Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Amazon Molly

From the website of the BBC:
A fish species, which is all female, has survived for 70,000 years without reproducing sexually, experts believe.
Scientists from the University of Edinburgh think the Amazon Molly may be employing special genetic survival "tricks" to avoid becoming extinct.
The species, found in Texas and Mexico, interacts with males of other species to trigger its reproduction process.
The offspring are clones of their mother and do not inherit any of the male's DNA.
Typically, when creatures reproduce asexually, harmful changes creep into their genes over many generations.

The species will eventually have problems reproducing and can often fall victim to extinction.
Scientists at Edinburgh University have been studying complex mathematical models on a highly powerful computing system to look at the case of the Amazon Molly.
Researchers calculated the time to extinction for the fish based on modelling genetic changes over many thousands of generations.
They are now able to say conclusively, for the first time, the fish ought to have become extinct within the past 70,000 years, based on the current simple models.
Scientists believe the fish, which are still thriving in rivers in south-east Texas and north-east Mexico, are using special genetic survival "tricks" to help them stay alive.
One theory is that the fish may occasionally be taking some of the DNA from the males that trigger reproduction, in order to refresh their gene pool.
Species tricks
Dr Laurence Loewe, of the university's School of Biological Sciences, said: "What we have shown now is that this fish really has something special going on and that some special tricks exist to help this fish survive.
"Maybe there is still occasional sex with strangers that keeps the species alive. Future research may give us some answers."
He added that their findings could also help them understand more about how other creatures operate.
"I think one of the interesting things is that we are learning more about how other species might use these tricks as well," he said.
"It might have a more general importance."
The Edinburgh-led study was carried out in collaboration with Dr Dunja Lamatsch at the University of Wuerzburg, now at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
The research is published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.
(Picture credit: Dunja K Lamatsch)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I apologize for the lack of material lately. Hurt my back a bit and have had some trouble sitting down for anything more than a few minutes. Feeling better, now, so I'll resume shortly.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Battle with Algae and Snails

As I've mentioned before, I am waging a bit of a war on the snails in my 20Long planted tank. I also have been struggling a bit with algae since adding the 65w light. After trolling the internet waters for a while I decided to just follow the advice of many fellow aquarists who smoosh up the snails and feed them to their fish. I started doing this and stopped feeding my fish regular fish food on a regular basis. Now I feed them once every few days and give them snails once every other day. The rest of the time they live off of the land, so to speak.

It is working. My snail population is not growing anymore, possibly shrinking by a little. My algae problem is also fading away. Now the issue will be finding the balance with all of this. Once the algae starts to fade more I will have to increase fish food slowly to make sure that everybody is thriving. I would recommend a similar solution to anyone. It's not a quick fix but it is an ongoing one. Just watch your fish and your water conditions to make sure all is well.

At some point I may have to try a self-sustaining tank. I'll stock it with snail eaters, scavengers and algae eaters and keep the light and CO2 flowing. Once I hit critical mass I could potentially have a tank that feeds itself. I'll just have to clean it and keep an eye on everybody, making sure that they are growing and thriving. I think the occasional supplement won't really be cheating. Just being careful.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Spring Auction

The Greater Pittsburgh Aquarium Society is having their Spring Auction on Sunday, April 27. I went last year and it was a good auction, lots of variety in plants and fish. If you live within driving distance maybe you should hop on over.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Buying from the LFS

I've spent far too much time stumbling through aquarium related websites in the past couple of years, and here is one thing that I have learned: many people online have a very negative opinion of local fish stores (LFS). There is plenty of reason for this, I'm sure, just as there is reason to complain about Microsoft, Dell, Ford, Starbucks or any of the other oft maligned organizations out there. I'd like to take a minute to talk about the good that I've experienced with my LFS.

I will admit to feeling lucky that I live in Pittsburgh, home to one of the most respected LFS around, Elmer's Aquarium. Elmer's suffers from many common retail problems, a fairly transient staff, limited space, high costs associated with maintaining a storefront in a good location and, an LFS specialty, the difficulty inherent in making a messy product look attractive. Somehow, despite these obstacles, Elmer's maintains a high product knowledge level among their staff, has a consistent level of satisfactory service, a good range of product and livestock and, most importantly, very hardy fish. Where they may be lacking is attractive presentation, which is often a deciding factor among the less knowledgeable consumer. It's easy to assume that a store with pretty cabinetry and spotless tanks does a better job of caring for their fish, but in my experience this is just not so. Algae in the tank does not mean poor water quality or mistreatment. A small amount of algae is normal in any tank. It's also easy to assume that the ease with which a clerk answers a question can tell you how much they know about their product, also not true. I have heard some pet store employees giving quick and polished answers about fish or plants that were patently untrue.

I believe that having a set of questions that you already know the answers to may make your job as a consumer easier, sort of like giving your LFS a test. When I try out a new store I like to ask them about some of their scavengers because I find that the less product-educated will immediately assume that scavengers and algae eaters are the same thing. I also ask about community tank fish and see if they recommend any that I know to be unsuitable. Disease questions are always good, because every LFS employee should know how to treat basic aquatic illnesses like Ick. I always ask about the store's quarantine policy and ask to see their quarantine tanks, if they allow me. One thing I am also certain to pay attention to is whether the store has mixed up their tanks, putting soft water fish into African Cichlid tanks, warm water fish in with cold water fish, etc. Fish do not like regular changes to their water parameters and very few fish have the capacity to adapt long-term to conditions that are too far from their ideal. Certainly some people at home have managed to acclimate fish to different water types, but an LFS that feels it's o.k. to do that just to display fish, in my opinion, is too causal about the health of their livestock.

I have received some odd advice from LFS, that's true. I have also seen some particularly bad advice on the web. When something is written it is much easier to accept it as truth, but there is so much misinformation out there that you really should compare facts from multiple reliable sources before you trust anyone live or online. One thing I have found to be true in the LFS or on forums or other sites, if you feel like you've been given a guess instead of an answer then go talk to someone else. The manager of the LFS, or the owner, will almost always have the most knowledge in the store. It doesn't hurt to call the store and ask when that person will be in so you can get the best information possible. Same thing online, if you need an answer go the best source you can, whether it be the senior person on a site or a better site like a professional organization.

Either way I believe that you are just as likely to get the good or bad in person as you are online.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Rate my Fish Tank

Sometimes it happens, your aquaddiction suffers a lull. It can happen after a battle with disease or the death of a favorite fish, or when those plants just won't thrive, from lack of time due to work or family obligations, or from a lack of money to buy cool new gadgets and fish. Whatever the reason, most of us aquarium lovers have periods of less interest in our fish tanks.

I've found that if I'm wallowing in one of those phases I can pop out of it by just mentally planning what I'll do someday when I do have the time, the money or the working wet green thumb. One of my favorite sources of inspiration in these times is It's also a great place to start when you are ready to launch a new project or replace your existing tanks.

Right now one of my favorite tanks there is this indoor waterfall set-up. I have long wanted to try to put together an indoor corner waterfall with foliage rising up and out of the tank and here this guy has it already done. It is so much like what i had in mind I have to go stare at it every now and then. I am very jealous.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Snail Eating Fish

As I've mentioned, I am hoping to get a few Dwarf Chain Loaches for my 20 long planted tank that has become a snail haven. I've done a bit of research about what fish to get, using search terms like, "Fish that eat snails," "best snail eaters," "get rid of snails," etc. Loaches and Gouramis seem to be the favorites and in my small tank the only suitable fish would be the Dwarf Chain Loach. I'm still worried that they might eat my shrimp but I'll give it a test run.

Today I took some of my snails and dropped them into my 55 as a snack for my Yoyo and Gold Dojo Loaches. Before they could even get a sniff the snails were gobbled up by my Geophagus Steindachneri, aka the Red Hump Eartheater. Now I've named these two girls(I believe they are girls because neither has developed a hump) Mouth and Little Mouth for a reason; they eat absolutely everything and never stop trying to find more. Still, I have not seen anything written about them eating snails. But here they were, snatching them before they could hit the bottom and rolling the snails around in their mouths for a while until the meat was gone. They dropped the empty snail shell after a while.

I was very impressed with this and very surprised. It seems that they got the taste for it because a little while later Mouth found a snail that had slipped through onto the gravel. Mouth sucked that little guy right up into his mouth off of the substrate and did exactly what he had done with the other one. Now this still doesn't solve my snail problem in the small tank because the Steindachneris are just too big and would eat everybody in the 20 long, but it was sure an interesting thing to learn.