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Contains articles regarding fish and aquariums in the news.

Caribbean Fish and the Gulf Stream

Cory here. The invasion of the Volitan Lionfish (Pterois volitans) has many concerned for the future of fish populations in the Caribbean and off the waters of Florida. The lionfish are swallowing native baby fish at an incredible rate, leading experts to believe this will begin to thin fish populations. Along with commercial fishing, the future is beginning to look bleak. The lionfish have spread throughout the eastern waters of Florida and are even being found along the shore of New York and Long Island. Wreck divers off of the North and South Carolina waters are finding an abundance of Lionfish. How can this be, a warm water fish in the cold waters of the Mid Atlantic and New England Coasts?

The answer is the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is a current that starts in the Gulf of Mexico, flowing around Florida and up the East Coast of the United States. The current begins to flow further off shore of New England, passing the Southeastern shores of Newfoundland and out into the Atlantic Ocean. The current transports warm water from the Caribbean, the whole way to Europe. The Gulf Stream has a large impact on coastal temperatures not only along the east coast, but in Europe.  Along with the warm water are tropical fish, which also make the trip along the Atlantic coastline.

There have been Spot-fin Butterflies (Chaetodon ocellatus), juvenile Blue Angels (Holacanthus bermudensis), and even small Barracuda spotted by divers off the coast of Rhode Island. In the north, during the fall, divers and snorkelers go in search for tropical species for personal and public aquariums. The sad part of this all is tropical fish caught in the stream will inevitably die as they are carried into cooler waters. Some of the best fishing from North Carolina and northward can be found off shore in the Gulf Stream where water temperatures can be close to 20 degrees higher just 150 to 200 miles offshore. Here Tuna, Wahoo, and Mahi can be found throughout most of the year. The clarity is just as amazing as the temperature difference, going from no visibility to over 100 feet in just 50 miles or so.

Typically, large or adult specimens are not found far from their native waters, because they can swim against the current, which averages around 4 MPH. Normally, juvenile fish or larvae are found due to immaturity, or the inability to fight the push of the current. The biggest question yet is how do these fish make it to the coastal waters of New England, which is 200 to 400 miles away from the Gulf Stream? The logical reasoning at this point is that they are carried toward the coast in small warm water eddies that break off the main current.  Otherwise, the juvenile fish would have to swim hundreds a miles away from warm water into the colder water to only die a month or two later.

HR 669 – The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Protection Act

What would the world be like without pets? A new bill proposed in House could make this a reality. All pet owners should be aware of a pending federal government resolution. HR669 stands for House Resolution 669 which is designed to change the way the government classifies non-native species. If passed into law it will have a tremendous impact on keeping pets in America. It will make it illegal to sell and breed many animals common in the pet trade including most species of tropical fish, ferrets, most reptile and amphibian species, corals, and many others. Though That Fish Place/That Pet Place is in favor of an effective invasive species law, we are convinced this is absolutely not the legislation to accomplish that. Please read Frank Indiviglio’s blog below to find out more and learn what you can do to help prevent this from even being introduced as a proposed law.

Frank Indiviglio here. By now many readers are no doubt aware of the bill known as House Resolution 669, which is currently before Congress.  If passed, HR 669 will dramatically impact, if not eliminate, pet keeping as we now know it.Check out the proposal as written here to educate yourself and form your own opinion.  For more information and some simple (i.e. “click of your mouse”) steps that you can take to register your opinions, please check out: NoHR669.com

A variety of well-informed arguments against the passage of HR 669 have been raised, many of which are summarized at the aforementioned web site.  I would like to present here a slightly different take on the issue, one drawn from a lifetime of work in the pet trade and as a professional zoologist and conservationist.

Inspiring Conservation

Pet keeping has inspired generations of zoo, aquarium and conservation professionals – the very people upon whom the future of wildlife and wild places depends.  Virtually all zookeepers, zoologists, conservationists, zoo curators, and aquarists – from Raymond Ditmars, first Curator of Reptiles at the Bronx Zoo, to today’s leaders – started out as children with pets, and from this fascination with animals sprouted a career.  This hold true for those with roots in city and countryside, poverty and wealth alike.

The Influence of Nonnative Species

In many cases, the pets that gave rise to and encouraged these people arrived here from afar.  In fact, all of our most commonly kept pet species – guppies, goldfishes, parakeets, canaries, dogs, cats and others, not to mention our domesticated “food animals” save the turkey – are nonnative.  The same holds true for invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians.

The reasons are often not apparent – for example, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and fishes from tropical regions are often far simpler to breed in captivity than are temperate species, which usually require a period of reduced temperature and day length if they are to reproduce.  The ability to breed so many exotic creatures encouraged many people to delve deeper, and to apply what they learned to the breeding of endangered species.  Of course, keeping such animals first hand has also long served to inspire a sense of wonder in us, and to urge many to go out into the world and discover just what animals live there, and what can be done to help them.

It must be remembered also that many native animals are legally protected and cannot be kept as pets, and that the ready availability of captive bred foreign species is an important deterrent to the illegal collecting of native wildlife.

The husbandry expertise and respect for animals garnered in the process of caring for them cannot but help find its way into the zoo and conservation realms.  Here in the USA, well-known conservation success stories, including the rescue of the American alligator and black-footed ferret from sure extinction, relied on captive breeding techniques that had long been utilized by serious pet owners working with similar species.  Similar scenarios, both here and abroad, are legion.

Problems Facing Zoo Breeding Programs

Zoos today are unable to meet the challenges posed by an unprecedented number of critically endangered species…all of the world’s zoos could fit comfortably into less than one half the area occupied by New York City.  It has recently been postulated that, even with international cooperation, the world’s zoos could sustain (as opposed to merely “exhibit”) perhaps 500 animal species…a mere fraction of the number faced with imminent extinction.

Pet Keepers Respond to the Turtle Crisis

It is just such a situation which led to the formation, in 2001, of the Turtle Survival Alliance.  This venture draws together zoo herpetologists and private turtle hobbyists in an effort to take concrete conservation action on behalf of the world’s turtle populations, the majority of which are in severe decline.  In one TSA effort, numerous private turtle keepers helped rehabilitate and house the survivors of a group of 10,000 illegally collected turtles that were seized in China and transported to Florida.  Today these animals, many in private hands, form the breeding nucleus for a number of species which seem destined for extinction in the wild in the very near future.

Pet Keepers Conserving Amphibians

The Disappearing Amphibian Crisis is much in the news today, and with good reason.  The situation for many of the world’s frogs and salamanders is so dire that zoos are collecting all the amphibians that can be located in certain habitats.  The hope is that these animals can be kept and bred for possible reintroduction once the threats posed by a rapidly spreading, deadly fungus can be addressed.

Once again, the expertise developed in part by pet keepers has played a major role in the rescue effort.  As concerns frog breeding, hobbyists have kept pace with zoo efforts.  For example, the blue poison frog, restricted in nature to a single mountainside in Surinam, is now a pet trade staple.  Similar stories abound, and the knowledge brought to the zoo field by pet keepers turned zookeepers is helping to assure that frog songs will continue to enliven spring evenings in the future.

The outlook for amphibians, however, is stark, and zoos do not have the facilities or finances to cope.  As with turtles, pet keepers with space and breeding expertise are being called into service as “foster parents”.  The most recent IUCN Red Data Book provides the grim news that one third of all amphibians are either threatened or already extinct.  Of these, 159 species are or may already be gone – 38 are known to be extinct and 121 species have not been seen in recent years and are likely no longer with us.  Those remaining are faring little better – 42% of the known species are declining in numbers, many dramatically, while less than 1% are increasing.

Pet Care Expertise and other Animals

The situation is likely just as critical for other groups that pet keepers have had great success in breeding, including parrots, tortoises and corals.  Where invertebrates are concerned, we do not as yet even have a handle on the magnitude of the problem.  We have closely studied a mere 0.2% of the estimated 30 million insect species, and a far smaller percentage of arachnids and other groups.

However, over 300 species of insects, spiders, scorpions and other terrestrial invertebrates, and a far greater number of aquatic species, are established in breeding populations by pet keepers worldwide.  The lessons learned in the process have been applied to captive breeding and reintroduction programs for a number of North American species, including Karner blue butterflies, burying beetles and red-kneed tarantulas.

Check out nohr669.com for information on how to get your voice heard on hr699

 

Anyone wishing to share their thoughts or opinions on this issue, may feel free to comment here, or on our facebook page.

Where have all the Seahorses gone?

Seahorses have long been one of the icons of the aquarium hobby, with graceful movements and a delicate, unusual appearance. Seahorses are members of a family of fish known as Sygnathids, meaning “spiny-finned fish”. Other members of the family include Sea Dragons and Pipefish. They each have a small tubular seahorse_orangesnout that enables them to suck in prey items like brine shrimp, copepods, and other similar crustaceans. Seahorses and their relatives are timid and slow-moving. They are most often found in beds or sea grass where they can use their tails to anchor themselves to the grass or corals and not be carried off by the current. Seahorses bear live young that are carried in a pouch, similar to a Kangaroo, until they are mature enough to be released.

A couple of years ago, seahorses were a rather common offering in Aquarium Stores nationwide. Seahorses have long been one of the icons of the aquarium hobby, with graceful movements and a delicate, unusual appearance. In recent years, the with the technical advancements in aquarium keeping, environments can be created to more easily and better suited to keeping these amazing fish. The possibility of keeping sea horses is more within reach than ever. But where have they gone?

In 2004, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) upgraded the status of Seahorse species to “vulnerable” meaning that the seahorse populations are in danger of a 30% decrease due to targeted catch, accidental capture, and habitat loss. One of the biggest threats to these species is the high demand for their dried bodies in Asian and Southeast Asian medicine trades. Climate changes and habitat destruction are also taking huge tolls on these interesting and amazing little creatures.

With growing awareness and increased conservation efforts, captive breeding programs for these animals are growing in number and are becoming increasingly successful. If you’re lucky enough to venture into keeping them in a home aquarium, strive to purchase captive raised individuals. By doing so, stress on wild populations can be reduced, and these animals tend to adapt to aquarium conditions and diets with more ease than wild-caught specimens. Be sure to check out the related articles in the blog for more fascinating facts and tips on keeping these guys at home.

Thanks, Eileen

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. 

Fish Research Update: Use of Electric Impulses for Species Recognition in African Elephantfishes (Elephant-Nosed Fishes)

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

With their ridiculously long “noses” (actually an extended jaw), secretive ways and unique feeding strategies, the elephant-nosed fishes have long been aquarium favorites.  All of the 200+ species discharge electrical pulses from specially-modified muscle cells near the tail. 

The most commonly kept species, Peter’s elephant nose, has been shown to vary the strength, frequency and duration of these discharges.  Doing so helps this nocturnal fish to navigate and hunt in the turbid West African rivers it inhabits.

Using Electricity to Choose a Mate

Recently, researchers at Germany’s Potsdam University have shown that a related species, Campylomormyrus compressirostris, identifies potential mates by the characteristics of their electrical discharges. 

In laboratory tests, gravid females responded to the signals of males of their own species, but ignored those of a closely related fish that shares their natural habitat.  In this way, they are able to locate a mate of the proper species, even when surrounded by similar fishes in murky water at night.

It is theorized that Peter’s elephant nose also uses electricity as a form of communication and mate recognition.  Certainly, watching them avoid obstacles and locate buried blackworms in an aquarium at night, it is easy to see how completely they rely upon their electric-generating system.

Keeping Elephant-Nosed Fishes

Although very popular, elephant-nosed fishes require special care and rarely do well in community aquariums.  I recently set up an exhibit housing a group along with some other of their interesting West African neighbors – butterfly fishes, giant filter-feeding shrimp and dwarf clawed frogs.  Please look for an article on this exhibit and their general care soon.

Please Note:  The “trunk-less” fish pictured with the elephant noses is not the victim of an unfortunate accident but rather a related species, the baby whale or stoneroller, Pollimyrus isidori.  They are also quite interesting and do, if you have an active imagination, somewhat resemble (very!) small whales.  I’ll address them in the article mentioned above.

Further Reading

Belgium’s Africamuseum has posted an interesting article on the Peter’s elephant nose (Note: the photo appears to be of a deceased fish…they are much more attractive than pictured here!): http://www.africamuseum.be/museum/treasures/gnathonemus%20petersii

Please write in with your comments and questions.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.