The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged larviculture

Last week, the hatch of Spawn #26 approached.  I’d been talking with Mike, at this point looking for really different way to approach the rearing problems I’ve been facing.  The thought process was simple – send a tile over to Mike and see if he can do any better.  Well, based on the 6-7 day model, Spawn #26 was due to hatch on either the night of the 12th, or 13th.

Come the morning of the 12th, it looked like there had already been a big hatch…at least 50% of the eggs were gone.  Easily half hatched on the only the 5th night!  Well, I pulled the tile that night, gave it a H202 dip (4ml in 0.5 gallons for 15 minutes), and come morning of the 13th, probably 50-100 more larvae had hatched.  And there were still viable eggs.  So the afternoon of the 13th, Mike came over and grabbed the tile.  And come the morning of the 14th, Mike had a few more babies hatched out.

And so, by March 19th, the larvae I had dwindled to around 6 or so…and Mike was down to 1.  I noticed a very disturbing change in larval rearing; for some reason in this run, my larvae were floating on their sides…a very odd set of circumstances that only seems explainable by an internal gas buildup…odd seeing fish kinda stuck to the surface with headstripes forming.

Meanwhile March 19th was also the date of Spawn #27; as far as I can tell, the tank temperature has rising from 82 to 84F, and that could explain why hatch started coming as early as 5 days post spawn…we’ll see if we do better on the next one…

3/6/2014 marked the arrival of spawn #26.  Another good sized nest of orange-red eggs on the tile, laid on the “roof”, which seems to be the usual location for the pair.

As I wrote last about Spawn #25…I thought the hatch had been a dud, but once I configured the larval tank and got things going, it was clear I had hundreds of viable larvae.  They were PLOWING through rotifers…easily 4 gallon’s wroth of harvested culture daily, spread out over 2-3 feedings. With the larval tank starting at 5 gallons running volume, I was adding clean new water daily, roughly one gallon.

As of this morning, 3/6/2014, I still had several hundred larvae, but when I checked on the fish again this evening, it was clear that something was wrong…I was quite literally watching larvae die right before my eyes.  I started slowly draining out the water, and as I continued to drain, the number of free swimming larvae dwindled and the hundreds of shriveled up bodies piled up on the bottom of the 5 gallon bucket.  The ammonia alert badge never so much as made a peep.  I have yet to test the water, but I have suspicions how it will test out…

By the time I was simply too exhausted to go further,I had the tank down to maybe 1.5 gallons, and I added roughly 5 gallons of clean new saltwater.  Basically the hail-mary approach when things go downhill this fast.  I would estimate no more than 10 larvae are still swimming around in the tank at this time.

This is getting really, really old.

I have two posts besides this one I need to make…life has just been hectic as usual. They’ll come.

First, Spawn #24 has been laid.  Sadly, it wasn’t a Valentine’s spawn, it was laid on February 13th, 2014.

Following my extensive water testing of larval tanks to see what the heck was going on, I made the decision to transfer the 5 remaining survivors from Spawn #21 into a tank filled with clean, new but aged saltwater, in another BRT.  So I started that BRT fresh, made sure salinity matched, then moved 2 fish to test it (remember, these fish were in water with apparently very high Nitrite and Ammonia levels according to tests)  When they survived overnight, I moved the remaining 3 (If memory serves correctly there are 3 Lightnings and 2 White Stripes in the mix).  I then turned them onto the larvar rearing system.  No deaths.

Given my role as a Sr. Editor for CORAL Magazine, I’m privy to magazine content sometimes before it is published.  This week I got to review an extremely exciting article I had played a hand in soliciting some months back, and while I can’t give much away, I will say this before I forget.  It is obviously a breeding article, and one of the techniques brought up is that of simply routinely moving fish out of one larval rearing vessel to another as a technique to maintain premium water quality…perhaps easier than doing 99% water changes, and I presume it has other benefits (such as “escaping” the biofilm that develops on a rearing vessel).  I may have to try this technique…whether my problems are due to persistently deteriorating water quality or the development of pathogenic bacteria (eg. Vibrio), this methodology might side step those problems completely.   So be sure to pick up the March/April 2014 issue of CORAL Magazine to see who brought this idea up and in what context…if you’re even remotely interested in fish breeding, this is going to be a knockout issue for you.

Tonight, after several nights of battling my larval rack, I finally pulled of the split of Spawn #20 into two separate groups. Long story short, I had taken off two BRTs off a shelf that had somehow “Dropped” on the one side. Both BRTs got a full scrubbing followed by a wipedown with hydrogen peroxide. Meanwhile, I spent 2 nights and 3 days banging on the shelf with a rubber mallet until I finally freed up the shelf from the plastic locking mechanisms. Thankfully I saved some of the extra plastic parts that came with the epoxy-coated wire shelves, and was able to reset the shelf height and set the BRTs back up.

Once the larviculture tanks were set back up, it was easy to simply scoop out half of the water and larvae from the 10 gallon tank. I took a photo of the larvae in the bucket so I can count how many I moved into the BRT. Just as I scooped the babies from the 10 gallon into a 5 gallon bucket, I in turn did the same thing to introduce them to an empty, sanatized BRT.

I’ve continued with doing daily water changes on the larvae and have, at this point, dropped the specific gravity from 1.025 down to 1.018. I’m also doing nightly infusions of rotifers that have been enriched for an hour or two with Super Selcon.

In other news, Spawn #21 was put down this evening (1-9-2014) by the Lighting Maroon pair.

This will be very short – I’ve just been swamped with freelance projects and endless deadlines and well, there’s just nothing good to report on the latest runs.

Spawn #12 did very well right up until metamorphosis.  Immediately after metamorphosis, every larvae would die.  I don’t know if it’s the different brine shrimp eggs I’m using (or even the fact that I’m using brine shrimp vs. not). It could also have been that I didn’t rear these with 24/7 lighting, but instead let them run on the regular photoperiod for the rack of tanks they were in.  Water quality remained spot on and the fish were well taken care of.  Thus ends Spawn #12.  Probably changed too many variables all at once, but at least I may be onto something regarding getting good hatches for these eggs.

Spawn #13 never did produce much larvae, wound up hatching out over 3 nights.  I found myself somewhat depleted on rotifers with this batch coming so quickly on the heels of spawn #12, so this batch really never stood a chance.  I augmented from day one with Otohime A, introduced brine shrimp as early as was reasonable, but found no larvae made it to settlement.

Unfortunately I may have put the pair off spawning for a little bit (might not be a bad thing while I regroup).  The lights on their system had been going off incredibly late in the night (eg. 3 AM) so I shifted the photoperiod. No spawns have come following this, which isn’t really a surprise.  I’ll be curious to see how far back this pushes them.

Meanwhile, as I just posted on Facebook, I have more Fire Clowns (Amphiprion ephippium) than I know what to do with.  Figures…

So this evening I pulled spawn #12 for hatching, but I’m changing things up.  I keep trying the same old thing and get the same old crappy results.  So…

#1.  I disinfected the spawn for 15 minutes with H202.  In a nutshell, I pulled the tank water and the tile, placed them in a large specimen up which holds around 0.5 (half) a gallon of water.  I introduced 8.5 ML of Hydrogen Peroxide, added an airstone, and let it sit.  After that, I moved the airstone and tile into another specimen cup of the same size containing tank water, but no H202.  This was the rinse phase. (Dr. Matthew L. Wittenrich suggests a range of 1 to 5 ML per L, H202 to saltwater, as a treatment in his 2007 book The Complete Illustrated Breeder’s Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes).

#2.  I’m not using a BRT – Black round tubs have many benefits, but they suck in one aspect – you can only observe the contents from above (unless you install a plexiglass window).  For this rearing attempt, I tore down one of my old 10 gallon tanks that had been holding freshwater Angelfish fry.  The tank in question is painted black on all sides, including the bottom, save one end pane.  I scrubbed it, rinsed it, filled it with 5 gallons of water from the broodstock tank and roughly 3 gallons of clean new saltwater from the mixing bucket.  This will be my hatching tank this time.  Glass tanks like this work fine for clownfish…so screw it, I’m going to SEE what’s going on this time.

#3.  I’m using an ammonia alert badge – yes, these are great tools, but they’re designed to be viewed through glass.  Great for a 10 gallon tank – bad for a “BRT”. To be honest, even when I’ve used one I’ve never had a problem, but once I started using BRTs I stopped using Seachem Ammonia Alert Badges because they just don’t work.  Well..might as well fire it back up.

#4.  I tested the broodstock water.  I rarely if ever bother with water tests these days…there is seldom any reason to check as the water invariably is always “good”.  Still, I might as well be a good aquarist and check things. Currently the Lightning Maroon and her mate were in 8.4 pH, 0 ppm nitrate, and 1.023.  The larval tank will wind up being very similar no doubt, maybe 1.0235 for SG (the water in the mixing bucket was around 1.024 on the refractometer).

I placed the tile at the far end of the tank, away from the unpainted end.  I left on some room lights; this should allow light to attract the larvae to the front of the tank, away from the heavier air flow.  There’s not much else to say about this setup at the moment – this is more akin to my “classic” clownfish rearing of days gone by, and is similar to what many folks still do today for hatching and early rearing.

On the other front – 3 Lightning Maroon offspring are left up for auction, the last being a LM12 whose auction ends Monday morning.  I love how Mark @ Blue Zoo Aquatics has hidden bidder identities.  I know who a few of the bidders are now from past auctions, but most are still a mystery to me.  In any case, I have to say / ask this one thing – are you all having fun?!  I know, I know, auctions are thrilling and heartbreaking.  Still, I’m an addict myself (I regularly bid, but rarely win, auctions on  If I was in your shoes, I have to say there must be a great feeling being the one who got to bid $5 for a Lightning Maroon Clownfish, when the auction started.  Even if you didn’t win, you at least played a part and got to participate.  As most of you have probably followed over the years, I always felt this was “everyone’s” project, and so too, placing these fish up for bid on the open market meant that everyone had a fair and equal shot at getting them.

After round 3, there are at most, 10 fish left to find new homes and THAT WILL BE IT until I manage to rear more.  I should mention that the single sole survivor from spawn #10 was moved into a different BRT to live with a slightly older clutch of Sumatran Fire Clowns (Amphiprion ephippium “Sumatra” F1).  I was wasting a lot of food feeding a 16 gallon BRT to try to keep only 1 clownfish alive; better to put it in with the 100 or so Fire Clowns rather than overfeed an empty tank on the larviculture system.  So far so good, I got to see it swimming around today, so it wasn’t killed, and should grow up alongside it’s cousins without issues.

One last note – it’s a short story.  As of last week, I officially had 4 Lightning Maroons and 2 White Stripe siblings held back.  The two white stripes are currently in separate breeder nets while I work on size differentiation, and two of the Lighting Maroons are already well documented here.  The remaining two were holdbacks I wasn’t sure what I would do with; I still wanted to get one more pair out there to a fellow aquarist, but the person I have in mind isn’t able to take them at the moment.  So they’ve just sat here.

Well, I brought them upstairs to free up the cubes for segregation and one has lived in the Ecoxotic 25 gallon cube, while the other was in a breeder net hanging in the tank.  In the middle of the week, I let the smaller one in the breeder net out while I cleaned the netting, and afterwards, seeing them in separate sides of the tank, I just left it out for a couple hours.  Well…a couple hours was a couple too long; I found the smaller fish beaten, but alive.  I put it back in the breeder net, and a few hours later it was dead.  That’s all it took.

So please, be very careful trying to pair these fish up.  While I personally feel that the Lightning Maroons seem to be rather “timid” in general, they still are quite murderous towards each other.

New Holdback Headcount =5 (unless I take a fish out of “inventory”).

So yes, there was a spawn I posted a photo of back on July 31st; spawn #8; this was the one they put down on July 29th. I didn’t run the larval snagger on the night of August 5th as I had hoped, because I still don’t have mine back from it being lent out at least a year prior…not that I even had TIME to go ask for it! Unfortunately, come the evening of August 6th, it was quite clear that MOST of the eggs had hatched, and come night time, I was left with maybe a quarter-sized nest from what had started as several square inches! I pulled the nest for hatching on the 6th, and come morning on the 7th, I had only a handful of larvae.  MOST of the eggs did not hatch, and died later in the day.

Now, 7 days later, I seem to have the same 20 or so offspring that hatched out.  I only added RotiGreen Omega once, right at the start, and only now am seeing things clear up to the point where I might have to do another dose.  Rotifers here lately have been weak following the simultaneous crash of 2 of my 3 cultures, and they haven’t really been rebuilding.  Thus, I’ve never established a self-sustaining population of rotifers in the larval tub, and instead have had to resort to daily influxes.  Still, things are going well I suppose, and today I added in the first offerings of TDO size A.

The good news is that the pair certainly seems to be in a routine, as this afternoon, 8-13-2013, they put down another sizable nest.  This is spawn #9 from the pair. It’s only a matter of time before I figure out how to get a BIG group of offspring from these eggs instead of a piddly amount, but until then, it’s going to continue to be a slow trickle at best.

Settlement is almost done…a few stragglers tonight, just before midnight on 7/9/2012.  You caught a glimpse of this expanded photo set earlier this morning @ ReefBuilders.

I have to pull my thoughts together to post up some very important information about possible genetics (granted, it is all premature…what looks “odd” at this point could totally vanish as the fish grow up). We all must wait and see. But maybe, just *maybe*, it’s time to start making routine deposits in a separate account that your wife/girlfriend/parents/husband/boyfriend doesn’t know about. This may all now be simply about how fast I can grow them up, and how good a job I can do at ensuring they don’t kill each other.


I let Jake Adams break the news on ReefBuilders, sending him shots in the late/earlier hours (depends on your frame of mind).  I’m quoting an excerpt from Jake’s great writeup from ReefBuilders here, because he really presents an objective view.

Even though the maroon lighting maroon clownfish was paired with a related Premnas biaculeatus from Papua New Guinea, we don’t think anyone really expected to see expressions of the lightning pattern in the first generation of the lightning maroon’s offspring. All observers of the lightning maroon project who know anything about mendelian genetics realistically thought that we might see some traces of the lightning pattern in the second, F2 generation of lightning maroon clownfish once they were back-crossed with each other a bit. However, for Matt to observe the lightning pattern in his very first batch of offspring from a half-cross of lightning maroon but full cross of PNG maroons clownfish must be very encouraging…

Since my last update, I DID opt to start feeding brine shrimp nauplii.  They are being rinsed well.  I’m using 16 month out-of-date decapsulate eggs from / Dan Underwood, and they’re still hatching great (I keep them stored in my fridge).  I’m doing daily water changes, occasionally siphoning the bottom, and I’ve been using nothing but Marine Environment salt by AquaCraft (thanks Mike Del Prete – who contributed enough salt to last me and the Banggai Rescue project years).  I also started offering the APBreed TDO A1, as well as older Otohime A I had on hand from Reed Mariculture.  I cut way back on the RotiGreen Nanno I was adding; basically just 10 drops or so once or twice per day, just to keep the rotifers in there from dying en-masse.  I am currently trying to weed them out.

These photos (and the video at the bottom) were shot after midnight, so technically this morning (7-9-2012, but almost 24 hours ago now).  This puts these larvae/juveniles at 10 days post hatch, and most have gone through settlement. I have included multiple variations / crops / zooms of most photos so you can get a sense of scale and overall view, as well as the maximum zoom I could give you.


8 days post hatch.  To brine, or not to brine, that is the question.

First noticed this at roughly 1:30 PM on July 7th, 2012.  Dare you to hold your breath…

Larval offspring from the Lightning Maroon Clownfish nearing settlement.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish larvae, nearing metamorphosis

Headstripes forming on larval Maroon Clownfish spawned and hatched by the Lightning Maroon Clownfish

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