Pretty the Loch Ness goldfish

Late this summer we dug and filled a small pond in our backyard. It’s really no bigger than a large bathtub. Our neighbors donated some hyacinths. A multitude of mosquito larvae appeared within days, somewhat to my surprise. I did a little research about how to control them. A county agency gives away free larvae-eating fish to anybody who asks, but we were past the date for that. The local pet store didn’t have any of these special fish. Goldfish are said to eat larvae too, if you don’t feed them other stuff. A goldfish it would be.

I shelled out extra for the pretty goldfish, the one with the glinty white flanks and puffy red-orange head. I told the shop owner why I was buying as the bag sat on the counter, and he told me that he’d give it a few days, two weeks tops in a backyard pond. “Why?” “Raccoons and cats!” “We have two fat cats and I’ve only seen a raccoon once in two years.” “You’ll see” he assured me. I looked again at the pretty fish and wondered if I shouldn’t stick with a plain cheap one. I’m a sucker for pretty, though, every time.

Pretty fish took to the pond well. Every day for a few days I’d look at her with Carl. Carl was thrilled and showed his friends. I didn’t want him to get too attached, though. The anticipation of inevitable loss made each sighting sweeter. I noticed no reduction in larvae. I figured she wasn’t hungry enough, yet.

Less than two weeks later she was gone. Ah, well. The larvae wriggled with a special kick in their tails, it seemed to me. Carl didn’t seem too upset, at least. October’s cold finally killed off the larvae as leaves filled the pond, which I would skim and dredge with a rake every other day or so.

Back from my Europe trip a few days ago, I decided to skim the pond once more for the winter, as freezes had turned the hyacinth black and the last of the leaves had long since settled. It’s such a small pond, see, a little debris allowed to collect will turn it into more of a wallow pretty fast.

As I scooped out the last hyacinth, I saw the fish! I dropped the rake in astonishment, not accepting how she could have hidden so long with so little cover, all these months and many skimmings, with freezes and no larvae or additional food! I poked near her to be certain — yes she was alive and plump and beautiful and vigorous enough in the icy water. I ran in to tell Martina and Carl. “What fish?” asked Carl. “Our goldfish! In the pond! She’s alive! Come look!”

At the pond’s edge again, there was no sign of her. My raking had stirred up the muck and left the water quite turbulent, so I figured she was just hiding in it. Further sweeping with the rake didn’t bring her near the surface, though. “You’ll see her later I guess” I explained.

I’ve been back to the pond’s edge now at least a dozen times over the last few days. The water’s all clear. Only the reflection of the sky blocks my gaze to the bottom. No fish that I can see. There are still some stray leaves at the bottom, and a couple big rocks in there, a little ledge or two near the edges. I’ve poked all those, squinting: no fish. Each time I poke I stir up more muck. Again, we’re talking bathtub-size pond, and the fish is bigger than your thumb.

Did my removal of her dead-hyacinth cover finally leave her open to the paws of cat and raccoon? Did I really see her, and will I see her again? I’m going to go check right now, wait for her, again, in the rain, because I’m a sucker for pretty.

6 thoughts on “Pretty the Loch Ness goldfish”

  • Todd

    Sad ending here. I found the fish dead in the pile of leaves and hyacinth I had scooped out of the pond. Didn’t see her, obviously. The stealth that kept her alive these months finally turned my bungling hand against her. What a downer.

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  • Jacque

    Oh Todd, that’s sad. I can’t count the times I’ve done something similar…cleaning up and only realizing later that I’d been busily destroying something elseââ?¬â?¢s habitat. Now, every time I go tromping out into the garden to “do some work” I try to think things through. I can’t stand that after the fact realization of unintended consequences.

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  • Jim

    I have some aquarium fish, tetras I think, that are the most indestructible organisms I’ve ever seen. I bought them about five years ago when I decided that it would be fun to have a fish tank. I moved the tank from apartment to apartment, and finally to my current house. Over the years, I lost my enthusiasm for the duties of aquarium ownership, but I think this is actually beneficial to my current fish population. I never change the water, only fill it up every few weeks when it gets low enough that the noise of the water-starved aeration device becomes unbearable. I feed the fish only when the urge strikes me, which is every week, at best. My wife dropped an appliance into the tank, and electrocuted one fish, but the others survived. A few months ago, one of my four remaining fish inexplicably disappeared without a trace. The remaining three, either despite or because of my neglect, appear to be very healthy and vigorous. Funny, when I enjoyed fish ownership and cared about things like clean water and regular feeding, I couldn’t keep anything alive. The point is that you should find out if tetras eat mosquito larvae.

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  • Ian Hopper

    Todd, we had an indestructable goldfish as well, though the intoduction of some new fish that had ick ended up killing it, though we got him better for a while. His name was Gill (named for the fish in What About Bob) and he was a black moore (bulbous eyed goldfish). Now we have a Betta Splendens and the enthusiasm for keeping him was never there for me(my wife got him for my son, who loves animals, but hardly ever notices his fish anymore). We don’t feed him much (bout once a week) and hardly ever change his water (I know lots about fish-care though from a former co-worked who was fish and reptile obssessed), so I’m always surprised to see him alive. He’s not even living in the ideal temperature: I think his water is about 10degrees low… but he just won’t die. Anyways, I know there’s something else that will eat those mosquito larvaââ?¬Â¦ is it frogs? I can’t rememberââ?¬Â¦

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  • Cara Lin Bridgman
    Cara Lin Bridgman December 29, 2006 at 11:46 pm

    Hi Todd,

    Sorry about your loss. One of those things where you can’t help kicking yourself over…

    We have one ordinary ‘feeder’ goldfish (white body, orange dot near tail, and blue-black eyes that give it a chronically shocked expression). A neighbor got too many for too cheap a price, so we threw six in with my two turtles. The turtles took care of five. This one must have blended in with the bathtub (turtles and fish can see color). It spent it’s first four months cowering here and there. Even so, it slurped up any mosquito larvae that thought about hatching into the pond. May have slurped up the eggs, too. All I know is that I never found mosquitoes in the pond (which really is a bathtub, but a deep Japanese-style one). Now the fish is a plump, solid, and healthy 4-5 inches long. When we feed the turtles, it is right there with them, using them as shields from whatever predators there may be, and nipping out to grab the fish food, turtle chow, and cat nibbles before the fish do. Still no mosquitoes.

    In Atlanta, GA, goldfish can be kept in pond year round. As long as the pond doesn’t freeze all the way to the bottom, they’ll be ok. With all that cold, they slow way down and don’t need as much food or oxygen. Of course, they like hiding in the leaves. Tasty tidbits of goldfish food hide in those leaves, too.

    In another pond, we have Taiwan peacock fish (a Taiwan version of the Siamese fighting fish). They eat mosquito larvae, too. So will guppies. Goldfish are fine. They tend to be extremely hardy, withstanding a wider range of temperature and water quality than most fish. If you try again with goldfish, don’t use a fish net to pick up or move the fish. The net can damage their scales. Catch them in a cup and use your hand. For all the other fish, the net is fine.

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  • Mo

    Sorry you lost the little feller. My little pond is about a bath and a half, and I had the same experience last spring; I thought all the finny fauna were gone, but when I finally got to replacing the pump and setting up a new filter, eight(!) four-inch long(!) fish came up out of nowhere.

    A flat pool skimmer net, rather than a sack-like net, makes it easier to see the flopping fishies as you remove the leaves.

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