The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged Labrador Maroon

If you’ve been paying attention to the pairing experiments and attempts I made with the PNG Maroon pairs (the Lightning + White Stripe Pair and the other normal PNG WS pair) you’ll recall that in both cases, I kept the males in small isolated chambers within the larger female’s tank for several months, and yet each time, introduction of the male would ultimately result in malevolent rejection of the male by the female.  Eventually, through suggestions including a particularly interesting one from Mitch May, I wound up getting both pairs to work.  In part, I attribute this to a “role reversal”, what I’m calling the female flip, wherein for a short period of time, I allowed the “male” fish full access to the tank, while the “female” can only sit and watch.  In both cases, the change to this technique for only a few days or a week (I can’t remember…I’d have to look back) resulted in pairs that while initially appearing shaky, are now solidly bonded pairs.

You may also recall that I had many other Maroon Clowns on site.  Well, the Gold Stripe Maroon pair spawned in the last week but it was a small nest that disappeared quite quickly.  I’m guessing that this may have been the first spawn between the old female GSM (she was the one spawning with the PNG male that is now with the Lightning) and the Gold Stripe Male I had sent from the west coast.  Regardless, that pairing was a breeze.  One of the other normal White Stripe Pairs was sold off this week, and I still have one other I’m trying to find a home for as well now that they’ve served their purpose in the project.  Meanwhile, the Labrador Maroon, Frank’s big ‘ole Maroon, remained unpaired as it was, for a long time, the fish being used to keep the Lightning Maroon a male.  All attempts to pair the Labrador with a medium sized white stripe have failed.

Now, it’s important to note that these fish have now been in contact for maybe a couple months or more, the smaller of the two was given to me by a hobbyist who had tried to use it as the “female” in a pair (the failed “male” in that failed pairing is now mated with the larger Maroon that Debbie from the Twin Cites contributed).  So maybe it’s too late, maybe this “female” is actually a female, and thus, will continue to be rejected by the Labrador?  You might think that until you watched how desperately the smaller maroon acts out the male behaviors and wants to be with the Labrador.  Well, the Labrador is having none of this.

The other evening I tried a normal introduction, releasing the smaller fish into the main tank.  It instantly dove to the flower pot occupied by the Labrador Maroon and started doing submissive twitching an the cheek kissing that seems to be the normal behavior for a Maroon Clownfish who’s trying to appease a potential mate.  Well, 1.5 minutes in, the little maroon was shredded, and yet it was STILL trying desperately to be with the Labrador.

So I quickly pulled out a 4 gallon drum style fishbowl…I had these on hand for use as kriesels back when I was breeding Harlequin Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris).  I threw it in the tank, put the Labrador Maroon in it, and got it rigged up so that there is some water flow but the big Maroon is trapped.  This will be yet another test of the “female flip”…will a week of isolation like this temper the Labrador’s mean streak and allow these two Maroon clowns to be finally firmly paired up?

Here’s video of how it’s going a day in.

So this afternoon, something rather unexpected happened.  The Labrador Maroon’s ovipositor was down.  I’ve NEVER seen it down before.  It is still down hours later tonight.

Labrador Maroon with ovipositor extended

Labrador Maroon with ovipositor extended

Labrador Maroon with ovipositor extended - closeup

Labrador Maroon with ovipositor extended - closeup

So the big question – what now?  Of course, it did occur to me that I could introduce the Lightning Maroon to see if I could get a spawn.  But that’s risky in the new tank, and also risky if the Labrador turns on the Lightning.  I also thought I could add in the “spare” PNG Maroon Male.  I’m still seriously considering that.  The Labrador Maroon is clearly squared off and ready to spawn…she just needs a mate it would seem.  I’m hesitant to risk the spare PNG Male, and kinda the same with the Lightning Maroon.  So if this continues, the male from a breeding pair of White Stripes I got from Greg may get called into action tomorrow.  I’ll have to keep a close eye on things, but the male used to spawn (just hasn’t since I moved them here).

Why this couldn’t have happened at any point in the last 8 months or so when the Lightning was there is beyond me!  I sent the following email to many of the most talented marine fish breeders I know, and hopefully we’ll get some interesting comments:

Hey guys, you’re all on this email because you have easily more experience breeding clownfish than myself and I truly respect your opinions and insights.

As you all may know, the Lightning Maroon breeding project has been on “semi-hold” for months, the Lightning restricted to a large egg crate cage, with a very large generic White Stripe, the “Labrador” Maroon, being the mate.  They’ve been allowed to interact once and it seemed to go OK, but other tankmates (Pygmy Angels) caused problems and didn’t have another tank to go to.  As Joe and myself can testify, a little egg crate never stopped fish sperm.  But I never saw any pre-spawn behavior on the part of the Labrador Maroon, only incessent digging.  I’d been in this semi-holding pattern largely because I was waiting for a PNG Maroon female from SEASMART, but this scheme offered the possibility of getting a spawn with the Labrador while waiting for a Fishermen’s Island PNG female.

With PNG being shut down for months, I realize now I was waiting on something that had no realistic chance of becoming reality.  Thus, once I learned I was limited to what I had, I made the call for the Lighting to become a female. Last week I split up the pair, moving the Labrador into the newly set up Ecoxotic tank for cycling.  Today, for the first time since I’ve had it, the Labrador Maroon showed up squared off, ovipositor extended, and NO MATE.

Really what this boils down to is a very fundamental question.  Do I introduce the Lightning Maroon to this newly set up tank in the hopes of getting a spawn with the generic white stripe Lab, or do I not take the risk and move ahead with my plans to turn the Lightning into a female by pairing it with the actively spawning Male PNG Maroon currently paried with a large female gold stripe?

Am I reading too much into the female’s apparent “ripeness”?  Have you seen this happen where a lone female goes into spawning condition?

I expect you will all have different answers, and I welcome them.  If you could, please post them as comments on the blog entry so everyone can benefit from them!

Thanks a ton for your input and ideas!


Considering the “sustainable” inspiration behind the Lighting Project, it seemed only fitting that the live rock used in the Lightning Maroon’s final home shouldn’t be hacked off a reef or dug out of a lagoon.  It was that inspiration that got me looking around at more sustainable rock choices.  Of course, the most sustainable live rock might actually be the live rock that’s already been collected and harvested, so I had purchased “used” live rock from a fellow hobbyist (Josh G.), covered in various blue, green striped, and green fuzzy mushroom anemones.  But of course, when my local SPS guru Jay H. saw that I wanted to use that rock, he kinda had a heart attack!  Apparently, mushrooms in a SPS tank tend to be problematic (aka. take over, sting your SPS etc.).  So that rock was nixed, and I was back to square one.

As you may know there is more than one company in Florida who use terrestrially-sourced rock, place it in the ocean, and harvest it after a year or two (Tampa Bay Saltwater, Sea Life Inc and many others).  Of course, dry rock has taken the aquarium hobby by storm, with both Bulk Reef Supply and Marco Rocks being two popular sources.  Then there’s ceramic rocks.  Not to mention the various DIY rocks that hobbyists have come up with.  All these dry and man-made options have the downsides of being very sterile and stark, taking months to become fully covered in coraline algae.  Florida live rock was looking like a good choice.

Of course, I had just recently noticed a product called “Real Reef” Live Rock in the Diver’s Den section @  I asked Kevin Kohen (Director of Live Aquaria) about this rock, and that’s what led to a sampling of both Real Reef Live Rock (from Fish Heads Inc) and Fiji Cultured Live Rock (Sasaul Tawamuda Live Rock from Walt Smith International).  That ultimately led to a “battle royale” of these two man-made, aquacultured live rock products on Reef Builders.  Truly, both products wound up being “different” but “equal”, a true draw.  Any decision a hobbyist may make between the two would come down to individual preferences and trade-offs given the materials and the way each rock was cultured.

Personally, for the Lightning Project, if I was choosing between all the various cultured live rock options out there, Real Reef Rock ended up being the winner for one big reason – it never touches the ocean.  It never sees fish.  There is zero chance of hitchhikers or parasites coming on this live rock.  So when thinking about the live rock that will ultimately share the tank with a one-of-a-kind, irreplaceable clownfish, the fact that it was parasite and hitchhiker free helped Real Reef live rock beat out all other contenders.

Of course, as it happened, Mark @ Fish Heads Inc. told me they were just about to release 2 new variations of Real Reef Live Rock, and asked if I’d be willing to give these new products (Nano Rock and Shelf Rock) a look and review.  That, and would I be interested in using it for the Lightning Maroon’s tank?  Ha!  Indeed, this was just the perfect circumstances.  Mark reserved some choice pieces, meanwhile selling out of both new products in the very first week!  Tuesday, a great looking box showed up courtesy of Fish Heads Inc.

After doing the unboxing (it’ll be on Reef Builders soon and I’ll update a link here), Nick K. and I got busy trying to come up with the aquascape for the Exocotic tank.  Coincidentally, the shipping box used roughly matched the inside dimensions of the tank, so the inner portion of the lid was the perfect footprint.  We went through 5 iterations of designs that we liked – for each one, we took a shot, and then took shots “disassembling” the rock structure piece-by-piece, so that we could reconstruct whichever we ultimately chose.

Aquascape #1

Aquascape #2

Aquascape #3

Aquascape #4

Aquascape #5 - the one we went with!

My ultimate plan for this tank’s coral life is to feature various bonsai-maintained colonies of Birdsnest Coral, primarily the thin-branch types (Seriatopora hystrix).  These will be placed on the upper shelves of the structure.  Below, probably a mixture of LPS.  Initially I had really wanted to put a Green Bubble Tip Anemone in place – this is the natural host for the Lightning Maroon.  However, the wandering habits of BTAs conflict with the concept of a SPS tank, so instead, I’m leaning towards some big green Goniopora sp. to act as a host perhaps.  I have a thing for Brain Corals – a teal and brown Maze Brain (Platygyra spp.) has been a must on my list for half a decade, and lately some of the Australian Prism Brain Corals (Goniastrea palauensis) showing up in the Diver’s Den have been beyond drool worthy (I don’t think they will mind if I post these images, copyright, here for demonstrative purposes!)

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011 - used with permission

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011 - used with permission

Obviously, I’m getting ahead of myself talking about livestock…at this point in the story the tank doesn’t even have saltwater in it yet!  Still, planning your livestock will certainly help drive your hardscape.  Knowing that I’m planning on letting corals grow in, the rockwork was intentionally meant to be a framework, a foundation, and that meant it keeping the amount of rock on the lighter side of things.

Once we had settled on the 5th incarnation as the one that seemed the least contrived and yet functionally ideal, we set to the task of making it actually work.  That meant drilling the rock, using the fiberglass driveway markers and underwater epoxy putty to make a couple crucial joints.

Nick drilling the Real Reef live rock.

Nick drilling the Real Reef live rock.

Of course, we broke a couple of the rocks during the drilling process, but not because of drilling.  No, it was the downwards pressure on them keeping them stable.   Once things were pegged and glued, the main structure was brought upstairs and placed directly on the glass.  The reasoning behind this came from Jay H. again.  If the Maroons start digging, the rockwork could fall on the glass.  By already being stable and on the glass, the risk of cracking the bottom via shifting rockwork is greatly reduced.

The rockwork sits in the Ecoxotic...

The rockwork sits in the Ecoxotic...

Once it's in place, time to fill it...

Once it's in place, time to fill it...

The next step?  Substrate.  Taking a page from how far planted tanks have driven freshwater hardscapes, I didn’t just throw in sand and call it a day.  Far from it.  First, I laid down a base of about 10 lbs sand, specifically Caribsea’s Arag-Alive, Special Grade Reef Sand.  Kept the sand shallow on this one.  Between this bagged live sand, and the fully cultured and cured Real Reef Live Rock, the “break in period” (aka. the new tank cycling) should be minimal.

Next up came the coarser substrate. Almost 20 years ago now, I remembered we use to get big bags off coral rubble that we used as a substrate for marine tanks.  The size was more pebble-like…some pieces up to 2 inches in length.  These days, this rubble isn’t so easy to find.  Turns out, I had read about this “rubble” on Reef Builders of all places, referred to as “Coral Bones” in Two Little Fishies’ Reborn Calcium Reactor Media.  Given that some companies have moved to other calcium sources for reactor material, I gave Two Little Fishies an email to see if they still used the same material – they do.  They even went one-better and sent me some for the aquascaping project.

Just like I remembered it – well worn coral branches, like sea glass, this is the “coral bones” I was looking for.  I placed the coral bones around the back, and around the base of the live rock, creating a transition between the live rock and sand.  I used maybe 2lbs of the 8 lb. batch TLF sent me.

Caribsea Arag-Alive and Two Little Fishies Reborn Reactor Media are added as substrate.

Caribsea Arag-Alive and Two Little Fishies Reborn Reactor Media are added as substrate.

A closer look at the substrate design.

A closer look at the substrate design.

After that, water was added slowly so the substrate wouldn’t be disturbed.  As it happens with fresh live sand, initially, things were pretty cloudy.

Newly filled with saltwater, things are cloudy.

Newly filled with saltwater, things are cloudy.

The final touch involved a use of the Real Reef rock rubble.  A couple handfuls scattered around the substrate created the missing link.  Live rock, rock rubble, coral bones, coral sand.

A few pieces of live rock rubble are added to complete the composition.

A few pieces of live rock rubble are added to complete the composition.

48 hours later, things had cleared up a bit.  Time for some better images!

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

And after taking those pictures, in went the Labrador Maroon.  Now we wait for a couple weeks and see how the water quality goes.  When things are right, out goes the Labrador, and in goes the Lightning!

The past 48 hours have seen a lot of progress.  Real Reef Live Rock arrived from Fish Heads on Tuesday.  Tuesday evening, Nick and I spent a lot of time in the basement aquascaping before coming to rest on our 5th or 6th main iteration.  Then we assembled it, brought it upstairs, added in about 10 lbs of CaribSea Arag-Alive Special Reef Grade, accented it with coral bones from Julian Sprung’s Two Little Fishes Reborn calcium reactor media.  Let it run for about 48 hours, and the Labrador Maroon went in tonight to be the “test” fish.  A FULL detailed writeup and pictures will come, probably sometime over the weekend!  Progress IS being made…the Lighting Maroon sits and waits for the “all clear” signal on the Ecoxotic tank, and then the last move will be made!

One of the highlights of my trip to MACNA in Orlando this year was getting to meet many of the people who were involved in bringing the Lightning Maroon Clownfish from PNG to my home aquarium in Duluth, MN.  While I documented this trip already in my 2010 MACNA recap on Reefbuilders, I wanted to elaborate and do something complimentary here.

I must admit that having been put in contact with David Vosseler by Ret Talbot, I’ve had the opportunity to share my questions, comments and concerns about PNG SEASMART in the past few months over email.  I must say, the conversation has admittedly been relatively one-sided and tangential to other discussions I’m having at the time.  For example, I still think that in the grand scheme of things, there is a big “fatal flaw” to the notion that a sustainable wild harvest industry will provide sufficient conservation and preservation of coral reefs.  I say this, not because I don’t believe in sustainability, but rather because I don’t feel that sustainability is enough.  Specifically, a sustainable wild harvest can defend a coral reef from localized issues such as shoreline or “upstream” development problems.  It can protect a reef from dynamite fishing or other heavy impact fishing for sustenance.  However, a sustainability program like SEASMART cannot directly stand in the way of ocean acidification or coral bleaching from rising ocean temperatures as a result of climate change.

I can’t say I ever got a response from David Vosseler regarding this “fatal flaw” of sustainability, but I simply take that as an acknowledgement of the problem and the reality that SEASMART isn’t meant to address climate change or ocean acifidification.  No, it’s meant to create value to the local owners of the resource, as I learned that each village owns its own reef and ultimately decides how best to utilize that resource.  What is perhaps most promising is that this program was actually started not by a private individual looking to plunder a developing nation, but with the cooperation and blessing and integral support of the government of Papua New Guinea itself.

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, but I have to say that MACNA provided me the opportunity to meet with MANY people working in the SEASMART program as well as some of the government officials responsible for this program.  The first person I met on Saturday afternoon was Simeon Daple (a SEASMART FMA Team Leader and RAM Scientist) who told me about the PNG lifestyle and his hopes for this program.  Of course, the conversation took a turn when someone else (I think David’s wife Judy) recognized my name and realized that I was the person who has the Lightning Maroon.  Admittedly, I was a bit caught off guard and felt a bit like a celebrity, especially with Selma Pamolak, another FMA Team Leader and RAM Scientist, asked to have her picture taken with me.   Somewhere in the shuffle I got to meet Mark Schreffler (Communities & Market Development, Eco-EZ) and Philip Sokou, yet another FMA Team Leader and RAM Scientist.  I gotta say, Philip really struck me with his enthusiasm and energy.  He’s someone to keep an eye on, and someone I wish I had gotten to spend more time with.

In the short conversations I got to have with everyone from SEASMART that afternoon, I quickly realized just how much of an impact the PNG Lightning Maroon Clown had made not only on the marine aquarium world, but on the team @ SEASMART.  The fact that the Lightning Maroon graced the SEASMART T-Shirt should have told me how famous the fish was.  I must have told the story at least 3 or 4 times on Saturday of how I had let the Lightning Maroon go on its “first date” with the big Maroon Clown and how it went.  Ironically, the reality I took away from this was very simple.  My home is the USA residence of a very prominent PNG / SEASMART ambassador.  It’s an honor to be charged with the care of this creature, and since the fish cannot speak itself, it’s my job to speak on its behalf.  While I already do that with the website, it was definitely exciting to talk about the breeding prospects for this fish with everyone I met from SEASMART on Saturday.

Of course, I did finally get to meet David Vosseler, SEASMART Program Director, face-to-face.  I couldn’t have met a more warm, optimistic man.  I NEED some of that optimism…David do you bottle it?  Of course, I mentioned some of the “tough questions” I’ve asked him in the past and explained where I was coming from, but quickly, again, the conversation moved to Lighting Maroons!  There is just never enough time to talk.  Fortunately for me, and for many of the other people who approach a program like SEASMART with cautious and healthy skepticism, David Vosseler was the MACNA Banquet Speaker.  As a speaker, there is no higher honor than to be asked to present to a truly captive audience of over 1000 people.  Talk about pressure.

Well, I have to say, David’s presentation on SEASMART was exceptional.  He didn’t bore us with dull figures and a long lecture.  No, he hit all the truly key points and explained how the program works within the unique culture of Papua New Guinea.  What David may not know is that some of my other very hard questions, including one about the fledgling PNG coral mariculture program, were fully and adequately answered in this presentation.  Yes, there were people who saw this presentation and felt they were being “pitched” or “sold to”, but to that end, I have to say if you felt you were being “persuaded” it’s because you were.  The arguments put forth were BEYOND compelling.

Like I said, David didn’t drone on for an hour or longer with some boring presentation.  Instead, after maybe 15 minutes of talking, he brought a 30 minute video directly from PNG of the SEASMART program in action.  It covered the entire process start to finish.  Of course, the surprise of the night was seeing the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish featured for almost a full minute in the video.  Well, actually, that wasn’t the surprise.  The surprise was when the fish hit the screen, the entire room, over 1000 strong, erupted in applause.  Brian Blank says it was a standing ovation.  For a fish.  That is now living in my basement.  And has its own website.  All of which leads me to ask “what the hell was I thinking?”!  Talk about a feeling of renewed pressure!

Sunday I was due to depart at 1:00 PM, which left me just enough time to catch a couple more presentations.  At 12:00 PM, I had to make the very tough decision between Ret Talbot’s talk on PNG and Ken Nedimyer’s talk on the Coral Restoration Foundation.  Honestly, were it not for the fact that Ret and I have chatted online for what feels like a couple years at least, we had only shaken hands the entire weekend and had never met before.  So of course, friendship, and PNG, win out over Ken.  Sorry too Ken, because I really, really, really wanted to be in your talk too – you’re doing very important work, keep it up!

So yeah, Ret’s talk on his trip to PNG provided another perspective on the country, the people, and the SEASMART program.

Ret Talbot presenting PNG at MACNA 2010

I even got to learn about the true home of the Lighting Maroon Clownfish, SEASMART’s first Fishery Management Area, known as Fisherman’s Island!

Ret Talbot showing PNG Fisherman's Island - Home of the Lightning Maroon

Of course, it figures that I’d be sitting in the front row snapping a picture when he puts up a slide of the Lightning Maroon and points at me!  I wish I had a better camera with on this trip, but we captured the moment!

If there’s one thing I could say about Ret’s talk – bring him and David out to your local club events and have them give their talks together…perhaps Ret’s first, and then David’s.  We’re at a time in our hobby when we need to think more about where our fish come from (I’ve seen talks on that topic from Richard Ross and Kevin Kohen as well), and we’re at a time when we need to talk more about the sustainability of our wild collection (another good person to talk to about alternatives to traditional collection might be Matt Carberry of Sustainable Aquatics, and their revisiting and promoting of “grown out” tank-raised juveniles offered under the Sustainable Island brand).

After Ret’s talk I actually got to meet several more people although my time was really limited (a ride to the airport with Tom Frakes was waiting for me at 1:15!).   I still remember once agian telling Bede Tomokita about the Lightning Maroon’s “first date” the week prior, and expressing my hope for the SEASMART program to continue strongly.  There was one big thing I wasn’t going to leave without, and that was this picture below.  Everyone from PNG and the SEASMART program left you filled with hope, optimism, and a deep desire to see this project succeed.

Back Row, from left to right:
Bede Tomokita – PNG National Fisheries Association (NFA) Board director representing the Commerce and Industry Dep’t
David Vosseler – SEASMART Program Director
Simeon Daple – Fisheries Management Area (FMA) Team Leader and Resource Assessment and Management (RAM) Scientist
Paul Nivori – PNG NFA Board Chair
Matt Pedersen (“me”) – 2009 MASNA Aquarist of the Year and very humble Lightning Maroon Clownfish caretaker
Felix Tapie - Fisheries Minister’s First Secretary
Kawoi Songoro – PNG NFA Baord Director representing coastal fishers
Ret Talbot – MACNA presenter, CORAL author, journalist and editor, all around cool fish dude :)

Front Row, from left to right:
Philip Sokou
– FMA Team Leader and RAM Scientist
Selma Pamolak – FMA Team Leader and RAM Scientist
Jordan Ross – SEASMART Volunteer (makes me think of the unpaid interns in The Life Aquatic)

SEASMART as a project is only slated to go through something like the end of this year since it’s a trial project funded by the government.  The message we walked away with was BUY PNG FISH…this program needs to show profitability to continue!  Of course, I’m always a proponent of voting with your wallet.  PNG fish are available through multiple wholesalers / importers.  If you want SEASMART fish, you need to ask for them.  Some of the key points include all hand caught, all caught in less than 5 meters of water (no risky deep diving, it’s safe for fishers).  Fish are held in the ocean after collection, on site, and are screened before they ever enter the supply chain.  Those that don’t make the grade (i.e. could be something as simple as a split fin) are returned to the reef.

More than one person left that weekend mentioning that they were so inspired that they wanted their entire tank to come from PNG.  I have a project in the works and it will be a PNG biotope aquarium, the future home for the Lightning Maroon and his ultimate mate.  I’ve sent a request for information up the chain to Mark Schreffler,who I know is busy, but hopefully in the coming weeks and months we can talk more about what a PNG Biotope tank filled with SEASMART critters might be!

And to the government of PNG, I’ll send this open request.  Please do not let this project go unfunded.  This is a starting point, critical mass is just starting to form.  Do not pull the rug out from underneath and leave us all scratching our heads.  Everyone outside wants to see this project work and more specifically, wants to see your citizens derive the most benefit with the least impact.  I personally want to know that the person who collects my fish is doing so in a safe, non-impactful manner, bringing me a high quality fish, and all the while being WELL-PAID to do so.  We’ve all heard what we think are the right things being said and done as part of the SEASMART program, but we need to see it continue.  Efforts like this take time.  SEASMART is clearly employing many PNG natives (I see over 40 on the SEASMART Team Pages).   It is creating jobs in PNG, but in the worldwild Marine Aquarium Trade it is also creating a lot of hope for a shining example of a new, better way to get our livestock and create local value, and thus an incentive to preserve coral reefs, in the process.

Frankly, I’m not convinced that such a program should ever be handed over solely to private hands.  No, I kind-of like that the government is involved and working with the scientists to set catch limits and such.  This partnership and collaboration, where the government works together with the people to create and regulate this trade for the long term benefit of the resources and the local community stakeholders is a very good idea.  I suppose there’s another open letter to David Vosseler in the making, with the question “how does SEASMART continue to do what it does if it becomes a private entity, and how does that open up the trade in PNG to other, less responsible operations?”  I chuckle, because I think I’ve already put enough on David’s plate for the month with some special requests..better let the guys @ SEASMART do their jobs and continue to secure this trade for the long term benefit of PNG and the local stakeholders in each costal village!

In closing, it was the people of PNG that truly impacted me in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.  I certainly want to visit, to see this program for myself.  I hope my path might cross with Simeon, Selma and Philip again, and that perhaps I might see their PNG home from their point of view, that I might have a deeper appreciation and connection.  While I may or may not ever travel to PNG, you could say that I’m a bit smitten with it still weeks after the fact.  That is only the result of the fine folks of SEASMART and PNG.

So, two totally unrelated comments to make quickly tonight.  First, I really think my suspicions of a fin nipper are correct.  Why?  Because a new chunk showed up missing from the TOP of the Lightning Maroon’s right pectoral fin.  I’d be a lot more worried if there wasn’t also a chunk missing from the tail of my female Mandarin and multiple chunks removed from the fin edges of the 6″ long Labrador Maroon, the undisputed boss of the tank.  I can only assume that one of the Bristletail Filefish, probably the male, has gotten into a bad habit of fin nipping.  It is conceivable that this could tie in with increased reproductive activity or something.  Regardless, I am now thinking about where I can house this pair of fish.  GRR!

I also wanted to point the readers to check out the post by Jake Adams on Reef Builders today regarding ORA’s “misbar” Maroons – – certainly a fundamentally different stripe mutation (again, only guessing that it’s genetic but I think it is).  Arguably very similar to the Picasso Perc and Snowflake Ocellaris, both of which I think are the “same mutation” as it appears on 2 different species, and now here it is again on a Maroon.  Very interesting, but again, all this about genetics is just speculation at the moment.

I’ve been thinking, planning, and waiting, and for no reason whatsoever, tonight was the night.  Time to allow the Lightning Maroon out of the jail cell for some exercise in the yard.  Perhaps also time for a no-barriers meet-and-greet with the Labrador Maroon (a White Stripe variant of Premnas biaculeatus from unknown origins).

I could write about it, but why when I shot the whole thing on video?

So I realized I was wearing a white shirt, and with the metal halide pendent lighting I was totally getting in the way of the shot.  After watching for a bit, I ran upstairs, changed into black, which is marginally better.

My initial take is that the Lightning Maroon MUST be male.  This is the second time it has been introduced to a much larger Maroon and has not been mauled immediately.  No, in fact, I am more worried about the male Centropyge argi (Caribbean Pygmy Angelfish) who is in this tank, and immediately wanted to show the Lightning Maroon who was boss (until the Labrador Maroon came to the rescue).

There are still people who will doubt that this video is actual “evidence” that the Lightning Maroon is in fact a male.  So, I thought I’d do a bit of a demonstration.  You may recall weeks ago I posted a note about one of the juvenile PNG Maroons jumping out of a breeder basket and getting attacked.  Well, why not reintroduce this small male to the other fish in the tank.  Once again, I don’t think I need to write anything, the video shows it pretty darn clearly.  This is what happens when two Maroons of the same sex are introduced to each other.

And yes, as soon as I stopped the video I put down the camera and separated the two fish. The rest of this evening has been me sitting, anxiously, watching and observing, stepping away, coming back again, and wondering what’s next. The Maroons seem to be having a very good first date so far…

I personally believe the most telling observalble clue to the Lightning Maroon’s acceptance (and thus likely sex)  is how the Labrador Maroon reacts to any other fish that enters this area. Totally different than the reactions to the Lightning Maroon’s presence.   Seriously – check out the very tail end of this next video and watch how the Labrador Maroon reacts to the Dwarf Angelfish being in the “general area”.

So, I’ve kept the lights on late while I try to figure out my next moves. When I started this project, I pretty much planned on returning the Lightning Maroon back to “jail” for now, probably to live there at least until next week. But honestly, I figured if I was FORCED to remove the Lighting Maroon from the main tank, it’d be very easy…I figured the Labrador would be chasing it and keeping it OUT of the rockwork. Of course, the Lightning Maroon instead appears well accepted by the Labrador, and is hiding in the absolute least accessible area in the tank. Do I dismantle just to retrieve the fish?

There are two concerns. My first concern is that this initial pairing may be going well, but we all know stories of Maroon Clownfish females “turning” on their males. Would that happen here? Hard to say, but do I want to risk it? Honestly, right now is not really a good time to risk it as I won’t be in the ideal position to monitor things as often as I would want. My other concern is that the Centropyge argi male will beat the crap out of the Lightning Maroon. I’ve watched this huge pygmy angelfish (it’s the largest C. argi I’ve ever seen, longer than my thumb) go after a smaller Fire Clown (Amphiprion ephippium) who accidentally got out into the tank multiple times.  Ultimately the Fire Clown did not recover. Do I want to risk the Lightning Maroon? Hard to say. It does seem that the Centropyge argi keep the Labrador Maroon preoccupied, which means that the Labrador is actually protecting the Lightning Maroon from them, but ALSO that they are keeping the Labrador Maroon distracted from turning aggressive towards the Lightning Maroon.

As you can see, it’s a really tough call. Another week or two and I’ll be in a much better position to monitor things. Of course, seeing these interactions further bolsters my insistence on obtaining a wild female Maroon Clownfish from PNG. That is truly the proper mate for the Lightning Maroon, and for now, while I lack the hard evidence I want (fertilized eggs), I do feel this video makes a strong case for not giving up on finding a suitable female from PNG.  Either that, or I have to undergo a potentially arduous task of “creating” a PNG female out of the 4 juveniles I have on hand.  That could take years!  However, in the meantime, the Labrador Maroon seems to be doing the job I asked of it – keep the Lightning Maroon a male, and if you don’t mind, maybe start spawning so we can get some of those Lighting genetics preserved.

In the end, I pulled the tank apart and returned the Lighting Maroon to the safe-haven. I noticed that the Lightning Maroon had three splits in the rear portion of his dorsal fin as I captured it and put it back in jail. Was this from the Labrador Maroon? Or was it the fish I suspect more…the male Centropyge argi? I won’t know, but I do know that I think the next free-interactions between the Labrador Maroon and the Lighting Maroon may occur in slightly different circumstances.

For now, the lights are out.  The tank is slightly rearranged.  The Lightning Maroon is once again in a protective cage.  It is back in the hands of the Labrador Maroon – please please please decide to spawn on the back wall of the tank so the Lightning Maroon can fertilize from relative safety!!!

The Labrador Maroon…

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There is simply nothing “new” to report.  This is how clownfish breeding can go sometimes…you wait, and wait, and wait, and wait.  At the request of Anderson, I needed to take some pictures today.  A couple pictures of a large Maroon Clownfish with dark barring had surfaced on the internet, and he asked if I had seen them.  Well, the “Labrador Maroon Clown” from Frank and Mary here in Duluth fits that description perfectly.  I believe this darkening of the bars is one of the few possible changes that happens as Maroons reach uncommonly older ages (another common stripe change is the loss of the stripes).

Getting a good picture of the dark barred Maroon that is currently lurking outside the Lighting Maroon’s cage was beyond difficult, as the Labrador has been rearraning the tank for the past couple days and is refusing to come out and pose.  So, two updates tonight.  In this one, a photo spread of the Labrador Maroon, as best as I could get…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meiacanthus bundoon, the Bundoon Blenny

Bundoon Blenny

Meiacanthus bundoon, the Bundoon Blenny

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