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Painted fish

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Painted Parambassis ranga specimen. A needle was used to inject the pink dye.
Painted Parambassis ranga specimen. A needle was used to inject the pink dye.

The term painted fish refers to ornamental aquarium fishes which have been artificially coloured to appeal to consumers. This artificial colouring, also known as juicing, is achieved by a number of methods, such as injecting the fish with a hypodermic syringe containing bright fluorescent colour dye, dipping the fish into a dye solution, or feeding the fish dyed food.

This process is usually done to make the fish a brighter color and more attractive to consumers. The coloring of the fish is not permanent, and usually fades away in six to nine months.



Information on methodology is sometimes scanty. However, it is widely accepted that a common method is injection via syringe. Generally, fish are injected multiple times.[1]

Fish may also be dipped in a caustic solution to strip their outer slime coat, then dipped in dye. This method is reported to have a very high mortality rate.[2]

Many varieties of "colour-enhancing" foods for aquarium fishes are available to the consumer. Generally, these foods contain natural dyes such as beta carotene and are not harmful to fish, although as with other dye methods, the effect is temporary. One source reports that harmful dyes are sometimes used by wholesalers, however.[2]

Fish can also be tattooed using a low-intensity laser with a dye, a process developed for fisheries scientists but now applied to ornamental fish.[3]

It has been rumoured that some brightly colored "male" fishes in dealer tanks may actually consist of both males and females treated with hormones so all the fish, males and females alike, show male breeding colors even out of breeding season.[4]


Some species, such as albino Corydoras and "painted" glassfish, are injected with dye using a hypodermic needle. In more recent times (2004-2005), injection dyed albino Plecostomus and rift lake cichlids have also become available. Other than the Indian Glassy Fish, most dyed fish are albinos.

Some commonly painted species

  • Indian Glassy Fish (Parambassis ranga). Tradename: Painted glassfish; Disco Fish; Colored Glass Tetra.
    Black tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi). Tradenames: Berry Tetra; Painted Tetra.
    Oscar (Astronautus ocellatus). Tradenames: Blueberry Oscar; Strawberry Oscar.
    Corydoras species
    African Rift Lake cichlids, such as Pseudotropheus. Tradenames: Ice Blue Albino Cichlid; Zebra Ice Albino Cichlid.
    Suckermouth catfish (Hypostomus plecostomus). Tradenames: Patriotic Suckerfish; Mixed Color Suckerfish.
    Parrot cichlid (Amphiliphus citrinellus x Heros severus). Tradenames: Jellybean Cichlid; Cotton Candy Cichlid.
    Goldfish (Carassius auratus). Tradenames: Jellybeans; Icepops.[5]

Health hazards to painted fish

Many dyed fish die during this stressful, painful, process and those that do survive often are susceptible to disease. For example, one source reports a 300% increase in diseases such as Lymphocystis, Ichthyophthirius and finrot in painted aquarium populations compared to unpainted populations, possibly due to infection by dirty syringes. In addition, fishes injected with dye often die without apparent external disease symptoms, presumably due to kidney disease caused by injection.[6]

Efforts to stop fish painting

Some members of the aquarium trade want to ban this practice. For example, the British publication Practical Fishkeeping started a campaign in 1996 to ask retailers to stop selling dyed fish, which led to a significant decrease in the number sold in the United Kingdom. Practical Fishkeeping has launched a similar campaign with a global scope and maintains a register of stores which do not stock dyed fish.[7] The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) regards the practice as cruel and unnecessary cosmetic mutilation. A campaign in Australia and in the UK has limited the sale of these fish. Dyed fish are still available and are generally imported from south-east Asia.

In February 2006, the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that it will not be making it illegal to sell dyed fish in the UK under the forthcoming Animal Welfare Bill.[8]


  1. ^ Dr Stan MacMahon and Dr Peter Burgess. Why it's cruel to dye. Practical Fishkeeping. Retrieved on 2006-05-19.
  2. ^ a b Shirlie Sharp. Death by Dyeing. About.Com. Retrieved on 05-19-2006.
  3. ^ Company offers custom fish tattoos with laser (2006-02-23). Retrieved on 2006-05-19.
  4. ^ Steroids and Livebearers. The Krib. Retrieved on 2006-05-19.
  5. ^ Shades of Death. Retrieved on 05-19-06.
  6. ^ Jim Greenwood, B.V.Sc.. What's wrong with a painted angel?. Retrieved on 2006-05-18.
  7. ^ Dyed Fish Campaign. Retrieved on 2006-05-19.
  8. ^ Dyed fish to remain legal (2006-02-17). Retrieved on 2006-05-19.

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