The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

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I noticed the F0 White Stripe PNG Maroon Clown pair acting oddly back on 2/16/2014.  Upon closer examination, I discovered this small nest…they’re second, spawned on the back of a large diameter PVC section.  Of course, disturbing the next allowed the Declevis Butterflyfish they live with to eat it….figures.  I’m thinking about removing all the PVC in the tank so I can force the pair to spawn on tiles.

S&R-Morse-Code-Maroon Clownfish-Group First posted at Reef Builders on February 3rd, 2014.

Sea & Reef Aquaculture announced the release of their new PNG-lineage “Morse Code” Maroon Clownfish, Premnas biaculeatus. Lovers of the Lightning Maroon Clownfish, or for that matter any of the unusual Maroon Clownfish that came out of Papua New Guinea (PNG) from SEASMART or the later EcoAquariums PNG, will recognize these distinctive looking Maroon Clownfish.  There’s more to the story of course.

continue reading…

I have two posts besides this one I need to make…life has just been hectic as usual. They’ll come.

First, Spawn #24 has been laid.  Sadly, it wasn’t a Valentine’s spawn, it was laid on February 13th, 2014.

Following my extensive water testing of larval tanks to see what the heck was going on, I made the decision to transfer the 5 remaining survivors from Spawn #21 into a tank filled with clean, new but aged saltwater, in another BRT.  So I started that BRT fresh, made sure salinity matched, then moved 2 fish to test it (remember, these fish were in water with apparently very high Nitrite and Ammonia levels according to tests)  When they survived overnight, I moved the remaining 3 (If memory serves correctly there are 3 Lightnings and 2 White Stripes in the mix).  I then turned them onto the larvar rearing system.  No deaths.

Given my role as a Sr. Editor for CORAL Magazine, I’m privy to magazine content sometimes before it is published.  This week I got to review an extremely exciting article I had played a hand in soliciting some months back, and while I can’t give much away, I will say this before I forget.  It is obviously a breeding article, and one of the techniques brought up is that of simply routinely moving fish out of one larval rearing vessel to another as a technique to maintain premium water quality…perhaps easier than doing 99% water changes, and I presume it has other benefits (such as “escaping” the biofilm that develops on a rearing vessel).  I may have to try this technique…whether my problems are due to persistently deteriorating water quality or the development of pathogenic bacteria (eg. Vibrio), this methodology might side step those problems completely.   So be sure to pick up the March/April 2014 issue of CORAL Magazine to see who brought this idea up and in what context…if you’re even remotely interested in fish breeding, this is going to be a knockout issue for you.

Pull too early and have problems…wait to the 7th night, and miss the hatch.  Sometime between 3:30 PM and 8:00 PM today the rather full looking Lightning Maroon Clownfish nest must have hatched in their tank, under full light no less.  Either that or their parents ate them.

This isn’t the first time this has happened; I should’ve listened to my gut and set them up last night, not tonight.  Then again, my rearing protocols need reexamination and my rotifer cultures need the time to recuperate.

Spawn #22 – all dead

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They were alive this morning, but come nightfall all were dead.  The ammonia alert badge hasn’t said a peep, and is still relatively new and shouldn’t be having any issues.  Granted, it is testing for free ammonia, whereas my liquid test is testing total ammonia.

I test the water, and once again I’m confronted with atrocious readings that could more than explain the problem.  pH 8.0, Ammonia 0.5 ppm, Nitrite 5 ppm, Nitrates 20 ppm.  But I just did a large scale water change (roughly 70%), and the fish had gone through that unscathed.  So is this a reading of the “aftermath”, or is there something more sinister at play?

This time, I happen to have both the water I removed from the tank 24 hours ago, as well as some leftover water from the new water I was trickling in.  Both are tested….

The old water – ph 8.0, Ammonia 2 ppm, Nitrite  5 ppm (so it’s quite possibly off the scale in both tests), Nitrates 10 ppm?  I don’t know how the older water had lower nitrates than the tank after water change, unless that is in fact massive rapid conversion into Nitrate in the main tank from all the die off.  Just doesn’t seem right though.

Tested the makeup water, 8.0, no ammonia, nitrite or nitrate.  The RO/DI water is ph of 7.0, otherwise the same.

The most interesting part – Spawn #21, which was a weak run from the get go, still has about 4-6 fish hanging on.  Tested their water?  Nitrites off the scale once again.

My working theory is this – I may have dropped the salinity during the water change, and as a result, removed the “protection” afforded by higher salinities against nitrite poisoning.  That’s the best guess I have at the moment.

 

Did a big 50% water change, Rotifer cultures failing due to too much harvest, lots of losses due to settlement issues presumably due to insufficient rotifers.  Nevertheless, a sizeable group of Lightning Maroon offspring is undergoing settelement starting tonight; first headstripes seen.  They’ve been getting TDO A1 for the last couple days…I hope they’re all transitioning over to it now.

Just went downstairs…all but one offspring in Spawn #20 is dead on the bottom.  !#%!#!!@!!

Water test shows completely off the wall parameters…eg. Nitrite at 5 PPM, Ammonia at 0.5 ppm, Nitrate at 40 ppm?!.  Now, whether that’s all the dead fish in the tank, or if that’s the cause, I’m not sure, but I’m thinking cause vs. effect…this must have snuck up on me this week and must have built up rather suddenly.

Since this type of loss has happened so many times now at this stage, I’m admittedly baffled because water quality hasn’t been a problem in prior losses, and yet they all have occurred around this same timeline, so I must be doing something horribly wrong, and water changes should have been keeping this under control (remember, this group got a near 100% water change earlier this week!).  Only 5 days to go from perfect parameter new water to the above?  I’m shocked.  The bioload and feedings simply don’t add up. I’d say I was overfeeding, but I can’t see how that’s the case.  In the past, at this point in time, I’ve normally put the fish onto the system only to watch them all die immediately after.

Looks like I must reevaluate my methods yet again.  Talk about frustrating.

Update – so I’ve been sitting her mulling this over, and here’s the things I recently did – #1 Fed them Brine Nauplii last night.  That seems to be a recurrent theme…feed the babies brine nauplii, have dead babies… #2. I did top off last night.  Is my RO/DI water contaminated? Time to test it…

Just a quick note that Lightning Maroon pair put down their 23rd nest yesterday afternoon.  Spawn #23 was laid 1/31/2014.

It’s been a busy January here, with my trip to Cleveland to give some well-received talks at C-SEA followed by a grueling week of fishroom preparation in advance of Reef Builder’s world-reknowned Jake Adams dropping by for a surprise visit and a bit of Q&A at the Lake Superior Marine Aquarium Club’s winter / holiday / new year bash. Of course, the Lightning Maroon breeding and rearing doesn’t stop because life gets in the way, but you better believe the online posts can sometimes drop in priority!

Spawn #20 has progressed, but not without hiccups. You may recall I split this batch between the 10 gallon tank and a 15 gallon BRT (black round tub), earlier this month. This proved to be a wise move. More on that in a second, but I found it extremely interesting to note that the larvae which were moved to the BRT under 24 hour light grew faster and underwent metamorphosis sooner…3-4 days sooner, than the ones left in the 10 gallon tank (which by default gets around an 8 hour dark period).  Just before my trip to Cleveland, I took this shot of the babies in the BRT:

Spawn #20 in the BRT, post metamorphosis, already easily discernable as white stripes or lightnings.

Spawn #20 in the BRT, post metamorphosis, already easily discernable as white stripes or lightnings.

During my time at C-SEA, my good friend and fellow clownfish breeder Mike Doty (you may recall he helped hatch and rear the very first Lightnings) was keeping an eye on the fishroom. For no reason, somewhere around the 17th or so, the babies in the 10 gallon just died. Mike can’t explain it, I can’t explain it. We’ve seen this happen before.

Meanwhile the ones in the BRT fared better, but there still have been losses. During one of Mike’s stop overs, he found 7 dead.  This photograph from 1-27-2014:

Lightning Maroon Clownfish Spawn #20 at 1/27/2014

Lightning Maroon Clownfish Spawn #20 at 1/27/2014

Most recently, on the 28th I started a water change, which normally is done with a very slow siphon into a 5 gallon bucket, the intake being placed so that it won’t drain the tank completely. Well…I didn’t have it really clamped down, and so it drained the BRT ompletely. Those babies which were still in a couple mm of water survived the 99.9% water change, but those that were in shallower water – damp, but not submerged – were dead. 21 lost totally due to a preventable accident. The upside is that the fish took a very traumatic, near 100% water change, and yet survived.

Victims of a water change gone awry.  Totally my fault.  Very frustrated over it, but moving on...

Victims of a water change gone awry. Totally my fault. Very frustrated over it, but moving on…

I’m guesstimating another 20-30 still alive. Either way, that shows you the losses through attrition that happen as these fish grow up – I stocked the BRT with 140 larvae.

Spawn #21 – I left Spawn #21 more or less in the hands of Mike to hatch…a handful of offspring had hatched out on the morning of the 17th (pulling the nest on the 16th was 7 days post spawn), and later that afternoon I had to depart for Cleveland. Unfortunately, the tile fell overnight, so come the 18th, instead of Mike finding a bunch of larvae hatched out, he came over to find a dead nest.

The few offspring that did make it from Spawn #21 underwent metamorphosis during Jake’s visit; it was pretty clear to see which were lightnings vs. not by Saturday night (the 25th)….this seems to be a pretty fast time to metamorphosis.  My headcount on offspring from this batch is somewhere around 4-6 post settlement…another very small run.  This photo also from 1/27/2014:

A couple of the survivors in Spawn #21, photographed 1/27/2014

A couple of the survivors in Spawn #21, photographed 1/27/2014

Spawn #22 – on the afternoon of 1/20/2014, the 22nd clutch of eggs was put down by the Lightning Maroon and her mate. Paying a close attention to things, I knew I could be pulling them as early as 6 days post spawn…so 21,22,23,24,24, evening of the 26th being 6 days on. Well, I took a gamble, left a little more ambient room light falling on the eggs, and found that on the morning of the 27th, we still had a nice, solid nest. Come the evening of the 27th, I pulled the tile along with 5 gallons of broodstock water and 5 gallons of new saltwater, and set them up with a wooden airstone incubation. I used a second tile to prevent the tile from falling, as well as to help weigh down and position the wooden airstone under the eggs. (I found my wooden airstones from eBay seller hoolko, who happened to be mentioned on Reef Builders a while back).

Spawn #22 set up and ready for hatching in a 10 gallon tank.

Spawn #22 set up and ready for hatching in a 10 gallon tank.  Note the larvae already hatched!

Within minutes of transferring the nest, I had a few larvae hatch, still in full light.

Newly hatched Lightning Maroon Clownfish offspring swims next to the Seachem Ammonia Alert Badge....

Newly hatched Lightning Maroon Clownfish offspring swims next to the Seachem Ammonia Alert Badge….

I left things go, not feeding or anything else. By the morning of January 28th, I had a few dozen larvae in the tank, but the bulk of the eggs remained unhatched. I weighed my options a bit, and ultimately decided to introduce some rotifers (about 2 gallons worth) but refrained from adding any phytoplantkon. I thought maybe I’d have more hatches later in the day, but come nightfall, nothing had happened. Would this be a botched hatch?

Apparently yes and no. This morning (the 29th) several hundred larvae were present in the tank, but many many more dead eggs were on the bottom. Most of the larvae held tightly to the black back wall of the 10 gallon tank.

Spawn #22 after the large hatch, before cleanup.

Spawn #22 after the large hatch, before cleanup.

I took the opportunity to first siphon off all the dead eggs (and dead larvae) on the bottom before tinting the tank with 50 drops of RotiGreen Omega.

Spawn #22 after cleaning up the larval tank.

Spawn #22 after cleaning up the larval tank.

I gave the rotifers their morning feeding of RotiGrow Plus, and later this evening they’ll get the next infusion of rotifers. I’m thinking I will once again work on a system of water changes, lowering salinity, and 24 hour lighting, to grow this batch, and as I discovered, I will once again at minimum split the batch early on.

The Holdback F1 Lightning Maroon Clownfish Pair

So I finally pulled the trigger on pairing up my holdbacks.  The Ecoxotic cube had been up and running for a while with a single holdback Lightning in it, so I swapped the fish and simply added in my Lightnings as a pair (they had formerly been neighbors, side by side) on 1/21/2014.

Initially, things went very well.  Here’s some video the day after, 1/22/2014.

Unfortunately, things didn’t continue down this blissful path.  A few days later, the larger fish turned on the smaller fish, damaging a few fins and forcing me to segregate the fish around 1/25/2014.  Currently, it is the larger, “future female” Lightning Maroon who resides in a drilled specimen cup.

Future pair of F1 Lightning Maroon Clownfish

Future pair of F1 Lightning Maroon Clownfish

The Holdback White Stripe Maroon F1 Pair

I should mention that somewhere in January I shuffled some fish around and introduced my two F1 PNG White Stripe holdbacks to each other as well.  The pairing has gone so-so.  They are not paired, but they continue to share their tank, the smaller fish cowering in a protected area but not otherwise excessively abused.  I’ll try to snag some photos at some point.  This will be a very important pairing to breed, as it will help definitively answer the question as to whether the “white stripe” siblings carry any special genetics (and it will prove or disprove the presence of a recessive Lightning gene).

It’s the morning of January 13th, 2014; time to play a little catch-up.

Back on January 9th, I split the larvae from Spawn #20 from one 10 gallon tank into the 10, plus a 15 gallon BRT on my larviculture racks. When I did the split, I took the opportunity to take a photograph of the babies I moved to the BRT (Black Round Tub). I finally took a moment to do a headcount this morning. First, the unedited shot:

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Now, since I scooped all this water out by hand into a clean 5 gallon bucket, in theory EVERY little smudge / smear / blurry little dark spot *should* be a baby clownfish. Remember, you have to keep in mind that the depth of field was pretty narrow on this shot – babies at the bottom of the bucket, or even just a few inches deep, were not captured in-focus. So the headcount is an estimate at best, and I’m going to say it’s probably high, and if it is, it’s high by 20 or so fish, ballparked.

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So my rough headcount puts it at 140 babies moving into the BRT. What I don’t know is how many were left behind in the 10 gallon tank!

On Friday, January 10th, the larvae got their first small taste of TDO A. This has been added to the diet daily since then, and they’ve taken to it well. By Sunday evening, 1/12/2014, I noticed the first little whitish-blue spots on the tops of the heads of a few babies, which means only one thing. Metamorphosis has started.

I’ve been sticking with the water changes…they might not get done every day, but they get done at least every other day.

That’s the story of Spawn #20 for now. It could be a very productive run if things go well.

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