Surprisingly many persons, behind the blogscenes, have expressed a desire to hear an update on our female betta, Feliz. Some have already heard the answer in detail, and I apologize to these people for the redundancy. But here's the scoop:
Per my previously-expressed intention to enhance Feliz's happiness via some more natural perks, my daughter and I did two things. First, we went to Petsmart and bought a real plant (a java fern) to replace the more unpleasant of the two plastic ones. Feliz instantly loved the plant; she was tremendously curious to explore it, sidling through all its nooks and crannies, and grazing its leaves with her body. Clearly this was an appreciated improvement.
Second, we took another kid friend and a little net and went out to the creek-- the same one they'd dammed last month-- to catch live food for Feliz. It was quite an outing, involving multiple pickle jars-- we got into catching and looking at stuff for fun, and ended up with somewhat more than a small fish could comfortably consume in a couple of days (which turned out to be the longest our stream creatures could survive in a room temperature, low-dissolved-oxygen pickle jar). Nevertheless, Feliz seemed to enjoy the wriggling treats: midge larvae being popular, as well as a very small leech which was slurped into her upturned mouth with apparent gusto.
I felt a little funny about the leech-- was that good for her?-- but she seemed to like it so much that I was reassured.
A couple of days later, Feliz started to languish. First she hovered, fairly still, near the water surface all day long, leading me to imagine her water needed changing (I try to pay attention to signs of reduced activity). I changed it. She got worse. Soon she was lying on the bottom of the tank, on her side, just gilling, not wanting to eat or to swim. Since my answer to everything is more internet research, I searched large numbers of betta care sites (there are surprisingly many) for clues. The results of my quest: 1) Feliz probably had an impaired swim bladder. If you don't know what a swim bladder is, here is a link. (I tried to explain it to my mother and she thought I had bought a little external flotation device to attach to my fish. Hi mom.) In any case, without good buoyancy control, swimming had become a lot more work for Feliz. 2) The most likely reason for the impairment was...constipation. Oh, dear. Was this my fault? The sites said this turn of events could be fatal. All my good intentions, and maybe I'd killed her.
I imagined that little shape-changing leech stretching itself out in her gut, blocking all passage.
The betta fanciers recommended feeding the fish bits of green pea as a therapy for this condition, and I resolved to secure a bag of frozen peas as soon as possible.
But by the time I'd arrived home that evening with the peas, Feliz had miraculously recovered. "She must have pooped!" my daughter and I exclaimed in wonder and delight. The degree of relief I felt was beyond what I ever would have expected a few weeks before. I love this damn fish. It's just a freaking fish. And I work with fish in my job, and they die routinely, and I, most of the time, hardly care.
Feliz has been full of energy and personality ever since; she's fine, though I'm looking into buying her a tiny lamp to heat her bowl as the weather cools. The newest development is that she'll literally eat out of our hands. But no more leeches; it's prefab betta pellets she's seizing off my finger with her funny mouth.