Jun 28, 2009

Pom Pom Crabs and Basket Stars

The pom pom crabs I ordered have arrived! They are in perfect condition, and the acclimation couldn't have gone any smoother. I placed them next to my older pom pom crab in the aquarium, and they seemed to get along fine. As you can see from the pictures, one of the new pom pom crabs is definitely a female. Note the bright orange eggs on her abdomen. Please forgive the hair algae stuck all over the crabs, that came from my aquarium...

pom pom crab

pom pom crab with eggs

I'm doing a little experiment to see if it's true that pom pom crabs share their anemones with one another, then frag them to make more. I think it's more likely that they steal anemones from each other. When a pom pom crab molts, it puts down its anemones for a short time until it can shed its old exoskeleton and pick them back up again. Perhaps that is when they are most vulnerable to anemone theft! Unless I see it happening, I may never know. But hopefully my older pom pom crab acquires some new anemones somehow, because she lost hers a few months ago and has been carrying around sponges instead. It's kind of sad and pathetic.

Basket Starfish

Word has gotten around that I like Crinoids and other non-photosynthetic animals, so I was given some basket stars last week. Thanks, Joe! You're awesome!

Basket Starfish

I have no idea what species these basket stars are. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see that they are pinkish with red-orange stripes all over them. If I had to name them, I'd call them "candy-striped basket stars." They are only about the size of a nickel when they spread out. These are the smallest basket stars I've ever seen, hopefully they'll be easier to feed as a result. They came on this gorgeous non-photosynthetic orange and red soft coral, which I also couldn't ID. It reminds me of corals related to Dendronepthea sp. and Stereonephthya sp. Anyone know what this is? It wasn't attached to a rock, so I rubber-banded it to a heavy coral mariculture plug. I'm going to pin it tomorrow with a long stainless steel frag pin. The stars haven't strayed from the coral yet.

The other basket starfish I got this week is a Caribbean basket starfish, Astrophyton muricatum, similar to the one pictured. I had that one come in as a hitchhiker on a Gorgonian order a couple years ago, and it didn't last long. That is how I learned that basket starfish can crawl inside return pumps and get destroyed by the impeller. Since then, all my pumps have been covered with ugly mesh bags. The one I got this week is about the size of a large man's hand when it is stretched out. This species grows to three feet in diameter in the wild.

I hope to do better with this basket star than with my last one. Like most other non-photosynthetic marine creatures, the majority of the basket star's diet will have to come from my aquarium's refugium and sand bed. In the wild Caribbean basket stars prefer to eat pelagic copepods and other small zooplankton, so Cyclop-eeze, Cyclops, and rotifers are an ideal supplemental diet for a small to medium-sized basket star.
Here's an older article about basket stars on reefs.org http://www.reefs.org/library/article/r_toonen17.html

Jun 18, 2009

Aquarium Update

All my aquatic pets are doing well. I'm dealing with some condensation on the glass now that summer is here and I chill my aquarium to 72 degrees. The algae is coming back with a vengeance and threatening my corals. I'm considering starting a nano tank just for my corals. I have a 20 gallon bullet tank, but it currently houses my freshwater livebearers. I doubt my husband will alow me to get ANOTHER aquarium, so I'll have to either get rid of the algae or get rid of my livebearers.

Curious Wormfish

The Curious Wormfish is doing great and eating a lot. He spends most of his time buried in the sand, but when I feed the aquarium he emerges to feed. It's strange to see a tiny blue head poking up out of the sand, waiting for the perfect, calm moment to burst out and begin hunting Mysis. He's now eating the large PE Mysis, about 2 or 3 pieces a day. After dinner, he may stay out for a couple hours, then buries himself in the sand again.

I just ordered some pom pom crabs, they should be arrving soon. My pom pom crab, who is a couple years old now, lost her anemones a few months ago. Hopefully her new friends will share their anemones with her.

Yellow Fin Flasher Wrasse

My yellow-fin flasher wrasse accidentally went over the overflow box and now lives in my seahorse tank. I'm not very good at catching fish, so he has stayed there. It's been a few weeks now, and my Rubriventralis fairy wrasse has turned into a male within that short time. "His" ventral fins are a gorgeous black-red color, and the blue on his tail and body glows. I promise to post better pictures soon.

White Seahorse

The Erectus seahorses are also doing great. They are growing so big! It's hard to believe that just five months ago, they were tiny juveniles, only a few inches tall. I love this picture of Hoover, who is usually black. She turns white when I feed her or when she is being courted by Juniper or Debelius. Click on the photo for more detail.

The one-eyed goby my friend Paul got me for my birthday in April has finally started to gain some weight. Well, technically, he has two eyes, but one is severely deformed. When I first got him, I was concerned that he wasn't eating enough because he can't see anything on his right side. I try to target feed him, but if the food falls to his right side, he can't see it at all. He is less shy now and is confident enough to compensate for his eyesight by swimming in circles to look around.

Honestly, I'm surprised that my Crinoid feather star is still alive. All of its arms are intact, and it seems to be thriving. I put a fish net in my seahorse tank in an attempt to get the flasher wrasse used to it so I could catch him better. The Crinoid decided to make that fish net its home, so now I can't remove the net. The squat lobster is less shy now and is always visible on the center of the Crinoid. I'm noticing that the squat lobster doesn't steal small food particles from the Crinoid, only larger pieces (like Mysis) that fall and get stuck in its arms.

Lastly, one of my female Brotulids has slowly been getting fatter and fatter, till recently, her stomach turned dark and swollen. She definitely looked like the pregnant Brotulids I've seen before. The strange thing is that I don't have a male of the same species in the tank with her. She hasn't been around a male in almost a year. I'm not sure if they can store sperm the way that freshwater livebearers can, or if she possibly mated with the yellow Brotulid who is from a different genus and has radically different genitalia. Last week, I noticed that the front of her belly was flat, and a long black shape was still visible near her vent. The next day, it too was gone, and she now looks exactly like her sister. These fish are so ridiculously cryptic, I can only view the adults with a small flashlight I keep near the tank. Most people who buy Brotulids for their aquariums never see them again, or see them years later when they tear down their tanks. I can't help but wonder if I now have a couple baby Brotulids...

Jun 13, 2009

McCullochi Clownfish Breeding Update

We've posted some new photos on Liveaquaria of our McCulloch's Clownfish eggs and larvae. Click here to view photos of the eggs' progression, the larvae, and the rearing set-up. I took some of these photos, but the best one is the "Day 2" larvae photo that Kevin took.

I've never seen clownfish babies before, and my first reaction was how big they are! I know that doesn't sound right, but really, they aren't that small. They were just as big as some other freshwater egg-laying species' fry I've seen. They swim a lot faster than I would've expected, making it even harder to get a photo. The first to hatch are eating voraciously and growing exponentially. They've been segregated from their smaller brothers and sisters, who are catching up to them in size now.

Any we've lost have been donated to my microscope. It's clear to me that since day three, they are starting to develop a crude tail. You can tell from the photos that they are turning black already. Some have more black than others, and it seems that the larger ones are darker. Under the microscope, you can see neuron-shaped spots of black and some smaller, rounded yellow pigments.

This is such a wonderful and exciting learning experience. I'm grateful that even in these hard economic times, Dr. Foster and Dr. Smith have enthusiastically supported this expensive experiment. It is my hope that someday, the rare McCullochi clownfish will be just as numerous as "Nemo." The best news you'll hear all week? The parents are cleaning the glass again...

06/18 Update: Unfortunately, all the babies died a couple days ago. This isn't uncommon with a first spawn, so we're being optimistic. The second batch of eggs is much larger and due to hatch on Saturday. This time around, I hope we'll be more successful.

06/29 Update: Our second batch of eggs only produced five larvae. Maybe our pair is young and inexperienced at spawning. They spawned again on Friday night; this clutch is much larger, and the eggs look healthier and brighter. Hopefully we'll get a larger hatch this time.

07/02 Update: We still have one little fry swimming around in the nursery tank. He is past the larval stage now and doing great. The newest spawn is starting to look really mature; the eggs have eyes! These eggs look great.

07/08 Update: We've got about thirty hatchlings with fat, healthy bellies and one lone ranger from the last clutch who has finally metamorphosed into his sub-adult form. He is about a centimeter long and is obviously a mini-adult. He's jet black with two white stripes and yellow fins. His eyes look absolutely enormous compared to the rest of him. He's our little mascot; I have named him Pierre. Here's a link to some photos and a video of him chowing down on some baby brine shrimp.

Oh, and by the way, they spawned again tonight. This clutch is even BIGGER than the last one!

07/14/09 The newest eggs should be hatching any minute now...

08/22/09 We now have four large babies that have gone through metamorphosis, and one getting ready to. They look completely different from the adults. The babies have three stripes instead of one, and yellow markings on their fins. Some of them are mis-barred, but you won't be able to tell when they are adults, they lose their stripes. We have about a hundred (I don't know, I was an English major) swimming around in the fry rearing tank. The parents spawned again last night, right on time. You could set your watch to them.

08/30/09 Kevin says he successfully collected the entire batch this time using his larvae collector. I can't wait to see all the babies tomorrow, I bet there's a lot! He said all of them hatched at the same time this time. That's been a major problem for us in the past. Before today, a few would hatch out before the majority of them, and would be stronger and outcompete their smaller siblings.

Interview with Dan Underwood of SeahorseSource.com

I've been a member of the seahorse community for a few years now, and it's been blatantly obvious which seahorse retailer stands out among all the others. No matter which seahorse forum you visit, you'll notice that the vast majority of posters recommend buying from SeahorseSource.com.

Unlike many Asia-based seahorse breeders that mass produce seahorses and offer no customer service, the Underwoods are active in the seahorse and aquarium community. Dan and his wife, Abby, are active posters on Seahorse.org, answering questions and giving expert advice to seahorse keepers, customers or not. I also had the pleasure of meeting Dan and his daughters at IMAC last year.

As you can imagine, Dan U. is a very busy guy, but he graciously accepted when I asked him to do an interview for Aquarium Adventures.

FM: First of all, why seahorses? What (or who) was your inspiration?

DU: A few years ago, I was involved in a startup business in New England. I knew the company was to be sold soon and was looking for another venture to be involved in. While on a business trip, I stayed with my sister who was working with seahorses and she told me about seahorses and that there were only a handful of successful breeders worldwide and how difficult they were.
After several conversations with my sister, my wife and I decided that we wanted to be involved. A few months later the company sold, we sold our house and sailed to Florida. We spent a couple of years studying, keeping and observing seahorses. After figuring out how to successfully rear them, we started Seahorse Source.

FM: How many different species do you breed?

DU:Currently 6 species. H. erectus, H. zosterae, H. barbouri, H. fuscus, H. kuda & H. reidi.

FM: That sounds like a lot, is your whole family involved in caring for the seahorses?

DU: Yes. Originally it was a 2 person partnership with my wife & myself. Now both of our daughters are involved.

FM: Do you have any other pets or animals at home?

DU: Yes. 3 dogs and a rabbit.

FM: When you're not taking care of seahorses, do you have any other hobbies?

DU: Yes. Boating. We love sailing, but due to time restraints with the seahorses, that is temporarily on hold. We sold our sailboat and bought a power boat for exploring the estuaries and studying the seahorses and their natural habitats. We do sneak in a little play and chill time on the water as well.

FM: I noticed that you sometimes sell seahorses from other breeders. What do you do to ensure their health and quality?

DU: We would prefer to breed all of our horses that we sell. Space and time constraints prevent us from doing so. Also, sometimes it is more profitable for us to resell than to breed. First we take a look at the breeder and learn everything we can about them. What is their track record, what do others think about them (both professionals within the industry and their customers), what we learn from a personal interview and how well they will stand behind their product. Next
we order a sampling of their specimens. After we have observed a sampling and are satisfied, we do a trial order. From there it is based on consistency with their livestock. As long as we feel we would be personally happy with their livestock, we are willing to continue with them. We have had breeders that we have dropped due to deterioration in quality.

FM: What temperature would you recommend for most tropical seahorse species in your customers' home aquariums?

DU: 72 to 74 degrees F. This is not always possible though. Especially during the peaks of summer and winter. We consider 77 to 78 degrees the high for summer and 68 to 69 degrees the low for winter. Generally we have found that customers that maintain temperatures in the mid to low 70's have a much higher success rate in keeping seahorses long term.

FM: I've never heard of a customer giving you negative feedback. What's your customer service secret?

DU: I have a very strong sales and customer service background. I did very well in this area in previous businesses. It is more or less a carry over in philosophy. I believe if you understand what your customer wants and deliver or exceed upon those expectations, you will have a satisfied customer. We are not perfect though. It is when you make an error or fail to deliver that your true customer service shows. We admit when we have goofed or were wrong, and fix it. We are one of the few companies that if we fail to deliver what we promised, will replace our products at no charge, including shipping, instead of issuing a credit towards the next order.

FM: What do you think makes Seahorsesource.com's pet seahorses higher quality than other live seahorses on the market?

DU: First, because we are a small Mom & Pop Operation with very high standards. Our focus is on quality. Being small and hands on we have direct control over this. Secondly, unlike many of the seahorses sold today, all of our seahorses are true Captive Bred specimens from closely monitored recirculating systems.

FM: Other retailers sell their "colored" seahorses for a higher price. Why do you choose not to sort yours by color?

DU: Quite simply, because it is impossible to stand behind the product when selling by color. Seahorses can and do change colors. It is part of their defense mechanism to blend into the environment. We have no control on the d├ęcor of the customer's tank which will be the largest determining factor in their color. Selling seahorses by color is like offering green chameleons at a higher price than say brown chameleons.

FM: What do you think the future holds for the live seahorse industry?

DU: Seahorse husbandry is still very much in its infancy. There is still a ton to be learned. Presently the biggest challenge for breeders is how to become more consistent in production and how to be profitable. The profitability end is an issue for USA breeders who have to compete against foreign breeders with low over head, very little regulatory control in aquaculture and inconsistencies in defining how seahorses are bred.

FM: Do you think seahorses will continue to be popular aquarium pets ten years from now?

DU: Yes! Maybe, even more so, than now.

Jun 3, 2009

McCullochi Clownfish Spawn in Rhinelander, WI

It's an exciting time for us Rhinelander, WI residents. Love is in the air, and Liveaquaria's super rare in-house McCullochi clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi) pair has spawned! Amazingly, Kevin Kohen, Liveaquaria's director, was there right when it was happening and caught it on film. Check out Liveaquaria's Exclusive McCulloch's Clownfish spawning video. There's a hilarious clip near the end of a snail that got too close to the egg patch. Watch as the McCulloch's pair viciously attacks it in an attempt to move it away from their precious eggs.

The eggs were laid on Sunday, and we expect them to hatch this Monday after an eight day gestation period. I feel very lucky to have a front-row seat for this experience. I'll keep you posted when I can, so look for more updates from me in the near future.

McCulloch's Clownfish are endemic to Lord Howe island off the coast of Australia, which is a national park. One ambitious Aussie named Ryan was granted permission to collect ten pairs for breeding purposes. Thanks to him, McCulloch's Clownfish became available in the aquarium trade for the first time in nearly 30 years, since Lord Howe island became a marine reserve in 1982. Most of the F1 McCulloch's Clownfish were sold in Japan for around $5,000 U.S. each! Because of Liveaquaria's endeavors, these amazing creatures are now available to hobbyists in the Unites States. You can read Ryan's whole McCulloch's clownfish story here, or an easier to follow version here.


Jun 1, 2009

Curious Wormfish

I am very excited about my new pet Curious Wormfish. This fish has been on my fish wish list for many years, but I haven't been able to locate one until last Friday. I was very pleased that my fish has blue on it; some curious wormfish are more yellow and lack the blue stripe. Mine must be the true Gunnelichthys curiosus. I took more than two hours to acclimate him using the drip method. I take longer than normal because my tank's temperature is so low, and this is a delicate fish. Updates on this fish Here.

I took a top-view photo of him in the bucket, then transferred him to a specimen container to get a good closeup. In all my life, I've never seen a fish jump so much. Poor thing is too skittish to even photograph with the flash on. So I gently put him into my aquarium. Lucky for me, he decided to swim around for a few seconds before promptly burying himself in the sand, which is where he will probably spend most of my waking hours. I was able to get a couple half-decent pictures of him. You can sort of tell how he swims from the photos, undulating his whole body in an S-shape.

Curious wormfish are very shy and cryptic, but so is everything else in my aquarium. They have a poor survival record in captivity, mostly due to improper housing. These fish must be kept in an aquarium with a tight fitting lid. I'm using fine pond mesh to cover mine. They are so thin, they can fit through even the tiniest spaces.

According to wetwebmedia's FAQ, These fish are even more shy than seahorses, and shouldn't be kept with swimming fish, including wrasses. Almost any fish will easily outcompete them for food and harass them. They are surprisingly thin, and may be easily swallowed by all but the smallest, most peaceful fish. I put mine into my seahorse/Brotulid aquarium where he can be cryptic in peace.

When I came home from work today, he was swimming out in the open. I immediately thawed a cube of Hikari Mysis shrimp and put it in the tank. He ate with gusto! I tried to get a couple pictures of him, but he jumps every time the flash goes off. (I don't know how anyone could possibly keep one of these in an uncovered aquarium. The poor thing would only last 2 minutes.) And my glass has billions of Spirorbids on it from the phytoplankton feedings. I'll let him settle in more before subjecting him to the camera again. For now, check out this gorgeous photo by Keoki Stender. This is by far the best photo I've ever seen of a Curious wormfish.

December Update: my Curious Wormfish moved himself to my sump with the Brotulids a few months ago. I left him there because he seemed more comfortable in the dark with other lazy fish. He hides with them in their PVC tubes and comes out when he smells food. He is still an extremely skittish, shy fish. He seems to get along wonderfully with the Brotulids. There are several PVC pipes in the sump, but they all share one. Guess they like company.

Devonian Fossil Cluster

I found this neat fossil at an art/fossil store in Minocqua, WI. They had a small inventory of fossils, mostly whole Trilobites, Ammonites, and some crystals. They had this fossil labeled as a Devonian fossil cluster, 350 - 416 million years old. I immediately assumed it was of marine origins, but now that I have it home, it occurs to me that it could be terrestrial. Any fossil afficianados out there want to hazard a guess at what these little...things are?

Click on the photos to see the huge detail version.