The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged brooklynella

Here’s a quick rundown.

The 5th spawn of the F1 Lightning X Lightning Maroon Clownfish pairing was collected and hatched by Mike Doty while I was away.  In short, he scraped off the eggs, hatched them in a 1 gallon jar in a water bath with simple aeration, 75% clean new water.  Come November 28th, Mike relayed that settlement had started.  The moment we’ve been waiting for was here – is there something new?

Well, Mike’s first words were “About 90% sure we have some normal striped fish.”

This, of course, does the following:

  • likely rules out Lightning as a simple recessive gene. If it WAS recessive, then both parents would be “double dose” aka. homozygous, represented as l/l, which means that each parent could only contribute a recessive lightning gene, and thus, each offspring would also get one copy each, one from mom, one from dad, and thus, could only be l/l as well. For the moment, while another couple test matings will bolster the data, the fact that there are white-stripe offspring pretty much precludes this being a standard single allele, single locus, recessive trait.
  • does not rule out straight dominance. If it was straight dominance, and each parent is “single dose” aka. heterozygous, represented as L/+, then 25% of the offspring would not get a gene from either parent, and thus, 25% would be white stripe maroon clownfish.
  • nor does it rule out partial dominance. This of course, would work the same way as dominance, except that 25% of the offspring would get a lightning gene from EACH parent, and would be homozygous for Lightning, represented as L/L. This is the scenario that most people are hoping for, because with the new homozygous state, there comes the potential for a new phenotype that could be different from the Lightning that we know.

As of today, 12-8-2014, I spoke with Mike briefly and have to relay this news – while he doesn’t have many babies left, he believes that the phenotype split is roughly 50/50.  That is to say, half white stripes, half lightnings.  So far, he also has not seen anything unique or new in this F2 generation.  I have yet to see the babies for myself, and have yet to take pictures or do a headcount, but these cursory, informal results, mirror another clownfish mutation that seems to not fit the mold as we’d expect – SNOWFLAKE in Ocellaris.  It’s my hope to get over to Mike’s today yet to see for myself.

In other news, the 6th spawn of the F1 Lightning X Lightning pair was put down on 11/29/2014. It appears I finally won the battle of the tiles:

LxL Spawn #6

LxL Spawn #6

Meanwhile, I brought some new clownfish into the fishroom earlier in November (the 19th and 22nd) and was trying out the new Ick-Shield food from New Life Spectrum.  This is basically a Chloroquin-laced pellet food that is meant primarily to prevent disease such as Crytopcaryon, Amyloodium, Brooklynella etc…pretty much the things which are sensitive to the active ingredient. I decided to not simply feed this fish to the new arrivals, but also to feed it to one of my holding systems AND the wild Lightning Maroon and her mate as preventative medication, just in case.

Well, it turns out that there is an unfortunate side effect to this feed; it seems to shut down breeding activity.  All my routine pairs stopped spawning. The Lightning and her mate did finally put down a spawn on December 1st, 2014, #46.

DSC_1472_600w

DSC_1474_600w

 

Unfortunately, it appears as though the spawn was not fertilized…the eggs didn’t develop, and after 48 hours they were gone. A few days after that, I read, anecdotally, that Chloroquin can cause male sterility??? Not permanent according to the rumor, but certainly a potential setback. As far as the efficacy of the food, my jury is out. The larger fish which were feeding well on it by and large remained disease free, but not all did.  I still had a Brooklynella outbreak, although not in the fish I would have necessarily expected. Once that outbreak started, it then affected other fish as well despite their feeding on the pellets.  I’m also seeing either Cryptocaryon or Amyloodium on fish which were visually “clean” upon arrival, which were in dedicated QT systems, feeding on this food from day one.  So the question here is were they simply getting ENOUGH feed as they were small fish which cannot readily eat the small pellet size.

So of course, one is left with questions, not answers.  There is no way to say the food didn’t work, nor is there any way to prove that it does work. Absence of disease is not proof of prevention, that much I know for certain. Lack of a cure, or lack of prevention, which IS documented, only raises questions about why it didn’t work as suggested and certainly requires investigation (eg. would a smaller pellet size be better accepted…could these failures stem from simply lack of feeding, or lack of sufficient feeding, thus insufficient dose to the fish?).

Circling back to LxL Spawn #6, as the week progressed an interesting change in behavior occurred starting around December 4th, 5 days post spawn.  The larger female F1 Lightning became belligerent towards the male, and over the day drove him from nest tending duties.  December 5th, a Friday, would have been 6 days post spawn, and the night of the first hatching.  I was simply swamped with preparations for sending our dog to live with my brother, and failed to pull the tile.  By morning, Saturday, December 6th, 2014, it appeared that I had not missed much…most if not all the eggs were still there. The pair remained at odds.  We left for the weekend to ship our family dog, and upon Sunday, December 7th, there were still a few dozen eggs remaining, although they appeared potentially dead and disappeared throughout the day.  By nightfall, the pair was starting to be less antagonistic, but I am still keeping a close eye on them.  Hopefully, we’ll get another spawn soon – this was the only mature pair in the house that didn’t receive Chloroquin-laced foods (as they don’t reside in the fishroom with the rest of the fish).

Just because the Morse Code Maroon failed to make it doesn’t mean that the Lighting Project is on hold.  Far from it.

The Lightning Maroon is having problems….keeping anemones in the new cage!  They keep LEAVING it, and the Lightning Clown has grown accustomed to having a BTA to frolic in.  So I added some more tiles to the bottom of the cage, but still, the BTAs flee the scene!   Not sure what I’m going to do here, if anything.

Remember my  “jumpers”?  Well, it turns out that the Sumatran Fire Clown was not jumping out of the breeder net, but escaping through a gaping hole that the Bristletail Filefish had gnawed in the netting.  Yesterday, I found the Fire Clown in bad shape, pummeled by all three Centropyge argi and the big Labrador Maroon.  I got it out, put it back in the net, and a couple hours later, found it again out of the net, beat up even more.  It was then that I discovered the hole in the bottom of the net.  The discovery came too late, and the Fire Clown was dead by morning.  Now, this fish was never a risk to either Maroon Clown, as it was far smaller.  I only share this story here to serve as a reminder of how vicious marine fish can be.  I blame the Fire Clown however, for not learning the first and second time to stay IN THE NET where it was safe, and blame myself for not catching the hole sooner.

The Brooklynella on the remaining largest juvie PNG Maroon seems to have disappeared, and all 4 remaining juveniles are doing well.  The one that jumped and got in a tiff with the other seems to be recovering quickly, and honestly may be my utlimate mate choice for the Lightning Maroon.  But I have yet to really think all of that through now.

The big female Gold Stripe Maroon (GSMs are from Sumatra) from Jonica and Scott is settling in well and has taken a shine to her little PNG mate.  There was never the slightest hint of aggression between these two fish.  The female was shy, but a week on is starting to adjust to seeing me come at her from the side (Jonica can tell you that she lived in a big vat, the entire surface covered in Chaetomorpha, so the only way she saw humans for the past several months was from above).  I had some new arrivals show up this week for another breeding project – Meiacanthus bundoon!  They seemed like a great match for this mis-matched pair of Maroon Clowns.  Sadly for Joncia’s GSM, her new “mate” is also up as a possible candidate as a mate to the Lightning Maroon…I like the color, and the fact that it has a broken tailbar to me says “increased chance of genetic predisposition to stripe variations”.  I’ll close with some updated pictures of the GSM, her PNG Mate, and the new Bundoons!

Jonica & Scott's Goldstripe Maroon, and her little PNG white striped mate!

A little community of Bundoon Blennies and a mismatched pair of Maroons!

A little community of Bundoon Blennies and a mismatched pair of Maroons!

Meiacanthus bundoon, the Bundoon Blenny

Bundoon Blenny

Meiacanthus bundoon, the Bundoon Blenny

So as it stands, the Morse Code Maroon Clown, the largest one that was shipped, got Maracyn SW last night after a 50% water change.  That seems to have had no affect.  So tonight, lacking guidance and having a bit of desperation based on the ever-declining health of this fish, I doubled down and added in Maracyn II SW.  Mardel’s medications often suggest using combinations, but as it turns out, reading the details, there is never a discussion of using these two particular medications together.  I’m running out of options on this fish, and it appears the fish is running out of time.

The second largest PNG Maroon shipped has shown signs of a mild Brooklynella infection.  I hit the tank housing him with Formalin on Wed. night, and now again Friday night.  The nice thing is that after the first treatment, his appetite returned.

The remaining 3, all the smallest, have shown no symptoms of disease.  They all feed well and behave normally.  The same goes for the smaller PNG Saddlebacks that I was also shipped this time around.  I believe these observations lend further anecdotal evidence to the notion that if you’re going to buy wild caught clownfish, smaller, younger fish tend to suffer less in transit and prove more resilient.  And frankly, wanting smaller clowns is probably a better way to go when talking about wild caught fish.  Afterall, the juvenile clownfish harvested from the reef is not a large breeder, producing the future generations.  So when it comes to sustainability, it makes sense to pursue juveniles for a myriad of reasons.

The Lightning Maroon, the star of our show, remains awesome as always.

…is that life has a way of giving you a nice smack in the face, aka a “reality check”.  The old phrase “don’t count your [clownfish] before they hatch”  seems to apply here.

I alluded to it at the end of my last post.  Yes, the “Morse Code” Maroon is having issues…it showed signs almost immediately and 24 hours in I made the decision to move it into another empty tank and begin treatment.  Not having the benefit of a laboratory, nor the luxury of a vet, I was forced to make a rapid guess and hope I was right.  Time this weekend has been nonexistent (a visit to see my best friend who lives in DC, then a car was hit on the street, and a family member was put under and had surgery today, doing well thank you) but I’ve at least been staying on feeding and treatment regimes.  Here’s where the Morse Code Maroon went…

So what exactly is wrong with the Morse Code Maroon?  I’m not 100% sure, but I did notice what looked like “rawness” on the mouth when the fish was released.  The pictures from that evening don’t really show it.  24 hours in, the mouth had turned gray and was showing signs of erosion, and so, the fish was moved.  Here’s what I was looking at.

For the moment, I’ll just use the generic term “Mouth Rot”, which really describes only a symptom, something that could be caused by a myriad of possible vectors.  As I stated earlier, not having a lot of time to diagnose and collaborate on this one, I went with Kanamycin, which I had on hand from the “lost shipment” when I was trying to switch antibiotics on the original female PNG Maroon.  As an “shotgun approach” antibiotic, it was the recommendation of at least a couple of the project advisors earlier on.  I figured, why not?  Christine Williams and Boomer both definitely preferred it over my personal default, Erythromycin.  Seems that Kanamycin is not that easy to find, but this is the one I’m using, from FishyFarmacy.com.

Today, I have to say I’ve not seen any signs of improvement.  No, things appear to have gotten worse.  Let the pictures speak for themselves:

Add on stringy feces, decreased activity, and the possibility of Brooklynella showing up (can’t say yet) and this fish is arguably going downhill fast.  Tonight is the 4th of 5 scheduled doses of Kanamycin.  I’m going to do it, but if time permits over the next 24 hours I’m going to solicit for opinions and do the researching I can do.  Need to turn this fish around, FAST!  I have a feeling I’ll be switching medications tomorrow.

My May/June 2010 issue of CORAL Magazine just arrived today. I knew what was coming, but still, it’s always exciting to get a fresh issue of CORAL.  Ret Talbot’s article in Reef News on the Lightning Clown provides yet another view on the story of the Lightning Maroon.  There’s a bit more about SEASMART as well, and a grew new photo of the collectors in PNG!  Ret knows I’m wanting to talk more about SEASMART (and sustainable collection) in the future here at the Lighting Project, and I hope we get to pull that together soon.   In the meantime, go look for the newest issue of CORAL Magazine – it looks like THIS!

Me? I was at MASC’s Reef Ed in Colorado all last weekend, got to hang out with Christina and Chris Pearson, Andrew Berry, Gale, Joe Thompson, Eric Borneman, Jake Adams and Guin Burnard.   I love events like this, and I’m going to strongly encourage hobbyists to patronize their clubs and events.  You get a whole different experience than reading or posting online.  Don’t think the talks are going to be boring because even if they ARE, you will STILL learn a lot that will make you a better marine hobbyist in ways you can’t anticipate.  So yeah, I finished moving, went to Reef Ed to speak on captive breeding, and returned home to spend every evening this week in birthing classes (my wife is due in 5 weeks).

Lightning Clown? It’s still living in a breeder net.  Happy with a good appetite.  I thought I saw some dislodged scales, but it’s hard to tell with the net.  I DO know that our Onyx Percs have come down with what may be Brook or Amyloodinium, it’s hard to say, but they’re doing white well and will likely pull out with no treatment.  I’ve seen ‘em worse.  It is arguably perhaps for the best that my attention to the fish is limited…it’s allowing them to just sit, eat, and recuperate from the move.

I gotta say, the “Breeder Net” kinda sucks.  I’m having to think about the long term home for the Lighting Maroon (any tank, filter and lighting manufacturers looking to sponsor the Lighting Project by giving ‘El BOLT a better home, I welcome offers!).  I also got some “news” this evening that’s made me smile, but I don’t want to speak prematurely!

So honestly, having been cut off from the newbie crack trapthat is Reef Central by the dealer itself years ago, I’m at times unfamiliar with all the personalities associated with it.  RC, with it’s huge marketshare in the “online reef community” department, is one of those places where folks at times make a name for themselves (whether inadvertently or intentionally).  There are many talented people out there who I simply do not know because I no longer spend one iota of time on Reef Central.

One such “RC” personality that I had zero familiarity with before this week is Boomer.  Boomer happens to be a local, and it turns out we share many of the same acquaintances.  Anyone who can share a humorous anecdote about himself, Christine Williams, and a MACNA, well, if you’re willing to admit how close you came to making a fool out of yourself and to laugh about it later, you’re good in my book.

At any rate, Jim Grassinger (The Filter Guys, another local here in Duluth MN) knew Boomer was back in town, and when he saw things going south with the female PNG Maroon, suggested that Boomer have a look (per Jim, Boomer is, hands down, our area’s expert on marine fish disease, although I think Boomer’s more widely known as an expert on the topic of chemistry in general).  To make a long story short, I got on the phone with Boomer on Friday and I think we had to “feel each other out”.  Boomer had only skimmed the blog (reading the whole thing is probably already a monumental task) and had picked up on my musings, confusing some of my “thoughts” as being actual actions I had taken along the way.  Once we had cleared up what I had and had not done, things were much easier to talk about.

Well finally this afternoon, Boomer got to make a house call after our club (LSMAC.org) meeting.  And here’s where I get to actually talking about the status of the Lighting Maroon project.  Boomer of course was insistent on catching a good glimpse of the Lighting Maroon…a tiny finger poke was all it took to get him out of the RBTA to show off.  Let’s just say Boomer approved and after a close visual inspection, signed off on the fish being in perfect condition.  From MY standpoint, the fish is not yet “perfect”.  I would argue that the Lighting Maroon is taking too much time buried in the Red Bubble Tip Anemone, not willing to dart out to grab food as it drifts to the bottom of the net.  Overall, I want a more aggressive, settled in fish.  Health wise, appears perfect.  Deportment wise, a bit too timid for my tastes at this time.  Clearly not 100% happy with his new, confined home, but I think taking some solace in having 3 anemones.

After that, Boomer got down and gave the female PNG Maroon a good close look.  I’m paraphrasing of course, but again, here’s the jist.  Boomer expected to see a Maroon Clownfish suffering from Brooklynella, with mucus and skin sloughing off.  Boomer remarked on the cloudy right eye, which my friends is a NEW development today…was not there yesterday and something I had noticed this morning.  The cloudy eye lends further credence to my concerns about visual impairment, and in fact, it would seem that the Maroon only “strikes food” it can see with its left eye, but only at the last second.  Blindness, whether full or partial, is a legitimate concern at this point.

Boomer’s prognosis was perhaps more optimistic than my own.  Even though the female barely ate anything today, he felt the fish was on the path to recovery yet again, and WOULD recover if I stayed the course of treatment I’m on now.

Me, I’m not so sure.  While Boomer may be right about “recovery”, it could still be that I wind up with a battle weary, half blind Maroon Clown that is past its prime.  This fish may not have enough left to make a good candidate for broodstock.  I’m not writing this fish off at this point, but I am continuing to ask Mark Martin to plan on setting aside a couple more PNG Maroons to ship in a few week’s time.

Which brings me to the last closing thoughts for the time being.  Specifically, concerns about trying to pair up another PNG Maroon.  First Joe Lichtenbert, and then John Witt, both emailed to suggest that I find an Aquacultured Maroon Clown female to pair with this fish.  And I’m not writing off that suggestion.  The reality is that leaving the fish in solitude raises concerns about it turning female.  That concern might be unfounded based on the premise that reproductively speaking, it is better to remain a male if you are single.  That way, you are better positioned to accept and mate with whatever fish mother nature throws your way in the wild.  That makes a good theory, but I can’t say if it’s actually what would happen.  It’s like saying a female Anthias or Wrasse won’t turn male unless a female is present.  I don’t know that to be true or false, but I wouldn’t risk it.

Nevertheless, pairing with an Aquacultured Female would present the following considerations.  It’s NOT a PNG Maroon, and that goes against one of my personal project goals (which is maintaining a PNG bloodline).  Breeders are quick to point out that THIS is in fact a temporary setback, and would not be a total failure, and they’re right.  There are upsides.  The upsides include not risking disease exposure, at least not at the level another WC clownfish might present if paired prematurely (rest assured, any WC Maroon would go through the same QT period as these guys already did, if not more so).  The other upside is that providing a female Maroon would enforce another objective, which is to keep the fish MALE.  And in this, perhaps it’s a trump card over the other concerns.  Is it more important at this point to keep the PNG Bloodlines intact, or to keep the Lightning Maroon a male?

Arguably, I would say it’s more important to keep the fish a male.  I haven’t quite figured out how this would work, but I THINK I know where I can get a well established Maroon Clown, a large one.  I’d have to move my fire clowns out of the tank, and give the female Maroon free reign of the SPS tank, and I would probably leave the male in the net.  I *think* I could pull this off, and as an insurance measure this might be a wise plan.

The other, somewhat more “outlandish” idea, is to print out a picture of a female Maroon, simply a LARGE SIZED image really, and stick it right outside the breeder net on the glass.  I will probably do this ASAP.  While it lacks the direct phyisical contact, it may in fact be just enough psychological pressure to keep the Lightning Maroon “male” until a real female can be thrown into the mix again.

Finally, before I forget, I do need to mention that while late today, the female’s tank was given another 5 gallon water change and a late treatment with Maracyn SW.  There are a few more days of treatment expected.  I am still strongly considering a “plan b” for her as well.

It’s been a busy weekend and one that has left me with only questions and no real good explanations!

Friday – following my last update in the afternoon, I went back down and was shocked with what I saw.  So much so, that only video can truly convey what surprised me.

For the record, I did NOT introduce the Lightning Maroon into the female’s side of their tank. He, and I say now safely “HE”, either jumped the egg crate or somehow managed to squeeze around it. SINCE Friday afternoon, he has not left her side. I will tell you now that I was totally shocked and surprised to see this. I didn’t do this. But I have not intervened. Clearly this is what the Lighting Maroon WANTED. Possibly a sign from above? Hard to say. But who am I to argue. If the Lightning Maroon wants to be with the female so badly that he’ll bypass the barriers to interaction (and the safety afforded to him), I will not interfere. In other words, despite my best efforts to keep the Lighting Maroon safe from the female PNG Maroon, they have gotten together without incident. To me, this behavioral change, this unintended pairing, and the fact that it has gone so smoothly, solidly answers the sex question (short of actual egg fertilization). I think everyone who felt that the Lighting Maroon was a male at the time of collection was right.

I have continued on my treatment paths…you don’t stop medication the moment your symptoms go away, you need to follow things through. That means that they got a water change on Friday night, followed by 2 drops of Vitamin C. Saturday morning, a dose of Maracyn SW and 8 drops of Vitamin C. In the evening, another 5 gallon water change, 2 drops of Vitamin C to make up for what may have been removed. Sunday morning, again, a dosing of Maracyn SW. I was in such a hurry this morning I don’t think I dosed any Vitamin C.

Technically, the tank was due for another Formalin dosage today. I honestly think I’ve hit things as hard as I can with Formalin. The last dosage of Formalin seemed to irritate the fish, so in a potentially risky move, I am not going to dose the tank with Formalin anymore. It truly did wreak havoc on the live rock and the overall water quality from a bacterial standpoint.

It’s also been a extra day since the last “formalin dip” on the Female. She went through more dips than was prescribed. I still have not seen her eat anything, while the PNG Lightning Maroon Clown eats anything that hits the water. I get the impression that the female PNG Maroon is very nervous about me being around, and she may in fact be eating when I’m not watching. Hard to tell. I’ve been feeding live adult brine shrimp from Mark Martin @ Blue Zoo, which I continue to enrich / feed with RotiGrow Plus from Reed Mariculture (Reef Nutrition). I am still considering doing a FW dip, possibly with Formalin, tonight. If I can see her eating something, anything, I will refrain from further dips. Knowing that refusing to eat is a symptom of both Brooklynella and Amyloodinium, and believing in my gut that I’ve dealt with both of these parasites in the past week, to NOT continue with dips (whether FW, Formalin or both) would be a risky move. If the fish is eating, there goes the only remaining “outwardly apparent” symptom of Brook or Velvet. I would be very relieved if she would just eat already.

And that’s the update. This evening, other than the female still not eating as far as I can tell, they are truly acting like a healthy bonded clownfish pair. I still have no concrete explanations for the female’s miraculous recovery. Certainly some divine intervention, and if folks want to call it a true miracle from God, I certainly believe in a higher power and yes, that thought has crossed my mind. Definitely a higher power out there. But religion aside, I am still a “scientist” and believe there is some scientific explanation. It may very well be what inspired me to hit the tank with Maracyn SW. IF the Maroon was suffering from an internal bacterial infection, one not readily apparent externally, then the rapid turnaround and loss of symptoms would make sense following the administration of antibiotics. This seems to be the most likely possibility, but the simple truth is that a) we’re not out of the woods with the female and b) we may never know what’s kept her alive this long.

So that’s my update.

In a nuthshell, the FW dip + Formalin did not really seem to go over well.  The Maroon Female is under the live rock, wedged in, breathing unhappily and rapidly.  Frankly though, I’ve seen MUCH WORSE LOOKING fish (see my posts about the Saddleback…of course, it did die within hours later).

What I’ve seen develop over the past few hours is slime coat and what looks to me like Velvet (Amyloodinium).  I’ve seen it before, many times over, as I found Amphiprion allardi particularly susceptible to it.   I know we had Brooklynella early on, then there were the Spots of Cryptocaryon, and now this.  Sure, I’m not 100% sure it is, but seriously…I dip the fish with Formalin and FW, and within 2 hours I have a nice dusting of tiny white spots on the fish?  What else could I be seeing?

Well, I’m making plans to abandon their tank potentially.  Can’t risk a Cupramine + Formalin interaction.  I took a fallow larval tank down, filled it about 50% with water from my Onyx Perc’s reef, 50% new tapwater.  It tested out around 1.014 (my percentages aren’t exact).  I’m letting it just sit there.  Depending on how the female Maroon looks in the morning (if she is even still alive) I may follow through with my earlier outlined plans and treat her with Cupramine.  Honestly, this is somewhat ridiculous to be dealing with still.

My plans for the Lighting Maroon?  I have 3 options.  #1.  Leave him in the 20 gallon QT tank since he’s doing OK there despite the Female’s ongoing troubles.  #2.  Ignore that there is another clearly sick fish in the tank, and treat him as if he’s been through a short QT and come out OK.  That means #3a – placing him in a net breeder in my SPS tank with a RBTA (Red Bubble Tip Anemone) or relocating our spawning pair of Black Ocellaris and giving the Lightning Maroon a dedicated 6 gallon reef with a massive RBTA and a bunch of mushrooms.  Both tanks are very solid.  Both have good and bad things associated with them.

Frankly, I’m frustrated, because the 20 L was solid, had been broken in for months and was going to be an ideal home for the pair.  I’ve ended up ravaging it with Hyposalinity and Formalin, and even after all that I’m stuck with sick fish?  If I have to abandon this tank and leave it fallow, I’m technically without a good dedicated home for a Maroon pair at the moment.  That’s a setback.  “GRR”

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So, in a situation like this, I think it is INACTION that generally “seals the deal” as it were.  Leave a fish that’s lost its desire to swim lying on the bottom wedged under the live rock and that fish will be somewhere, dead, by morning.  That’s my general prognosis.  Which is why inaction is not an option.  I’d rather kill the fish by trying to save it than sit back and just let it die.

Water Params in the QT Tank

Water tests came back normal…pH maybe slightly low at 8.0 but nothing alarming at all…all my reefs like to run at 8.0 most of the time.  Ammonia maybe a trace, but certainly below 0.25 ppm.  Nitrite and Nitrate undetectable.   SG 1.010 or every so slightly higher.  This, combined with the outwardly healthy and happy Lightning Maroon clownfish is an important indication that there aren’t environmental problems.

Can’t be the water…

So what is it then?  Tank has had low level Formalin treatments, and I’ve followed a strict regime of Formalin dips.  Tank has been at hyposaline conditions for several days, which may not outright affect a cure of any disease, but certainly should not hurt and likely has helped (I may have said it before…it could just as easily be that both fish would be dead were it NOT for hypo…we just don’t know).  We’ve seen signs of Brooklynella, but certainly not the rampant infestation that takes fish down quickly.  Likely I kept that at bay.  There has also been Cryptocaryon.  Nothing serious, certainly not to the levels where a fatality would result.

We have pretty good water parameters overall, so that’s not been a source of problems.  Even got a protein skimmer going and yes, the Seaclone is pulling out foam, even at 1.010.  So much for “not working” like some folks out there will tell you.  Yet still, in the last 24-48 hours I have noticed elevated repiration on the Maroon Clown, and this evening, a fish on the bottom, clearly stressed.  Honestly, without visual cues, the only thing that is really coming to mind is Amyloodinium, which I’ve seen before and can totally take a fish down fast.  Could it be that in a week alone I may have seen all three diseases on the female Maroon?

Making Educated Guesses

Well, anything is possible.  It could also be that the fish is now succumbing to starvation, secondary bacterial infections, organ failure, or even has just given up the will to live.  All of those are possible.

I have to operate under the following assumptions.

1. I could STILL be facing an infection with Brooklynella.

2. I could be facing an Amyloodinium problem now.

Since neither can be comfortably ruled out at the moment, I had to think this through carefully.

Medication options for Amyloodinium vs. Brooklynella

As I’ve alluded to prior, Amyloodinium may or may not be treatable with Formalin – the literature on the subject varies, and genuinely, it is a 50/50 split.  Brooklynella however, is universally cited as treatable with Formalin.  Conversely, the other generally accepted treatment for parasites like these is Copper.  I’m a fan of Cupramine.  Seachem’s Cupramine cannot be used with Formalin – it will create a toxic substance that would probably just kill everything.  Cupramine also may cause problems at hyposaline levels.  No details provided, it’s a “try it at your own risk”.  That said, if I was convinced I was dealing with Amyloodinium at this point, changing course to Cupramine would be a very necessary step, because Cupramine is highly effective against Amyloodinium in my experience, but only if applied early on.  The other problem, Copper does nothing for Brooklynella…at least 90% of sources tend to agree on that.

If I thought (or was convinced) it was Amyloodinium?

So for the benefit of argument, what would I do if I gambled and changed to Cupramine?  Well, the bottom line is any fish that’s going to be treated with Cupramine needs to be removed to another tank, because I can’t clear out the Formalin with any great level of certainty.  Not worth risking a toxic cocktail.  This also means possibly “rinsing” the fish as one person suggested in a comment thread.  I do concur…that would be a wise precaution, and wouldn’t be that difficult to accomplish.  The next thing to do would be to bring up the salinity, as the toxicity of Cupramine should decrease as that salinity goes up (a side note, we’ve also bantied about the use of an anemone as a therapeutic agent in the last 24 hours, which also would’ve required a rapid salinity change to accomplish).  Some of the advisers have suggested raising salinity could in fact be done rather quickly, but their frame of reference has been largely to compare to captive bred fish.  I did however, pick up  good literature-based clues on the subject.

The first clue on rapid salinity rises comes from Matt Wittenrich’s suggested course of action for treating Cryptocaryon on page 161 of his Breeder’s Guide.  The “jist” is that you drop SG to 1.015, and after two days, do a large water change (presumeably with full strength saltwater).  But that’s not really specific.    The more “detailed” clue comes from Joyce Wilkerson’s highly detailed protocol for Amyloodinium treatment on page 114 of her Clownfish Book.  Again, to give only the “jist” (please see the reference for full details), drop SG to 1.010/1.012.  Day 3, add copper and bring SG up to 1.018.  But, “Take a day or more to bring up the specific gravity”.  I’ve always worked under the assumption of no more than a 0.002 rise per day was adviseable, but this advise advoceates a rise of up to 0.008 in only 24 hours, 4X that of my assumption.  Since I’m a young guy who sometimes want’s more than only the solid, highly experienced sage advice of my elders, I realized that perhaps the real kicker is something sitting in the back of my mind.  Most of the bags in the Blue Zoo Aquatics shipment tested out at specific gravities around 1.019/1.020.  Yet  I pushed both a Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) and a Harlequin Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris) up to 1.025/1.026 in my reef on only a 1 hour drip.  That RATE would equate to 0.120 difference over 24 hours.  60X faster than my base rate, and 15 times faster than even Wilkerson’s literature suggested to do.  And I had NO PROBLEMS there.

Of course, the best example I can think of goes back to when I was 10 years old.  I was breeding mollies and had my first saltwater tank.  I would ROUTINELY net out my Sailfin Mollies and give them “excursions” in the saltwater tank for a day.  No acclimation of any kind, just dropping them in.  Now of course, I do not advocate this at all.  And healthy Mollies are not the same as distressed Clownfish.  But it’s just one more annecdotal experience that my preconceived notions might be ill-concieved or perhaps overly-cautious.  It is clear that fish can and do withstand far more rapid rises.

So, with all that said, if I get to a point at any time where I think I need to switch to a copper-treatment for this Female Maroon, the course of action is clear.  Rinse her with water from one of my broodstock reefs really quickly, and then move her to a 10 gallon tank that is set up with 5 gallons of diluted saltwater (probably from a broodstock tank).  Bring the salinity up from 1.010 to 1.018, while dosing with Cupramine.  That would be the way to affect a change.

However, I am not at that point yet, and I think that honestly, the time to switch would’ve been before the fish was trying to wedge itself under the live rock.

So what DID I DO?

One of the things routinely cited for treatment of both Amyloodinium AND Brooklynella is a Freshwater Dip.  The FW dip is said to knock off the parasites in the case of Amyloodinium, and for anyone who’s not familiar with Amyloodinium, it can kill a fish by completely coating the gills and you may never even see it on the fish’s skin (one of the main reasons I have suspicions I’m dealing with a case of Amyloodinium now – heavy respiration, stress, and yet no think mucus – generally I’ve only seen the actual cysts on a fish when it’s commonly past the point of no return because I left the fish in the reef too long).

Formalin dips have also been good so far.  Every time I did a dip, the fish always seemed “better”.  Dosing the tank with Formalin this last time appeared to make things “better” as well.  So I’m not about to just outright abandon this medication at this point.  Especially since if I am still dealing with Brooklynella, it is THE medication to use.  Amyloodnium?  The jury is out, but enough people suggest it that there must be some basis for it.

The decision was to combine treatments.  I admittedly have no basis for this other than the fish is now clearly on the decline and drastic steps are needed.  If it’s Amyloodinium and Formalin isn’t fixing it, perhaps the FW DIP will help alleviate the stress, clear up the gills, and buy me some tmie.  If Formalin IS doing the trick, why cut it out?  Admittedly, I have no clue if there’s a basis for this dual purpose dip.

I had thought about doing a FW DIP with Methelyne Blue (which helps deliver Oxygen during the dip and is a often recommended practice).  However, in the back of my head, I hadn’t researched it.  I didn’t know how MB and Formalin would interact, and didn’t want to inadvertently cause some other problem when a fish, dipped in MB, was returned to the main tank.  I have to research this more.  There are potential merits.

The net  result of my thinking was to use the dosage for a Formalin dip at 20 drops per gallon in a Freshwater dip to last anywhere from 5-15 minutes as tolerated (I think in the past I’ve gone even longer, but generally shorter FW dips are suggested).

Prepping the FW Dip

For anyone who’s never done a FW dip, it is not scary.   I don’t have RO DI here unless I buy it, so I had to use good ole tap water.  Matched the temperature coming out of the tap with the tank temp, and them measured out 1 gallon.  Dechlorinated it with Seachem’s Prime.  Then checked the pH..

First pH Test

First pH Test, QT tank sample on left, FW Dip water on right.

The results of this first test showed that the FW from the tap (right sample) was just slightly lower than the tank’s pH.  A very small dusting of Seachem’s Reef Buffer was added to the dip water, swirled and aerated for a minute.  I took another test.

Second pH Test, FW dip water on right.

They are now very close, close enough in my opinion, with the FW maybe ever so slightly elevated.  But you can barely tell at all.  Once the pH was matched, the FW dip was “good to go.

But, as I mentioned, I opted to combine FW with Formalin.  While I completed the requisite 3 dip treatment already, if I was continuing on an “every other day” Foramlin dip regime, today would’ve been the day.  So 20 drops of Formalin were added to the FW dip water.

The FW + Formalin Dip

Being aware of timing on a dip is critical.  Not freaking out is also critical.  So, first things first, get the female Maroon out of the tank and into the dip.

Stressed out Maroon Clown in a Freshwater Dip

Into the bucket she goes...

Stressed out Maroon Clownfish in FW Dip

She goes stiff as a board for a minute, all curled up...

Next, look at the time it is and SET AN ALARM for 10 minutes.

beat up old cell phone

Alarm SET!

And now observe the fish’s behavior.  No better way to convey this than video! This first video was maybe 3-4 minutes in.  This is basically how the fish has been acting in the main tank since I found it this evening.

Watch, this was around the 9 minute mark…you’ll hear the alarm go off towards the end.  Note how the fish makes a couple mad dashes in the bucket, and then just goes listless again.  This IS the erratic behavior I mentioned earlier.  The “mad dash” and then nothing.

Shortly after this vid, around 12 minutes, I felt the fish had “had enough” and returned it to the main tank.  It promptly dashed around the tank and wedged itself under live rock again.  But, when I left to come upstairs to document all of this, the fish was looking a tiny bit better, at least now sitting rightside up in the cave, clearly still very stressed.

EDIT – almost forgot – capped off the work with a 5 gallon water change and a full dosing of Kordon’s Fish Protector.  Dosed 5 drops of Formalin as well to make up for the removed water.

But What About the Lightning Maroon?

Yeah, this IS a blog about that awesome little fish, right?  Well, Edgar Diaz of AZ was the only one quick enough with the email trigger to shoot me any thoughts on my predicament this evening.  He made but one suggestion in response to my many questions.  To paraphrase, “Dip the female.  Not the male.  Female is replaceable.  Male isn’t”.

It’s also come to my attention that Jake Adam’s little April 1st prank on Reef Builders STILL has a lot of people thinking that this entire fish is a myth, a photoshop job (or rather several extremely good photoshop jobs).  Well, Jake has been all over me wanting dibs on the first HQ Video of the Lighting Maroon.  Well Jake, it ain’t HD, it ain’t HQ, and it ain’t on Reef Builders.  It’s a tease.  Just enough of a tease to let everyone in the world know that this fish isn’t fabricated (unless I am now the ultimate Adobe After Effects guru, at which point you should just all bow down before me…)

Wet your appetite Jake?

Divergent Paths

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This morning, both fish showed signs of improvement.  I was patting myself on the back for deciding to dose Formalin to the tank at the 1 drop per gallon rate.  I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to jinx anything.

The Lightning Maroon is doing well.  Today, all day, I can finally say that it has started to behave like a typical clownfish.  Playful, energetic yet still timid and nervous.  Eating well, and eating anything I offer.

This evening, after being gone for a couple hours, I returned to find this:

Maroon Clownfish...not feeling well

the female PNG Maroon...

OK, what exactly is supposed to go through my head at this point?  Seriously.  Are you KIDDING me?  I honestly thought the fish was dead or wedged in and unable to get out (and dead).  I started taking live rock out and she bolted out and up into the water column, fully erect and alert.  And then she went and laid down behind some other rock.  And then bolted around the tank.  And then laid down again.  There is nothing outward visibly wrong with her in any way, except for rapid breathing and erratic behavior (and the fact that she has not eaten in a week or longer now).

CLEARLY the female is still having issues, and this is definitely not going in the direction I want.  I need to reevaluate what I’m doing and I’ll need to do so tonight.  I’ll post up what I decide to do when I’ve done so.

I need to pass along quick thanks to my trusted group of advisers.  They include Joe Lichtenbert of RPI, Edgar Diaz of Addy-Zone, Mark Martin @ Blue Zoo Aquatics, Dustin Dorton @ ORA, Matthew Carberry @ Sustainable Aquatics and Christine Williams.  They have all been valuable contributors and have given me LOTS to think about.  No doubt the amount of emails flying back and forth is staggering for them. THANK YOU for putting up with all of it guys, I hope you feel some ownership over this project.  Remember, I feel that this isn’t MY project, but “everyone’s”.

It is perhaps interesting, if not comforting, to know that between 6 highly-qualified & experienced aquarists, each one has had suggestions or advice as unique as they are themselves.  I will say the general consensus has been to stick with Hyposalinity and minimize stress (to not make any sudden changes).  The change in the female’s condition may nullify some or all of that advice, but it’s hard to say.

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