By Megan Whisennand
So, I have this really weird affection for betta fish. So much so that my affection rivals my feelings for my cat. He only wins out because I can—y’know—actually hold and play with him.
I currently have two bettas, Isa and Algiz.
I’ve had Isa for a while now. When I found him at Walmart, there was less water than usual in his little container and he was hunched and curled awkwardly. When I first brought him home he didn’t do much swimming—the best he could do was rest on the plants in his tank because of his back. It took a little time, but he’s doing better now.
On the other hand, I got Algiz on the spur of the moment simply because I have always wanted a black betta. I thought that being near each other would get the two of them to flare up and be a bit active. Nope. Isa did a bit at first, but Algiz apparently couldn’t care less, and now they don’t even acknowledge when they’re right beside each other.
When coming up with a list of creatures to design for my novel, I found myself focusing on mostly land-based creatures. The main reason for this was that the majority of my story takes place on land and my characters won’t encounter large bodies of water much. Still, I want to be diverse in my designs, so I decided to do at least one water creature.
I knew I wanted to do something I could base on a betta, so I used an app on my phone that lists all sort of mythical creatures and simply searched “fish”. The first creature that caught my eye was the kun from Chinese mythology.
The kun are simply giant fish that are able to turn into giant birds, which are called Peng. The best I could find on the legend of kuns is a translation from an ancient text called Xiao Yao You written by Zuhang Zi, which describes the kun:
“There lived a kind of giant mysterious fish in the northern sea. These fish are called Kun. Nobody knows how big these fish actually are. They can turn into giant birds. When they are in bird form, they are known as Peng.”
But I haven’t been able to find much more than that. Even the app I used to originally find the kun described them as “Giant fish.” Yep. Really helpful.
The best information I got was from Wikipedia, and even that wasn’t much. That article only explained the origins of the names Kun (from the Chinese character meaning “fish roe/fry”) and Peng (a character from the ancient word for “Chinese phoenix”). So really, Wikipedia didn’t have anything to offer me, and after my short lived research, I was left with a fairly blank canvas on which to start my design.
Originally when working on my version of the kun, I just made it an enlarged version of a betta. However, this didn’t look that great and quite frankly was kind of boring. To remedy this I decided to combine bettas with eels. I knew I wanted my kuns to have long bodies and eels were the first long sea creature that came to mind.
So my design, as of now, is a long serpentine body with the fins of a betta. I also modified the head to be more eel-like as will.
Males will be brightly colored and have large, elegant fins. Females, likewise, will have vibrant colors, but their fins will be smaller.
Like bettas, kun will build bubble nests to house their eggs. This will be done in coves or other protected areas. The fry will be born roughly a foot in length and will spend their first year living near where they hatched. At about a year old, kun will be roughly six feet long and able to venture into deeper, more dangerous waters. Assuming they manage to continue surviving, kuns will continue to grow.
I don’t know exactly how big they will become, but when I was doodling them I imagined large ones to be about the size of a blue whale (roughly 30 meters). That would take a long time to reach though—maybe fifty years or more.
The one thing from the traditional kun that I didn’t want to incorporate into my design was how they are able to transform into birds—the idea just doesn’t appeal to me—though I don’t want to completely sweep it under a rug either. So instead of transforming, the young kun will be able to jump and glide like flying fish, leading to the misconception that they can fly. They will slowly lose this ability as they grow larger and their mass makes gliding impossible.
If they existed in our world, I would say the kuns’ size would be enough of a defense for them once they are grown. However, since they are in a fantasy world and I imagine there are other large creatures living in the water, they need some other way of protecting themselves. The easiest solution I came up with that seemed plausible considering the eel elements in m design is to give them sharp teeth that they can use to latch on and rip out large chunks of flesh should they be attacked.
Since the characters in my novel won’t go near the ocean, they won’t encounter kuns that way. But some young kun will swim up rivers, especially if their nests are at the river mouth. So perhaps my characters will come across them that way. At least, that’s my plan for now, though it’s subject to change if I get a better idea while writing.
Since bettas come in a variety of tail shapes and colors, is there any tail/color combination you would like to see in a monstrous fish?