Friday, December 3, 2010

The Heater Works! (Phew)

It's been unseasonably cold in San Diego. Great time to make sure your heater works. I turn my heat off at night. I woke up and went downstairs, shivering. It must have been 50 degrees. Turns out, I left the fireplace open with the flue open all night. It was ridiculously cold in the house. I immediately ran over to the aquarium, sure that all the denizens would be frozen into little cubes. I checked the thermometer: 78. Phew!!!

Don't forget to make sure your heater is working!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

R.I.P. Flowerpot Coral

It happened so quickly! Here's a pic of this gorgeous, large coral from just last week. It did fantastic for about 3 months. I noticed a few polyps on the bottom that had started to retract the beginning of this week. A few days later, they were covered in gloopy, yellow, snotty, slime. Ewwww! The next day, the slime had grown to encompass half of the entire coral. In no time of all, it had transformed from "flowerpot" to "mucous ball". We were forced to pull it and say goodbye. I'm bummed but we kind of expected it. Flowerpot (Goniopora) coral has a very low success rate in the home aquarium (less than 10% make it past a year).

There's a huge, empty expanse of rock ready to be filled with something else. I'm leaning towards Daisy Polyps. They're hardy, easy to keep, and grow quickly. Plus, they're peaceful as well.

I also really like Galaxy Coral but they have really aggressive sweeper tentacles. I don't want to accidentally kill neighboring coral!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pictures! (As Promised)

As promised, here are some pics of our recent additions. As soon as I can get a good shot of the feather duster worm and plate coral, I'll put those up too.

Purple Pincushion Sea Urchin ("Spike"):
I absolutely love this guy. He's always crawling around and eating algae. He has thousands of little feet waving around between his spines. Very cool to watch!

Spike under the blue light. Note all the shells and rocks on his back (why he's sometimes called a "Collector" or "Pincushion" urchin).

Up the back wall to clean up algae! I never clean the back wall, allowing a little algae growth for my vegetarian critters. I also stuff a big kelp leaf in the rocks once in awhile. It breaks into little pieces and the fish go nuts.

Taking off with a clump of zoas (Lily). I quickly put the coral back. No coral was harmed in this photo. Spike sometimes gets a little "carried" away with his cleaning. Ha ha!
Scopas Tang ("Toby"):
He is sooo beautiful. I'm happy to have a tang in the tank again! I went with the Scopas tang since they are peaceful, smaller than other tangs, hardier than other tangs, and voracious algae eaters. They are similar to Yellow Tangs but less aggressive and a titch smaller.
Casey, our Flameback Angel, is hazing poor Toby, the new guy and low on the totem pole. Casey chases him around a lot at feeding time. It's not constant though and Casey tends to settle down aggression-wise with time (he used to pick on a lot of tankmates when first added; he's mellowed out over time). Luckily, Toby doesn't seemed too phased by Casey's bullying.
Toby is eating well--loves kelp and plankton. I've been trying to fatten him up; he's super skinny!

Toby, our Scopas Tang. I love the pale cream-brown, tiny stripes and white spots! Plus, his eyes can change color (from brown, shown here, to yellow). His fins are gorgeous too, like sails. Under the blue light, there's lots of blues and magentas that come out under the brown color. Who says this is a drab tang?
Casey bullying poor Toby.
Red-headed Goby ("Tiny Tim"):
Tiny, hardy, and reef-safe, I couldn't resist this little guy. This was a true test of how peaceful our tank is! He's less than an inch long and could easily be picked on or eaten by several of the fish in the tank. Not to fear, no one bothers Tiny Tim. He loves to hide in the rocks but is usually out front and center! He's not nearly as shy as I thought he would be. He grabs tiny pieces of meat floating by at feeding time.
Isn't he beautiful? Red head, yellow eyes, blue stripes, and see-through body, wow!

Tiny Tim darting in and out of rocks. He is sooooo cute!

Felipe (the Third), our Royal Gramma:
Surprisingly, we had bad luck with our first 2 royal grammas, despite their reputation for being very hardy. I think third time's a charm! We just love the royal gramma. He's hardy, peaceful, and strikingly colored. Felipe is always out and about, not nearly as shy as the others before him. Our tank just didn't feel complete without him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stay Tuned...

I have LOTS of pics coming soon. Stay tuned for pics of our recent additions:

1. Spike, the Sea Urchin

2. Feather Duster Worm

3. Tiny Tim, our adoreable, miniscule Red-Headed Goby

4. Kobe, our new Scopas Tang

5. Montipora Plate Coral (our first SPS addition!)

Our tank is doing really well. We've had some minor things here and there, but overall, everything is awesome.

1. Algae update:
It took a few weeks to see the reduction in (hair) algae growth after reducing the light and feedings. We're now feeding only once a day and the light period has been reduced to 8 for the days and 10 for the blues. However, combined with weekly 20% water changes, addition of a sea urchin and some more snails, and vigorous scrubbing with a toothbrush, I'm happy to report that I'm winning the battle. I'm hoping to be able to cut back to 20% bi-monthly changes in the next few months. Mostly because, weekly water changes are A LOT of work!

2. Strangely Low Calcium and Alklanity Readings:
After our local go-to aquarium expert (Mike) said to start checking our calcium, I noticed it was low. It's always been on the low side anyway (calcium 420 ppm and alkalinity 8 dkH). I began adding the Bi-Ionic 2-part buffers to boost levels. Following the directions and adding conservatively (10 ml each for our 75 gallon tank), nothing happened. At the same time, our Elegance and Open Brain Corals began to look a little withered. I have been finding it necessary to add 40 ml each 3x a week to keep levels at 8 dkH and 440 ppm (calcium)! That's just absurd. Mike said I should be adding maybe 10 ml per week, if that. However, upon adding buffers, I noticed our coral perked up (the Elegance and Brain). I also saw an increase in coralline algae growth. The only thing we could think of is that we perhaps used distilled instead of RO water. We have been going to the grocery store and filling our buckets with the vending machine out front, instead of going to the LFS for RO. Maybe the Albertson's vending machine dispenses distilled? Back to the LFS for all our RO. No more second guessing.

3. Other Minor Happenings:
The Open Brain Coral appreciated being relocated to a lower flow area in the tank on the open substrate. It took some moving around in "mushroom city". Our low flow section of the tank is now densely populated; however, the Brain loves it. He blossomed, opened up, and expanded his tentacles almost immediately.

I replaced some of the old, nasty macroalgae in the refugium with fresh, new green stuff. Every week, I had been pulling some old out to allow room for new growth. This worked well for several months. Over the last several weeks, I noticed less growth of the macroalgae but unfortunately, rapid growth of the nasty, red microalgae. However, upon close inspection, I spotted a dense population of pods (they look like little bugs! Gross!). Not wanting to disturb them, I only removed a fraction of the old macroalgae before adding a ton of new. I think this was a good move. I now can safely say that it's good to replace the macroalgae with some new every 3 months or so.

I absolutely LOVE our automatic top-off dispenser. No more twice daily water top offs! Plus, it maintains a more stable salinity.

Our tank temperature dropped for the first time. Thank you cool fall weather! NOTE: Now that it's fall, don't forget to check to make sure your heaters are working! I was happy to see the little light indicator blink on our heater in the sump. Our temp is 78-79 for the first time (It was 80-81 over the summer). I can finally turn off the 3rd fan in the sump to save some energy (our other two are in the canopy by the lights and are temp regulated).

4. Tank Reports:
I'm happy to report that 2 out of 3 of our cleaner shrimp (the Merry Maids) are pregnant! Yes, they have millions of little eggs on their abdomens. Yay! That's a sure sign of a happy tank.

I've also spotted growth in our mushroom coral. I've been a little disappointed with the zoanthids. They're healthy but not growing as quickly as I expected.

The xenia is the one coral that's not doing so hot. Ever since moving around the rockwork (which caused the loss of our first Royal Gramma, Phillip) a few months ago, the xenia, which had been growing like a weed, suddenly stopped. However, it was still fully opened and pulsing. I could deal with that. Now, it's been wilting and pulsing very weakly. Maybe it has something to do with our odd water parameters (although xenia doesn't really care about alkalinity and calcium so much since it's a soft coral, there may be other trace elements it needs that the water is lacking which I haven't measured). I hope relying on the LFS RO water fixes this.

Stay tuned for pics!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Spike, our Purple Tuxedo Sea Urchin

The algae problem seems to be s.l.o.w.l.y. going away. I'm still doing the 20% weekly water changes (at which point I vigorously scrub all the algae away with a toothbrush and much elbow grease) but it seems like less and less algae re-emerges each week. I only feed the fish once a day now. They seem to have adjusted just fine. In addition, the lights come on later in the morning (I don't get to look at the tank until evening anyway) so the total light period is shorter. Less food and less light = less nutrients for algae to grow. In addition, I added a few more snails and...... (drumroll, please)

A sea urchin!
These guys are the ultimate janitors of the saltwater tank. They are omnivores and eat any debris and algae left gumming up the tank. In the wake of the sea urchin's path is a blinding white streak of clean rock. It looks like someone took an army knife and scraped the rock clean! I LOVE it! Sea urchins are the "canaries" of the saltwater aquarium. At the first sign of less-than-perfect water quality, they begin shedding spines. If your sea urchin looks sickly, it's time for a water change. STAT! Some can quickly outgrow the tank and become predatory so do some research before selecting a species (from what I've read, pencil urchins are not reef-safe while the ones with long spines live on reefs in the wild and do well in aquarium settings as well). In addition, they love ALL algae, including coralline algae that we all work so hard to grow. Keep in mind, you may need to supplement your urchin's diet with seaweed to keep him from eating you out of house and home.

Spike is a Purple Pincushion Urchin, also called a "tuxedo" or "collector" urchin, since it gathers debris on the tops of its spines as it plows over the rocks, walls, and substrate, looking for food. He is really fun to watch. He crawls over everything with thousands of little feet! I absolutely love this guy.

Tank Update

I've noticed more algae growth as of late. Sigh. Looking back at my notes, I think I'm feeding too much and the lights are on for too long. Plus, 20% weekly water changes are starting to take its toll on me. That's a lot of work!

Problem: Algae Growth
Solution: Feed less and reduce lighting period.
The fish are used to getting fed once a day. I don't want anyone turning into Mr. Hyde and gorging on cleaner shrimp so I'm reducing slowly. First, I'm feeding them less, period. Second, I feed them just a pinch of some dried food in the a.m. This makes it easier to cut this out. The next step is to begin "forgetting" a.m. feedings. I'll skip every other day the first week, then every two days, the second week, etc. until I'm no longer feeding in the morning.

To reduce the lighting, I will also do it slowly so as not to shock the fish and coral. In addition, I want to shift the lights to turn on later in the day so they can stay on later at night (when I get to see them). I'm tired of not being able to look at my tank. Evenings are the only chance I get! To do this, first I'll begin by having the lights switch on 1 hour later in the morning. Right now, the blue lights are on 12 hours a day, and the white lights are on for 10. I am going to aim for 10 for the blue and 8 for the white (and if that doesn't work, then 8 and 6). My goal is to have the blue lights come on at 1:00 pm and then turn off at 11:00 pm (the whites would be on from 2-10). I have to shift slowly. Maybe by 1 hour a week until I get it right.

Other tactics to reduce algae would be to add a few more snails. Worst comes to worst, I can always drop in a sea urchin!

Phil didn't last very long (the new Royal Gramma). He was very small and very shy. Basically, he was too scared to eat. The other tankmates would feed, and he hid in his cave. He wasted away until one morning, I discovered a cleaner shrimp eating his carcass. Nothing left but a skeleton. Sad.

A Peaceful State of Homeostasis

I need to upload some new pics. After the tragic loss of 3 fish, a shrimp, and a starfish, all within a week or two, for no apparent reason, the tank is finally returning to normal. We love eating breakfast by the tank. I drink my coffee while watching the fish eat. I've finally gotten into a routine of regular tank maintenance. It's still a lot of work but not as overwhelming as it used to be. Over the weekend, we even picked up a new shrimp and a new royal gramma to replace the ones we lost. The tank seems so much livelier with the new additions! Pics are coming soon.

Here's a list of tankmates:
1. Bluejaw Trigger (male)--Pedro (very cute, peaceful, shy little guy, although we suspect he may have had something to do with the loss of one of our cleaner shrimp after molting).
2. Phil--new Royal Gramma (after the loss of Phillip when I removed all the live rock in a futile attempt to catch a Banggai). He's so small! He loves the caves and nooks and crannies in the rocks. I hope he grows up to be nice and big!
3. 2 Banggai cardinalfish (both males; ugh). The Ropers (Mr. & Mrs. even though they're both guys). One is dominant and still chases the submissive one around but the tank is large enough and has enough hiding places that Mr. Roper doesn't get picked on too badly. These guys hide a lot and don't like the bright reef lighting.
4. 2 mated Clownfish (Oscellaris). Bonnie & Clyde. We got these guys as babies (captive-bred). They are the friendliest in the tank, and always come out to say "hi". If you open the canopy, you can hand-feed them! They are finally maturing into sexual differentiation. The male does a "shimmy" dance to entice the female. Bonnie mostly just chases Clyde around but I've seen her fiercely defend Clyde from more aggressive tankmates. No saltwater tank is complete without a pair of clowns!
5. Yellow Coris Wrasse. Louie. This fantastic guy is very flashy. He is a late sleeper and often goes to bed early as well (or when scared), which is in a secret hiding spot in the sand. When out and about, he loves to show off and is quite active. He likes to bounce off the live rock! He also picks at the rock for food all day long. He particularly likes to steal tidbits from Scooter (scooter blenny) just to annoy him.
6. Scooter Blenny (aptly named, Scooter). He's my favorite! This guy is very personable and especially hams it off for the camera. He makes it a point to hop over to me and say hello every time I'm tank-gazing. He hops on the live rocks all day long, picking at it like a hummingbird. I was afraid he wouldn't do well in my new system but we added a refugium, and since then, he's doubled in size! In addition, his colors have darkened and reddened into gorgeous spots. I would love to get him a female one day.
7. Lawnmower Blenny, Earl. This fat, happy little guy spends all day chomping away at algae. He always has a mildly grumpy look on his face. When we tank-gaze, he'll pause to peer at us curiously before aggressively attacking his next patch of algae.
8. Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse, Nahla. Although these guys often fare poorly in aquariums, we're keeping our fingers crossed. Nahla is fat and happy and verrrry friendly. She cleans all the fish in the tank, especially Pedro, Earl, and Scooter. She also eagerly attacks any meaty food I put into the tank. She has a nice fat belly on her. My favorite thing she does is to chase the rag when I wipe down the aquarium glass. She must think the rag is a big fish for her to clean!
9. Flameback Dwarf Angelfish, Casey. This guy is so brilliantly colored and renowned for algae eating. I took a chance on him, hoping he wouldn't pick at the coral. So far, so good. I keep him well-fed, and that seems to work well. He's definitely a pugnacious little fellow, however. He chases anyone away from his "territory" in the rocks but everyone else seems to just ignore him. With time, he's been settling down. Chill out, dude!

Coral and Other Inverts:
1. 3 Cleaner Shrimp, The Merry Maids (Mary, Melvin, and Melanie). I love these guys. They're pretty and are great at housecleaning. They even clean the fish! Plus, they lay eggs from time-to-time, feeding the fish! Actually, Melanie, our new addition, came in with thousands of little, tiny eggs attached to her legs. Way cool!
2. Various zooanthid frags (4 pieces)
3. Various mushrooms (all sorts of cool colors!). 4 pieces
4. Leather coral
5. Toadstool coral
6. Xenia (growing like a weed)
7. Elegance coral (so far doing great)
8. Frogspawn
9. Open Brain Coral (so cool)
10. Flowerpot Coral (so far, doing great)

We also have a number of snails and hermit crabs, the clean-up crew!

I measure tank stats monthly (although I check the temp, pH, salinity, calcium, and alkalinity weekly). Our water chemistry has been verrrry stable. Yea!
Temp: 81
pH: 8.5
Salinity: 1.024
Alkalinity: 8 dkH
Calcium: 400 ppm
Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates: 0 ppm
Phosphates: 0 ppm

Tank Maintenance:
Daily--Fish get fed 2x/day (a variety of meat, kelp, spirulina, and freeze-dried Copepods (Clyo-eeze), in the form of frozen, pellet, and flake food).
Empty skimmer cup.
Wipe algae off glass with magnet.
Check water levels in automatic top-off container.
Check to make sure light timers are working correctly.
Observe overall fish and coral behavior and health.

Bi-weekly--LPS corals and button polyps are fed with a turkey baster (meaty foods like mysis shrimp, crab meat, and oyster and prawn eggs). The elegance coral, brain coral, frogspawn and button polyps go nuts for it. Weird and wacky stuff to watch coral feed. I have to feed the fish right before so they don't steal the coral's food.

Weekly--20% water change (20 gallons). I'm trying to keep up on the algae growth in the tank so my water changes have been fairly aggressive as of late. Simultaneously, I thoroughly scrub the algae off the glass, substrate, rocks, and powerheads. I also change the filter sock and test any water parameters needed. Calcium and alkalinity buffers are added as needed.

Monthly--In addition to my weekly water change, I swap out the activated carbon in my media reactor. My cleaning is a little more vigorous, focusing on pumps, motors and other equipment. Thorough test of water chemistry is also done.

So far, this has worked well for me. I choose to feed my tank pretty heavily. It works so far because of superb filtration equipment and aggressive water changes. Another option would be to feed less, and change water less. But I like seeing fat, happy fish!

Seahorses at Birch Aquarium

Greg and I visited the Scripps Birch Aquarium ( a few weeks ago. The trip made me hungry for a tour of the nation's greatest aquariums!
My favorite exhibit were the seahorses. I've never seen seahorses before. I didn't realize they came in so many shapes and sizes! They truly are magical wonders of the ocean.
Did you know?
Seahorses are the only species on Earth where the male carries the unborn young.
A seahorse can consume over 3,000 brine shrimp per day (they love copepods and mysis too).
They are fairly defenseless and poor swimmers, preferring to hide among grasses and seaweed near reef beds (which they cling to with their tails).

The Medicine Cabinet

Here's a brief overview of what to stock in your fish medicine cabinet and how to use it, should your fish become sick:

Cupramine (copper medicine)
What it Treats:
Ectoparasites like Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans), Marine Velvet (Amyloodinium ocellatum), and Gill Flukes.
How To Use It:
Use 1 ml (stock is 10,000 mg/l) per 10.5 gallons for final concentration of 0.5 mg/l
Add once and leave for 14 days
Use a test kit (from same manufacturer) to measure copper levels
Therapeutic at 0.2 mg/l and toxic at 0.8 mg/l
Cupramine is safer than other copper medications (copper sulfate, chloride, citrate). It's less toxic to fish and also does not precipitate out of solution. There's no risk of fluctuating copper levels. In addition, it's more effective than chelated copper meds.
Removable with carbon (this is why you always remove your carbon filter before adding meds; to remove meds at end of treatment, just put the filter back)
Do not add more unless test copper concentration with test kit (from same manufacturer)
Do not use with any other medications (reducing agents, like formalin, increase copper concentrations to toxic levels)

Formalin (37% formaldehyde)
What it Treats:
Parasitic infections, particularly hard-to-treat Brooklynella (Clownfish Disease)
How To Use It:
Use as a bath
1 ml of 37% solution per gallon water
Make sure temp below 80, pH 8.0-8.4, and vigorous aeration with airpump included.
Treat 45 minutes 1x/day for 3-5 days
Formalin is pretty toxic (it's a carcinogen; wear gloves). In addition, it sucks oxygen out of the water. Temperature and pH affect formalin toxicity (above 80 degrees, it takes out even more oxygen). Be sure to use vigorous aeration. Methylene blue is often used in conjunction (it helps the fish get more oxygen).

Methylene Blue
What it Treats:
Fungus and some external protozoans like ich
How To Use It:
add 1 tsp of 2.3% solution per every 10 gallons (3 ppm final concentration) in QT for 3-5 days; only one application is needed
use water change plus carbon filter to eliminate methylene blue at end of treatment
Methylene Blue is an oxygen transporter for fish, increasing ease of respiration (great in conjunction with formalin since formalin compromises oxygen)
Can be used in conjunction with some medications (check manufacturer's instructions carefully)
Not effective bacterial infections, flukes, or brookynella
Removed by AmQuel at high concentrations

Malachite Green
What it Treats:
Treats ich, fungus, and other external parasites (gill flukes)
How To Use It:
use 1 tsp per 10 gallons
as a bath: 1-2 mg/l for 10 min or 0.5 mg/l for 1 hr
Often used in conjunction with formalin
This is toxic stuff! Use caution.

De-Wormer (Praziquantel)
What it Treats:
Tapeworms, roundworms and other internal parasites
How To Use It:
Can use as a bath (1 tsp per gallon) in QT for 5-7 days
Often mixed with food

What it Treats:
Bacterial infections (pop-eye, bladder infection, fin rot, etc.)
How To Use It:
Add to QT water per manufacturer's instructions and/or food
Start with broad spectrum antibiotics, ones that kill both gram-negative and positive bacteria.
These include:
Nitrofurazone based products
Skin absorbed kanamycin sulfate based antibiotics (Kanacyn/K-Mycin)
Try a product like Spectrogram (Aquatronics) or Maracyn One, followed by Marcyn Two.
Other Antibiotics:
Metronizazole (treats protozoan and anaerobic bacterial infections in fish as well as dinoflagellate infections)

Note: Many of these chemicals are toxic to humans. Please wear gloves and handle carefully.


Primer on Common Marine Fish Illnesses

We've gone over how to do a freshwater dip and how to set up a hospital tank. But what about the meat and potatoes? What does a sick fish look like? What diseases do fish get, and how do we get rid of them?

A sick fish displays obvious changes in normal behavior. Erratic swimming patterns, listless behavior, lying on its side, dull or pale color, loss of appetite, rapid breathing, and white, fluffy patches on skin, gills, or body, all of these are signs of a sick fish. The earlier you spot the symptoms, the better a chance you have of successfully treating and healing your fish!

Why do fish get sick?
Stress. Simple as that. Stress weakens the immune system making the fish more susceptible to disease. Stress comes in many forms including:
1. Shipping and transport.
2. Introduction to a new tank.
3. Poor water quality or sudden changes in water parameters (salinity, pH, temperature, calcium, alkalinity, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates).
4. Poor nutrition (not feeding enough or the right kind of food).
5. Boistorous, aggressive tankmates.
6. Poor enivronment, e.g. tank too small to meet space requirements of fish.

Common Fish Illnesses:
1. Cryptocaryon irritans (Ich)

This is an obligate parasite (meaning it cannot survive without its host) with a complex life cycle often introduced from new fish, coral, or live rock. ) (It's actually a ciliated protozoan). Tangs and surgeonfish are particularly susceptible. Death can result in a few days.
Symptoms first appear as tiny, white specks on the fins, body, and gills (like salt). The fish may itch against rocks and substrate (called "flashing"). As the infection advances, the gills are compromised, and breathing is impaired, causing rapid breathing and listless behavior. Secondary bacterial infections also often occur. Some parasitic copepods can produce identical symptoms.
Although a very common disease in saltwater aquariums, it is easily treated if caught early. In addition, a cured fish often develops an immunity to recurrent infections. Hyposalinity for 4 weeks in a hospital tank is the best treatment. Other treatments such as formalin and copper are also effective but they are pretty toxic to the fish and must be used judiciously.
Ich Links:

2. Marine Velvet (Amyloodinium ocellatum).
Symptoms are similar to ich but instead of punctate white spots, the fish has more of a white powder covering its body, almost like its been dipped in powdered sugar. Caused by a parasitic algae (actually a dinoflagellate). Symptoms start off with labored breathing. Powdered spots occur later. Because it attacks the gills first, marine velvet is more serious than ich. By the time you see it, it may be too late. In addition to powdered spots and labored breathing, swimming may also be erratic. Fish may also rub against rocks and gravel. Death can occur within two days of symptoms. Hyposalinity is not effective for this parasite. Cholorquine diphosphate (also used to treat malaria!) is a good treatment (5-10 mg/l for 10 days). Metronizazole will also treat dinoflagellate infections. Copper, formalin, and freshwater dips are also common treatments. As always, these chemicals are toxic invertebrates, micro-/macro-algae, and nitrifying bacteria.

Marine Velvet Links:

3. Black Ich (Turbellarian)

Also called Tang or Surgeonfish disease because it is often seen on Yellow Tangs. Like ich but black spots instead of white. This disease is actually caused by turbellarian flatworms from Paravortex genus. This disease is not as quick-killing as Ich or Marine Velvet but needs to be treated to prevent secondary bacterial infections from occuring. Treat with freshwater dip followed by formalin bath and recovery in QT tank.

4. Brooklynella (Clownfish Disease)Worst of the parasites. Often seen in wild-caught clownfish. This is a cilliated protozoan that can reproduce asexually, spreading much faster than Ich or Marine Velvet. Attacks gills first, which makes breathing difficult. First symptoms include rapid/labored breathing, thick, excess mucous secretion, color dulling. Lethargy, loss of appetite, cloudy eyes also occurs. Toxins secreted from protozoa cause open ulcers gills and skin. Death can occur in 12 hours if not treated immediately. Remove to QT tank and perform daily baths in formalin. Other treatments, like hyposalinity, freshwater dips, or copper, are not effective.
Brookynella Links:

Most, if not all, occur as secondary infections due to another infection, poor water quality, wounds from aggression, or some other form of immune-weakening stress. Sensitive fish such as angelfish and butterflyfish are most susceptible. The type of bacteria that cause fish illnesses varies widely from Pseudomonas, to Vibrio, as well as Mycobacteria. General symptoms include bloody patches or streaks, skin ulcers, lethargy, dull color, loss of appetite, bloated belly, swollen eye (popeye), cloudy eyes, rapid breathing, or disintegrated fins (fin rot). Without treatment, fish will eventually die from infection. The best treatment is to remove fish and treat in QT with low salinity (1.012; eases stress of fish while preventing secondary parasitic infections) and wide-spectrum antibiotics (food and water). Gel Tec is an antibiotic in food form and Maracyn 2, a sulfa drug that fights gram-negative bacteria, is also a good choice. Erythomycin is also commonly used. As with all illnesses, be sure to perform frequent water changes to manually remove the bacteria from the sick fish's environment.
General Links on Bacterial Infections in Marine Fish:
Tattered, infected fins often secondary to a wound caused by nipping or fighting. Poor water quality exacerbates infection. Common bacteria that cause fin rot include: Aeromonas, Pseudomonas, and Flexibacter. Treat with antibiotics, as indicated above.
2. Popeye/Cloudy Eye
Cloudy or swollen eye which often results from infection after eye is scrathed. With frequent water changes and good water quality, infection often goes away on its own. 10% oral Baytril (enrofloxacin) is a recommended treatment in QT.

3. Vibriosis
This is one of the more aggressive bacterial infections, killing in as few as 5 days. Symptoms often include red spots or streaks on bottom of fish that can ulcerate and bleed. Other symptoms also include lethargy and loss of appetite. This bacteria attacks the GI tract. Treat as with all bacterial infections (isolate fish in QT and treat with antibiotics followed by a big water change in main tank).

4. Fish Tuberculosis
Use extreme caution as the aquarist can be infected. This infection is caused by a Mycobacteria. Symptoms include loss of appetite, lethargy, pale, ulcers, emaciation, and overall poor health. Treat in QT with erythromycin.
I covered this extensively in a previous post. Basically, it causes red or white cauliflower-like lumps on the fins and body of the fish. There is no known cure (just like the common cold) but symptoms are mild, and infection often goes away on its own with time. Use methods to boost the fish's immune system. Frequent, small feedings of rich food and ensure the water quality is pristine.

Flukes and Parasitic Copepods:
Other things that can plague your fish include parasitic flukes and parasitic copepods. Symptoms will be similar to ich (white specks, itching against rocks, excess mucous, etc.). These parasites interfere with the fish's breathing (by destroying the gill tissue). Treat with a potassium permanganate bath (10 mg/L for 20-30 minutes).
Parasitic Internal Worms:
Often caused by roundworms, tapeworms, or flukes, most fish have some type of worm infestation by the time they reach your aquarium. De-worming ( praziquantel, for instance) in a QT is highly recommended. General symptoms include dull color and slow wasting away despite increased appetite as well as the classic long stringy white poop that is often seen hanging from the fish.
Other Diseases:
Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE) Disease:
This mysterious disease most commonly afflicts tangs and surgeonfish. It's cause is unknown, and there is no cure. Symptoms include discoloration and pitting of the head and lateral line. Basically, the skin or gills around this area begins to disintegrate and waste away. Poor nutrition or poor water quality is thought to contribute to causing this disease. This disease doesn't otherwise negatively affect the fish at first but, over time, can worsen and cause listlessness and lethargy in the afflicted fish.

How to Use a Hospital or Quarantine Tank

I'm a big believer now in a quarantine tank. It allows your new fish to rest and de-stress before putting him in the new tank. It also prevents introduction of new diseases to the entire tank. In addition, if your new fish shows symptoms of illness, your quarantine tank can easily become a hospital tank, without worrying about killing coral, live rock, and other inverts, which are sensitive to every treatment used to treat fish disease. Never again will I bring a new fish home and "dump and pray"!

Equipment Needed:
Small glass aquarium (10-20 gallons; bigger is better)
Simple sponge filter
Air pump
PVC pipe or other clever places for your fish to hide
Simple lighting (just to see your fish)
Separate fish nets

What You DON'T Need:
Live Rock
Activated Carbon (if using medicines to treat illness; the carbon will just remove the chemicals)
Fancy, expensive filtration
Expensive lights (just enough to see your fish)
Remember: If you have to treat with chemicals, all the nitrifying bacteria will be killed. This is why it's good to have a few back-up, fully cycled sponge filters in your sump.

How to Set it Up:
  • It's best to set it up and keep it running alongside your main tank. You don't want to put a new or sick fish in an aquarium that hasn't fully cycled.
  • Add a pinch of fish food to start the cycling process.
  • Put it in a quiet, out-of-the way spot, like the basement.
  • Keep the sponges for your filter in your sump so you always have a fully cycled filter, ready to go (4-8 weeks).
  • Acclimate fish before introducing them to hospital/quarantine tank. Acclimate again before introducing them to main tank.
  • Check pH, temperature, and ammonia levels constantly. Especially ammonia. Have extra saltwater ready to go. You may be doing daily water changes to get rid of fish waste since filtration is not as good as your main tank (also necessary if dosing with medicine). Chemicals that detoxify the ammonia, such as Algone, can also help.
  • Please only treat/quarantine one or two fish at a time.
  • Observe your quarantined fish closely. Inspect for signs of illness or disease. Quarantine period should last 21 days.
  • If used as a hospital tank (when medicines or hyposalinity is employed), follow directions verry carefully and monitor closely.
  • If used as a hospital tank, disinfect afterwards. Rinse everything in 10% bleach, followed by copious rinsing in tap water afterwards until no trace of bleach remains. Don't forget to disinfect nets!


How to Do a Freshwater Dip

Bessie, here, is demonstrating how to do a freshwater dip.

Why Dip?
This is a very effective way to remove external parasites, like ich, flukes, or marine velvet, from the fins, gills, and body of sick fish. Many people also use it prophylactically on new fish. Personally, since I am planning on quarantining new fish in the future, I will avoid the extra stress of a dip unless the fish shows signs of infection. However, for a sick fish, I will not hesitate to dip. Although it does subject the fish to additional stress (not good for an already stressed fish due to illness), the pros outweigh the cons. It can often turn a fish around overnight.

How Does it Work?
Fish are complex, multi-celled organisms. Parasites are not. Fish can withstand low salinity; their bodies are equipped to handle it. In fact, since their cells are actually a specific gravity of 1.015, their bodies have to work pretty hard to prevent water loss and dehydration in a salty environment (e.g. 1.025). (This is one reason saltwater fish are so sensitive to water quality while freshwater fish are not. Saltwater fish are constantly drinking! Freshwater fish are not.) In fact, in a fish-only system, maintaining a lower specific gravity (1.020) can fight parasites and strengthen fish since their cells don’t have to work as hard. Anyway, parasites are simple one-celled organisms and simply don’t have the equipment needed to fight osmosis. When you dip a fish in freshwater, osmosis causes the water on the outside of the cell to flood inwards. Whereas the fish cells have mechanisms to prevent this, parasites do not. The water floods in, the cells swell, and then POP! They burst. No more parasite. Ewww!

Freshwater dips causes parasites to explode!

Equipment Needed:
1. Net
2. Bowl with lid (to keep fish from jumping out)
3. RO water or decholorinated tap water
4. Heater and thermometer
5. pH meter, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate; raises pH), vinegar (drops pH; shouldn’t need if add baking soda slowly)
6. Airstone or air pump for vigorous aeration
7. Medication (optional; e.g. nitrofurazone (bactericide), antibiotic, methylene blue, formalin, etc.). Read instructions carefully. Many medications are very toxic to fish. For instance, formalin sucks oxygen out of the water and can suffocate your fish. (I learned this the hard way.) Methylene blue is the best since it actually increases the amount of oxygen available to your fish while killing parasites and bacteria simultaneously.

1. Rinse all equipment, nets, and containers to be used with RO water to be sure no traces of contaminants or detergents are present.
2. Mix water. Use RO water or dechlorinated tap water. Heat to 2 degrees above tank temperature (water will cool before use). Match pH (will need to raise pH to make it more basic) by adding little baking soda and stirring. Repeat until desired pH acquired.
3. Add medication (follow instructions carefully).
4. Aerate vigorously with air pump or airstone for 45-60 minutes (longer better).
5. After checking water parameters once more (make sure temperature matches; too hot can actually remove oxygen from the water), you’re ready to start. Remove the fish carefully with a net and put them in the bath for ~5 minutes (I’ve read anywhere from 1 minute to 30 minutes. Less than 2 minutes is probably ineffective. More than 10 minutes may be too stressful.) Continue aeration throughout treatment.
6. Carefully put fish into hospital/quarantine tank.

Use of a few plastic colanders that fit inside bowl used for dip ease stress of fish because less netting is needed.
Medicines are very toxic to inverts and coral. If fish will be housed with inverts, make sure to do a 2nd short dip, or “rinse”, after medicated dip in 2nd bowl (with matching temp and pH).
Dips can be repeated daily, as needed. (Because dips are somewhat stressful, if repeated dips are needed, you may consider treating the sick fish in a hospital tank via hyposalinity and/or daily water changes.

R.I.P. Chantal and Elton

Ugh. It's been a very bad week for our aquarium. Three fish dead in less than a week. Phillip died due to my negligence (I took out a rock with him in it unknowingly, and he asphyxiated...presumably). Chantal died from ich. Elton died from ich and my failure to adequately oxygenate the hospital tank. Hard lessons learned.

After waking up one morning and seeing ick covering Chantal's eyes and Elton's fins, I resolved to do a freshwater dip. I added an ich treatment containing methylene blue and formalin for increased efficacy. I scooped them into the container with the ich treatment for 1 minute, followed by another dip in just freshwater for another minute before putting them back into the tank. The 2nd dip was to be extra sure no formalin or methylene blue got into the main tank, where it could kill my shrimp and coral. Following the directions of Goemans and Ichinotsubo in "The Marine Fish Health and Feeding Handbook" (absolutely awesome book), I matched the pH with baking soda and used a heater and thermometer to match the temps, thereby lessening the shock of the dip.

Catching them was certainly not easy. Luckily, they hid in the same rock. I picked up the rock, shook them out into the freshwater dip, and whallah. Problem solved. The next morning, Chantal was lying on a rock, breathing rapidly. She looked terrible. Elton looked much better, white spots much less prevalent. I should have LEFT THEM ALONE. Chantal was a goner but Elton would have made it out okay. This is where I made my irreversible mistake.

Panicked that the ich would infect the entire tank, I rushed out to purchase a 10-gallon hospital/quarantine tank. I got a HOB (hang-on-back) filter, an air pump (to increase oxygen), a heater, a thermometer, and a couple of stupid ornaments for the fish to hide in. So far, so good. I mixed saltwater at a salinity of 1.020 (instead of the main tank's 1.025). This was probably not a great idea. Although lowering the salinity to 1.015 kills ich, a huge change in salinity will shock the already weakened fish, further risking death. It would have been better to gradually lower the salinity over a longer period (like a week). Then, I took out the carbon filter and treated with the ich medicine (methlyene blue/formalin). And this was my fatal mistake. Although these medicines can be used in dips, they are horrible for long periods in a hospital tank, particularly formalin. Formalin sucks all the dissolved oxygen out of the water, suffocating the fish.

Chantal died pretty quickly. Elton seemed fine when I first put him in the hospital tank. By morning, he was on the bottom, lying on his side, gasping for air. I immediately put him back in the main tank where he died within an hour.

I am so mad at myself. I basically killed a totally salvagable fish (Elton). I don't think I could have saved Chantal but Elton would have recovered if I had left him alone. Basically, I killed them by suffocating them with the formalin in the hospital tank. Not to mention all the stress I put on them. I did what I thought was best at the time.

I've learned a lot from my mistakes:
1. Don't overcrowd.
I got too many fish, too quickly. I am now focusing on the fish I have in the tank. I did a small water change after removing the sick fish to try to dilute out the ich in the tank. The remaining fish all seem very healthy and happy. So basically, no more new fish!
2. Be conservative with sick fish.
Stress can easily kill a fish. Think twice before trying to do anything to the fish that involves netting them out of the tank (freshwater dips, hospital tanks, etc.). Start with a water change and leaving them alone.
3. Always quarantine new fish.
I learned this the hard way. I've cleaned out my hospital tank and will use it for quarantining in the future.
4. Always put an airstone in a hospital tank for vigourous aeration.
Many medicines are very toxic to fish. I will never use formalin in the hospital tank again. Only for dips. If I had to do it all over again, I would have slowly decreased the salinity and slowly increased the temperature to kill the ich in the hospital tank. This would have been the least stressful to the fish.
Poor little Chantal. She was never very healthy to begin with.

So sorry Elton. I should have taken better care of you.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ich Attack

A tang with Ich.

It's been a bad week for our aquarium. Almost immediately after the loss of Phillip, we noticed white spots covering the fins and body of both Chantal, our Blue Tang ( and Elton, our Helfrichi Firefish Goby( Chantal had already been somewhat immunocompromised, fighting off what we think was lymphocystis. Elton had recently been introduced to the tank and may have brought the parasite in from the LFS. Regardless, both of these guys were already under a lot of stress, and that was before I dismantled the aquarium. This disaster must have added more stress to these guys because the ich outbreak was glaringly apparent almost immediately afterwards.

What is Ich?
Ich, or white spot disease, Cryptocaryan irritans, is a parasite that infects saltwater fish. Although there is another parasite called Ich that attacks freshwater fish and causes similar symptoms, it is a different parasite (the freshwater form is Ichthyophthirius multifiliis). Luckily, saltwater ich is slightly less aggressive than the freshwater form (which attacks the gills first and impairs breathing), making it fairly easy to treat if caught early. This parasite is a ciliated protozoan with a 28-day life cycle (making full treatment fairly prolonged).

After the parasite embeds into the mucous of the fish, it appears as white spots (small grains of salt) on body and fins. In the early stages, the fish remains asymptomatic, although you may spot it scratching on rocks and sand (called "flashing"). This is the best opportunity for treatment. As the infestation spreads, it later attacks the gills and impairs breathing. In the late stages of infection, the fish becomes listless, loses color, stops eating and swimming, and often succumbs to secondary bacterial infections. Death is the final outcome.

The best cure is, of course, prevention. Ich is often introduced into the aquarium via a new fish, coral, live rock, live food, or invertebrate (any outside source). Therefore, quarantining new specimans for a minimum of 10-days is a great idea.

Keep in mind that there is probably already ich in your aquarium. However, if your fish are healthy, they're immune system will ward off infection. If your fish are stressed, they will often get infections like ich due to a dampened immune system. Stress includes, introduction of new fish, aggression between tank mates, poor nutrition (not enough or not the right kind of food), overcrowding and poor water quality. Avoiding these problems should be the first goals of good aquarium husbandry.

When you spot a fish with ich, weigh the pros and cons of different treatment options. Removing him and putting him in a hospital tank allows you to treat him without killing your coral and live rock (as well as other invertebrates). This also prevents other fish from getting infected. Remember that treatment is most successful when done early on. On the other hand, ich sometimes goes away on its own if the fish is healthy enough to fight the infection. Frequent small feedings and water changes can help boost the immune system. Keep in mind that the more you handle the fish, the more you are stressing him, which can sometimes worsen the infection. There have been some rumors that garlic extract added to the diet helps the immune system but the evidence is anecdotal. However, it can't hurt (it won't hurt your corals or other inverts). I am actually currently trying this.

In addition, upon first spotting a sick fish, all water parameters should be tested to ensure that the aquarium is in good general health. Make sure your pH, temp, salinity, ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates are all within desired parameters.

The next step is to do a water change of 10-20%. This aids in removing the parasite from the water, lowering the concentration of the ich, improving water conditions, and making it unlikely that your other healthy fish will succumb as well. Remember, ich is contagious. You don't want to lose your entire tank.

There are several more aggressive treatment options for ich. Unfortunately, most of them cannot be done in a reef tank because the chemicals will kill the corals, shrimp, and nitrifying bacteria in the live rock. Perhaps the only one that might be considered is raising the temperature of the entire tank (s.l.o.w.l.y.) to 82-84 degrees. This speeds up the life cycle of the parasite and when combined with frequent water changes, can help get rid of ich. Less light in combination of this can also help interfere with the parasite's life cycle. Raising the temperature is the least effective and slowest treatment option for ich.

If you have a fish-only system, you have more options. Lowering the salinity to 1.015 will kill the parasite without harming the fish. Salinity should be lowered very slowly and maintained at the low level for about a month to completely kill off all parasites.

In a reef aquarium, a freshwater dip for no more than 4 minutes can be performed. Since ich cannot survive in freshwater, this is often a miracle cure for infected fish. However, keep in mind it's also very stressful. Be sure to match the pH and temperature to the main tank before starting. An ich treatment can be added for added effectiveness (containing formalin/methylene blue).

If you isolate your fish in a hospital tank, you can use hyposalinity for a month to kill ich. You can also increase the temperature to speed up the life cycle of the parasite. Be sure to do these changes slowly so as not to further shock the fish. In addition, the water can be treated with lots of "Ich" cures on the market. These include formalin, methylene blue, and copper. Be careful to follow instructions carefully as all of these chemicals are extremely toxic (to the fish and you). Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way (formalin robs the water of oxygen and can asphyxiate the fish). More on this in a later post. It's a sad day for our aquarium.

Links on Ich:

R.I.P. Phillip

Ever since I dismantled the aquarium the other day in a futile attempt to catch one of the Banggai's (, Phillip has been M.I.A. I got on my hands and knees with a flashlight and checked all the nooks and crannies behind the aquarium. I checked the filter sock and the sump. I looked in every available cave in the aquarium carefully. I looked in the overflow compartment. He is gone. It's been 4 days. I am very sad. He was one of my favorite fish.

Unfortunately, he was probably hiding in a cave in one of the rocks I took out of the aquarium when I tried to catch the Banggai. Not knowing he was in there, I set the rock on the living room floor where he probably asphyxiated in the open air. That's my best guess because I haven't seen him since. I'm upset that this happened since it was so preventable. He was a healthy, active, happy little guy. I miss him a lot.

I hope Phillip is in fish heaven, where there's a huge ocean with pristine waters and great expanses of healthy reef. I hope he's swimming around his luxurious cave, gulping up the plentiful shrimp teeming in the waters.

Poor Phillip. I miss him.

Helfrichi Firefish Goby

This is Elton, our new Helfrichi Firefish Goby. Very similar to the commonly seen Firefish Goby (or dartfish; see pic at bottom of post), unlike the Firefish Goby, the Helfrichi's are collected in deep water. However, as long as they are brought to the surface carefully so there is no damage to their organs, these guys are very hardy and adapt quite well to the bright reef aquarium set-up.

Taken with the beauty of this firefish and suitability to our aquarium, we coughed up the steep price and purchased one. They are expensive since they're fairly rare and highly sought after since they're so gorgeous. We named him "Elton" since he was so flamboyant. Elton is active, friendly, and peaceful, swimming about day and night. These guys are carnivorous. I feed him lots of mysis shrimp. He also loves the copepods from the refugium.

What else can I say? He's perfect. Small, shy, peaceful, he likes to hide in caves in the live rock (yet, he's out and about a lot too). He's reef-safe and also hardy. Plus, he'll stay small (about 3"). You have to keep a cover on; these guys are jumpers. Other than that, he's a perfect fit for our aquarium.

African Flameback Dwarf Angel

We got another fish! This is Casey, the African Flameback, a dwarf angelfish. Most angelfish are not suitable for reef aquarium. These guys are grazers and have been known for picking at coral, finding your most prized speciman a delicacy. However, some angelfish are safer than others. In addition, angels are known for being extremely fragile in the aquarium setting, and most get very large, way too big for our 75-gallon set-up. However, the flameback is different.

I fell in love with the flameback because of its unusual coloring and somewhat rare availability in the aquarium trade. Plus, like other dwarf angels in the Centropyge genus, they are fairly hardy (especially compared with other angels), love to eat algae (yippee!), and stay fairly small. In fact, the flameback is one of the smallest of all the dwarf angels, only reaching 3"! Although dwarf angels can still develop a taste for coral, many of them have been introduced to reef aquariums with success. After seeing a Coral Beauty (another Centropyge angel) in my friend's aquarium, I decided to risk it. I spotted one at the LFS and went for it. He was fat and healthy, having been in the store aquarium for quite some time. Although he is older, I was happy that he was healthy, full-grown, and peaceful with his tankmates (including another dwarf angel; usually a no-no).

Casey is doing very well in our set-up. He grazes on the live rock all day, and I feed him spirulina, kelp, and other vegetable products. He gets along peacefully with everyone, although he will chase tankmates away from his "cave". He's fairly shy but makes regular appearances. I hope he continues to do well!

General Info:
Name: Centropyge acanthops
Other common names: African pygmy angelfish or Orangeback angelfish
Size: small (3")
Diet: algae (omnivore); may pick at corals
Reef-Safe? with caution
Peaceful? Yes, but not with other angels
Hardy? Yes, like the other Centropyges
Other: They are born genderless and become female as they grow. One will become larger and develop into the male, forming harems with the other females.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Mission Impossible--Catching a Fish

Catching a fish from your aquarium is like chasing a rainbow.

After last night's experience, all I can say is be verrrrry, verrrry careful about what you put into your aquarium. Because, without completely stressing all the tank inhabitants out, killing some coral, and completely dismantling your aquarium, you will never. get. that. fish. out. AGAIN!

I decided to give one of my Banggai Cardinalfish to a friend, who has a very nice, spacious reef aquarium (around 300 gallons with only 5 little, peaceful fish in it). Originally, I had aspirations of breeding my pair of Banggai's (the Ropers). I purchased an adult pair from my LFS since they were huddled together in the store tank, looking amorously at each other. Upon settling into the tank, Mrs. Roper began tirelessly chasing Mr. Roper, exiling him to a tiny little corner in the tank. After weeks of watching this behavior, I realized I had purchased two males. I decided to find a better home for Mr. Roper.
I set up a time to deliver Mr. Roper to my friend. I rolled up my sleeves, got my net and dove in. First of all, out of all the fish in the tank, the Banggai's are deceivingly quick. They sit motionless in the water for hours and then, quicker than you can blink, they're gone. These guys are incredibly fast.
My first tactic was to immerse a plastic trap into the aquarium and then scoot him into with the other hand. I dropped some food in the tank to get all the fish out in the open. I immediately got to work, trying to move Mr. Roper into the trap. He was onto me before I even made my first move. Whoosh! He was gone.
My second tactic was to use one hand to scoot him into a net, and then cover the net with my hand. All this achieved was to upset all the fish in the tank. I chased Mr. Roper around with my net all over the tank, terrorizing innocent victims along the way. Annoyingly, Mr. Roper hid next to Mrs. Roper, his nemesis. Apparently, they were bonded together by their mutual hatred for me. Finally, I stopped after ripping the net on some live rock.
My third tactic was to try two nets instead of one. My hope was to trap him between the two nets. Again, with all the live rock, he just went and hid from me. This is when I started dismantling the aquarium. I lifted rock after rock out of the aquarium, scaring fish, disturbing coral, and countless other inhabitants along the way. Puddles of live rock littered the hard wood floor surrounding the aquarium. Xenia and toadstool coral, stuck on the live rock, wilted pitifully in the open air. Then, bubbles began shooting into the aquarium; taking out the live rock had lowered the water levels precipitously. After filling it time and time again with RO water each time I removed a piece of live rock, I finally figured out that I could just turn off the pumps. Duh.
By now, I had taken almost all the live rock out of the aquarium. I had moved all the coral and placed it onto the sand (getting stung by the Elegance coral along the way). All the fish were huddled in a corner. Pedro, the bluejaw trigger, was stuck behind a rock and the wall, triggers fully erect. He was a pale gray. Poor Pedro. Mr. Roper kept hiding behind him. Finally, I cornered him by the mushrooms. I had one net behind him and one net in front. He started swimming upwards to escape the nets. I moved the nets with him. He hid behind the powerhead. So close, so close. I knew this would be my only chance. I made my move. I scooped upwards with my net and dove in with my hand to cover the net. He leapt out and dove into the depths of the aquarium, retreating behind one of the few rocks that was left.
More than two hours had now elapsed. The fish were trembling in fear. Louie, the yellow wrasse, had disappeared into the sand. My coral was closed up and shedding strands of slime into the water. A large puddle of water had collected onto the hardwood floor. Even the dogs looked shaken, although the thunderstorm going on outside could have had something to do with it. Nonetheless, Floyd was curled up under the table, and Travis was resting his head on his paws behind me on the rug looking at me with big wide eyes.
As I dipped the net into the water one last time, a reddish liquid spilled into the water. Confused, I paused. Only then did I notice large drops of blood splattered all over the floor. Another drop of blood plopped onto the floor, similar to the big raindrops, now splattering the window panes. I glanced at my hand. It was covered in a slippery, crimson liquid. I realized it was blood. I had sliced my knuckle on the razor-sharp reflectors housing the lights in the canopy. I had been so focused on catching Mr. Roper, I hadn't even noticed. I knew it was time to stop.
I carefully put each piece of rock back into the aquarium, using this rare opportunity to scrub off hard-to-reach algae. I put all the coral back into place. Finished up with my planned, weekly water change. Then wrung my hands for the rest of the night, wondering what irreparable damage my tank had succumbed.
This morning, everyone seemed happy to see me, eagerly awaiting their breakfast. Except Phillip, the royal gramma. He is nowhere to be found. I'm hoping he comes home soon. I miss him. The coral all look very happy, even the xenia, which had been exposed to air for about 45 minutes. That stuff is frighteningly tough! Unfortunately, my toadstool coral may have died (it also was exposed to air but not as much and not for as long). It's all closed up for now. I'm hoping Mr. Toad decides to open up shop later today. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Mr. Toad and Phillip. As far as Mr. Roper, he seems none the worse for wear. He wins. Fish 1, Rachel 0.

Mr. Roper, after I first got him a few months ago. He gets to stay in the tank. Mrs. (actually a Mr.) Roper still chases him but he has plenty of hiding places now and gets plenty to eat so he's actually surprisingly healthy.

Lesson learned? This tank is now officially CLOSED! A closed system. No more goes in...and no more comes out. That's it.

For those of you who have to get a fish out (in an emergency), here are some links. Good luck! I hope you fare better than I did.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Clementine, our Orange Linckia Sea Star

Echinoderms, or sea stars, in general, are such amazing creatures. They have no brain and no blood. They propel themselves slowly via water pulpusion through a series of tubes in their arms. They have thousands of "suction cup" feet that can stick to anything. If they lose an arm, they grow it back. And the severed arm grows into a new starfish as well! They reproduce asexually. In addition, they are detritovres, scavenging and sifting through sand and rubble, eating bacterial film and other unknown wastes. Sea stars are incredibly strong and can even pry apart mollusk shells. They can also voluntarily prolapse their stomachs into the shell of a clam (or other mollusk), where it secretes digestive enzymes to puree the food. Dude! Without a doubt, these creatures are pretty amazing.

I knew they were sensitive creatures in the home aquarium but after having success with the shrimp, I decided to try one out. I asked the LFS about a small, reef-safe, peaceful starfish that would be easy to care for. He suggested the Linckia. They come in lots of colors (red, blue, purple, spotted). He got the reef-safe, peaceful part right (some starfish (the "bumpy" or "knobby" ones, in general) are extremely predatory and can become quite large, preying on your shrimp, crabs, snails, and fish!) but not the "easy to care for" part. Unfortunately, I found out later that most Linckias in home aquariums die within a few months either due to starvation or parasitic infections. Ugh! I HAVE to be more careful.

Orange Linckias grow to a max of 3-4" and are from the Indian Ocean. Despite their small size, keeping them is most successful in a large, well-established reef tank of 100-gallons or more with lots of live rock (at least 6 months old). Oops. This is probably because we don't know what they eat, and a larger, well-established tank is likely to provide them with a stable source of food. The linckias, like other sea stars are very sensitive creatures. They prefer a high salinity of 1.025 and will not tolerate fluctuations in temperature, salinity, pH, or other parameters. They require pristine water conditions (no nitrates). Like other invertebrates, copper medications (used for sick fish in a fish-only system or hospital tank) will kill them. In addition, they require a slow acclimation process, using the drip system of 3.5 hours. When selecting one, choose a healthy speciman that can right itself when flipped on its back. Also, avoid specimans with white, fluffy growths (often parasites) or other injuries.

I really hope Clementine makes it. She is verrry healthy. I actually only did a 1-hour acclimation (unknowingly). Our salinity is 1.023 so I'm slowly rising it to 1.025 over the next week or so. When I first put her in the tank, she landed on her back in the sand and immediately flipped herself over and climbed up the wall. She likes to be out front and center, on display. She's pretty active, moving all over the glass and rocks. I absolutely adore her. She's gorgeous.

Linckia Links:

Oops. Flowerpot Coral

I did something rather foolish. I bought a coral that looked pretty, not really knowing anything about it. It sort of resembled clove polyps (Clavularia sp.), which are relatively easy to care for. Thinking it would require similar care, I bought it. Duh. Turns out, it's probably doomed for a short life. It's a "flower pot coral" of the species Goniopora. Only 10% of aquarists are successful at keeping them, and most websites and experts recommend staying away from them completely, advising to leave them alone in the ocean. Oops. Now, on top of having wasted $65, I also feel bad. Maybe you guys can learn from my mistake.
Scooter on new Flowerpot Coral. Polyps haven't opened yet.
Two more views of this gorgeous new coral with polyps open. The polyps sway back and forth and undulate sporadically, independently of the water movement. I placed it in a section with moderate low and fairly high lighting. From what I've read, it won't last more than a few months. Be prepared. Maybe next time, I'll choose from an easier-to-care-for, yet similar-looking coral (see list at bottom of post of similar but hardier corals).
Let's learn about this new coral. It's of the Goniopora species. A very challenging, yet somewhat more successful coral (read: not as doomed to failure) that looks almost identical is the Alveopora coral. This coral is rarer than Goniopora but easier to care for. I was hoping and praying this was the type of Flower Pot coral I had purchased. However upon further reading, I learned that the Alveopora species has 8 tentacles around each polyp. The Goniopora has 24. I went home and eagerly began counting tentacles (not an easy task). I quickly surpassed 8 and lost count by 24. So I bought the more sensitive, Goniopora species. (See above) Crap.

What else can I tell you about Goniopora? It's an LPS coral that lives in the South Pacific. It requires perfect water conditions, and even then, advanced aquarists can't keep them. I don't think we've learned what their requirements are to thrive (or just survive) in captivity. It requires medium to strong water flow and lots of light. It's also considered an aggressive coral (like other LPS corals, has stinging tentacles that extend at night). I also read somewhere that it often doesn't do well in a tank with an Elegance Coral (crap, crap), perhaps because of different water chemistry requirements (elegance needs slightly "dirty" water? Flowerpot requires pristine). In addition to Flowerpot Coral, it's also called a Ball, Daisy, or Sunflower Coral. Clownfish may take up residence (mine are special; they don't like the Elegance, Frogspawn, or Flowerpot; stupid clownfish, although I guess it's good since they won't harm the fragile polyps; stupid coral).

From a website that actually sells the stupid coral:
Goniopora sp. requires PERFECT water conditions, the proper trace elements and the habitat must match its requirements.
Another website said:
Goniopora is delicate and long term survival (>12 months) is probably less than 10%.
Not encouraging considering companies usually try to downplay how hard their stuff is to keep alive.

Links to Goniopora or Flowerpot Coral:

Take a look at other similar looking corals that are much easier to care for:
(Maybe this is what I should try next time. Duh.)

Clove polyps (Clavularia):
There are many hardy species in this class, also including star polyps. These are a fast-growing, soft coral, perfect for beginners. Some species resemble Xenia.

Pipe Organ Coral:
A soft coral that is similar in apperance to Star Polyps (above).
Scientific name: Tubipora musica
A little harder to care for than the Star Polyps but still doable.

Galaxy Coral (Galaxea):
Also called Star Coral or Starbust Coral.
A beautiful LPS coral with polyps resembling gorgeous stars.
Fairly easy to care for.
Pagoda Cup Coral:
Scientific Name: Turbinaria sp
Also called Vase Coral (among other things)
This LPS coral does require a little delicate handing and feeding but many species are relatively hard and great for the novice reef aquarist.