The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged EcoAquariums PNG LTD

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



With the looming release of my very limited stash of Lightning Maroon Clownfish to the open market, one of the questions that’s been struggled with is what to sell them for.  That question generated many more thought provoking discussions about the origins of the fish, and the ethics of producing it in the first place.  You might recall my post in August of 2012 covering the retail pricing of other PNG Maroon Clownfish; what you didn’t know was that this post had been drafted, and has been sitting there while we debated whether it should be posted or not.

Ultimately, at LOT has changed since August 2012, but we’ll get to that at the end

The Going Rate?

Let’s start with “price”.  I paid a 4-digit figure for mine – a huge risky investment – the most expensive fish I have ever owned.  I got lucky that it didn’t die, made it, and successfully spawned.  I got even more lucky to find that the trait was genetic.

Over the past few years, most truly NEW and or RARE captive bred clownfish are released into the market at around a $300 to $400 price point.  But that’s with a steady supply backing them up.  To date, the Lighting Maroon pair has not spawned again (I have not overtly coerced them into it again, preferring to let them come to mating naturally), which leaves me with only a handful of fish to release.  So what are they worth?

Well, back when investigating the prices of PNG Maroons I spoke with Dan Navin, head of EcoAquariums PNG.  He gave me some great insights.  Before we get to that, it bears mentioning that the reality of a THIRD Lightning Maroon Clownfish being caught and exported from PNG is hypothetically plausible.  Case in point, collector Steven Paul, who caught the Lightning Maroon I now own, has been attributed as saying “…he knows where more lightnings are, he just hasn’t gotten around to catching more of them for us yet…” at  So it’s certainly POSSIBLE that some other day, some other year, some other lifetime, another wild-caught Lightning Maroon could show up.

Which brings me to the question – what’s that next wild-caught Lightning Maroon Clownfish worth?

I would not let the next wild lightning go from here for less than a $5000 retail price. For less than that, Id keep it here and try to breed it ourselves. Or send it to a successful breeder with a community kickback contract in place.”  That was Dan Navin’s initial response in 2012 – I assume he was talking $5000 USD.

The Impacts of Captive Bred Lightning Maroons

Of course, I did point out that he might be hard pressed to get that amount once there are 10, 20, or 2000 captive bred Lightning Maroons running around, to which he responded, “You hit the nail on the head though, when you said that we will not be able to fetch as high of a price for our next lightning maroon, after you start making these available as captively produced. The same can also be said about our other, much more common but less aberrant maroons, like our horned and mis-barred. This reduced value will have a direct impact on our collectors.”

Navin’s concerns are certainly valid given that the current “sustainability” model in place in PNG does require, among other things, that divers be “well-paid” for their fish.  A diver who finds a slightly aberrant maroon clownfish currently has a little bit of a financial bonus awaiting him, and as I showed in a prior blog post, that’s a fairly regular occurrence so far.  The restricted supply is what keeps the value of these wild fish high, and that could change in the future, directly impacting a diver’s bottom line.

To extrapolate the issue, Navin believes that the Lightning Maroon I possess was sold for far too little, the diver paid way too little, and the community missed out on receiving long term benefit from this fish.  On some counts, knowing the numbers Navin conveyed, I’d perhaps agree.  I too have long since wondered if exporting this Lightning Maroon was the right thing to do, or if this amounted to a case of “bio-piracy”.

The Decision To Export the Lightning Maroon

David Vosseler, head of SEASMART PNG, was the one responsible for making the export decision.  The only other option would have been to keep the fish in PNG and to attempt to breed it there.  Vosseler conveyed to me that the notoriety generated by exporting the fish was good for PNG and the fishery; at the time it brought more marketing value than the fish itself could fetch.  The fact that this fish wound up residing with me, where it would get full ongoing coverage on this website, was another main goal…the marketing merits of this fish as the ambassador for PNG, as well as a feather in the cap for the SEASMART brand, are certainly proven and haven’t faded from communal memory.

But perhaps most important, SEASMART did not have the facilities, resources, or technical expertise to breed any marine fish, so that was clearly off the table, leaving export as the only option.  If they had retained the fish in PNG, it’s doubtful that there would be any Lightnings to speak of today either, as the program was cut well short in 2011, and this fish would’ve either been returned to the ocean, exported to someone else if they even could have pulled off one last export, or maybe ended up in some aquarium somewhere in PNG.  Ultimately history has proven, in my opinion, that Vosseler made the right call to export this fish…an opinion as unbiased as I can offer.

Future Wild Lightning Maroon Clownfish May Come With Added Obligations

Still, I can empathize with Navin’s view that the PNG community was not rewarded sufficiently for the production of the fish, and that production of them in the future may cause more harm than good to the people of PNG. Navin elaborated –  “[It] just seems fair to me that a good portion of the proceeds of any captive breeding efforts go back to those people who would otherwise be getting a better price for their catch. They have no ability to breed the fish themselves, and have no ability to stop anybody from doing so. They are simply just trying to etch out a meager existence in this quickly developing world which has essentially passed them by. Again, I think you can get a higher price for these fish if you promote the fact that a community kickback is in place. This benefits the villagers, and you.”

Certainly a compelling argument, but when Navin had initially proposed that I give a 50/50 split of my own sales to a hypothetical entity in PNG, my jaw hit the ground!  After all, I’m the one who did all the work, invested all the money, and took ALL the risk.  The next biggest investor in me, was perhaps Blue Zoo, who skipped out on offers many times more than what I paid.  They avoided the quick buck (they didn’t LOSE money though), but they could’ve gotten far more.  They avoiding “cashing in to the max” on the premise that this fish ought to go to a breeder to be preserved and propagated, vs. a collector of rare fish who’d just watch the fish.  Navin seems to disagree with that sentiment, and this disagreement is echoed in his opinion of who should get these Lightning Maroons I’ve produced.

“Regarding you selling [the F1 Lightning Maroons] to breeders, I would much rather see them go to a rich people, who will simply pay you a good price, and put them in a big old aquarium where they will live out there lives… and die,” wrote Navin.  “Send them to more breeders, and I think you will be compounding the problem. The end result will be that lightning patterned maroons become a dime a dozen, and all value will be lost. You are better off, as are PNG collectors, if you keep these more exclusive.”

But he does have me thinking, and this concern is what drives the “community kickback contract” that Navin mentioned earlier.  He elaborated; “if anyone has any intentions of breeding it, there will be a community kickback policy in place. Not an EcoAquariums kickback, but a community kickback, specifically targeting the village school, from whichever community reef the next one comes from.”

What’s My Responsibility The Breeder of Lightning Maroon Clowns?

The other side of me looks at my project and realizes that my goal here was the preservation of rare biodiversity.  I have perfectly ugly endangered species of freshwater fish in my basement that I am trying to breed solely for the preservation of their genetics.  There is no one telling me I should be “kicking back” anything to a town in Mexico simply because I am breeding Characadon lateralis.  When I look at this topic through that lens, I realize quite quickly that if the fish didn’t carry a quadruple digit price tag, I don’t think we’d be seeing the same ideas coming forth.  After all, is Dan Navin sending out every fish he collects with a contractual agreement that if you breed it, you are required to pay a royalty back to the PNG fisher who caught it?  Not that I’m aware of.  Should he?  Maybe?!

I certainly have no legal obligation to convey any future profits from this fish to anyone other than my family, my fishroom, and my son’s college fund!  I could argue that, just as David Vosseler had suggested, the ongoing spotlight on the PNG Lightning Maroon, and thus on PNG fisheries in general, has paid off in non-monetary ways by continuing to feature this fishery, and thus, create the market demand for the PNG fish.  That IS the dividends they elected, and are now collecting.  They’re getting payment from me right now as I take my personal time to write yet another blog article talking all about EcoAquariums and sustainably-harvested Papua New Guinea reef fish.

How Could A “KickBack” Work?

Still, I have thought about the concept of the “kickback”.  In the discussions about retailing my offspring, I have indeed considered the idea of “giving back”, and I stumble mainly on the logistics of doing so, and of getting other people to buy in.

I’ve looked into patenting the genetics, which would then make it illegal to propagate the fish without a license – such a license could then enforce payments back to the patent holder.  However, since the animal is not cloned, and is not a GMO, it’s not something that can be covered under patent law. Such a patent would cover my ongoing investment, and could also facilitate a community kickback program akin to the one Navin asked for.  Regrettably, no such patent can be had.

In other interest groups…for example Hostas, there ARE patented plants that require a license to propagate.  However, this is not some 50/50 split of gross sales (as Navin initially propose), but a flat fee paid per plant produced and sold..a royalty.  I believe these patents last for 14 years (I’d have to check that), during which time nurseries do have to pay the patent holder a royalty.  This is however a reasonable fee, perhaps anywhere from $0.25 to $1 per plant.

There need not be a patent to create a contract that is agreed to on the purchase of these fish; we even have examples such as Ocean Rider, who’s checkout process required you to agree to NOT propagate certain of their strains/hybrids.  That of course stops no one, and is very difficult to enforce.  In the case of the Lightning Maroon, I very well could create such a contract on all fish derived from this line, which in turn would require people to pay a kickback for each fish sold.  And if you think about it, in the LONG TERM, it would be really cool if each Lightning Maroon sold, until the end of time, produced a $1 kickback going back to Fisherman’s Island.

The reality, however, is that no one wants to keep track of this kickback, and it’s incredibly easy to skirt the system.  While I could see a professional organization like ORA, Sustainable Aquatics, Propaquatix, etc, being willing to participate in such a program, the moment hobbyists get the fish they’ll start undercutting retail prices and I don’t think for a second the hobbyist breeder who’s anxious to cross a Lightning with a Gold Stripe really cares one bit about paying a $1 royalty per fish to someone in PNG.

In my ideal world, I’d love to see something like $1 of every Lightning Maroon clownfish produced from now until the end of time go back to the village in PNG where my fish came from. However, there is also the issue of WHO collects all these funds, and who gets them to PNG, and how is that done in a transparent, non-corrupt manner?  I just don’t see that happening!  Pragmatically, Navin probably wont’ be able to enforce any community royalty agreement on any future wild Lightning Maroon they produce, specifically because after a couple years, it’s entirely plausible that the fish being produced could be a mixture of my currently “license free” fish, vs. fish out of whatever contract he’s had a breeder enter into.

Another Outgrowth of the “Contract” Concept – Preventing Hybrids

Of course, this all relates to another concern of mine, and that is the future hybridizing of Lightning Maroons with Sumatran Gold Stripe Maroons.  I have TREMENDOUS issues with that cross…it’s irresponsible and could be extremely damaging to the long term genetic preservation of a CLEAN PNG line of Lightning Maroon Clownfish.  I truly want any breeders to only use other White Stripe Maroons from PNG, which in 2012 were only available  through (the US source for EcoAquariums PNG, which is the only export operation in PNG).  I can probably make a contract that you can’t do this, force people to agree to it, and yet still, no matter how much a rail against it, there will be some smart-ass breeder somewhere who is thinking about the short-term profit, and not the long term responsibility that they have as breeders.  I will have no problems villainizing such a breeder for such greedy & shortsighted pursuits.

Is there a verdict?

I am not writing off the notion of agreements for royalties to PNG, and agreements to only breed to PNG White Stripe Maroons.  Still, I suspect that any giving back that comes from my Lightning Maroon Clownfish could only be a one-time thing led by me and a partner retailer if we decided we wanted to do it, and I think the only real prevention of hybridizing these wonderful fish is that the breeding community polices itself.  At the moment, no final decisions of any kind have been made, but I suspect neither royalties or breeding contracts will be pursued as they’re terribly unenforceable.  I assume these fish will enter the market largely as their mom came to me – no contract, no royalty, just a fish to do with as I pleased.

What do you think?

I absolutely welcome ideas and thoughts on the topic of “royalties” and “breeding contracts”; are you for it, against it, do you know of situations where this is implemented successfully?  Do you have ideas on the legal framework to set this up?  Can the aquarium hobby and industry embrace such an idea voluntarily, or is my pessimism well-founded?  Does doing this open a Pandora’s box for all other geographic lines and distinctly wild-sourced mutations in clownfish?

The Odds of Another Wild Caught Lightning Maroon Showing Up (and the future of EcoAquariums PNG)

As I alluded to at the start, a LOT has happened since this first conversation was had.  At the end of 2012, EcoAquariums PNG ceased operations, as 2012 they had been operating at a loss.  In late February, 2013, Dan Navin relayed that “[while] the business generated cash for the collectors and our employees, it barely made enough to cover the high operational costs in PNG, and certainly never put a penny in my pocket”.  The net result – at the moment, all this talk of a $5000 wild caught Lightning Maroon with a kickback is moot; the odds are currently nil that any more PNG fish are going to be showing up in the near term, let alone any more Lightning Clownfish.

Still, this could change.  When asked about the future of EcoAquariums PNG, Navin is looking at a more pragmatic approach to the business.  “EcoAquariums is in a state of dormancy for now. I hope to resume with small, boutique exports later this year.” Navin’s hope is that he can secure a full time income from another source of employment, providing a cushion of funding for the unforeseen problems that can crop up in a business like this.


PNG fish are certainly taking center stage right now; between Lightning Maroon Clownfish babies, and the new introduction of sustainably-collected PNG fish from EcoAquariums PNG via, there is no shortage of news on the PNG front.  The speculation about what Lightning Maroon Clown offspring will sell for hasn’t abated, and to that end, I can still say that nothing has been decided.

I did, however, contact Scott Fellman (of Unique Corals) and Dale Prichard (of Ecoreef UK) to ask  how much it cost, at retail, to get one of Dan Navin’s wild-caught PNG White Stripe Maroons, as well as the unique “Horned” and other “Unique” versions that come out of PNG once in a while.  What I found is that sustainability does carry a small premium, and by the same token, uniqueness carries it’s own premium pricetag as well.  The part that people will find interesting is that these prices suggest a minimum or baseline starting point for what the non-Lightning offspring could go for.  That said, it’s safe to assume that there will be additional value on these Lightning-Maroon siblings given the genetic dice-role involved.

Dale Prichard is quick to point out that the UK market is smaller than the US market, as if to suggest that “demand” might be lower and thus, prices would be lower.  Maybe, but on the flipside, Dale has been supplying retailers with PNG fish for several months now, so the UK may represent a more valid market to look at.  A small normal white stripe maroon from PNG would start retailing at £27; or roughly $45 USD based on recent exchange rates via the Google Currency Converter.  That said, Dale relayed that more maroons retail around £40 / $63 USD.  A “Horned” Maroon is really going to set you back; while the retail value may be placed at £80 / $126, the reality is that retailers are normally selling these special fish paired with normal white stripes.  The net result is your more likely to spend £100 to £120, or $157 to $189 in order to have a PNG “Horned” Maroon Clownfish in your aquarium in the UK.  Here’s some examples of the fish Dale Prichard has been seeing come through the Ecoreef UK under his watch, some of which may have been held back for breeding efforts.

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and

courtesy EcoReefUK / Dale Prichard

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and


Scott Fellman and the team officially  launched today, August 22nd, 2012.  The opening price for a regularly-striped white stripe maroon from PNG?  They’re going to start around $39 each for the smallest size:

Small White Stripe PNG Maroon @ - $39

courtesy / photo by John Ciotti

A representative shot (not WYSIWYG) – Small normal WS Maroon for – $39 -

Medium White Stripe PNG Maroon @ - $49

courtesy / photo by John Ciotti

A representative shot (not WYSIWYG) – Medium normal WS Maroon –  $49  -

A uniquely-patterned Maroon from PNG?  Expect to be paying in the neighborhood of $150-ish as a starting point, going up as the markings become more elaborate / intricate.

WYSIWYG Misbar PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish from - $149

courtesy / photo by John Ciotti

WYSIWYG a “misbar” (has a spot) maroon from PNG – $149 and already sold

WYSIWYG Horned PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish from - $200

courtesy / photo by John Ciotti


WYSIWYG, a “horned” maroon from PNG – $200 and already sold -


WYSIWYG Unquie PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish from - $395

courtesy / photo by John Ciotti

WYSIWYG, a “unique” maroon with lightning-like tail misbarring from PNG – $395

So realistically, an unusually-marked  PNG Maroon with a White-Stripe mate from the only current US-source for wild-caught PNG fish,, is easily going to set you back $200 to $450.

Judging these maroons with other wild caught maroons probably isn’t a fair comparison; owing to the more remote PNG location and the higher level of transparency and data availability, you should fully expect the fish to cost more.  For that matter, this might be a real world example of a slow shift towards more expensive wild caught fish ultimately producing the same level of income despite lowered volumes.  That could be a very good thing.  Scott takes this price discussion one step further when in is quick to remind me that the divers are paid significantly better in the first place.  Scott relayed that, “Dan’s fishers are paid a good wage for their work, which, and of itself, helps drive the cost up. Of course, with the higher wages, the fishers place a real economic value on their home reefs, and thus are less likely to resort ot potentially damaging and non-sustainable techniques (ie; dynamite, blast fishing, etc.) to catch as many fishes as they can just to earn a living wage.”

On top of all this, PNG is always going to represent a potentially restricted supply; the government-set TACs (Total Allowable Catches), aka. a “quota” in most fisheries, will automatically place a cap on the number of any species of fish that can be exported from PNG in a given timeframe.  This number could further be restricted if updated surveys were to conclude that population numbers were dropping; this is almost textbook fisheries management 101 in my opinion.  But apparently I’ve come to learn that this methodology, and the setting of any specific quota, is quite rare marine ornamental fisheries around the globe.

PNG fishes are more than just nice fish with a good back story and a limited supply; they might represent the current ideal in terms of broodstock for captive breeding efforts.  Indeed, as breeding moves forward, getting fish from good supply chains with known provenance should represent the bare minimum that a breeder uses in selection of wild stock for propagation.  Eg. don’t just settle for any old clownfish; if you’re going to breed Pink Skunks, know if they came from the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia, or somewhere else!  You never know when some taxonomist or geneticist is going to come along and say “hey, that Marshall Islands form of Pink Skunk is actually not the same species”…wouldn’t it be nice to know that you had that “new species” already breeding in your broodstock collection?

But getting back to PNG and “Horned” Maroons, remember that the EcoAquariums Ltd. fish aren’t just going to the UK, and now the US, but also to other Asian markets. Remember that there is an encounter rate only 1 unique maroon found every 11 days, or roughly 3 per month.  If this represents ALL the fish available to the worldwide market from PNG, let’s just hypothetically give the UK, the US, and Asia equal weight.  If the unique fish are divvied up equally, at best, we here in the US could expect to see roughly one “Horned” Maroon land here per month.  Now, maybe there will be more collecting with the US market coming online, and that could offset some of this (eg. maybe the encounter rate for unique maroon clownfish will go up with more divers in the water looking for more fish to fill more demand), it’s hard to say.  But given the track record to date, look at this this way – 12 of these might come into the country per year.

courtesy EcoReefUK / Dale Prichard

courtesy EcoreefUK ltd and

Is $150 to $400 a fair price? Well, the market decides that, but think about all the designer and hybrid clownfish being sold in the three digit range without consumers batting an eye? Yeah, I’m talking about the insane Black Ice Clownfish fad that’s going on right now, where no one can get enough.  Nevermind that the Black Ice is a hybrid, and that it’s really not that far off from a Picasso Perc (which as it turned out is a naturally occurring variation), but I suppose it goes to show how fickle people’s tastes really can be, and perhaps how uninformed consumers really are.  Of course, how many hundreds of Black Ice are sold each month here in the US?  Compared to a possible 12 wild caught Horned Maroons per year?  I think, if anything, a potentially restricted supply might suggest that the price of a “Horned” Maroon might in fact be much higher, at least in the current setting.  Of course, there’s the notion that maroons are “evil”, and having had a lot of ‘em in the last few years, I think that’s overblown.  Most of my Maroons have shared tanks with other fish, and not one has killed a fish it was housed with.  Hardly the murderous tyrants some folks make them out to be.

All of this now brings me back to the bucket full of babies in my basement.  If we take the market prices from wild caught fish and ignore everything else, it’s reasonable to assume that a small F1 baby that is 100% normally barred should fetch at least $40.  A baby showing some extra markings?  Well, that right there could represent a fish valued at $150 or more.  Definitely, any babies showing up with “Horns”  wouldn’t sell for less than $150-$200.  Really funky ones?  Maybe they’re going to fetch $300-$500 a shot?  What I can’t tell you yet is how much a 33-38% chance of the babies carrying Lightning genetics ads to the price of a non-lightning baby.

In a subsequent installment, we’ll talk about Lightning Maroon pricing, and how a hypothetical third wild-caught Lightning Maroon Clownfish might be handled and priced, straight from Dan Navin, director of EcoAquariums PNG.

Steven Paul is the PNG fisherman responsible for collecting the illustrious Lightning Maroon Clownfish.  With the new EcoAquariums PNG now in full swing, Dan Navin has been proud to show off the unprecedented level of transparency and traceability of marine aquarium fishes collected in Papua New Guinea.  With that transparency comes a narrowing of the gap; I now know a little more about Mr. Paul, via the EcoAquariums PNG Website -

A special thanks goes out to Shane & Len at Advanced Aquarist for co-publishing this blog entry there - it seemed like the perfect contribution given the style of material they like to cover.

The Lightning Project

Just to bring you up to speed, it’s been over 2 years since the “Lightning Maroon” from PNG made it’s way to the US and ultimately into my home tank.  It was a long time coming but in the late spring and early summer of 2012, we finally got a glimmer of success with the first and second spawning between the “Lightning” Maroon, and a normally patterned “wild-type” Maroon clownfish.  The pairing below are the two parents responsible for everything we’re about to cover.

The Lightning Maroon Clownfish and her wild-type mate.

The Lightning Maroon Clownfish and her wild-type mate.

The Results Are In

So not only did we get a spawn that made it, but we got roughly 50 juveniles post-settlement in the very first rearing attempt.  Now, more than 2 weeks in, it seems ever more likely that we have a roughly 50% rate of “Lightning” babies in our group of offspring – note I have yet to do an actual headcount, this is just a ballpark guesstimate on the numbers.  Initially the babies showed up with blue “caps”; thicker headstripes that were readily discernible.  As they progressed, they looked more and more like Picasso Percula babies.  While still possibly premature to say conclusively we have “Lightnings”, we’re definitely starting to see signs that the Lightning trait will come through with defining characteristics that will clearly match up with those that the two original wild Lightning Maroons shared.

17 day old Offspring from the Lightning Maroon & a wild type Maroon from the same island in Papua New Guinae

17 day old Offspring from the Lightning Maroon & a wild type Maroon from the same island in Papua New Guinae

Dismissing the Hybrid Hypothesis

Before going into the genetics discussion, I’m going to address one “possibility” that some creative thinkers might propose, either though just being “creative”, or through having read, misread, or misunderstood what someone has posted on some forum somewhere.  The hypothesis is this; the Lightning Maroon is a different species than a normal white stripe maroon.  And thus, are these offspring “hybrids”?

Categorically I firmly believe no, the Lightning Maroon does not in any way represent a species other than Premnas biaculeatus.  In most hybrid scenarios between two species, the initial primary hybridization generally yields a predictable intermediate form between the two parental species – I am sure there are examples of a primary hybrid where the offspring “range” from one parent to the other, but that is far more common in the second generation if it’s going to happen.  Since we have no intermediate forms in the offspring of this pairing, I believe we can safely rule out the “hybrid” hypothesis without further delay (the same cannot necessarily be said if we look at the “White Stripe” vs. “Gold Stripe” Maroon…the more I read and learn and see…leads me to believe these may in fact be two distinct species in the wild).

Let’s talk Genetics, Breeder Style

I’ll state up front that I’m no geneticist, and that I’ve been known to get my terms confused. So I’ve taken the opportunity to run this by Adeljean Ho (a good friend of Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich, and the scientist who published work in CORAL that suggests a unique genetic basis for the “Red” form of the Green Mandarin).  Hopefully he caught any errors I may have made in attempting to distill and disseminate these ideas.

Remember, I really downplay the “designer” aspects breeding of marine fish with mutations, but taking on the preservation of this wild trait has forced me to learn it.  Understanding the genetics allows a breeder who is working with “designer” fish to quite literally “create” what he or she envisions; the upshot of this knowledge is that it also levels the playing field for breeders, forcing them to turn back to producing QUALITY fish in order to differentiate themselves.  For me, the emphasis on quality, as driven by “open sourcing” the genetics of a fish, is the best route we can go if we must pursue “designer” variants going forward.

In this discussion of possible Lightning Maroon genetics, here are the important terms. We will try not use the term “gene”, because it kind of gets used interchangeably and thus will probably only confuse. The important terms here are “locus” and “allele”. “Locus” being a specific point in the genetic code where a particular pairing of alleles resides; the alleles being the pieces of genetic information, one from the father, and one from the mother, that come together at the locus to form the genetic makeup of the offspring.

We also cannot neglect the terms genotype and phenotype.  Genotype refers to the genetic “code” specifically, which is important because alleles can be present yet not “expressed” in the phenotype.  Yes, the phenotype is the outward appearance as driven by the genetics.  And this is the conundrum; due to the way certain alleles interact with other alleles, there are traits that can be masked, surpressed, or unexpressed, that is to say you won’t know a fish carries a hidden albino gene in its genotype just by looking at it (and seeing it’s phenotype).

The other important terms to remember are “homozygous” and “heterozygous”; all that really means is whether the two alleles in the loci pair are the SAME genetic code (homozygous, such as A/A or B/B), or different (heterozygous, often abbreviated as “het” for short, such as A/B). Considering the entirety of our genetic makeup, it all boils down to loci (plural of locus) and what pairing of “alleles” is inherited at each locus. Obviously, the outward result of these traits is the result of all these separate loci together, and certainly some observable traits may be governed by multiple loci, which makes it difficult to ascertain the genetics and inheritance behind them. By the same token, the possible individual alleles that can be present at a loci are perhaps infantasimal in their variation (for example, ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRUSTUVWXYZ), but only two individual alleles (eg. A/Z, C/C, or B/Q) will be present in any particular locus.

That said, most all of the genetic variations that we’ve come to openly understand in fish seem to be the result of the genetic makeup of an individual loci, and from there, the combination of multiple traits at different loci  is what gives us a well-understood, massive diversity of ornamental fish varieties (as some would call them, “Designer” fish).  Freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scarlare) make the perfect example as they are well understood genetically (see The Angelfish Society’s Phenotype Library). Combining multiple traits from individual loci is how we get a Pearlscale Lace Clown Veil Angelfish. Those names refer to phenotypes; outwardly discernible traits, in this case those names refer to scale structure + dark gene + stripe genetics + fin length. In the Angelfish breeding community, this would get denoted roughly as (p/p) – (D/+) – (Z/S) – (V/+).  Because we know which alleles at which loci contribute to each end result, in theory any breeder can “make” a Pearlscale Lace Clown Veil Angelfish; the breeder just needs to have the proper parents with the proper genotypes.  The breeder also knows that mating two Pearlscale Lace Clown Veil Angelfish together will result in a plethora of unique genetic combinations, 27 to be exact, all of which have their own name.  One example?  Pearlscale Blushing Superveil Angelfish, (p/p) – (+/+) – (S/S) – (V/V).

I’ll borrow notation from the freshwater Angelfish world to try to lay out the options for the Lightning Maroons, and I’ll propose that “L” will stand for the Lighting allele. “+” will stand for the wild-type, default state allele (aka. a normally striped fish). Thus, a wild fish, without any “Lightning” genetics, would be represented as (+/+). Note that in this notation, capital letters are normally used for dominant or partially dominant traits, whereas recessive traits are generally denoted using lowercase letters.  I’m going to assume right up front that “Lightning” is a trait that directly controls the “striping” of the fish.  We are going to assume here that there are only two possible alleles involved in what we are seeing, and that the Lightning Phenotype is driven by one specific allele (L in our examples) and is not in fact the result of two unique alleles coming together (eg. Lightning = L/X, wild fish being +/+).  We are also going to assume that the Lightning trait is the result of genetics at one locus only. A brazen assumption, but it seems likely at the moment.

To explain the multiple locus issue another way, we are assuming it does not take the genetics of two (or more) loci to result in the Lightning phenotype.  In the Angelfish world, there are  phenotypes like Platinum that are the resultant combination of two independent loci, and the presence of specific recessive alleles in homozygous pairings, that result in the all white Platinum Angelfish – in this case the recessive gold trait on the “dark” locus, and the recessive Philippine blue trait on the “philippine blue” locus. Independently, you’d have a Gold Angelfish, or a Philippine Blue Angelfish, but “activate” both of those recessive traits through breeding choices, and you wind up with the possibility of all white platinum offspring.  Yes, you can “make” a Platinum out of parents that are not outwardly “Platinums” themselves, and that is the beauty of understanding the genetics.  What you cannot do is use only Platinums to breed back to the wild form of an angelfish – and that is the curse of “designer” breeding (which is one reason why designer-focused breeding can get in the way of conservation minded breeding – the “ornamental” genetics can function as actual genetic contaminants…but that’s for another day).

Angelfish Phenotype Examples

Genetics in action - the large fish in the foreground is a wild Angelfish, generally presumed (+/+) unless it carries hidden recessive alleles, and called a "Silver", which is the default striping pattern in Pterophyllum scarlare. The Blue one at right is a "Blue Ghost", representing 2 doses of the Philippine Blue allele, and a single dose of the partialy dominant stripeless allele, so (pb/pb) - (S/+). The white angelfish in the back is a "Platinum", the result of a fish being both homozygous for the recessive Philippine Blue allele, as well as homozygous for the recessive Gold allele, thus (pb/pb) - (g/g).

Based on the quantity of Lightning Maroons in the very first batch of offspring, there are three possibilities for how the Lightning Maroon trait genetically functions.  It could be a recessive trait, whereby there must be two alleles for Lightning present in order for the Lightning pattern to be observed.  Lightning could in fact be a dominant trait, whereby it only takes a single dose of the Lightning allele to mask the normal stripping pattern.  And the Lightning trait could be the result of a partial (incomplete) or even codominant allele, where a double dose fish will look different than a single-dose fish, which is still different from the wild type, normally-barred fish.
The Case and Implications for “Lightning” being a Recessive Trait

So let’s look at inheritance and expression of the genetics in play. We’ll start with the easiest to understand, a recessive trait like albinism (I think we all understand how albinism works on some basic level). Another good example – the recently discovered Philippine Blue gene in Angelfish is thought to be recessive.  A fish with a single dose of this allele (pb/+) shows no real difference with the wild form.  But put on a second dose, and *Bam*, you have a Philippine Blue Angelfish.

A Blue Silver Angelfish

A Blue Silver Angelfish , (pb/pb). The angelfish breeding community is thoroughly convinced that pb is a recessive trait on its own locus.

This angelfish is a "Silver", and happens to be a sibling to the Blue Silver angelfish shown above. There is a 2/3 chance that this fish has a hidden Philippine Blue allele, denoted as (pb/+), otherwise it is wild-type in every known sense, written as (+/+). If these two fish were mated, and none of the offspring developed into blues, that would prove the 1/3 chance of this fish having no hidden blue allele.

If “Lightning” is a recessive trait (one that requires two “doses” of the Lightning allele), then the Lightning parent could only be homozygous (l/l).  A fish that is heterozygous (l/+) would appear “normal”. Thus, if our (l/l) fish is mated to a wild type (normally barred) fish with no Lightning genetics (+/+), all the offspring would be (l/+). Such a pairing would result in 0% discernible Lightning Maroons, as all offspring are (l/+) (Figure 1).

Recessive Lightning to Wild homozygous Mate = all hets = no Lightnings.

Figure 1. Recessive Lightning to Wild homozygous Mate = all hets = no Lightnings.

Thus, if “Lighting” is recessive, we know that the Lightning Maroon must be (l/l). If recessive, to have found Lightning offspring in the first generation mating, that implies that the standard-barred mate must carry a “hidden” Lightning allele, and thus be (l/+) itself. Mating (l/l) to (l/+) would give you a 50% expression rate IF (and that’s a big if) the Lightning trait is recessive. Mathematically, the door is open for this trait to be recessive (Figure 2).

Recessive Lightning to Wild heterozygous Mate = 50% Lightnings.

Figure 2. Recessive Lightning to Wild heterozygous Mate = 50% Lightnings.

Now, there is an upside if this trait is recessive; it means we got lucky. Primarily, it means I got lucky on the selection of the non-Lightning mate, because there would be no way of knowing it carried a single-dose, non-expressed Lightning gene. It would mean that the game plan of using a mate from the same island paid off. If you find a wild albino fish, you are most likely to find more albinos in the same geographic region because they’d probably be siblings. Not to mention that many of the non-albino siblings in the area could potentially carry a single albino gene as well.

The other way we will be lucky is that IF Lightning is recessive, and if the initial percentage is in fact roughly 50%, it would mean that all the siblings would then have to carry a single, non-expressed Lightning allele (because their only option from the Lightning parent is to receive a Lightning allele). This would mean that every fish in the group if mated would produce 25%, 50%, or 100% Lightning Maroons. To put it in a commercial context; if we definitively knew that this was a recessive trait, then even the normally striped offspring would be tremendously valuable to breeders, because simply mating two of those together yeilds 25% Lightning.  In an interesting twist, it seems most people expected the Lighting trait to be recessive if genetic, and assumed that we would get the results shown in Figure 1, and only in the 2nd generation would we get more Lightnings, as shown below (Figure 3).

Recessive Heterozygous F1 Offspring, Mated together, produce 25% Lightnings.

Figure 3.Hypothetically recessive heterozygous F1 Offspring, mated together, produce 25% Lightnings.

Still, I’d love to hope that this trait is recessive because it means all the siblings would then carry a hidden Lightning allele. In looking at the number of wild Lightning Maroons presumably observed (and thus caught), we know of only 2. This rarity could suggest a recessive trait, as two wild fish with hidden Lighting Genes, mating together, would produce 25% Lightnings. Given that a clownfish pair’s minimal reproductive goal is to produce two replacements, you can quickly see how a single pair of clowns, constantly churning out babies that are 25% “Lightnings”, might only yield a handful at best (remember, marine fish have been shown to suffer massive mortality in the earliest hours and days of their lives – most never even make it to settlement, and most of those, not past their first year).  Lightning Maroon babies truly stand out in the rearing tank while their normally patterned siblings are difficult to see; you can’t help but assume Lightning offspring be much easier for predators to locate. So the rare Lightning making it in the wild would fit well with a recessive trait hypothesis.

But what are the odds that I got “lucky” with the mate I selected? Impossible to say, but Occam ’s Razor suggests that the following scenarios could be more likely.

The Dominant Scenarios for “Lightning”

Let’s deal with straight up dominance. If this is a dominant trait, then you only need one “dose of the gene” to express the trait. To simplify, breeders tend to view dominant traits as being pretty uniform in their expression, and there’s no difference whether you have one dose or two. In other words, a Lightning Maroon Clownfish could either be (L/L) or (L/+) and would look the same. A good example of this, to borrow from the Angelfish community, is a trait called “Zebra”, which adds extra bars and patterning in the fins. There’s no visible difference between a homozygous Zebra (Z/Z) or a heterozygous Zebra (Z/+).

A Zebra Angelfish

A young Zebra Angelfish, straight up dominance means this fish could be (Z/+) or (Z/Z) - the only way to know is through planned and controlled matings and observing the results.

Let’s again weigh the options. If Lightning is dominant, then the non-lightning mate can only be (+/+). Why? Because any fish that is (L/+) is going to be Lightning. So in this scenario, the normal mate can only be (+/+). That leaves the Lightning Maroon to be either (L/+), or (L/L). Now, here’s where it gets interesting. If the Lightning Maroon was (L/L), we would have 100% Lightning Maroons in the offspring, because every fish could only get a ( L ) allele from the Lighting Maroon, and all (L/+) offspring would then be Lightning (Figure 4). Since we don’t have 100% Lightnings in the offspring, we can rule out the Lightning Maroon being (L/L) if this is a dominant trait.

Homozygous Lightning Father X Homozygous Wild-type Mother = 100% Lightning offspring

Figure 4. Dominant Homozygous Lightning Mother X Homozygous Wild-type Father = 100% Lightning offspring

That would leave (L/+) as our only genetic option for the Lightning Maroon, which would thus result in a roughly 50% expression rate in the F1 generation. The inheritance of the ( L ) allele from the Lightning parent is a just a coin toss, 50% of the time they get a +, and 50% a L.   Once again, the rules of genetic expression and inheritance suggest that this is a possible genetic explanation given the initial results we’re seeing (Figure 5).

Dominant Heterozygous Lightning Father X Homozygous Wild-type Mother = 50% Lightning offspring

Figure 5. Dominant Heterozygous Lightning Mother X Homozygous Wild-type Father = 50% Lightning offspring

Now, my problem with this trait being dominant starts immediately from the fact that it requires at least one outwardly visible Lightning Maroon Clownfish to be breeding in the wild in the first place (unless there is a wild-type pair that is predisposed to throwing off the odd “Lightning” mutation once in a blue moon – afterall, these traits can appear spontaneously). If this trait is dominant, then it might also suggest that this mutation ought not to be as rare as we currently are led to believe it is. And to make matters worse, it does seem that we haven’t seen much straight up “dominant” variations in ANY of our designer clownfish to date; it seems all are either recessive or the result various doses of partially dominant traits. And surprise again; looking back at the Angelfish (which happen to Cichlids, which are a closely related family to the Damselfish, and thus to the Clownfish), we see this: 0nly 1 truly straight-up dominant trait. Meanwhile, there are currently 5 known recessive traits, and 7 traits that are either partially dominant or codominant. Dominant traits just don’t seem that common in clownfishes.

What if “Lightning” represents Partial Dominance?

So what if this is a partially dominant (aka. incomplete dominant) or co-dominant trait. The difference is nuanced, but in the angelfish world co-dominance can cause “blending” of traits in certain mixes, dominant expression in other mixes, whereas partially dominant traits present more of an A/B/C result. To draw a parallel, some might say that if the Lightning trait were codominant, then a fish with a single Lightning allele should still show the white stripes “underneath” the lacy pattern of the Lightning.  I’ll dispense with codominance for the time being and just refer to this option as the partial dominance possibility.

Partial (incomplete) dominance is perhaps the most plausible and most exciting of the three options.  As the scenarios are about to play out, they suggest that the Lightning, in a partial dominance scenario, would only be the “first step”.  Partial dominance is well documented in angelfish, and the stripeless allele is a great example.  A normally striped angelfish is Silver (+/+), a single dose is a Ghost (S/+), and a double dose is a Blushing (S/S).  Take a look at a Ghost and compare it to a Blushing that happens to be showing a second partially dominant trait, the “veil” fin trait (impossible to say at this young size whether our example fish is simply veil (V/+) or super veil (V/V)).

A single dose stripeless angelfish, (S/+), aka. a "Ghost".  You can see a "Silver" (wild type, standard barred) Angelfish in the backround at right for comparision.

A single dose stripeless angelfish, (S/+), aka. a "Ghost". You can see a "Silver" (wild type, standard barred, aka. (+/+)) Angelfish in the background at right for comparison.

Blushing Angelfish

A Blushing Angelfish with two doses of the "Stripeless" allele, (S/S).

If “Lightning” is a partially dominant trait, the results in the offspring push us to only one genetic possibility. Let me step back to explain why. There are currently only 2 forms of observable pattern in the offspring; “Lightnings” and “normal”. Simply put, the Lightning cannot be (L/L) in the partial dominance scenario. If a partially dominant allele is present in a homozygous state (L/L) and mated to a wild type fish (+/+), we should get all (L/+) – something intermediate between the Lightning and the Wild form, and they should all be the same (emphasis again on the fact that there would be no Lightnings, and no normally barred fish either) (Figure 6). We don’t have that result, so (L/L) is ruled out if Lightning is a partially dominant trait.  Or is it?

Partially Dominant Homozygous Lightning X Homozygous Wild Type = 100% Intermediate Offspring

Figure 6. Partially Dominant Homozygous Lightning X Homozygous Wild Type = 100% Hypothetical Intermediate Offspring

The second consideration for parental genetics would be (L/L) x (L/+), but once again here, the (L/+) cannot look like the wild form, as (L/+) represents an “intermediate form”. Someone out there is going to say “but what if (L/+) does in fact look like the wild form?  If it did, then by definition Lightning would be a recessive trait as I described earlier (Figure 2)!  So this scenario is ruled out.

The third consideration would be (L/+) x (L/+), but then again that would mean both mates should be “intermediary” forms and roughly look the same (which they obviously don’t in our pairing). This alone is enough to scrap this mating as a possibility.   But if you’re not convinced, this hypothetical mating would also mean that 25% of the offspring would be (L/L), 50% (L/+), and 25% (+/+) – if the fact that the parents would have to look the same didn’t throw this out for you, consider that there would still have to be THREE (3) phenotypes in this batch of offspring for that proposed genetic combination in the parents to make any sense (which it can’t, because the parents are not the same).

The only way that “Lightning” works as a partially dominant trait is if the Lightning Maroon is (L/+), and the mate is (+/+). This produces a nice occurrence of 50% like the Lightning, 50% like the male parent (Figure 7). This also takes a lot of the “luck” out of the equation; we didn’t have to stumble upon a mate with a hidden allele like we would have in the recessive scenario.

Partially Dominant Heterozygous Lightning Maroon X Wild Type Male = 50% Lightning Maroons

Figure 7. Partially Dominant Heterozygous Lightning Maroon X Homozygous Wild Type Male = 50% Lightning Maroons

This also seems to be how some currently known traits may work (Picasso in Percs, maybe Snowflake in Ocellaris). If you believe that “Black Ocellaris” are a melanistic variation within Ocellaris, then “black” in ocellaris could also potentially be partial dominance…with “Blacks” having “two doses”, and when you mix Black with Ocellaris, you get “Mochas” which in all photos I’ve seen, are muddy intermediaries. The real question to be asked is what happens when you breed 2 Mochas together – do you get 25% Blacks, 50% Mochas, and 25% normal Orange Ocellaris? I don’t know that anyone has done that and tested the results yet (but I also know that I don’t believe they are the same species of fish at the moment either…you have to throw the genetics out the window when you start hybridizing)

But getting back to the Lightning; if this trait is “partially dominant”, then the most exciting part is yet to come, because it would mean that all the fish we’ve seen so far only have ONE dose of the Lightning allele (L/+), and thus, the designer breeders out there will be clamoring to mate two Lightnings together so they can discover what a (L/L) fish is going to look like.

And that’s the crazy part, because there should only be one of two things that could when we mate Lightnings together – either we’ll get 25% being something new, or we’ll just get more Lightnings. If we get 100% Lightnings, we are either looking at a recessive trait or a straight up dominant trait (or, in a less likely case the difference between a partially dominant (L/+) and (L/L) is simply too minimal to discern, and you’d then just treat it as dominant anyways).

The “Lightning Precursor” Hypothesis – Dealing with Horned and Flaked Maroons

I suppose at this point we have to step back and objectively define what we *think* a Lightning Maroon “is”.  What is the phenotype?  We have to consider the two fish that have been given that label to-date (the less familiar one being the first wild-collected Lightning Maroon from 2008).  Well, the best term I’ve heard used lately was to describe the Lightning Maroons as filigreed. Other’s commonly call the patterning “lacey” or “net-like”.  Whatever it is, the most notable place for this Lightning variation is in the headstripe.  The headstripe is dramatically wider in the Lightnings, and it is “pitted” with normal coloration.  “Horned” and “Flaked” maroons fundamentally lack this very distinct patterning and the wider headstripe it takes to make it.

The other part of the Lightning phenotype is the breaking up of the mid-stripe and tail-stripe into the lacey, interconnecting patterns that split apart and at times, reconnect.  None of the “horned” maroons show this patterning that I’ve seen, while many “horned” maroons simply exhibit broken bars or “extensions” trailing off.  Admittedly, only the most recent “Lighting Precursor” was really suggestive of the body stripping seen in the two wild Lightning Maroons, but the stripes showed a more “smooth” outline and did not reconnect (I’ve been told the other side of this fish was unimpressive) – I think this fish is better considered a more extreme form of these “Horned” Maroons being found in PNG waters.

In drafting this genetics rundown, I realized I had one other genetic possibility on the table; the notion of the “Horned” Maroons being collected in PNG potentially represented the “intermediate” form in a partial dominance scenario (eg. the hypothetical heterozygous offspring shown in Figure 6).  One such Maroon recently made the rounds in the internet being called by some a “Lightning Precursor”.

After examining the data provided publicly by EcoAquarims PNG, it seems these aberrant Maroon clowns  appear to be quite common in the waters of PNG, with various atypical Maroon clownfish being caught approximately every 11 days.  We also had other fish like Mike Hoang’s Goldflake Maroons which indeed, as young fish, had me wondering if we’d see Lightning-like traits as they grew up (sadly the best marked offspring were lost, and those that remain look no different than the “Goldflake” Maroons output by Sustainable Aquatics).

Let’s deal with the “Goldflakes” of the world first.  It turns out that abnormally spotted and overbarred Maroon Clownfish (what I’m calling “Flaked” here) are indeed commonplace in captive culture.  So far, these fish have seemed to elude genetic categorization, apparently really behaving fundamentally more like “misbarring” in other species of clownfish.  Most recently German breeder Sylvio Heydenreich shared some videos depicting some highly overbarred Maroons on the MBI website; when asked about these fish, he stated quite directly that, “Die Fehlzeichnungen lassen sich ganz leicht über die Wasser Qualität steuern.”  Or as Google likes to translate it, “The failure drawings can be controlled easily through the water quality.”  Failure drawings of course, being what is probably a literal translation for “misbarring”.  And to that end, we already are aware that misbarring in clownfish has environmental causes, not genetic causes. So as much as we like these “Goldflakes”, all observations to date suggest we think of this type of patterning as a likely non-genetic occurance.

Meanwhile, those “Horned” Maroons coming out of PNG had all of us, even me, convinced that the Lightning Maroon could be a homozygous (double-dose) example for a partially dominant trait. Simply put, the breeding results don’t really suggest this possibility because we lack the intermediaries (I would’ve expected the 100% “horned” batch to show up, like Figure 6).  Still, I do have two normally barred fish that show spots.

Note the extra spot on the back of this normally barred juvenile.

Note the extra spot on the back of this normally barred juvenile.

Is this baby a “Horned” Maroon?  Well, here’s the kicker.  There are only two ways you get hypothetical intermediates (intermediates being the proposed placement of the “horned” Maroons).  You either get 100% in the F1 batch, or the male parent has to be an intermediate itself, in this case, a “Horned” Maroon. And this is where there’s still an outside chance – the male has a single broken tailbar.  But…if this was in fact an “intermediate”, what genetics must we get in the offspring?  75% Lightnings, and 25% intermediates – NO wild-types.  Again, let me be explicitly clear – for “Horned” Maroons to be “Lightning intermediates” or “Lightningprecursors”, I would have had to encounter “Horned” Maroons  in the offspring and at a rate of 25% -or- 100%.  So…if the babies all wind up showing extra horned bars and spots as they grow up over the next few months, and the ratio of Lightnings to non-lightnings is 3:1, there could still be “hope”.  Otherwise, we have probably closed the book on the “Lightning Precursor” hypothesis that tried to link the Horned Maroons to the Lightning, at least for now.

All of that said, what I really think we’re seeing here is something much more fundamental in the Horned Maroons.  We are seeing this “flake” overbarring, a commonplace occurring in captive-bred maroons, showing up on a few random offspring.  You wouldn’t notice it in the Lightning offspring because it’s just “painted over”, but you can see it in the normally barred fish.  Years ago, breeders would have destroyed these types of fish as “culls”…that’s when the 3-bar wild-type fish was considered something to aspire to as a breeder, and not “common” and “boring” as many hobbyists may consider a wild-type clownfish today.  Given that we know of a possible causal relationship between “overbarring” and “environment”, perhaps there is something environmentally going on in the waters of PNG to show us more “environmentally overbarred”, aka. “Horned” Maroons, than perhaps we might expect in other parts of the ocean.

Or, and this is still a possibility; the “Horned” Maroons of PNG could yet represent another, distinct genetic variation.  It’s certainly possible – breeding them could give us the answers, although it may be difficult in the face of commonly-occurring “flaked overbarring” potentially giving you a fish with the same basic phenotype.

The Odds on the Lightning Pair’s Genetics

Let’s get back to the Lightnings.  If we give equal weight to all three possibilities for the interaction of the “Lightning” allele, we are left with three scenarios for the genetics of the parents.  Once again, notation here…(female first) X (male second).

Recessive, where we have (l/l) X (l/+)
Dominant, where it can only be (L/+) X (+/+)
Partial Dominance, where it must be (L/+) X (+/+)

By this alone, each has a 1/3 chance of being right.  There is a 2/3 chance, or 67% roughly, that the Lightning is (L/+).

However, for the sake of doing something interesting, what if I used the genetic ‘spread’ in Angelfish to derive an alternate baseline for the odds of a trait being dominant, recessive, or partial/codominant within the clownfish family?

Recessive = 5/13, or roughly 38%
Dominant = 1/13, or roughly  8%
Partial/Codominant = 7/13, or roughly  54%

If this was at all representative of the odds for trait expression in clownfish (and it’s really probably not, it’s just a fun way to think about it), then we have a 62% chance that the Lightning Maroon is (L/+), and within that 62%,  it would then represent a 87% chance  that the trait would be partially dominant (again, roughly 54% overall).

Overall, whether we weight the system or not, the odds remain in the rough territory of 2:1 that the Lightning Maroon is (L/+), and the mate I used is (+/+), vs the only possible alternatives of (l/l) and (l/+).  The kicker for me is when you move beyond “probability” alone, and put in the observations and the way mother nature seems to work.  I’ll get to my prognostication in a minute, but first, I must point out that this puzzle can be solved.

How are breeders going to help figure it out?

In a nutshell, this project will soon turn to the massive “cloud computing”, or in this case “crowd breeding” effort of marine aquarists who get these offspring.  It has always been my intention to get the F1 fish out to other breeders to both diversify the risk, but also to leverage the collective efforts of breeders to provide for rapid, definitive answers.  In a nutshell, anyone breeding with my offspring, you have my formal request to track your project at the MBI, and to do so openly.  You also have my request that you must track your offspring numbers and take photos of each one on both sides, because it is the headcounts and photos that will help determine the genetics in the end.  Here’s how we’ll do it (again, assuming that “Lightning” is the result of a single locus and a single allele).

We can determine (or rule out) a recessive trait by mating the non-lightning siblings together; if recessive, 2/3 of the F1 babies will carry a hidden Lightning gene. This means that picking any random 2 fish, the odds are roughly 40% that both are (L/+), so four out of 10 random pairings would yield Lightning offspring to the tune of 25%, if this is a recessive trait. The only way you get Lightnings out of pairing 2 normally-barred siblings is if this trait is recessive.

We can also determine this trait to be recessive by matings of Lightning Maroons to their non-lightning siblings. In this scenario, 2/3 of the pairings would produce 50% Lightning offspring, while the remaining 1/3 would produce nothing but normally striped fish.

We don’t need to use the siblings to specifically test for a recessive trait, but non-sibling fish present a conundrum – you have less insights onto what their genetics could possibly be.  Still, you can simply mate Lightings to unrelated white stripe maroons (and breeders out there, I will work as hard as I can to produce offspring from the other PNG White Stripe pair in the house so we have a clean PNG bloodline which we can outcross to, and Dale Prichard in the UK hopefully can contribute more, or you can look to the other PNG maroons being exported from EcoAquariums PNG now).  If the trait is recessive, then you have to consider the unknown odds that any randomly-selected, unrelated fish, could be carrying a single hidden copy of the recessive allele.

However, if the trait is partially dominant, any Lightning paired with a wild-type sibling, or any outcross (mating of a Lightning to unrelated normal fish) should yield a percentage (50%) of Lightnings in the offspring. Conversely, again, if the trait is recessive, these outcrossed matings will produce nothing but normally barred fish UNLESS, once again, you get “lucky” to stumble upon a fish with a hidden allele. But that’s the rub – you’re far more likely to find that hidden gene in the normally barred siblings.

If we get something “new” out of the Lightning X Lightning mating, it should be 25% of the “new” variety, and that would convincingly clinch the genetics as partial dominance. Sounds far-fetched? Well, in Percula, Picasso X Picasso is where we get Platinums from.  If mating Lightning X Lightning simply makes 100% Lightnings, then the trait easily falls into the category of a straight up dominant trait.

I’m a betting man if the wager is bragging rights…so my guess is…

…partial dominance.  Ultimately, my gut call is for partial dominance because it seems to be the most commonplace type of genetic trait we’ve seen in our designer clownfish, and it’s the most prevalent in a widely cultivated and well-documented group of related fish (the freshwater Angelfish). The odds also do slightly favor partial dominance.  Partial dominance may also be one of the easiest to prove – just mate two Lightnings together and see what you get. Partial dominance (and in this case, straight dominance) also requires less luck to have had the outcome I seem to have had with my initial pairing. If ever there was a project that had just about everything except “luck” on its side, it is The Lightning Project.

One last wonderful caveat – every possibility laid out above could wind up being 100% wrong.  Until we get those second generation fish produced, and aquarist start gathering the data and sharing it, we simply won’t know.

A special thanks to Adeljean Ho for acting as a sounding board and editor on this piece.  I am sure Adeljean, with his strong interest in genetics, was probably as excited about this as I am!  Thanks!

"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:

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 - - 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.


I keep tabs on the internet and once in a while go out and scour for new links to add to the links page here.  One of the many I found this evening is a lively discussion that cropped up on  First, thanks for the enthusiasm guys; I hope you all enjoy the journey!

But I have to jump out there and do a little bit of mythbusting.  I have to bring up my good friend Rich Ross, author of a fantastic series of articles called the “Skeptical Reefkeeping” – see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.  To drastically paraphrase, he would probably tell you that perhaps you shouldn’t believe everything you read, particularly on the internet, and especially in a reefkeeping forum.  Rich’s articles are MUST-READS for anyone using the un-curated internet as their primary information source.

So too, now and again, I have to simply point out misinformation as it pertains to this project.  You can use Rich’s methodologies to determine if I am truly an authority on the subject of the Lightning Maroon Clownfish or not.  And once you’ve decided whether or not I’m a trustworthy author on this topic, here’s some choice quotes, from some great fans (no sarcasm intended) at - I am guessing this is a classic example of how information travels from person to person, and takes on a life of it’s own, completely separated from the actual factual basis for the info.  You know, like that phone game you used to play on the bus ride to school…

GBoy66 asked, “So he bred a lightning with just an average maroon? Why not 2 lightnings? Wont that drastically decrease the amount of lightnings in the clutch..?

Yes, I did breed this Lightning Maroon clownfish with another maroon, but specifically another white stripe maroon clownfish collected from the same small island (Fisherman’s Island) in Papua New Guinea.  Certainly not a random “average” maroon, but a very specific broodstock choice.  Why not 2 lightnings?  Because I only have the one.  As far as decreasing the amount of lightnings in a clutch – well, frankly that’s jumping 10 leaps ahead of where our knowledge base is at this point.  First, we don’t know that this is genetic.  Second, if it is genetic, we won’t know what type of genetic trait it is.  It could be recessive (like albinism), which could mean NO lightnings in F1 generation (unless the mate carries the recessive gene as well).  It could be straight up dominant (which would mean potentially 100% Lightnings).  It could be something far more complicated, be it partially dominant (Snowflake in A. ocellaris is an example of a partially dominant trait; mate two snowflakes together, and you get 25% Wyoming Whites).  It could be co-dominant, multiple alleles…who knows.  No one.

LotsaFishes wrote, “I believe in all of recorded fish-collecting history, only two have been caught. He had both of them at one point, but one died. He has tried for 2+ years to get his remaining one to get along with and mate with a second clown.

On the first count, yes, as far as I am aware, there was the first one, collected in 2008, and the second one, in 2010.  Where you’re incorrect is in suggesting that I had “both of them” at any time…I have only owned the one.  Yes, I have been working for 2+ years on this breeding project, but not all of that time was spent directly attempting to pair the fish; many months were spent holding out for more broodstock from Seasmart in PNG, which unfortunately never materialized.  Only once I knew that the requested large Female PNG Maroons I wanted weren’t going to come, did I change plans to start working with what I already had on hand.

gumbii stated, “nope… the first pair was auctioned off for twice as much as the 2nd pair, but some random ballin’ guy killed them… then they said we’re only gonna auction them off to professional breeders and this kat got them… good thing too…

Simply put, categorically incorrect.  There has never been any “Lightning Maroon PAIRS“.  The first one collected…I’ve heard rumors about its fate.  Ultimately, the single fish I obtained did have offers on it that were stratospheric, but in the end, through the decisions of multiple people, the fish wound up in my hands.  I DID pay quite dearly for them, as some of my local hobbyists can attest (I sold tons of valuable livestock to help fund this purchase, and even then it did not cover the total investment in this project).

gumbii, not picking on you but man, I gotta ask where you’re getting your “facts”?  You went on to subsequently post, “so far only two females were caught… but they gave him a male from the same spot she was caught… hoping that it might have the same genetic make up or heterogeneous for “lightning”…

Unfortunately again, these statements are simply riddled with misinformation.  To say two females were caught is not knowable; both fish were brought in as singles, without mates, and in the case of the Lightning Maroon I now take care of, I am beyond convinced that the fish was originally still male when sent to me.  Also, I may have to take issue with your choice of the word “gave”, as in fact all fish in this project were paid for.  No free lunches here.  But you are right; the reasoning behind using other Maroons from the same geographic area is simply to increase the odds that if genetic, and if recessive, we could stumble upon some offspring in the F1 generation due to the mate being heterozygous; in layman’s terms, the odd chance that the mate carries a “hidden” Lightning gene.

GBoy66 then asked, “Oooohhhhh, ok. So, are these fish endangered? Weak? Why are they so hard to catch/keep..

Maroon Clownfish are not endangered to the best of my knowledge.  To answer your other questions out of order, I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that clownfish are probably among the easiest marine fish to collect in the wild simply because they are so site-attached and aggressive (willing to defend their anemones against far larger divers).  Regarding the “weak” question – well, I assume you’re referring to the recent spates of illness.  At the moment they seem to have everyone stumped; I would at times ponder whether the Lightning is in fact much older than we might think (it is CERTAINLY a possibility; clownfish can live for decades in captivity, and in the wild, while perhaps not common, I am aware of a single Percula Clownfish in the wild that was said to be 32 years old upon examination).  Imagine if this fish was already 10 years old when I got it; if that’s the case, it could already be quite near the end of it’s life (not ALL clowns live for decades of course).  At the moment, it is anyone’s guess.

Regarding these fish in general being “hard to keep”; wild caught clownfish are prone to diseases, particularly Brooklynella, which can make them far more difficult to work with.  Wild caught fish can take months or years or more before spawning for anyone, if they ever do. Most aquarium hobbyist have been spoiled (in a good way) by the readily available and abundant supply of captive bred clownfish (of many species these days).  Thus, there have been hobbyists who see the problems I have had with the PNG Maroons as a group over the past 2.5 years, and they question my abilities as a marine fish keeper and breeder.  Then I talk to people who I truly respect, and know they speak from a viewpoint of experience, and I get told things like “you’re doing FANTASTIC” or “most people wouldn’t have made it this far.”.  Knowing what I also personally know, I tend to look towards those with large experience bases who by and large, are supportive of my overall progress and have yet to question my abilities.  The message to the everyday hobbyist, particularly the beginner?  Make sure you start with captive-bred clownfish; save the wild caught ones until you have some experience.

el dude quipped, “Its a rare genetic variation…” [Update #3 - in rechecking the posts (due to Gumbii's comments), I see that the word "genetic" is no longer present in the post by el dude...a case of a quick edit?  I'm pretty sure I copy & pasted all my excerpts, but I'm not infallible; then again such changes are why I tend to copy things over in the first place.  Only mentioned out of respect for el dude in case I misread what he wrote]

Optimistic thinking my friend, as we certainly do not know that yet.  In fact, back in CORAL a while ago, I believe Wittenrich went on the record in a pro-genetic stance, while verteran Moe took the opposing viewpoint.  If these two wind up on opposite ends of the prognostication, well, I’d say making definitive statements like that are simply premature.  I HOPE you are right el dude, but you have no way of knowing yet.

It’s amazing how even when the information is publicly out there for anyone to read (as this project has been online since day one), that so much misinformation can be floating around out there.   In fact, I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first ‘fact check’ post I’ve had to do (given that I have a “tag” for “Fact check” already in the system!).  Of course, it’s fun to speculate and debate, and to the casual web reader, just remember that just because you read it on the internet, doesn’t make it even remotely true.  Updates on the babies coming soon!


The very next web post I came across is this one - - wow, more mis-info.

reefstew stated, “They have been out for about a year now. Very expensive. 

I will simply respond – news to me.  Would LOVE to see the retail source that’s offering them ;)  Thankfully, nwcronauer1242 came in and provided information that, to the best of my knowledge, is correct.  The irony here is that this perfectly illustrates a point Richard Ross makes about not believing what you write solely based on “post counts”.  It just so happens that reefstew is a veteran ReefCentral post with 1000+ posts; nwcronauer1242 has a whopping 32.  Nw also happens to be the one who’s probably right.  I say probably, because of this next statement:

lostmyz wrote,there was another lightening maroon clownfish at the wholesalers in LA about 1 month ago and it was being sold for 1200…. ”

I can’t say this is untrue, although here’s some things that call this into question.  First, I believe I have enough industry contacts going around that someone, somewhere, would have spilled the beans knowing about this project.

Second, back in May, there was this fish - - also harvested from PNG, although Dan stops short of calling that fish a Lightning Maroon.  Now, the “timeframe” roughly fits – throw on a ton of assumptions and viola, you have the info that lostmyz is presenting.  Afterall, there are still people who believe that there have been three full on Lightning Maroons collected, one only weeks after I got mine.  You might want to go read that post -

Third, and perhaps most importantly, while I have heard some rumors, I have seen no official words of ANY PNG fish being shipped to the US at this time.  (Update #2 - it’s been minutes since I wrote the above, but I just got word straight from EcoAquariums PNG moments ago, on their facebook page, “ First shipment to the USA SHOULD happen this week!

So unless Dan Navin is a lying, that categorically means that there have been no PNG Maroons of any kind, let alone Lightning Maroons from PNG (the only place they’ve been found thus far), entering the US, let alone a wholesaler on 104th street in LA, since SEASMART last shipped fish in mid 2010.  So unless “last month’s LA Lightning” was collected in another location (certainly possible), all the information and experience I have is pushing me to think that lostmyz is not correct.  Oh, and just a hunch; any LA wholesaler who got their hands on a new wild-caught Lightning Maroon would have talked it up to the world; we probably would’ve seen pictures and a bidding war.

Obviously, I am not alone, and other RC members did start asking questions…

…to which lostmyz replied, “I didn’t purchase it at the wholesaler in LA so I can’t really tell you anything about it. And as for papertrail I am pretty sure they aren’t coughing that over. And it was wild caught.


And lostmyz wrote on, “The thing with these “lightening bolts” is that its a mutation. Beyond the actual patterning mutation that this fish is going through the gene that causes it most likely causes other issues with the fish. Hence the puldging eye on the current one alive and the fact that out of 300 eggs, 1 survived and most likely will grow to be normal.

I’ll just hit these as bullet points

  • mutation?  unknown and unproven.  No way you could know one way or another.
  • genetics causing issues with the Lightning’s health? possible, but unlikely given that the mate has also shown problems in the past few months.
  • out of 300 eggs, 1 survived? – categorically incorrect, top to bottom wrong.  And that’s provable right here on this blog, just one post prior (as well as in the forthcoming next post)
When that last point was brought up, lostmyz wrote – “i stand corrected about the fry… but the rest holds true… ” – at best, you can hope for that, but categorically stating it’s a mutation, and making other bold statements that you can’t prove, means that you cannot say with certainty that the rest holds true.  The rest, is all unsubstantiated at best at this point in time.
HANG TIGHT, no more updates to this post as I’ve finished my Google results for the week ;)  On to the news!



After the initial press release, there were a lot of unanswered questions that people had regarding the newly announced exclusive exporter for marine fish from PNG – EcoAquariums PNG LTD.  The leader of the new company, Daniel Navin, corresponded with me via email to help give further insights into the new company and how it would be similar and/or different from the efforts of SEASMART.

While far from the last chapter, a lot of questions got answered and the interview with Daniel Navin was posted this evening on Reef Builders.  While some of you may be wondering why you should care, let me be blunt – if there are to be any more wild caught Lightning Maroon Clownfish collected, they will very likely come from this new company.  For the next year, if you want PNG marine aquarium fish, EcoAquariums is going to be the only source.

I think it’s fair to say that many people in the aquarium industry were eager for news out of Papua New Guinea. It’s probably been about a year (maybe even more) since any fish were shipped from the island nation’s developing marine ornamental fishery. With SEASMART and the PNG Government coming to legal blows, I had to fundamentally change battle plans in the Lightning Project since I could no longer expect any timely arrivals of broodstock options from PNG. Admittedly, I had given up hope that we’d ever see a viable fishery in PNG given that forward-looking statements implying that exports were to resume as early as February of this year obviously didn’t happen.

What does this mean for the Lightning Project? Well, it means that new PNG broodstock from Fishermen’s Island may be a reality in the near future (by end of the year). Based on the FOA rough guidelines I found last week, I know I need at least one more pair of PNG maroons just to ensure the minimum foundation population for a PNG lineage of captive breed PNG White Stripe Maroons. The best possible outcome? There could be more Lightning Maroons yet to come from the wild.

News is spreading fast, with multiple stories out there. I invite you to check ‘em all out, and know that even more is already coming.

Ret Talbot’s article in the CORAL newsletter
ReefThread’s podcast
My article on ReefBuilders

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