The Lightning Project

The ongoing saga of the PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish Breeding Project

Browsing Posts tagged wild maroon clownfish

I have photos of this spawn stashed away in the camera, but I figured I better get this on the books before I completely forget. Spawn #19 was put down on 12-14.  With tons of stuff going on with the holidays, I did a boneheaded thing and pulled the nest on the night of the 19th going into the 20th (because I looked at my phone after Midnight, didn’t realize it was that late, saw the 20th, and said “shoot I gotta pull this tonight!”).

Spawn #19 during H2O2 sanitizing dip.

Spawn #19 during H2O2 sanitizing dip.

So the eggs went into a clean tank with all new water after a 15 minute bath on hydrogen peroxide.  It was at least 24 hours early, and yet despite that, I had a handful of offspring the next morning…that’s technically 5 days after spawning!  A few more offspring hatched out the subsequent night (which would have been 6 days later), and yet after that, the nest died.  There has been plenty of RotiGreen Omega and rotifers in the 10 gallon blacked out tank, but by the time I departed for our holidays away, there were maybe only 3 babies I could see alive.  Upon returning the day after Xmas (12-26), I could find only one baby in the tank, and by the 27th I could no longer find any larvae.  Pulling my hair out.

There is one thing I’m looking at right now – I haven’t had access to wooden airstones for incubation in ages, and Joe Lichtenbert swore by them for direct egg aeration during hatching.  I’ve been having all sorts of nest deaths in the Lightning Maroons when putting coarse air directly on them, so I’ve generally tried to get good ambient flow, which works better but not consistently.  Well, if it’s my damn airstones I’m going to be really ticked, but my plans are to have wooden airstones on hand very soon, going out of my way to obtain them since most online suppliers have long since dropped them from their offerings.

And yet, I’ll get another shot at it still.  I discovered the latest nest, Spawn #20, when checking out my tanks when I returned home from the holidays.  I cannot say for certain, but given that the Lightning Maroon’s ovipositor was still down, I believe that Spawn #20 was laid on 12-26-2013.  Based on that timing, the nest was pulled on the evening of 1-1-2014, going into the morning of 1/2/2014.  Once again the 10 gallon tank was drained, cleaned, rinsed with freshwater, and set up. This time I used 50% new water, 40% broodstock water, and 5% RODI water to bring the specific gravity down slightly.  I did not sanitize the eggs prior to pulling.  There was very little orange left in the larvae, which I believe bodes well for my pull occuring at the right time to maximize whatever hatch I get.  A small LED flashlight was set up at the far end of the tank to draw hatched larvae away from the heavy aeration – wooden airstones have yet to arrive, so once again I’m pummeling the eggs with coarser bubbles from a glass airstone.

You may recall the “other” pair of wild (F0) White Stripe Maroons I’ve had set up from PNG.  I’ve had the pair a long time..they were paired before the Lightning Maroon ever got around to it.  By my records, they put down their first spawn on 12-20-2013.  Upon returning home today, I checked their nest; just a few unhatched eggs remained, which means that they hatched even FASTER than the Lightning Maroon.  I would have had to pull them the late evening of 12-25….just over 5 days post spawn.  The other possibility is that the parents ate most of the eggs prematurely, so I’ll have to watch the pair another few times through before I see what their pattern is.  But seriously…as little as 120 hours from spawn to hatch?!

I will absolutely raise a batch from this other pair this year, and the reasoning is simple.  First, we’ll want to see if by some odd chance they throw out Lightning ( I don’t believe for a second they will).  Next, we’ll want to see how many show up with horns and spots and other aberrant, but not “Lightning”, markings. Ultimately, regardless of what we get, this new and completely unrelated line of F1 PNG maroons will be the IDEAL outcross for the F1 Lightning offspring.  Instead of the F1 generation of PNG Maroon Clownfish stemming from only 2 foundation fish (which is really not enough), we’ll double the foundation population to 4 fish.  According to FAO documentation on conservation breeding of fishes in captivity, this is still too small of a genetic bottleneck, but since I am aware of a couple other breeders who have Lightning Maroons and claim to have unrelated F0 White Stripes to mate them with, we could realistically be on very solid footing for the long term captive viability of the PNG provenance lineage of Maroon Clownfish even if we have no further access to PNG fish for months, years, decades….

"Oh snap, was that thunder??" - image courtesy EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd.
“Oh snap, was that thunder??” – image courtesy EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd.

EcoAquariums PNG, Ltd, the successor of the spot formerly filled by SEASMART, has continued to turn up abberantly patterned Maroon Clownfish collected in the waters of Papua New Guinea.  Between SEASMART’s own collections, and with no less than 3 unique Maroons shown off on the EcoAquariums PNG Facebook page this year, we are looking at the very least, well over a half-dozen PNG-sourced Maroon clowns that are highly “atypical”.  SEASMART referred to many fish like these as “Horned” Maroons, owing to the common barring pattern of “prongs” leading off the headstripes in either direction.  It’s a unique fish, but digging deeper, there’s even more information behind these unique maroon clownfish.

With EcoAquarium’s label tracking system, we actually are given a window into pretty much every fish that the company collects, and that’s where things get interesting.  You see, EcoAquariums records every fish collected along with a slew of other data, and makes all this information publicly available in easy to use and search PDF files!  You can download them here:

Breakdown of Maroon Clownfish Captured per grouping of 1000

0001 to 1000 = 30 maroons
1001 to 2000 = 25 maroons
2001 to 3000 = 25 maroons
3001 to 4000 = 24 maroons
4001 to 5000 = 18 maroons
5001 to 6000 = 2 maroons
6001 to 7000 = 12 maroons
7001 to 8000 = 10 maroons
8001 to 9000 = 16 maroons
9001 to 9723 = 3 maroons

Total Maroon Clownfish harvested to date = 165 = roughly 1.7% of total exports

Breakdown of Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula) captured, per grouping of 1000

0001 to 1000 = 359 percs
1001 to 2000 = 388 percs
2001 to 3000 = 412 percs
3001 to 4000 = 316 percs
4001 to 5000 = 200 percs
5001 to 6000 = 286 percs
6001 to 7000 = 371 percs
7001 to 8000 = 370 percs
8001 to 9000 = 275 percs
9001 to 9723 = 497 percs

Total Percula Clownfish harvested by EcoAquariums PNG to date = 3474 = roughly 35.7% of total exports.

I share the Percula figures because a) they surprised me and b) it kind of speaks towards the general overall demand for Amphiprion percula, vs. Premnas biaculeatus, in the trade.  The other interesting part – the data as currently provided by EcoAquariums PNG Ltd. is an unprecedented look at what is presumed to be the entire marine aquarium life trade in Papua New Guinae, and could someday form the basis for a lot of interesting research by academics.  It’s an amazing data set, assuming the accuracy is there (which, in theory, it should be).  The transparency provided gives us an unparalleled opportunity to question our supplier, and at the same time, investigate some really interesting questions on our own.

Here’s a rundown of ALL the special / abberant maroons recorded to date:

0164 Benard Ora maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus lg 22-Nov-11 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
0182 Aila Kila maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus md 22-Nov-11 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
0470 Olema Kila Maroon, unique Premas biaculeatus lg 8-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
0680 Nou Karawa Maroon, unique * Premas biaculeatus md 9-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
0681 Nou Karawa Maroon, unique * Premas biaculeatus md 9-Dec-11 S 9.4988, E 147.0062 FD, HN, BN
1632 Geno Au maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus sm 15-Feb-12 S 9.5384 ,E 147.1021 FD, HN, BN
2221 Gia Laka Maroon clown, Highly unique Premas biaculeatus lg 25-Feb-12 S 9.4900, E 147.0348 FD, HN, BN
2262 Geno Au Maroon clown, Highly unique Premas biaculeatus lg 25-Feb-12 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
2979 Kunini Sam maroon clown, unique Premas biaculeatus md 2-Mar-12 S 9.4900, E 147.0348 FD, HN, BN
3199 Ralai Kila Maroon Clownfish Premas biaculeatus Unique, sm 19 April 2012 S 9.5046, E 147.0954 FD, HN, BN
4109 Voi Karawa Clown Maroon, spots Premas biaculeatus Md S 9.4900, E 147.0348 29 April 2012 FD, HN, BN
4594 Kunini Sam Clown fish Maroon Premas biaculeatus Highly uniqueS 9.5384 ,E 147.1021 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4611 Nou Karawa Clown fish Maroon, horned Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4988, E 147.0062 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4612 Nou Karawa Clown fish Maroon, horned Premas biaculeatus Sm S 9.4988, E 147.0062 2 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
4841 Ralai Kila Clown Maroon spotted Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.5046, E 147.0954 4 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
5108 Kala Kila Clown Maroon, one horn Premas biaculeatus Md S 9.4900, E 147.0348 11 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
6215 Samuel Kila Clown Maroon, thick horn Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4988, E 147.0062 25 May 2012 FD, HN, BN
7063 Voi Karawa Clown Maroon unique Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4900, E 147.0348 5 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
7247 Gia Laka Clown Maroon spot,horn Premas biaculeatus Lg S 9.4900, E 147.0348 5 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
8131 Pauline Paul Clown Maroon,horned Premas biaculeatus Md FI zone A 20 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
8393 Pauline Paul Clown Maroon, misbar Premas biaculeatus Lg FI zone A 27 June 2012 FD, HN, BN
9004 Olema Kila Clown Maroon unique Premas biaculeatus Sm FI zone A 1 July 2012 FD, HN, BN

Currently, the data runs from November 22nd ,2011, through July 5th,2012, and covers 9,723 fish and inverts.  Out of those fish, there were 165 Maroon Clowns collected.  Out of those Maroon Clowns clowns, 22 were flagged as ‘unique’ in some fashion, with two three of those twenty-two being further classified as “highly” unique.  There are so many interesting ways to look at this – we cover 226 days in this sampling, which means at current catch efforts, 7 out of every 10 days, a maroon clownfish is caught.   Slightly over 14% of the collected maroons are classified as unique in some capacity, and  odds are, roughly every 11  days, a “unique” maroon is collected by the folks diving in PNG (just under 3 per month).

Obviously, we cannot extrapolate this to necessarily say that 14% of the maroons found in PNG waters are “abnormal”…without a doubt there is possibly, if not probably, a mandate and emphasis placed on unusual maroons, that is to say “even if we don’t need maroons right now, if you see something atypical, you should collect it”.

When I originally drafted this article, I had a lot of “genetics” on my mind.  While I think we will have better answers, here’s where my thinking was last month.

Clearly, deviations from the normal striping seem to be prevalent in PNG waters where EcoAquariums operates.  And looking back at all this, and how we’ve come to learn that Picasso Percs are not necessarily as exceedingly rare as we may have initially thought, this does all start to make you wonder – in these aberrant wild maroon clowns, are we seeing a low level occurance of the equivalent of “picasso” type forms in a wild population in PNG?  Could it in fact be that these “close but no cigar”, highly unique maroons, may in fact be the picasso equivalent or as one blogger put it, a “Lightning Precursor“?  And, if the genetics of Lightning were to work like we think the genetics work in Picassos , could it be that the two fish we’ve called “Lightning” to date, may in fact be the equivalent of the Plantinum Perc?

And here’s the kicker…the fish above does show traits that certainly speak to it being “lightning-esque”.  But when I look at the two fish we’ve called “Lightning” to date, here’s what I see – more of a netting effect, particularly in the headstripe but also in the midstripe and tail stripe.  Let’s ignore my Lightning Maroon (#2) and go back and look at #1 - - and here’s where my thinking goes.   If you double up, and mate these “close but no cigar” unique or aberrant Maroons, do you get a redoubling of the gene that causes the stripe abnormality, taking the phenotype from stray prongs, spots, and splits, and amplifying it into the “Lightning” form we all know and love?

It may sound insane, but there are definitely examples of this genetic story  in other fish, including clownfish such as Picasso Perculas which appears to be a “single dose” of a dominant gene, and Platinums being a “double dose” of that same gene.  It may or may not be that way, but further offspring counts should nail it down, and some breeders may already know the answer and just aren’t sharing / thinking it’s worthwhile to mention.  Of course, as I recently learned, there is not shortage of genetic understanding in other fish where different genetic loci and the alleles at those loci are known to drive a plethora of diverse phenotypes – amazing levels of information exist for freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) via the Angelfish Society’s genetic documentation and others (such as a release about the Philippine Blue locus made by a collaboration of parties independent of the Angelfish Society).  We can only hope that those breeders working on designer breeding start paying greater attention, and can realize the value presented here by sharing information.  The level of breeding CONTROL one is afforded has elevated the discourse and pursuit of Angelfish breeding in my opinion.

Turning back to the Lightning Maroon genetic mystery, my original hypothesis about the wild-caught “horned” type Maroons from PNG was all speculation at that point, and when the ideas came to me and I first wrote them down, I had yet to see any baby Maroons from our Lighting breeding efforts.  Despite that data deficiency, we’re certainly seeing a continuum of stripe aberrations in these fish that were perhaps suggestive of a genetic basis (given the geographic restriction and frequency of occurrence).

Granted, now that we have babies, the story is about to get a heck of a lot more complex….and yet, possibly much clearer.


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