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Author Archives: Eileen Daub

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Marine Biologist/Aquatic Husbandry Manager I was one of those kids who said "I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up!"....except then I actually became one. After a brief time at the United States Coast Guard Academy, I graduated from Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 2004. Since then, I've been a marine biologist at That Fish Place - That Pet Place, along with a Fish Room supervisor, copywriter, livestock inventory controller, livestock mail-order supervisor and other duties here and there. I also spent eight seasons as a professional actress with the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and in other local roles. If that isn't bad enough, I'm a proud Crazy Hockey Fan (go Flyers and go Hershey Bears!).

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Nitrous Oxide-Emitting Organisms – Recent Research

Eileen here.

The poetic tranquility of water. The bliss of a flowing stream. The subtle euphoria of the aquatic world. We marine biologists know it well. But, as German researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology have found in recent research, it truly may not be a feeling of completeness and belonging imposed from finding our place in the aquatic world and sensing that special oneness with nature and all things hydrologic.


Nope. Turns out its just some little critters in the mud emitting laughing gas. Go figure.


Laughing gas, otherwise known as Nitrous oxide and one of the most notorious “greenhouse gases” is released by animals that feed by eating and sifting through sediments. According to the study, animals  that dig through the mud also end up eating nitrogen-converting bacteria which then in turn causes the animal to release the Nitrous oxide byproduct as they digest their food. While the researchers don’t feel that we have anything to worry about with the amounts of nitrous oxide produced, they do feel that the amounts could significantly increase if the amount of polluted water entering the streams rise. Looks like we’ll have to keep enjoying bodies of water the old-fashioned way – by boring our friends and loved ones to tears while we try to scientifically identify everything we see.


You can read the full article on LiveScience.com. 

Venomous Fish vs. Poisonous Fish

Eileen here. A lot of people who come into our store see fish like our lionfish and scorpionfish and ask if they are poisonous. The answer? Technically, no. They’re venomous.

People also see warnings on some cucumbers, Sea Apples and Boxfish that they are poisonous and wonder if they might get a painful bite or sting. The answer? Probably not.  They’re poisonous.

So, what’s the difference that makes the lionfish venomous but the boxfish poisonous? The key is all in how the toxin is delivered. The term “toxin” simply means a harmful substance produced naturally by an organisms and is used for both venomous and poisonous animals. Venomous animals inject their toxin into their target using spines (lionfish, stonefish, rabbitfish), teeth (sea snakes, Blue Ring Octopus), or specialized stinging cells known as nematocysts (jellyfish, anemones, some corals). Some of these animals use their venom to hunt; jellyfish and anemones paralize whatever prey is unfortunate enough to end up in their tentacles before they draw the prey to their mouth. Others like the lionfish and rabbitfish only rely on their venomous spines as defense against being preyed upon themselves. This venom can range from very mild as in the case of anemones to fatal. The Blue Ring Octopus is one of the most toxic animals on the planet and has no known antivenom. People who are sensitive to bee stings are much more likely to have a severe reaction to common venomous animals in the aquarium trade like lionfish and anemones.

Mbu PufferPoisonous animals like boxfish, puffers or sea cucumbers, on the other hand, rely on their target absorbing the toxin. This can happen across any membrane – through the skin or gills, in the stomach or digestive tract, even in the lungs. Poison is used almost exclusively as a defense mechanism. Puffers and boxfish have special toxin in their bodies – usually the liver, ovaries and skin – that they can release when they are stressed to hopefully deter any possible predators. Unfortunately, in a closed system like an aquarium, this toxin can eliminate an entire tank – including the puffer or boxfish itself. Some groupers like the Clown Grouper also have a similar toxin in their slime coat. Cucumbers, especially the large Sea Apples, can also poison a tank if they are stressed, picked on or dying. These animals can be deadly in an aquarium but aren’t much of a threat to aquarists; if in doubt, use gloves when handling any of these animals, especially with any open wounds or cuts.

Whether venomous or poisonous, harmful or peaceful, the keywhen dealing with any animals is knowing what they are capable of and how to handle them properly. Being able recognise when an animal is stressed or how it defends itself is important in knowing how to keep that animal, its tankmates and yourself safe and happy.

New Tank Syndrome in Home Aquariums

Eileen here. One of the most common aquariums problem we are asked about is one that is known in the hobby as “New Tank Syndrome” (NTS). No, its not the compulsive tendancy to spend three-months pay on things to fill your new aquarium. “New Tank Syndrome” is caused by the bacteria blooms that occur when a tank is cycling. Both freshwater and saltwater tanks experience NTS when the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels spike as a result of the cycling process of the tank, but most of the questions come from the “algae bloom” that saltwater aquarists tend to see towards the end of the cycling of their tank.

A few weeks after the tank has started cycling (after live rock, fish or a bacteria culture has been added), you may see a thin brown film covering the surfaces and sides of the tank. This film scrapes or wipes off easily and cutting back lighting doesn’t seem to affect it. No snails, hermit crabs or fish feed on it, but critters moving across the substrate or glass tend to stir it up enough so it “goes away.” So, what is going on at this point?

The “algae” you see is not a type of plant with cells like traditional green algae that most people think of. It is actually made up of diatoms, a type of phytoplankton whose cell walls are primarily made up of the mineral silicate. It blooms towards the end of the cycling process in a tank because of the imbalance of nutrients in the system but will usually die off on its own once the water chemistry in the tank stabilizes.

Here’s an easy analogy for what is happening: Imagine you have a huge set of scales you are trying to balance. To try to get the scales even, you pile bird seed on each side until they are even, but in the process, lots of the seeds spills onto the ground. Flocks of birds come to the field to feed on all that extra seed on the ground but once you have the scales balances, no more seed is spilling on the grounds where the birds can get it so they leave.

The same thing eventually happens in your aquarium. Once the water chemistry balances and there are no spikes in the ammonia, nitrite, nitrate or other mineral levels, the diatoms lose what they were feeding on and the bloom will go away on its own without adding tons of snails and hermit crabs and without doing unneccessary water changes that will just slow down this process.

It takes a little patience to get through the cycling process and the diatom algae blooms we know as “New Tank Syndrome” but less is sometimes more in helping your new tank get established and ready to handle all of the plans you have in store for it!

Top 10 Most Overlooked Saltwater Aquarium Tankmates

Eileen here. Thanks to movies like Finding Nemo, Ocellaris and Percula Clownfish, Hippo Tangs, Yellow Tangs and starfish have become must-haves in many home aquariums and we all know that damsels are good hardy fish for aquarists of all levels. But what else is there? A LOT!! When customers ask for my opinion on good fish and invertebrates for their aquariums, I like to recommend something a little out of the norm. Clownfish and damsels are great, but there are a lot of other fish and inverts that deserve a little more respect! Here are a few of my favorites….

1. The “other” clownfish

Forget the standard orange-fish-with-three-white-stripes; there are a lot of other clownfish out there that don’t follow this pattern but are just as hardy and attractive. The Saddleback Clownfish is either brown or black with one white stripe over its eyes like a mask and another that covers its back like…you guessed it, a saddle. The Orange Skunk and Pink Skunk Clownfish are two more that break the mold. Each has a light, pastel body with a thin white stripe along their back. These two are more peaceful and stay smaller than other clownfish species – perfect for smaller or more docile tanks. Nemo is great, but give his “cousins” some attention too!

2.  Bannerfish

Bannerfish are closely related to butterflies but are in a category all their own. The most common type is the Longfin Bannerfish, also known as the Poor Man’s Moorish Idol. This fish looks a lot like but is a whole lot hardier (and cheaper) than the rare and touchy Moorish Idol (y’know, Gill from Finding Nemo?). They aren’t exactly “Reef Safe” and may nip at some polyps, but bannerfish are great for fish-only community aquariums.

3. Cardinalfish

Peaceful. Schooling. Reef Safe. Hardy. Might even breed in your aquarium. What more could you want? Most cardinals stay under about 4 inches and some barely reach two inches so they can be kept in even small aquariums. Most of them can also be kept in small groups so instead of having just one or two big fish, you can have the color and activity of a small school!

4. Hawkfish

Hawkfish earn their name by perching on rocks and corals, then swooping down on an unsuspecting meal (NOT good tankmates for shrimp or tiny fish), but most of the time they hop around the tank from perch to perch. Tons of personality, generally friendly towards anything too big to eat, and easy to feed. You can find hawkfish in lots of different colors and variety and with maximum sizes ranging from two to twelve or more inches.

5.  Rabbitfish and Foxfaces

These fish are some of the hardest-working but most overlooked fish in the trade! They graze on lots of different types of algae, including the notorious hair algaes and bubble algaes, and will feed on most other aquarium foods as well. They don’t bother inverts or smaller fish and most bigger fish will leave them alone. Just don’t touch their dorsal spines – they’re venomous.


6. Hamlets

Not many fish can get along in larger, more aggressive community tanks, but hamlets are one of them! These fish aren’t for community tanks with small tankmates, but they are interesting and unique additions to larger community tanks with fish like angels, tanks, groupers and triggers.

7. Jawfish

One of my personal favorites! Jawfish might not be the most visible fish for your aquarium but they may be the most fun to watch. Many jawfish will decorate the entrance to their burrow with larger pieces of substrate or shells and will spend their time guarding their little threshold while darting in and out for food. Might not be as flashy as other fish, but a whole lot more fun!

8. Polyps and Mushrooms

These are not so much overlooked as underappreciated. Sure, some hardcore collectors will pay $50+ per polyp of some rare zoanthid polyps, but most polyps and mushroom are just recommended as starter corals or as something for new aquarists to start with as they dabble in the reef side of the hobby. Polyps and mushroom can be so much more! They come in lots of different colors and varieties and will usually spread around your aquarium to form a living mat over the rocks and even on the glass. Polyps and mushrooms both are usually sold on various sizes of rocks with one or more types on a single rock. Easy to care for, undemanding, easy to propogate…polyps and mushroom deserve more respect than we give them!

9. Gorgonians

Yellow Deepwater GorgonianAquarists with low light can be very restricted with what types of corals they can keep in their tank. Gorgonians are an excellent alternative. Some species like bright green Encrusting Gorgonians benefit for decent light, but most species are strictly filter feeders and do not need light to survive. The branching forms like the Yellow Deepwater Gorgonian or fancy Sea Fans have a recognizably “coral-like” appearance with soft branches that can move and sway in the flow of your tank.

10. Leather Corals

Leather corals aren’t as popular as their flashy stony coral counterparts but they can be just as dramatic in a reef tank. Like the polyps, mushroom, and gorgonians, most leather corals are undemanding and don’t need a lot of extra care. With the exception of the rare bright yellow or green leather, most leather are shades of tan, pink and purple and don’t need a lot of light or even pristine water to thrive.

Until Next Time,


Scientists design aquariums for the blind

Eileen here. The blind and visually impaired  have greater access than ever before to activities that have been off-limited in the past, but until very recently they have not been able to enjoy the beauty and activity of a colorful aquarium like the rest of us. A group of scientists is working to change this. The Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology is designing what they have dubbed “The Accessible Aquarium.”

The Accessible Aquarium is fitted with cameras and sensors that track the movement of the different colored fish and sends the data back to a computer system. The data is then translated into different pitches, instruments and sounds that change with the speed and movement of the fish. The center is also hoping to be able to apply this technology to venues like zoos and museums as well as aquariums. According to a recent Yahoo! Tech news article, the researchers “wanted to help people with disabilities do something that’s more fun and than functional.”

Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology: http://gtcmt.coa.gatech.edu/

Yahoo! Tech article: http://tech.yahoo.com/news/ap/20081217/ap_on_hi_te/tec_techbit_audio_aquarium