Clownfish Anemone Adventure

About seven months ago, I decided to try my hand at saltwater reef keeping. I knew from the start that I wanted to get a pair of clownfish and a host anemone for them to live in as the centerpiece. Alright… So having written that, the experienced reef keeping community is now reading this and shaking its collective head because this is so typical of new saltwater hobbyists. It seems like just about everyone in the world has seen “Finding Nemo” and suddenly decided that they, too, want an aquarium with clownfish and an anemone. This is really a shame because to most of these people the clownfish are the first priority, while the host anemone is just some pretty flowing thing for them to live in. What they don’t know is that keeping clowifish is easy, but keeping host anemones is hard. Damn hard!

In fact, it has been reported that only about one out of every one-hundred host anemones in captive systems survive. Still, I’m not one to back down from a challenge, so even after doing the research and discovering that my chances for success were bleak, I decided to move forward with my plans. I set my 37 gallon tank up, mixed up a batch of salt water, and filled it up. I placed an order for 40 pounds of Marshal Island live rock, and a protein skimmer. I did some nice reefscaping with the rock, setting it right on the glass bottom of the aquarium, and fired up the protein skimmer. The next day, I picked up one bag of live sand, and two bags of Red Sea Reef Base for substrate. This resulted in the requisite 2.5 to 3 inches of substrate needed for NitrAte reduction.

At this point, there was nothing left to do but wait for the tank biology and water quality to stabilize. I watched the Ammonia spike, then the NitrIte, and finally the NitrAte. Once the NitrAte levels had fallen to 0, I placed my order for a mated pair of True Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula). It took several weeks for them to arrive, but when they did, I knew the they were worth the wait. $100.00 later, I was the proud owner of an amazing mated pair of Soliman Island clowns.

My research had indicated that these fish do NOT acclimate well, and I definitely found this to be true. When I brought them home, my salinity was exactly the same as that of the dealer. I used the drip method of acclimating them over the period of one hour, but it would still be several days before the fish had settled in and stopped showing signs of stress. Several weeks passed as I conducted more research on host anemones, so lacking anything more suitable, the two clowns decided to host on my powerhead.

In nature, Amphiprion percula host on the following anemones:

Heteractis crispa (Purple Long Tentacle Anemone)
Heteractis magnifica (Magnificent Anemone)
Stichodactyla gigantea (Giant Carpet Anemone)

Unfortunately, these have an especially poor tract record in aquaria, and as such, are definitely not recommended. Even the public aquariums have proven largely unable to sustain these varieties for any length of time.

ORA, the leading producer of clownfish, recommends either of the following for Amphiprion percula:

Entacmaea quadricolor (Bubble-Tip Anemone)
Stichodactyla haddoni (Haddon’s Carpet Anemone)

My first inclination was to go with Bubble-Tip Anemone, but these have a tendency to wander around the tank, stinging everything in their paths. Since I wanted to keep corals in the same tank, I didn’t want to run the risk of loosing everything to a fickle anemone that couldn’t settle on a place to call home. Therefore, I decided to go with the slightly more difficult to keep, but much more stationary Haddon’s Carpet Anemone. First, however I had to upgrade my lighting to to a 24 inch Nova strip containing four T5 bulbs. it even has the nice moonlight LED’s for nighttime viewing.

My big, green anemone showed up, and my local dealer had the incredible foresight to allow it to attach to a coffee can lid rather than the glass of their holding tank. I brought it home, and that night it moved off the lid and planted it’s foot firmly on the glass at the bottom of the tank. Many months later, it has still not moved an inch.

The next day, it was open and happy, but to my dismay, the clowns wanted nothing to do with it. They were still hosting on the powerhead, so in an effort to get them closer to what I had hoped would be their new home, I placed a large piece of PVC pipe next to the anemone. Slowly, they began to host on the PVC, but months passed, and they still wanted nothing to do with the anemone. I knew this was a risk, but it was sure a bummer to have gone to all this trouble only to have the perculas refuse their host.

In the meantime, I added a Fire Shrimp and a really nice piece of Pink Hammer Coral to the tank, and was met with general success. Everything was healthy and thriving, but the clowns stubbornly refused to adopt the anemone. I had more or less given up, when I got a call from Courtney last week while I was at work, telling me that “the clownfish had finally started hosting!!!” I could not believe my ears, and raced home after work to see. Sure enough, there they were, living happily in the anemone.

Funny Koi Quote

My fish do not like helicopters.

Found on the Koiphen forums… In context it’s pretty reasonable, but out of context it’s pretty darn funny!

It was a reply to a post about someone’s koi being scared by the noise of the snowplow. I check the Koiphen forums sometimes, but I’m really more of a Koivet kinda guy.

Cute Koi Pictures

Last Winter, I bought a nice sanke female from Keirin Koi while I was at the Central Florida Koi Show in Orlando Florida. This is the smaller one in the pictures below, with persimmon (more orange) red and the stepping-stone sumi pattern. Even though the red is not as crimson as most Americans tend to like, she still won first-place for sanke in size three. Her name is Rei, and she is incredibly personable and frindly. She comes from the breeder Momotaro.

You can’t quarantine koi by themselves because they get lonely and sulk, so when I brought her home, I had to find a friend for her. I’ve been really into sanke lately, so I decided to find another one to keep her company in the quarantine tank over the winter. That’s where the larger male koi with the brighter red came into the picture. His name is Shinji and he is from the Ogata koi farm.

These two have been a riot. They’re koi, so of course they are always poking their noses out of the water looking for food whenever they hear someone. They both eat readily from my hand, are happy to keep me company while I’m in the basement. They are in a 1,000 gallon tank which is filtered by an Aquadyne 1.1 bead filter. Every week I change out 100 gallons of water to keep the NitrAtes down, and I keep the system at a constant 61 degrees Fahrenheit.

For those wondering about the names, yes, I am a big fan of the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Hungry Koi

Hungry Koi

Fish Supposedly Washed Up By Asian Tsunami

Last December one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history (measuring 9 on the Richter Scale), struck just off Sumatra, Indonesia, in a fault line running deep under the water. The rupture caused massive tsunamis, that hurtled away from the epicenter, reaching shores as far away as Africa.

A few days after the disaster, a friend and fellow fishkeeper sent me an e-mail containing a number of images depicting strange, deep-water fish that were supposedly washed up by onto shore by the huge waves and cataloged by scientists.

Although these are, in fact, genuine images of some very strange deep-sea creatures, these photographs have nothing to do with the Indian Ocean tsunami. They date from mid-2003 and were taken by researchers on the NORFANZ voyage, a joint Australian-New Zealand research expedition conducted in May-June 2003 to explore deep sea habitats and biodiversity in the Tasman Sea. These photographs can be viewed on Australia’s National Oceans Office web site.

While I hate to see these creatures dragged up from the abyss, I am very much a “deep junky”, and take great delight in learning more about marine life from the murky depths. Mostly, it is for this reason that I have developed such a strong interest in both powered and unpowered DIY ROV technology.

Troubles with NitrItes in colder water

It seems that we have a lot of koi keepers who need, for one reason or another to bring some of their fish in during winter months. Sometimes they find a sick fish in their pond that needs treatment, or sometimes they just want want to keep some of their best fish in for the winter.

Because Cyprinus carpio (koi) are cold water fish, many people chose to maintain water temperatures below 60* F. While the low temperatures used (50* F – 60* F) are somewhat dangerous for koi, is very doable provided the fish are in good health, not overcrowded, and the filter is 100% cycled. The real danger comes when the biological filter is not totally up to snuff before it is exposed to colder water. This is because of the different reproduction rates of the two types of bacteria responsible for oxidizing nitrogen.

Because biofilters take a very long time to cycle in water below 70* F many people use ammonia binders such as Amquel to mitigate its dangerous effects. When ammonia bound up by Amquel. It’s not toxic to fish, but is still indirectly dangerous because it needs to be converted to NitrIte, which cannot be controlled by ammonia binders. While it is true that salt helps control the NitrIte problem to some extend, it is really only a bandaid, and does not work when NitrIte levels are very high.

For folks who are dealing with cycling a filter in colder water, I suggest two things. First, filters in cool water need to be quite large, so we often need to add to the filtration. A simple way is to drill a bunch of holes into the bottom of a 5 Gal bucket, fill it with lava rock (stones for gas grills) or plastic kitchen scrubbies, suspend it above the tank, and feed it with a sump pump, letting the water trickle through the media, and drain out through the holes, back into the tank. Try to distribute the water evenly over the top of the media. Making a spray bar out of tube or pipe with holes drilled in it helps with this. Try to size the pump to turn over all the water in the holding tank 4 to 5 times an hour.

Next we need to get some bacteria in there. Nitrosonomas are the bacteria that first convert Ammonia into NitrIte and then another type of bacteria (Nitrobacter) takes over and converts the NitrIte into fairly harmless NitrAte. The problem is that Nitrobacter divide much more slowly than Nitrosonomas, and our fish have to live with NitrIte much longer than Ammonia throughout the cycle process. They will also divide much more slowly, or even not at all in colder water.

When the water temperature is low, we find ourselves in a bit of trouble. We need to keep the water temp down, and the Ph low to mitigate the toxicity of the Ammonia, but our Nitrobacter will either develop slowly or not at all under these conditions. Nitrosonomas will convert all the Ammonia to NitrIte, but Nitrobacter will never come along to detoxify the NitrItes into NitrAtes. NitrItes will spiral out of control, and the fish will suffer no matter how much salt is added.

So, we need an instant cycle. I’ve always thought how great it would be if someone kept a bunch of cycled filter material around to send off to folks facing this kind of problem. I keep planning to do it myself, but my wife can’t stand it when I run pumps all over the place. We always take our bacteria for granted, but it’s more precious than gold when you don’t have any.

I suggest everyone try to keep some live filter bacteria around at all times.

If not, one company bottles it up and sells it. They only ship overnight, with their product on cold packs. This is the ONLY company I know of that sells such a product, and it is NOT cheap! If you can find a person or company with healthy fish that can ring out their filters for you, that would be the best option, but if not, Fritz Pet’s Turbo Start is your best Option. It is also worth mentioning that, at least in my experience, Bio Spira from Marineland does not work.

No matter how you get the bacteria, you need to do a few things before you add it to make sure it works. If you get the bacteria from another person’s filter, you will need to remove all the fish for a couple of hours after dumping it in, or they will die. You can add them back in once the water becomes more or less clear.

1) Keep your existing filter running, and add the new one.

2) Doing hourly water changes, bring the Ammonia and NitrItes down to less than 1ppm.

3) Use a phosphate-based neutral Ph buffer. You could use baking soda, which usually holds the Ph around 8.0, but for cycling I suggest something that will hold it closer to neutral (7.0). I like Seachem’s neutral buffer because it holds the Ph at 7.0, which makes any Ammonia spike less toxic than it would be at 8.0. Either way, both types of bacteria require a Ph buffer to divide.

4) Add the bacteria. Don’t forget to remove the fish if you obtained bacteria (gunk) from someone’s filter.

5) Bring the temp up to at least 76* F. A 300 W aquarium filter should work for this. Make sure not to bring up the temp too fast or you will shock the fish. If your temp is still in the 60’s, you should be able to bring it up to 76* within 24 hours safely. You can let the temp fall again once the filter is cycled.

7) Keep a close eye on your Ammonia and NitrIte levels. I’ve done this a number of times, and the Ammonia usually rises to 1.0, and then drops. NitrIte then comes up to .5, and then drops. I’ve also done it, and never even seen Ammonia or NitrIte. With high stocking levels, I would expect to see a slight spike in both.

Bio Spira is bunk!

This past weekend, I was able to jumpstart a filter in two days with Turbo Start. You may have to add phosphate based buffers to get a KH above 80. The Doc has composed a method of getting Turbo Start to work, which can be found on the fritzpet website. The product is about $100 after the icepacks and overnight shipping, but it’s enough to treat 700 USG, and, I think you can get smaller bottles.

I tried my hand with Biospira from Marineland, and had no luck at all. My amonia was less than 1ppm, and more than two weeks after adding four times the suggested amount of biospira, the only thing that had changed is that the amonia had gome up to 2ppm. Marineland writes that there will be a short stint of amonia less than 1ppm for a couple of days, so I do not believe that the Biospira was simply running behind, and could not catch up with my amonia. More likely the bacteria had just expired, plain and simple. Marineland does not indicate an expiration date, but they make the claim that Bio Spira is viable for 1 year if kept cold, and 6 months if kept at room temp… Turbo Start only claims 3 months if kept cold. Both are simply bacteria and water, and both need carbonates and some phosphates to get properly established. Most old tanks have enough existing phosphates to support the bacteria, but virgin water may need to have some added in the form of a Ph buffer.

No doubt, the best way to seed any filter is with media from an established filter, but this could result in pathogens entering a clean system. I’ve looked far and wide, and the ONLY bacteria product I have found that works is Turbo Start. In my oppinion, the rest are snake oil. I’m sure fresh Bio Spria will work if you can get enough of it, but keeping bacteria alive in a bottle for 1 year… It seems Marineland is claiming their products can do things they simply can’t do. I admit I have not tried all of them out there, but I would run away from any bacteria in a bottle that A) does not need to be kept cold, and B) does not indicate an expiration date.

The stuff comes overnight packed in a cooler with cold packs, and it cycles WICKED FAST!!!! Make sure to read Erik Jhonson’s article on getting the stuff working. I was able to learn things about biofiltration from this article that I’d found no place else!

My test with was not done using the scientific method. I needed a tank cycled, and this stuff did it where others had failed. Is there a chance that Turbo Start is bunk, and it just so happened that the BioSpira I added more than two weeks earlier started working a couple of hours after I added the Turbo Start? Sure, but I’m not buying it! Still, that is the type of thing only scientific controls can rule out. I have a lot of TS left over, and I will be repeating the test with measures of control in place when I get my new koi home in a couple of weeks. I will publish the results. Who knows… I may be wrong… I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken.


Nitrifying bacteria division in cold water >