Monday, January 19, 2009

Eulogy for a Clown Fish

The aquarium album

Her life was lived in the dimension of 48 inches by 18 inches by 15 inches, the confines of a 60 gallon aquarium. I purchased her in 1989 to grace my new salt water tank along with a rose anemone. In the intervening 19 years, she grew, and along with her, my rose anemone cloned itself into 28 separate beings. I learned a few years ago that these so called Clown Fish, (Premnas biaculeatus), could breed in captivity so I bought her a companion. She was too old by that time to reproduce but they were compatible.

Also known as the spine cheeked anemone fish, these fascinating animals are immune from the sting of the rose colored anemone and wiggle, writhe, and finally relax as they sleep inside their hosts. One day I saw the anemone seem to tear itself asunder and there were two complete animals. Astonished, I consulted every aquarium book I could muster and learned that they clone themselves into colonies that dominate rock shelves in the Indo-Pacific ocean. I have seen them on my scuba diving trips to Thailand and in the Red Sea. Their strategy may be to maximize the stinging power of the individuals on the outside of the colony and the reproducing power of the individuals in the center in order to expand their territory. Nevertheless, I started plucking excess anemones from the tank and selling them to the aquarium store.

She and the remaining anemones prospered and I imagined that she picked a different anemone from her harem each night to rest with. In the last year she had grown visibly older and several times seemed to be nearing the end. She died on Christmas Day, when I was on holiday in Thailand and my friend, Gail, who had offered to feed and care for the tank found her on the bottom. The cleaner shrimp who normally offers his service to remove parasites and clean the detritus, was feasting unselfconsciously on her remains. Gail removed her from the tank and saying a short eulogy gave her a proper send off.

Her character was very clown fish-ish like. They tend to be belligerent, territorial, and, as a result, you have to pick the other residents of the tank carefully in order to preserve the peace. I love the other denizens including the brittle star, hermit crabs, six line wrasse, sand sifter goby, yellow goby, cleaner shrimp, mussel, snails, the small clown fish, and of course the remaining eleven rose anemones. Life in the tank is not easy but she lived a far longer life than any clown fish I have ever heard about and I will miss her.

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