Q: I recently bought some goldfish for my grandson. Now, I’m suddenly wondering whether fish ever sleep, in case he asks. What can I tell him?
E.H., of O’Fallon
A: Think about all those times years ago when you tried to listen to your high school history (or trigonometry or whatever subject seemed most boring) teacher drone on and on in a hot, stuffy classroom late on a Friday afternoon.
You may have been staring directly at him, but your mind was on the “NCIS” episode you had recently seen or the big game coming up that night — or nothing at all. You were “zoning out,” “chillin’” or, to give it a more high-falutin’ name, meditating. When the bell rang, you may have felt a bit more refreshed, but you would have flunked any quiz on that day’s class. Even today, you may think you’re concentrating on work or a TV show but suddenly realize a sizable chunk of time has simply vanished without you realizing it.
Apparently, that’s the same way fish “sleep.” As you’re obviously aware, these critters have everything going against them when it comes to catching some z’s. They can’t stretch out on a Conforma-Pedic mattress, wrap themselves in 10,000-thead-count satin sheets or pop a Sominex. I mean, even if they have eyelids, they’re transparent, for Pete’s sake.
So if your grandson simply watches his new present for a few minutes, he may conclude they never enjoy any shuteye because they seem to be in constant motion. But that’s not true, experts stress. Fish simply go into a state that resembles human daydreaming.
“If you’ve ever owned a goldfish, you've probably noticed the times when it’s sleeping,” say the folks at Wonderopolis, a function of the National Center for Families Learning. “It might hover near the bottom of the tank in a trancelike state. If you put food in the tank during this time, you’ve probably noticed that it takes longer for the goldfish to respond, just like you might have a hard time waking up from a good night’s sleep.
“Sometimes people see fish when they’re sleeping and assume they’re awake because they’re still moving. Most fish need to keep moving even when they’re sleeping, so that they keep a constant flow of water moving past their gills to maintain a proper oxygen level in their bodies. For some larger fish, like sharks, this can take the form of swimming at a slower rate when sleeping. Smaller fish might be able to do nothing more than occasionally move their fins.”
In fact, some species sleep so soundly that they can be lifted out of the water without waking up at all, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Even more exotic, some species of parrotfish surround themselves with a secretion of mucus before they fall asleep. This cocoon serves two purposes: It hides the fish’s scent from enemies and alerts the fish should a hungry predator bump into it.
If you’re looking for specifics, the amount of sleep depends on the species, their activity regimen and the environment in general. In aquariums, fish may sleep when you turn the lights off. In the wild, some fish, such as minnows and coral reef fish, may be active during the day and sleep at night while others may do the opposite.
These regular patterns may go out the window during times of migration, spawning and parenting. So is it possible for fish to develop sleep abnormalities? The Sleep Foundation says yes. Zebra fish that lack hypocretin receptors may display classic signs of insomnia. They may have trouble drifting off or staying asleep. However, if this is due to some disturbance in their surroundings, they seem to resume a normal pattern once the nuisance is gone.
So it’s probably best to let sleeping fish lie, too.
Q: What has become of the noon news on KSDK-TV Channel 5? I enjoyed watching it at lunch, but last Monday it was suddenly gone.
N.F., of Fairview Heights
A: Looks like you’ll have to do lunch with another station. In the continuing shootout between social media and television at high noon, Channel 5 has thrown in the towel.
At least, that’s how station execs explain why they killed the once-popular newscast last Monday. Apparently, ratings for the noon news have nosedived over the years as more and more people grab their midday meal of headlines on smartphones, iPads and desktops. While interest in social media peaks at noon, the number of TV viewers has become so abysmal that the station turned off the teleprompters.
The station says it is currently looking at new ways to draw viewers back to the time slot. But for at least the next year, the answer is: reruns of the game show “Jeopardy!”
What is the largest species of fish (in size)?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: Modern biographers say it’s not true, but legend has it that famed whiskey distiller Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel came into his office one morning and, as usual, could not remember the combination to his safe. Out of frustration, he kicked it, which led to an infection in one of his toes that ultimately killed him on Oct. 10, 1911, at the age of about 62 (nobody knows exactly when he was born). Now, next to his grave are two metal chairs, which, also according to rumor, were designed to provide comfort for the many women he had in his life who were mourning his passing.