Monday, December 19, 2011

Solomon - Becoming The King

For those of you who have been paying attention, Solomon is my newest fish. I've already made one post about him, which explains the origin of his name.

Today was the first really cold day in the room this year.
BlueStreak, who I've had for two and a half years knows the drill by heart. I go heat up the pads (I use pads because they heat the water faster than the heaters do. Not only that, they don't break down in six months >:(... ), put them in front of the tank, then wait until the pads are cold and start the whole process over again. As soon as he sees the pad, he swims right up near the front of his tank, just far enough away that the pad isn't TOO hot for him.
But this is not how most fish start out.
No, the first few days in that they see the pad, they almost invariably panic and dive for the nearest hiding place. By the second week, they've become accustomed to the strange scary thing (FireFlash got used to it in three days). By the next month, they actually seem to enjoy it.
Somewhat surprisingly, it has been my experience that they remember the warmth of the pads all the way to the next year. They recognize them on sight and rush up to get warm.
But never has a fish of mine approached a pad the first time they see it.
That is, until Solomon.
Nose down, swimming forward slowly and cautiously, he came right for the big dark thing that had just blocked up his view of the world. Eventually of course, he got so close that it was much too hot for him and he immediately retreated. Within minutes, he had settled near the pad, but not too near.
Solomon did in minutes what took most fish two weeks or even a month.
He studied the pad and realized it was not dangerous. He realized that getting too close caused discomfort. But he also somehow figured out that it was warm near the pad.
I couldn't believe he had done all that in mere minutes. Was it because he trusted me?. Or because he simply wasn't afraid of anything?. I don't believe that.
I believe he's just that quick and just that smart.

Today, after three long days of struggling, BlueStreak finally gave up the fight for life. I could most certainly talk about him for some time, but his story is for another time.
During Bluey's fight for life, I spent a lot of time in front of his tank, generally trying to comfort him and trying not to cry, which became increasingly difficult as time went on.
This had a rather strange effect on Solomon, who was usually indifferent to my presence unless I was paying special attention to him.
I wonder if Bettas can sense sorrow somehow, or see tears. On three separate occasions, Bluey had responded to my sorrow in an manner out of his normal character.
And for three days, so did Solomon.
He was usually very active and made good use of his entire tank. But for three days he simply sat in the nearest corner to where I was. Whenever I started to cry, he'd tilt his head (which kind of tilted his whole body) to the side and his eyes would turn in his head to look at me.
Between Bluey becoming upset whenever I started to cry and Solomon looking... well... undignified... I would usually stop crying. Solomon even got me to laugh the first time I noticed him doing it.
For three days this went on, until finally... Bluey was gone.
By then, I had no more tears. Besides, it felt almost wrong to cry for Bluey, as my tears had always upset him. Solomon was at his usual post in the corner, but today he hung especially low in the water and his 'nose' was tilted down more than usual.
After a little while, I started to sing. Bluey had been calmer when I sang, and it kept me from crying.
Solomon had never responded, but now he did. With the rise and fall of my voice, he seemed to nod his head. I mostly sang 'Full Circle' (by Loreena McKennitt), generally getting stuck on what had been Bluey's favorite part “In your heart, in your soul... did you find peace there?”.
He'd always gotten very still when I sang that part (or when the song reached that part when I was playing it on the computer).
Solomon now did the same. He'd be nodding his head, then suddenly he'd get very still and tilt his head as if to listen.
Edit: This was the first, and last (so far), time he responded to my singing.

Today I decided to take a few pictures of Solomon.
In my experience, Bettas have about three different reactions to camera flashes.
One, they panic and hide.
Two, they simply ignore it.
Three, they get very excited and keep trying to stare into the flash.
Solomon, as has become typical of him, had a completely different response.
He swam back and forth regally, pausing now and then to let me snap a quick picture of him. It was almost like he knew what I was trying to do and thought it his duty to show off so I could take pictures. He let me snap ten or twelve pictures before deciding he'd had enough.
He retreated, but when I pulled out the camera again later, he swam out to pose some more.
I don't think he particularly enjoys the camera flash, but I do think he enjoys the attention (though he pretends he's just showing up so that his 'subjects' or 'audience' can see him).

Solomon seems to truly enjoy my company now that I've had him for almost two months. Unlike most of my Bettas, he never shies away from my finger.
He also almost never frills out unless he really means it.
His favorite music tends to be primarily instrumental with guitar and/or flute (he also seems to have a special affection for the Flipper theme song. You know the one that goes “Flipper, Flipper. Faster than lightning” etc. etc.)
He has invented a game where he follows dust bits around (you know the ones that are really there all the time but you can just see them at certain times of day). He seems to find that rather entertaining.
So far, he has built six completely different bubble nests (most fish have a particular favorite. A circle of bubbles, a line of bubbles, a pile of bubbles etc.), each one more elaborate than the last (once it's completed anyway, which can take a few days).
He likes being under the bright light of the lamp for part of the day (or maybe the warmth of it) and gets mad when I move it over to Shadow's tank for awhile. Solomon swims off to the back of his tank indignantly and stays there for a few minutes.
However, if the lamp stays for too long, he also gets a little bit annoyed. Evidently, it's supposed to get dark in the evenings and if it doesn't... well that's just wrong.

Since it was a relatively warm day today, I decided to clean the fish tanks. Because of Christmas projects and laundry, I had several interruptions, so it took a good portion of the day.
Catching MoonShadow in the net is a little like trying to pick up jello in your hand. You think you finally have him and then he sort of oozes away.
However, he has been around long enough to know the routine, so it's really just him liking to be difficult and let me know he's NOT thrilled about this.
That's not Shadow being especially nasty, it's just him being a Betta. None of them have ever liked tank cleaning. They try to escape, and when they get put in the clean tank, they tend to spend the next week sulking by not eating, frilling out or panicking when they see me and refusing to build bubble nests.
I actually had one fish that was deathly afraid of the net, so I caught him by hand.
Solomon had never had his tank cleaned before, so he didn't know the routine.
He was a little concerned when I took all his items out, and shrank away. But he didn't do any of that 'panic' swimming, where they zoom around really fast and bounce of the tank walls, so that was good.
When I came back, he was swimming around his tank, looking slightly lost and very small in three gallons of water and nothing else.
Generally, my Bettas sink down to the bottom and sulk until the whole 'ordeal' is over.
I expected him to be very difficult to catch in the net, since the young and smaller fish always are, especially the first time when they think the net is going to eat them.
Solomon wasn't too upset when the net followed him, but he wasn't thrilled about being caught in it.
Still, he tolerated it with his usual dignity and poise.
That is, until the net actually left the water and he was up in the air.
In fact, he started flipping around so much I was afraid he'd fall out of the net and wind up flopping around on the dresser!. Fortunately though, he calmed down as soon as he saw that the net was heading towards another tank of water.
Observant as he is, he must have realized that he was heading back to safety.
I have never known a Betta to decide to be calm in the net. Not even once.
The net is scary, being out of the water is scary, being hauled around is scary... the whole experience is completely and utterly horrible. Or that's how they act, anyway.
By the time the net was in the water, Solomon had completely regained his composure and waited patiently while I got him all untangled and set him free.
Easiest capture and release of all time. Seriously.

People always ask me “why are their plants all upside down?”. The answer is very simple “they like them that way”. FireFlash, my second Betta, actually HATED it when I put his plant right side up. If I did, he would strike at the plant and rocks around it until the bottom came loose, then he'd nudge it around until it was 'properly' upside down. I have since tried having plants right side up at first, then upside down to see which they prefer. Every single one of them spends more time with their plant upside down. Don't ask me why. That is, until now.
I turned Solomon's plant right side up after cleaning his tank, and he seems to like it much better now.
Also, you remember I said it's a week (sometimes two) after they have their tanks cleaned that my fish finally start making bubble nests again?.
Well Solomon has already begun work on a new nest, and it looks to be his biggest yet.

Well this is the first day in quite awhile that I've gotten up and the fish have still been relatively warm. Perhaps not as warm as they'd like to be, but warm nonetheless. It's also the first time in days that MoonShadow has actually eaten anything.
Shadow was a somewhat sickly fish when I got him, and has teetered on the verge of getting sick off and on since I've had him. At this point, he's also rather old, and old fish don't handle change or cold very well at all.
Because of this, Shadow is the first to get warmed up in the mornings. He pretends he doesn't appreciate this in the slightest, yet always comes up to the heating back to warm up when he thinks nobody is looking. I don't get the impression that he's being unappreciative, he just doesn't want anyone to see his weakness, which is perfectly understandable in an animal.
Most Bettas will recognize the heating pad on approach and become angry if it doesn't get put in front of their tank. They'll frill at me, then go back and sulk around in the back of their tank until it's their turn to get warmed up.
Solomon, as has become usual, has a completely different response.
He'll swim up to the front of his tank and watched heating pad and then..... well.. his head sort of goes down in the water when he sees that the pad isn't for him, then he'll swim slowly away.
He looks sort of disappointed, but not angry. He doesn't act like it's an injustice, he merely accepts things the way they are.
This behavior, among others, is why I chose to name him 'Solomon'.
He may not be wise yet, but given time.... I believe he
could be the wisest fish I've ever had.

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