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Contains articles featuring information, advice or answering questions regarding saltwater aquariums, livestock or equipment.

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

Vacation Fish Care – Ensuring Your Aquarium’s Health While You Travel

automatic feederWhen you and your family go out of town on vacation or for the holidays, one important consideration is who takes care of the pets? You can board your dog or cat, or have a friend take care of them while you’re away with a set of pretty basic instructions for feeding and walks. Aquariums may take a little more preparation and training to ensure that they are cared for properly and any dire issues are addressed.  Generally, depending on the duration of your time away, you’ll want to have a trusted and competent friend come to your home to monitor and feed the tank.  Here are some things to consider in preparing that friend to successfully care for your tanks.

Feeding

Feeding is probably the first thing people think about when you think about leaving your fish for a few days. If you’re going away on a short weekend trip, chances are your tank will be fine without feedings, inless you’re keeping fry or some other “special needs” class of fish. If you’re going to be gone longer that 2 or 3 days, you’ll want to either invest in an automatic feeder or vacation food blocks, or leave detailed instructions with your tank-sitter on what, when, and how much to feed. Generally a few pinches of community food will be enough, but it may be much more complicated with a large reef aquarium or one stocked with various specialized feeders. If you have a complicated feeding regime, or if you’ll be taking an extended vacation, it’s probably a good idea to print a detailed list of instructions on feeding as a reference, and to go through the process at least once with your sitter in person to prevent overfeeding and other mishaps. Read More »

Overfeeding Your Aquarium – A Common Mistake and Its Consequences

fish foodsOverfeeding your aquarium is one of the most common mistakes made by aquarium hobbyists, and it isn’t one only made by beginners. It’s easy to go overboard when our fish “always seem hungry” and even appearing excited when they see you coming towards the tank with food in hand.  Healthy fish pretty much always look hungry. It also doesn’t help that we’re directed by packaging instructions to feed amounts that may be inappropriate for the type and number of fish we are keeping. We want the best for our fish and we want to be successful in keeping them, but it’s easy to cross the line from feeding enough to feeding way too much.

Problems Caused by Overfeeding

Leaving uneaten food in the aquarium is never a good idea. Watching food fall to the bottom of the tank, with the thought that your fish to eat later, can lead to big problems. Many fish are kind of programmed to eat food at certain places in the tank. Surface feeders, column feeders and bottom feeders tend to feed within their comfort zones, so you won’t typically see surface feeders travelling to the gravel for a snack, and fish that feed in the water column usually ignore food bits after they settle. No matter what kind of fish food you distribute, pellets, flakes, frozen foods or even live feeders, anything not eaten is left to decay. This unprocessed food, in addition to the waste produced by the food that is actually digested, can quickly create issues with your tank’s water chemistry and/or cause a bloom in the population of naturally occuring scavengers.

Uneaten foods quickly start to decay, adding to ammonia and nitrate levels of the aquarium, and it can very easily result in more bacteria than the nitrogen cycle can handle causing cloudy water. Overfeeding is not only dangerous to the health of your fish, but it causes unnecessary demands on your filtration, often resulting in poor water quality. Fortunately, the problems that arise from overfeeding are quickly and easily reversed or eliminated once you get your feeding habits under control.

Aquarists are also often shocked or full of disbelief when we tell them that the hordes of unsightly little “bugs” or worms creeping up the glass and through the rock and substrate are a probably a result of over-feeding their aquarium. What you see are probably either scavenger nematodes or planaria. Chances are there were a few of these critters in your tank from the start. They can be introduced via fish, plants, wood or other things you add to the aquarium as their microscopic eggs can travel on any of these things. They are generally harmess, but when you overfeed the opportunity arises for their populations to boom with the abundance of decaying matter in the substrate. Reducing the frequency and amount of food will help to bring the population back down to size, but you may also choose to treat the tank with anti-parasitic medications to speed the process along. Read More »

Refugiums for Marine Aquariums

CaulerpaYou may have heard the term refugium if you’re in the aquarium hobby, but do you know what it is and the benefits it can bring to your set-up? A refugium is  essentially a safe area for inverts and macro algae, but it also acts as a biological filter to help control nitrates and phosphates. Refugiums may be part of your sump, a separate hang on back unit, or even another tank plumbed into the display tank system. Generally, it consists of a deep sand bed (DSB), live rock, and macro algae with very slow water flow through the area and a relatively strong light source to support the live plants and inverts you choose to put inside. The light should be in the spectrum between 5,500-8,000k to allow for proper photosynthesis.

Refugium Styles

Let’s take a look at the different styles of refugiums first. One of the most common types is the in-sump refugium. This is a chamber in the sump that has a slow flow (roughly 30% of the water flow from your overflow box) moving through it. This flow rate allows the macro algae and beneficial bacteria to remove waste and nutrients. The best in sump refugium designs are set-up so you can control the flow through the unit, like Trigger Systems Ruby Elite. This style of refugium tends to be one of the most efficient. Read More »

That Fish Place – That Pet Place Featuring New Premium D-D H2Ocean Pro+ Salt

Galactic Purple DaniosThat Fish Place – That Pet Place is proud to introduce a new premium salt brand to our line of quality salt water products:  H2Ocean Pro+ Natural Reef Salt from D-D the Aquarium Solution.

Similar to brands like Red Sea Coral Pro, D-D H2Ocean Pro+  is harvested from sea water naturally evaporated with solar energy. What could be more natural than real salt water? After harvesting the salt, the natural product is tweaked a little to provide better results for use in our aquariums. For instance, the calcium and magnesium levels are slightly elevated above natural salt water levels. Why? Well, these two elements are quickly used up in reef aquariums, and because our reef tanks aren’t naturally replenished like the oceans, our inverts rely on us to keep these key elements in check. By slightly elevating the levels of calcium and magnesium, D-D H2Ocean Pro+ allows you to dose less, without getting too far out of sync chemically with their natural salt product. Furthermore, the chloride content is slightly reduced from what we see in natural saltwater. By slightly reducing the chloride content in the bucket, D-D H2Ocean has accounted for the extra chloride that usually comes along with dosing in reef tanks where most supplements utilize calcium and magnesium chloride. This helps make sure the chloride content doesn’t elevate too far beyond natural salt water levels in your reef tank. Just one other fine detail addressed by the chemists at D-D H2Ocean.

When this salt  is mixed to a S.G: of 1.025 @ 25°C = 35.5 ppt, your aquarium water parameters should look like this:

pH  level 8.3, range 8.2-8.4 
dKH level 9.3, range 8.7-9.8 
Calcium (Ca2+) level 440, range 430-460 mg/l
Magnesium (Mg2+) level 1340, range 1300-1380 mg/l
Chloride (Cl-) level 19550, range 19960-20130 mg/l
Potassium (K+) level 410, range 380-420 mg/l

So what makes this salt so good? Well, one thing we know about the ocean is that its parameters are pretty consistent. You’re not going to have one day on the reef where the calcium is 500ppm, and a week later be 400ppm. Its important that in our reef tanks we offer the same type of consistency. And, being that corals are from the ocean, doesn’t it make sense to stay as close to natural saltwater conditions as possible? D-D H2Ocean Pro+ mixes quickly, helping hobbyists get consistent results without having to wait 2-3 days for the salt to thoroughly dissolve. Those of us with sensitive stoney corals can attest to how finicky our corals can be over slight changes in parameters. Even hobbyists running Ultra Low Nutrient Systems have benefited from using D-D H2Ocean Pro+ because of its close-to-natural-saltwater levels. Regardless of what corals you keep, its vital to our reef systems to only deal with manufacturers with great quality control. 

Beyond the parameters, this salt is usually less clumpy, less dusty (not much worse than a salt cloud going right up your nose), and mixes up rather clear.  All and all, its this bloggers opinion that D-D H2Ocean Pro+ is one of the best salts offered at That Fish Place – That Pet Place. We currently offer the salt in the retail store, and it will soon be making it’s online debut.