Coral Propagation for Beginners

Dave here. Coral propagation, or fragging as we reef geeks refer to it, is the process of creating new coral colonies from a parent colony. Over the last several years, techniques, products, and general knowledge of the practice rapidly evolved to where it is quite common. As little as five years ago it was something new and exciting, or even scary depending upon your perspective. The thought of cutting pieces off of your prized coral colonies may seem intimidating at first, but it is actually quite safe, and the fragment has an excellent chance of survival if properly handled. Some corals are more easily fragged, and are better suited for the beginner, than others.

These types are what I will focus on for this blog. In general branching stony corals, and Zoo polyps, are among the easiest and most desired corals to frag. If you look around for your local reef or aquarium clubs, many of them will have frag swap meets, so that hobbyists can sell and trade frags with other hobbyists. It is a really great way to promote coral conservation: the more fragged corals you keep, the fewer corals need to be collected from the reefs. Frag swapping is also a great way to share knowledge, and increase the survivability of captive corals. Propagated corals are hardier, and often more colorful, than wild corals. They have been raised in artificial conditions, and will usually keep their color. Wild corals can change color dramatically when adjusting to captive conditions.

There are a few basic items that you will need in order to start coral fragging. First, you need a suitable coral (Duh!). You should try to use only healthy coral colonies for fragging, as it will increase the survivability of both the parent and the cutting. While much fragging is done with damaged or dying corals in an attempt to save something, this is a much less successful way to produce coral frags, and should only be done as a last resort for the specimen. Fragging healthy corals will lead to a much better result.
Second, you will need something to mount the coral to, and there are several options here. Live rock rubble makes excellent, natural looking frags, but can be difficult to get in volume, and can be difficult to keep stable while the frag is securing itself. Commercially available Plugs and Disks, while less attractive initially, allow for quick and easy attaching. Using Plugs and Disks will also allow for easy volume production, as they will either fit snugly into egg crate material, or flat surfaces, so that you can grow out many frags, securely, in a small area. While we are on the subject of eggcrate, for those of you unfamiliar with the material, this can be found any home improvement center in the lighting section. Eggcrate can easily be cut and built into shelves and platforms to mount your frags for establishment and growth.
Next, you will need glue for attaching your cuttings to your rubble, plug, or disk. “Super Glue”,or Cyanoacrylate Gel is the glue of choice. This glue is harmless to the coral, dries quickly, and is easy to use. The glue is available in clear and pink colors, as well as different thicknesses for the job at hand. Your other choice is epoxy putty, this works well for some stony corals, and is well suited for use on rubble rock. Epoxy Putty is also available in several colors.

Finally, you will need cutting tools. Several types of cutters, scalpels, and snips are available on the market. Depending upon the type of coral being cut, different tools will work best, so it is best to have an assortment of tools at your disposal. What you may like to use may not be what I like to use, but if it suits your purposes, go for it. In general snips, shears, and cutters should be used on branching stony corals, and scalpels, razors, or chisels work best for Zooanthid polyps and encrusting corals.
You should strongly consider using safety goggles and rubber gloves, as many of the secretions and fluids that are produced when cutting corals can be very irritating, and even dangerous, to your skin and eyes. Protection is very important.

Once you have all the tools you need, the fragging process is easy. For stony coral, it is as simple as cutting the tips off of one or more of the branches of your parent colony and gluing the freshly cut tip to your plug or piece of rubble. Don’t be shy about the amount of glue that you use, you want to make sure that it stays attached so it can grow onto the plug. You can remove the coral from the water to perform this step. The parent colony will heal over and grow a new tip, or tips. The freshly attached frag will, over a period of weeks or months depending on species, grow over the glue and firmly attach to the plug.

Zoo Polyps can be removed from a parent colony by carefully removing them from the rock they are attached to with a scalpel or sharp chisel. Just a few full polyps are all that you need to start a new colony. With each removed polyp, a new frag colony can be started. Attach the cut polyp to a disk or piece of rubble rock, and then the polyp will attach and multiply on its own. Just as with the stony coral frag, the zoo polyp frag will grow over the glue and cover the disk or rock over a period of weeks to months.

This process can be repeated over and over, allowing you to produce many frags over time. Most people will choose to do this with just a few corals, and use these new frags to trade or sell for different species for their displays.

Interested in a more hands-on and guided approach? Stop by a frag swap! That Fish Place – That Pet Place in Lancaster, PA hosts one with the Reef Conservation Society Bi-annually. If you’re not in the area, Googling ‘frag swap’ is sure to yield one near you.

Until next blog


Blue Collar Workers: A tribute to the Manual Laborers of Our Aquariums

Welcome back Patty Little to That Fish Blog.

Labor Day in the U.S. is dedicated to the workers and was originally conceived to celebrate the strength and spirit of trades and labor organizations.  I thought it might be nice to recognize some of the laborers that make the microcosm of the home aquarium successful to keep up with the Labor Day spirit.  They may not get a paycheck, but they give it their all.  Since they can’t enjoy a day off and a barbecue (though some of their relatives may be on it), let’s put on a blog parade for the little guys.

Kudos to the parasite cleaners, cleaner wrasses and cleaner shrimp, whose dedicated services are invaluable to the health of other reef citizens.
Mower BlennyThanks to the cucumbers, gobies, burrowing snails, sifting stars, and others who keep the substrate aerated and algae free, and to the Mower blennies, urchins, hermits, snails and tangs, the gardeners of the tank who keep the algae hedges trimmed and the macro algae forests at bay.
Hats off to the pest control squadron, peppermint shrimp, arrow crabs, flat-worm eaters, and others whom Nature intended to keep those pesky little critters in check.
And we can’t forget those who stay in the shadows, the detritivores.  Though not very attractive, and often downright creepy, they are a key element removing and processing the crud (for lack of a better term) that accumulates from the stuff in our tanks.  Amphipods, bristleworms, scavenger stars, snails, and nematodes to name just a few.
The freshwater community may not appear to be quite as complex, yet there are those who deserve a big pat on the dorsal (or maybe a special treat) today.  The upkeep of a freshwater tank can be attributed to some specific characters in the tank.
Give a nod to the ever cleaning algae eaters, From Otos to Apple snails, their work is never done, scouring the glass, the rocks, and the other furniture tirelessly to keep the green monster under control.
Then there are the bottom feeders, the plecos, loaches, catfish whose lowly yet secure positions can only be replaced by the gravel siphon.
Perhaps the biggest honor should go to the dedicated aquarists out there who work hard with endless enthusiasm for their tanks and the creatures within.  Though it is a “hobby”, and the labor involved is sometimes frustrating, exhausting, and messy, it can pay off when you look at your tank in awe.  So thanks to all of you who dedicate your time and energy to your amazing tanks, to help out the little guys inside and reward everyone who you share it with.  Happy Labor Day (Well, one week later)!


Aquarium Slime: What is it and what to do about it?

Please welcome back Desiree Leonard with another “What’s this and What do I do?” article.

This frequently encountered problem is Cyanobacteria or “Slime Algae”.

The name “slime algae” is a misnomer. Because Cyanobacteria are photosynthetic and aquatic, they are often called “blue-green algae”. In reality they are NOT algae, but something more in between algae and bacteria. Cyanobacteria are bacteria that manufacture their own food and live in colonies — large enough for you to see them! It’s these colonies that cause trouble for aquarists. They are not necessarily blue-green but can be black, green, blue green, and the familiar dark red sheets covering many surfaces in an aquarium.

The first thing aquarists who find an unwanted colony of cyanobacteria in their aquarium want to know is how to get rid of it. Well, this is where it gets tricky. To eradicate the problem – the particular trigger for the cyano bloom must be identified and treated. Not every bloom is in response to the same trigger and while throwing a chemical at the problem will perhaps clear it up temporarily, it will come back, and it will be worse. (More on this later.)

As with all types of algae, any uncontrolled growth indicates an imbalanced system. An imbalance in one or both of two main triggers can set off a cyano bloom.

• DOC – Dissolved Organic Carbon is a food source of the bacterial side of the bacteria-algae. Sources of dissolved carbon include: fish slime, algae, bacteria, digested/uneaten food, metabolic waste, live food, some aquarium additives etc.
• Lighting – The food source for the algal side of the bacteria-algae is light. Light bulb spectra shift to red as they age, resulting more favorable conditions for photosynthesis to take place more vigorously.
Note: It is said that slime is caused from phosphates and silicates in the water. It’s true that these 2 elements will certainly grow algae of all sorts, but if removed will not reduce or remove a slime problem.

Okay – so what DOES remove the problem?

• Control your DOC. This is best done by frequent water changes, good water movement (power heads and closed system circulation) and (this is important!) a good protein skimmer. An undersized or ineffective protein skimmer, high waste loads, or a combination thereof will increase the dissolved carbon level. As a rule of thumb for skimmers; buy one that is rated for at least twice the size of your tank. It may take some adjusting but a properly functioning skimmer can remove ½ cup of thick organic scum from a tank a day.
• Use an RO/DI filtering system (Reverse Osmosis/Deionization) for water changes whenever possible. This eliminates adding DOC into your tank via tap water.
• Add more lighting or change your bulbs. Change bulbs at least once every 9 to 12 months, don’t wait till they burn out. To be more cost effective, you can stagger your replacements rather than replacing them all at once, but if the slime persists you may have to go all out and do full replacement.
• Watch what you feed. Feed once a day. If you wish to feed twice, simply split the amount in half – don’t feed twice as much food. If you feed grocery store bought seafood or are making your own foods, rinse all foods thoroughly as seafood sold for human consumption is treated with phosphates and preservatives to keep it fresher longer. (It’s true!) Avoid flake foods, these dissolve too fast – pellets and crisps are much better and more palatable.
• If you aquarium is freshwater, the above treatments still apply, but a protein skimmer is not used. Water circulation, frequent water changes, extra charcoal filtration and changing lights all will be effective controls.
Disclaimer: I am in no way saying that if you have a slime outbreak, that you are a bad aquarist and your water is swill. Even in the best kept tanks there are still cyanobacteria. You will, in fact, see outbreaks in systems which are free of phosphate and silicate; they also have new halides, actinics and great water flow. There is always another factor – vitamin supplements, liquid foods, and other additives can add the organics that can trigger a cyano explosion. Look for anything different you are doing and stop doing it.

Right – that covers the long term, not so easy fix. But for those who still want a quick fix, there are products that are available to help remedy the problem. BUT – if the underlying issue is not addressed, don’t say I didn’t warn you…..

• Cyano is a gram negative (thin cell membrane) bacteria, much like most bacteria in the aquatic environment. A dose of Erythromycin will knock out the colony of slime quite quickly. However, since the nitrifying bacteria you need in your tank are gram negative as well, they will be affected also, either being killed or severely damaged. This treatment is more advisable in freshwater aquaria, but only with careful attention paid to water quality while treating. Like all antibiotics, if dosed frequently the cyano will develop a resistance.
Chemi-Clean by Boyd Enterprises and Red Slime Control by Blue Life are highly effective reef safe treatments for slime. These are non-antibiotic formulations and will do less damage to your biological filter. If used frequently however, there is still a chance of the cyano developing a resistance.
I hope this info is helpful in your endeavors to keep a slime free tank. For more and more thorough information, check out these links! Happy Fish keeping!

Brittle Stars, Sea Stars and Sea Urchins – an Introduction to Some Popular Echinoderms

Frank Indiviglio here with an introduction to Echinoderms.

Sea stars, or starfishes, are perhaps the most familiar of the Echinoderms (a phylum containing over 7,000 marine species), and many adapt well to aquarium life.  Most people are quite surprised to realize that they are active, interesting predators that routinely exhibit a wide variety of behaviors in the aquarium.  Many are also useful scavengers, but all are predatory in nature and, depending upon the species, will consume mollusks, coral polyps and other sedentary invertebrates.

Red-knobbed Sea Star, Protoreaster lincki
Red-knobbed Sea StarWhen picturing a sea star, many people think of the simple reddish-orange animal so often seen as a dried curio in beachfront shops.  However, many are fantastic in appearance and coloration.  The Red-knobbed Sea Star, with brick-red dorsal spines set off against a dazzling white background, is a case in point.

Native to the Indo-Pacific region, this perennial aquarium favorite reaches a length of 12 inches and is capable of consuming quite large mollusks.  It is best fed by placing a piece of clam, scallop or mussel directly below the body, although it is quite active and capable of finding food on its own.

Although sea stars are quite adept at sensing and locating food, they respond more slowly than do most fish.  Therefore, they will usually remain hungry in a mixed-species tank unless care is taken to see that food is placed directly below each animal.

Brittle Stars
Black Brittle StarBrittle stars bring the word “bizarre” to mind instantly, even to those well acquainted with the sea’s curiosities.  They react very quickly to the scent of food, and their long, slender arms thrash wildly about as they begin to explore.  It is quite a sight to see a tank housing several of these normally sessile creatures suddenly come to life – the many sinuous arms seem to take on a life of their own, yet the animals glide unerringly toward the source of the odor that aroused them.

Brittle stars are harmless to most other creatures and are extremely valuable scavengers.  Perpetually hungry, their thin arms can get into the tiniest of crevices between coral heads and other places where bits of uneaten food might otherwise go unnoticed.

Sea Urchins
These slow-moving, spiny invertebrates are often encountered in tide pools, and are worldwide in distribution.  The spines of all are effective weapons, and many secrete venoms that are as yet not well-studied.  Hot-water baths seem to assist in alleviating the sting caused by most species, but handle all with extreme care.

With over 800 species identified to date, urchin enthusiasts have much to celebrate.  Many unusual species are commercially available, including the Long-spined Sea Urchin, Diadem antillarum and the Pencil Urchin, Heterocentrotus mammillatus. Both feed primarily upon algae, but will also consume bits of fish and shrimp.  The Long-spined Urchin is armed with extremely sharp spines, much to the chagrin of bathers in tropical waters.  The Pencil Urchin is well named – its spines, less numerous than those of other urchins, are very thick and blunt-ended.

Wave your hand above a captive or wild sea urchin and you will likely be surprised at how quickly the seemingly inert beast responds.  A shadow or object passing overhead is viewed by an urchin as a predator, and all the spines are oriented to face the threat.  Although parrot fish, sea otters and wolf fish are adept at clipping off urchin spines or turning the animals over to expose the soft underbody, the defense is, in general, foolproof.

Despite their slow-moving ways, sea urchins are quite active and seem bent on getting into every possible nook and cranny in their aquarium.  Be sure to check that they do not wedge themselves too tightly into small corners, or tumble backwards into coral and become stuck.

I’ll cover individual species in depth in future articles.  Until then, please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, Frank.

You can read more about sea urchins, sea stars and their relatives at:

Introduction to Freshwater Shrimp II

Welcome back Patty Little Back with profiles on two more types of freshwater shrimp you may find interesting and consider adding to a peaceful community tank. These are species that we commonly carry in the retail store.

Cherry Shrimp
Cherry ShrimpCherry Shrimp, Neocaridina heteropoda, are named for their deep red, speckled coloration. They originated from Northeast Asia and this is not their color in the wild; they have been selectively bred to enhance the reds. Their natural coloration is reddish brown to brown to help them blend to their environment. Cherry Shrimp are common, colorful, cheap, and hardy. They are an ideal beginner shrimp as they may survive in conditions that many shrimp will not tolerate.
Cherry Shrimp thrive in a wide array of conditions. Ph from 6.0-8.0, soft or hard, temps from 72-84 will be tolerated with ease. They will eat about anything from flake and pellet to fresh and frozen offerings like spinach, spirulina, bloodworms and a variety of other offerings, but though healthy specimens will attack food with vigor, they do not need to be offered food every day. Overfeeding can cause health issues and fowl the water.
Cherry Shrimp only grow to be about an inch in length. Males are easily distinguished from females as they are significantly smaller and have less intense coloration. A small colony of 5 or 6 shrimp will give you good odds of having both sexes. These shrimp are known to be quite prolific and will breed regularly and produce fry which can be raised easily under good conditions and as long as no fish are present. Mature females will show a yellow-green “saddle”, which are actually eggs developing in her ovaries. The fertilized eggs are carried by the female under the tail for 2-4 weeks until the young shrimp hatch and disperse. The tiny shrimp babies are identical versions of the parents. Colonies of these shrimp are easy to establish and small species set-ups can be ideal to really get to know these fascinating little guys! Image referenced from Wikipedia Commons,

Bamboo Shrimp
There are several different types of filter feeding shrimp that are available in the aquarium trade. One of the coolest, I think, is the Bamboo Shrimp, aka Fan Shrimp, Wood Shrimp, Asian Filter Shrimp, Mountain Shrimp, and Singapore Shrimp. This species, Atyopsis moluccensis, is quite attractive and bold in a predator free tank, a worthwhile addition though they can be a little pricey. They grow to 2.5-4 inches in length and at that size they can easily become a centerpiece member of your aquarium community. They are safe for docile tankmates despite their large size, as they are filter feeders.
Bamboo Shrimp occur in a varying range of colors, but are typically some shade of red, tan, or brown. A cream colored to yellow stripe runs down the center of the shrimp’s back, and thinner stripes line the flanks. The most appealing physical characteristic of these shrimp are the fan-like filtering appendages they use to collect food. The fine filaments open to collect tiny bits of food (as opposed to claws like most shrimp) which are swiped through the shrimp’s jaws. Feeding requires that the shrimp is able to sit in an area of current, so some keepers suggest that wood or some other furniture is placed in an area of moderate flow so the shrimp has a good place to perch and feed. Periodic feedings of liquid invert foods may be appreciated, but in great moderation so water quality does not decline.
Bamboo shrimp can live for several years under good conditions. They prefer Ph between 6.5 and 7.5, temps between 72 and 82F. These shrimp need specific conditions to breed and reproduction with this species is not something that will occur in a freshwater aquarium as the larvae need varying degrees of salinity as they mature before returning to freshwater as mature specimens. This species is captivating and if given the right conditions can be a real conversation piece for aquarists. A large planted tank with plenty of flow will be prime real estate.
I hope to blog on some other less common freshwater shrimp in the next installment of this series, tune in again!