Octogenarians on the Reef

One nice thing about reef aquariums is the chance to see an animal live a longer life than it might have lived in the wild. This is especially nice when the animals in question either can’t be or aren’t bred in captivity.

At present, I have two such “octogenarians” on the reef: Thing 1 the banded pipefish and Red, the Fire Shrimp.

14F24 Red and Pipe


I acquired both Red and Thing 1 within six months of setting up my aquarium back in 2010 – making them somewhere between 3 and 4 years old. (It’s impossible to gauge the exact age of many aquatic creatures, because they’re usually at least six months old by the time a reef store acquires them in the first place.)

Pipefish can be difficult to keep in captivity, in part because they’re incredibly hard to breed in captivity and most wild-caught Syngnathids (the family which contains seahorses, pipes, and sea dragons) have difficulty adjusting to the frozen-food diet we feed to captive fish. Fortunately, Thing 1 was smart enough to figure out that frozen “dead” food is actually food – and now she loves her frozen mysis shrimp. She’ll even steal from the seahorses and the corals.

14F24 Pipe

Shrimp can be hard to keep alive for a totally different reason: many residents of the reef consider shrimp as tasty as humans do. Red’s size is all that keeps him from becoming a seahorse entree. Fortunately, he’s large enough that nobody considers him dinner (though he’s killed and eaten a few of the smaller peppermint shrimp himself – proving there’s no honor at all among aquatic thieves).

14F24 Red on crab

The lifespan of a pipefish is longer than that of a cleaner shrimp, and I doubt we’ll have Big Red for too much longer. Even so, it’s great to see that he still comes charging out of his cave, claws waving, to chase the smaller upstart shrimp away.

14E06 Red

You kids get OFF MY LAWN!

Even in the wild, the reef environment isn’t stable. Creatures grow. Creatures die. More creatures  move in to take their places. It’s a fascinating world to recreate in miniature. I try, as best I can, to choose only creatures suited to the environment I’ve created, and it gives me joy to see them thrive. But even for them, change is unavoidable.

14F24 Pipe 2

As a writer, I’ve learned that the publishing industry works a lot like a reef. Books and authors come and go. Some thrive. Some do less well. But even for those who do very well, without continuous, ongoing growth it’s impossible to maintain your spot on the reef.

It’s true of life generally, too. Sometimes, we’d like to freeze ourselves in a moment–and other times, we hate the place we’re in. Either way, we cannot stop the world, or our lives from changing.

The creatures who inhabit the reef don’t spend their moments worrying about what the next year, or month, or even hour will bring. They hunt. They play. They do what they do.

14C03 Pipefish

A valuable lesson for us, as well.

Change is a constant. We can’t prevent it. Worrying doesn’t change it. Since that’s the case, we might as well embrace the adventure: work hard, play harder, and plan for the future as if we intend to enjoy it.

13J07 Red cleaning flappy

Because, if we plan to enjoy a thing, the odds are higher that we will.