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The other day, as I wandered along the aisles of a local fish store (LFS), the manager waved me over: "Hey, I've got something really cool you might like." Knowing my taste for unusual and odd fish, he was eager to show me his latest acquisition. Unfortunately, he didn't quite realize that these fish would not strike my fancy. There they were: a dozen or so valentine parrots, bright orange parrotfish with the words (well, not words) "I LUV U" displayed in neon purple on their chest scales.

The Writing's on the Fish

The parrot is a variety of hybrid fish apparently created in the Far East by crossing a severum cichlid (Heros severus) and a red devil (Amphilophus labiatus or A. citrinellus). The|k are a number of "varieties" of parrot cichlid, which some have theorized are the result of mixing other types^f cich-lids, such as Unconvict (Archocentrus nigrofasciatus), while others have just argued that the parrot is the result of the same "balloon-body" mutation in cichlids that results in balloon mollies

Ind gouramis. The fish have a vaguely heart-ped body, a resemblance heightened iy the lack of a tail. The heart shape makes them the perfect Valentine's Day gift for the indiscriminate fish-keeper. Supposedly, the missing tail is part of the mutation that makes these fish what they are — but, as we'll see later, this simply isn't the case.

We won't get into the debate on artificially created hybrids and mutations, but we will address the fact that these fish had the words "I LUV U" on them. Apparently, a number of customers at this particular LFS asked if the coloring was natural. In other words, if the parrots naturally sport words on their bodies. Of course, it isn't natural in the least.

This parrot cichild is a hybrid (and quite possibly a dyed one at that), a likely cross between a severum and a red devil cichlid. This type of hybridization is frowned upon in today's modern hobby.

The parrot cichlid is among an increasing list of fish to have been artificially colored. The artificial coloring of fish falls into essentially two categories: 1) those that are made to be solidly colored, and 2) those that are tattooed with some sort of pattern, image or phrase.

Methods of Adding Color

Dying fish isn't new. The best-known dyed fish is the painted glass-fish, which has been around for about 40 years. Glassfish (Parambassis ranga), as their name suggests, are freshwater fish that develop a beautiful, translucent amber coloration as they grow. During the heyday of disco, someone decided that these fish needed a splash of color. The fish's clear skin made an injection of neon dye really show, and the painted glass-fish was born.

Despite popular myths, they are not painted or selectively dyed. The application of the coloration is accomplished via an injection. The dye remains fluid under the skin — you can actually make it slosh around by squeezing lightly on the body of a dead glassfish. In many fish, the site of injection is quite obvious, as the process leaves a small circular wound. This practice has been applied to many other fish too. From time to time, other clear fish appear with neon dye. The glass catfish (Kryptopterus bicirrhis) is just one example.

In fish that lack transparent skin, a technique involving precise laser control is used. Effectively, a laser zaps the cells containing the natural pigmentation, obliterating it. The laser must pass through both scale and skin, which damages these cells in the process. A precise dye is then applied, and the wound is left to heal. With precise laser control, it is possible to

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