The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged Great Lakes Aquarium

This is the 8th spawn from the F1 Lightning X Lightning pair, and unlike all prior small nests, this is a nice tight half dollar sized group; at least a few hundred eggs.  And it’s the 2nd nest on a tile.  FINALLY, we might be getting somewhere.  The nest was spawned on the late evening of Wednesday, March 18th, 2015.

In other news, Spawn #50 for the wild lightning pair hasn’t gone so well…most of the eggs are gone, presumed eaten.  It was a much bigger nest..but looks like it’s still not working out right.  I also received word on 3/18 that the Great Lakes Aquarium’s pair was sitting on a 6 day old nest.  Additionally, Mike Doty’s pair spawned again!  I wonder who else has fish spawning for them now?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Fish Donated to the Great Lakes Aquarium

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

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

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

MORE on Lightning Maroon GL1

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

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

MORE on White Stripe Maroon GL2

How to strike the Great Lakes Aquarium with Lightning

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

GL2, reading for bagging

GL2, reading for bagging

GL1, also reading for bagging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the day after I said “we’re all good”, I should’ve known better.

The very next day, the left eye on the Lightning Maroon started to pop out yet again.  It’s an odd thing in that it’s the tissue that surrounds the eye in the socket that is getting pushed out, creating a ring around the eye.  Once again, back with Dr. Amy Kizer to brainstorm & trouble shoot.  Barb and Heidi were here this afternoon to do a skin scrape on the Lightning (or more likely,the mate, since both have shown problems in the past few months and the mate is replaceable, the Lightning isn’t).  The scrape is simply to go one step closer to ruling out any other possible causes.  The eye didn’t get as bad as it did the second time (not like the first when I thought it was mechanical damage, nor the third where it came and went before we could really intervene) but still, this is getting annoying.  Since we’ve used multiple types of medications already, one option is to remove the Lightning Maroon to another tank, and possibly to treat it with Nitrofurazone, which Barb has had good luck with in the treatment of “pop-eye” in the past.

In our ongoing process of elimination, I think we’re leaning towards removing the Foureye Butterflyfish from the tank.  We’re running out of other possible things to do.  The upside is that I do have a completely sterilized aquarium that can recieve the butterflyfish to keep it “clean” while we see what happens with the pair – if I have to reintroduce the Butterfly later, it won’t introduce anything new from it’s vacation.  Also thinking of trying out an Aiptasia wand, and part of me has even been thinking about a tank revamp and shifting towards a nice green BTA as the main focus.  But honestly, the SPS and Goniopora are doing SO DARN WELL (minus the ones that bleached following the back-to-back antibiotic rounds), it’s tough to tear the thing down when it’s really just finally starting to come together.

I did learn to do a skin scrape, but there is news following the visit.  I’ve given Jake Adams the scoop on this one, so watch Reef Builders for an update, probably today.


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