The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged Two Little Fishies

So this amounts to a chronological retelling of the story to date, this time with photos, starting  a couple weeks back now.  Perhaps not in as much detail as my minute-by-minute updates, but a good overview of the run to date.

June 21st, 2012

The ongoing health problems with the Lightning Maroon remained, and the left eye on the Lightning Maroon was showing slight swelling.

On a day initially planned to do a skin-scrape of the fish for further examination, I had to call things off because the fish had started going through pre-spawn motions.

By the time we had finished doing a skin scrape on some Banggai Cardinalfish downstairs, Barb & Heidi from the Great Lakes Aquarium got a super special treat, seeing the actual nest having been spawned while they were here.

Lightning Maroon Clownfish Spawning & Eggs

June 22nd, 2012

I was genuinely worried whether we’d have eggs 24 hours in.  Thankfully, they proved to be good parents and good “clownfish”; the first spawn egg eating proved to be the typical first test run that so many clownfish seem to do.  This batch, while I didn’t get a good photo of the parents, was doing well.  The swelling on the Lightning Maroon’s eye had gone away.  Phew.

June 23rd, 2012

So much for resting easy about the health of the Lightning Maroon. The eggs were developing (a fair number that probably were infertile or diseased were removed by the pair), but some funky gunk (yes, that’s the scientific term) showed up on the Lightning Maroon’s right face.  I was once again on high alert; this wasn’t pop-eye; this was more reminiscent of the mouth-rot I had to battle back a little while ago.

June 24th, 2012

So much for being on alert.  By evening, things looked so bad on the Lightning Maroon’s face that I pulled the trigger and initiated the third course of treatment with Maracyn SW and Maracyn II SW in this system.  The telltale bulge around the right eye had started to show as well.  I felt I had little other option at this point; this fish is simply too valuable to take a wait and see approach when symptoms like these show up:

The eggs were looking good and developing fast, although I took little comfort in that given the current situation with the Lightning Maroon.  The roller coaster of stress over this fish during the past couple months has been excruciating.  No doubt, there were times I pondered whether it would all be easier if the fish just passed away – of course solely a passing fancy, but when things are clearly out of your real control, it is incredibly tough to sit there and do “what you can”.  Of course, it’s a whole new level now that we are well within sight of the next major milestone in this 2+ year long project.

June 27th, 2012

June 27th represented the 4th day of Maracyn + Maracyn II treatments, and once again, it appeared I had potentially averted a crisis or loss.  The condition of the Lightning Maroon was drastically improved.  The eggs…the eggs were showing eyes?  They had the classic silvery look of clownfish eggs before they’re going to hatch.

I had been worried that these eggs would be hatching out while I was on a trip to Boston to speak at the Boston Reef Society; but now, only 6 days post spawn, I was very worried that a hatch could come sooner than expected.  The signs (and the data out there) said it was possible, sure, but maybe not likely?  Still, if I waited too long and did nothing I could miss the hatch. Conversely, if I pulled the nest too early, I could miss killing the eggs before they actually had fully developed.  Honestly though, I felt far less pressure about the decisions I was about to make than any of the disease-related issues with the Lightning Maroon; this is clownfish breeding, I can handle it.

There was really only one route to go – I had to sit and watch the tank.  The lights go off at 12:15 AM, so I got things situated for a possible hatch.  I used a small LED flashlight at the far corner of the tank as a larval attractant.

While waiting for the lights to go out, I prepared the area  with buckets and siphons to take out larvae should they hatch in the tank.

Downstairs, I prepared a black round tub to receive broodstock water and possible babies.

Lights went out, and it was time to wait.  All pumps were turned off through an extended feed timer on my Apex Lite (which would ensure they’d all come back on in the event that I somehow forgot about them and went to be).  I did have to unplug the battery backup on the Vortech…can’t have babies going through that pump either.  I’d check every once in a while, and initially got excited around 12:20 AM when I saw movement in the beam of the flashlight – until I realized it was copepods swimming around.

Many more checks turned up nothing, and I was starting to wonder if I had jumped the gun.  Multiple plans of “what next” rolled around in my head, but they all disappeared at 1:23 AM on June 28th, 2012.

That is not a copepod.  If you can’t really see it, maybe this one will help:

The moment that first baby clownfish showed up, I pulled the tile under almost complete darkness, moving it downstairs in a bucket with a lid and 5 gallons of water from the broodstock tank.  I set it up for artificial hatching, and assumed that come morning, I’d see hundreds of clownfish swimming around.  That was the hope…

June 28th, 2012

So much for hatching overnight.  There was ONE baby in the tub.  Terrific (<-sarcasm).  1 is better than none, so in the interest of keeping the one alive, I was forced to tinge the water green with a very light treatment of RotiGreen Nano, and a very small addition of rotifers (lest the baby starve).

The worst fear is that I had somehow killed the eggs in the move or prevented the hatch, which would have generally killed the eggs overnight.  There was only one way to find out.  I took a quick look at the tile.

And here’s what I saw…

They look perfectly fine.  And what a great opportunity, thanks to the advent of digital photography and Photoshop, to get a headcount.

That’s roughly 310 eggs (each color group represents me counting to 50, with the scattered red dots representing the last 10 I counted).  It’s not an exact headcount, but gives a great approximate number of eggs.  Hardly the spawn of several thousand that some Maroon Clownfish are known to put down, but I’ll take it all the same.  So very carefully, this tile went back into the black round tub…

…So long as the eggs didn’t die, there was still hope.  The rest of the tension filled day was spent fighting the urge to recheck the tile for dead eggs.  Come nightfall, I stuck with the photoperiod that the eggs had been used to, and turned the lights out in the basement a little early so that things were basically pitch black by 12:15 AM on June 29th.  Just after 1:00 AM, a quick check with the flashlight caused me to announce to the world, “Ladies and Gentleman; we’re rearing Lightning Maroon Larvae.

June 29th, 2012.

With only hours before my departure to Boston, I had to get things set up right.  As the night progessed into the wee hours of morning (that we normally still call “night”), I fired up the lights, and checked the tile:

No stragglers – that means a 100% hatch.  That means 300-ish baby maroon clownfish.  300 chances to see something really fantastic down the line.  So long as we don’t botch rearing them!

Mike Doty, a fellow aquarist who happens to live 4 blocks away from me, had been over late (or early if you want to get technical) to see how things were set up and to know where everthing was…well that and to share a beer, toasting this milestone. Mike would be completely in charge of rearing the larvae in my absence.


While I got my share of incredulous inquiries about that, I actually had more confidence in Mike than myself; Mike had taken a pair of extra Maroons from me, spawned and reared a couple batches, so he was perfectly qualified in my book (I’ve done clowns, but never maroons before).  We got the larval tub set up with greenwater and rotifers, and in the early afternoon I embarked on my all-day trek to Boston.


 July 1st, 2012

I returned home from Boston in the afternoon, anxious to see how things had gone.  Mike had kept me updated via texts during my absence and things sounded good.  The main message I got from Mike was that my three rotifer cultures had failed to keep up with demand, and he had actually depleted his as well.  I wondered, would we wind up losing this batch to starvation?!

July 2nd, 2012

I’m indeed burning through rotifers, but the cultures seemed to rebound and were producing enough for the moment.  The rotifers in the BRT were also clearing out phytoplankton pretty frequently.

Mike and I had set up a drip for the tub using a spare brine shrimp hatchery and a micro ball valve from Julian Sprung’s Two Little Fishies.  Not only is the drip good for top off, but also for introducing foods (phytoplankton) and ammonia control (CloramX) slowly.

Seeing that there were still many babies (some losses, but still many viable larvae), I took a photo for you all; your first look at what *Could be* a larval Lighting Maroon Clownfish, roughly 4 days old.

 July 5th, 2012

Things have gone well, as I’ve slowly doubled the larval rearing volume to 10 gallons, keeping a watchful eye on the ammonia alert badge as I continue to feed 4-5 gallons worth of rotifers into the tub per day.  With the warm basement temperatures (normally in the upper 60′s to lower 70′s, but lately 78F), the rotifer cultures are now roaring; I’m forced to feed them twice daily at a rate of 30 drops of RotiGrow Plus (and 30 drops CloramX).

I’ve done a couple pre-feeding rotifer enrichments with Super Selcon as well, just to keep the DHA levels up. However, today, now just before 7 days old, we reach another step in the rearing process.  Today it was decided the larvae were finally ready to feed on APBreed’s TDO, size A.  And after the second feeding, it was fair to say they are indeed consuming it.

So now we sit and wait.  Any day now, we will catch the first glimpses of stripes as these larval Maroon Clownfish go through metamorphosis and settle out into juveniles.  Most likely, I suspect that even if we have fish that will one day show the “Lightning” phenotype, we won’t see it at this stage in their development.  But at this time, it is anyone’s guess.  If you’re a betting man or woman, it’s time to place your wagers.  Our first glimpse at the possibilities are just around the corner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aquascape #1

Aquascape #2

Aquascape #3

Aquascape #4

Aquascape #5 - the one we went with!

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

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011

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

Goniastrea palauensis, Aussie Prism Closed Brian Coral - copyright 2011

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

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

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

Nick drilling the Real Reef live rock.

Nick drilling the Real Reef live rock.

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

The rockwork sits in the Ecoxotic...

The rockwork sits in the Ecoxotic...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A closer look at the substrate design.

A closer look at the substrate design.

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

Newly filled with saltwater, things are cloudy.

Newly filled with saltwater, things are cloudy.

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

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

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

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

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

Fully aquascaped and ready to go...

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

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

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