The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged Papua New Guinea

A couple weeks ago Lorel Dandava-Oli posted a very interesting comment on The Lightning Project’s website.  Dandava happens to be a Marine Aquarium Fisheries Officer-National Fisheries Authority in PNG. Her husband, Darren Oli, is the proprietor of Paradise Aquariums, established in 2012, which is perhaps best described as a service company which provides aquarium installation and maintenance for commercial clients, mainly businesses and hotels in the area.

What caught my (and other’s) attention was when Dandava wrote in, “we’ve had several maroons coming in with similar patterns which I believe has the genetic trait to the lightning clown. Currently I have a mating pair with the similar patterns in my tank.”

Of course, I had to clamor and beg for images.  Dandava went through a lot of hassle to get us two cell phone images (no small feat coming out of PNG) and I’ve done my best to clean ‘em up and sharpen them so you can see the interesting wild White Stripes that are swimming in Dandava’s tank.



After reviewing the images, this was my response to Lorel Dandava.

“The pair you have looks like a pairing of a traditional, default “wild type” 3-striped White Stripe Maroon Clownfish, typical for PNG.  The 2nd fish appears to be what some have called a “Lightning Precursor” my opinion this is probably one of the more intricate examples of the form that we’re currently calling “Morse Code” ( a mixture of dots and dashes) which are somewhat routinely found in PNG waters.  While we have seen some of these fish that at first glance look like they could have something “lightning” floating around in their genes, I think that’s a bit of wishful thinking.
Sadly, I think I can report that you probably won’t see any Lightning type offspring from this pair. The main reason I come to this conclusion is that Soren Hansen of Sea & Reef Aquaculture is breeding with similar wild-collected PNG “Morse Code” Maroons, and he does not get any Lightning progeny from that pairing.  He does, however, get more of the spotted and striped “Morse Code” phenotype.  I don’t know whether he has one, or two, Morse Codes paired together.
I don’t think Morse Code is directly related [to Lightning] – if it was, then I would have presumably seen either a) nothing but Morse Codes in the F1 generation, or b) all the non-lightning offspring I reared would have been morse codes.  Neither happened.
It is possible that this “Morse Code” may be yet a second genetic mutation found in PNG Maroon Clownfish, but we lack enough supportive data for that at the moment. However, we do see a similar type of striping and spotting in the Gold Stripe Maroon Clownfish from Sumatra, and that has proven to have some genetic component and is now produced by multiple parties in the trade and sold as “Goldflake”.  It would make sense to see the same basic aberration in these sister forms (I believe Gold Stripes are a distinct species, but currently they are considered the same as White Stripe Maroons).”
Of course, it bears repeating that most all of these thoughts is a hunch…none of us have done enough test matings, and collected enough data, to answer these genetic questions with certainty.  Meanwhile, we can say with some reasonable certainty that Dandava’s pair should produce a lot of interesting Morse-Code type maroons, and that in itself is of interest as we continue to unravel the genetic mysteries of PNG’s unique white stripe Maroon Clownfish.


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

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

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

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

As promised, finally, the process of pairing up the Lightning Maroon with a known male PNG Maroon is finally underway.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish trying to attack PNG Maroon

To put it bluntly, without a doubt I am convinced that for the last year, the Lightning Maroon has been male.  Why?  Well, first, watch this video of the female Gold Stripe Maroon that used to be paired with the White Stripe Maroon above.  The new small Gold Stripe Maroon was introduced to the female Gold Stripe less than a minute before this video was taken.  Watch the interactions.

Next up, here’s the Labrador Maroon, trying to be paired with a “female” White Stripe Maroon. The deal here – a local hobbyist thought this maroon to be female, and was trying to pair it with a smaller maroon. The two maroons fought incessantly, and this I believe was the second attempt (the first one ended up with a dead maroon). Both Maroons wound up in my possession.

I already paired the “male” with a larger White Stripe Maroon (you may recall Lucy, a lone wolf female living in a sump that Debbie in the twin cities contributed). The first go round it didn’t work so well, but after a week or two of living in a container, the male was released and all went well.

So the “female” meanwhile, has been living in another container in QT and was moved in with the Labrador in a container either Wednesday or Thursday this week. Unlike the interactions you’ll see with the Lightning Maroon, the Labrador didn’t show any interest in the maroon until it was released. And the “female” maroon certainly wasn’t acting like a female…scared to death perhaps, it instantly went into classic submissive behavior. Unfortunately, in all the commotion, the Dwarf Angels started attacking too, and ultimately, after 10 minutes, the “female” Maroon was returned to her container to “lick her wounds”.

Also tried pairing up the PNG “extras” today again. You may remember months ago I showed a video of the reaction – here it is from August 31st

And here is the same pair April 10th, 2011. I’ve been feeding the male in the “cage” only once per day, while the other fish gets feed at least 2-3 times per day. The size difference is starting to stack up, and you’ll notice how the interactions have “changed”.

Still, in the end, this pair isn’t ready…by the last video, the “female” has resorted to occasional pot shots directed at the “male”. I suspect that given more time, and a greater size difference, this should result in a stable pairing.

In ALL of the examples, the reactions have not been as violent as the initial reaction of the Lightning Maroon to the smaller PNG Maroon, which wasn’t even released into the tank but was held back in a drilled specimen cup.

Obviously this pairing isn’t a home run. It’s a relationship that’s going to need a lot of counseling and support. As I was headed to the NWRS / UPMMAS frag swap on Friday, I reminded Renee that the small, normally colored Maroon needed to be in the cup. Sometime on Saturday, she was feeding our 11th month old son when she heard some commotion in the tank behind her. She scrambled downstairs, grabbed the first nets she could find, and returned the small PNG Maroon to the specimen cup. In the span of 3 minutes, this is what the Lightning Maroon had done.

Once again, it goes without saying that everything goes wrong when you’re out of town! Thankfully Renee was quick witted and addressed the problem. Of course, Sunday evening I walked up to the tank and the little one jumped out of the cup again…the interactions I saw weren’t quite as bad perhaps. The little male PNG Maroon made all the conciliatory and submissive gestures, but the Lightning Maroon still is not a receptive mate. This is going to take a fair amount of time yet, and as most of you should realize by now, pairing up White Stripe Maroons is NOT easy.

After weeks where there was no news in 2010, I guess I make up for it with like 4 or 5 posts in a week and a two-for-one this Friday (it’s still Friday somewhere).

My friends at CORAL Magazine put together a couple really good nuggets of info that ran Thursday evening.  First up, a nicely reformatted and image-enhanced version of EcoEZ’s PNG SEASMART Press Release.  Followed up immediately by the eloquent and insightful commentary of Ret Talbot, who asks “What Price Sustainability” about this latest turn of events for SEASMART and Papua New Guinea.

As you may know, Ret Talbot is most certainly a friend of mine and a friend of the Lighting Project, being in Papua New Guinea working on his CORAL Magazine Article when the Lightning Maroon was collected.  Without a doubt, one of the first people from the states to see this fish in real life.  While Ret has a hectic schedule, he knows he has a standing invitation to contribute to, or be interviewed for, The Lightning Project.  As of late, Ret has been furiously making it his job to know everything he can about sustainability and it’s place in the current and future marine aquarium industry.  Keep an eye out for more from Ret, wherever it’s published (including the January/February 2011 edition of CORAL, which features a story on marine fish collection in Hawaii).

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.

A big shipment of fish, including PNG Maroon Clownfish from the Papua New Guinea SEASMART program landed on my doorstep the morning of July 1st, 2010.  As you likely know, it’s been a bit of a dance to get fish ready for shipment as well as conditions being right to receive a shipment!  I’m glad Mark Martin stuck with it, and as usual, it was a great, well packed shipment from Blue Zoo Aquatics.

Blue Zoo Shipment - Open the Box..

Blue Zoo Shipment - ...take off the cover...

...take off the cover...

...take out the kit and pull back the paper...

...and open up the bag to reveal the fish!

I had a standing order with Mark for 4 ‘juvies’ and 1 large female.  While large females are hard to come by, Mark found something else to send me.  Ultimately, I received 5 fresh new PNG Maroons in this shipment.  All have gone into regular tanks, not really “QT” parsay….2 share a 10 that’s been empty forever, 2 share a 30+ gallon tank, and 1 is in a breeder net in a 20 long that houses an Allardi and a couple damsels.  I have yet another empty tank set up if i need it…but for now, it’s “quarantine” with a “wait and see” approach.  As usual, all the new arrivals were temperature acclimated and then drip acclimated.

Floating a Little Maroon Clownfish to equalize bag water temp with the tank temperature.

Drip Acclimation of 2 PNG Maroon Clownfish - the specimen cup has holes in it, and is used to keep the fish from killing each other while drip acclimating.

So I had limited time tonight, but I tried to snag some photos of the new arrivals.

A juvenile/male PNG Maroon in a breeder net.

Another small PNG Maroon Clownfish, this time in a drilled specimen cup.

So, the 4 small PNG Maroons were easily 1.5″, possibly 2″, and they all pretty much looked like the above.  But remember, I said Mark sent me 5 maroons.  What was that 5th “surprise” PNG Maroon?

I’m just going to let that “simmer” with you all for a little while.  I have my own thoughts that I’ll share soon enough…

Since the PNG Lightning Maroon hit the online world, there’s been over 100+ threads on it.  I’m not about to link to them all here, but I found the conversations  I had with a few of my fellow TCMAS (Twin Cities Marine Aquarium Society) members very interesting.  The original thread is here ( ), but I’ve summarized my side of things here for easier consumption :)

Clint (who helped me fund this project by purchasing some of my fish) posed some really interesting questions.

#1.  Why did I start out with a larger female to pair the Lightning Maroon with vs. a smaller fish (to make the Lightning Maroon become female)?

Several people have posed this question and it’s a very valid one.  Afterall, pairing the Lightning Maroon with SMALLER fish would minimize the pairing risk, minimizing the chances of death.  Still, I had (and still have) several reasons for thinking keeping the Lighting Maroon male (if it is male) is the way to go:

Simple answer – Blue Zoo Aquatics was already sold out of all the smaller PNG juveniles before they even had a chance to set some aside for me, so the only way to go when the Lightning Maroon was shipped was to send me a big female.

More complicated answer – If I could keep the “Lightning Maroon” as a male, there was/is a greater chance of a quicker spawn by trying to pair it with a female vs. waiting for a sex change to occur. Additionally, since Maroons, most notably LARGE FEMALES, tend to lose their stripes as they age, better to keep this guy as a male so the awesome lightning bolts stay!

Really complicated answer – If SEASMART were to find a second Lightning Maroon, and IF I were to obtain it, I would have much greater chances of pairing “Lightning” with  “Lightning” if the first Lightning Maroon remains male.  If the Lightning Maroon is allowed to become female, and a future discovered Lightning Maroon is also female, I won’t be able to pair them.  So, pairing possibility drops by at least 50% if I allow the first Lightning Maroon Clownfish to become a female.

Hearsay answer – there has been talk that “male” clownfish have more influence on “patterning”, whereas females have more influence on “coloration”. I think that’s bunk, but at the same chance, I’m not going to dismiss it outright.

#2.  Is there any evidence to show that the pattern is a dominant or ressesive gene carried by the male?

My initial answer is that  genetically we can speculate anything we want. We are even speculating that the Lightning morph has a genetic basis in the first place. It may not be a genetic trait. We may never see another Lightning Maroon Clownfish even if I do everything perfectly.

#3.  To paraphrase Clint’s third question, he asked if there was any difference in the likelihood that Male Lightning X Female Regular = more Lightnings vs. the flipside, Male Regular X Female Lighthing = more Lightnings.

My Response: There are a number of things to remember about clowns, starting with the fact that they’re all born male, and the dominant one turns female. Any male can later become a female.

A rough genetic picture might be to look at a straight up recessive trait like albinism for a comparison. LL = Lightning. LN or NN = Normal fish. Thus, the Lighting Clown being LL, mated with a normally colored NN fish, will produce only LN offspring. No lightnings in the first generation (F1). Mating those offspring together would produce LL, LN and NN fish, at a 25%, 50%, 25% rate. So 25% Lightnings, 75% normally colored, with 2/3 of the fish carrying the recessive L.

However, a LL fish, mated with an LN fish, will produce 50% LL and 50% LN right off the bat. Given that there have been other “Lightning Maroons” seen in PNG, including the other one collected in 2008, the chance of this being a “possibility” is partially why it is so critical to select mates from PNG, ideally the same reef. It increases the chances that the normally colored mate may in fact be LN. Just as easily could be NN, and probably more likely is, but you cannot tell if the trait is recessive.

I think if the trait was dominant, we’d see many more Lightning Maroons out there.

Now, here’s the reality. Even if this genetic, it may not be a simple straight up recessive trait. It could be something like Platinums and Picassos, where there may be more going on.   Based on the breeding outcomes of Picasso Percula offspring as reported by David Durr and Tal Sweet, the “Platinum” and “Picasso” genetic mix is starting to look like the following:

Platinums = PP. Picassos may be PN. Normal Percs might be NN.

Again, that is PURELY SPECULATION. It could actually turn out that Platinums = PPP, Picassos are PPN or PNN (A and B Grade anyone) and Normals are NNN. Or something different. We don’t know enough yet. Good observation and careful records, along with SHARING OF DATA, will be what reveals the truth.

#4.  TCMAS member “lr9788″ then asked, “How does breeding continue down the line? Since this is a one of a kind doesn’t it present genetic issues? Or can a lighting be paired with any maroon (in theory)?”

This question inspired a very long response!  So here it is, largely unedited, and I’ll let that wrap up this first post on “Genetics”, elaborating a bit on the thought process behind how I’m approaching the breeding of this fish.

Well, truthfully there are not any concerns about line breeding, generally in fish, until about the F6 generation. The parents here (Lightning PNG X Reg PNG) are F0. Their offspring are F1. I assume F1 will all be normal. Pairings of the F1 Offspring will produce F2, and it is there that we might first see Lightnings (of course, I could be wrong and we could see them in F1, but heck, we don’t even know if this is genetic yet!).

So, lets say you get F2′s that are Lightnings. It is here that we could first see “Lighting X Lightning” crosses. All are still PNG maroons as well at that point, having descended from the original PNG-collected normal & lightning pair. It is possible/likely/probably that the matings of F2 X F2 lightings would yield a much higher number of Lightning Offspring in that F3 generation.

Now, since Clownfish can be productive spawners for 10-20 years easily, we need to realize that we could work with F2 Lighting X Lightning crosses to produce all the Lightning Maroons needed for a long time. Why?

Well, let’s say we get this pair spawning in a year or two. So 2012-ish. Their F1 offspring could be spawning as early as 2014 perhaps? Which means the first F2 offspring were we likely see Lightning Maroons in quantity (if it all works) would be maybe in 2015. Any pairing that starts throwing lightnings could continue to do so for the next 10-20 years (so let’s say 2035 is when they start dying off). However, we could realistically continue to create new F1 pairs that *might* throw F2 lightnings for another 5-10 years with the initial offspring of the wild parents. So that means, time wise, we could have F1 generation fish still producing F2 offspring in 2040.

If we take another 2 years to get those first Lightning X Lightning crosses spawning, that puts us at maybe 2017 for their F3 generation. Again, conservatively we could go 10-20 years from the point this generation STARTS, so 2027 to 2037 easily. But again, same math for the F1′s that throw out Lightnings as F2. Based on that RANGE, knowing we could still get F2 Lightnings at 2040, means realistically we could still be producing line bred F3 Lightnings at 2050 or even 2060.

And we’re only at the F3 generation in line breeding which yes, is inbreeding. But remember, the general rule is that we can go to around F6 before we start seeing genetic problems as a result of this inbreeding in fish. So realistically, given the LONG reproductive lifespan of Clownfish, we could easily be into 2100 before we really have to worry about hitting that F6 generation.

The reality is that there are several other items at play. There may be more WC lightnings brought in…we certainly see that happen with Picasso Percs. That would open up all sorts of outcross possibilities.

Even if another Lightning never makes it into captivity, the reality is that we know these are PNG Maroons. Knowing the methodology that fixes the Lightning Strain, we could easily then take and outcross to other PNG Maroons to infuse new genetics and then go through the selective process again. So, long term, with either one crazy dedicated breeder, or the cooperative work of several, we could find ourselves with only semi-related Lighting Maroons. Pile on the simple fact that we are talking about mounds of sexual reproduction (and the inherent genetic variation that can occur), and the reality is that fairly quickly we could have a solid captive population that has descended from a tiny handful of seed stock from the wild.

Beyond THAT, it is also quite likely that the breeding of Lightning Maroons might leave the confines of only Maroons from Papua New Guinea (PNG). I think this is a big mistake, but I already know it will happen. People will take Lightning Maroons and cross them with Gold Stripe Maroons in the hopes of making Gold Striped Lightning Maroons. They’ll mate them with other abberant Maroon Clownfish varieties that show up (i.e. there are gray-barred Maroons..which honestly I kinda like). In the long run, this is where the guppification happens and we get into captive-produced varieties. This is what I don’t like, but know will happen. And yes, I will have played a part in it.

But for me, it’s about keeping the PNG location intact. Even if these fish never turn out another Lightning, we know that they were PNG collected and represent the genetics (and whatever distinct minute difference there may be) of Maroon Clownfish from PNG. To me, this is important. This is why I own “Sumatran” Fire Clowns and “Vanuatu” Pink Skunks (which also happen to carry that nice Orange “sunkist” color variation). I.e. on the Skunks, the color variant is a nice wild coloration, but who knows if it carries on to the offspring. Thankfully, the value for me comes first in knowing that they’re Vanuatu Pink Skunks vs. Fiji Pink Skunks…the fact that they have the more orange-yellow coloration is an interesting side benefit.

And finally, I’d like to simply take the question of Genetics and cite the recent article in CORAL magazine by Ret Talbot.

Ret put the question of genetics to two of the Marine Fish Breeding community’s premier experts, Martin Moe and Matthew Wittenrich.  Bottom line, you should read the whole article (starts on page 8 of the May/June 2010 issue of CORAL).  But I’ll tell you, it’s a 50/50 split as to whether the Lightning Maroon represents a genetic variation or not.  I’ll let you go find out which person held which stance!

So good news!  The fine folks @ SEASMART and BLUE ZOO have more PNG Maroons for me, on their way from Fisherman’s Island! Amazing how a short chain of custody, with fish collected specifically to fill particular orders, can work to the hobbyist’s benefit.  I’m eager to see what arrives and to document it all.

But of course, things couldn’t go smoothly.  That’s just not the way.  Patience is key if you’re going to find the right time.

First, it was a snowstorm in Duluth MN in MAY. Yes, it SNOWED.  Mark Martin was all set to send ‘em, but a snowstorm isn’t really ideal for the fish to make it here safely.  Check it out!  No Joke!

It's snowing in Duluth, MN in MAY!

Yes...that's May 7th, 2010!

Of course, I figured probably, after the weekend, things would be better.  But Sunday night, my wife and I got the surprise of our lives.  Our baby was coming a full month early and there wasn’t gonna be any stopping it.  We didn’t know what we were having.  Monday morning, May 10th, 7:15 AM, Renee and I had our first child, a baby boy, coming in at 5 lbs, 5 oz., and 17″.  We named him Ethan Thomas Pedersen!

Ethan Thomas Pedersen

Ethan Thomas Pedersen, born 5-10-10

So…being premature (and missing having an obligatory stay at the NICU by a DAY), we’ve had a crazy week.   I instantly had to let Mark know that nothing could be shipped until further notice!  Everything fish-related has been in a holding pattern.  We’d been staying at the hospital day and night since he was born, and as recently as this afternoon, it was looking like he’d be there until Sunday at least.  Mostly, I just snuck in a couple times a day to take the dog out, feed the fish, and maybe a water change here and there.  But, a few hours ago, in what I can only describe as another stunning twist, they gave Ethan the green light to come home!

So finally we’re home, and life, while never returning to “normal” as I knew it, will still hopefully settle down a bit and we’ll get into a routine.  Part of that routine means being home and able to handle new fish when the arrive on my doorstep.  Mark has been waiting patiently, and currently, the 10-day forecast is showing daytime highs in the 70′s.  With no snow in sight, and me returning to work next week, the timing is finaly perfect for the newest ambassadors from Papua New Guinea (and SEASMART) to show up on my doorstep.  There will be fresh rounds of quarantine, and if all goes well, we could be back to pairing attempts in a few weeks!

In the meantime, the Lightning Maroon has settled in, enjoys his three Bubble Tip Anemones, and in every respect has adjusted to captive life.  It’s only a matter of time before the next chapter begins.

Another day

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So it’s been what, 2 full weeks now?  Today, the maroons spent more of their day apart.  This evening, I did another water change, shook off all the live rock (and thus rearranged it a bit), dosed with Fish Protector in the makeup water and Reef Plus shortly thereafter.

The female Maroon, as cited earlier, still had spots of  Cryptocaryon (ICH) on her into the afternoon, but by night they’ve disappeared.  I should mention that besides the obvious visual cues that it was ICH and not Velvet, there has not been heavy breathing nor a total loss of appetite, both classic symptoms of Marine Velvet (Amyloodinium) even when it’s not outwardly visible.

I “polled” the advisers and got early responses from Joe, Christine and Matthew C. about my ongoing ICH problem.  I’m over simplifying their responses by a lot, but suffice it to say that if there were one word votes, it’d be 1 vote restore Hypo to 1.010 or even 1.009, and 2 votes for possible treatment with Cupramine (copper) to finally eradicate the problem.  Obviously, if this continues to be a recurring problem it will have to be dealt with.  I feel that the female Maroon has once again plateaued, albeit at a higher plateau than she was on before.

She has had less “spunk” today, not having tons of appetite by any stretch.  Unless food was moving, either in the current or alive (as in Live Adult Brine Shrimp) she didn’t see interested.  Honestly, I had my first suspicions that she might be blind now.  Hard to say.  Blindness can be temporary or permanent in clownfish and can be attributed to a variety of factors.  There are times she seems blind, but then other times where she most certainly does not.  So throw that on the pile as another of the never-ending list of problems that have plagued this female PNG Maroon since her arrival.  Oh, that, and someone took a chunk out of her left pectoral fin today.  The list of suspects is short.  VERY SHORT.  And happens to be covered in abberant white markings.

Behaviorally, the clowns were not as cuddly with each other today.  They spent most of their time about 3-4″ apart.  When I turned out the lights this evening, the female left her cave.  The Lighting Maroon quivered for her numerous times, but she moved off to a different part of the tank.  I didn’t stay to watch too much more, but suffice to to say that both fish seem to be roaming the tank more.  This, combined with the “mystery bite” on the female’s fin might suggest that the “pair bond” isn’t all that, but then I look at my other clowns that don’t have anemone homes and they tend to rove around quite a bit.  They aren’t always at each other’s side, but it’s very rare that they’re at opposite ends of the tank.

I think it’s really important to impress upon everyone how truly individual and dynamic a marine fish can be.  They most certainly do have personalities and subtle behavioral cues.  It pays to make yourself aware of those subtle changes in behavior.  I certainly believe that some folks might read way too much into it, anthropomorphizing their fish (and going off the deep end in the process).  However, if you can avoid that pitfall and be more objective about your fish, you may realize they will often give you clues when things aren’t quite right.  I.e. I’m paying more close attention to the Female Maroon today and tomorrow in light of what seems to be a decreased interest in food and behavior that may imply some blindness or at least vision trouble.  Hard to say where that’s stemming from, but it’s important to note general behavior every time you look as you’ll get tipped off when things may once again be going wrong.

Well, signing off for tonight, and hoping for a better tomorrow.  Power of positive thought seems to work folks, so please do keep sending prayers, well wishes,  good vibes and karma to the 20 gallon home of the PNG Ambassador and his wife ;)

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