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Painting Live Tropical Fish

Why Responsible Pet Stores Don't Have Painted Fish

(The First Tank Guide)

I neither encourage nor condone severe cruelty to animals, even to small helpless fish (or, maybe that should especially to small, helpless fish).

Several varieties of fish are being artificially colored to improve marketability. Amongst these fish are the Colored Skirts, Painted Glass Fish, Painted Tiger Barbs, Jellybean Parrots, and Colored Botias.

The practice of artificially coloring live fish, also called painting, juicing, or dying the fish, appears to have actually started in the late 1970s with the Glass Perch (Chanda ranga or Chanda wolfii), also known as the Indian Glassfish, the Indian Glass Tetra, the Glass Tetra, or simply as the Glassfish, being injected or "juiced" with stripes of bright colored pigments along their dorsal and ventral lines. Though this produces a very striking looking fish, the hobbyists of the day quickly realized that this coloration was artificial, and protest throughout most of the US and Western Europe appeared to have eliminated these fish from the hobby, to everyone's relief (except, possibly, the suppliers).

However, in the late 1980s, this fish worked its way back into the marketplace. This time either people are less concerned about the welfare of these animals, or there are enough shops that are more interested in the bottom line than the welfare of the animals they sell, that they do not appear to be disappearing from the market, but this affliction of juicing or dying has spread to many other species and varieties.

The "Painted" Glass Fish is not a natural color morph. Small pockets of dye are injected just below the skin using a large gauge needle. The puncture wounds inflicted on these fish must be traumatic. Unlike a tattoo, the wound does not heal with the new pigment dispersed into surrounding cells, but the dye appears to remain liquid in the pockets where it was injected, until such time as the dye has worked its way out of the body or the fish's immune system has eliminated it. Of the few of these fish that survive this process, most will die within the two months following the trauma, and most those that still survive will have lost their coloration within six to ten months. Only about 10% of the fish that survive for sale will keep their coloration for any length of time. The practice of painting these fish has nearly eliminated the availability of the unpainted variety in the pet industry.

Other fish that are colored by man to improve saleability:

The carcinogenic pigments used on the colored tetra and colored botia are stored in vacuoles in cells creating a faint background color. The more intensely colored areas are created by injecting the fish with more of the dye in strategic locations. The fish's immune system then proceeds to fight this infection until the dye has been removed from the system. This added stress makes these fish highly susceptible to any other infection which they may be exposed to, since they are unable to defend themselves from it.

In almost all of these situations, the coloration of the animal eventually fades, but only those specimens hardy enough to survive significantly after the fact. If you are interested in glass fish, I recommend that you look into getting glass perch (not painted) they are very hardy, and interesting, and your purchase of them does not encourage the inhumane treatment of animals. Unfortunately, laws preventing cruel treatment of animals only apply directly to mammals, though some can be extrapolated as far as birds or occasionally reptiles (though reptile protection is as close as you can get to unheard-of), and never apply to amphibians or fish.

In addition to the cruel treatment these fish are subjected to, these processes are performed by untrained laborers paid below poverty level wages in third world countries. By purchasing painted fish, you are not only encouraging cruelty to animals, but encouraging these appalling work conditions. Remember, never purchase any animal at a pet store if you feel sorry for it - this just encourages a store to get another to replace it.

Responsible pet stores will not knowingly order these fish, even on special orders. There are many beautiful fish available which have not been colored by humans which will do much better in your home or office aquarium.

Aquarists should also be aware that there are many fish that are called "painted" that are not actually dyed, but are natural coloration. Among these is the Painted Platy and its cousin the Painted Swordtail. Many fish with impressive coloration come that way naturally, such as Neon, Black Neon, Cardinal, and Glolite Tetras, any of the Alunocara "Peacock" Cichlids, Guppies, Discus, many Rainbowfish, many Killis, and Goldfish and Koi. I strongly encourage consumers to purchase only naturally colored fish and to request that pet stores in your area not carry painted or dyed fish should you see any.

Here are some links to sites with further information on painted fish and the cruelty involved in this practice:

The Dyeing of Fishes, a Campaign to Stop This Cruel Practice in the Fishkeeping Hobby

The Practical Fishkeeping Dyed Fish Campaign

Painted Glass Fish from FINS: The Fish Information Service

Painted Glass Fish and Other Questionable Practices from Badman's Tropical Fish: Submitted Articles

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