Tank(s) Update

•July 1, 2010 • 6 Comments

Pretend I’ve complained for a paragraph or so about moving, stress, general overwork, and how I’ve either thrown out my back or it’s covered in fire and I’m fairly sure it’s the deal about the back as the dog isn’t looking at me in an odd, puzzling manner.  Or no more than usual, anyhow.  So, the tanks!

Spontaneous fish death season (SFDS) was not kind.  SDFD is an phenomenon where some perfectly healthy fish just up and die: the mandarin goby, the lemonpeel angel, and two members of Slime-atron were behaving perfectly normally one minute and were dead the next.  The goby was an especially painful loss, as I was watching him that morning as he cruised around for ‘pods and a few hours later was burying him in the yard.  Also on the loss list is the coral beauty angel, although that wasn’t spontaneous.  We did some work in the house requiring paint, chemicals, and aggressive sanding so I turned off the pumps and covered the tanks for a few hours, and she was dead when the sheets came off.

Photo copyright Aqua Valley Live Goods and Dry Goods

You know you want to tickle it. Cootchie-cootchie awesome.

The only addition to the tank is a juvenile yellow-bellied hippo tang.   Yeah, yeah, I know, a tang in a 65g, please call the Tang Police.  Well, one nice part about moving to a bigger house is the tank upgrade.  There’s a nice space in the main room that would be perfect for a 125g corner tank, so there’s a quest on to find a used AGA or Oceanic with overflow before the deadline to move the last bits of crap out of the old house.  There will be a series of posts soon about how the floor under the tank has been buttressed to compensate for the extra weight and such, and then the joys of setting up a new tank (yay!), catching fish (boooo!  hisssss!), and moving the rock and livestock (dear back, if you stop complaining, I’ll give you cookies).

Oil in the Gulf

•May 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Oil Spill! by M. Berger & P. Mirocha

How could I not use this one?

I’m still in the process of moving – I cannot believe how long this is taking and it’s still not close to being over – so here is a brief post about an ecological catastrophe.  And maybe a mini-rant about politics, but mostly the catastrophe.

The BP oil spill is a disaster of almost indescribable scope and effect: it’s been argued that the Exxon Valdez spill was worse as it was released more quickly and was released closer to shore, and the BP oil has become less concentrated (the solution to pollution is dilution, as a professor of mine used to say), but Valdez hit Prince William Sound in March. There are a limited number of critters screwing and giving birth in Alaska in March.  It might be decades before we see which links in the ecological chain of the Atlantic have been broken or twisted beyond repair when an estuary as important as that of the Louisiana wetlands – in May – are suffocated under millions of gallons of crude.

It’s only human to want to place some blame and force someone to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess, but I would greatly appreciate it if the same people who were calling Obama a socialist or a fascist or a communist or whatever last month could kindly stop saying his administration should have stepped in sooner to prevent the problem from getting worse.  When you beat the drums and say it is anti-American to be in favor of industry regulation, that big businesses need minimal (or no) oversight because they make the right choices without interference,  and that the government continues to overstep its bounds by limiting the free market, why do you then have the authority to insist that the Obama Administration is responsible for either the initial disaster or the ongoing crisis?  I’m not saying that particular argument doesn’t have merit – I’m saying that when certain people make it, it is merely a tactical shift in an ongoing attack on a target they want destroyed and damn the circumstances.

Usually this sort of rhetoric would make me giggle in a rather crazy way, but I am very much in favor of the oceans.  They do nice things for us.  I am very, very much in favor of the Atlantic reefs a couple hundred miles away from where the spill is touching land, and I would appreciate if we could knock off the bullshit blame-game and get the hole plugged and the mess cleaned up before hurricane season begins, okay?  In this particular case, the circumstances matter.  Big-time.  This isn’t a matter of finding lead in children’s toys, folks, the oceans are where half of our oxygen comes from.

My two cents: the main argument in favor of letting BP manage the spill has been how the oil industry has the knowledge and the resources required to manage large spills and the government lacks this degree of specialization.  Fine.  Let FEMA oversee BP as the company maintains control of the cleanup, and force BP to pay some buddies to help.  Rumor has it that Exxon has some experience in these matters.

Edit – forgot the tags

Should Have Seen That Coming

•February 27, 2010 • 2 Comments

Brown is not into fish.  He’s made it clear that he won’t leave me per se if I get an octopus, but he will move to his own place and send for his stuff.  Something about an octopus’s ability to crawl out of the tank and walk around on the floor and the walls weirds him out… sheesh.  No accounting for taste.  So he can be forgiven for an entirely different and unfamiliar train of thought when I complained about catching my yellow tang.

Pantone Process Yellow. It Ain't Mellow. Them's Some Fellow... aw forget it.

After a string of odd sentences hammered down the miscommunication (“I can’t fit my tang in the Tupperware!” “I don’t even know you any more!”), I explained to him that adding a lemonpeel angel to the tank before removing the tang (“It is a fish with barbs on its tail, and the barbs are called …” “Oh!”) was a huge mistake.  Yellow tang + yellow angelfish = territoriality conflict.

Oh well, I figured, Bambi was going back to the store as soon as I made the time to catch her, so I’d just make the time right then.  Sure, I had planned to trap her and avoid breaking down the rockwork, but how hard can it be to catch a yellow tang?

(You need a montage here, but of a woman in various states of fury, waterlogging, and undress and redress over the course of sixteen hours).

The tang was eventually caught by breaking down the rockwork and using acrylic dividers to cut the tank in half.  Bambi was then herded to a small corner and, mainly by pure luck, she swam into the net.  Since the store wouldn’t be open for several hours, I moved her into the refugium and turned off the skimmer and pumps: she might be cramped in the 20g ‘fuge but she wouldn’t freeze or suffocate.

Message of the day?  Both Bambi and the lemonpeel angel were impulse buys and I’ve never had success with impulse buys.  They cause too many problems and make me waste far too much time.

… and +5 Lemonpeel Angel

•February 26, 2010 • 2 Comments

It’s almost certain that we’ll be moving within the next year (Real Estate Agent: You’re lucky!  There’re literally hundreds of properties like the one you’re looking for on the foreclosure list.  Us: That’s really sad.  Real Estate Agent: Oh… yes.).  So, because I am just not too bright, I keep adding livestock to the 65g.  The Hawkins went in last weekend and is either doing really well or is dissolving faster than I can observe the damage – it came with a minor bleaching spot, which has vanished entirely and the rest is untouched and healthy – there was that purple queen two weeks ago, and today I’m adding the lemonpeel angel.

For some reason, I want to name him Figaro.

I really have no willpower when it comes to the baby fish.  I have a dwarf angel in the 30g and while the coral beauty has been a darling for over two years, I’ve heard nothing but bad things about lemonpeel angels.  Then my favorite fish supplier gets a juvenile in, no longer than my little finger and with the barest hint of blue on the edges of his fins, and it was love at first sight.

(I should probably mention something about this supplier.  I was buying fish from one particular dealer online and from two local stores who ordered from ORA and wild-caught fisheries, as these guys were fish specialists and didn’t sell cyanide-caught reef fish.  Then one of the stores closed and the new supplier came to town – this new supplier is the son of one of the owners of a saltwater fish clearing house in Vietnam and gets his pick of the healthiest net-caught fish straight from their quarantine tanks.  The place raises show-quality freshwater discus, too, if that gives you any idea of the type of fish he offers.   It has been murder on my budget and when we move to a new house I’ve got to get a bigger tank so I can add a school of his lyretail anthias.)

But, sadly, it’s time to break down the 30g.  I have a friend in New York who’s coming down for a wedding this weekend, and she’s talking the Teabox back with her.  I’ll ask her if she wants the low-light livestock and the black clownfish pair, and then start finding homes for the rest.  She moves fairly regularly so we’ll probably be trading the clownfish back and forth until they die of old age.

+1 Hawkins Attained

•February 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Closeup on growth pattern of ORA Hawkins. Pretty colors, pretty colors, pretty colors...

Over the weekend, I took a bunch of frags to the store and traded them in for an ORA Hawkin’s Blue Echinata.  This has been on my “Must Have” list for a few months now – I generally try to avoid the fad corals since the price goes up past what any sane human being should pay for something smaller than the size of your pinkie and with decent odds of dying on you.   I’ve been trying to hold off on acquiring the astonishingly popular corals until I can trade for them, but, oh, popular for such good reasons.  The Hawkins is supposedly a fast grower and extremely resilient to environmental change, so I’m hoping it establishes itself and takes off quickly.

Sometime soon, I need to make another bunch of frag clippings.  I was surprised when the bulk of the store credit came from some GPS star polyps I trimmed off of the rocks in mid-January.  I think of the stuff as only slightly more desirable than weeds and I’m always baffled when people want to pay money for it.  Fragging GPS coral is disgustingly easy, too.  I pound a piece of dead rock into smaller pieces and set these aside on a towel.  Then I fill two bowls with water from the aquarium.  I go into the tank and scrape the GPS from the rocks; these come off in thin purple sheets, and if you’re careful enough and take your time, you can get sheets larger than a few inches across.  The scrapings go in the first bowl.  Then, I take unbleached, colorless cotton thread and cut off 16-inch lengths.  These are then wrapped around the GPS scraping and a suitably-sized piece of the dead rock to hold the frag to the rock.  I wrap the string around the rock as many times as possible, then place the new frag in the second bowl.  When all of the new frags have been made, I put them in a couple of plastic soap dishes stuck to the inside back wall of the 30g.  After that, the only thing you have to do is wait and make sure that the ends of the string don’t pull away; the livestock won’t eat the string but if it gets loose it can screw up your pumps, powerheads, or filters.    After a month, the GPS has adhered to the rock and has covered over much of the string, so I cut off any remaining string and take the frags back to the store.

EDIT: Oh hey, I found a video to show how to frag star polyps.  Different method but same general approach.

The rocks are fairly clean now so I’ll have to wait another few months before I can make some more GPS, but I can get started on some SPS frags.  Fragging SPS is easier than GPS as instead of scraping you just cut through the growth with a specialized pair of coral snips.    The new clipping is then stuck into a frag plug of some sort.   I use a ceramic plug and a frag putty made especially for the purpose, but that’s because I’m lazy: other people use everything from ceramic floor tiles to the green plastic vials that keep the ends of greenhouse flowers wet.   I have a Greg Hillar Aqua Delight, a Larry Jackson Tricolor, and an ORA Tri-color (shown right, as captioning is being picky today).  Hopefully in three months, I can trade some frags and get my hands on the next item on my wish list, the GARF Purple Bonsai.

Oh, and I’m fairly sure the new anthias did not make it, although I live in hope she’ll pop out of the rocks at some point.  Sad frowny face.

Out, Out, Damned Tang

•February 12, 2010 • 3 Comments

I have no self control when it comes to the fragile baby creatures.  This was established with Bambi, a fish with no earthly right to be in my tiny 65g tank.  Please note that post was made on November 16th; not even three months later, Bambi has more than doubled in size and there are plans underway to trap him and return him to the store.

The happy warm feeling of At least I saved it! probably won’t last too long.  I came home today with an inch-long purple queen anthias.  With a hole in her side, no less.  Usually I post about new fish a day or so after they have been acclimated successfully, so I don’t have to backpedal in two days with the Tolling of the Fish.   But she was cheap and still at that stage where she was too healthy to die outright, so she’s in the drip bucket.

Ah well.  If she lives, anthias!  If she dies… anthias.  And the crabs get some protein.

The Flood Club

•February 5, 2010 • 7 Comments

Brown woke up at 5:30 to go to work, as is his wont; the governor of North Carolina had closed the entire state, as is hers when there is the slightest hint of snow.  He came back to bed and we grabbed another hour of sleep until the sound of a powerhead running dry yanked us awake.

waterfall in living room


It’s… it’s not a good noise.  It’s a furious churning of gears around burbling.  It’s a darned terrifying noise when you know for a fact that the water was topped off right before you went to bed and there’s only one way the tank lost three gallons between then and now.  Yep, I thought, as the bath mat in front of the tank squished beneath me– I’ve renewed my membership in the Flood Club.

I am not, and hope to never become, a charter member of the Flood Club.  Charter members gain their ranks through catastrophic disasters.  Some jerk grabs the top of the tank and pulls it down, for example, or tosses a rock through the glass.  Sadly, I renew my membership at least once per year thanks to malfunctioning equipment.   A few months ago I paid my dues when the betta filter overflowed on the kitchen counter.  This morning, the canister filter attached to the 65G had drained a good bit of water from the tank through a slow but aggressive leak.

I cleaned up the flood, checked to make sure the leak wasn’t coming from another source, and reseated the top of the canister filter.  I’m pretty sure the leak was entirely my fault; the tank had a full cleaning yesterday and I must have gotten sloppy when I closed the top of the filter.   Still, I’m now paranoid that the filter has a crack or the rubber seal is broken, so I’m checking the darned thing a dozen times an hour.  So far so good, although I only had two gallons of fresh salt water on hand when I refilled the tank from what it lost during the flood and had to top off the rest with RO/DI water and the salinity is all screwed to heck.  At some point this weekend, I need to take the time to drive out to the store with the really good refractometer and work on getting the salinity balanced again.  Lovely.

A Normal Evening At Home

•January 23, 2010 • 4 Comments

Ornery little bugger broke the skin.

Me: The clownfish keep biting my arm!

Brown: Take your hand out of the tank.

Me: This hurts, show some sympathy.

Brown: Take your hand out of the tank, dear.

Stuff In My Tank – Frogspawn Coral

•January 22, 2010 • 1 Comment
Frogspawn coral

Frogspawn coral closeup, image by Diogo Lopes

Livestock Type – Coral.   A large polyp stony (LPS) coral from the genus Euphyllia, specifically the divisa and paradivisa species.

Common Name – Frogspawn.  Gets its name from the tight clusters of polyps that are similar to clusters of frog eggs.  Commonly confused with other members of the Euphyllia genus, especially hammer coral (Euphyllia ancora), as appearance and care is similar.

Care Level – Moderate.   Frogspawn need adequate lighting and space to grow, can be fickle about water flow, and benefit from target feedings.  Otherwise, they are among the low-maintenance LPS.

Environmental Impact – Low.  Branching frogspawn grows multiple heads outwards from a single base. Hobbyists will trim its size by breaking off one of the heads and will often trade the fragged head to the store or to a fellow hobbyist.

Should I Put This In My Tank? – Frogspawn makes a stunning accent piece.  It comes in a range of colors, from pearl white to vivid purple-green.  When fully expanded, the coral will sway in the current and the movement adds a sense of life to the tank.  Unlike many stony polyp corals, frogspawns do not need intense lighting.   However, it does have specialized requirements and can encroach on other corals, so this should not be an impulse buy.

Does It Play Well With Others? – No.  Frogspawn deters encroachment and predation by stinging invaders.  Frogspawn should be separated from all other coral and care taken to ensure that it will not touch competing livestock when fully expanded. This includes sweeper tentacles, which can be longer than the tentacles forming the body of the coral and are extended to catch prey and deter encroachment.  They also consume meaty foods, so some of the wild livestock (e.g.: mysid shrimp) might be ingested accidentially.

How Will This Species Piss Me Off? – If you are careful with placement and maintenance, a frogspawn is a low-stress coral.  You will need to remember that they are carnivorous in addition to photosynthetic and if you forget to feed them meaty foods they will gradually deteriorate; if you do feed them frequently, they will grow rapidly and might exceed the space you’ve left for them.  There are diseases specific to the Euphyllia corals which can wipe out single heads or the entire colony.  They are also vulnerable to sudden environmental changes and require stable calcium levels in the water to thrive, but these conditions are common of many stony polyp corals.  Some species of fish, such as dwarf angels, might pick at the soft tissues; clownfish have been reported to host in frogspawns, sometimes damaging the coral in the process. There are associated health hazards in keeping frogspawn (see below).

Onyx hybrid clown hosting in frogspawn. Photo by The Grim Reefer at Nanoreef.com

What Can I Expect To Spend? – Single heads of frogspawn are a frequent trade-in and are found throughout aquarium stores.  The cost for these will depend on size and color, but it is unlikely to exceed $20 to $25.  If you are asked to pay more, consider shopping online where you can get wider variety in colors for a few extra dollars.

Where Can I Buy It? – Almost any aquarium hobby shop will have at least one head of frogspawn in stock.  Local hobbyists might also have a head they will frag for you in trade.  Online vendors have the best selection; beware of photographs taken under nothing but actinic or blue LED lighting, as frogspawns have a lovely fluorescent coloring and “what you see is what you get” should often include “after I’ve just turned out the main lights and lit this sucker to make it pop.”

Any Health Hazards? – Yes, they sting and burn exposed flesh.  I have two frogspawns, one in the 30g and one in the 65g.  The frogspawn in the 30g has 10 heads and I burn the everloving crap out of my arm when I move around it in the tank.  Sometimes the burns are so bad they look like an acute attack of poison ivy; this includes the itching and the weeping.

… And An Even Sadder Post

•January 21, 2010 • 2 Comments
mccosker's flasher wrasse

The uncrispied, de-linted version of the McCosker's Flasher Wrasse

The new wrasse ended up on the floor late Tuesday.  If you count such things in dollars instead of lives, that is now $90 worth of fish that jumped from the tank in one week.  A closed top tank, mind you… argh.  I’m guessing the acrylic top might be contributing to these deaths as a fish that jumps on an angle will hit the plastic and flop around until he either drops back through the hole or off the side of the tank to crisp himself on the carpet.  I tested the water parameters to see if a nitrate spike was enticing them to jump but, no, the little buggers are just suicidal.

I’m thinking that a barrier should be erected instead of enclosing the top; I’m wondering what mechanics would be required to run a three-inch tall acrylic baffle along the four-inch gap between the lights and the tank lid.  It would probably be God-awful tacky but I’m really sick of these deaths.

There has been one note of good news, however.  I was sure that Morty (formerly Morticia) of spousal abuse fame had risen up and slain his mate, as Merlin had gone AWOL over the weekend.  I did a massive water change yesterday just in case it was nitrates, and found Merlin perfectly healthy and stuck in the overflow (the covered overflow, mind…).  I reached in and netted her, and Morty was overjoyed to get her back.  They’ve been inseparable since.