Nudibranches – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Cory here. I thought I’d take my next few blogs to go over the “ins and outs” of Nudibranches. Like lots of organisms living in an aquatic system, these interesting creatures bring a host of features to your saltwater tank. And, along with the good, it’s important to point out the bad…and the down right ugly things about nubibranches in your aquarium too.

The Bad:

Nudibranches target Montipora, Zoanthids, and Softies

There are so many coral eating organisms, Butterflies and Angelfish are the obvious ones. However, some of the worst pests are ones that you can barely see. Flatworms and Red bugs are most notorious for destroying Acropora species. However, Montipora species have their own pest: a Nudibranch.

Montipora CapricornisThey are hard to see, especially if you do not know what you are looking for. The largest I have seen was a half centimeter in length, tucked behind a crevice in the coral. They are always near a piece of the coral that is in the process of dying. This particular nudibranch feeds only on Montipora tissues, more commonly the plating varieties such as Montipora capricornis. They lay their eggs in a spiral or cluster, on the underside of the coral. Usually hatching within a few days, depending on water conditions, they immediately begin munching on the coral tissue. A couple adult Nudibranches can easily consume a one inch frag in 24 hours.

There isn’t a simple way to eradicate them. Dipping the corals in a Lugols Iodine or Tropic Marin Pro Coral Cure solution will help to loosen the nudibranches, so they can be extracted. The dip however, will not kill the egg mass. The eggs must be removed immediately using a scraper, toothpick, or a toothbrush. Any portion of the coral that has died or seems to be infected should be cut off just in case there are eggs imbedded in the skeleton.

Nudibranches are also commonly found feasting on Zoanthid polyps. These particular types of Nudibranches are especially hard to find because they look very much like the polyp that they are eating, even matching the color in most cases. Zoanthids commonly close and stay closed for days, eventually polyps begin to disappear. This is usually the first sign of infection. Again, like the Montipora Nudibranches, dips will only remove the adults, leaving the eggs behind. The eggs are usually laid on the underside of the poylps, but can also be found on the rock itself.

Soft corals have many different species of Nudibranches that prey on their tissues. Some are extremely large and colorful, while others camouflage themselves, making detection extremely difficult. Like other corals, removing the adults with coral dips and manually removing the eggs when possible is the only effective way.

There are so many species of Nudibranches in the oceans, many found on the Reef and serving some purpose good or bad. We are learning more each and everyday about Nudibranches, what they eat and where they come from. We are importing corals from around the world, in some cases from areas we have never collected before. With new locations, comes new pests and most likely new Nudibranch species, good and bad.

Check back soon for the next part of this article.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Extreme Makeover – That Fish Place Touch Tank Edition

ClosedHey readers, Dave here. It has been a busy couple of weeks here at TFP leading up to the holiday season.  It has been especially busy for me, as the top of my to-do list suddenly changed to repairing the touch tank.  Originally installed in 2002 (as somewhat of an experiment), the Marineland Touch Tank was in dire need of a makeover.

After many patches and repairs over the years, the old tank liner finally had so many holes in it that it could no longer hold water.  The liner needed to be replaced!  For anyone who has ever replaced the liner in their pond, Removing the wallyou know what an ordeal that can be.  We found a temporary home for our touch tank celebrities, and jumped into the physical mess of getting the old liner out, including removing the hundreds of pounds of rock and substrate. Luckily, we are out of pond season here in Lancaster, so we had the Sharks in holding systemadvantage of being able to convert one of our Koi holding systems to saltwater, as a temporary house for our touch tank buddies,  while their home is being renovated. Next we’ll be getting the newer, more flexible liner installed and getting all the animals back home! It’s a whole lot going on, in a short amount of time.

Many, many people (both local and distant) visit the store, in part to see the stingrays and other creatures in the display.  There has been a parade of sad faces come around the corner, expecting to see their touch tank friends, but finding destruction in stead.  Remodeled filtrationNever fear, the rebuild will only take a few more days, and the touch tank will be better than ever!  Along with the new liner, there are also some filter upgrades taking place behind the scenes.  We are truly sorry about the down time for the touch tank, this is the first time we have closed it since it opened seven years ago.

Stop in soon and see the stingrays in their newly renovated home.



Crazy Cats – Bizarre and Interesting Catfish Species for Your Aquarium

Hello everyone, Craig here,  and I have to admit something… I LOVE catfish.  Big and clunky, or little and petite, doesn’t much matter. I just love catfish! We’ve been getting some pretty amazing catfish in lately, and I wanted to just highlight some of the crazy species we see here from time to time.

Hog-nosed BrochisLet me start with Brochis multiradiatus, otherwise known as the Hog-nosed Brochis cat.  Not exactly a Corydoras cat, this larger cousin of the Cory’s has a lot of character. These big fellas are about 4 inches long and they are like vacuum cleaners at the bottom of your aquarium! They are brown to grey with a metallic green overlay, and elongated, pig-like noses. These cats are not as commonly seen as their little cousins the Corydoras. Hog- nosed Brochis cats have always proven to be sturdy and hard working residents in community and semi-aggressive community aquariums.

Spoon-faced whiptailWant something weird? Well, the first time I saw the Spoon-faced Whiptail, I was practically speechless. The bizarre body structure of Planiloricaria cryptodon has to make it one of the strangest looking fish of the catfish in the world. With a head that is flat and round, these guys really do live up to their common moniker of Spoon-faced Cat. To make them even more interesting, they have very long tail filaments that can easily be as long as their bodies. They get rather large, growing up to a little over 8 inches, but they are very effective scavengers. In an aquarium with soft, fine substrate these cats will crawl around the bottom and suck up any left-over foods that might have settled there. Totally strange, but hard working, too.

Next on the list is the Spatula-barbeled Catfish, Phyllonemus typus. These small catfish from Lake Tanganyika are something really special. Their coloration is silky brown with a white belly, and they have long, thin barbels that each end in a flattened, feathery black tip. I can remember seeing these fish in books when I was younger and wondering what they looked like in person… well, I gotta say, they are even more beautiful than in the book, in my opinion.

Perhaps the star of the current list of catfishes we have in stock is the Starlight Bristle-nose Catfish, Ancistrus dolichopterus, or L-183.  A stunning and somewhat new addition to the world of plecos, the Starlight Pleco has Starlight Bristlenose Plecodark coloration with tiny white speckles covering the front half of its body. The edges of its tail and dorsal fin are a bluish-white color. These are highly prized by breeders and collectors. These plecos only attain a size of about 4 inches. I can see how some people are absolute fanatics about this fish.

The selection of catfish in our fish room is constantly changing. These listed above barely even scratch the surface of the interesting and beautiful species available in the market. Anybody out there have a favorite catfish species to tell us about? It is kind of like being able to live out a personal fantasy, being able to order and see these amazing fish every day! If you’re ever interested in these or any other catfish we have available, or if you have any questions we can answer, please feel free to comment below or stop in and take a look for yourself.  

Thanks, Until next time,


Marine Shark Species in the Home Aquarium – A Cause for Careful Consideration

Sharks hold a fascination for everyone, whether they inspire fear or admiration.  They are iconic creatures many of us automatically associate with oceans, reefs, beaches and aquariums.  Though I have to say I am not a supporter of most sharks being placed in home aquariums, the possibility and temptation presents itself too often to be ignored.  Perhaps the best option is to present readers with enough information on some more appropriate species, and to encourage interested parties to research before purchase, so that these beautiful creatures will be kept in captivity more successfully.

In the vast majority of cases, captive sharks are best kept and observed in large, public aquariums, or better yet, left in their native waters to thrive.  Most species are simply too large, too mobile, and too high maintenance for the home aquarist.  If you have a VERY large aquarium, more than adequate filtration, and the financial means to acquire and support them, there are a couple of species that are less demanding that I’d like to introduce.  These species are the most common in the trade, and may be kept successfully with the right care and housing.

Bamboo Sharks, Coral Catsharks, and Epaulettes

Bamboo Sharks (i.e. Banded Catsharks) are probably the most frequently offered type of shark in the aquarium trade.  Several species are seen, they are banded brown and tan, and may have spots when they mature. Those in stores are reasonably priced and are typically sold as young pups. Egg cases are also available, allowing you to observe the embryonic shark as it develops and hatches in captivity (usually in 3-6 months). Pups are about 6 inches long when they emerge.  These sharks are native to the Indo Pacific and have the potential to grow to about 3.5 feet in length.

Coral Catsharks are a little less frequent, but they have very attractive black, tan and white patterns.  They are true tropical reef sharks, and grow to just under 30 inches in length.  They are quite docile, but should not be underestimated.

Epaulette SharkEpaulettes are very attractive, too, but they are not seen often in the trade.  These sharks are also tropical, collected from Australia and the surrounding region.  They are usually pale brown in color with dark spots all over and an ocellated black spot just behind the gills.  They reach a size of a little over 3 feet and are usually more expensive that cat or bamboo sharks.

Horn Sharks

Horn Sharks are another common type imported for sale.  Also known as bullhead or pig head sharks, these have stout bodies, a short, blunt head, with ridges over the eyes, and a prominent spine on the front of each dorsal fin.  Most often California or Mexican Horn sharks (and once in a while Port Jackson Horn Sharks from Australia) are found in pet stores.  These sharks grow to about 3.5 feet at maturity.  They are found along sandy bottoms and in kelp beds along the western coast of California and Mexico to Central America. These sharks prefer cooler water than those above (a chiller may be required), and they tend to excavate rock and substrate. 

We have 2 resident Horn Sharks here in our Touch Tank.  They spend most of their time under the rock formations in the center of the tank, but become quick and active when they smell food.  With the cooler temps, large volume and heavy filtration in the display they have grown quite fat and happy.  We’ve even found several spiral-shaped egg cases in the past couple of years!  These sharks are quite docile, with a mouth full of teeth designed to crush more than to tear. 

To Be Avoided

Several other species are seen from time to time including Wobbegongs, Dogfish, Nurse Sharks, and other even less appropriate species.  These should not, in my opinion, be offered or purchased for home aquariums  due to their large potential size, and/or special requirements.

Keeping Sharks

Shark Egg CasesSharks and egg cases should NOT be placed in tanks of less than 180 gallons (preferably larger), and the tank should be well-established. Despite their small purchase size and relatively sedentary behavior, they grow quickly and need space to move freely and turn.  The larger the tank the better (think about 3 times or more the length of the sharks adult size), furnished with some minimal rock piles and a cave where the fish can retreat and rest.  You’ll also want to supply ample flow and filtration as well as a good protein skimmer.  Even if you feel that the tank you already have may be large enough for the baby shark, or that you’ll have time to upgrade to a larger tank when necessary, it would be best to have an established tank of adequate size and function before considering a shark.

These fish will prefer their salinity on the higher side to mimic sea water, and keep it constant.  They will require regular water changes to keep their conditions pristine.  A varied diet of meaty foods should be supplied, including but not limited to shrimp, clam, krill, squid, silversides, and others (fresh or frozen, not live).  These fish can be fed 2-3 times each week, but be careful not to over feed for the sake of the shark and the water quality.  Hand feeding should be avoided to prevent accidental bites (don’t underestimate their speed or agility!).  Other fish may be housed with these sharks, as long as they are of adequate size, but be observant as some fish tend to be notorious harassers of sharks. Bottom dwellers and invertebrates like crabs, shrimp, and urchins should be avoided as they may become casual meals.  Also be aware that sharks have acute sensitivity to metals and chemicals in medications, so if a problem arises, thorough research should be performed before adding any treatment to the tank.

When you’re ready and you have carefully considered purchasing a shark, look for healthy, well-adjusted specimens that are feeding well and are not emaciated.  Avoid sharks with visible parasites or that look sunken (though newly hatched pups take a little while to fatten up).  With the right care and set-up they can be interesting and long-lived pets. 

Thanks for reading, and please let us know if you have any comments or questions about sharks for a home aquarium.

Until next time,


Shark egg cases image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jean from flickr by falashad
Epaulette Shark image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted from flickr by Jim Capaldi

The Importance of Fish and Other Sea Life in Medical Research

It has been a long-understood fact that the tranquility of aquariums has been known to help relieve stress and lower heartrate and blood pressure in some. As the biomedical field continues to grow and become more important to advancements in health care, the methods and options used by research also continue to expand. During this expansion, aquatic and marine organisms are becoming important in making advancements towards the health of all of us. Some of the fish and invertebrates you have in your home aquariums may someday help to save your life. Here are just a few of the organisms researchers have turned to:

Zebra Danio (Danio rerio): This fish is one of the most widely-used by researchers. They have Zebra Daniobecome model organisms used for genetics research, neurological and other medical research, environmental studies and even organ and tissue regeneration. Specific genes have even been identified in different color pattern mutations. One of the most brightly-colored community aquarium fish, the popular Glo-fish, is a variation of the Zebra Danio that was original spliced with jellyfish DNA to create a fluorescent fish used to detect pollution and toxins. Zebra Danios are even on the very short list of animals that have made a trip into space!

Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus): TheHorseshoe Crab Horseshoe Crab is right next to the Zebra Danio in terms of the number of studies it participates in. They have compound eyes that have become important in vision research and a substance found in their blood known as Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) can help researchers detect bacteria and pathogens in medications and human tissue. LAL is collected in much the same way a person donates blood and the crabs can be released after collection. You can read all about them here.

Mussels: Mussels, the clam-like bivalves popular in aquariums and seafood restaurants alike, are already helping to heal wounds and have established their staying power in the medical field with their…well, staying power. Mussels used very thin filaments known as “byssal threads” to attach to hard surfaces. The adhesive that they use to attach themselves to surfaces is similar to the “Krazy Glue” and superglues that we all use to piece together broken mugs at home, but is much more effective in the salty, wet environments where the bivalves live. This adhesives is also extremely strong but still flexible. Researchers at companies like Johnson and Johnson have developed glues from the byssal thread compounds (warning: some graphic surgical images) that help to seal wounds and reattach bone fragments without the use of foreign materials like stitches and sutures.

Mantis Shrimp: This notorious group of invertebrates has earned a bad reputation in the aquarium industry as Mantis Shrimpthe secretive live rock hitchhikers known to pick off tankmates or even break aquarium glass, all while earning a following with a select few as an original showpiece. Among researchers, their powerful strikes and extremely complex eyes have made them the subject of many studies. The strike of a mantis shrimp is one of the most powerful and fastest strikes in relations to their size and researchers have studied their mechanics to discover how this power is possible. The eyes of the mantis shrimp can convert polarized light wavelengths and function over almost the entire light spectrum from infrared to ultraviolet, a feat our own eyes can’t even come close to. Their ability to convert and filter light across this spectrum has led researchers to look at mantis shrimp as the next step in optical devices like CD and DVD systems. While most of the research on mantis shrimp still seems to be focused on the “how’s”, it is only a matter of time before scientists discover how we can use what the mantis shrimp teach us.

Platies and Swordtails (Xiphophorus sp.): These two groups of livebearers are very popular, bright little community fish but recent research has given them a much more profound meaning. These livebearers are some of the first subjects to prove that some cancers like certain melanomas are actually hereditary and can be passed to offspring. Some of the dark pigment cells in these fish have been known to multiply out of control and form cancerous tumors. Remarkably, some of these fish can actually continue to live and thrive even with these tumors – and they can reproduce and pass this condition on to their young. While some forms like the popular Mickey Mouse Platies can form melanomas in the spots by their tails, it is more apparent in fish with a lot of black in their coloration. Scientists are working to understand how this condition is passed and how the fish can continue to live with it.

Corals: In addition to providing some color to the Zebra Danios already mentioned, some corals are giving Capnella sp.biomedical scientists some inspiration in designing medications. Scientists have recently discovered capnellene, a compound found in a species of soft corals that can be used as a painkiller and may provide relief to those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis and other neurological conditions. Some of the same fluorescent proteins used to color Glo-fish are also being applied to some cancerous cells, allowing researchers to much more easily track their spread.

This is just a small sampling of how animals that have long been popular in the aquarium trade are being used to improve health and medications for all of us. As we as aquarists work to keep our own aquariums alive and healthy, those same fish and invertebrates may be working to save our lives as well.

Thanks for reading,