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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

November 29, 2011

Feels So Good When It Stops

By Elizabeth Creith

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Mystery fish
"I want something to go with the fish I have at home."

"Okay, what do you have?"

"I don't know what they're called. They look kind of like that—or maybe those over there."

We hear it every two or three weeks.

It always surprises me that people don't know what they have in their aquariums. Oh, they know they've got fish; at least, nine times out of ten they do. (I've met some who didn't seem to be enough on the ball to be sure of that much.) Beyond that, though, it's "those little blue ones over there, I think. Or maybe more like those." It's enough to make us want to install a brick wall by the fish section. We could beat our heads against it, because it would feel so much better when we stopped.

I understand how they confuse neon tetras and cardinal tetras. I used to get them mixed up myself until David told me that cardinals have a red stripe from the tail almost to the head, and neons have a shorter one. If "those little blue fish" are neons—or cardinals—getting them mixed up isn't a disaster. If they're Boesmani rainbowfish and Pseudotropheus acei cichlids, it's not going to work out so well.

I recommend to people that they keep a list of what fish they've bought and update it whenever they add something—or something dies. It would help us all avoid those delightful beat-your-head-against-the-wall moments of trying to identify the Mystery Fish.

Please believe that I'm sympathetic. I've had the fish-identification problem in spades. After all, we have more than forty tanks of them. I made cheat sheets for the cichlid tanks, and at odd moments I'd take my crib notes and stand in front of one tank or another muttering "Bimaculatus—two spots on silver. Labeotropheus species—downturned lip. Aulonocara, peacocks—big eyes." Mutter, mutter, mutter.

Three stores in town sell fish and there's a good bit of overlap among us, but our stock isn't identical. It's bad enough trying to identify "that silvery kind of fish—you had it in that tank there, I think..." but it's really difficult to know just which silvery kind of fish they bought from someone else six months ago. Where's that wall again?

One afternoon, as I was about to leave on a change run to the bank, a young man came in with the usual request. No, he told David, he didn't know what he had in his tank, but he knew where he'd bought it. In a flash he whipped out his cell phone and dialed the store in question.

"Hi, I need to know what fish I have....I bought it there...one of the top tanks...three, maybe four weeks ago. It's kind of blue, shading to a sort of pinkish...no, I'm pretty sure it was there....well, why don't you know?...can you describe all the fish to me, and maybe...."

I slipped out to the bank. When I returned 15 minutes later with quarters and nickels, he was still on the phone, relentlessly in search of the Mystery Fish.

"No, it's, like, blue, or sort of blue....but I bought it there...."

David was stacking dog food. I put the change away and dusted the bird treats, keeping an ear out for our customer to hang up. We were getting things done.

As I dusted, I imagined I could hear, over the cell phone, the steady thud-thud-thud of that poor woman in the other store, beating her head against the wall.

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