The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

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Testing the waters….

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It’s been a while now and things are going well in the new Ecoxotic tank.  Between our son getting sick, me watching him because of it, and somehow still pulling more than a full work week, and then getting sick myself, I’ve been distracted from the project so being “patient” was easy.

I gave the water a test on Saturday morning, February 12th, 2011.  pH = 8.1, Free and Total Ammonia 0 ppm, Nitrite and Nitrate 0 ppm, and total alkalinity was at 1.5 meq/L.  Hit it with a dose of C-Balance two-part which brought the alkalinity up to 2 meq/L.  Still low, but easily fixable.  Having a little free time, it was time to call in some payment on the last 4 juvenile Black Ocellaris I had traded to Morgan at Cosmic Aquatics.  The trade of course, was for my seed corals  – “one frag of each kind of Birdsnest you have”.

In some cases, “frag” meant 4″ colony in Morgan’s mind.  I returned from my trip to Superior WI with a full on colony of a Green with Purple Polyps and Pink Tips Seriatopora histrix, as well as a several inch branch of  Pink with Purple Polyp version of the species.  I also brought back 1 small and 1 larger fresh frag of “Sour Apple” Birdsnest, Seriatopora caliendrum.  My fourth birdsnest, ironically, was a piece of a Birdsnest I had given to Morgan when he opened up his shop; my Iowa Ponape Birdsnest, which is currently considered S. hystrix but at least one author has mused it might be something else (like Seriatopora dentritica).  I chuckle because I think I’ve given pieces of it to several people in the Duluth area and yet I no longer had it myself.

Still on my “wishlist” for Birdsnests are an actual hot pink with white growing needle-tips S. hystrix.  I know they’re out there, I owned one for a couple years, but lately, most hot pink birdsnests I’ve seen around are dirty brown-pink.  I’ll also set aside a spot for the classic ORA Green form of S. caliendrum – it’s a stunning coral when grown out.

The coral fun doesn’t stop there, because I also traded some spare stuff for a Tricolor Clavularia and “Hulk” Green Clavularia.  These large and colorful clove polyp varieties are some of my favorites, and they were placed in lower light areas where I hope they’ll do well.  I’ve had both in the past, but killed both off with my normal “high nitrates” due to many breeding fish all being stuffed with food.

All of the corals were dipped with Seachem’s Reef Dip before being placed into the tank.   I was surprised to see that some small feather dusters that were growing at the base of a Birdsnest made it through the dip unscathed.  I know the naysayers will say this has NOTHING to do with the breeding project and yup..they’re right.  It has everything to do with keeping my wife happy though – for the first time since I set it up, she said it was starting to look “better”.   That’s definitely a step in the right direction…best thing I could hope for when I wanted to bring the Lightning Maroon up from the basement to live with us on the first floor.

So first, here’s some shots of the tank as set up Saturday evening.  Note that I’m playing with camera settings and Photoshop corrections to get real-looking images.  I’ve found that photographing this tank when lit up is difficult, primarily due to all the different light coming from the room, outside (if during the day), with or without onboard flash (I have a remote flash somewhere stashed away…probably should break that out).   Any shots without Flash, but otherwise automatic settings on the D5000, wind up being very purple-hued, which I’ve tried to handle in Photoshop for the time being.

Ecoxotic Reef Progress - 2-12-2011

Ecoxotic Reef Progress - 2-12-2011

Ecoxotic Reef Progress - 2-12-2011

Ecoxotic Reef Progress - 2-12-2011

The other interesting thing I picked up from Morgan was a half dozen Stomatella sp. snails, probably Stomatella varia.  These small snails are actually closely related to the Trochus, Astrea and Turbo snails we’re all familiar with.  Stomatellas have this nice habit of readily reproducing in the aquarium environment without any special care or intervention, provided of course that there aren’t predators that would eat them.  They stay small and are nocturnal, which means they can get into small crevices and places larger cleanup crews can’t, all the while staying out of the way during the day when you dont’ want to be looking at 50 snails on your front glass.  These made the perfect third snail species addition to my sustainable, all captive-bred cleanup crew.

Stomatella sp. - 2-12-2011

Stomatella sp. - 2-12-2011

So that’s what I did on Saturday.  I’ve been watching the water quality and dosing with C-Balance.  It looks like I might have a very slight level of Nitrite, so I haven’t pulled the trigger on the clownfish swap just yet.  As last week was my birthday week, I also treated myself with just a wee-bit of my birthday cash to some additional frags that arrived today, Tuesday, 2-15-2011.  More on those in a little bit.

So this afternoon, something rather unexpected happened.  The Labrador Maroon’s ovipositor was down.  I’ve NEVER seen it down before.  It is still down hours later tonight.

Labrador Maroon with ovipositor extended

Labrador Maroon with ovipositor extended

Labrador Maroon with ovipositor extended - closeup

Labrador Maroon with ovipositor extended - closeup

So the big question – what now?  Of course, it did occur to me that I could introduce the Lightning Maroon to see if I could get a spawn.  But that’s risky in the new tank, and also risky if the Labrador turns on the Lightning.  I also thought I could add in the “spare” PNG Maroon Male.  I’m still seriously considering that.  The Labrador Maroon is clearly squared off and ready to spawn…she just needs a mate it would seem.  I’m hesitant to risk the spare PNG Male, and kinda the same with the Lightning Maroon.  So if this continues, the male from a breeding pair of White Stripes I got from Greg may get called into action tomorrow.  I’ll have to keep a close eye on things, but the male used to spawn (just hasn’t since I moved them here).

Why this couldn’t have happened at any point in the last 8 months or so when the Lightning was there is beyond me!  I sent the following email to many of the most talented marine fish breeders I know, and hopefully we’ll get some interesting comments:

Hey guys, you’re all on this email because you have easily more experience breeding clownfish than myself and I truly respect your opinions and insights.

As you all may know, the Lightning Maroon breeding project has been on “semi-hold” for months, the Lightning restricted to a large egg crate cage, with a very large generic White Stripe, the “Labrador” Maroon, being the mate.  They’ve been allowed to interact once and it seemed to go OK, but other tankmates (Pygmy Angels) caused problems and didn’t have another tank to go to.  As Joe and myself can testify, a little egg crate never stopped fish sperm.  But I never saw any pre-spawn behavior on the part of the Labrador Maroon, only incessent digging.  I’d been in this semi-holding pattern largely because I was waiting for a PNG Maroon female from SEASMART, but this scheme offered the possibility of getting a spawn with the Labrador while waiting for a Fishermen’s Island PNG female.

With PNG being shut down for months, I realize now I was waiting on something that had no realistic chance of becoming reality.  Thus, once I learned I was limited to what I had, I made the call for the Lighting to become a female. Last week I split up the pair, moving the Labrador into the newly set up Ecoxotic tank for cycling.  Today, for the first time since I’ve had it, the Labrador Maroon showed up squared off, ovipositor extended, and NO MATE.

Really what this boils down to is a very fundamental question.  Do I introduce the Lightning Maroon to this newly set up tank in the hopes of getting a spawn with the generic white stripe Lab, or do I not take the risk and move ahead with my plans to turn the Lightning into a female by pairing it with the actively spawning Male PNG Maroon currently paried with a large female gold stripe?

Am I reading too much into the female’s apparent “ripeness”?  Have you seen this happen where a lone female goes into spawning condition?

I expect you will all have different answers, and I welcome them.  If you could, please post them as comments on the blog entry so everyone can benefit from them!

Thanks a ton for your input and ideas!


With sustainability at the forefront of this project, the moment I saw this in my tank I knew I was ready for the next step.  Tuesday, I decided to tackle this:

The first dusting of brown algae appears on the substrate.

The first dusting of brown algae appears on the substrate.

I didn’t go rushing out for a couple dozen Astrea snails or Dwarf Blue Legged Hermits from Florida.  No, I opted to look at my own tanks and there’s some interesting things going on.

For years now, I’ve had these little limpets.  These tiny algae eating snails never seem to get algae growing on themselves, and they happily reproduce in my tanks.  They don’t seem to get out of control, nor do they get very large.  That makes them great for cleaning every little crevice.

Captive Bred Limpets

Captive Bred Limpets

When visiting Colorado last year for Reef Ed by MASC, I got to see Joe Thompson and Andrew Berry, two marine breeders (both MBI Council members) who introduced me to the spineless side of breeding – inverts!  Andy and Joe each gave me their speciality.  Joe’s snails I think are all gone, but Andy’s RSF Collumbelid snails, which may or may not be the same as the Indo Pacific Sea Farms “Strombus Grazers”.  Regardless, these great little snails readily reproduce in the aquarium, laying small egg cases which hatch out little baby snails!

Captive-Bred RSF Columbellid Snails!

So I’m obviously being careful about WHERE things come from too.  The Limpets came from the tank that houses the future mate of the Lightning Maroon.  The Columbelid snails came from a 10 gallon tank that hasn’t seen any new fish in maybe 6 months.  In addition to these snails, I also harvested about a dozen Amphipods from the refugium on my larviculture system.  They were rinsed in clean saltwater and then removed and introduced by hand.

Captive Bred Cleanup Crew wastes no time getting to work!

When I talk about breeding marine fish, I talk about preserving the future of our hobby given what I perceive as the inevitable loss of wild caught sources for our fish sometime in this century.  What we don’t often think about are things less sexy – the snails, hermit crabs, and other organisms that help our reef tanks function properly.  While this “starter crew” is not nearly enough to keep the tank free of algae, they will contribute to a hopefully self-sustaining population of cleanup critters that will readily reproduce in the tank.  In theory, I shouldn’t have to revitalize my cleanup crew in a year when half of them have died off (as you would with things that don’t reproduce so readily).

There will be another captive-bred introduction in a few weeks time.  I won a gift certificate to Aloha Corals, and it just so happens that Aloha Corals breeds and rears the Hawaiian Turbo Snail.  So, after going through QT, these guys will get added too!  If I can get my hands on some of the RSF Nassarius that I got from Joe earlier, and maybe some Stomatellas, I’ll hopefully have a 100% captive-bred snail crew to handle all the cleanup needs of this tank.  It’s truly exciting to think about how this may impact the future of our hobby.

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