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Of Goldfish And Goldfish Bowls

by Ran

Many people have started out either their fishkeeping hobby or their general petkeeping with a goldfish in a fish bowl.  It's so commonplace, you wouldn't think twice about it.  It seems meant to be; to most, the idea of a goldfish in an actual large aquarium is preposterous.

     However, they should never be kept in anything less than the largest aquarium you can manage.  If you'd rather stick with the fish bowl, then forget about keeping a goldfish.

     Goldfish are probably the most commonly kept ornamental fish.  They are also the most commonly abused.  In this article, I'm going to be taking all the common goldfish misconceptions, turning them on their heads, then flushing them down the toilet like all the goldfish who really deserved better.

     Goldfish only live for a few years.  Yeah, sure they do; when they are not kept properly!  Healthy, well kept goldfish can live on average of up to twenty years.  Even more venerable ages have been recorded and are more common than you might expect.  If you plan on keeping a goldfish properly, you must consider whether or not you'd want a pet for so long.  Many people get bored of keeping animals; goldfish are certainly no exception.

     Goldfish don't get very big.  They don't need an aquarium.  Again, that's only true if you don't keep them properly.  Single-tail goldfish (Commons, Comets, and Shubunkins) are really not fish you want to keep in a standard tank unless you have a lot of money and a lot of room.  Properly cared for, a single-tail goldfish will often reach the length of a foot or more.  The goldfish you see every time you go to the pet store are only very young, and should never, ever be put in a fish bowl.
     Fancy-tail goldfish, or double-tails (like Black Moors, Ranchu, Orandas, or general Fan/Veil-Tails), don't get quite as large.  However, they deserve no less space than single-tails.

     Goldfish are stupid; they only have a three-second memory span.  Where this misnomer came from, I have no idea.  It couldn't be further from the truth.
     Goldfish are intelligent.  They will recognize their owners very quickly if they aren't stressed, and will beg like puppies every time they see them.  Once they are used to their owners hands being in the tank during maintenance, they will sometimes show their affection by rubbing against their hands, sitting on them, even allowing themselves to be lifted out of the water momentarily!  They'll learn that your fingers aren't food, and will nibble on them every time you dip them into the tank water.  Blind goldfish have even been known to recognize separate members of their human family by their voices alone!
     Goldfish are the most friendly and peaceful fish you can keep, and simply do not deserve their reputation as being unintelligent.

     The Dreaded Three.  These misconceptions are the ones that everyone knows.  Fishkeepers around the globe hear of these and shake their heads in despair.  However, there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and with goldfish, there's no exception.

     I'm sure most of you remember getting your first goldfish with a typical 'Goldfish Kit'; that iconic fish bowl (which really isn't suitable for any fish at all), a handful of aquarium gravel (often in garish colours for the kids), the smallest bottle of water conditioner available, the smallest jar of goldfish flake available, an optional false plant or decoration and, of course....the goldfish.  Some people think they're being considerate by buying two, to keep each other company.  All they're doing is killing them faster.

     Here's what a proper Goldfish Kit should contain: a sturdy aquarium, at least 120 litres for a single fancy-tail or 200 litres for a lone single-tail (up the size by 40-50 litres for each additional goldfish, more so for single-tails), a purpose-built tank stand (a lot of aquarium companies make tank-stand sets), fine-grain (a.k.a. soft sand) aquarium sand (most pet store owners, especially those with knowledge of fishkeeping, know the ratio of sand to tank-size), a very powerful filter (although two are better.  One dedicated to mechanical filtration, and one dedicated to biological filtration), a large bottle of water conditioner (Tetra AquaSafe or API Stress Coat are popular brands), a bottle of tank-essential bacterial cultures (this is entirely optional, however, it does really speed up the time of fishless cycling.  Seachem Stability, API Stress Zyme or BioSpira are well-known brands), a good aquarium light if your tank hood doesn't have one already in place (or if your tank doesn't have a hood), a good heater in case of emergencies, a liquid master test kit, and a small jar of goldfish flake or pellets.

     What?  But what about the fish?

     This is where tank cycling comes in.  Any new tank must be cycled!  If you want to keep your fish (any fish!) happy, healthy and as stress-free as possible, then do not bypass this critical setup step.  However, this is an article on goldfish; I'll write another article on cycling and add a link to it in the artist's comments.  If you wish to know more about tank cycling right away, please don't hesitate to ask me.

     Once your tank is cycled and ready for fish, it's time to head down to the local fish shop!  Choosing a good, healthy fish is your top priority.  It really doesn't take a rocket scientist (or an expert fishkeeper!) to tell apart a sick fish from a healthy one:
     Unhealthy fish will appear listless.  They'll often hold their fins close to their bodies, and may twitch them.  They often look thin and almost unnatural.  They might have tattered fins, and their gills might look very red.  Watch out for any fish that gasps at the surface for air.
     Healthy fish are energetic, always rooting around for food or watching the outside world with obvious interest.  They'll be full-bodied, with extended fins and full tails.  They shouldn't be gasping for air at the surface at all.  Gills should not appear red.
     Usually there are plenty of varieties to choose from.  I don't recommend buying single-tails unless you have a huge tank.  Fancy-tail goldfish are beautiful and lively when healthy, and make a great addition to any room.  Divide the fancies into three groups: Standard/Wen, Telescope-Eye and Bubble-Eye.  All three have the same basic requirements, but they also have unique ones that you must take into accout.
     Standard/Wen goldfish are generally one of the more common fancy-tail goldfish you'll find in the local fish store.  Standard fancies are basically Fan-Tails and Veil-Tails, both of which are available in a wide variety of colours and patterns.  These fish look similar to single-tails (not counting colour), except by the obvious double-tail, a shorter and fatter appearance, and sometimes long and flowing finnage.  These are a good choice for a first-time goldie.
     'Wen' goldies are slightly different.  These include Ranchu, Lionchu, and Orandas (among many others, of course)  As they age, if water conditions are good, they will develop a hood-like growth over their heads.  Some might just look like they've got a sixties-style afro, others will have their entire heads grown over.  This is normal for them.  Wen-growing goldfish in particular need very clean water to ensure good wen growth.  If a goldfish grows a 'full-facial' wen, make sure they get enough to eat, as their eyesight can become obscured.
     Telescope-Eye goldfish look quite like standard fancy-tail goldfish, except for the fact that they're really quite pop-eyed.  Literally.  Black Moors are one of the most common Telescope-eye goldies on the market.  Care needs to be taken that their eyes are prevented from getting damaged; to do this, simply don't put any sharp or jagged objects into the tank.  They also have slightly worse eyesight than other goldfish, so if you keep multiple varieties, make sure your Telescope-eyes are getting enough to eat.
     Bubble-Eyes are different than both.  They appear to have large, almost blister-like bubbles under each eye.  They're filled with liquid, not air, so you'd need to be very careful about any object going into the tank.  They generally have bad eyesight.  So, like with the Telescope-eyes and wen-growers, be sure that they get enough to eat.

     Fancy-tails are also relatively slow, so it isn't recommended to keep them with single-tails.  The single-tail will usually always be able to beat the double-tail to food.

     Now we move onto tank maintenance, which many people find the most annoying part of fish-keeping, and the most boring part of reading about fishkeeping.  Therefore, I'll keep it as short and simple as possible.

     Tank maintenance is a must-do with goldfish.  They are messy!  Your goldfish tank maintenance kit should include a gravel vacuum (used to siphon mulm -- sunken detritus, uneaten food and fish poo -- from the bottom of the tank), a large bucket used ONLY for tank cleaning, and an algae-scraping pad (although I use J-Cloths; you need a little more elbow grease, but they do the job nicely....and they're cheap!  Just do NOT use them for any other purpose)  The least you need to do is a weekly water change of around 30%, or a bi-weekly change of around 25% (I usually do a weekly of 50%, though.  I like my fish swimming in squeaky-clean water)  Gravel-vacuuming weekly is highly recommended, because of how messy goldfish are.  Cleaning the glass of algae is easy; just scrape it off with either a purpose-made pad, or a tank-only cloth.
     Generally, all you need to do with a water change is remove the desired amount of water from the tank (dump it onto your lawn or water the house plants with it, tank water is excellent for plants!), and add conditioned tap water of approximately the same temperature back to the tank.  Please, if you aren't more than willing to carry heavy buckets of water back and forth, don't consider getting a large goldfish tank....even though it's great for adding a bit of muscle to your arms!

     All in all, goldfish are just wonderful pets.  I know I made it sound like they're really rather difficult to care for, but in all honesty, they aren't.  All you need is a little bit of research under your belt, and everything should go long as you follow through with their care, that is.

     I wrote this article for the same reason I wrote my Improper Betta Care article.  Both bettas and goldfish are very often cruelly treated; the amount of abuse among these amazing fish is just mind-boggling.  I firmly believe that it needs to stop.  Hopefully those who read this will think twice the next time they see a goldfish bowl in a pet shop, or a tank full of young goldfish in a fish store; many of those fish will never live to adulthood.

     If you've managed to read the entire article....thank you.

© - October 2008