"Oh snap, was that thunder??" - image courtesy EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd.
“Oh snap, was that thunder??” – image courtesy EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd.

EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd, the successor of the spot formerly filled by SEASMART, has continued to turn up abberantly patterned Maroon Clownfish collected in the waters of Papua New Guinea.  Between SEASMART’s own collections, and with no less than 3 unique Maroons shown off on the EcoAquariums PNG Facebook page this year, we are looking at the very least, well over a half-dozen PNG-sourced Maroon clowns that are highly “atypical”.  SEASMART referred to many fish like these as “Horned” Maroons, owing to the common barring pattern of “prongs” leading off the headstripes in either direction.  It’s a unique fish, but digging deeper, there’s even more information behind these unique maroon clownfish.

With EcoAquarium’s label tracking system, we actually are given a window into pretty much every fish that the company collects, and that’s where things get interesting.  You see, EcoAquariums records every fish collected along with a slew of other data, and makes all this information publicly available in easy to use and search PDF files!  You can download them here:

http://ecoaquariumspng.com/eco-labels/tracking-numbers

Breakdown of Maroon Clownfish Captured per grouping of 1000

0001 to 1000 = 30 maroons
1001 to 2000 = 25 maroons
2001 to 3000 = 25 maroons
3001 to 4000 = 24 maroons
4001 to 5000 = 18 maroons
5001 to 6000 = 2 maroons
6001 to 7000 = 12 maroons
7001 to 8000 = 10 maroons
8001 to 9000 = 16 maroons
9001 to 9723 = 3 maroons

Total Maroon Clownfish harvested to date = 165 = roughly 1.7% of total exports

Breakdown of Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula) captured, per grouping of 1000

0001 to 1000 = 359 percs
1001 to 2000 = 388 percs
2001 to 3000 = 412 percs
3001 to 4000 = 316 percs
4001 to 5000 = 200 percs
5001 to 6000 = 286 percs
6001 to 7000 = 371 percs
7001 to 8000 = 370 percs
8001 to 9000 = 275 percs
9001 to 9723 = 497 percs

Total Percula Clownfish harvested by EcoAquariums PNG to date = 3474 = roughly 35.7% of total exports.

I share the Percula figures because a) they surprised me and b) it kind of speaks towards the general overall demand for Amphiprion percula, vs. Premnas biaculeatus, in the trade.  The other interesting part – the data as currently provided by EcoAquariums PNG Ltd. is an unprecedented look at what is presumed to be the entire marine aquarium life trade in Papua New Guinae, and could someday form the basis for a lot of interesting research by academics.  It’s an amazing data set, assuming the accuracy is there (which, in theory, it should be).  The transparency provided gives us an unparalleled opportunity to question our supplier, and at the same time, investigate some really interesting questions on our own.

Here’s a rundown of ALL the special / abberant maroons recorded to date:

0164 Benard Ora maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus lg 22-Nov-11 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
0182 Aila Kila maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus md 22-Nov-11 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
0470 Olema Kila Maroon, unique Premas biaculeatus lg 8-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
0680 Nou Karawa Maroon, unique * Premas biaculeatus md 9-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
0681 Nou Karawa Maroon, unique * Premas biaculeatus md 9-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
1632 Geno Au maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus sm 15-Feb-12 S 9.5384 ,E 147.1021 FD, HN, BN
2221 Gia Laka Maroon clown, Highly unique Premas biaculeatus lg 25-Feb-12 S 9.4900, E 147.0348 FD, HN, BN
2262 Geno Au Maroon clown, Highly unique Premas biaculeatus lg 25-Feb-12 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
2979 Kunini Sam maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus md 2-Mar-12 S 9.4900, E 147.0348 FD, HN, BN
3199 Ralai Kila Maroon Clownfish Premas biaculeatus Unique, sm 19 April 2012 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
4109 Voi Karawa Clown Maroon, spots Premas biaculeatus Md S 9.4900, E 147.0348 29 April 2012 FD, HN, BN
4594 Kunini Sam Clown fish Maroon Premas biaculeatus Highly uniqueS 9.5384 ,E 147.1021 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4611 Nou Karawa Clown fish Maroon, horned Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4988, E 147.0062 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4612 Nou Karawa Clown fish Maroon, horned Premas biaculeatus Sm S 9.4988, E 147.0062 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4841 Ralai Kila Clown Maroon spotted Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.5046, E 147.0954 4 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
5108 Kala Kila Clown Maroon, one horn Premas biaculeatus Md S 9.4900, E 147.0348 11 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
6215 Samuel Kila Clown Maroon, thick horn Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4988, E 147.0062 25 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
7063 Voi Karawa Clown Maroon unique Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4900, E 147.0348 5 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
7247 Gia Laka Clown Maroon spot,horn Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4900, E 147.0348 5 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
8131 Pauline Paul Clown Maroon,horned Premas biaculeatus Md FI zone A 20 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
8393 Pauline Paul Clown Maroon, misbar Premas biaculeatus Lg FI zone A 27 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
9004 Olema Kila Clown Maroon unique Premas biaculeatus Sm FI zone A 1 July 2012 FD, HN, BN

Currently, the data runs from November 22nd ,2011, through July 5th,2012, and covers 9,723 fish and inverts.  Out of those fish, there were 165 Maroon Clowns collected.  Out of those Maroon Clowns clowns, 22 were flagged as ‘unique’ in some fashion, with two three of those twenty-two being further classified as “highly” unique.  There are so many interesting ways to look at this – we cover 226 days in this sampling, which means at current catch efforts, 7 out of every 10 days, a maroon clownfish is caught.   Slightly over 14% of the collected maroons are classified as unique in some capacity, and  odds are, roughly every 11  days, a “unique” maroon is collected by the folks diving in PNG (just under 3 per month).

Obviously, we cannot extrapolate this to necessarily say that 14% of the maroons found in PNG waters are “abnormal”…without a doubt there is possibly, if not probably, a mandate and emphasis placed on unusual maroons, that is to say “even if we don’t need maroons right now, if you see something atypical, you should collect it”.

When I originally drafted this article, I had a lot of “genetics” on my mind.  While I think we will have better answers, here’s where my thinking was last month.

Clearly, deviations from the normal striping seem to be prevalent in PNG waters where EcoAquariums operates.  And looking back at all this, and how we’ve come to learn that Picasso Percs are not necessarily as exceedingly rare as we may have initially thought, this does all start to make you wonder – in these aberrant wild maroon clowns, are we seeing a low level occurance of the equivalent of “picasso” type forms in a wild population in PNG?  Could it in fact be that these “close but no cigar”, highly unique maroons, may in fact be the picasso equivalent or as one blogger put it, a “Lightning Precursor“?  And, if the genetics of Lightning were to work like we think the genetics work in Picassos , could it be that the two fish we’ve called “Lightning” to date, may in fact be the equivalent of the Plantinum Perc?

And here’s the kicker…the fish above does show traits that certainly speak to it being “lightning-esque”.  But when I look at the two fish we’ve called “Lightning” to date, here’s what I see – more of a netting effect, particularly in the headstripe but also in the midstripe and tail stripe.  Let’s ignore my Lightning Maroon (#2) and go back and look at #1 - http://reefbuilders.com/2008/09/21/wicked-maroon-clownfish-emerges-from-the-png/ - and here’s where my thinking goes.   If you double up, and mate these “close but no cigar” unique or aberrant Maroons, do you get a redoubling of the gene that causes the stripe abnormality, taking the phenotype from stray prongs, spots, and splits, and amplifying it into the “Lightning” form we all know and love?

It may sound insane, but there are definitely examples of this genetic story  in other fish, including clownfish such as Picasso Perculas which appears to be a “single dose” of a dominant gene, and Platinums being a “double dose” of that same gene.  It may or may not be that way, but further offspring counts should nail it down, and some breeders may already know the answer and just aren’t sharing / thinking it’s worthwhile to mention.  Of course, as I recently learned, there is not shortage of genetic understanding in other fish where different genetic loci and the alleles at those loci are known to drive a plethora of diverse phenotypes – amazing levels of information exist for freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) via the Angelfish Society’s genetic documentation and others (such as a release about the Philippine Blue locus made by a collaboration of parties independent of the Angelfish Society).  We can only hope that those breeders working on designer breeding start paying greater attention, and can realize the value presented here by sharing information.  The level of breeding CONTROL one is afforded has elevated the discourse and pursuit of Angelfish breeding in my opinion.

Turning back to the Lightning Maroon genetic mystery, my original hypothesis about the wild-caught “horned” type Maroons from PNG was all speculation at that point, and when the ideas came to me and I first wrote them down, I had yet to see any baby Maroons from our Lighting breeding efforts.  Despite that data deficiency, we’re certainly seeing a continuum of stripe aberrations in these fish that were perhaps suggestive of a genetic basis (given the geographic restriction and frequency of occurrence).

Granted, now that we have babies, the story is about to get a heck of a lot more complex….and yet, possibly much clearer.