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Contains articles featuring information, advice or answering questions regarding aquarium fish and other livestock.

Live Feeders: Gut Loading for Aquarium Predators

Live foods are popular for larger predatory fish and even some inverts, and some new or finicky animals may not eat anything else. Unfortunately, they aren’t always the most nutritious in an aquarium setting. It is much easier to get a larger variety out of frozen or prepared foods or enhance them with additives, so how can you make the most out of live foods if it is your only option?

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Picky fish like seahorses can be tricky to feed

You are what you eat”…and so are your fish

The problem with feeding most live foods is a lack of variety or nutritional content. Common live feeders like ghost shrimp or guppies just don’t have a lot to them and feeders aren’t usually raised or bred with as much care as animals intended to be ornamental. Much of the most nutritious foods in nature are also some of the smallest – microfauna like copepods and the bright red Cyclops, for example – but these critters are far too small for something like the finicky frogfish or lionfish or sharks that may need live foods and they just aren’t practical to raise.

So, instead of feeding that tiny food to the bigger predators, feed it to the food! This method is known as “gut loading” and is commonly used when feeding crickets to reptiles or amphibians but has a lot of practical use for aquarium hobbyists as well. The principle of gut loading is to feed nutritious food to the live feeder, then feeding that live feeder to its predator while the nutrients are in its system. This is making a process known as bioaccumulation work for us instead of against us like we see in effects like the ciguatera poisoning we discussed in the past.

For example, many planktonic foods are very nutritious but too small for a fish like a frogfish. Frogfish will often hunt down and eat ghost shrimp which are very common (but not especially nutritious) feeder shrimp. So, if we feed the plankton to the ghost shrimp, then feed the ghost shrimp to the frogfish, the frogfish eats the plankton.

Gut Loading:  How to pack it in

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Specimen containers make ideal holding areas for gut loading

With a name like “gut loading”, images of stuffing a guppy like a Thanksgiving Day turkey may come to mind but in reality, its much easier. Just feed the live feeder before it becomes food. For smaller feeders like guppies, ghost shrimp, or even crickets or mealworms, it is usually easiest to put the feeder in a smaller separate container from wherever it is being housed. In our store, we will put ghost shrimp in one of the small specimen containers we use in catching your fish. This keeps the system where the rest of the feeders are being kept cleaner and concentrates the nutritious foods you are using for the gut loading to where the feeders are sure to find it. Then, let the feeders feed. For transparent feeders like ghost shrimp, it is easy to see when their guts are full of the food you are using. For others, monitor how much they are eating. Usually anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes is plenty of time; after all, we don’t need the feeder to digest the food, just get it into their guts. Once they’ve eaten their fill, off to become a meal they go!

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Cyclops are tiny, nutritious crustaceans perfect for gut loading

Depending on the predator you are trying to feed in the end, you can gut load with zooplankton like Cyclop-eeze, phytoplankton like Spirulina, nutritional supplements like garlic or vitamins or even some medications (best with the fish only and not inverts). The foods you are using for the gut loading can be fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, flakes or in a liquid suspension. Experiment and see what works best for your predators or give them a nutritious snack as a treat!

The Mantis Shrimp: Deadly Punch Provides Inspiration for Science

Peacock Mantis Shrimp

The Mantis Shrimp, fabled ocean warrior and legend of internet Marine Biology humor (Thanks to The Oatmeal, and zefrank1) is the inspiration for research of new composite materials.  There are many applications for high performance impact resistant composite materials, and scientists and engineers are always looking for ways to make materials stronger, lighter and more versatile.  There is particular interest from the military and industry for stronger and lighter materials for armor, aircraft and automotive applications.

Why Study The Mantis Shrimp?

Most Reef Aquarium Keepers are aware of the hunting prowess of the mantis shrimp, and the weapons that they have developed to capture their prey.  There are two main types of Mantis Shrimp, grouped by the form and function of their specialized set of second legs, called raptorial appendages.  The Slasher or Stabber type of Mantis Shrimp have developed a sharp spear that it wields with Ninja like skill, earning it the nickname “Thumb Splitter” from fisherman who find them in their nets.  The Second type of Mantis Shrimp is the Smasher, given its name for the club like weapon that it uses to kill prey and open the hard shells of mollusks, crustaceans and gastropods.  It is the Smasher type of Mantis Shrimp that has scientists and engineers studying its design, looking for insight into designing lighter and stronger composite materials.

Mantis clawReal Life Beauty and the Beast

The Peacock Mantis Shrimp, Odontodactylus scyllarus, (which is actually neither a mantis, nor a shrimp) is a common species of Smasher Mantis Shrimp found in warm waters of the Indo Pacific and Indian Oceans.  Sometimes kept by the more adventurous marine aquarium keeper, this little Stomatopod is an amazing combination of striking beauty, and ruthless hunter.  The Peacock Mantis can fire its smasher club 50 times faster than the blink of a human eye, at the speed of a fired .22 caliber bullet.  The Club fires so fast, and with so much force, that it actually boils the surrounding water in a process called supercavitation.  The resulting strike and shock wave are devastating to their intended prey.  Mantis Shrimp have been known to break glass aquariums.  Chuck Norris punches with a wet noodle compared to the Peacock Mantis Shrimp.  What has researchers so interested is the amazing durability of the Peacock Mantis Shrimps striking club.  The Mantis can strike its club weapon thousands of times, with a striking force more than 1000 times its own weight without breaking.

The Latest Research

In a recently published study “Bio-Inspired Impact-Resistant Composites” in the Journal Acta Biomateriala, a team of researchers led by University of California, Riverside, in collaboration with University of Southern California and Purdue University studied the structure of the Mantis Shrimp’s smashing club.  The team was looking for design elements that could potentially be used to improve industrial composite materials that are used in things like; aircraft, military armor, protective helmets and automotive panels.  What they found in studying the Peacock Mantis Shrimps Club structure was a helicoidal arrangement of mineralized fibers, which made the club incredibly impact resistant and energy absorbing.  They then applied this design architecture into carbon fiber-epoxy composite impact materials, and tested the performance against similar composite materials used in the airline industry. The results showed improvement in the overall material toughness, with real promise for manufacturing in the future.

Mantis 2Future Research

 The Mantis Shrimp research showed so much promise, that the research group has been awarded a 7.5 Million dollar grant from the Department of Defense to continue their research.  Ongoing research will include looking at structural designs of more than 20 organisms, like bird’s beaks, snail shells, antlers of mammals and others.  All of which are made from relatively simple biological materials like Chitin and Keratin, yet show incredible mechanical durability.  You can read more about the team and their research on the UC Riverside website.

Does anyone else have an image in their heads of a military decked out in Peacock Mantis Shrimp armor, driving Mantis Smasher vehicles?  No, well you should, that would be awesome.

 

Until next blog,

Dave

Natural Solutions to Common Freshwater Aquarium Infestations – Food for Thought

Trumpet SnailIf you’ve been an aquarium keeper for any significant length of time, you know that unexpected things can appear in your aquarium seemingly overnight. You may not know where they’ve come from, but suddenly you’re faced with overwhelming numbers of “alien” invaders in your tank, creeping, crawling and swimming all over.  Your immediate instinct may be to search for a quick chemical solution to eradicate the unsightly pests, but isn’t it safer for your fish and the aquarium habitat as a whole to solve the problem naturally? We discussed eliminating the causes of some of these critters as natural remedies in other articles, but this time we’ll take another approach…the possibility of finding and adding natural predators to the pest species you’re struggling with. It’s important to keep in mind that though these creatures have been effective in the tanks of other hobbyists, you can never predict the behavior of an individual fish and you may not get the results you’re looking for. Also remember that these fish have to be compatible with the habitat you’ve created and with the other fish in your tank…if you introduce any neew fish or invert to your tank, observe them closely to make sure all of your fish are getting along.

Snails

Whether you have live plants in your tank or not snails can appear in your tank and quickly boom in population. While they have their benefits as algae eaters and detritivores, they can become a nuisance if the numbers aren’t kept in check. Generally, for common snails we recommend botia loaches including Skunk Loaches, Clown Loaches and YoYo Loaches. These fish like to indulge on young snails and snail eggs, so they can get you ahead of the problem. However, they can be pugnacious and even a little aggressive in some cases, so they may not be a good idea in a tank with very small or docile fish.  True Siamese Flying Fox fish are another great solution, if you can find them in the trade.  If you’re plagued with Malaysian Trumpet Snails, your options may be more limited. These snails have much tougher shells than the common little snails that sneak in on live plants, and they can only be ripped out of the shell by specialized eaters with very strong mouthparts.   While the loaches may be able to handle very small Trumpet snails, larger versions will be too tough.  Some cichlids, including several Julidochromis species develop a taste and talent for eating snails, and C. rhodesii is also a known specialized feeder for trumpet snails. Read More »

How Diet, Lighting and Other Factors Can Influence The Appearance of Aquarium Fish

Red TerrorDedicated aquarists pour their hearts and souls into creating thier own versions of breathtaking aquatic displays. Countless hours are dedicated to precise placement of wood, rock and other ornaments, painstaking pruning of live plants, and,  of course, to testing and maintaining the water quality to provide the healthiest environment possible for the stars of the show: the fish! The ultimate goal is to have brilliant, beautiful, healthy fish to observe, and just about every other aspect of the tank contributes to the appearance of the livestock you keep. While the conditions that favor each species vary, you can provide the necessary factors to tweek the colors they show and make your fish look their best.

Understanding Fish Coloration

The inner layer of each fish’s skin contains color cells called chromatophores. Some chromatophores produce melanin, providing brown or black pigmentation. Some are capable of storing carotenoids which provide brilliant red, orange, and yellow pigments that come largely from foods the animals eat. Then there are iridophores, that contain crystalline deposits that reflect and bend light and giving the illusion of silvery, white, or metallic blue and green pigmentation. Read More »

Keeping Brackish Water Fish – the Silver Mono or Malayan Angelfish

Large, flashy, uniquely-shaped and active, Silver Monos, Monodactylus argenteus, always draw attention when seen for the first time.  But there are many misconceptions concerning their proper care, and new owners often become frustrated with them and move on to other interests.  However, when their unique needs are met, Monos are quite hardy and make for spectacular exhibits.  A group I cared for at the Bronx Zoo, housed with Mudskippers, Fiddler Crabs and Banded Archerfish, proved so interesting that they rivaled neighboring Leaf Insects, Hornbills and Tapirs for visitors’ attentions.

Mono School

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Brocken Inaglory

Description

The Mono’s silvery coloration shimmers under light, and is nicely offset by yellow or black fin tips and the jet-black stripe that runs along the edges of the dorsal and anal fins.  The body is flattened and disc-shaped, and the sturdy dorsal and anal fins are much-elongated.  Silver Monos are powerful swimmers, well-able to buck the strong currents common to the tidal rivers and coastal mangroves that they frequent.  If given enough space and a proper diet, they can reach 9- 10 inches in length, but most in the pet trade top out at half that. Read More »