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

Species Profile: Harlequin Shrimp

Harlequin Shrimp (Hymenocera picta) are one of the coolest looking shrimp out there. They are a psychedelic whitish pink color splashed with purplish brown spots. They have flattened antennae and paddle shaped claws that appear almost leaf like. Each harlequin shrimp has their own unique pattern almost like a human fingerprint. No two are alike.

As with any marine invertebrate, Harlequin Shrimp require pristine water quality to thrive. They prefer a specific gravity of 1.023-1.026 and temperature between 76-78 degrees. They also like a tank with sufficient rubble rock with crevices and caves for them to hang out in during the day. They do better in pairs in a smaller species only tank since they tend to be shy and reclusive.
Harlequin Shrimp are considered to be reef safe, however, in reefs that include sea stars they will become lunch…it is just a matter of time! Harlequin shrimp are very unique because they feed exclusively on starfish which makes them rather difficult keep unless you have on hand a constant supply of starfish. In the wild, they dine on tube feet of linkia species sea stars, particularly the comet and blood spotted stars . In captivity it may take a few tries to find the type of starfish your harlequin shrimp prefers. Some acceptable starfish species to try include linkia stars, chocolate chip stars, sand sifting stars, fromia stars, and crown of thorn stars. While they can go a period of time without food they should be fed at least a starfish a month. Brittle stars are the one type of starfish that appear to get off the hook and are not of interest to the harlequin shrimp. That is most likely due to their ability to move fairly quickly and stay out of reach.
So if you have a small tank and are willing to splurge for a few starfish every once and a while then a pair of harlequin shrimp just might be the cool little addition you have been looking for.
I hope you enjoyed my profile on the harlequin shrimp, until next time.


Oscar Fish Care

I would like to welcome another guest blogger, Lexi Jones. Lexi is one of our staff marine biologists, and a Supervisor in our retail store fish room.
Want to keep Oscars? This popular South American fish has been an aquarium favorite for decades, but keeping them often requires more than a beginner aquarist is prepared for despite their hardy nature. There are many things you must think about before buying these potentially large and high maintenance fish. 
Oscars can grow very large, very fast. It is not recommended to keep one Oscar in a tank smaller than 55 gallons, and some say not smaller than 75 gallons! The Oscar can reach an adult size of 14.” How fast they grow depends on water quality, how much you feed your Oscar, and tank size. Keeping them in a smaller tank may stunt their growth, cause deformities, and shorten their lifespan.

Oscars can also become very aggressive and territorial, thus they are best kept alone or with other Oscars in a VERY large tank. However, if you insist on keeping a different species with them, you can try keeping other cichlids of a similar size like Texas cichlids or Jack Dempsey cichlids.  Males, in particular, can fight each other for dominance in the aquarium, and it may lead to fatalities.
Oscars need very good filtration, they will put a heavy load on your biological filter. They are messy eaters and create a lot of fish waste. Please avoid undergravel filters; these can not handle the waste Oscars produce and create even more water quality issues. Large power filters or canisters are the best options. Partial water changes (at least 25% every 2-4 weeks) will also help keep the tank cleaner and keep the nitrates to a minimum. Testing the water quality once a week is recommended. The pH range for Oscars is be between 6.5 and 7.5; however, for success the pH must remain stable. Ammonia and nitrite readings should be zero, and nitrates should be as low as possible. The temperature that Oscars prefer is between 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so a heater is a must.
So, what can you feed your Oscar? They will eat pretty much anything that will fit in their mouth, but this is not healthy for them. To keep them healthy it best to feed them a variety of flake, pellet, and frozen foods. They come in various sizes for your baby Oscar or a full grown adult. Good choices include: Spectrum pellet foods, mysis shrimp, krill, beef heart, bloodworms, and night crawlers. We recommend not feeding live foods as a primary food source for your Oscars. Feeder goldfish can carry parasites and diseases, and are not a complete source of nutrition. Your oscars may appreciate a live treat on occasion, but ghost shimp or mollies may be better options.
Keep in mind that Oscars may look cute when they are little, but they can double or triple their size in a matter of months. Therefore, they absolutely need a large tank to be healthy and happy. Providing a large home from the beginning is much better than continuously moving them from tank to tank.
Thanks for the great blog Lexi, until next time.

Invasive Species: Volitan Lionfish

Environmental responsibility is not something that most people think about when they are purchasing fish or plants for their aquarium, but it should be. Responsible ownership is vital to the long term availability of non-indigenous livestock. Unwanted fish and plants should never be released into the wild. In recent years there have been far too many stories about invasive plants and animals ravaging local ecosystems, with the blame being placed upon negligent or uneducated aquarium owners.
Most of us remember the snakehead stories from a couple of years ago, and all the bad movies that ensued. Florida residents probably hear stories on a daily basis about invasive fish, plants, reptiles, amphibians and other things causing problems.
An emerging story that I have found particularly interesting is the invasion of the Volitan Lionfish into the Atlantic coastal waters of the United States. When I first got into SCUBA diving in the early nineties, I was in school at Coastal Carolina (Go Chants!). I would hear the occasional tourist say that they saw a Lionfish on an offshore wreck while diving. Being both an aquarist, and a skeptic, I had dismissed all those stories as nonsense, after all how could a tropical fish from the Pacific and Indian Oceans be living in temperate Carolina. These people must have mistaken something else for a Lionfish, a Sea Robin, A Sculpin, something.

Believe it! 15 years later, the existence of Lionfish is not only documented, but they are growing in number, and becoming a major problem. NOAA has documented specimens ranging from Florida to New York. Some divers have reported hundreds on the offshore wrecks of the Carolinas. Lionfish are voracious predators, with little who prey on them. These invasive predators have the potential to destroy these sensitive ecosystems.
Speculation as to how they were introduced has developed several theories; the most realistic of these series revolve around intentional releases from aquarium owners, as well as unintentional release from hurricane damage to homes, businesses, and aquariums in Florida and the Caribbean. As unlikely as it seems, the reality is that lionfish are thriving and reproducing in temperate waters.
My point is that release should never be an option for a non indigenous species. Give them to another aquarist who will keep them, approach your local pet store about returning unwanted fish, or consult your veterinarian about humane euthanasia. Plants should be sealed in a plastic bag before throwing them away as well.
I hope that has given you something to think about, until next blog.


Spongeblog Squarepants

I would like to welcome another guest blogger to That Fish Blog, Desiree Leonard. Desiree is an Assistant Manager in the fish room here at That Fish Place, as well as one of our Staff Marine Biologist. I hope that you enjoy the information that she is blogging about, as well as her sense of humor.
Sponges: Beyond Spongebob.

Sponges are animals? Believe it or don’t. Most of us are familiar with the dried colorless varieties that populate the kitchens and bathrooms of the world, or worse, the cellulose fakers that our children believe dwell in pineapples at the bottom of the ocean. But that’s not what sponges are at all. To me, they are some of the most fascinating and fun sea creatures. Fun? Well, they may not actually do anything, but in the home aquarium, they are “fun” in the aspect that they are beautiful and challenging to keep. They are remarkably adaptive, and if purchased healthy many not only survive in reef tanks, but can grow well and reproduce.

“Sponge” refers to the animals classified in the phylum Porifera; which means loosely “bearer of pores”. The first type of sponges that most aquarists encounter in their aquariums belong to the class Calcarea. These little guys are the tiny little sponges you’ll find in your sump, on the standpipes, and bopping around in the bio-tower or skimmer output. They are about the size of a large grain of rice with a fine, funnel-like extension at one end. They don’t hurt anything, so if you are new at this, don’t be alarmed.

Those sponges most commonly sold in the trade as ornamental sponges belong to the class Demospongiae. They are variable in form and color – from branching blue to orange paddles, to yellow or red balls. Others in this group that are not sold, but most reefers see in their aquarium are amorphous, encrusting species in colors of white, yellow, pink or black.

Sponges are one of the most primitive animals in the sea, yet are far more complex than most hobbyists are aware. All sponges differ from other marine invertebrates in that they have no true tissues or organs. Their structure is made up of silica based spicules and/or collagenous spongin. Most sponges are constant filter feeders with little need for lighting. To feed, sponges pump an incredible amount of water through their bodies. The uni-directional flow allows the sponge to absorb fine food particles (most not larger than 1.5 micron!) and release wastes back into the water column. It’s nutrition by diffusion, Cool Thing #1! As the sponge grows, it will modify its surface and cavities to optimize the water flow around and through it. For this reason, once a sponge settles in a spot in your aquarium, it is best not to move it.

Not all sponges are obligate filter feeders. There is a group of calcareous sponges, like my current favorite, the blue finger sponge, which are moderately photosynthetic (due to symbiotic cyanobacteria) as well as filter feeders. Use high light, high water flow, and don’t forget your calcium!

A note about purchasing sponges; Do not ever EVER remove them from the water. If you remove them, air bubbles become trapped in the body cavities and there is no way to purge the air so those cells will die. When buying, look for uniformity, no transparent or fuzzy spots. Don’t buy sponges with necrotic tissue, unless you are brave and willing to eat the cost, as many retailers will not guarantee sponges. If the sponge is new, and it was exposed in shipping, it may not show dead tissue for a while. If after a few days you see some of your new sponge dying, just cut off the bad spot. Sponges have remarkable regenerative abilities due to Cool Thing #2: Totipotent Cells. Think Stem Cells. These cells can revert to any type of cell needed to ensure the regeneration of the sponge.

I feel I should include Cool Thing #3 even though it’s not really related to the hobby but it’s cool nonetheless: Sponges are one of the most chemically rich resources identified to date. They’re packed full of biochemicals that are currently the basis of the majority of new pharmaceutical research. Products from anti-inflamitories to anti-cancer agents have been derived from sponges. But that’s a different blog.
I hope I’ve manage to convince you of the hidden charm and FUN of poriferans, and I encourage aquarists who want to attempt keeping sponges to research them further and to go ahead and try them out!

Very cool article, thanks Dez.
See you next blog.

Species Profile: Anglerfish

One of the most interesting fish available in the aquarium hobby, is also one of the most difficult to see. Anglerfishes, also known as frogfish, are masters of disguise and camouflage, and have developed an amazing array of shapes, colors and textures to allow them to blend into their surroundings. Some look like rocks, some look like sponges, some look like algae, and some look like aliens from a distant planet.
Anglerfish get their name from the specialized dorsal spines that are found on their foreheads that resemble a fishing line and lure. They use this special appendage to lure prey towards them, then eat it whole. Anglerfish have enormous mouths for their size, and are capable of eating objects as big as they are.
Anglerfish are easily kept in aquariums, and some species do well in fairly small aquariums. Make sure that you know the adult size of the species that you are planning to keep to make sure that you are giving them enough space, Anglers can reach there adult size fairly quickly, dont be fooled by the small size that are usually found in pet stores. Some species like the Giant Anglerfish, Antennarius commerson can get up to 13″ in length. Anglers are predators, so you must be careful when choosing tankmates, if an Angler thinks it can eat something it will try. Do not keep anglers with fish of the same size or smaller, they will be eaten. Someone once described them to me as a giant mouth with a little fish attached. You should also not keep Anglers with shrimp or other small inverts that may be tasty. Other than towards prey items, Anglers are not aggressive, and make fine tank mates for larger, non aggressive species. Do not keep Anglers with aggressive species, they are easily picked upon and have little in the way of self defense.
Anglers spend most of their time sitting on the bottom, or “walking” around on their modified pectoral fins, that look more like legs in some species. You will rarely see an Angler swimming around in the open, as they are poor swimmers.
Feed Anglers a varied diet of small live foods, such as ghost shrimp or guppies. You can also train Anglers to eat fresh or frozen foods with the use of a feeding prong.
I hope that you have found this information interesting, Anglers are one of my favorite fishes, and I hope this will inspire someone to give them a try.
Until next time,