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Fishy thoughts

Fish Thoughts

I love my aquariums, and they sometimes work into my fiction writing process.

I fixed new lights on one of my aquariums yesterday. Watching the fish glow under the LED, slow down and hover because this light makes shadows inside the aquarium, mimicking their natural environment, I began to wonder: what do fish think– what are the thoughts that blink up and light their tiny little minds? Do they think at all? What if we knew their thoughts?

And as any writer knows, ‘What if’s can sometimes lead to great stories.

I went back to look for instances of when my fish have inspired me, and found this old blog post— the writers amongst you might identify with it:

As some readers of this blog know, I have a pair of Black Angelfish.

Every two weeks or so, like clockwork, they lay about a 100 eggs, guard them till the babies hatch, hover around the hatchlings still attached to the leaves, try to carry them in their mouths and keep them safe once the babies are free-swimming. Only about 50 babies are left at this stage.

Then for the next three days, they do their best to sustain the babies, which dwindle from 50 to 25 to 10 to 5 to zero. This is because I don’t know what to feed the babies— am both scared of, and don’t know how to, breed mosquito larvae, which is their food.

A day after the last baby has disappeared, the angels are at each other, kissing, fluttering, chasing, back at the mating game. A day later there are eggs again.

I wonder if they remember their babies. I know they are capable of some kind of association/ memory,Β  because they know when I’m around and come begging for food, and dance around like mad puppies when I have the food box in my hand.

I no longer know how to feel about the regular births and deaths.

But I’ve learned the passion of creation by their example: write like mad, polish them like mad, submit like mad, and even if the babies come to nothing, set about making my writing babies again.

And just like with the angelfish babies, rejoice that they lived and swam free, at least for a while.

Who knows, maybe someday, one of the angelfish babies would survive. It would become more than a tiny tadpole, actually grow fins and swim at large.

In the meanwhile, what I and my angelfish can do is create, with passion and commitment. Results be damned.


What do Fish think? Have you ever wondered what your pets think about, the cat, your dog, that hamster? Has your pet ever inspired you to create art or stories?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Wow! Me too! Just last night, as I was looking at the aquarium in my bedroom, I was wondering what do those creatures were thinking. And also when I write, I get inspired by my pet fish. πŸ™‚ Great article! πŸ™‚

  • Thank you for liking β€œTaking Time Off to Suffer: My Blogging β€˜Vacation.’” I enjoyed reading this post. My family had two goldfish when I was a child. I enjoyed watching them swimming in their aquarium, but I do not remember wondering what they were thinking. However, I do wonder what my dog thinks, especially when she looks at me. I sometimes think that what we think our pets are thinking is actually a projection of our own thoughts.

    My dog is not the primary muse of my life, but I drew a sketch of her when she was a puppy. After reading this post, I am thinking if I want to draw her again now that she is an adult dog.

  • I absolutely loved this post! I was just kinda skimming around different blogs, but the title made me stop… what do fish think? I was expecting a humerous post, which it was, but I was not expecting the lesson in it.

  • I definitely like to attribute some anthropomorphism to all the fish I know; it makes it a lot more fun to think about their daily lives if I imagine that they are judging people’s fashion choices.

  • I really adored reading this! Afterward, I suggested playing “Go Fish” with my kids who were thrilled to have that followed up with a viewing of “Finding Nemo.” But fins…. err hands down, the best part of the night was that mom (that’s me!) suddenly switched from making Fish Sticks for dinner to French Toast! They all thank you for the “Something’s Fishy” themed evening. PS – – So glad I was led to your blog by your follow because it is a true delight!
    Take care,

  • I have two angel fishes too! One black and one yellow… unfortunately, they’re both females πŸ™‚

  • Hey now. 1) Thanks for the unexpected watch and I hope you enjoy the show and 2) a long comment is called for.

    I’ve noticed that people tend to define animals into two categories: Those that can feel (the fuzzy ones) and those that can’t feel/think/have souls (the lacking fuzz ones).

    Your post about your fish (I know it’s grammatically improper, but damn do I want to call them “fishes” for funsies) reminds me of my interest in the fuzzless species. Mainly I dabble in care of cockroaches and have been fascinated by this genus now for, oh seemingly forever.

    I wonder too, do they feel, what do they feel? Do they process thoughts? Are they happy?

    And all the What Ifs do lead to some pretty good fiction fodder. I’ve written a scholarship piece (no news back if I’ve gotten it yet) about an invasive female American Cockroach that loves her human host—this in point offers her great offence when her beloved human starts killing her kind.

    The What Ifs make life, really. What if it snows today? What if I don’t go to class? Will I be happy? DO fish think, and what do they think of? Are they happy? Are my cats content when they sleep on my face or are they slowly trying to suffocate me?

  • epsnider says:

    I am not too familiar with fish although I do like watching them swim in an aquarium or in a fish pond. However I am very familiar with dogs and like to speculate what they are thinking. One particular incidence comes to mind. When my children were growing up we had a taffy coloured Cocapoo appropriately named Taffy. One day I heard a pitiful cry and whimpering coming from the upstairs bedroom. I quickly ascended the stairs. There was Taffy sitting on the bed with the claws of his hind leg caught in the thick curly fur behind his ear. Every time he tried to scratch or disengage himself it would hurt. As soon as I entered the room he stopped whimpering and looked at me with his big brown eyes. He was probably thinking: ” Whew I will be rescued at last. I hope she doesn’t ask me how I got into this predicament” Once I freed him, I got lots of licks and his thoughts probably were :”Thank you, thank you, I love you”

  • I used to have fishes for pets when I was younger. I never thought back then if they know me or something along those lines. I do hope that they somehow remember me since I really took a lot of great care feeding them, cleaning their home etc πŸ˜€

  • I had a pair of angel fish (named Toothbrush and Toothpaste) when I was 12. As soon as the eggs hatch, we put them in a separate aquarium. We found out only a few hundred hatchlings prior, that Toothbrush and Toothpaste eat their babies.
    I enjoyed how you linked your fish to the creative process. True enough, watching fish calms the mind.

  • Gail says:

    Here is a poem I wrote a while ago about fish and dreaming…..along the same lines:

    Do Fish Dream?

    Mayflies land softly
    floating above unblinking eyes

    Peeled for tender morsels.
    A flick of the sturdy tail

    an open mouth
    food for thought.

  • Well I have no idea whether fishes are thinking and I’m inclined to believe that they don’t but you are sure thinking outside the box! It’s tickling imagination and a challenging start for a story…

  • estyree says:

    I often take inspiration from my animals. I once had a fish tank that included a gorgeous red Beta male and a silver coin fish (affectionately named Crank…). They would all swim up to ‘say hello’ when I walked in the door and would taunt my cat and dog on purpose! A long time ago I won a short story contest by writing about my adorable special needs cat’s life, she often sat by the fish tank and wondered what they were thinking…I’m sure that’s what she was doing!

  • llip2 says:

    This reminds me of my Aquarium when I was a child. I had black mollies, silver tails and guppies; the female guppies were always pregnant. πŸ™‚ I used to watch the babies being born, swimming out with such energy, I remember I had to separate the babies from the older fish, if I didn’t they would actually be eaten by the older fish. Guppies are born live rather than eggs. πŸ™‚ I haven’t had an Aquarium since I was a child. Thanks for sharing

  • okmegan says:

    You never know which fish will get caught. The more fish you put out there the more likely that one will. That’s a great thing to remind yourself of when you’re frustrated and feel as though all the writing you are producing is becoming futile. Just keep setting fish into the sea! More people will fish where they know they might make a catch, so something is bound to sink a hook.

  • I love this. I have a fascination with sharks and often wonder what they would think about all the bad press they get! This has inspired me to finally write about the recent controversy of shark culling in Australia.

  • I’ve got a Bengal cat named ‘George’ and I’m constantly wondering what he could be thinking!! He’s a real ‘talker/meower’ – and a lovable pest!

  • msbirchfield says:

    results be damned πŸ™‚

  • I Never had angel fish but I had other fish that had babies guppies, mollies, neons and what I did I keep bushes for them to hide in. You should be able to get dry food for the babies. I didn’t know the angels had babies like that. I miss having an aquarium.

  • Mark1 says:

    I have an aquarium. Nice post.

  • Debbie says:

    I used to have an aquarium, too! There’s something so relaxing about watching fish swim about, listening to the bubbling water, and all that. Of course, it’s a LOT of work as well — cleaning it, worrying about whether the conditions are right for the fish to live. and finding TIME in the midst of writing to tend them. Love the analogy here!

    • Damyanti says:

      Yes, getting the balance of plants, fish, water, light, feeding is difficult, and needs to be maintained. Thanks, the analogy forced itself on me each time I saw the cycle of births.

  • marieabanga says:

    I now know why I starred this post to read it later and yes although it took me 13 good hours to get to this post, I am glad I did.

    Thank you for this and as you responded to Harliqueen,Life is indeed full of lessons.

  • Jemima Pett says:

    That was fascinating, since I know very little about fish. I used to sit and watch my Dad’s goldfish, Walter, and my Dad used to spend a long time watching him too. I worked out much later that he watched Walter when he had things on his mind.

    As for “have your pets ever inspired you”, at the risk of boring all those who have seen my biog and my books… yes. Fred and George insisted I write their stories. George even started his own blog, continued by the current masters of the pc. Guinea pigs have very different character traits from each other, and demonstrate differing levels of cognitive skills too. It makes characterisation ever so much easier when you are basing them on real ‘personalities’.

  • Adi says:

    Wow! That hit a certain soft spot! Thanks.

  • Harliqueen says:

    That was a good lesson you got from the angelfish. In writing, and life, sometimes you just got to keep pushing and going at it, no matter what the results might be.

    Though kinda sad about the no babies πŸ™

  • Vefday says:

    My online friend who lives in LA recently bought a Betta and is having so much trouble with it. I once kept goldfish in a nice bowl which I named Cathy and Scott. These two babies played all day .. chasing each others tails from morning until night. I like eating fish but I couldn’t enjoy a meal of fish with my two babies playing in the tank. So I gave my darling fish away to my daughter. She didn’t take good care of them and they both died on the same day three years ago. I sadly miss Cathy and Scott, however now I can enjoy the occasional fish meal. I try not to think of them when I’m chewing on a grilled salmon. Ha!Ha! Fish are very intelligent I’m sure.

    • Damyanti says:

      Yep, fish do need a lot of care, and it is sad when they die due to lack of it. Some of my fish died for no reason at all, and it was hard. I do eat fish, have learned to separate the big ones on my plate from the tiny ones in my aquarium. πŸ™‚

  • misstrie says:

    What an awesome analogy! Fish eggs to writing; I would’ve never made that connection, but I love it! πŸ˜€

  • davidprosser says:

    For a time my wife and I both had large tanks in our rooms with Oscars. Hers, ‘Ollie’ was moody and would often nip her as she cleaned the tank. Mine,Olive would come to the front and follow my moves, even appearing to kiss the glass whenever I put my face there. One night an almighty crash woke me and turning on the light I found she’d jumped, dislodged the hinged lid and propelled herself onto my bed. I don’t want to know what she was thinking about but my wife always said Olive loved me. A little split in the skin showed blood but I carried her back to the tank safely and she survived the headache..
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Damyanti says:

      That’s such a cute story! I hace a rule now– never name the fish. I get too attached to them, and they die quicker than cats or dogs. So, I try and just let them be. I named each of my Bettas and quietly cried myself to sleep quite a few nights when they died.

  • I’m sorry but I am in a goofy mood tonight! What do fish think? Don’t stop there…What do trees think?

  • Now I know what my problem is with…what was I saying? Oh, memory problems. I think I was a gold fish in a previous life.

  • Maybe it thinks “what is he doing? am I worth seeing? oh I better swim to the back of the rock…” when I look at it. Hahaha

  • I heard goldfish have short memories, but no one ever says if other fish do as well.

  • Saw a tv program once where they were teaching goldfish to do mazes. Of course they can remember longer than 5 seconds. My daughter does a brilliant impression of a fish with a five second memory. It involves her rushing up and down saying, ‘Oh, look a rock. Oh look a rock. Oh look a rock.’ I think people made it up to excuse themselves for tiny tanks.

  • gigglesone says:

    I love fish. I have a Betta

    • Damyanti says:

      Me too. I don’t keep bettas now because of how badly they’re kept in shops– basically in a puddle of their own poo.

      • gigglesone says:

        Yes, I’ve noticed that too. I only have the 1 fish cause I also have a pair of finches and a pair of cockatiels.

      • gigglesone says:

        I have a thought for you. One day last week, Little Bit, my betta really surprised me. I had his food in my hand to sprinkle close to him. Well, I guess I wasn’t fast enough to suit him and he jumped at my hand! A little bit of him cleared the water cause it made noise. Needless to say, now I don’t touch his house!

  • I hear a new song or maybe a picture book: “What does the fish think?”

  • Robert says:

    i dreamt I was swimming with goldfish in my aquarium last night, i was thinking how odd that we have marshmallows to eat….?!

    • Damyanti says:

      Hilarious :). i sometimes dream that my fish have all decided to float out of my aquarium, and I catch them, floating about, and put them back in water!

  • I want to share this w a cousin of mine who is a writer and also starting a pet-related business and blog. This analogy is awesome!

  • Kelly says:

    Learn something new everyday, not usually on fish, so thanks for that… odd bit of information. πŸ™‚ Great metaphors though!

  • Whatever they think, they only think it for 3-5 seconds. Am told, that’s the length of memory for goldfish, at least. Think about that for a few minutes, or should I say seconds. LOL.

    • Damyanti says:

      I’m no fish, but I wonder what passes through them those 5 seconds. Must research on this– how do they know it is 5 seconds? πŸ˜€

  • Louis Hart says:

    Fish probably think we look funny as we stare at them in their aquarium.

    • Damyanti says:

      That’s the thing– I don’t know if they can see us well– maybe a large shadow that brings food? πŸ™‚

  • They say fish forget after five minutes. Not sure how they can test that theory though.

    • Damyanti says:

      I’m not sure how they found that either– how do fish know to come to feed when I go to their aquariums everyday?

  • andy1076 says:

    I had an aquarium sometime ago, with guppies and neon tetras. It was so colorful but then I had less and less time to care for them. Now, angel fish sound really neat! but I only got a 10 gallon tank πŸ™

    • Damyanti says:

      Guppies need very little care, only water changes often, and watching how much you feed them. Angels need very good water quality or they die, and they need at least 30-40 gallons to thrive.

      • andy1076 says:

        Cause they get so big right? I might decide to go for a bow head tank next, since I don’t have a lot of room to work with so compact works for me πŸ™‚

        • Damyanti says:

          Or you could go Nano. I love the ones with moss and tiny red mosquito rasboras and those cherry shrimp!

          • andy1076 says:

            True true, on the note of nano I’ve been thinking of getting another Betta too for my kid, A half moon. I love their fins πŸ™‚

            • Damyanti says:

              O please don’t get a betta, I’ve mourned so many. And now that I know so much of how they are kept in stores because they tend to fight, I desist. They have interesting personalities though. If you look through my tags you’ll find posts about my bettas.

  • Cocktail or tartar?

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