It was no use saying any more upon the subject. Old Mr. Doubtful would have it that “it is impossible there are fishes who, like birds, build nests;” and, as I was not able to confirm the statement as coming within my own knowledge and experience, he went away still “doubtful” and doubting.
It was a French gentleman who first wrote upon the nidification of fish — the stickleback — and published an account of his observations. For years I have accustomed myself closely to watch the little fellows, hoping to see his discovery confirmed in my own aquarium, but without success. This summer, however, my long deferred hope has been gratified. Among the many advantages accruing from the possession of aquaria, not the least is the stimulus it gives one to be up these fine mornings with the lark, and, armed with net and can, and feet well shod, poke with which to comfort the inner man.
A short time ago, it was my good fortune to capture a pair, male and female, of the ten-spined stickleback — Gasterosleus pungitius — perhaps the most savage of this lively, but quarrelsome, tribe. The three-spined I have possessed in abundance before, but never these.
On popping them into an aquarium, the little creatures, as these merry fellows ever will, soon made themselves at home, and in a few hours were observed hurrying to and fro, as busy as possible, with shreds of “weed” in their mouths; in a few hours a perfect nest had been built the size of a small walnut, and there it was — a beautiful object, depending from a stalk of Ranunculus aquatilis, as we see the nest of a humming-bird depicted hanging from the branch of a tree. A hole was formed right through it, evidently for the female fish to rest in as she deposited her spawn or eggs.
The lady wandered about the vessel, seemingly without much to care for, while the gentleman fish watched the nest with much apparent anxiety, manifestly on guard to protect it from harm, or watch unwonted intrusion. A few days passed by, and the novelty of the little fish building so sweet a nest attracted many prying eyes, and some pretty ones too —for more than one fair lady “took a peep.”
Whether or not the eyes were too bright, or that the sticklebacks disliked such unwonted attention, must be left to conjecture; but this, alas, is a fact, that one night the little creatures resolved upon destroying their habitation, and had carried out their resolve, leaving hardly a shred to be seen. I have since procured several of the same species, but as yet they have evinced no sign of building a nest.
Charles Strange. August 1859
Cover: Christopher Dotson – “School of Mostly Red Fish”