Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Controversy of Hybrids in the Hobby

Hello Finatics! Today I write to you about a subject that has had some controversy among many hobbyists and especially those who keep African cichlids. One of the most popular species of African cichlid found throughout the hobby is the OB Peacock. This species can be found in a wide range of colors and patterns, and each looks as amazing as the other. Their color patterns are their trademark that make them so popular in the hobby.

I was talking to one of the owners of a local fish store and when I asked them what fish they sold the most, her reply was “OB Peacocks”. She said “they can’t hold on to them whenever they get a new stock of them.” Just as she was telling me that we noticed a customer purchasing some fish and in their bag was an OB Peacock.

My reason for making specific reference to OB Peacocks and their popularity is to highlight the fact that these popular fish are actually not found anywhere in the wild. OB Peacocks are hybrids. They we made by a breeder who crossed a male species of Aulonocara with a female OB Mbuna. Now you’re probably wondering why does that matter?

The Controversy of Hybrids

Hybrids have been a very controversial topic among those who keep African cichlids (or any other cichlids). Those who have often be referred to as purists believe that hybrids dilute the quality of stock being sold in the hobby. The argument is that people will crossbreed species and create their own hybrid species. Then they take them to their local fish store where they could be sold under a wrong name because they are hybrids and get incorrectly identified in the store. This scenario is definitely a bad one and something I don’t support.

The purists in the hobby will suggest that all hybrids are bad, and you will even see suggestions of terminating any hybrid offspring. Such suggestions are something that I do not support. While I do think that hybrid species shouldn’t be taken to local fish stores and made available to others without identifying what they are, terminating the offspring is not a good solution. Like the OB Peacock, every species is beautiful, and terminating a perfectly healthy species of fish should never be considered for any reason, especially because it is a hybrid.

Adaptive Radiation

There is a speciation mechanism that Darwin studied when he was studying evolution. It is called Adaptive Radiation, and is a type of evolution of species clusters that live in an isolated area where they have overlapping habitats or territories, and compete for food. The finches of the Galapagos are one example and another good example is the cichlids of the African rift lakes.

Scientists believe that through adaptive radiation over the span of millions of years, a small group of cichlids originally introduced into Lake Victoria from the Nile River, have evolved into 1,500 or more species that inhabit the lakes today. Even today there are areas of Lake Victoria that have not been explored, so many new species of cichlid could discovered.

I mention the concept of adaptive radiation because I want to point out that hybridization is naturally occurring in the lakes where these fish live. African cichlids represent a group of fish that have adapted and evolved over millions of years and will continue to do so because of the geographic characteristics of where they live.

It Looks Like a Tangerine Tiger

A little over a year ago I purchased a male Taiwan Reef cichlid and a female Red Empress (when no female Taiwans were available). I chose the species that I felt were the most closely related with the anticipation that they could create a hybrid. I ended up anticipating correctly and the result was a very beautiful looking crossbreed. The male offspring has some traits of the Red Empress, but seems to have much more of the Taiwan Reef. I am fortunate to know a local breeder who owns a farm, and I took one of the males down there for him to see. His reaction to seeing it was “it looks like a Tangerine Tiger.”

Is my hybrid a Tangerine Tiger? It could very well be! Who’s to say that the same thing didn’t happen in the lakes and create the species we hobbyists know as the Tangerine Tiger? Every time I see mine in my aquarium, I think to myself “it’s a Tangerine Tiger”.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Let's start with.....Goldfish!

Every kid loves goldfish, and I’m not just talking about crackers!  What kids hasn’t had at least one gold fish in there life?  Okay, mine.  We were way past the goldfish stage when the kids came along so they skipped that and went straight to catfish, mollies, gourami and cichlid fish.  But seriously, most people have attempted ownership of a gold fish or two throughout their lives.  Kids get them at parties and school carnivals.  They use them to ask others out on dates.  College students get goldfish, because they usually can’t have other animals in the dorms or apartments.  So the question is how do you properly care for a gold fish without having a funeral around the toilet within a few weeks or months?

The first step is to get a decent size tank.  Remember goldfish can actually grow to be 10-12 inches.  Keeping them in a small tank can contribute to a short life span due to ammonia build up.  Ideally a goldfish should be in a 10-20 gallon tank. A tank with a filter is best for keeping goldfish happy and healthy. They do not require a heater or light, even though most people prefer to have a light.  If you opt for a lighted tank, remember fluorescent is best and only run the light for 8-12 hours a day.

Second.  Use either large rocks or small gravel that has been properly cleaned before use (soak in water for a day).

Third.  Invest in some scenery like plants or a rock/wood centerpiece.  The centerpiece gives the fish a place to explore, but be careful they aren’t hallow or you could get harmful bacteria growing there.  Note on plants: artificial plants are fine, but actual red plants help absorb some of the ammonia, nitrites etc that accumulate naturally in your tank.

Fourth.  Before you add your fish, you need to make sure you have the proper water conditions for your fish.  Never use regular tap water only.  Buy a water conditioner/dechlorinator drops  at a pet store and put in the amount it says on the label.   Also, you need to make sure you have the proper ammonia and nitrate levels.  You can pick up a pH test kit to make sure you have the proper levels.  The ideal pH range is between 6-8.5  You want zero ammonia, zero nitrite and less then 20 nitrate in the end.  Once you have reached these levels you are ready to add your fish!

Keep water temperature between 50-75.  70-74 is ideal.  But fish like seasonal changes in their water, just like we have seasons.  So adjust the temperature with the seasons (especially if you want little goldfish babies!).  There are many good thermometers that make this easy to monitor.  There are cheap ones that stick on the outside of the tank and ones that hang on the inside.  It’s really personal preference on what you get.

Fifth.  Add your fish.  Remember goldfish are known to eat other, small fish and can overeat, keeping food from peers, so try and keep fish of the same size in the tank.  If you have a small bowl, it is best to stick to one fish.  If you have a 10-20 gallon tank, 2-3 fish is ideal.   If the fish is still in a bag.  Place the bag with the fish in it, in the bowl/tank to allow the water temperature to come to the same temperature, before transferring the fish.

Sixth.  Feeding your fish.  Feed your fish 1-2 times daily.  Be careful not to overfeed them.   A good rule of thumb is to only feed them what they can eat in two-three minute.  Goldfish can easily overeat and die.  Various forms of goldfish food should be used to keep the fish happy.  Try a rotation of flakes, pellets, wafers, sticks, animals and plants.

Seventh.  Sleep.  Fish need sleep too.  Remember to turn off the light and let them “sleep”.  Gold fish don’t have eyelids and don’t really stop swimming, but they sort of hibernate/reduce activity.

Eighth.  Maintenance.  Ever heard the store of the fish who lived forever in the dirtiest tank and then the day after you cleaned the tank it died?  Yep, I’m guilty.  I killed the fish by doing a 100% water change.  Remember the hard work to get your pH levels correct.  If you start with 100% fresh water you need to start that pH cycle over before adding your fish back in, so to save the hassell only do a 50-75% water change.    Note, you do want to continue to test for proper pH levels to ensure happy and healthy fish, but doing only partial water changes helps maintain levels without starting over.

Note: soap is poisonous to fish and will kill them quickly, so don’t use soap to wash your tank.  (Also, don’t use a regular sponge - VERY VERY bad idea - we learned the hard way)
 And whatever you do, don’t forget to clean the gravel (a gravel vacuum works great!)

Maintenance should be done at least once every week, even if it looks clean.  If you are using a small bowl, you may need to do it daily to keep the fish healthy and happy.

Ninth.  Know potential problem and fix them when they occur.
- If you notice the fish hanging out at the top of the tank, they may be lacking oxygen so check the oxygen levels.
- If the tank looks cloudy, clean it.  There could be an algae, bacteria or even decaying plant problem if you have live fish.
- Watch for ich and flukes.  Ich is a common goldfish disease where little white spots form on the fish.  Flukes will cause the fish to scratch against surfaces, develop an outer mucus, redden slightly and possibly get a swollen belly.  If these diseases present themselves.  Quarantine the fish and treat with medicine that can be bought at the pet store.
- Swimbladder and constipation.  If the fish is swimming on it’s side or upside down it could have constipation or swimbladder.  Swimbladder does not have a cure, but constipation can be fixed by adding green to it’s diet!