Emily Parnell — There’s someone out there for even the prickliest sort

07/30/2013 4:17 PM

07/30/2013 4:17 PM

My son, Cooper, received a betta fish for his birthday. It was a gift from a friend, and as gifts go, it has been a home run.

At his party, he opened a little fish bowl that came with a certificate to pick out a betta. Our family piled in the car and went to the store, where we were led to a wall of colorful fish, all confined to itty bitty bowls.

Betta fish are scrappy little fish. They’re also known as Siamese fighting fish, and are apparently even more cantankerous than the other popular Siamese pet — Siamese cats. (No offense to Siamese cats, but the ones I’ve known have been quite… quirky.)

Bettas are so lacking in social skills, in fact, that they must remain in solitary confinement in order to not bully and bludgeon their tank-mates.

These little creatures also have lungs and can breathe air. Therefore, they can live in a tank of water with no oxygen by going to the top and inhaling air. They come in an array of striking colors; each fish is quite magnificent. The males’ long, full tails fan out in beautiful combinations of crimson, gold, teal, blues and other colors.

Their beauty, combined with their violent nature and ability to survive in a small tank, has landed millions of betta fish into tiny tanks in kids’ bedrooms everywhere.

Cooper chose a deep blue fish with burgundy at the ends of its fins and tail, and named it Raven. All was fine at first, but before long, Raven huddled on the bottom of its tank, his color paled. The poor fish would barely eat. We followed the instructions we’d been given, but it was obvious: The fish was miserable.

Cooper’s a conscientious, responsible pet owner. He follows care instructions to a T, and he was quite saddened by the state of his little friend. So we consulted our betta care expert friend, Google, and found that the fish needed a bit more care than we’d originally been told. It was cold. We got the fish an inexpensive small-tank heater, and he huddled close to it, then slowly regained its color, its energy and its appetite.

But Cooper worried now that his poor fish must be lonely. His anti-social friend must surely need a friend. We placed a ceramic fish in his tank — a garish yellow critter with bright red lips, clearly a fish to humans looking in, but surely more of a rock to little Raven. In his small tank, the ceramic “friend” served as little more than an obstacle.

Finally, we went to the pet store. We observed the little bettas in their tiny cups, waiting for homes, and noticed some green balls, slightly bigger than golf balls, floating mysteriously in their own cups. A woman standing nearby explained. They were Marimo moss balls, spherical algae that help keep the water in fish tanks healthy by absorbing toxins. And best of all, this plant life is an acceptable tank companion to bettas.

We headed home with Cooper and Raven’s new brainless green buddy, Mossy. Cooper excitedly introduced Mossy to his new buddy, Raven.

Raven was skeptical at first, and puffed up to confront the mindless ball of green algae. The moss ball passively bobbed, and the two soon became friends. I guess. They cohabitate peacefully, anyway.

“See, Mom, even Raven can find a friend,” Cooper pointed out. My boy is right. There’s a friend out there for everyone. It just takes finding the right personality combination.

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