Blue LEDs: The Invention That Revolutionized Modern Lighting

Blue LEDIsamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuki Nakahmura are three men you have probably never heard of.  If you were Cliff Clavin, you would probably refer to them as three men who have never been in your kitchen.  Their work however, you are most certainly aware of, and probably use it in some form or another every day.  These three men were responsible for inventing the first blue light emitting diodes (LED) in the early 1990’s, which revolutionized the way we light our world.  For their efforts, they have been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize for physics.

 

For aquarists, the use of blue LED Aquarium lights has been widespread, especially reef aquarium keepers who are keenly aware of the stunning ability of blue LEDs to promote fluorescent colors in corals.  Nothing makes coral colors pop like they do under blue LED light.  The amazing growth in the genetically engineered GloFish craze, is largely due to the ability of blue LED lights to really bring out their amazing glowing coloration vs. traditional blue light sources.

 

Nobel prize winners

Why are Blue LED lights important enough to win a Nobel Prize?

LED lights had been around for many years, with the first patents and commercial products showing up in the 1960’s, starting with red LEDs used as indicator lights.  Other colors of LED were developed in the following years, including green LEDs, but the Blue LED development would elude scientists for decades to come, until Shuki Nakahmura demonstrated the ability to produce blue LEDs in 1994, and then with Hiroshi Amano and Isami Akasaki developed a high efficiency, high output blue LED in 1995. This started the modern LED lighting revolution.

 

The Blue LED was the missing ingredient for creating white LED light.  Mixing red, blue and green light produces light that appears white to the human eye, which can be seen in many modern applications of RGB LED light fixtures.  With the foundation of the newly invented Blue LED, scientist quickly developed a white LED light with the use of a phosphor coating on the Blue LED chips.  The White LED has changed the world, they are energy efficient, environmentally friendly and long lasting.  As production costs have decreased, and efficiency and output have increased over the last 20 years, LED lighting is rapidly replacing other forms of light in just about every application imaginable, from your homes, to your cars, to street lights to your cell phones.  The combinations of white and blue LED lights now dominate the aquarium lighting market.

 

Thank you gentlemen, the world is a better place for your efforts, and our aquariums look nicer too.

Until next blog,

Dave

Mantis Shrimp: Popular Varieties Beyond The Peacock Mantis

Skyrocketing in popularity over the past few years, Mantis Shrimp have gone from nuisance invaders to a specialty aquarium niche all their own (and a new superstar among viral animal posts thanks to comedic websites like The Oatmeal and zefrank’s YouTube videos). By far, the most popular of these crustaceans is the Peacock Mantis Shrimp, Odontodactylus scyllarus, but there are many other species that are just as fascinating and deserving of attention. We’ve featured mantis shrimp in general in several previous blogs; in this entry, we’ll investigate some of those other mantis shrimp that you may not hear about or see as much in media.

Gonodactylus smithii Image © 2005 Roy Caldwell

Gonodactylus smithii
Image © 2005 Roy Caldwell

Smith’s Mantis Shrimp, Gonodactylus smithii
Its name may not be too familiar, but this mantis is one of the most photographed species due to its trademark meral spot. As you may remember your mantis shrimp anatomy from our other posts, the “meral spot” is a pair of false eyespots on the mantis’s raptoral appendages (the gonna-hurt-you limbs). If you held your arms in front of you, the meral spots would be on the inner sides of your elbows. The Smith’s Mantis Shrimp is well known for these spots because they are some of the most easily-identifiable: bright purple with a defined white outline. They give the Smith’s Mantis Shrimp its other common name, the Purple-spotted Mantis Shrimp. The body color of the Smith’s Mantis Shrimp is otherwise pretty similar to the Peacock Mantis, often bright blue-green and sometimes with red trim to each body segment. This species is a “smasher” and while it isn’t available as often as some other species, it is very sought-after by collectors when it is.

 

Chiragra Mantis Shrimp: male (top) and female (bottom)

Chiragra Mantis Shrimp: male (top) and female (bottom)

Chiragra Mantis Shrimp, Gonodactylus chiragra
This is one of the most common mantis shrimp that we receive at our store and is one of the best suited for aquarium life. It is the largest of the Gonodactylus genus of “smashers” but still only reaches about four inches in length. Unlike many other species, it is pretty easy to tell the difference between males and females. Male Chiragra Mantis Shrimp are usually blue-green in color while females are a mottled tan and cream. Both genders have a white meral spot that is far less obvious than the Smith’s. The most distinctive feature of this species regardless of gender is the light-colored sprinkles on the front corners of the carapace in the same place as the Peacock Mantis’s distinctive leopard spots.

 

Ciliata Mantis Shrimp and its checkerboard eyes

Ciliata Mantis Shrimp and its checkerboard eyes

Ciliata Mantis Shrimp, Pseudosquilla ciliata

This is one of my favorites. Not only is it a “spearer” when most of the more common species are “smashers” but they have one of the coolest defining traits…checkerboard eyes. All mantis shrimp have extremely complex eyes and three different “sections” can be seen on most of them. The Ciliata Mantis Shrimp also has vertical lines overlaying the horizontal segments so their eyes, if you can get close enough to see it, have a checkerboard-like plaid pattern on them. Most of the Ciliata Mantis Shrimp you’ll see in the aquarium trade are green or yellow but their color and even pattern can change every time they molt depending on their environment and the lighting.

 

Zebra Mantis Shrimp, Lysiosquilla maculata

Zebra Mantis Shrimp, Lysiosquilla maculate

Zebra Mantis Shrimp, Lysiosquillina maculata
It is easy to see where the Zebra Mantis Shrimp gets its name. It has alternating black and cream-colored stripes. It also has white speckled antennal scales and eyes. However, it is unique in that, like the Ciliata Mantis, the Zebra Mantis is a “spearer”. Rather than hiding in rockwork caves like most “smashers”, these mantis shrimp will build deep burrows in the sand or substrate, reinforced with mucus, where they wait to ambush their prey. This species also has the distinction of being the largest of all mantis shrimp. While most of the Zebra Mantis Shrimp that you’ll find available to aquarists aren’t much larger than any other species available yet, they can grow to over fifteen inches in length!

 

 

**A species to avoid: Gonodactylaceus ternatensis
Several mantis shrimp with bright orange meral spots are also sometimes available. Two of these, Gonodactylaceus glabrous and Gonodactylaceus graphurus are almost identical and can be hardy, fun mantis shrimp to keep. A third, Gonodactylaceus ternatensis, is a less suitable choice. When small, this mantis shrimp looks like a juvenile Peacock Mantis but is often found living within coral heads. To collect it, the heads are often broken and destroyed. With all of the other species available, please avoid G. ternatensis and stick with the species collected with safer, less destructive methods!

 


 

These are just a few of the more common mantis shrimp other than a Peacock Mantis Shrimp but there are many other species that become available from time to time. So, don’t limit yourself if you are brave enough to head down the road to try these cool creatures!

 

Our Newest Aquarium Display: An African Cichlid Utopia Tank!

Have you stopped by our Lancaster, PA retail store lately?  If not, you are missing out on our new and exciting 220 gallon cichlid aquarium display.  Created by one of our cichlid experts Erett Hinton, the aquarium is located in our spacious fish room and displays the beautiful and natural environment that cichlids can bring into your own home.

 

Why Cichlids?

IMG_0713 (1)

The cichlid species is a diverse group of fish, each with distinct appearances and behaviors that make them attractive to aquarium hobbyists.  “I was fascinated by the color, variety and intelligence,” said Erett.   “Something that separates cichlids from other fresh and saltwater fish is that there are more variants in cichlids than any other variety of fish in the world.  New species are still being discovered every day and it continues to make the hobby more interesting.”

Erett is certainly no stranger to cichlids.  He has kept them since he was a young teenager, and operated his own cichlid breeding company in Florida.  “I ran it by myself for eight years, with about 200 tanks and 70 different African, South and Central American species.”   His experience is a tremendous addition to our knowledgeable fish room staff.

Erett has combined a variety of cichlids from the Malawi, Tanganyika and Victorian Lake regions into a single “African Cichlid Utopia Tank.”  The aquarium houses 71 fish selected from our fish room, included with a variety of plecos and clown loaches to give the ecosystem some added variety.

A total of 71 fish in a single aquarium may seem like a few too many, but there is a method to Erett’s design.  Cichlids are famously territorial by nature and if they were afforded space to take as their own, they would–and actively defend it.  “Crowding them takes their territorial behavior away,” says Erett, “and it creates more peace, with fewer fights and less fish loss.”

Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid

Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid

One resident that stands out is the Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid.  The Tanganyikan native displays a prominent forehead with an attractive deep blue color.  The Mpimbwe has a calm demeanor and is not afraid to show itself to tank admirers, making it a perfect specimen around which you can build a show aquarium.

The selection showcases the wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes available from the species that you might not see from other types of freshwater fish.

Equipment

Erett has housed this eclectic mix of fish in a Perfecto 220 gallon Aquarium donated by Marineland.  The six foot long aquarium provides the living space needed for a large number of fish.  Erett chose lace rock and antique coral rock for the natural decor and crushed coral for the substrate.  “The combination of rock elements and substrate help exfoliate higher pH and water hardness, to a degree which cichlids prefer.  It also creates a habitat they can thrive in and replicates their natural environment.”

Erett has doubled down on the filtration to accommodate the large bio-load that comes with so many fish.  Filtration for the aquarium includes two Marineland C-530 Canister Filters.  Together they provide the increased water flow and circulation necessary for the large aquarium.  Erett also includes sponge filters with his aquarium set ups.  He explains, “Sponge filters provide surface area for a super colony of beneficial biological bacteria.  It serves as part of the filtration that is never tampered with, allowing me to make larger water changes without harming the natural stability of the aquarium.”

 

Making Cichlids Feel At Home, In Your Home

IMG_0719 (1)African cichlids generally prefer a pH around 8.2 and enjoy temperatures around 79 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.  They also prefer low nitrate levels, so frequent water changes and making sure not to overfeed are both critical.  Erett feeds a mixture of Pure Aquatic Cichlid Flakes and New Era Cichlid Pellets, both of which provide necessary nutrients for growth and help bring out natural vibrant coloration.

Replicating a cichlid’s natural environment with structural elements like rock and substrate, along with water quality parameters like pH and temperature, gives you the ability to view firsthand how cichlids would behave in their native habitats.  You can watch as they exhibit unique territorial behaviors and engage in breeding activity and ritual, allowing you to experience nature right in your own living room.

Come Check It Out!

This attractive cichlid display tank is just one of several hundred aquariums that can be found in our fish room.  If you’d like to check out the aquarium stop by our Lancaster, PA retail store.  If you have any questions about the tank or cichlids in general, you can ask Erett in person or speak with any of the members of our expert fish room staff.

 

The following components were used to construct Erett’s “African Cichlid Utopia Tank”: 

Marineland Perfecto 220 gallon aquarium

Marineland Perfecto 72 in. x 24 in. Glass Canopy

(3) Marineland 30 in. Single Bright LED Fixtures

Approx. 180lbs of lace rock and antique coral rock

Approx. 220 lbs of crushed coral

(2) Marineland C-530 Canister Filters

(2) Marineland Visi-Therm 400 watt Heaters

Sponge Filters

Air Pump and Airline Tubing

 

 

 

Artificial Reefs: Go Big or Go Home

 

artificial reef

Artificial reefs have been used by fisherman for hundreds of years for attracting fish, providing structure, and allowing more fish to be caught easily.  These traditional reefs were typically made from submerged logs that were tied together, or some other simple object.  Shipwrecks sites have also long been used for fishing areas, because of all the fish that they attract.

In modern times, the use artificial reefs has exploded, and large scale reefs are being used for a variety of reasons, including improving commercial fish stocks by increasing habitat for small fish, sport fishing , recreational SCUBA diving, and wave attenuation and beach erosion control for coastal communities.  There is even a television reality show called Reef Wranglers on the Weather Channel, which features one of the most prominent builders of Artificial reefs in the US, Walter Marine.  Use of Artificial Reefs in tropical waters of the world can also have an impact on the aquarium hobby, they attract all kinds of fish and invertebrates, and can be  used for structure in farming corals.

World’s Largest Artificial Reefs

U.S.S. Oriskany

U.S.S. Oriskany during service.

Oriskany Tower

U.S.S. Oriskany in its new home

The title for World’s Largest Artificial Reef is currently held by the State of Florida, with the sinking /Reefing of the U.S.S. Oriskany.  The Oriskany is an Essex Class Aircraft Carrier commissioned in 1950, and served in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  Decommissioned in 1976, the Oriskany began its new life as an artificial reef in 2006.  After extensive preparation for environmental safety, the 900 ft vessel was intentionally sunk of the coast of Pensacola Florida, where she now sits upright at a depth of about 215 ft.  Dubbed the “Carrier Reef”, in honor of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the massive ships tower reaches to about 70 ft from the surface, making it a popular diving and fishing site.  There are many great videos available on youtube about the Oriskany, here is one of the sinking.

 

 

 

 

kan-kanan

Giant crane lifting Artificial Reef modules into place during Kan-Kanan project.

 

 

The U.S.S. Oriskany won’t be the biggest artificial reef for long.  Currently under construction in the State of Quintana Roo Mexico, is the massive Kan-Kanán project, known as the Guardian of the Caribbean.  When completed, the Kan-Kanán reef will stretch for 1.9 km (1.18 miles) along the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.  Constructed from over a thousand individual concrete pyramids, each weighing 10 tons, the reef is being put in place to help try and stabilize the local fish populations, as well as control beach erosion that has been occurring due to climate change and environmental degradation from human activities.  From above, the reef will look like a giant serpent that stretches along the coast, which is where its name comes from.  Kan-Kanán is Mayan for “Protecting Serpent”.

 

Fear not Floridians, you may not lose your title as owner of the world’s largest reef for long.  Announced earlier this year, Collier County Florida will be the future home of an enormous reef project. Using funds established in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, along with local governments, and Non-Profit organizations, the Planned reef will consist of six 500 ton reefs, each the size of a football field.  More funding is still needed, and can be made as a tax deductible contribution.  For a mere $100,000 you can even have one of the reefs named after you.

 

Some strange things have been used for Artificial Reefs.

Whatever you have visualized in your mind as an artificial reef, you are correct, no matter what you imagined.  An artificial reef can be made from most anything, so long as it poses no environmental threat.  And wow, have some strange things been used as reefs over the years, here are a few of my favorites.

New York City subway cars being dropped offshore from barge.

New York City subway cars being dropped offshore from barge.

Fish hiding out on RedBird Reef subway car.

Fish hiding out on RedBird Reef subway car.

New York City Subway cars.  The east coast of the United States is the final resting place for thousands of decommissioned subway cars.  Most folks probably don’t even know they are there, but offshore from the popular NJ, MD, DE and VA beaches lay a huge network of old subway cars.  Directly off shore from Indian River Inlet in Delaware is RedBird reef (named after the famous New York Subway RedBird subway cars) which has upwards of 700 cars alone.

 

Underwater VW

Anthroposcene Sculpture, MUSA Cancun

Silent Evolution, MUSA Cancun

Silent Evolution, MUSA Cancun

Statues and Sculptures.  The Mexican government commissioned British Artist  Jason de Caires Taylor to build the Cancun Underwater Museum.  Located with a Marine Park, this underwater museum features over 400 life size sculptures and statues ranging from a VW Beetle, to life size humans, to a small house.  One of the most famous underwater sculptures in the world, Christ of the Abyss, is located in Key Largo Florida, and is visited by thousands of scuba divers (and fish) every year.

Eternal Reef structure with marine life.

Eternal Reef structure with marine life.

You and Me. That’s right, you can have yourself made into an artificial reef.  Eternal Reefs, is a company that will take your cremated remains, and incorporate them into a concrete reef structure.  Many reef options and locations are available, not a bad way to spend eternity if you ask me, nice view.

Thanks for reading, until next blog.

Dave

Aquatic Science Fair Projects for Aquarium Lovers

With the new school year getting underway, it’ll only be a matter of time before the first science fairs and lab experiments start up. We get lots of students visiting or contacting us in search of ideas and test subjects for project ranging from the simple to the complex so I thought I’d share some tips and some of our favorite ideas for easy (and affordable) aquatic science fair projects for students of all levels.

chalkpieces

Before you begin…

 

Before you start any experiment or project involving live plants or animals, it is important to make sure you are prepared for the maintenance, care and cost of the experiment and livestock they are taking on. We’ve had many students that have a great idea for a project involving crabs, jellyfish, “Nemo” clownfish or other animals but don’t realize how much work and supplies are going to be needed to keep these animals healthy. They are also a commitment after the experiment is done; fish aren’t disposable and you have to be ready for them to go from Test Subject to Pet at the end of the project. Some experiments also require multiple subject that each need their own setup and supplies.

 

Time is another important factor to consider with these projects. Many experiments involving fish and plants are going to take some time before you will really start to see results like growth or changes to color or behavior. It can take at least a few weeks to reach any conclusions so if this is a last-minute project, you might be better off heading in another direction.

stockxpertcom_id3114171_size2

What do you want to know?

 

The hypothesis of an experiment is the question you are trying to answer or what you are trying to prove or study. Depending on your grade level, this might be observing an environment or behavior or it might be testing a number of variables against a control. If one of the ideas here intrigues you but you aren’t sure where to go with it, ask your teacher or let us know and we might be able to help point you in a direction.

 

The project ideas here are mainly freshwater. Saltwater science fair projects are definitely possible, but they are going to be more difficult and expensive. Saltwater aquariums have a lot more factors than freshwater and need more equipment and maintenance to keep them healthy. If you already have a saltwater aquarium, you may be able to adapt one of these ideas to it or come up with your own but it may be easier to stick with a freshwater experiment if you don’t already have some saltwater experience.

 

Some Aquatic Science Project Ideas

 

Bettas and Aquatic Science Fair Projects

A male Veiltail Betta

The Betta (“Siamese Fighting Fish”) as a test subject

  • Betta splendens, also known as the Siamese Fighting Fish, is a good fish to use in aquatic studies and projects. They don’t need a lot of equipment or space, are easy to care for and are fairly inexpensive. They can be found in a lot of different colors and varieties but the most common kind that you will find in most stores is the Veiltail Betta. Some project ideas would be keeping bettas in a few different environments like a brightly lit versus darkened room, under a colored light like blue (“actinic”) light versus a white light, or warmer versus cooler temperatures. How do those changes affect each fish’s growth or coloration? You can take a picture every few days to compare any changes in their color or fins. Does the type of food or the color of the ornaments and backgrounds compared to the fish’s own color make any difference? Try different types or brands of food (flakes, pellets, frozen food, live food, freeze-dried food) to see how each affects the fish’s health.
  • A good way to measure grow is to weigh a specific amount of water in a container without the fish, then weigh the same container with the fish. The difference between the two weights will tell you about how much the fish itself weighs and changes in that weight will tell you if the fish has gained or lost weight.

 

Fish Food Nutritional Comparison

Aquatic Science Fair Projects and Fish Food Nutrition

Color-enhancing flake food like this is a common aquarium food.

 

  • Anyone who has gone shopping for food for their aquarium knows how many choices there are for your fish. Flakes, pellets, frozen, freeze-dried, live, color-enhancing, vitamin-enhanced…the choices can be overwhelming. At the time that I write this, we have over 400 different fish food items on our website alone! For a science fair project, you can compare several of these foods and see how your fish react; feed the same kind of fish in separate but identical environments the same amount of different types or brands of food at the same time of day and measure how this impacts their growth, health and behavior. Maybe one kind of food is advertised as color-enhancing or another has a different primary ingredient…does one kind give the fish brighter colors or makes them grow more during the time frame of the experiment? The fish should all be in separate aquariums to make sure they are only eating “their” food but you can otherwise use any fish – goldfish, bettas, livebearers like mollies or guppies. You can use the same method as above to record their growth.

 

 

The Nitrogen Cycle and Aquatic Science Fair Projects

The Nitrogen Cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle and “Cycling” a New Aquarium

  • The Nitrogen Cycle is a process that every aquarium and contained body of water will go through as the helpful bacteria populations that take care of fish waste will go through. Every aquarist has seen this happen whether they realize it or not. As the first living critters in a tank produce waste or leftover food or other material decomposes in the tank, a bacteria known as Nitrosomonas change that waste from ammonia (NH3) to nitrite (NO2-). Another population known as Nitrobacter will change that Nitrite into Nitrate (NO3-), the end product of the cycle which is usually removed by water changes or plants that use it to grow like fertilizer. If the levels of Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate could be put on a graph throughout the process, they should look like three hills with their peaks coming one after another. Can you set up and “cycle” a new aquarium and use test kits to record these values at a specific interval (every 5 hours, for example) and see if you can recreate this cycle? Does the number of fish change the levels or speed throughout this cycle? What about if the tank is cycled with a dead “waste” like leftover food instead of live fish?
  • A project like this does use chemical test kits. The kits available from pet stores for aquariums are easy to use, but adult supervision should always be used around chemicals like these.

 

 

Fish Tricks

  • Did you know fish can learn? Fish like goldfish have been “trained” to recognize objects and do all sorts of tricks like swimming through hoops or under limbo bars. There have even been “soccer matches” between saltwater fish to celebrate the World Cup. Training fish, like most animals, is all about positive reinforcement. Some companies have even made training kits just for teaching fish. Some experiments have trained fish to recognize certain colors by putting food in cups of one color (like red) but not others (like blue and yellow). Once the fish begins to associate the red cup with food, does putting a red ornament in the tank or red background on part of the tank make them choose that over the blue or yellow? How long does it take, and does any kind of fish learn faster than others? You can try putting one fish through its paces or train a few fish to compare their learning styles.
  • Check out this video from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Professor Caroline DeLong to see how she taught a goldfish to recognize shapes

 

Hatching Brine Shrimp and Aquatic Science Fair Project Ideas

Brine Shrimp Hatchery Kit

Hatching Brine Shrimp

  • Brine Shrimp are popular as fish food in aquariums as well as in the wild, and there was a time that “Sea Monkeys” were popular as “pets”. Hatching brine shrimp can be an interesting endeavor. They can be easy to grow but need just the right salinity (salt level) and the newly-hatched shrimp will need equally tiny food. The baby brine shrimp also show a behavior known as “phototaxis”, meaning they are attracted to light. Brine shrimp eggs are inexpensive and can be purchased in their dry “cyst” form where they will hatch once back in the right water. Experiment with salt levels, food like phytoplankton and with light and see what factors make for the best hatches. Once the shrimp are hatched, they can grow to almost a half inch in length and make great fish food!

 

 

This is just a sampling of some concepts that aquarists face every day and there are a lot more out there like overfeeding, breeding and genetics in fish like guppies or mollies, water changes and water chemistry…the possibilities are endless! Popular aquarium fish are even ending up in important medical research. Have we given you any ideas for your next science fair project or laboratory experiment? What would you like to learn more about, and what are some of your favorite projects? Share your results and experiences with us…we’d love to see the results of your studies!