Fish Tank. The Ballad of The Jack Dempsey.

The Jack Dempsey Fish


When I was little, my mom had the idea that we should get a fishtank and me and my sister could stock it with fish we chose from the store. We were enamored with newts, so we got those, but they jumped from the tank the first night and were not found again until days later as dried lizard husks in the orange shag living room carpet. Scratch Newts. So next we went and picked a few fish each: I got a puffer, a sucker, and a non-descript brown fish that looked like a pug dog. My sister got a swordtail, a bug-eyed goldfish, and an Angelfish. The salesman assured us none of these fish were carnivorous. We stocked the tank and sat back the first night in wonder.

The next morning the puffer floated at the tank top dead. We figured he did not adjust.

The next morning it was the swordtail. He too apparently did not adjust.

The NEXT morning, the goldfish floated at the top of water, with a big hunk taken out of him. Murder!

The suspects were the Angelfish and the brown fish. Whichever of these survived the 4th night would surely be the murderer. So, we watched, but nothing happened.

Until the next morning, when the Angelfish floated at the top of the tank.


My uncle’s friend at the time, Ron, who had taken an interest in our fishtank project (he may have in fact inspired it, as my mother as rule took many ideas from my uncle’s rollicking set), Ron, something of a pet fish afichionado, came over that weekend to see how things were progressing,  and, seeing the brownfish, said “You have a Jack Dempsey! That’s a very aggressive terroritoiral fish, almost like piranha!” He correctly identified it and explained it was the obvious murderer of all the other fish. “Oh yeah that guy ate ’em” he said, “he’d eat anything you put in that tank.”

For many years, that Jack Dempsey lived alone & angry in that tank, save for the suckerfish, who was a bottomfeeder, and for some reason, not tempting as a target (or unpalatable) for ol’ Jack. Many years later, he died, and we were kinda relieved, and set aside the fish tank project permanently. 

About reluctantprodigal

Born in Detroit. Naturalist writer-thinker-poet living in the Greenbelt around Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
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