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The Epic History of the Humble Goldfish

Everyone has either owned a goldfish, used goldfish as bait, or admired goldfish in aquariums and ponds. They're everywhere, but how did they get there? Professor Anna Marie Roos of the University of Lincoln wrote the book Goldfish that answers that question and more. Roos sat down with National Geographic to talk about goldfish.

Where do goldfish fit into the animal kingdom?

Goldfish are basically carp. The Chinese originally bred them to eat. Carp, which are normally grey or green, breed like crazy, and you get variations of colors and shapes. Nature plays around. They have a smattering of pigment cells that are red or gold. A mutation would have suppressed the grey pigment cells, allowing the yellow and red ones to be expressed. Humans took a mutation and made a species of them.

In China, the golden fish takes on religious overtones.

In about the ninth century, goldfish mutants, when captured by fishermen, were not eaten and [instead] released into Buddhist ponds of mercy in an act of fang sheng, or mercy release. The monks fed and kept them, so the fish were protected by not being in the open waters. Releasing an animal into such a pond of mercy was an act of self-purification, a good deed in the Buddhist religion, which becomes even better if the animal is rare, like a goldfish versus a common carp.

You can see how they survived and reproduced with their gold color intact. Roos talks about goldfish as pets, as experimental subjects, as giveaways, and as invasive species, at NatGeo. -via Damn Interesting

(Image credit: Daiju Azuma)


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