The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged Mitch May

You heard it here first.  Mitch May (better known as the “Booyah” in Booyah’s Clownfish), hats off to you staying on me with the double down.  This one goes out to everyone who understood the concept of “patience”, “things taking time”, and “doing it right”.  It especially goes out to all of those who believed in the project despite every darn setback and near catastrophe.  No doubt, communal faith and good vibes are helping this project along.

Maybe even a gentle nudge from ^ .


5-8-2012, 10 PM – the first ever captive spawning of a PNG Lightning Maroon Clown, now proven female, with a prior proven fertile male PNG White Stripe Maroon Clownfish, Premnas biaculeatus.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish with her mate and their first eggs spawned.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish with her mate and their first eggs spawned.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish with her first eggs spawned.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish with her mate and their first eggs spawned.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish with her first eggs spawned.

Next time guys, please lay it 1″ to the left.

This has been an interesting weekend for the Lightning Maroon.  It started Friday AM, when I woke up to find the Lightning Maroon with a cloudy and swollen right eye.  That alone ruined my day, although I didn’t freak out because I realized that this was likely a bruise / mechanical damage.  Still, in the name of precaution, I fed the tank Dr. G’s Anti-Bacterial frozen food, and am following the regime for that just to be sure and hopefully safe.  It is now Sunday night, and the eye has all but returned to normal.

Meanwhile, later on Friday, I noticed that my female Onyx Percula was looking extremely distended and swollen…definitely a spawn coming.  They’ve moved nest locations over the years and have slowly worked their way from the upper back, to the lower back panel of their aquarium.  So I placed a tile over their last nest in the hopes that they’d spawn on it.  VERY late that night, I found them doing this:

Onyx Perculas Spawning

Onyx Perculas Spawning

Onyx Perculas Spawning

Now, this is probably something like their 200th spawn (I stopped counting years ago).  Up here, we don’t have a huge market for Onyx Perculas (or any clownfish) so at best, I might raise a batch every year now.  This time, I had been waiting to do something in the “bag of tricks”, something clownfish breeder Mitch May (a.k.a. Booyah) likes to do, called a “Double Down”.  I *think* I’ve mentioned it here before, but if not, well, here’s a synopsis.

The jist of the “Double Down” is to take the nest from an actively spawning pair of clownfish and give it to surrogate or foster parents, in this case a pair of clownfish that has yet to spawn.  As Mitch tells it, they’re generally going to do one of two things.  Tend the next, or eat it.  If they eat it, no harm, no foul, the eggs are stellar nutrition for the non-spawning pair.  If they tend the nest, Mitch relayed that he’s found that it helps a reluctant pair to “get the idea”..that is to say, it often kicks them into spawning mode in short order.

So tonight, about 48 hours after the next was laid, I pulled it from the Perculas and gave it to the Lightning Maroon Pair.  The Onyx Percs are my longest living pair to date…they were the first pair of clowns we got when my wife gently nudged me into setting up a saltwater tank for her way back in the day.  They come from a tank that hasn’t seen a new fish in 9 months (and that “new” fish was removed about a month ago).  So it’s a solidly reliably, trustworthy tank.

Now remember, the PNG Maroon that was paired with the Lightning Maroon is in fact a fully functional male Maroon that was successfully spawning while paired with a large Gold Stripe Maroon (this temporary pairing was set up to prevent the PNG maroons I received from turning male).  I had very little doubt as to the male’s ability and instincts.  The nest went in with the Maroons, and initially, the Lightning tried to push the tile out of her territory.

Initially, the Percula nest was ejected from their territory.

I put it back, only to hear it whack against the glass.  Did it again, and this time took video.

So I really wedged it into the gravel, with a large rock pinning it up flat against the back of the tank, in the general area that they normally clean.  It’s probably been an hour now, and I haven’t heard the tile get thrown against the tank glass again, so hopefully it will stay in place.  Hopefully.  At any rate, once the tile was in place, it seemed pretty clear that the Lightning Maroon was having mixed feelings…given that she is tending the nest occasionally with the male.  Let me once again be undeniably, crystal clear.


Lightning Maroon Clownfish fostering Percula Eggs in a "Double Down" scenario to encourage the pair to spawn.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish fostering Percula Eggs in a "Double Down" scenario to encourage the pair to spawn.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish fostering Percula Eggs in a "Double Down" scenario to encourage the pair to spawn.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish fostering Percula Eggs in a "Double Down" scenario to encourage the pair to spawn.

Still, some IDIOT will NOT READ THIS and say “OMG the LIGHTNING CLOWN SPAWNED!”.  Sorry, NO.  They are FOSTERING Percula eggs ;)

I admit, it’s pretty cool to see even if it isn’t their own eggs…yet.


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.

Pairing remains at a standstill for the Lightning Maroon, in large part given my desire to sit in front of the tank for an extended period and keep a watchful eye over the interactions so I can intervene if need be.

Meanwhile, I’ve been digging through my circle of fish friends and trying to see what other tricks are out there that we hadn’t yet tried.  Sanjay Joshi suggested something that had worked with his Gold Stripe Maroons.  To summarize, he provided two possible males to a female, and let the female choose the mate she preferred.  Of course, this makes’s tough for the female to fend off both suitors, so instead, she teams up with one to drive the other away.

My main concern over trying this is that a) you don’t control which fish she chooses and b) you risk both fish.  Since more PNG Maroon Males/Juveniles are not available, I have to be cautious and protective of both of them.  But Sanjay’s recommendation reminded me of a very similar technique described to me by Chicago-area clownfish breeder Mitch May, better known as Booyah on most reef forums.  Mitch’s technique works on the same basic principal of encouraging the natural behavior of teamwork in a pair to drive away third party interlopers.  It’s also a bit safer perhaps, and I’m happy to share this concept with Mitch’s permission.

In a nutshell, the application is to take a “Female” and the desired “Male” and place them together with a few additional fish.  Per Mitch’s instructions, he’ll take one additional fish that is 50% of the size of the desired male (who is the second biggest of all the fish after the females).  Then, we’ll also add 2 more clownfish juveniles, these at 25% of the size of the desired male.  So it works out like this – 3″ female, 2″ male, 1″ juveniles and 2 0.5″ juveniles.  This actually mimics the natural social structure of many clownfish species, although in most cases this unit can’t be easily replicated in captivity.  Generally speaking, attempts like this usually end up with lots of aggression directed at the smaller fish, and even death as a possibility.  However, when trying to drive the top two fish together, the presence of the other three juveniles focuses their aggression away from each other, and instead towards the juvenile intruders.

It may sound cruel, but the best fish to use are those that would be culled.  Since they are never going to be sold, and since humane euthanasia or becoming food for a Lionfish are the most likely results of their existence, their sad lives might actually at least have a redeeming purpose.  If they are killed in the process, while the path to their death was likely more violent, the outcome was ultimately the same.  Of course, I’m not condoning that this simply be a commonplace practice, or that you don’t intervene should the aggression become more violent than just the normal social threats and displays.

So to that end, and knowing I have dozens of culled Perculas sitting in tanks that I simply haven’t put down, I’m going to try this technique out.  I’ll first do it with the two White Stripe pairings downstairs that aren’t working out.  If it works there, then it will get applied to the Lightning Maroon and her would-be mate.

The other technique is one to encourage spawning.  Two breeders have definite experience with this technique.  Mitch May calls it “doubling down”, based on the gambling concept of taking “one good hand and turning it into two good hands”.  Chad Vossen of St. Cloud, MN, calls it the less glitzy, but more straightforward “egg fostering”.  In either case, the premise is the same.  For a pair that is going through the motions but never producing, a clutch of eggs is taken from a spawning pair and placed with the non-spawning pair.  The presence of the eggs kicks in the male’s nest tending instincts and seems to also kick the female into egg production mode.  While I won’t be using this technique just yet, it may come in hand down the line if the Lighting is paired but not moving towards spawning.

Hopefully I’ll get the test pairings restarted downstairs tonight…videos will be shot of course!

Social Widgets powered by