I have a Siamese fighting fish, or betta, named Bartholomew. He is Doctor Who Tardis blue with long flowing fins reminiscent of Fabio but, of course, less muscular. I googled “types of betta” and discovered he is classified as a veil tail betta. Native to the Mekong basin of Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, bettas gained their popularity in 1840 when the King of Thailand began licensing and collecting the fish. By the late 1800s, bettas were exported to France, Germany, and Russia—and subsequently one can find bettas pretty much at any pet store or Walmart, the latter from where I rescued Bartholomew.
Whereas female bettas can be kept in a community tank, male bettas are apparently all alpha males and, when housed with another male betta, can result in some pretty nasty fighting, almost reminiscent of cock- or dog-fighting, or—as something to which I can relate—prison “cellies” who do not get along during a lockdown.
Thus, not unlike myself, Bartholomew both prefers to live alone and understands that everyone’s sanity can be preserved if said living arrangements—for us both—are maintained. He has the luxury of a 3 ½ gallon tank to himself complete with silk plants, a betta “hammock”, ceramic aquarium décor, and bubbles that rise from an air stone under the gravel in which he seems to enjoy playing.
He is a funny fish, if fish (that are not the product of Pixar/Disney Studios) can actually be classified as humorous. Experts say that bettas love to be talked to and can even be trained to a degree. I’m not sure what classifies one to be a betta expert but I’ll take their word as such. I have read that bettas can be conditioned to jump out of their tank to retrieve a treat held above the water by their owners and have had my own fantasies of teaching Bartholomew how to jump through flaming hoops and going on tour with him but, alas, to this point I have only been able to get him to play peekaboo with me. And I do not own a cool tour bus so we can ride in style. Somehow, a 1997 Honda does not provide the impact necessary to announce the arrival of a rising star.
Granted, playing peekaboo with a fish is an unusual accomplishment, that’s for sure. I tell him to hide (or he does this naturally within his aquarium décor, but I like to think that he listens to and understands me.} I then put my face close to the tank and say, “Peekaboo,” to which he reveals himself and (at least I perceive it as such) waves to me in acquiescence or, even more likely, to make me believe that I actually trained him to do this.
Even more recently, Bart has let me pet him. I put my finger into his tank one evening and he swam up and actually brushed against it. Now, even though I would like to, I have to refrain from taking him out of the water to cuddle him but his letting me touch him is, indeed, fascinating. And I am certainly glad he isn’t a piranha.
I have to admit that I am indeed surprised that he is still alive. Historically, I do not do well with living things which are under my care. I killed a cactus once and my indoor herb garden has become more of an indoor dirt garden. Frankly, I’m amazed my kids have lasted 20 and 15 years, respectively. I have had other pets but was not their sole caretaker so, thankfully, they survived. But I have had Bartholomew now for three months. We celebrate his birthday every week because I don’t know how many more he will have.
One of the strangest aspects of my little buddy (as if the aforementioned was not strange enough) is how he permits me to clean his tank. Granted, I do a complete water change and rinse the poop and uneaten decaying food from the gravel at least monthly, but sometimes there is a nasty build-up on the bottom of his tank, and, since my house is always, clean I like to keep his home fresh and clean and clear.
The other night I noticed that there was an excessive amount of gross stuff lying atop the plants, gravel, and ceramic log in which he sleeps. I didn’t have enough filtered water to do a complete water change so I searched my ever-creative brain for some ideas.
Eureka! Since I have become a vegetarian, I have no use for my turkey baster any more. Perfect, I thought, I can suction the debris from his tank until a proper cleaning can be done. So there I am, hand partially in the tank, using the kitchen gadget as a manual wet-dry vacuum of sorts and it worked perfectly. Even more unusual was that Bartholomew didn’t mind the whole ordeal. He seemed interested in what I was doing, brushing up against my hand on many occasions (which I like to believe is his way of expressing affection) as I suctioned up enough gross stuff to fill a two-cup measuring cup, being careful not to get the tip too close to Bartholomew even though I wondered how funny that would be to see him stuck to the end of a turkey baster. Then I topped off the water, added a few more drops of Betta Thrive, and voila, a relatively clean tank.
And a happy fish. I think.
“Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” ~ Benjamin Franklin