May 27, 2009

Squat Lobster and Crinoid Update

It's been a while since I've had a squat lobster-Crinoid update. The Crinoid feather star is still doing well; it is extending its arms farther and more often now. So far I haven't noticed any deterioration of the arms, even with the squat lobster living on it.

The squat lobster is also doing very well. If a squat lobster could be happy, I would say this one is quite content. The photo above shows the squat lobster, named "Darth Vader," eating the Mysis shrimp prize it found in one of the arms of its feather star.

Commensal Coral Hermit Crab

Coral Hermit

I've acquired a new piece of coral with some interesting critters living inside. This piece is from Australia, I believe it is a Leptastrea pruinosa. The first thing I noticed about this tiny piece was the yellow commensal coral hermit crab, Paguritta sp. It measures about 3 mm total length. It is officially the smallest pet I've ever had. It is more yellow in real life, I'm still learning how to use this new camera. I've seen bigger ones, so I'm hoping it gets a lot of plankton to eat in my aquarium and grows. What really surprised me about this crab was that it was living in a Leptastrea coral. I've only ever seen them on SPS corals like Acropora, Montipora, and Astreopora corals.

I'm not sure how difficult these are to keep in captivity. Technically, these are filter feeders. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see that the crab has feathery antennae that it uses to capture suspended plankton. Like its shelled hermit crab cousins, I've also seen it pick up tiny particles with its claws and put them in its mouth. Hopefully that means they will be easier to feed than other filter feeding animals.

When I looked closer at this coral, I noticed some tiny blue things with black markings. They are about half the size of the hermit crab. At first I thought they could be a different species of commensal coral hermit crab, but they didn't appear to have claws. I watched them during acclimation, but they didn't move much. Once I put the coral into my aquarium, I saw that the blue things lifted up and the tiny, feathery hand-like feeding apparatus of a barnacle came out of each one. There appears to be some tissue loss on this end of the coral, but I don't think it is a direct result of the barnacles living there. Click on the photos for larger views.

Update 6/20: I'm happy to say that my commensal coral hermit crab is doing well and is easy to feed. I target feed it daily with small pieces of frozen Mysis, Cyclops, and krill. Just like its shelled cousins, it holds the food (often several times the size of its body) in its claws, methodically rips small pieces off, and puts them in its mouth. It retreats when it detects movement nearby, but quickly comes out waving its arms and antennae when it senses food. I can get the tip of the syringe so close to the tiny crab that I can gently squirt pieces of food directly into its greedy claws. For good measure, I do often target some phytoplankton for its feathery antennae to catch.

May 11, 2009

Coldwater Catalina Gobies

Actinics Catalina Goby

There has been a lot of focus lately on sustainable aquarium livestock harvesting and responsible aquarium keeping. The Catalina goby, Lythrypnus dalli, is notorious for being kept in inappropriate captive conditions. The picture at the left shows a captive Catalina goby perched on a sea mat "glowing" under Actinic lighting.

For years Catalina gobies were marketed as tropical fish and sold to reef aquarists. When the gobies died shortly after purchase, it was assumed that they were delicate or had short lifespans. Neither assumption is true. Catalina gobies are not tropical or sub-tropical fish. They are temperate, cold-water fish. And quite hardy, if kept in the correct environment. The maximum temperature to plan for in your home Catalina goby aquarium would be no more than 65 degrees, maintained by a chiller.

Some retailers are beginning to notice that their customers are educating themselves about the habitats of the species they are keeping, including Catalina gobies. Some of these retailers have changed their stand on Catalina gobies and other coldwater stock, admitting that they are truly temperate. But they are still recommending the incorrect temperature range. Some retailers list the maximum temperature at 74 or 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Those are still tropical temperatures. It's a step in the right direction, but their temperature recommendation is still way too high.

According to fishbase.org, the maximum water temperature Catalina Gobies can be found living in is 71 degrees. This is during the hottest point in summer in shallow water. Keep in mind that our reef fishes can be found in waters where the temperatures reach more than 90 degrees during the summer. For example, in the summer Brazilian Reidi and Erectus seahorses are observed in shallow waters where the temperature is above 90 degrees. Even the least responsible keepers would never attempt to keep their seahorses or reef fish at those temperatures. Our aquariums and captive reefs are very different from the wide open ocean. In captivity diseases and parasites can reproduce unchecked by inadequate dilution and overstocking (compared to the ocean). Attempting to keep any fish at the very top of its natural temperature range is going to shorten its lifespan and weaken the immune system. 71 degrees happens to be the top of a Catalina goby's temperature range.

Public aquariums have known for years that Catalina gobies must be kept at low temperatures. The Monterey Bay Aquarium houses Catalina gobies in a chilled aquarium maintained between 58 and 60 degrees. They are able to keep their Catalinas for an average of two years each and have no problems with disease. The Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco keeps theirs at 60 degrees. Steve Weast keeps his Catalina gobies at 62 degrees or lower. He has graciously posted some fabulous photos of his Catalina gobies guarding eggs in this Reefcentral thread. The maximum temperature to plan for in your home Catalina goby aquarium would be no more than 65 degrees, maintained by a chiller.

I kept a beautiful pair of Catalina gobies in temperatures between 67 and 72 degrees for a few months. When I noticed their fast respiration and a Lymphocystis infection, I did some research then moved them to an aquarium with a temperature between 65 and 67 degrees. They recovered from the Lympho, but I was still only able to enjoy them for one year total.

Lythrypnus zebra

There are a few more species in the Lythrypnus genus, but only two show up in the aquarium trade with any regularity. The other is the Zebra Catalina goby, Lythrypnus zebra. This species is not often collected, and the few that make it into the aquarium trade sell quickly. Not much is known about it except that its care is similar to Catalina gobies. It has a more southern range and may be able to withstand slightly warmer water temperatures. This might make it a good candidate for sub-tropical or seahorse aquariums. I've kept one in my aquarium for nearly nine months as of this post, and it is doing very well. It is eating well, as you can see from the above photo, and hasn't shown any symptoms of disease. My aquarium temperature is between 67 and 70 degrees for most of the year, but in the summer I allow it to reach 72 or 74 degrees during the hottest weeks to prevent my chiller from prematurely wearing out. I'll update this blog if anything changes.

Trimma Goby

There are tropical gobies that rival the Catalina gobies' beauty and make much better additions to a reef aquarium. Gobies from the genus Trimma and Eviota are similar in size, color, and behavior. Trimma and Eviota gobies can even be kept in small groups with less aggression than groups of Catalina gobies.

Responsibility begins with the collectors, wholesalers, and retailers, but we as hobbyists have a voice every time we purchase a specimen for our aquarium. We can educate fellow hobbyists about cold water livestock and avoid the temptation to keep them in our tropical aquariums only to enjoy them for a few months. By avoiding difficult to keep species, we can decrease demand for these animals, and fewer of them will be collected. We all play an active role in the future of the aquarium hobby.

If you are interested in Catalina goby breeding behavior, read Sex Reversal in Pairs of Lythrypnus dalli: Behavioral and Morphological Changes and Sex allocation in a simultaneous hermaphrodite, the blue-banded goby (Lythrypnus dalli): the effects of body size and behavioral gender and the consequences for reproduction.

If you are interested in setting up a coldwater reef or temperate aquarium, more information can be found on Steve Weast's website Oregonreef.com. Wetwebmedia has a very informative section on Catalina gobies here. These photos were taken in 52 degree waters near Channel Island, California.

May 7, 2009

Nikon D60 Camera

Green Zoanthus

My new (to me) camera came in via UPS today. It is a refurbished Nikon D60 with a 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens. I am super happy with it. Here are a few shots I took tonight with my new camera. To get this close, I used an "Opteka 52mm 10x HD² Professional Macro Lens"

Of course, you can expect more later. Click the pictures to see the full size, detailed pictures.

Duncan and snail

Caribbean blue Zoanthus



May 5, 2009

Cost of Owning an Aquarium

The first question many people ask when considering an aquarium is, "How much is this going to cost?" The total cost of an aquarium will depend on what types of animals you'll be keeping. It will also depend on the brands and models of the equipment you choose. In this blog I will try to make a loose estimation of the total cost of my aquarium and its current equipment and livestock. Keep in mind that I didn't spend all this money right away, it took a couple years to collect all of this stuff. I look for sales, shop online, and buy used equipment from local people.

I only wish that I had researched more before I bought certain things. I have an entire storage room full of aquarium equipment that I no longer use, but can't bear to throw away, because I paid for it!

Since I have two aquariums plumbed together with an overflow box, let's just consider them as one since they share all their equipment. The top aquarium is a 55 gallon "reef" tank. It has mostly photosynthetic Gorgonians, Actinodiscus sp. mushrooms, Zoanthus sp. polyps, a Turbinaria sp., Duncanopsammia sp., and other miscellaneous corals. It has about ten gobies, a pipefish, two small wrasses, and some small inverts. I bought it during a "dollar a gallon" sale at Petco a few years ago. I paid only $55.00! The lower aquarium is a 37 gallon aquarium with five seahorses, a pipefish, three Brotulids, non-photosynthetic corals like Gorgonians, several Tubastrea sp., a pink sea cucumber, and other inverts. This aquarium (along with tons of other useful stuff) was given to me by my friend Monica, but a similar aquarium would likely cost around $50.00 because it's an unusual size.

Syngnathids do best at temperatures lower than 74 degrees Fahrenheit, and two of the Brotulids I keep are sub-tropical to temperate species. Even in Wisconsin, it gets warm in the summer, so I needed a chiller. My chiller was one of my first aquarium purchases. I bought an off brand 1/10 horsepower chiller on Ebay used for a little over $300. After doing some research, I discovered that I could've gotten a similar model brand new for about the same price. I didn't make that mistake again.

I've had three different canister filters over the years, but my favorite so far has been my Fluval 405. I started with a Magnum 350, but got rid of that soon after nearly electrocuting myself. (it's a long story, but basically, the o-ring fell off into the canister after I reattached the lid, which caused water to spray out of the canister in all directions onto my power strip, which then started to smoke, prompting me to panic and push the little red switch...) My second canister filter was a Filstar XP3. I really liked this filter, but after a couple months, an air pocket developed a couple inches below the lid, and it started to leak a bit. Since the company is located in France, I didn't get much customer assistance. I later got a Fluval 405, which runs about $235.00, and haven't had a problem since. I do miss the perfectly square Filstar XP3, though. It was much easier to customize media.

I've also had several different lighting systems, but the one currently on my reef aquarium is a 48" Dual Satellite Compact Fluorescent fixture which costs about $270.00. My non-photosynthetic tank has a light, too, but just enough for me to view them. It's a single strip light, costed about $35.00. I also have a light on my refugium, a Coralife Aqualight Single Compact Fluorescent Strip Light. I got the 24" freshwater version (the color temperature is good for macroalgae) for about $70.00. I have countless ballasts, bulbs, and strip lights in my storage room that I won't factor into the ultimate cost.

I've had two different skimmers so far. I bought a Prism Pro a few years ago, but I removed it from the aquarium after a few months because it was such a pain to adjust all the time. I was constantly adjusting the water flow and air valve. After I started getting a lot of hair algae, I decided it was time for a new skimmer. I got (and blogged about) my Hydor Performer in January, and I love it. The smallest model runs about $320.00, but it is worth it.

I consider my refugium an essential part of my aquarium. It provides food for my pipefish and seahorses, helps reduce nitrates by growing macroalgae, and gives me a place to put really tiny shrimp and fish when they first come out of quarantine and I want to watch them closely. I have the the large AquaFuge External Hang-On Refugium for $165.00.

My aquarium stand was used, so I only paid about $50.00 for it. But you could expect to pay between $100 and $150 for a similar new one. I have a stand for my 37 gallon tank, but my leopard gecko tank is on it right now. It was given to me with the aquarium. It's not pretty, but I just have my seahorse tank on the kitchen floor (to the dismay of my husband).

There are other little things to factor into the total cost, like algae scrubbers, food, filter media, electricity, etc. Including electricity it costs approximately $75.00 a month maintaining my three aquariums. Luckily, my electricity is included in my rent.

I was really lucky when I bought my Live Rock. A friend of mine was moving to a different state and couldn't take her aquarium with her. She had about 50 pounds of dry rock left over and sold it to me for $50.00. Another friend placed on online order for premium branch live rock and accidentally ordered too much. He sold me 30 pounds for about a dollar a pound as well. If you are buying coralline algae encrusted live rock online, you can expect to pay around $4.75 a pound including shipping. If you buy from a local shop, expect to pay between $7.00 and $9.00 a pound, depending on where you live. You'll probably want about a pound or a pound and a half for a reef aquarium. Keep in mind that you'll be adding live rock later when you buy corals attached to rock.

I can't say for sure how much I've spent on livestock (fish, inverts, and corals) over the years, but it's likely to be my most costly category. I have a "thing" for weird and unusual fish and inverts. I estimate that I have more than $1,500 worth of livestock in my aquarium right now. That's not counting the animals and corals I've lost. You certainly don't have to spend that much on your livestock, though. You can get inexpensive, beautiful species and enjoy them just as much as the rare, expensive ones. No matter what species you get, make sure you are purchasing healthy livestock through reputable retailers that have guarantees. And if you are buying seahorses, make sure you buy True Captive Bred seahorses. They are more expensive at about $60 each (depending on the species) than Net-Pen raised and Kelloggi seahorses, but you save money in the long run on medicines and replacements.

So that's a grand total of (approximately, give me a break, I was an English major) $3,130.00. I know what you're thinking, that's a lot of money for the ugly tank pictured above. I could have easily spent $10,000 on a flashy Acropora tank, if I had the money.

Now that I've typed this all up, I am really hoping that my husband never reads this post. I am lucky because he is so supportive of my hobby. It also helps that I get a discount where I work!

May 3, 2009

Squat Lobster on Crinoid

This is the second squat lobster-Crinoid update in a week. But I just can't get over how cool symbiosis is. While I was feeding the seahorses last night, some pieces of mysis got caught in the outstretched arms of the Crinoid. The squat lobster, who was hiding at the base of the Crinoid, practically ran on the arms of the Crinoid to get the food. I wasn't fast enough with my camera, but here are some photos of him standing on the Crinoid's arms waiting for more mana from heaven.

I am tired of my point and shoot camera. It's done well for me for five years. Most of the photos on this blog were taken with a Canon A510. But I think it's time I splurged on a better camera. So, yesterday, I bought a Nikon D60. It should come in the mail by next week! I want to thank my mom for helping me; she is always supportive of me and my dreams. Most of my experience is with the Nikon brand, so I already know how to use this camera. I'll be using the lens it comes with, the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR Nikkor Zoom Lens. It gets good reviews for a cheap lens, but it's not a macro lens. Most of the photos I take are macro photos. The specs say it can be as close as .9 feet to the subject. I've had pretty good results from the Opteka close-up lens kits, so I bought similar ones that can screw on the front of my Nikon lens. The depth of field is really small, but it's cheaper than spending $500 on the true macro lens I really want.

May 1, 2009

Little Seahorse All Grown Up

My smallest seahorse, Debelius, has started developing a pouch. Click on the pictures to see a super close-up. The first photo is him in late March. The second photo was taken yesterday. The third is a photo of him when he was a juvenile and didn't have a pouch yet. You can see how his pouch has grown, and his chest is getting deeper. Even before he had a pouch, his chest started getting deeper than his sisters'.

seahorse erectus male

He has always been close to Ellis, the large adult female. He constantly hitches on her and stays near her. Now that he has a pouch, he is always showing it off to her. But Ellis is not impressed. She and Juniper, the large adult male, still court once every couple weeks. They've had one egg transfer so far, but Juniper lost the eggs. He had the eggs safely in his pouch after the transfer, but as soon as Ellis came near him again, he got excited, started doing pouch flushes, and pushed all the eggs out. Maybe next time they will figure it out.

If you ever find a sheet of orange eggs in your seahorse aquarium, they are probably seahorse eggs that didn't make it into the pouch. This can happen for a number of reasons. When seahorses mate, they rise to the top of the aquarium and then slowly make their way down while transferring the eggs. If the tank is not tall enough, and they are hurrying the transfer, they may not get them in the pouch. Also, if the flow in the aquarium is too strong, it will be difficult for them to make the transfer. Sometimes a female seahorse will have eggs ready, but can't find a receptive male. The eggs will not be fertilized until they are inside the male's pouch. The eggs are a nutritious food source for the other fish and inverts in your aquarium.