By Rhett Butler


Captive fish have been important to mankind since prehistoric times. Ancient Egyptians were the first humans known to keep fish not only for food purposes but as a source of food and entertainment. As depicted in their hieroglyphics, Egyptians mostly worked withTilapiaspecies and Mormyrids.

Goldfish have been selectively bred in China since at least the 10th century. However, Goldfish were not introduced into Europe until the late 17th century (c. 1791). In 1853, the London Zoological Society established a public aquarium to display fish species. By 1864, public aquariums had been opened in Paris and Hamburg. The majority of the fish in these aquariums were species that were local and could be caught in nearby rivers and lakes. In 1869, the first "tropical" fish was imported from Asia, the Paradise Fish (Macropodus opercularis). From that point on, more and more "tropical" species were imported from far off lands.

In the early days, tropical aquariums were heated by an open flame, a dangerous and inefficient means of warming an aquarium. Filters were large, noisy and expensive. Water chemistry was poorly understood and good water conditioners did not exist. Fish suffered dietary deficiencies from the poor variety of live and dried foods. Only a small variety of species was available, of those, only a few were well documented. The aquarium keeper was at a loss of finding reliable information regarding fish size, feeding, care, and social behavior. Almost all fish were wild-caught; and few were captive bred. During transport, mortality rates were high, further driving up the cost of the hobby. As a result, tropical fishkeeping, as it was known, was a hobby was for the rich and scientifically inclined. Today, aquarium technology has improved and fish keeping is much easier.

Today, most aquarium fish are still bred in Asia, although substantial numbers are produced in Florida. These captive-bred species have several advantages over wild-caught fish in that they are available on a more regular basis, are less likely to harbor a wide range of parasites, are less expensive, and tend to be hardier. However, successive generations of captive inbred fish tend to have less color and smaller fins than wild fish except in the case of selective breeding.

Tropical fish-keeping is becoming more and more popular despite the advent of aquarium simulation programs on the computer where a person can keep a fish tank without ever getting their hands wet. The reason for the increasing popularity of the hobby is due to environmental awareness, the great variety of species, and relative ease of care of fish. Fish are pets that do not require much care, and an aquarium can add to the decor of a room. Fish-keeping is an enjoyable hobby that can bring relaxation and enlightenment for persons of every age and interest.