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Clove oil works.   4/9/09
Hello Neale,
After explaining as gently as I could about what I was going to do and why - All day today, I heard my 4 yr old daughter explaining over and over to our 3 yr old that Mommy was going to put the Gourami to sleep and then she would die and then we would bury her under the tree in the backyard beside Bubbles the Betta that died a few weeks ago of old age. She was insistent that she wanted to watch, so I called her when it was time. I heard her yell to her brother, "Come on, Mom's going to kill the fish now!"
<Well, yes, children show a remarkable ability to react in ways you'd not imagine. They're much less sensitive and delicate than we often assume.>
She went so peacefully - just like everyone said about the clove oil. I put some tank water in a small container and then put her in. I then quickly dripped clove oil in by drops at a time until I had put in about 60 drops - to be sure it would work quickly for her. After about 30 seconds, she swam around the container once and then just fell asleep. It was pretty uneventful.
<That's the idea! Euthanasia is all about relieving pain and stress.>
It was quite amazing to see how her color came back at the very end and she was beautiful again. I used to work in hospice and have seen something similar happen when people pass away. In all, it took just over 10 minutes for her to stop breathing completely, but we waited for an hour before we buried her - just to be sure.
<Quite right.>
The children sang "You are my Sunshine..." and said a little prayer by Margaret Wise Brown of "Goodnight Moon" fame. This is from her book, " A Child's Goodnight Book"
Dear Father
Hear and bless thy beasts and singing birds
And guard with tenderness
Small things that have no words.
...a much nicer prayer for children than "Now I lay me down to sleep..."
<Would agree.>
Children instinctively know so much more than we give them credit for. We adults too often foist our hang ups on them in our well- intentioned and misguided attempts to "protect" them from what we think of as the hard truths of life - that they recognize as simply "what happens".
<On the flip side, dealing with the death of animals is often the first way children prepare themselves for the death of humans around them. That they can see death can be peaceful, as here, is a useful counterpoint to the violent deaths they see in action movies and the TV news.>
A true story out of the mouths of babes:
When our now 13 yr old son, Christian was almost 5 yrs old, our Betta, "Tortellini" died of old age. That was his first experience with death. We planned a little funeral, to say goodbye and thank you for the enjoyment he gave us. I dug a little hole in a flower bed and was about to gently lay the fish in it, when he shrieked "What are you DOING?" So I explained again, and he complained that he thought I would put him in a box first.
I had to look around for a nice little box before we could proceed. Box found, back to laying Tortellini in the earth. "MOM! I meant a NICER box." There was no nicer box to be found. So I removed my wedding pearls from their silk pouch and asked if that would be good enough. "Yes, Mom.
Thank you..."
Tortellini was laid to rest in a lovely blue silk pouch. Pouch was placed in small box and was about to be laid in the earth...again.
"MOM! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!!" By this time, my nerves were frazzled just from trying to remain patient through our little ceremony that was fast turning into something from a cartoon. "What is it now, Christian?"
Very matter of factly, he asked me, "Well, how are the ants supposed to eat him if he's stuck in that box?"
<Smart kid! The "circle of life" as explained on the Lion King; when the lions die, they turn into grass, and the antelope eats the grass, and then the lions eat the antelope.>
He thought I should put the fish in the pouch during his prayer and then take him out and bury him directly in the soil. "...of course, " thought Mother. So I had to remove the pouch from the box and the fish from the
pouch and of course, dead fish slime all over my now ruined silk pouch. We laid the fish ON the pouch and THEN I was permitted to bury the poor little dead fish.
When it was all over, he said to me, "Mom, that was a pretty fancy suit for a dead fish - maybe we could dig it up for you after the ants are done with him..."
<Ants are used in museums for precisely this. If you want a fish skeleton to go on display, you put the fish somewhere with a colony of "tame" ants.
The ants clean the meat and skin without disturbing any of the bones.
Voila, a cleaned skeleton ready for mounting.>
That was good preparation for 3 weeks later when our beloved dog, Molly, died of old age herself at 13 years old on Valentine's Day.
Many thanks again for your compassion and patience and for helping us let go of our little friend and for helping her to have a peaceful, and hopefully, a painless end.
Take good care,
<Thanks for this thoughtful message. Cheers, Neale.>

Skeleton question - Re: Clove oil works.    4/9/09
Can't believe I'm asking this but -
So you mean I could put a fish "somewhere" with an established ant colony, not just some ants from the yard with a bunch of dirt, and we could have a good skeleton.....
<Yes. In theory anywhere would work, provided ants and beetles could get in, but scavengers such as rats and cats couldn't. For obvious reasons, you don't want big scavengers that would eat the bones or carry them off. You want things that clean the bones but leave them exactly where they are. The process is called "defleshing" and is usually done nowadays using beetles known as Dermestids, but in the past ants were used. The Natural History Museum in London for example has colonies of beetles maintained in the lab for precisely this. Anyway, there's a great blog post at the link below, complete with video! A great blog to peruse, by the way, with some of the best science writing about.
Don't worry, I won't off one of our fish just for this project
<It's a great hobby, and some folks do this for fun. They find dead animals and then deflesh them to collect the skulls, which are particularly attractive (!) collectables. Large invertebrates can work well too, especially things like crabs and lobsters.>
I have a child that would be really interested in this.
<As was I, when young.>
How long does the whole process take and what about the smell?
<Small animals can be defleshed within a day or two, if the ant colony is large enough. Something bigger like a Blue Crab would take about a week.
Does depend on the climate; when it's cold, the ants and beetles will not be feeding, and nothing much will happen. In summer though, once the corpse is located, you'll be staggered how rapidly those yummy proteins are recycled by Mother Nature. If you put the corpse somewhere dry and airy outdoors, and the corpse isn't too big, it shouldn't smell much, if at all.
That said, don't put the thing in front of the porch or driveway! Find a quite spot away from the house, so any smells don't come your way.>
The smell will be the deciding factor considering we are in Florida and it's really warm here and lots of raccoons around. How do I protect it from scavengers, without having it inside my house?
<Ah, this is the tricky bit! Some kind of metal or plastic grill, sieve or similar held in place with tent pegs or something would be required if done outdoors. Alternatively, you could put the animal inside something with holes, like one of those Bug Box/Critter Cages, and then leave it in or nearby a compost heap. The bones may well end up in a heap, but if all you want is the skull, that's no big deal. Except in a lab, I wouldn't recommend doing this indoors.>
Maybe we should just go to the science center and look at their bones.....
<If you have a local natural history museum, send an e-mail to the curator and mention your interest. Quite often curators are thrilled to hear from people interested in the "nitty gritty" of conservation. Such museum people may well invite your up and lay on a tour; this is the kind of thing that sparks an interest in science that can last a lifetime. Even if kids don't grow up to be scientists, that they should scientifically literate (and curious!) is a great and useful thing. Cheers, Neale.>

Unbelievable! Fish tummy size   8/4/06 There's an article in the current issue of AFM where the author states "A fish's stomach is roughly the size of its eye, so it doesn't take much to fill fish up"...(sigh!)  Eric <... some are this size... but most... much larger... and very distensible to boot/fill! The editors of AFM are not... "fish or science people". BobF>

Color Vision in Fishes Hi gang, The question just occurred to me as to whether fish in general and Tangs of various varieties in particular are color blind. Nothing shows in your data base. So, to your knowledge has anyone tested for this? Regards, Charlie H. >>>Hi Charlie, Yes, fish are equipped with both rods and cones, and can see color very well. Some deep water fish can only see in reds and greens - tangs, being surface fish can detect the entire range. Jim<<< Can fish hear? OK so you've turned me into a big time fishaphile (sp?). I've even started talking to my fish when one day I noticed he jumped when I clapped my hands. I was pretty far away from the tank and did not intend to startle him. Do you think he hears my speech? Whether he cares is another matter... <Fishes can indeed hear... through a couple of primary mechanisms... a low amplitude, low frequency general "body" sense and a similar ear-bone amplified internal "ear"... Especially some groups of fishes on the latter... the Ostariophysians... Catfishes, Characiforms (e.g. Tetras), Cypriniforms (e.g. minnows, barbs, danios...) have very good hearing... akin to human range... They can hear you. Bob Fenner> Allyson

Fish Stabilization Bob, why is it that some fish seem to have fins and/or a body shape that stabilizes them along two axis, while others appear to have stabilization along only one axis? <Mmm, mainly different strategies for locomotion in an environment (water) that is some six hundred times as dense as air...> It's commonly accepted that the vertical stabilizer on an airplane is unnecessary in the ideal case, and some plane designs (stealth fighter) eliminate this element even though it makes the plane less stable. Birds don't seem to need two-dimensional stabilization, though wing flapping might serve that purpose. What's going on? Jeff <Motion through a dense medium to get food, avoid predation... Bob Fenner>

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