The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts in Updates On 3rd Party Fish

Last week was a flurry of clownfish sex.  March 4th, at 7 AM, I got a text image of the Lightning Maroon clownfish pair on display at the Great Lakes Aquarium; a small next was on the tank wall (I’m guessing laid on March 3rd?). This wasn’t the first spawn out of the pair; another had been seen, and evidence of prior spawns was also observable when the first spawn was discovered.

Mike Doty’s pair ALSO spawned; he shot me a text just a few hours later (10:30 AM) on March 4th as well.  I’m guessing they too spawned on the 3rd.  On the evening of March 5th, I found that the Nebula percula pair in my basement had spawned, and Friday, March 6th, the recently reunited Lightning X Lightning pair had thrown down their first nest as well; it’s a tiny nest, but it is viable.

It’s interesting how much of this breeding activity centered around the full moon.


Surprised to hear that tonight, Mike Doty’s pair of Lightning Maroon Clownfish had thrown down eggs. This is one of the freely distributed “genetic repository” pairs I placed locally, just in case anything ever happened here at home.


The female Lightning Maroon, MD1, and male Morse Code Maroon, MD2, represent the first F1 sibling pair that I am aware of which should replicate the pairing of their parents. We already know of the results Soren Hansen had when pairing an F1 Lightning Maroon Clownfish with a wild White Stripe Maroon; I expect that Mike will see a 50/50 White Stripe/Lightning spread in the F2 generation from Mike’s parents.


The Lightning Maroon Clownfish at the Great Lakes Aquarium enjoy a brief feature on the homepage of the Duluth News Tribune on the morning of Sept. 7, 2014

The Lightning Maroon Clownfish at the Great Lakes Aquarium enjoy a brief feature on the homepage of the Duluth News Tribune on the morning of Sept. 7, 2014

The Lightning Maroon Clownfish offspring (GL1 and GL2) I donated to the Great Lakes Aquarium in 2013, are now officially on display.


GL1, the lower fish, foreground, carries the Lightning gene; it’s whit striped mate, above, does not.

Late on Saturday evening, one of my FISHING friends (not to be confused with FISH friends) posted on Facebook that the official story had run online; this Saturday, September 7th, 2014, the Duluth News Tribune is running a story by Alysee Shelton about the Lightning Maroon Clownfish and its mate, which are now on display at the Great Lakes Aquarium here in Duluth, MN. You can ready the story online here for the next coupld days - - Now, I should point out that the article isn’t 100% accurate. As you all know, I like to indulge in a bit of mythbusting (aka. Fact Correcting) here at the Lightning Project…the Duluth News Tribune will “suffer my wrath” (meant very tongue in cheek, affectionately), receiving a healthy dose of disambiguation just like everyone else.

For starters, the fish were actually delivered to the GLA on August 2nd, 2013, which means they were behind the scenes for just over a year before being put on display, not the “6 months” the article mentions. The year behind the scenes is perfectly understandable given that aquarists were VERY busy with the new “Shipwrecks Alive” exhibit that was being put in place in the rotating exhibit hall to replace the “Masters of Disguise” exhibit, which was the replacement for the “Seahorses” exhibits I never got to see…but there’s another reason which I’ll cover in a second.


I would remind readers that while this article suggests that “[SEASMART] decided to send that fish to Matt Pedersen, an international marine aquarium fish breeder in Duluth.”, that it was actually a) Blue Zoo Aquatics who had the final say in whether I would receive the fish (although my understanding is that all parties felt it was a good move) and b) they didn’t just “send” me the fish…yes, the rumors still persist that I was just “given” the Lightning Maroon!

Jay Walker is a great guy and Operations Manager at the aquarium; I LOVE that QUARANTINE, a practice that too many aquarists skimp on, was mentioned at great lengths in this media coverage and attributed to Walker.  To pull a shortened version of Walker’s comments, “quarantine lasts for a minimum of 30 days, and within this time we do prophylactic treatments for diseases, developing husbandry practices and observations. This process can last for more than 30 days depending on the situation.”  I wish to just elaborate here, that in the case of the Lighting Maroon Clownfish and its normally patterned mate, a BIG part of the actually year-long “quarantine” was the process of size-differentiation leading into successful pairing (“Mating” as the Duluth News Tribune called it in reference to when I first paired the wild fish here in my dining room…and no, not pairing with wine…).  Yes, the GLA didn’t try to accomplish pairing these sibling fish in just a month or two…


Shelton’s article also glosses over the actuality of numbers a bit, but that’s more due to the brevity of the piece and a word we’re all forced to deal with.  For example, “produced their offspring, classified as lightning maroon clownfish, on June 29, 2012.” As most Lightning Project followers already now, only about 50% of the offspring wind up displaying the mutated phenotype (appearance) and therefore, only about half of them are actually “Lightning” Maroon Clownfish.  I should mention this because one of my worst fears is that someone picks up this story and starts talking about the fish as if they are a NEW SPECIES (which they are certainly NOT). I will also point out a subtle fact that cannot be discerned from the article as written – the GLA only has one Lightning Maroon Clownfish; it is paired with a White Stripe (Normal) sibling. When you get caught up using a word like fish (same when singular or plural) I realized, as I read this piece, that you never can really tell whether you are talking about one, two, or for that matter dozens/hundreds/thousands.

The article went on to state that “Great Lake Aquarium officials believe they are the first aquarium in the world to have these fish.” – I’ll emphatically say that “believe” suggests perhaps more room for doubt than is actually there. When it comes to “firsts” – and for a small public aquarium like the Great Lakes Aquarium, firsts DO matter – I am reasonably confident that they were the first public aquarium to have possession of a Lightning Maroon Clownfish (I could go back and check my records just to be 100% sure). Regardless of that, to the best of my knowledge, I am very confident that they can rightfully claim to have been the first and (to date) only public aquarium in the world to have this unique form on public display. I can say this with reasonable certainty given that I know where all the Lightning Maroons in my fishroom have gone…so unless someone “changed their minds”, I would presume that the Lightning Maroons that were sold in 2013 and 2014 are still in the same breeding programs they were when originally purchased…and not on public display.  Will other aquariums in the future display a Lightning Maroon Clownfish? Perhaps…but I am proud that the GLA stands apart in the world, at least for now.


I am truly delighted that the fish are on display, in the capable hands of the aquarists at the GLA. And yes, anyone who feels the current retail pricing is just too much to spend on a fish, you can now see one for the price of admission at a unique public aquarium on the shores of St. Louis Bay on Lake Superior. My special thanks for Alysee Shelton for taking the time to craft her article for the Duluth News Tribune – in a few hours I hope to see it in print!

It’s taken over 24 hours of work, but the website has been updated with new photos of many Lightning and White Stripe Maroon Clownfish. 5 new fish have been added to the inventory as well! I’m not going to post every last new photo in a blog post. Instead, you can follow the links to any particular page you’re interested in.

First, we have a great update on Mike Doty’s pair, MD1 and MD2 – I took the photos back in February but only now have them online! Looking at both these fish you can see how they’ve developed over time.

MD1 (Lightning) and MD2 (White Stripe aka. Morse Code) - Feb 28, 2014

MD1 (Lightning) and MD2 (White Stripe aka. Morse Code) – Feb 28, 2014

MWP3 was added to the inventory – he is a fish I’ve held back due to an obvious dorsal fin defect and had intended to use as the Lightning in a Lightning X White Stripe sibling pairing. At the moment, with no real place to house such a pairing, I may let him go to a new home.


WS4, WS11 and WS13 are all White Stripe Maroons that have been here for 2 years now; I wasn’t able to get any good new photos of WS13, but WS4 and WS11 have updates, and all three fish have now been measured too!


The same can be said for LM9, LM11, LM14.


LM17 and LM18 remain together, and LM18 has finally been given its own page.


And finally, your first look at 3 new offspring – WS17, LM19 and LM20! All three of these were reared in individual containers from a very young age, and it seems that has really helped produced better offspring (no battle scars from being reared together)!








I’m a man of my word; Mike reared a good batch with Spawn #27, and tonight, new photos of the ORA Gold Nugget Maroon Clownfish in Rhinelander (LiveAquaria’s Diver’s Den) were posted.  The fish looked good, and being on sale from $499.99 to only $349.99, it was time to honor my end of the bargain.  So this fish….


…is now Mike Doty’s and should be here on Tuesday morning.

I can’t say how blessed I am to have a fellow fish breeder who lives four blocks away and is willing to come feed babies on short notice….Mike I am always in your debt!  Now lets see what this throws when paired with a standard Gold Stripe Maroon! My prognostication – we get 100% Gold Flake types out of it…


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…

Stumbled across this post last week and figured I’d share it here – Brandon Mehlhoff shared some updates on LM15 and its PNG mate over on Reef2Reef.  I snagged one of his videos showing the pair here:

Go see more over about Brandon’s Lightning Maroon on!

I’ve invited all winning bidders from the Blue Zoo Aquatics Lightning Maroon Clownfish auctions to share updates here on the Lightning Project’s website to allow me and others to keep track of the offspring after thye’ve left my care.

Susan Ingold of S & R Clownfish sent an update and a few images of WS8 and WS10 on September 7th, and I wanted to share her update with you on this future F1 pairing of the Lightning Maroon’s White Stripe offspring. Here’s the update from Sue:

WS8 and WS10 adjusting to their new home.

WS8 and WS10 adjusting to their new home.

“Update on ws#8 and ws#10. The day they arrived which was Wednesday[September 4th], they both looked fine and went into their 29g qt together. All was well the first day and I left them to go out for a while and when I came back I saw that #10 had been picked on by #8 and had some shredded fins but no major damage. I sent my husband for a breeder box for the smaller one at Matt’s suggestion but while he was gone I decided to place some egg crate between them. That seemed to work well until later on when I saw that the fish had exchanged sides! I went out to the garage for another piece of egg crate and used railroad ties to keep them together to form a tight fit to the back of the tank.
Single Egg-Crate Divider in place...

Single Egg-Crate Divider in place…

The next two days were uneventful of course. I could tell there was some resentment from the smaller one because she wanted to swim around and explore her new home.  The other just wanted to bully.
Today is Saturday and since I was home from work and could watch them I pushed the egg crate a little so they could visit each other.  Watching them was a good thing to do as the little one did the twitching to let the other know he was submissive.
WS10 and WS8 on a date.

WS10 and WS8 on a date.

When I walked away and then came back it was worse. It’s like they know I am watching them.  When I took pictures yesterday they actually hogged the camera as if they knew what I was doing so I guess Matt took lots of pictures of all of them.  So, after leaving the egg crate sideways for about 30 minutes I decided to close it off again.
WS8 and WS10, separated once more.

WS8 and WS10, separated once more.

When I can hang around in my bedroom and read or watch tv I will do the same again. Hopefully by the end of my qt time which I was hoping to be  around 30 days, they will be fine together.  Time will tell. I am planning on keeping them together for breeding so as to further the investigation of the genetics on the PNG Lightning Maroons as well as producing good healthy maroons that might want to be used by others working with the png bloodline in the future.  I will be very happy to have happy and healthy fish as well.” - Sue Ingold, S &R Clownfish

Somewhere along the line I alluded to the fact that there was at least one US-based person involved in the Lightning Maroon auctions who had the foresight to obtain wild PNG Maroon Clownfish from Scott Fellman at Unique Corals with the express intent of  using them as mates for the offspring from this project.  I tried to do the same, but as I’ve shared before, the abrupt loss of exports from EcoAquariums PNG meant that once again, I was thwarted in my own attempts to beef up my base of wild genetics.

A wild (F0) Premnas biaculeatus "PNG White Stripe" Maroon Clownfish purchased through Unique Corals.

A wild (F0) Premnas biaculeatus “PNG White Stripe” Maroon Clownfish purchased through Unique Corals.

That person I alluded to is Brandon Mehlhoff.

Lightning Maroon fans, meet Brandon Mehlhoff.

Lightning Maroon fans, meet Brandon Mehlhoff.

I won’t share all the details, but we sat across the table from each other at the post MBI Workshop dinner this year and the topic of PNG Maroons came up, and the fact that he had one (the fish shown above).  I basically said “name your price”, at which point he revealed who he was and why the fish was not for sale, at any price.  The moment I learned of his intentions, my thought shifted completely from “I gotta get him to part with this fish” to “this guy really needs a Lightning Maroon, as his outcross pairing of a F1 from my breeding to a F0 from PNG, will help start a distinct line and expand the genetic base for the entire captive Lightning Maroon population”.

Lucky for Brandon, he got “the fish” he needed in round 2 of the auctions, the winning bidder of LM15.

Lightning Maroon #15 (LM15) - Brandon's fish.

Lightning Maroon #15 (LM15) – Brandon’s fish.

While most fish were destined to be shipped out, Brandon proved his dedication to the project by requesting that he personally pick up and transport his fish.  Brandon, a North Dakota native and rare clownfish enthusiast (he also maintains Mccullochis among others) made a 24 hour whirlwind trip to personally come to my fishroom.

Of course, it was a great excuse to get some much needed cleanup done (still an ongoing process as I’m setting up more growout for FW in my formerly open space in the middle of the room…I now have two aisle).  Brandon got to see his fish, and all the others firsthand.  Of course, he was able to pay his respects to “Mama Lightning”.

Brandon Mehlhoff did what any good aquarist would do...

Brandon Mehlhoff did what any good aquarist would do…


..asked if he could take photos....

..asked if he could take photos….


...and took lots of them!

…and took lots of them!

I certainly would’ve let Brandon stay all day if he liked, but he still had to drive home and put away some very precious cargo.  Time to bag ‘em up:

Very rare you get to see ME in the photos, here netting LM5 for the journey to Brandon's fishroom.

Very rare you get to see ME in the photos, here netting LM5 for the journey to Brandon’s fishroom.

Bagging up Lightning.

Bagging up Lightning.

After a long drive home and acclimation into the wee hours of the morning, Brandon was very happy to send me a few photographs of LM15 in the new fishroom.  This pairing is going to be an important one owing to the outcrossed genetics.  Depending on who’s interpretation of filials you care to go by, Brandon’s potential offspring are either F1 or F2 (from a more generalized viewpoint, they are F1 in the greater scientific community.  In the aquarium world, they *might* be called F2 by many since one parent is F1).

Either way, an important pair to follow in terms of genetic stability and known provenance for Lightning Maroon Clownfish.

Brandon Mehlhoff's Future F1 Lightning X F0 PNG Maroon pairing

Brandon Mehlhoff’s Future F1 Lightning X F0 PNG Maroon pairing



After the first round of auctions with Blue Zoo Aquatics, we came to the mutual conclusion that sticking with our original plan, one of drop shipping the fish from here in Duluth to the final recipients, is going to be our preferred route going forward. I had so many direct inquiries asking why I had forced the fish to go through an extra trip to the west coast, and in truth, neither Mark nor myself had originally planned that.  Quite simply, with a brand new daughter who has a penchant for screaming constantly and uncontrollably, it felt as if the only way we’d ever get the ball rolling on sales was to have me make one shipment to Blue Zoo.  It worked, but public sentiment was definitely against the extra trip.

With our decision to stick with drop shipping from Duluth, this means I need to hold, and segregate, most all of the maroons here to ensure that they don’t turn on each other in a murderous rage as fish are removed from the community. This means that all of the Maroons in my holding cubes, the ones that were destined to be distributed as backup pairs, held back for test pairings and breedings here, as well as smaller specimens, all need to be moved out to permit me to segregate the remaining 25 or so fish that we’ll be selling. I’m running out of space.

In an effort to free up holding cubes, I’m pushing to place and pair many of the fish I’ve been holding in segregation. As you’ve probably read in the past, I’ve planned several backup pairs to be spread around the city and country, just in case anything were to ever happen to our home or fishroom. So, this Friday, August 2nd, 2013, another one of those pairs was selected from my holdbacks and placed under the care of the staff at the Great Lakes Aquarium (GLA), our local public aquarium situated on the shores of the Duluth Harbor / St. Louis Bay, Lake Superior.

Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minnesota. Lake freighter Canadian Transport passing Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge : Photo by Tmajewski.

Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, Minnesota. Lake freighter Canadian Transport passing Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge in the background : Photo by Tmajewski, under Public Domain license (THANKS Tmajewksi!)

The Great Lakes Aquarium is mainly a freshwater aquarium (all “permanent” exhibits are freshwater) as the mission is primarily to educate visitors about the waters in our region. As such, it’s fair to say that when we first moved to Duluth, the marine hobbyists I knew didn’t exactly give it a “must see” rating.  I think it took a year and a half before we ever stepped foot in our own public aquarium.

Since that time, I’ve come to grow fond of our local aquarium. The facility is wonderful, the building is beautiful. With a family membership, we can escape there for an hour or a day, and it’s very kid friendly. Ethan loves it (the water table, the treehouse slide, and the bear den are his perenial favorites).

Even though the GLA has suffered budget setbacks and more than one oversight change since it opened in 2000, it’s worth the visit if you’re here. I can only say things continue to improve and yes, more and more saltwater displays are making their way into the aquarium.  Like it or not, I think everyone understands that “Nemo”, “Seahorses” and Otters are a likely larger draw than Largemouth Bass and Rainbow Trout; while the mission is most admirable, it’s difficult to accomplish if people aren’t lining up to see the same fish they caught when fishing the day before.

Ultimately, I look at the Great Lakes Aquarium and see an organization that is growing, refining, and only improving, something I can be ever more proud of to call my home aquarium and an institution that our city should be very proud of and continue to prioritize. Heck, with Sepia bandensis on display from none other than Rich Ross at the Steinhart, and a fledgling new coral reef aquarium as part of the Fire, Ice, and the Rise of Life (see Lake Superior Magazine | Great Lakes Aquarium website) introduction to the history of our region (which happens to include a new Chambered Nautilus exhibit), offerings that will draw the layperson in are on the uptick. There’s plenty of massive envy-inducing Brook Trout still on display, the likes of which I’ll never catch in the wild!

Another view of the Great Lakes Aquarium, now home of a Lightning Maroon Clownfish - Image by Randen Pederson under Create Commons License (thanks Randen!)

Another view of the Great Lakes Aquarium, now home of a Lightning Maroon Clownfish – Image by Randen Pederson under Create Commons License (thanks Randen!)

So when it came time to think about a public aquarium where I could place a Lightning Maroon for public viewing, I certainly had options.  I grew up with the Shedd and still have acquaintances who work there.  No doubt, many of my other friends who work at and run public aquariums would have welcomed the contribution, east coast or west, north or south. Ultimately though, my humble home of Duluth, Minnesota, is where the Lightning Project took place.  It’s where a single wild variant spawns and tends here eggs, and where her progeny have grown up and in turn been sent back into the aquarium hobby. As much as the Lightning Project is a PNG story, a SEASMART story, a Pacific Aquafarms story, a Blue Zoo Aquatics story, or a Matt Pedersen story, it is also now a Duluth story.

We’ll probably never have a MACNA in Duluth, MN.  Heck, we’re lucky to get 10 people to a meeting of the Lake Superior Marine Aquarium Club (LSMAC). For a small city that’s welcomed me and my family with kindness and support, it is only fitting that I give back to the home I hope I never have to leave. There really was only one choice, and having had the help of folks like aquarium staffers Barb and Heidi earlier in this project (they actually were here and witnessed the spawning of the first successful offspring, the fish they are now holding), the Great Lakes Aquarium truly was the only and best choice. I’m really glad they accepted my offer.

The details of my donation to the aquarium are simple.  The fish were provided freely (obviously) and the only stipulations were these. 1st, if the aquarium for some reason could no longer house the fish, that they be returned to me, and 2nd, the eggs are mine if I need them.  In other words, they are a backup pair for my fishroom and another avenue of genetic diversity to help keep mutliple F1 pairs out there in production, which in turn keeps the genetics diverse in the greater population.  The more F1 fish we have producing F2 fish, the better we are from a big-picture standpoint.

The Fish Donated to the Great Lakes Aquarium

In short, I hand delivered 1 Lightning Maroon, and one White Stripe Maroon sibling, to the Great Lakes Aquarium this afternoon.  I’ve added to them to the offspring catalog and assigned them the ID’s GL1 and GL2 (I’m sure someone, somewhere, will name these fish more fitting names!)  Here’s their photos (and links to their individual pages)

GL1 - a F1 PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish donated to the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN, USA

GL1 – a F1 PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish donated to the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN, USA

MORE on Lightning Maroon GL1

GL2 - a F1 PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish donated to the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN, USA

GL2 – a F1 PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish donated to the Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, MN, USA

MORE on White Stripe Maroon GL2

How to strike the Great Lakes Aquarium with Lightning

The actual mechanics of ensuring the Great Lakes Aquarium was the recipient of a Lightning strike were fairly mundane.  Fish were bagged…

GL2, reading for bagging

GL2, reading for bagging

GL1, also reading for bagging

Even though it's a 15 minute drive, the fish are bagged with oxygen and placed in a shipping styro.  Nothing but the best...

Even though it’s a 15 minute drive, the fish are bagged with oxygen and placed in a shipping styro. Nothing but the best…

…and simply driven to the aquarium.  Just about as stress free a trip as they could ask for.

I gotta say, I kinda felt like Santa once I got there. I have never seen gossip travel so fast through a workplace; it seems like anyone who COULD get away and sneak a peek, did just that!

GL1 and GL2 floating for acclimation in the behind-the-scenes quarantine tank where they will be conditioned and paired before going on display.

GL1 and GL2 floating for acclimation in the behind-the-scenes quarantine tank where they will be conditioned and paired before going on display.

Of course, I think Jadell (will withhold her last name for privacy) was both the happiest and most stressed, as I believe it is she is the one who manages the marine exhibits (including the fantastic Seahorse breeding) and has been put in charge of the Aquarium’s Lightning Maroon and mate.  She hides her nervous terror well behind that beaming smile. Don’t worry Jadell, I know that feeling; I knew it when their parents first showed up here.

Jadell, you'll do great, I know you will!

Jadell, you’ll do great, I know you will!  And no worries, there are more if you need ‘em.

No word on when we’ll have these fish paired and ready for display, but I think it’s going to take 3 to 6 months before a solid pairing can be created using segregation and forced size differentiation to ensure that the Lightning Maroon grows faster and larger than the White Stripe sibling.

When ready, Jadell has told me that this middle aquarium is due to be the new, revamped home for the pair.

The aquarium in the center is the currently planned new display home for the Lightning Maroon and her mate, when the time comes.

You can be sure that I’ll continue to watch this pair and post an update when there’s some news!  You may never get to come into my house to see the original Lightning Maroon, but for the price of admission, someday soon you’ll be able to see one in person at the Great Lakes Aquarium.

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