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Getting to Know Gorgonians

gorgonianGorgonians, also known as Sea Fans or Sea Whips, are beautiful and fascinating creatures found throughout the world’s oceans. These creatures are rather iconic, their branched or net-like structures adding a different dimension to a reef, swaying gently with the current.  Gorgonians are flexible, stationary cnidarians though they are very similar to soft corals. Individual tiny polyps form colonies in a variety of sizes and shapes. Some are stiff and erect, resembling the veins of a leaf, some resemble ribbons with polyps aligned on the edges, others look like plumes or are branched like trees. There are also single strand colonies and those that encrust on rock in thin sheets. They are often brightly coloured, purple, red, orange or yellow, and polyps may be white, brown, yellow or some other pale shade.

About Gorgonians

More than 500 described species of Gorgonian are found tropical and subtropical oceans around the world. More species are found in the tropical Atlantic that in other regions. They usually grow in shallow waters, though there are some species that grow in depths of more than 1000 ft. Shallow water species tend to be more flexible and broad to withstand currents while deeper water types grow tall, thin, and more rigid. They may grow anchored to solid surfaces like rock or coral, or they may “root” in loose gravel or sediment.  Gorgonian colonies are supported by an internal, ridid central skeleton covered with softer tissue that connects each polyp to the next to form the colony. The structure a gorgonian colony creates varies between species from a simple whip-like form to complex net-like fans that can be several feet tall and wide.

Gorgonians provide a secure home to many other maring species including brittle stars, bryozoans and hydrozoans. Pygmy seahorses (Hippocampus bargibanti) cling to several specific species and have adapted to blend perfectly with the colonies with color and texture specic camouflage.  You may also find tiny species of crabs, shrimp, gobies, blennies, and other creatures have also adapted to thrive amongst the polyps and branches of Sea Fans.

Choosing a Gorgonian

It’s important to recognize a healthy gorgonian when you’re ready to put one in your tank. Carefully examine your choices, looking for any signs of damage to the skin. Have the person helping you look gently turn each specimen in the water, so you can get a full look, and take notice of any damage, missing tissue, or flaking or peeling of tissue when the specimen is moving. Smell the water in the holding tank. If there is a noticeable odor, avoid the tank, as it may be sign that one or more of the gorgonians is rotting. Look for one with a thick, sturdy, uncut stem or base, and at least a few extended polyps.

Gorgonian Care

Care of gorgonians will vary greatly according to the species you acquire, and you should take care to research the variety before purchase to ensure that you can provide what it needs to thrive.  That being said, most of the common species available in the trade have relatively simple needs.

goby on gorgonian
When you place your new gorgonian in the tank, give it plenty of space where it can sway with the current, completely submerged and without touching other corals or surfaces. Be sure to orient your Sea Fan in good, strong, direct current to ensure they are exposed to plenty of food when it is added to the tank. The water flow will also provide the tissue with plenty of oxygen and keep the surface free of waste and debris. The specimen should be mounted upright and with plenty of light exposure.

Gorgonians are filter feeders. Each tiny polyp has eight tentacles used to catch phytoplankton and other tiny particles carried to them in the current. Many prefer to feed at night, so generally this is when you’ll see the polyps emerge. There are many commercial invertebrate food options available to offer gorgonians. You may also offer them tiny frozen foods like rotifers, cyclopeeze and baby brine shrimp. Administer a small amount of food to entice the polyps to open, then follow a short while later with a larger dose when the most of the polyps are extended.

Many Gorgonians are also photosynthetic, containing symbiotic algae in their polyps that provide a secondary energy source for the colony. Fro these species it is vital that strong light is provided. Photosynthetis species typically have brown or green polyps as opposed to those lacking pigmentation.  These species may grow rapidly when kept in ideal conditions, and periodic pruning may be required. See this article for detailed info on pruning and propogation.

Be aware before you purchase a gorgonian that many fish and inverts may see them as a new meal. Keep a watchful eye for crabs, snails, slugs and other predators that can quickly damage your fan. Gorgonians also play host to lots of other organisms, so don’t panic right away if you find tiny serpent stars, anemones or other creatures from your tank amongst the branches.

Gorgonian image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Nobgood
goby on Gorgonian image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jenny (jennyhuang) from taipei

2012’s New Fish Species – Obama Fish, “Head-Mater”, Flabby Whalefish…

Black Cap BassletFishes are the most numerous and diverse of all vertebrates, so it’s no surprise that many fascinating new species were discovered in 2012.  Among them were 9 brilliantly-colored American Darters and a Vietnamese fish that carries its sexual organs on its head (dubbed, for the lack of a better name, the Genitalia-Headed Fish).  Shallow Tennessee streams, ocean trenches nearly 2 miles deep, Indonesian coral reefs and many other habitats yielded wonderful surprises, and hinted that fish enthusiasts have much more to look forward to. Today I’ll highlight a few grabbed my attention; please post your own favorites (whether covered here or not) below.

US Darters: the Obama Fish and other “Politicos”

Nine new species of freshwater Darter were described from the southeastern USA this past year (Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History).  Five were named in honor of the environmental awareness exhibited by current and former politicians: Etheostoma obama, E. teddyroosevelt, E. gore, E. jimmycarter and E. Clinton. Read More »

Seahorses in the Aquarium – 5 Things You Should Know Before Purchasing

Hippocampus hippocampusHello, Frank Indiviglio here. In 2001, I wrote a book about the Natural History and Care of Seahorses. As I intended, many readers were discouraged, due to the demands involved in their care and the fragile state of wild populations. Today, I am happy to report that captive-born individuals of several species are regularly available, and that the task of feeding them (a major stumbling block) has been greatly simplified.  Still, they are not ideal for every aquarist. Following are some important points to consider before you decide to keep these intriguing but challenging fishes. 

Seahorses Need a Wide Variety of Small, Live Foods

The world’s 130+ seahorse species (Family Syngnathidae) are strict live food specialists. Brine shrimp, the most easily-obtained seahorse food, is suitable as a steady diet for only one, the Dwarf Seahorse, Hippocampus zosterae (please see this article). Most others avidly consume brine shrimp, but will not survive long without amphipods (scuds, side-swimmers), sand hoppers, tiny shrimp, Mysids and similar marine creatures. Read More »

Aquarium Fishes and Hurricanes – Dealing with Bacterial Blooms, Disease and Lack of Oxygen

Discus AquariumHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  October, 2012’s Hurricane Sandy wrecked havoc on fish keepers and public aquariums in the Northeastern USA.  My own collection, which houses several 20-30 year-old catfishes, loaches and aquatic amphibians, suffered only a single loss.  I owe a debt of gratitude to the dedicated folks at That Fish Place-That Pet Place, who shipped much-needed supplies to me in record time, despite the disastrous weather.  The public aquariums for which I consult are now working frantically to limit losses; I’ll provide updates via Twitter.

Most aquarists know what steps to take during power outages, so today I’d like to focus on several points that, in my experience, are sometimes over-looked.

Filter Care and Bacteria Die-offs

When power fails, submersible, corner, and other internal filters should be removed from the aquarium.  When oxygenated water is flowing through a filter, waste material is processed by beneficial aerobic bacteria, and ammonia is converted to less toxic nitrites and nitrates (please see this article).  Once the flow of water stops, the resident beneficial bacteria perish.  Without aerobic bacteria, your filter becomes a source of decomposing organic material, quickly poisoning the already-stressed aquarium inhabitants.

As the contents of external aquarium filters are not in direct contact with the water, they will not immediately add to the pollution problem.  However, these filters should be disconnected because when electric power is restored, they will pump ammonia and other toxins into the tank. Read More »

Barton’s Cichlid – Hericthys bartoni

Herichthys bartoniWell, hello! It has been awhile since I’ve blogged, but some current acquisitions have inspired a new post. Recently, one of our fish distributors informed me he had some Hericthys bartoni available. So for our anniversary sale I ordered 20 of them to offer for sale. A couple days later I was staring 20 fish each between 1 inch to 1.5 inches in length. We acclimated them into a 40 breeder and waited until the sale weekend to offer them, once we knew they were eating well in the store. The weekend came and went quickly, but I’ve knew this was a species I had to grab for myself. I’ve always wanted to breed them, from first time I saw a picture of one, and we carried them a long time ago and were able to get them to breed at around 3 inches. So I netted 7 of the remaining stock and placed them in holding, til I make some room for them.

Let’s talk a little about this gem from Mexico. Bartoni is restricted to the springs of Rio Verde. Water conditions may vary from place to place with pH ranging from 7.6 – 8.0 with a stable hardness (100 degrees German and a carbonate of 15 degrees). A robust male Bartoni can reach lengths up to 8 inches, while females reach a little over 4 inches. Males also develop a nice little forehead hump.

Their normal coloration is gray to light brown with a row of black blotches running from behind the eye to the base of the caudal fin. Some scales in the lower half of the body have a blue spot. But the breeding coloration is outstanding, and it’s also one of the main reasons I want to keep this fish. In both sexes, the upper half of the body turns white while the lower half becomes velvety black, including the fins.

In the wild, Bartoni mainly dine on algae, but so far they have done well on frozen cyclops and flakes while in holding. I would make sure that they get a flake high in veggie matter.

Pairs tend to either spawn in caves or beside rocks. The size of the clutch dependes on how old the female is, with an adult producing as many as a couple hundred eggs each spawn. At 84 F the eggs hatch in about two and a half days. In another five days, the fry should start to become free swimming after they consume their egg sacs. The females does most of the brood tending inside the cave while the male guards the perimeter. At any sign of danger, instead of running away like most Central American cichlids he will enter the spawning cave and wait with his mate until the danger goes away. Both parents take care of the fry when it comes to feeding time.

Bartoni generally tend to be very aggressive towards conspecifics, and sometimes their aggression may extend to other species in aquariums smaller than a 50 gallons.

It is believed in many circles that this species and others may become endangered in the near future, due to the introduction of a tilapia to their native waterways. What a shame that would be! If you have room for a 30 or a 40 gallon aquarium, this would be an awesome fish to add to your collection, and you can do your part to conserve them through captive breeding.

Until next time,

Jose