Do single goldfish get lonely?
Goldfish are a social species, living in shoals in the wild. In captivity, it’s strongly recommended that they should be kept at least in pairs, to provide companionship.
Goldfish are the third most popular pet in the UK, but they get little coverage compared to dogs and cats — the number one and two in the latest statistics. And when goldfish are discussed, they tend to be demeaned, with unfair comments about their shortmemoryandlowlevel of intelligence. In fact, goldfish are far smarter than most people realise, and they have as much of a personality as many other larger animals.
I know this for myself: I have shared my home office with a tank of goldfish for the past decade. My fish recognise me, swimming out from behind a rock to greet me; if anyone else comes up to the tank, they hide. They may not show affection like a dog or cat, but in their own fishy way, they have a certain charm.
I’ve been going through a type of existential crisis with my fish in recent times. I originally had three fish in the tank, but a number of months ago, the two smallest fish died. I suspected that the largest fish, Ricky, may have played a role in their demise (he was always a bit of a bully), but their absence left me with a dilemma. How should I cater for the social needs of Ricky, as the single remaining goldfish?
Goldfish are a social species, living in shoals in the wild. In captivity, it’s strongly recommended that they should be kept at least in pairs, to provide companionship. If you watch fish in a tank, you’ll see that they regularly engage with other fish. It’s thought that solitary fish, much like solitary humans, may begin to suffer from depression and lethargy. Indeed, in some countries (such as Switzerland), it’s now illegal to keep goldfish on their own, since this contravenes animal welfare legislation.
There’s no lawto stop me keeping Ricky on his own, but I felt sorry for him. Last weekend, I made the decision to let him out of solitary confinement. I didn’t want to havemore fish indoors (the truth is that the regular tank cleaning regime has lost its charm in my busy life), so I decided to move him outdoors, into our garden pond, where he can mingle with our four outdoor goldfish. The larger body of water would suit his increasing length and girth, in any case: Ricky has outgrown his indoor tank.
This is the ideal time of year to transfer goldfish from indoors to outdoors: the garden pond is as warm as it gets all year, minimising the risk of cold shock. My main concern is the risk of a heron attack. We have tried to heron-proof the pond by creating hide-away refuges for the fish using bricks and ornaments with tunnels, and we’ve set up a fountain that disturbs the water surface, which we hope will make it more difficult for the heron to spot his prey.
The transfer has gone well so far: within minutes of arriving in his new home, Ricky started to interact with the four other fish. One day on, he now regularly swims in a small shoal with them. I have no idea what’s going on inside his goldfish head, but from what I’ve read, and from what I can see for myself, Ricky’s a happier goldfish now.
Goldfish have a certain fishy charm.