One of the cool things about the aquarium hobby is that the fishes which we play with are often the same species and varieties which have been around for generations. When we visit the local fish store, we can see a whole host of fishes, many of which we may have kept at one point or another during our lives. They not only take us back to our hobby beginnings, but draw a direct line back to generations of hobbyists who came before us.
When I was a kid, and received my first aquarium (a metal framed, 5-gallon aquarium), I can remember the incredible excitement it caused. I could barely sleep the night before, and I think I was up at 4:30 AM for a week straight (much to my parent's chagrin, no doubt) after setting it up in my bedroom! I just couldn't wait to check out the fishes each morning!
Like every kid who kept tropical fishes, my tank had plastic plants, a goofy underwater castle ornament, some rainbow gravel, and an assortment of fishes that was probably inappropriate, slightly excessive, and no doubt, incompatible. My one secret weapon is that my dad was a seasoned fancy guppy breeder, so I had a ready source of in-house advice, assistance, and freshly-hatched brine shrimp!
The thing I remember the most about this tank were some of the fishes, and the joy and excitement they brought me. To this day, I still look at these fishes with a sense of nostalgia, and they evoke a sense of enchantment which other fishes just can't quite bring.
I only half-jokingly refer to them as "comfort fishes", as they evoke the same emotions in me as "comfort foods", like Mac and Cheese, freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies, or hamburgers do in others.
What were these fishes? Well, let's look at 'em:
First and foremost is the Neon Tetra.
No other fish evoked the whole tropical fish "experience" to me as much as this one. Its exotic colors, small size, shoaling behavior, and hardiness made it- still make it- one of the aquarium hobby's best overall fishes. I remember how I felt like I had "arrived" when I obtained my first group of 6.
Another fish that I kept form the beginning, which simply makes me smile every time I see it- one that I think I want to keep again soon, btw- is the Zebra Danio. Yeah, they swim obscenely fast, display little in the way of individual personality, and shit like mad, yet they absolutely take me back to that first aquarium, and never fail to make me smile!
So "old school", yet so alluring.
The Glass Catfish (now Kryptopterus vitreolus) is a bit more of a "serious" fish, but to a kid, the "X- Ray" thing it has going on is simply irresistible! Of course, I kept the fish completely incorrectly- singly, as opposed to in a small group. Yeah, my specimen, "Reggie", was a bit boisterous, and occasionally harassed my little Tetras (lucky he didn't eat them!), but it was one of my favorite fishes of all time! And this is another fish which I'd like to keep in a proper biotope-inspired aquarium soon.
I had a real thing for Barbs back in the day.
The Gold Barb was to me one of the best. Sure, it looks to most people to be little more than a common goldfish, and indeed, is often called that by non-fish types, but the "barbels" are the dead giveaway, and to a 7-year-old kid, they were a legit "tropical fish" that deserved a place in my tank! They still are, and they still do!
Peaceful, active, and "cute", they were a true favorite!
And then there is the Pristella.
This fish is probably one of the more under-appreciated Tetras out there, but it has the distinction of being the first egg-layer that ever spawned for me! That makes it awesome! And a school of them, swimming in and out of a bunch of Cabomba I had in this tank (my first live plant, after Sagittaria) used to captivate me all the time!
I kept some recently, in fact, and loved them just as much as I did when I was a kid. THAT says something about this fish, huh?
Of course, my list of "comfort fishes" would simply be incomplete if I failed to include the Guppy! My very first fish was a guppy. My dad used to give me some baby guppies in a bowl to have as fishy "boarders" for a while (he'd rotate them into his rearing tank as they grew)...I learned the art and perfected the skills of feeding and raising fry because of those little guys, an seeing them mature into beauties was something that I will never forget!
No doubt, everyone who's ever kept an aquarium as a kid has the same type of feelings for various fishes. They are part of who we are as both as a person and as an aquarist, and they will forever influence our hobby. No matter how far we advance in the hobby, the fishes of our childhood take us immediately back to those wonderous days of our hobby beginnings, which ignited a lifelong flame of passion for keeping and breeding tropical fishes.
Until next time- don't forget to look back one in a while, even as you're looking ahead to your next project. Introduce your children to the fishes of your childhood, and let them choose some of their own favorites- you know they will! In fact, try to incorporate some in your next aquarium!
Stay grounded. Stay focused. Stay introspective. Stay nostalgic...
And Stay Wet.