Belly up
How I ended up as the Fishtank Guy

Belly up
Zach Hively - 06/22/2023

There are a lot of guys I never thought I would be. One of these, among many, was Fishtank Guy. That changed when I figured out my dislike of mosquitos is greater than my disinterest in becoming Fishtank Guy. So now, lo and behold, this guy has an indoor breeding program for mosquitofish.

Like a great many slopes, this one was slippery. It all started with taking clover for granted.

I could not have been the only kid growing up in America who thought all honey came from clover. That’s what every squeeze bear had written on its belly sign: PURE CLOVER HONEY. It didn’t matter that, growing up in New Mexico, I did not see enough clover to sustain even a single beehive. Somewhere, there grew vast meadows with wide acreage sprouting clover and only clover, because that is the only way to ensure accuracy in advertising. 

I never examined this worldview until I encountered a jar – just some regular non-animal-shaped jar – labeled “wildflower honey.” My mind exploded like… well, like wildflowers. This sounded much more enticing than honey made merely from clovers and also much easier to enforce among the bee workforce. 

Wildflower honey also made honey sound much more accessible to those of us without reputable clover sources. I became Beekeeping Guy with the same gusto and naivete that other people become Homebrewing Guy. Like Homebrewing Guy, I developed an excessive adjective vocabulary to discuss flavors. I also cultivated comparable concerns about my water supply. 

Bees, like most living things, require fresh water. But they can also drown in it, because there are too many in a hive to outfit with arm floaties. So in order to give the bees a safe place to land in my water trough, I became Aquatic Plant Guy. I installed a variety of water hyacinths and water lilies and water bottles with just enough rocks in them to hold them steady while they floated. 

These ultimately worked, for the bees. But I had a new problem: standing water. Unlike its counterpart, running water, standing water is lazy and prone to developing a thin layer of nacho cheese dust. Standing water is slow enough for mosquitos to catch, and when they do, they lay eggs.

If you think this is how I became Fishtank Guy, you’re only half wrong. You must also account for my ability to mess things up.

Mosquitofish are hard to mess up. Ranchers put them in horse troughs, where the fish survive on mosquito larvae and horse saliva. But my water lily oasis kept offing them like … well, like fish in a barrel. Sending them to swim with the fishes, as it were. 

Maybe this was normal? Maybe I had a bad batch of fish. Maybe bee spit is deadlier than horse drool. Maybe they just kept hiding under lily pads, giggling like toddlers, whenever I went outside to stare into the water. Whatever the cause of their struggles, winter left no doubt and killed whoever survived.

The Guilty Conscience Guy on my shoulder laid it out like a philosopher with his postulates: You want bee water. You want to minimize contributing to skeeter overpopulation. You need mosquitofish. You don’t want to kill them off. 

QED: you must spend many dollars on plastic plants and a rock with a tunnel through it for “enrichment purposes” and dedicate an entire portion of surface area in your home to a tank for growing algae and still killing off the mosquitofish you stock it with, mere moments after the return window on all the fish tank apparatus has closed.

I gave up. I had a fish tank, but I was not Fishtank Guy. I was not when I was young and had a fish tank until my dad got tired of keeping it going for me. And I was not now, when I had no one to blame but everyone involved in the water supply chain. 

I offered my tank, algae and all, to my brother-in-law, who is an actual qualified zookeeper. He started asking questions, like how often had I changed the water, or treated the water, or cleaned the tank, or fed my fish, or left them unattended when I skipped town for a week. 

He’d take the tank, he said, or – or! – he could show me all the things I needed to do to keep my next poor batch of fish alive, unless they swim up the filter, in which case that’s their own stupid fault. 

Being a Guy, I realized, means more than acquiring the right stuff. I could only be Fishtank Guy if I paid attention and cared enough to sustain a minimally functional habitat. Lucky for the algae, I hate admitting I can’t.

So I brought my fish tank up to code. I stocked the outside bee-water trough with mosquitofish, and I kept some inside, most of which are still alive as I write. One is even pregnant, though I suspect she’s willing her little fry to fight the current as long as possible. 

Once I prove I can do it, I think I’ll give it all up and take on another challenge. Something more forgiving and less, you know, alive. I’m thinking Standing Guy – complete with nacho cheese dust.

– Zach Hively

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