The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged quarantine

…is that life has a way of giving you a nice smack in the face, aka a “reality check”.  The old phrase “don’t count your [clownfish] before they hatch”  seems to apply here.

I alluded to it at the end of my last post.  Yes, the “Morse Code” Maroon is having issues…it showed signs almost immediately and 24 hours in I made the decision to move it into another empty tank and begin treatment.  Not having the benefit of a laboratory, nor the luxury of a vet, I was forced to make a rapid guess and hope I was right.  Time this weekend has been nonexistent (a visit to see my best friend who lives in DC, then a car was hit on the street, and a family member was put under and had surgery today, doing well thank you) but I’ve at least been staying on feeding and treatment regimes.  Here’s where the Morse Code Maroon went…

So what exactly is wrong with the Morse Code Maroon?  I’m not 100% sure, but I did notice what looked like “rawness” on the mouth when the fish was released.  The pictures from that evening don’t really show it.  24 hours in, the mouth had turned gray and was showing signs of erosion, and so, the fish was moved.  Here’s what I was looking at.

For the moment, I’ll just use the generic term “Mouth Rot”, which really describes only a symptom, something that could be caused by a myriad of possible vectors.  As I stated earlier, not having a lot of time to diagnose and collaborate on this one, I went with Kanamycin, which I had on hand from the “lost shipment” when I was trying to switch antibiotics on the original female PNG Maroon.  As an “shotgun approach” antibiotic, it was the recommendation of at least a couple of the project advisors earlier on.  I figured, why not?  Christine Williams and Boomer both definitely preferred it over my personal default, Erythromycin.  Seems that Kanamycin is not that easy to find, but this is the one I’m using, from

Today, I have to say I’ve not seen any signs of improvement.  No, things appear to have gotten worse.  Let the pictures speak for themselves:

Add on stringy feces, decreased activity, and the possibility of Brooklynella showing up (can’t say yet) and this fish is arguably going downhill fast.  Tonight is the 4th of 5 scheduled doses of Kanamycin.  I’m going to do it, but if time permits over the next 24 hours I’m going to solicit for opinions and do the researching I can do.  Need to turn this fish around, FAST!  I have a feeling I’ll be switching medications tomorrow.

Yes, it is official.  With my helping hand, the Lightning Maroon is bolting from QT / Hospital and into a breeder net.  Not ideal, but I happen to agree with the advisers that the pros and cons of staying on my current course dictated a change.

Here’s the arguments for keeping the Lightning Maroon WITH the female, in hyposalinity.

  1. If the Lightning is still a male (I believe he is) then having the larger female puts social pressure on him to STAY male.
  2. well…that’s just it…that’s really the only direct “benefit” to keeping him in QT with the female.  That was the main reason they went into a dedicated healthy tank together, divided only for their own safety.

On the flipside, the cons are much greater.

  1. Continued contact with the female may result in an otherwise healthy Lightning Maroon getting sick.
  2. If in fact the Lightning is more a “subordinate female” at this point, then the continued slightly antagonistic interactions I’m seeing are only going to get worse.
  3. Leaving the fish in this hospital / qt situation at hypo may at this point be putting undue stress on an otherwise healthy fish

There are of course, RISKS associated with moving the fish.  The risks are actually quite substantial, but I believe I can sum it up like this.  People are more afraid of what they know than what they don’t know.

  1. Moving the fish from QT to an established tank presents stress with a rapid rising salinity change. Honestly, this was my biggest fear, regardless of what Joe Lichtenbert told me and regardless of the real rationalizations I made earlier this week.  It still scares the crap out of me to take a fish and double the salinity on it.  Well, I did just that earlier today on the 4 remaining fish in the OTHER QT system, and they are all alive and eating this evening.  Not saying that I condone this treatment in any way, only saying that experiences of multiple people are showing that a rapid salinity change in EITHER direction may not be as life-risking as we might normally be lead to believe.  That doesn’t excuse folks to just dump fish willy nilly as the consequences results could certainly be different (i.e. dead fish).  I can only say I am much more comfortable with the notion of doing this to a fish like the Lightning Maroon having first hand direct positive results in hand.
  2. Moving the fish into an existing tank means it’s going in a breeder net. Yes, that’s the case.  All my well established reefs have pairs of clowns in them already.  Adding the Maroon Clown directly to the tank would be beyond disruptive and life-threatening for all the parties involved.  So a breeder net is the only viable solution (unless I stole a grow out tank, which I DID think about).  Ultimately, the reality is that I have multiple clownfish happily inhabiting breeder nets, and in fact, I think my Vanuatu Pink Skunks PREFER having it (but they can come and go now as they please).  At any rate, the biggest risk is that the fish gets OUT of the breeder net.  I’ve had this happen, and the results were a shredded clownfish (that has since recovered well back in its net).  I’ll be doing whatever I can to prevent an escape.
  3. Moving the Lightning Maroon could introduce one or more diseases, including the Fin Rot and Cryptocaryon, to the destination tank. This is a very real concern.  The rationalization goes something like this.  The Lightning Maroon is outwardly healthy and happy.  So it is not likely directly diseased at this point.  The fish has been in treatment with Maracyn for 24 hours now, and that seems to have kept the Fin Rot at bay.  So it’s unlikely that would be transferred in as it’s not outwardly apparent on the Lighting Maroon.  There is a second part, the “what if”?  Well, IF this move causes a disease outbreak, first it’s important to consider that compared to the Lightning Maroon, every other fish in the destination tank is quite readily replaceable.  Yes, harsh to say the least, but the Lightning Maroon has to take precedence over the other fish.  It will be going into my SPS tank, which houses my most common broodstock.  Now, that said, I’m not that worried about ICH.  I may do a quick FW dip after acclimation is complete, one final “quick clean” before going in.  Might not.  Hard to say.  Need to research that concept.  Even if I don’t, honestly, I’m more worried about the Fin Rot.  Well…the FIN ROT can be treated IN THE REEF with Maracyn SW.  Yes, I am quite happy to say that Maracyn SW has proven itself to be quite reef safe.  It just makes your skimmer foam like mad (which drives people crazy).  But it doesn’t seem to kill your corals and inverts.  So, if push comes to shove, I could treat the destination reef with Maracyn SW.  Heck, I might even do so prophalactically.  But again…I don’t know yet.  I have to mull that over.  More likely I’ll just keep a very watchful eye on things.

So ultimately, the decision was made this afternoon and plans were put in motion.  As I mentioned, there were other options.  One consisted of removing the Female to another tank, possibly the growout tank I’ve been using for some Black Ocellaris batches.  Honestly, there’s 5 left, they don’t need a 10 gallon to themselves.  I MAY still do this.  The other possibility was already mentioned, moving the Lightning Maroon to this growout tank.  Honestly, I don’t like the tank’s stability as much as I like my reefs.  So when it came to my reefs, the only one I was willing to risk was the SPS tank…the other reefs have broodstock far more difficult to replace.  Early on, I did even suggest stealing the 6 gallon nano from my Black Ocellaris pair, but honestly, if I don’t NEED to do that, I’m not going to.  But I’m certainly taking a cue from them and thinking long term about a dedicated clown + nem tank for the Lightning Maroon and its mate.

Going on some earlier suggestions,  I lined up one of my RBTA clones (Red Bubble Tip Anemone) as well as 2 rather brown specimens from Underground Aquatics (thanks for the steal of a deal Jim).  The clown will not go into an empty breeder net, but one with a tile on the bttom as well as hosts.  The clown will have 3 small Bubble Tip Anemones (Entacmaea quadricolor) to host in – that way the clownfish won’t totally annoy any single specimen hopefully.  I should also mention that Bubble Tips are the only natural host for Maroon Anemonefish (Premnas biaculeatus).  I already acclimated the 2 from Jim’s place and they’re lookin’ good under the HQI lighting – hopefully I won’t bleach ‘em out.

I must admit, this is NOT a victory in my book, but a defeat.   This is a retreat to safety.  It does make me feel as if I’ve given up confidence on the female Maroon as well, even though I haven’t.  But I will be making a few more adjustments this evening yet.  Pictures in the next update…acclimation is already underway.  Officially, by my refractometer, we are going from 1.012 / 16 ppt to 1.025 / 33 ppt.  It’s being done on a slow drip.

As promised, I was never naive enough to take on this project alone, even with my “maverick”, “rule breaking” reputation.  If I look at all my correspondence objectively with the advisers, I’d have to draw a general conclusion that the “fin rot” may have been the tipping point.  Yes, there was certainly some underriding concerns about keeping the fish in the same tank together all along, but now, a new concensus (“bandwagon”) seems to have coalesced.  With their permission, here’s what some of the advisers have said.

“At this point, I would advise getting the lightning maroon out of there and keeping it away from the female. From the pictures, that female is not doing well. The last thing we want is for any infections to be transmitted to the lightning. If the female gets better, you can reintroduce them but for now, get the lightning the heck out of there.”
- Mark Martin, Blue Zoo Aquatics

“When I quarantine new fish everything is kept separate just in case something like this happens.  With the value and rarity of the lightning clown you simply can’t risk having it in the same system with a sick fish.  I don’t know if putting it in your sps tank is a good idea though as you will have no options left for treatment.  I would really try to separate that fish.”
- Dustin Dorton, ORA

“Get the male the hell out of here if you want to keep him alive, if you have a reef tank put it in it or any other well established tank, that fish is way to valuable to lose.  I say it like it is you can keep trying to save the female if you wish, I know you want to keep the PNG lineage but getting another female later won’t be impossible, if you lose the male I’m guessing the project is done.”
- Edgar Diaz, Addy Zone

“I’m surprised you still have them together, Matt, I’d be very nervous, and I don’t see any benefit to having them together. They’ll’ bond plenty when they’re not feeling like crap.”
- Christine Williams

Certainly a lot to think about, and the majority at this point IS suggesting to remove the Lightning Maroon from the female (and I infer, this QT / Quarantine / Hospital tank).

Yes, I did an emergency big water change, over half the tank’s running volumes.  Took out 10 gallons.  Why?

Well…turns out when I set up this stand of tanks, I set it up in front of a closet in the rental’s basement.  Didn’t think anything of blocking the closet…we’re not using it.  Well..turns out our main water shutoff is in that closet.  So when the plumber showed up today to fix some plumbing issues in the rental house, guess what he needed to turn off ;)

So..drain drain drain drain drain drain drain.  Slowly move the 2 tanks on the stand across the concrete floor just enough to open the closet and narrowly reach in to turn off the valve.  Then fill fill fill fill fill.  But I DIDN’T think to save any of the water I was draining.

I had water mixing up already for a regular full strength water change, but I used that to quickly add some water to the top QT tank which was running with only an inch or so.  Testing out Joe Lichtenbert’s observation that fish can handle rapid salinity changes in BOTH directions.

I got another bucket mixing at full strength, and decided I would use water from an existing tank to refill the Maroon’s QT tank.  So….5 gallons out of the SPS tank, mixed with 5 gallons of dechlorinated tap water and in it went.  Honestly, the fish seemed to like it, and it was the clearest I’ve seen this QT tank in a while now.  I don’t know where the salinity is, but I suspect it’s up a little bit more now, maybe 1.012 or 1.013.  I’ll have to check it later.  When I tested it last night, it was around 1.011, and I added maybe a half gallon of distilled water to bring it back to 1.010-ish.

The interesting part, and why I say the fish seemed to like the water change, is that the female seemed to perk up rather quickly and started snapping at bits of food in the water as it swirled around.  At least that’s what I think  I was seeing.  I can say with certainty that the fin rot has not progressed since last night.  Her appetite remains iffy, and she does seem at times to be blind.

Since I drained probably 2/3 of the water, I felt obligated to hit the tank with a fresh pouch of Maracyn SW.    So now I’m back on a morning dosing routine, which is not really where I wanted to be.  (It’s easier to feed all day, do a water change in the evening, and then dose after the water change.  Now, if I do a water change in the evening, I’m diluting overnight).

Anyway, that’s the 411 for this morning!

So still playing catchup on the Lightning Maroon Story…there’s already so much “behind the scenes” and “prequel” type content…I doubt I’ll ever get it all out there.  I did manage the first installment fairly quickly.  It’s time to hit the second installment of the “recap”, the acclimation of the Maroons to their new home.

We pick up where we left on on March 31st, with the box newly opened.  I had already taken salinity readings and matched the tank water to them (fish were shipped around 1.020).  Time to set up the drip acclimation.

SEASMART PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish in Drip Acclimation

Didn't even bother handling the Lightning Maroon, started acclimation in the bag.

No chances taken - Eggcrate covers the acclimation bucket!

No chances taken - Eggcrate covers the acclimation bucket!

SEASMART collected PNG Maroon Clownfish

Here's the "female" shipped from Blue Zoo.


Got many better pictures of the female.


That's one gorgeous large Maroon Clownfish! Bravo to everyone involved!

PNG Maroon Clownifsh

I know...I shot more pix of the female...

Drip acclimation of Premnas biaculeatus

Started the drip acclimation on the female.

Drip acclimating a wild caught PNG Maroon Clownfish

I followed the drip acclimation instructions provided in Blue Zoo's Acclimation Handbook, shipped with every order.

When drip acclimations were done, each fish was gently moved BY HAND into their designated sides of the QT tank.  I moved them by hand as wet hands (experienced in fish handling) are less abrasive, damaging, and risky, especially with fish that have spines that can be caught in netting.

Maroon Clownfish in tank

And finally, after hours of acclimation, they're in their tank. Separated by Eggcrate!

PNG Maroon Clownfish

Another look at that stunning female PNG Maroon. Slight misbar on the tail, but Maroon stripes fade, bottom up, with age.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish

The Lightning Maroon knows that there's a larger Maroon on the other side of that eggcrate.

Initial QT Setup...

This is their initial home, the larger PNG Maroon getting the majority of the space.

So, here’s how their tank is set up.  It’s a 20 Long full of live rock.  The only filtration is the live rock itself, with water circulation provided by the Penguin Power Filter hanging on the back.  This tank had been set up for months housing a much larger male Blue Jaw Triggerfish (Xanthichthys auromarginatus) which was given away to local reefer Jim Grassinger (of the Filter Guys) so I had a quality established home for these Maroon Clowns.  The clowns couldn’t have a more stable and established dedicated aquarium than this.  The added benefit was limited exposure…it’s not like they were on a system exposed to many other fish.

And that’s the story of how they got from the Boxes into the tank.  I followed Blue Zoo Aquatic’s acclimation protocols pretty much exactly.  Blue Zoo even provides tubing and a suction cup to make this as easy as possible.  All it takes is a knot in the tubing to control the rate at which water siphons from the tank into the bucket.

I do want to mention that I realized about 30 minutes into the acclimation process that the buckets were sitting on cold concrete basement floors.  In an effort to insulate the buckets, I placed them on the styrofoam lids from the shipping boxes.  I may always do this now…it certainly doesn’t hurt and probably helped keep the temps more stable.

As time permits, I’ll try to recap the first couple days to get everyone caught up to speed ;)

All images are copyright 2010 Matt Pedersen.  No reuse without express written consent!

Today I went with Jay and Jim and made the trip to the TCMAS Frag Swap to deliver many of the fish I sold to help finance this adventure.  Thanks once again for everyone who chipped in on a moment’s notice!

Got back, and things are looking OK.  Back to work for me…which has been nothing but brick walls since I sat down this evening.  So taking a break, and updating you all!

Brooklynella wise, I didn’t see any outward signs on either Maroon.  I offered some food (Frozen Mysis and Brine, eriched) and the Lightning Maroon took a nibble, and the female Maroon certainly perked up, but has still not eaten.  Their tank water is a bit cloudy, likely from the Formalin knocking off stuff on the live rock, so I’ll test the water, possibly do a water change, perhaps add fresh carbon to take down any remaining formalin (since I goofed in the first place) and tomorrow afternoon, another round of dips and a fresh formalin treatment into their tank again.  I’ll tell you what I do for sure after I’ve done it!

Another nice tidbit…the new camera transfer cable showed up today, so I started sucking pictures out!  I’ll post up the first installment of a “recap” to get you all up to speed with how this process has been going.  LOTS of pictures in this next installment…

OK, so please see my earlier post for details on how I almost really botched things but in the end, caught a lucky break by thinking not to try something out on the Maroons first ;)

The large “regular” female Maroon went through a 45 minute Formalin Dip (20 drops, or 1 ml, of true Formalin (37% Solution of Formaldehyde) into 1 gallon of tank water, heavily aerated). When I took her out and placed her back in the tank, she looked like a NEW clownfish. Not a milky patch or spot on her. So I proceded with the Lightning Maroon, and it went through equally well, and seemed rejuvenated upon return to the tank.  I also happened to dose the tank with Seachem’s  Reef Plus, a general vitamin additive that I routinely dose to all my tanks.

You may recall that earlier tonight I was weighing the pros and cons of dosing their TANK with Formalin. Well…the PNG Saddleback and Allardis have already had 1 drop per gallon in their tank for 24 hours with no problems. Still…wasn’t convinced as it could kill off some of the life on their live rock (for the record, Mushroom Anemones tolerated, not loved, but tolerated hypo salinity at 1.010). Well, while sitting around keeping an eye on the Lightning Maroon Clownfish, I saw a dwarf blue leg hermit crab crawling around in the tank I’d already dosed with Formalin. “Hmm”, I thought. “I would’ve pegged the Hermit Crab to be dead in hours, if not minutes.”

And so, compensating for the large amount of live rock in their otherwise barren 20 Long, the Lightning Maroon’s tank was dosed tonight with 15 drops of Formalin, this in the hopes of preventing or at least keeping down re-infestation between dips.

I think I’ll sleep OK tonight, but I have to get up in 5 hours to pack up all the fish I sold that helped PAY for this project in the first place!!!  And I need to find Rod’s Food and Seachem’s Stress Guard (Blue Zoo includes a pipette in each care package, and I really read up on the’s going to be good to use with the Formalin treatments, and I used up the last of it on the fish I “fried” earlier tonight).

Going Hypo…


Not Hypochondriac, Hyposaline!  I’ve heard stories of people who get an “uber rare fish” and end up killing it because they worry too much about it or just fuss over it.  I promise I am not going to be that guy.  The Maroons are still settling in, but I’m taking prevenative steps that everyone working with clownfish should consider.  Let me stress now that I USE QT (quarantine) but even I admit, I don’t do it often enough.  It just so happens that in the case of the Lighting Clown, the “QT” and the “final destination” tank are one and the same.  I’ll be circling back around to recap the entire story of the Lightning Maroon and it’s mate to date in the coming days and weeks, but I felt this was worth an immediate update.

While I’m still scrambling with OT at work, and wanting to get the project defined and advisors better integrated into this project, I knew I had to get the ball rolling on soliciting advice from trusted and experienced breeders.  The first person I invited was Joe Lichtenbert, founder of Reef Propagations Inc (RPI), clownfish breeder for 20+ years, editor on Hoff’s breeding book, author, and all around very supportive personal friend.  I knew I could trust Joe to the ends of the earth to not gossip while things were still “under wraps”.  The second person I asked to collaborate was Edgar Diaz, owner of Addy-Zone Hatcheries (AZ), former C-Quest employee, and the guy who didn’t withhold information some might have considered “proprietary” when it came time to helping me rear my first marine fish, which happened to be the Greenbanded Goby, Elacatinus multifasciatus.  After knowing Edgar for so long, it was truly like seeing and old friend when I finally got to meet him face-to-face in Michigan last month.  Of course, I have also continued to bombard Mark Martin, Director of Marine Ornamental Research @ Blue Zoo Aquatics, with emails as well – afterall, he entrusted me with the care of this fish! -update- Mark’s response concurred with all other responses on the subject.  He wrote, “We keep our heavy medication systems at 1.010 or a little lower sometimes and the clownfish do fine. I would do it to be safe. Most medications have a tendency to be more effective at lower specific gravities as well so if you ever need to medicate, the specific gravity will already be lowered.”

In asking for any and all advice on how to treat these fish now that they are in my care, Joe Lichtenbert was adamant about putting the fish into Hyposalinity at  1.010 as a prophylactic measure to prevent Brooklynella.  This “treatment” should last at least 2 weeks.  Edgar Diaz 100% concurred.  I honestly think Mark has been so busy he’s still catching up on my emails from 2 days ago!  With any wild caught clownfish, even with the BEST CARE the entire way, Brooklynella is a legitimate concern and something anyone working with clownfish MUST anticipate.  Along with the Lightning Maroon, Mark had sent other clowns that I had on order, which had been on hold for me while I was out speaking @ MASM’s MBI and LIRA’s NERAC V.

In the end, thinking this through carefully, they were right to make this recommendation.  Joe told me Maroons are known to be PRONE to Brooklynella, which I hadn’t recalled but sure enough, it’s mentioned in the literature.  Those clowns I mentioned…well, the happy, healthy, eating like a pig Allardis (Amphiprion allardi)…one of them showed the signs of Brooklynella last night, as did a stunning PNG Saddleback (Amphiprion polymnus).  They’re in a separate system from the Lightning Maroons.  Doesn’t matter.  That sealed the deal for me.  If it can happen to fish that are FULLY “settled in” and “looking great”, I considered that my warning from above.

And so, ALL the new clowns that arrived this week, including the Lightning Maroons, are being brought to hyposaline conditions at 1.010.  As of this morning, the Lightning Maroons are at 1.014, and the other system was at 1.015.  The clowns that showed brook, their system had all the non-vertebrates (snails, hermits and Caulerpa) removed, and Formalin was dosed at the suggested rate of the manufacturer at 1 drop per gallon.  As time permits, I’ll get both systems down to 1.010 by the end of the day, and they’ll stay there until sometime in the middle of April.

So, what do you think?  Am I nuts?  Wise?  Please post your comments, thoughs and experiences with hyposalinity below!

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