6.27.2006

Consider the gonopodium

Editing a book about aquariums, in the fish-breeding chapter I encountered the fact that male fish "develop a stiff, rod-like appendage called a gonopodium," with which they impregnate the female. What a grand word the little fish gets for his member! (The female's organ is called the vent -- yawn.)

But gonopodium! Man alive. Why do mammals get the camparatively flabby, humiliating penis?

Anyway, the author goes on to mention that far more fry (baby fish) will be produced than you can possibly ever raise, and to use the extras as "feeders." She then goes on to cheerfully recommend inbreeding. Take some of your second-round fry, she says, and "breed the males with their grandmothers" in order to achieve whichever of her characteristics you're going for.

In my comments to the author, I mentioned the fact that some people might be put off to discover that their breeding program will actually turn into Soylent Green for fish. And I thought that she should really think about addressing the reader's likely alarm/distaste at being told to breed a fish with his grandmother. Regarding the latter issue, I wrote:
I don't see how you can let this incredible subject matter slide by as if it's ho-hum, as if it won't shock and even dismay the beginner!
To which she replied:
Why in the world would it shock a reader? It isn't like these fish are married and paying child support and know each other in family groups. Like these fish would not breed anyway if you tossed them in a tank?
I wrote:
Some people will throw the book at the wall right here. You have got to address the discomfort such a scheme will DEFINITELY produce in most beginning readers. Besides the opportunity for humor ... this is the richest motherlode I've seen in 14 years of editing!
She replied:
I don't think it is funny at all. You are making a big deal out of something fish do naturally, and that every hobbyist does. You think readers visualize fish calling for mates from the pet store? People are not that shut in. We are talking about cold-blooded fish, not humans.
After much back and forth, I wrote an example of the two disclaimers I'd like her to put in, and she accepted them and said to just put those in. First, I tackled death:
Beginning a fish breeding program brings with it some humane responsibility. Fish that you produce through breeding should, as they do in the wild, find their place in the biological ecosystem. Some species produce dozens or even hundreds of young. It's doubtful that you will want to keep every fish that your breeding pairs create. You should make every attempt to raise these fish, sell them, trade them, or give them away to good owners. If you think you cannot do these things, it may mean using excess fry to feed larger fish. Although this situation is found in nature, if you don't like the sound of you yourself doing it, then breeding is not for you.
And finally sex:
Inbreeding in mammals causes genetic defects, and many people find it a distasteful topic generally. However, in the fish world, it happens all the time. Sometimes survival depends on it. Fish inbreeding should not be thought of in the same light as for higher animals. However, it's possible that no amount of evidence or argument can get you over that hurdle. If that is the case, then inbreeding to produce new strains of fish is not for you.
She accepted this, but she still thinks I'm nuts. Am I?

6 comments:

ian said...

You know that old saw about how not many people bought the first Velvet Underground album, but every one who did formed a rock band?

Well, maybe very few people (in the grand scheme of things) will read this blog post, Grendel, but I bet every single one who does will name his or her rock band Gonopodium.

Well done, sir. Well done.

Grendel said...

There are other words that are inexplicably delicious compared to what they describe. I mean, come on: credenza? A credenza is a shelf that sits on a desk -- three piece of wood. So why does it sound like an Italian palace? A vestibule is a little entry room off a bullding. Yet, I would think I could take it time-traveling. And a mezzanine? It's where stairs have taken a break, not one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Trevor Jackson said...

I don't think I need to put your mind at ease, but your caveat (on a cracker, maybe? to eat in your vestibule?) seems well-placed.

And gonoPODIUM? Sheesh. Talk about making a brother feel inadequate. I'd settle for gonolecturn. Or gonoeasel. Actually, wait, strike that last one. That's more like what fish that sleep with their grandmothers get on their gonopodiums.

Brando said...

You are nuts, but not because of this.

Actually, I think the disclaimers were a nice touch.

And gonopodium sounds like something your lectern gets after too much fish inbreeding.

VinylVenus said...

If, from penis, we get penetration, shouldn't they provide a more precise word for what a gonopodium does?

And why such an abyssmal word for she-fish? It's almost insulting...

bihari said...

I think I just saw a case of gonoeasel in the ER this evening. Unfortunately, the gonopodium's proprietor was not a neon tetra.