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Painted Glassfish: Artificially Altering Aquatic Animals

By Anthony Maher
The creations of nature have long been kept captive in human care, eminently aquatic life in simulated environments. We lust to behold for ourselves the beauty our Earth's creatures possess, yet have steadily learned to alter what the hands of nature have forged. Accordingly, we have further changed the ideals of nature, creating elements that do not exist by instinctive will. The actions we undertake, including physically altering our aquarium fish, often prove to have dramatic effects on the subjected animals, polluting natural phenomena and fuelling artificiality.

An example of a Painted Glassfish
© Stacy Malbon
Photo taken at Aqualand in Hopkins, MN.
The Indian Glassfish, also commonly known as the Indian Glass Perch or Glassfish, is a peaceful, schooling animal originating from the Asiatic countries of Burma, Indian and Thailand. Scientifically, it is now recognized as Parambassis ranga, formerly Chanda ranga. The Glassfish belongs to the Chandidae genus, mostly comprising of fish with near transparent bodies. The anatomy of Parambassis ranga is laterally compressed, with an oval-shaped physique. The forehead of the species is indented, the back is arched and the fish possesses two separate dorsal fins in addition to a long anal fin. The Glassfish requires brackish water to thrive, with a 1-1.5% recommended addition of salt. It necessitates water with a pH of 7.0 to 8.5, a dH between eight and twenty and a temperature regulated between 68 and 86º Fahrenheit. While Glassfish can live in freshwater, the probability of the development of an infectious cottony-type fungus is heightened. In reflected light the seemingly clear and achromic body of the Glassfish has an amber to green iridescence. Nevertheless, since the overall appeal of the Indian Glassfish is nearly colourless, it is automatically a prime candidate for injection of artificial colour. The immediate lack of colour and transparency makes the flourescent paint used to colour the Glass Perch stand out clearly, catching the eye of the unsuspecting customer.
The process of artificially colouring or 'juicing'; (Sharpe, 2004) Indian Glassfish using paints or dyes is increasingly becoming widespread in the aquarium trade. While most Glassfish dyeing is undertaken by fish farmers in select regions of Asia before the artificially coloured fish are imported into mainstream countries, it is presently being practised in many other areas throughout the world. As a result, it is becoming of greater importance to realize that Glassfish embodying distinct flourescent hues are injected, and have not received such colouration naturally. To gain the desired tincture, the fish are subjected to a dyeing process in which they are infused with vibrant paints. Misled by the name, 'Painted Glassfish'; (MacMahon, Burgess, 1998), one may easily fall under the common misapprehension that these fish are merely painted with dyes. On the contrary, when under MS222 anaesthetic sedation and observed under a binocular microscope, it becomes evident that the dye is not painted on the surface of the fish, but has been injected under the epidermis. Thus, proof exists that Painted Glassfish are physically imbued with many flourescent shades, including 'blue, purple, red, yellow, orange or green, produced by dyes' (MacMahon, Burgess, 1998), in order to achieve the popular colour patterns seen in altered fish. A syringe and a needle are used to manually inject each Glassfish at 'various sites over the body' (MacMahon, Burgess, 1998). As the injected dye is fluid, it can even be moved slightly by squeezing the coloured area. Unbelievably, 'ninety percent of Painted Glassfish will lose their artificial colouration within a matter of months' (Sharpe, 2004), as the simulated colour metabolizes out of the fishes' body.
When initially considering the subject, the practice of dyeing the Indian Glassfish seems fairly harmless, as successfully dyed fish undoubtedly stand out in their many 'day-glo' (MacMahon, Burgess, 1998) colours. While unaltered fish are hardy and habitually resist against infection, injected specimens are substantially affected. Dyeing methods traditionally result in mortality rates as high as eighty percent. The injection process stress Glassfish out immensely, making them progressively susceptible to disease and infection. In particular, a recent survey and investigation conducted in England revealed that over forty percent of Painted Glassfish were infected with the lymphocystis virus. Commonly known as cottony fungus, it is exhibited on a fish as a whitish growth, usually contained to a small area. However, in the same study discovered that less than ten percent of unaltered Glassfish were plagued by the lymphocystis virus. Through the utilization of the same needle and syringe to inject tens, possibly hundreds of fish, it is highly possible that the dyeing process furthers the risk of lymphocystis infection by lowering the fishes natural immunity and likely transmitting the virus via the injection tools. Especially true for young fish, the painting procedure stunts growth and can have detrimental effects on maturing development. The fish that manage to survive the injection process will presumptively lead abbreviated life spans compared to unaltered specimens. 'If one considers the relative bore size of the injection needle with that of a Glassfish, it would be the equivalent of us [humans] receiving several jabs using a needle of pencil-sized diameter' (MacMahon, Burgess, 1998). Many still follow the dated belief that fish are incapable of feeling pain, deeming dye injection wholly acceptable. Regardless, increasing scientific and behavioural evidence suggests that fish are assuredly capable of feeling pain. If proven correct, this theory would affirm that the colour injection process must be painful for the Glassfish being altered. Nevertheless, the artificial alteration of the Parambassis ranga through colour injection has made the undyed, pure strain a rather uncommon sight, certainly with most commercial distributors.
Fish displaying vivid, bright colours have long been desired in the captive animal trade, and the desire for colourful fish has especially expanded within recent times. Most owners that purchase dyed fish are unaware that Painted Glassfish do not genuinely externalize their injected colours. The fish are exploited by exportation to consumer countries under the names of Painted Glassfish and 'discofish' (MacMahon, Burgess, 1998), as their flourescent colouration resembles the brilliant colours of discotheque lights. The artificial colour is injected so that it lasts long enough to be clearly visible in order to attract unknowing customers. Painted Glassfish are often wrongfully advertised to the unsuspecting public as exhibiting their synthetic hues naturally, untouched by any alteration and devised by the will of nature.
Human society has developed the ability to alter all natural things, elements and even life forms. Through the act of painting Glassfish, perhaps fish keeping has become another form of expressing art, exemplifying our disputed adeptness in overtaking nature itself. Painting Glassfish immediately attracts the eye of interest to the world of aquarium fish, pleasantly displaying yet another of our altered creations. However, the truth behind the act can and will be revealed, promoting keeping fish and all animals in their natural state, unadorned and absolute.
External and Internal Anatomy of a Fish. (1980). Merit Students Encyclopedia, vol. 7, pp. 78-80
Perch. (1980). Merit Students Encyclopedia, vol. 14, p. 510
pH. (1980). Merit Students Encyclopedia, vol. 14, p. 570
Sharpe, S. Death by Dyeing
Retrieved April 19, 2004 from
Butler, R. Indian Glassfish
Retrieved April 20, 2004 from ranga
MacMahon, S., Burgess, P. Why it's cruel to dye
Retrieved April 21, 2004 from

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