusive care of a nine-year-old). But is it clear that the Chinese word for ‘problem’ is the same as the word for ‘opportunity’? You heard it here.
Also, you’ve probably heard that a goldfish can eat itself to death. Well, that’s true. Many fancy goldfish varieties will keep devouring fish flakes until their intestines rupture or they die from some similarly embarrassing medical complications related to binging. Knowing the many daily mistakes of man with respect to goldfish, this raises the difficult question of blame: are we overfeeding the goldfish – or are the goldfish overeating?
There’s one for you, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Hey, great Thanksgiving dinner! Who’s up for some tacos?
Now you might think that this suicidal eating makes the goldfish look dumb. And probably it does, though it’s worth pointing out two things: 1) If overeating makes you dumb, then color this Animal Reviewer dumb, and 2) the Chinese word for ‘problem’ is the same as the word for ‘opportunity.’
Moreover, the data rushes to the support of goldfish. It’s been proven that goldfish can navigate mazes, recognize individual people and hold memories for up to three months. And they can be trained to tell the time. Scientists demonstrated this by rigging a lever, connected to a food reward, that worked during specific times of the day. The goldfish learned to use the lever only at the appropriate intervals. Though perhaps this was simply because there was food involved. And we all know where goldfish come down on that topic.
Finally, there’s the genetic freak factor to consider. In mid 2003, the first genetically engineered fish hit the retail aquarium market. These were Night Pearls designed to glow in the dark, via the insertion into their genome of a gene fragment coding for fluorescence that came from a jellyfish. Now scientists are working on goldfish that will glow in different colors depending on the temperature of their water (i.e. blue for too cold, red for too hot, you get the idea). Great work, Science. Now get back to AIDS.
It’s amazing, but this expensive and pointless research continues, even after scientists have been informed that a decent aquarium thermometer costs about twelve bucks. It should also be noted that one can keep aquarium thermometers in tanks without the risk of turning goldfish into transgenic monsters with an insatiable desire for human flesh. It has long been the belief of Animal Review that Common Sense should be a chapter in every Molecular Biology textbook, and it bears repeating that the Chinese word for ‘problem’ is the same as the word for ‘opportunity.’
So. Based on surprising smarts (like the parrot), a relatively interesting history, and the undeniable cruelty bestowed upon them by man, woman, child and scientist, goldfish will catch a small break here.
Though, in the interest of full disclosure, that devouring-until-they-die thing cost them dearly. That’s just ridiculous. Get a hold of yourself already.