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Two black sail cory cats--Corydoras melanistius (Photo Credit: Daniel Cardoso)

When I was a child, I kept tropical fish. The first tank I had in my bedroom was an Amazon community tank where angelfish, neons, serpa tetras and hatchetfish lived in a little miniature paradise of plastic swordplants and petrified stone.  Among the very first batch of fish I added to this tank were two adorable little masked Corydoras catfish.  The Corydoras genus consists of over a hundred and fifty species of small friendly armored catfishes from South America.  Corydoras means helmet-skin in Greek because these fish are armored catfish with two rows of bony plates running down their bodies (like the superfamily Loricarioidea). Most of the “cories” are only an inch or two in size.

These fish are popular with hobbyists because they are extremely endearing.  They race around the tank in bursts and then root enthusiastically through sand and gravel (burying their bewhiskered snout to the level of their eyes).  They like to have other cories for companions.  Occasionally they dart to the top of the water for a little sip of air.  Like most catfish, their fins have a leading spine for protection.  Unfortunately when I got my two cories, one of the two fish freaked out and deployed his spine thereby injuring the other fish’s gills.  It was very touching how the catfish which accidentally harmed its friend would hover near the hurt fish nudging him (or her) to eat and to swim up for sips of air.  Unfortunately it was no good and there was no way I could help the tiny injured corydoras. After a few sad days, the poor catfish was the first fatality in my tropical tank.  Death came quickly to my underwater paradise and would thereafter be a frequent guest. I was very upset.  I buried the fish on a big hill in a little tiny cardboard box (according it an honor that few of my other fish ever received).  It was the first of my many, many failures as an aquarium keeper, but it provided me with an abiding lesson about fish personality–which is more nuanced, deep, and likeable than most people suppose.

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