When Oscar the gerbil died and left his brother Willis all alone on his table, I noticed little Willis (a.k.a Willi Vanilli) seemed depressed. Gerbils are highly social, so this was not a surprise. However, with my ban on gerbil ownership for a few years (I can’t stand gerbil palliative care for awhile) I was at a loss as to how to fix Willis’s loneliness.
So I bought him a fish.
Now, buying a fish for a gerbil seems a little unusual. This is fine. I’m okay with unusual.
I went to a local chain pet store (by virtue of that being the only pet store outside of Small-Mart) and asked for their easiest fish. Something easy to take of. You know, chuck it into a bowl, toss in a few flakes of food, and so on.
The clerk at the pet store told me bettas were easy. “Just change their water every week or so,” he said. “They’re easy to keep. I have one at home.”
So I went home with a little male betta coloured a beautiful iridescent blue. Long fins fanned out behind him, swishing in the water of his wee plastic container. His little fore fins (or whatever they are in fish language) flap constantly as he whirls around the tank.
The tank was a specific betta tank, with a Zen theme. In fact, the redeeming value of the betta tank was its decor. I even bought a small LED light for inside, for you don’t have a beautiful Siamese fighting fish without a light shimmering off his scales. So at about 40 dollars, I had a fish, tank, and set up kit.
Whoever designed the so-called “betta tank” didn’t know bettas, because the top is open. And bettas love to jump. So I had to rig up a cover to keep Finn from jumping to his death.
Because of his fins, I named him Finnegan, though it eventually changed to baby talk, to Winnegan.
The first night home, my little betta circled his little Zen tank with a small patch of sand coloured rocks below him. I watched him and felt a little Zen, but disappointed in the lack of colour around him.
The boring rocks that came with the kit soon changed to bright blue ones. I felt he needed matching rocks, something to jazz up his surroundings. It only cost about 9 dollars or so.
After the rocks, I decided to get him some plants, so he could swish through the fabric leaves, and hide in the long blades of plastic grass. This probably cost another 15 dollars, since fake fish plants aren’t cheap.
However, my little Finnegan Winnegan was not eating many of the flakes included with his kit. I had been told fish ate little, so I wasn’t too concerned.
After a week or so, I decided I’d better try something else. On the internet (my go to source for pet information) I read bettas liked blood worms, so at the pet store, I bought him blood worms. These helped a little. The new pellets I purchased at the same time did not seem to tempt his delicate palate. Blood worms became his staple, probably another 15 dollars later.
Shortly thereafter, I noticed cotton stretching away from his bottom fins as he swam through his tank. I didn’t like the look of it, so I went online. A few search terms later, I discovered he likely had a fungus.
I went to the pet store and asked for a solution. They gave me a betta medicine and I went home, changed the water, and gave him his new medicine, which cost about 10 dollars.
I went to Small-Mart and found a fungus-specific medicine for about 5 dollars. Bought it, took it home, changed the water, and discovered the cotton growths on his fins soon scaled back until they were barely discernible.
But he still wasn’t eating or making bubble nests, which contented little bettas enjoy crafting. And he swam around listlessly.
On my next visit to Small-Mart’s pet section, I checked out the heaters. I asked, “Do these work?” The clerk in her blue apron climbed down from her ladder and stocking, and said that yes, they worked. She had a betta once and had to keep him warm by placing a heating pad under his cage.
Instead of setting up a fire hazard, I bought the heater, which retailed for about 11 bucks. I took it home, plugged it in, set it right in the little betta tank.
Then something happened.
Finnegan Winnegan began swimming a lot more, swishing around his tank, checking me out every time I entered my room. When I put food into his tank, he popped up to the surface and began gulping his worms as if he was starving.
He was a different fish.
Now had common sense prevailed, I would have saved myself a lot of money and Finnegan a lot of ill-health if I had put three things together. One, bettas are tropical fish, originating in the rice paddies of Thailand and surrounding countries. Two, my bedroom is the coldest room in our house which is heated only by oil and forced air. Three, it was winter.
So much for an easy fish you just chuck in a bowl!
Thankfully, Finnegan is a hardy little fish, and I didn’t find him floating upside-down because of my neglect and the pet store’s ignorance to the needs of their little wards.
Since I installed the heater, he has been a different fish. He’s growing fat and building bubble nests whenever I change his water. He watches me come and go, and goes into a frenzy when it’s time to feed him. Or when he thinks it’s time to feed him (which is every time he sees me.) He’s an active little fish who survived his two weeks of punishment.
The moral of this story is?
Pet stores don’t always know their pets. This happened when I bought my gerbil (they said one was enough to keep; gerbils love to be in pairs) and when I bought my betta, my so-called easy to keep fish.
Bettas have a life span of many years, some living two to five years in their little tanks. If you buy one of these fish and they die in a few months, it’s because of you. Learn how to take care of your fish or don’t buy any more. Simple as that.
One way to learn? Log onto the web and check out websites featuring betta lovers like Betta Talk.
Don’t kill your betta in two weeks. I almost did.