Apr 30, 2009

Pipefish Fossil

pipefish fossil

My husband has been collecting fossils since he was a child, and that got me interested in them, too. Of course, I care most about fossils of marine origins. We have a few little shells, Trilobites, fish, and a crab. But today I received in the mail my new favorite fossil--a pipefish fossil.

You can find some pretty nice, inexpensive fossils on Ebay. I got this beauty from Billbrand11. He estimates it is from the Ecocene Epoch, about 50 million years old or older. It was found 5 miles from Buellton, California in the Santa Ynez fault that runs through the Santa Ynez river valley; The fault runs all the way to the San Gabriel Fault. He says that 50 million years ago, there was a volcanic disturbance that caused a mass extinction of these pipefish.

The complete pipefish is about 6 inches long. The shape of the body and lack of a tail remind me so much of modern pipefish from the genus Syngnathus. They could very well be relatives. What I love about this particular fossil is that in the closeup photo of the head, you can see the the trigger pretty well; it's the triangular bump just under the eye.

I took a bunch of macro shots of this fossil, you can find the fossil album on my photobucket. I also have a bunch of fossils in my Flickr fossil set.

Apr 29, 2009

Hydor Performer Protein Skimmer

I don't think about my aquarium's equipment very often. To me, it's the most boring part of aquarium keeping. After asking other reefer's opinions, I tend to just get the best equipment I can afford and hope that its quality was worth the price.

A few months ago, I got a Hydor Performer protein skimmer. I desperately needed a skimmer because seahorses are so messy and the algae in my main tank was about to take over the world. I was not looking forward to shopping for a skimmer. I've had other protein skimmers before that I ended up removing from the tank because they were such a pain. I heard good things about these Hydor Performers, so I decided to give it a try.

From previous aquarium equipment assembly experiences, I decided to set aside an entire evening so that I could put the skimmer together. To my surprise, it took me about five minutes. I hooked it up and turned it on, spent a couple minutes adjusting the air intake, and it almost immediately started working. I had dark, rich skimmate the very next morning. I was baffled. I love this skimmer.

The only problem I did have with it was that some bubbles escaped into the tank for the first few days. But that's not really a problem, just annoying when you want to see in your tank. I also want to mention that it is a myth that seahorses get Gas Bubble Disease from skimmer bubbles in the aquarium. Having a skimmer on a seahorse aquarium can actually prevent GBD by providing cleaner water conditions and increasing oxygen.

However, sometimes a silly male will get some of these tiny air bubbles in his pouch if he is displaying too vigorously. This is not GBD, and the air usually comes out of the pouch the next time he flushes it. If he needs some help, you can gently use a bobby pin to open his pouch and very gently push on his pouch to get the air out. Of course, first decide if he is strong enough withstand the stress of being handled like that. Most of the time, it's best to let him take care of it on his own as long as he is eating well and able to get around. If anything besides air comes out of his pouch (like mucous, opaque liquid, or pus), get him into a quarantine aquarium immediately and slowly lower the temperature to 68 degrees F. Then go to the seahorse.org emergency forum and ask for help!

Apr 28, 2009

Squat Lobster Sighted on Crinoid

We had a squat lobster sighting today on the Crinoid feather star during feeding time. Sorry for the poor quality photos.

"Crinoids eat a range of microscopic particles, ranging from diatoms, foraminifera, unicellular algae, small crustaceans, larvae and detritus." from http://palaeo.gly.bris.ac.uk/Palaeofiles/Fossilgroups/Crinoidea/page2.html

I recently received an email from a Biology student working with Crinoids. He says that the squat lobsters use the Crinoids, which may be toxic, to hid from predators. Squat lobsters also steal food from the Crinoid. My squat lobsters all eat large pieces of Mysis shrimp without the help of a Crinoid. I don't think they require Crinoids for survival, because I've had my Galathea inflata since November 2007, and it has increased in size by about 25%.

I think I may have seen the squat lobster "combing" through the Crinoids feathery arms. Since it is difficult to feed these sea stars in captivity, I wonder if the squat lobster will increase its chance of starvation in my aquarium. Chuck Raabe has a little section on these squat lobsters and says they are "Klepto-parasites that don't directly harm the host but steal its food." I'll have to try to think of a way to keep the squat lobster well fed so it doesn't steal too much from the feather star. Or I could relocate the squat lobster. I don't know anyone who has kept one of these Crinoids in an aquarium for longer than six months, so if I make it past that point, I will be satisfied.

I want to make a point to say that I did not purchase this Crinoid. I do not recommend purchasing animals from your local shop that have a poor survival rate in captivity. That will just encourage your local shop to order and sell more of them. It is for the same reason I do not encourage purchasing an animal from a shop just to "rescue" it from poor conditions there. I would never attempt to keep an impossible creature like this one if it was not accidentally imported (hitchhiked) and then given to me to care for.

Also check out these lovely Crinoid commensals photos.

Check out this little cutie, he looks just like my squat lobster!
Crinoid Crab in Sulawesi - Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

Apr 26, 2009

Crinoid Feather Star

My local place found a Crinoid feather star as a hitchhiker in one of their shipments. Since I have a non-photosynthetic aquarium and dose phytoplankton, they decided my tank would be the best (local) home for it. I also think it will be interesting to see the behavior of my Crinoid squat lobster Allogalathea elegans with this Crinoid feather star. (My Galathea inflata is in the other tank to prevent squat lobster disputes...)

I've had the star for a few days now, and it is very cryptic. It hangs upside down under some of my branch rock in the exact spot where I placed it after acclimation (near the squat lobster). I'm considering getting a small lunar light so I can view it when it is most active at night. I've seen a couple arms come out during feeding time, but that's all I've seen of it. My squat lobster usually hangs out in a Gorgonian, but I haven't seen it since I put the feather star in. Maybe it's under there with the Crinoid.

To prepare for the addition of this sea star, I made sure to cover my pump intakes with fine mesh bags. I wouldn't want it getting the tips of its arms chopped off when it finds a cozy spot too close to the pump's impeller.

The other non-photosynthetic tank inhabitants are doing very well (as far as I know.) My hard tube coco worm Protula bispiralis has grown about two full inches since I got it a couple months ago! My sea cucumber Pentacta anceps still extends and "licks" its feeding arms when I dose phytoplankton. And of course, the seahorses are doing well.

I will let you all know how the Crinoid feather star does. They are notoriously impossible to keep in home aquariums and usually starve to death slowly. If you've had success with this species and kept it alive longer than 6 months, please give me some advice. Otherwise, just wish me luck.

Also, check out Echinoblog's new post about Crinoid locomotion and Charles Messing's blog about The Crinoid Feeding Mechanism.

Apr 14, 2009

Ribboned Sea Dragons and Seahorses at the Mall of America

Erectus Seahorse
For my birthday my husband took me to the Underwater Adventures aquarium in the Mall of America. We had heard that they opened a new seahorse and sea dragon exhibit on March 14th.

Pot Bellied Seahorses

The species on display at Underwater Adventure's Seahorse Kingdom are Potbelly seahorses, H. abdominalis; H. erectus; H. reidi; and Seaponies, H. fuscus. I was really impressed with the condition of these seahorses. It's rare to see such fat, healthy seahorses in a public aquarium.

Reidi Seahorses

I was very pleased that each species was kept in its own, very large aquarium. The aquariums were the new bullet-shaped aquariums that I like so much. It was a little tough to get photos through the curved acrylic, but if your subject is in front, it's easy. These seahorses had plenty of room to live and mate; their tanks were nearly floor to ceiling height. Most of the seahorses were very friendly and let me take their photos. The only ones that were shy were the H. fuscus, but that's normal for that species.

Baby seahorse eating

They are trying to breed their seahorses and have a few tanks set up for pregnant fathers and juveniles. I got a couple good shots of a cute little H. erectus in the fry raising tank.

Ribboned Sea Dragons

The main attraction were the Ribboned Sea Dragons Haliichthys taeniophorus. This species has been called pipefish by many scientists who only saw trawled, dead specimens without their cirri. Only recently have taxonomists begun to realize these are more closely related to the other two Sea Dragon species than pipefish. Seeing them alive and up close convinced me that they are in fact Sea Dragons and not pipefish. I got a lot of decent photos of the sea dragons, go to my Flickr Set to see all of them.

Ribboned Sea Dragons

I don't know why more aquariums and hobbyists aren't interested in keeping these Ribboned Seadragons. Rudie Kuiter in his essential book Seahorses Pipefish and their Relatives says, "No doubt an interesting species that has a lot of aquarium potential and should be bred for this purpose. It is more tropical than its southern relatives and therefore more suitable for many public aquariums." Kudos to Underwater Adventures for keeping this species. I noticed that there were two females and one male at the aquarium, perhaps we might see some juveniles next time we visit.

What's most famous about Underwater Adventures is their tunnel shark tank. You walk through a tunnel under 14 feet of water surrounded by sharks, rays, and huge sturgeons. There were about six divers with huge rulers trying to measure the sharks the day we were there. It was quite funny.

There are a few other miscellaneous creatures at the Underwater Adventures aquarium. They have a little petting area for kids and a giant octopus in a tank at the end. They had a small but healthy reef tank with some corals, shrimp, and reef fish. The jellyfish kriesel was really neat. They even had a huge tank dedicated to bat starfish Asterina miniata.

Maculosus angelfish

There are large aquariums elsewhere in the Mall of America if you leave Underwater Adventures wanting more. The Rainforest Cafe has several huge aquariums with beautiful tropical reef fish like this Maculosus Angelfish, squirrelfish, Heniochus Butterflies, a six foot Moray Eel, giant Unicorn Tangs, etc. They also shocked me by making me the best burger I've ever eaten.

Apr 1, 2009

Caring for Caracanthus

Some of my all-time favorite fish are fish in the genus Caracanthus. There are four species in this genus, though only two are common in the pet trade -- Caracanthus maculatus from the Indo Pacific and Caracanthus madagascariensis from Africa. I've heard a few cases of a Caracanthus typicus from Hawaii in a pet shop, but I haven't yet heard of a Caracanthus unipinna  for sale (but I found one as a hitchhiker!). Some common names used are Velvetfish, Velvet Goby, or Gumdrop Coral Croucher. These fish are often called gobies, but belong to the order Scorpaeniformes like scorpionfish and waspfish. The specimens from Africa seem to be the most colorful, having pink bodies and red spots to resemble the Pocilloporid corals they inhabit.

These tiny fish only grow to about 2.5 inches max. They are clumsy swimmers and prefer to perch or squeeze themselves into tight spaces, holding on with their thick pectoral fins. Velvetfish have vertically flattened bodies so that they can squeeze into the branches of Pocillopora, Stylophora, Acropora, and similar corals. If you have large, healthy colonies of these corals in your aquarium, they shouldn't be harmed by the activities of these fish. If you keep a breeding pair, however, you may notice some tissue loss on the underside of a coral where the Velvetfish lay their eggs.

Velvetfish are venomous, so use caution when cleaning their tank. As long as you don't pick one up and squeeze it, you shouldn't get stung. The sting isn't nearly as bad as their scorpionfish relatives and feels a lot like a bee sting. If you do get stung, immediately run hot water (as hot as you can stand) over the affected area.

Velvetfish can be aggressive toward their own kind, so they are best kept singly unless you find an established pair for sale. Otherwise, they are extremely docile toward other fish. I kept my Velvetfish in a 55 gallon aquarium with many tiny gobies such as Trimma, Eviota, and clown gobies. My Velvetfish never showed aggression or interest in consuming any of my tiny gobies.

When choosing a Velvetfish for the first time, make sure to choose a fish that is not too skinny. Their bellies should be rounded and not concave. The head and dorsal area should also be full and not sunken in. Ask the pet shop to feed the fish in front of you so you are sure it is eating frozen foods. If the fish only eats live food, it might be interested in frozen food, but may only look like it's eating. So be very observant and make sure the fish actually consumes the frozen food. It takes a lot of preparation to keep a Velvetfish who only eats live shrimp and has not been trained to eat frozen food.

It can be difficult to feed these fish, especially in a larger aquarium where they have a lot of places to hide. They normally will only eat food that falls within an inch of their face, so target feeding is required.

I would recommend keeping a new Velvetfish l in a small, bare bottomed quarantine tank with one or two branching decorations for the fish to hide in. Then target feed the fish frozen food like Mysis with a syringe. There is a good chance the fish may not take to frozen food right away, even if it was eating it in the store. In this case you'll have to buy small feeder shrimps until the fish learns to eat frozen food. Freshwater ghost shrimps that have been enriched with vitamins and gut-loaded make a good live food.

Velvetfish are considered cryptic fish and tend to hide almost constantly, especially at first. Once they become comfortable in an aquarium, they can become quite tame. My Velvetfish was not afraid of me and would actually watch me and follow me as I moved around the tank. He ate directly from the tip of the feeding syringe and would even swim to it if it wasn't nearby. I find Velvetfish to be fascinating, beautiful little gems that can safely be kept in a small reef aquarium. If a non-reefer friend points out that your new Velvetfish is not very active and a little "boring," you could always impress them with, "Hey, it's venomous."