Fish fry

October 15, 2011

No you can’t have any. At least not until they grow up.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba supposes he’d better explain.

Some while ago, YFNA set up some aquaria. Seeing as how the adoption of more traditional pets is incompossible with our retaining permission to live in this house. Not that some of the more traditional pets haven’t tried to adopt us, or at least claim our space. But let’s leave those plot complications for Charlene, eh?

The fish chosen for these aquaria all come out of Lake Tanganyika in Africa. There’s a reason, in addition to their being pretty or weird-looking and (more or less) easy to keep. Ever hear of Darwin’s finches? That’s a group of birds, all of which are descended from a single pair that flapped (or got flapped) from mainland South America to the Galapagos Islands, found that they had the whole place to themselves, and set up shop. Eventually, the birds evolved from one pair – and therefore one species – to a flock of species (a “species flock”, natch) each one of which was adapted to all the different ways to make a living (an “ecological niche”) on the Galapagos and acquired bill shapes to match.

The same thing happened in Lake Tanganyika and its neighboring lakes. When Tanganyika first opened up, about 10 million years ago, a single pair of cichlid fish (the “Tilapia” you buy in the fish market is a cichlid) fell in, and its descendants are now adapted to all the different ways to make a living in the lake. Some of the ones in YFNA’s aquaria swim in open water and look like sardines, some live among the rocks and look almost like worms. And some are tiny things that live in snail shells.

Yes. Really.

YFNA set up the aquaria with sandy bottoms, threw in a bunch of snail shells from the garden (another plot complication for Charlene) and from beach-combing in various places we’ve visited, and when all that had settled down, added the fish. Presto. Hours of entertainment watching the fish carry (yes, carry) the shells from one place to another, squabbling over them in the process, and burying them in the sand so only their lips showed. Then guarding those shells, and ducking down into them anytime a threatening-looking Amoeba walked by.

Until, of course, they learned that the “threatening-looking amoeba” carried food.

Ever see a fish beg?

So YFNA was feeding the menagerie about a week ago, when he saw these specks on the sand outside of one of the shells that the male (more about this in a minute) shell-dweller was guarding closely, and kinda frantically. Quilly came over to see. “Oh. Look! Babies!

Now, as you know, baby dogs are puppies, baby cats are kittens, yadayadayada. Baby fish are called “fry”. (Were you wondering how long it was going to take to get to that explanation I promised?) Don’t ask me why “fry”. Ten of these things will fit on your little fingernail. Filleting them is out of the question. Maybe it’s supposed to be foreshadowing. “Your fate, Finn, awaits on some human’s stove”.

The other fish in the aquarium didn’t have stoves. Just as well: good luck with getting gas or electricity in there anyway. Not to mention that it’s danged hard to manipulate a frypan with fins. Or a filleting knife. It didn’t matter. What did matter was that these fry weren’t going to have lives to foreshadow, Daddy’s best efforts notwithstanding, unless YFNA did something.

Fortunately, for once, the best laid plans of mice, men, and amoebae amounted to something. YFNA reached into the tank, which caused Daddy fish and most of the fry to duck into the shell Dad was guarding, then picked up the fish-laden shell and carried it to the other aquarium, which had been specifically set up to receive them. Some of the fry didn’t make it back into the shell. No worries. YFNA got out his trusty turkey baster, sucked up the wanderers, and squirted them into the new tank. Where all is now well. Apart from the baleful stare that Dad gives YFNA every time he walks by.

So what’s all this about “Daddy?”

Well, dude, one of the gnarly things about keeping cichlid fish is that, unlike many other kinds of fish, the parents take care of their fry. Rear cichlids successfully and get a free show, and you have no idea whether you’ll get Leave it to Beaver or Married with Children or Three and a Half Men.

In this kind of shell-dwelling cichlid, what’s supposed to happen is that the female fish gets (ahem) invited to occupy a shell in the male’s territory. The eggs get laid in that shell, and the female sticks around to take care of the fry while the male guards the territory and keeps all those other fish and their frypans away.

Family life in this particular pair of fish seems to take the form of the female getting into the male’s, ah, shell, laying the eggs and then cutting and running. Leaving Dad to do the parenting thing. Makes one wonder what would happen if there were more than one male around in that tank. Which there isn’t, so I guess we’ll never know. At least, not until those fry grow up. Oedipus, anybody?

I will say this. Dad’s job, and mine, in bringing up these fry is surely going to be easier, not to mention cheaper, than it will be for the babies that some of our blogging buddies have been coming up with lately.


Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives in the Pacific Northwest. When she is not doing book reviews or creating curriculum literature units, she is working on writing the next great American novel. You may visit her writing blog at http://charlene-amsden.com. To change this standard text, you have to enter some information about your self in the Dashboard -> Users -> Your Profile box.


8 Comments

  • StacyNo Gravatar says:

    Quilly, the new look of the blog is sharp! I like it. 🙂

  • And here I thought I was headed to Wisconsin!

  • alastairNo Gravatar says:

    Oooh, snazzy new look, and love the story, thanks Amoeba 🙂 Hi Quilly, it’s been a while….

  • JimNo Gravatar says:

    Good one here, Amoeba. 🙂 Right from the start you caught my attention with your word, incompossible. I learned something then today. Incompensable means “Unable to exist if something else exists” according to the Devil’s Dictionary [http://dd.pangyre.org/i/incompossible.html ].

    One of my son’s assumed the caretaker Daddy role in their marriage. It works! When they finally divorced the kids stayed with Dad. The 25-year-old got married last week. The younger one is now working for an oil company and makes more than did when I retired as a professor.

    I had a friend/coworker who returned from an assignment in Africa. He had become infested with some exotic African stomach worms that he was never able to get rid of. Not even Boston doctors could do help things. Moral? Boil your food and water. Tour directors can help with the food situation.
    ..

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