The Best Foods for Freshwater Aquarium Fish – Canned Freshwater Shrimp and Invertebrates

Shrimp of various species play an important role in the natural diets of many freshwater fishes, and the nutrients they supply differ from those found in insects and other more commonly-used aquarium foods.  Many native and exotic fishes under my care at home and in zoos prefer shrimp to all else, and do well when they are added to the diet.  And while ocean krill (not a true shrimp) is readily available, I wonder about the long range effects of feeding a marine animal to freshwater fishes.

tp53048Unfortunately, freshwater shrimps are difficult for the average aquarist to procure. I was, therefore, pleased when Zoo Med began offering canned freshwater shrimp.  Although marketed as a reptile food, I have fed canned shrimp and find them to be some of the best foods for freshwater aquarium fish, showing great results.  But I’ve been remiss in spreading the word among my hobbyist friends…if you decide to give them a try, please post your thoughts below, thanks.

An Important Consideration                                                                         

Small, whole animals are used in Zoo Med’s canned freshwater shrimp product.  This is preferable to offering our fishes small pieces of food market marine shrimp, which are usually missing nutritionally valuable internal organs (note: food grade shrimp are fine to use on occasion). Read More »

Archerfish Care – Incredible Brackish Water Insect Snipers

Banded ArcherfishHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  In the early 1980’s, I had the good fortune of being chosen to help set up the exhibits in Jungle World, a new Bronx Zoo building highlighting Southeast Asian wildlife. Leaf Insects, Sunbirds, Marsh Crocodiles, Giant Soft-shell Turtles, Proboscis Monkeys, Tapirs…all came under my care, but it was a mangrove marsh exhibit that became my favorite. It housed a variety of unique animals, including Mudskippers, Fiddler Crabs and Monos, but the real stars were a school of Banded Archerfish (Toxotes  jaculatrix).  Visitors especially enjoyed watching me service the exhibit…the Archerfishes would invariably squirt water at the movement of my eyes as I looked down at them, and they never missed!

Natural History

Seven archerfish species have been described. They range from India to Malaysia and Australia, ofrten in association with brackish water mangrove swamps, but most also enter freshwater and the ocean. Archers and other species that move between salt and fresh water for other than breeding purposes are known as amphidromous fishes. 

At least 1 species, the 5 inch-long Smallscale Archerfish (Toxotes microlepis), spends most of its time in the freshwater. The giant of the genus is the 16 inch-long Largescale or Spotted Archerfish (T. chatareus). Both occasionally appear in the pet trade, where they are often confused with the Banded Archerfish (please see below). Read More »

Dangerous Beauty – The Ongoing Threat of Invasive Lionfish Along the East Coast

Caught in the Virgin IslandsHow can something be so beautiful and yet so dangerous and destructive? Invasive lionfish are making headlines again, continuing their viral spread in the Atlantic and decimating native species as they explode in population. Lionfish are quickly becoming the poster species for the horrible things that can happen when a non-native species is introduced to a new region or habitat, left without predators to keep populations in check.

This isn’t a new story, just a continuing saga conveying the sad consequences of accidental or intentional introduction of non-native species. The story is believed to have begun sometime in the 80’s with lionfish being sighted between Florida and the Caribbean. Within 15-20 years the population exploded and at this point any hope of stopping the invasion has all but fizzled.  No one will ever know how they were introduced or where to place the blame. Some believe careless aquarists are at fault, releasing the fish into waterways if they became to large or otherwise unable to be kept. One popular theory is that the fish made their way into the Atlantic after a coastal hurricane destroyed a home or homes with aquariums that contained the Indo-Pacific natives, which miraculously found their way safely into east coast waters. Others believe it’s possible that juvenile or larval lions hitched a ride in ship ballast waters as other species have before, finding themselves in a new world when the waters were pumped out. Regardless, lions are here and here to stay, with only we humans as their predators. Read More »

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 »