Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Atlantic Mudskipper, Periophthalmus barbarus

Common Names: Atlantic mudskipper, mudskipper, common mudskipper, mudhopper, 'skipper.

Scientific Name: Periophthalmus barbarus (Linnaeus, 1766) [really old sources sometimes call them Gobius barbarus]

From Where? West African coast area and the nearby islands. Fishbase say's they're also found on and near Guam, interestingly. Generally found on mud flats and around mangrove swamps throughout its distribution.

Size: According to legend, this beast reaches a whopping 25cm (10 inches!), which I have honestly never seen, but to this day has kept me away from West African mangrove swamps. They commonly attain 15cm (6 inches) though.

Foodstuffs: In the wild they'll take whatever they can get their mouth around, which can be quite a lot - small crabs, insects, and supposedly baby mudskippers too. In captivity they'll quite happily munch down on most frozen and live foods: anything from bloodworm to krill to fish, they'll be happy. Some 'skippers convert to dry food diets, but even then try to include some frozen/live foods from time to time.

PS: for a real show, throw a live insect in their enclosure. Sit back and enjoy.

Water: Mudskippers are hardy little guys, and can tolerate anything from freshwater to brackish to marine and even beyond that. Despite this, you'll find they do the best when you keep them in 'normal' brackish water over the long term. Keep the SG between 1.003 and 1.010 for the best results.
They're also not fussy on temperature, but you've got to keep it tropical, 24 degrees C (76 degrees F) and upwards.
Quality is (as with pretty much anything else with these guys) all chilled, so long as you don't leave the water stagnant and rotting. Mudskippers have a much higher tolerance for nitrogenous wastes as compared to most other fish. But in the ethics of good fishkeeping, do a water change at least once a month, and make sure the water is well filtered.

Aquarium Specifics:

Ah, the most important aspect of 'skipper keeping.

The first thing you'll need is some area of land for them to, well, crawl, climb and skip on. Failing to provide this will result in your mudskippers sticking itself to the glass and crawling up. As cool as it looks, it's pretty tiring for your mudskipper. And yes, they can drown. They absorb most of their oxygen through their skin, so land in now definitely in your interest.
In the more basic setups, some people just stack rocks and/or wood onto which the skipper can climb onto. This works well, especially for smaller setups, but it doesn't look very much like a mudskipper habitat. This is where you make your own beach? How, you ask? Well, slope some sand in the tank by putting more sand/gravel on the one side than on the other. Use rocks or sheets of glass to act as retaining walls to prevent the beach from slumping and e voila: you have beach. How much beach you need is dependent on how many muddies you'll be keeping. Males are aggro to each other, females not so much so. You need 900cm squared (1 square foot) of beach for a male and female to share, or otherwise the same measurements for each male.

It won't really matter to the mudskippers, but incorporating a beach normally leaves you with pretty shallow water, which also ends up being ideal for mudskippers. Shallow water is not only easy for them to get out of, but it so happens to be similar to conditions they'd live in in nature. Notice how, in most of the pictures I've posted, they only submerge themselves until only their eyes are sticking out the water. They like it that way.

Now you'll need some filtration. If you have the mostly recommended shallow water, you'll have a problem with internal filters, barring using them horizontally. The better idea is to use either a canister filter or a sump, with the added benefit of keeping out of your tank and making the whole setup seem a whole lot more natural. Another bonus in using a sump is that you can shove your heater in there too, which is a safety feature in a sense. Seeing that mudskippers like to climb everywhere, a heater in their actual tank is a burn threat. Sump + heater = good idea.

To add to the habitat, use roots (that look like mangroves, because mangroves can be tricky to grow in a skipper setup) and maybe allow some other plants that enjoy humidity (like some ferns) to grow in the upper parts of the tank. Make it really natural, although not biotope specifically correct.

Compatibility: They don't mind mixing with other fish, although normally the shallower water doesn't hold other fish well. I prefer to keep mudskippers in a tank to themselves and meet their requirements specifically.

To make the best scenarios, just keep a male with one or two females in a setup. Keeping multiple males together ends up becoming messy (gory etc). Also, try to avoid mixing different species of mudskippers. I haven't tried this myself but I can see it ending badly.

Specific Problems: Read above.

Rarity: The most common mudskipper, even places that aren't pet stores sometimes get them.

Similar Species: There are a few species of mudskippers, and a handful of gobies that look a little bit like mudskippers. These are most easily identified by the bright blue specks on their cheeks and generally larger size, as well as their availability.

SEE ALSO: Aye, 'skipper

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Red-tailed catfish tiger shovelnose hybrid

Common Names:
Red-tailed catfish tiger shovelnose hybrid, RTCxTSN, TSNxRTC, red-tailed shovelnose catfish, leopard catfish

Scientific Name: Technically, as a hybrid, it doesn't have one, but I suppose you'd be able to call it Phractocephalus hemiolopterus x Pseudoplatystoma faciatum. Planetcatfish calls them Phractocephalus sp. hybrid.

From which our beloved hybrid came from

From Where? Again, this isn't a real species with a real natural distribution. It's parent species both come from South America though, in the Amazon and some of its tributaries.

Size: It's hard to tell - as displayed in several other hybrids of fish, there isn't an exact size to which this hybrid will grow. Normally, one would expect the size that either parent species would attain; in this case both the red-tailed catfish and the tiger shovelnose catfish are both capable of reaching over a meter (3 feet plus), even in captivity, so expect the same for this bugger...

... although on that same note, hybrids also have a tendency to actually get to bigger sizes than their parent species in something termed 'hybrid vigour'. Just be prepared to house a very, very large fish.

Foodstuffs: Absolutely anything. Keepers of the regular red-tailed catfish will tell you that what will go down their throat, does, and this absolutely applies to this hybrid. Smaller fish will happily live on sinking pellets, small frozen foods (like market shrimp) as well as live food if that's your fancy. The bigger fish will eat anything from whole sardines, slivers of chicken, beefheart, and probably your offspring too.

Feed until they're looking a little plump, then leave them until their stomach goes back to normal. This normally means that you don't have to fed them every day.

Avoid decor and equipment that can fit into the mouth of this fish, and change/protect your tank appropriately as the fish grows. Many stories arise about such fish swallowing gravel, rocks, pieces of filters and suction cups. It isn't known if swallowing such items is dangerous for the fish, but afterwards they throw it up. Along with whatever went missing is their stomach acids and whatever they were busy digesting at the time, which HEAVILY pollutes the tank. Get ready to do a big water change should this happen.

Water: Not fussy at all. Keep the pH between 6.0 and 8.0, and the temperature within the tropical range, and you'll have a happy monster catfish. They're not especially whiny about water conditions either, but try to keep the water clean. They're heavy eaters and heavy messers, so weekly or fortnightly water changes are recommended, as well as a really good filter system.

Aquarium Specifics: A biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig tank. And you'll need one from the start, because they're not slow growing, either. My little guy grew from a mere 10cm (4 inches) to 20cm (8 inches) in just over a month, and that was when I was feeding sparingly. In cases like this, a tank isn't recommended, but rather a tropical pond, which can satisfy their space needs much easier.

As far as decor goes, its best to keep it sparse. They'll appreciate the extra space. Large, smooth, solid rocks work best, so long as they can't get knocked over by this (potential) giant. Sharp rocks and wood are both dangerous to this catfish.

Compatibility: You'll actually find this to be a docile fish. Well, aside from eating tankmates anywhere from up to half its own length and less, that is. They have huge mouths, huge appetites and long whiskers. Sometimes they'll test to see whether another fish can fit in their mouths by actually trying it out.

Lessons learned: keep with fish of equal size and larger (if applicable).

Specific Problems: Giganormous size, tank-mate tasting and bulky nature are the only problems, all of which are easily resolvable. However, this catfish is best left to specialists who already know how handle these bad boys.

Rarity: Not too rare. It shouldn't be allowed to be common either, since few people are capable of housing them.

Similar Species: Their hybrid traits vary from fish to fish, some possessing more red-tail catfish traits, some having more shovelnose traits, others looking like a complete muddle up. They can be told apart from Phractocephalus hemiolopterus by their longer mouth and spotty patterning, and apart from Pseudoplatystoma by their reddish tails and by the predominance of black on their body.

Aye, 'skipper

Sorry, but the pun was absolutely necessary.

Enjoy some pics of my mudksippers (Periophthalmus barbarus).

Friday, May 28, 2010

So, how big should my tank be?

Alright. So, there you are, pencil and paper in hand, putting the costs together for your new tank, when suddenly a question hits you - what size tank am I getting?

Well, that is a good question. After all, it's the tank that you're keeping the fish in, and it's the tank that dictates what size fish you're gonna end up putting in there. So suddenly your question turns into a multiple choice:

a) Whatever I can afford
b) Whatever suits the fish I'm planning to keep
c) Whatever I can find
d) Whatever fits through my front door
e) Whatever I'm willing to put the effort into
f) Whatever is practical
g) Whatever

In most cases, you'd only get to choose one of the choices from this list. But because I'm nice, I'll let you choose any selection of these choices.
Each one of the things mentioned will affect the size of tank you're gonna end up getting, as each one needs to be taken into consideration before you hand over a wod of cash to that smirking salesperson at your petstore. If you get the jist of what I'm saying in the above 7 points, good for you. Take that advice and head out and use it, share it. For the rest of you, read on.

a) Whatever I can afford
Sure sure, if I was to be a goody goody responsible fishkeeper, I'd say "the welfare of your pets matters more than the weight of your wallet". However, it's quite the opposite. It's YOUR money. In the end, you'll be spending quite a lot of money on this tank, and should something go wrong or the tank goes to waste, it's going to be YOUR money wasted. Take what you can afford without sacrificing your petrol/food money.

Unless you're quite well off like our friend Billy Gates, you're going to look for the best deal around. After taking all the other points into consideration, you'll be out looking for that dream tank. Go shop jumping - different shops sell different brands, and even if they sell the same brand, one shop may sell the tank cheaper than anywhere else. It'll be well worth your looking around.
Your second and often preferred option is to buy second hand (gasp!). To many, this doesn't even sound like an option, like some sorta dodgey backstreet deal that sometimes happens among the unfortunate in the hobby.

Fancy a second-hand two foot tank?

To be honest, I don't know why some people don't like this option. Their loss, really, because second hand tanks are the cheapest tank available (well, usually). So long as you keep your eye out for things like chips, cracks, bad scratches, peeling silicone, bent glass, bad repairs, and thin glass, you're set. Even if the tank has its problems, it can sometimes be cheaper to buy a second hand tank and get it re-sealed than to go ahead and buy a new tank. Keep your options open.

b) Whatever suits the fish I'm going to keep
Bingo! In the perfect world, this should be the only option you'd have to consider. But, we don't live in the perfect world, so we can shed our tears here and move on.

Now, what exactly does this crazy fish ranter mean when he says 'suits my fish'? Well, what I'm trying to say is consider the fish you would like to own before choosing your tank size based on this point. Do plenty of reading on several fish you're interested in, see what they're like. Then you think:
  • does it get big?
  • does it need space to swim? Is it active?
  • does it have to live in groups?
  • does it need space for territory?
  • if so, how many am I planning on keeping, and how much space is needed for territories?
  • does it need a big tank footprint (length and width of tank)?
  • does it need a tall tank?
Basically, you go through all these questions for all the fish you plan on keeping ( first check if they're gonna eat each other or not), then you can think about rough tank dimensions.

And please, please, please never think that "a fish will grow according to the size of the tank it's in". Just. NO.

To some degree, this statement is true. If you keep a fish that, say, grows to 30 centimeters (1 foot), you buy it at 5cm (2 inches) and you put it into a 60cm (2 foot) tank, there is no way it'll get to 30cm (1 foot) length. It's body growth would be STUNTED. If you're still ok with that, then consider this: it's body stops growing, but its insides (organs), well, don't. Pretty much, over time its organs will grow inside its never-growing body, squishing them and causing organ malfunction. So your fish will live for 2 or 3 years instead of maybe 7 to 10 years.
In the same logic...
Do you remember back when you were a kid (or maybe some readers still are, my apologies). You'd go to a family function, and see all these people you hadn't seen since you were in diapers. Suddenly, one of your supposed relatives approaches you and tugs on your cheek, saying:
"My, how you've GROWN! Your mother should have tied a brick to your head!"
And while all the adults giggle, you blush and turn away.
You see, your mom could have tied a brick to your head. In that way, she'd never have to buy you clothing ever again, because you'd never grow! However, some would consider it cruelty...

Generally frowned upon by society.

Yup. Cruelty.

c) Whatever I can find
This pretty much applies to those who live in areas which lack pet stores, aquarium stores, or whatever. I've been to places which have only one general pet store, who have three tank sizes, and that's that. Any aquarist living in such a hell-hole, my heart goes out to you.

There isn't much that you can do about this. Ideally, get the biggest you can find. The problem is, whatever is available dictates what kind of fish you can get, not the other way around.

Wish you luck.

d) Whatever fits through my front door
Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? I'm sure that you'd be surprised to hear that some people have returned tanks to the shop because they couldn't find a place for it to fit, or worse than that, they've had to knock down their flipping wall just to get their tank into their flipping house. One word:


Grab yourself a measuring tape and get moving. First, look at where you want to put your tank. Not all side-boards, tables and bar counters can hold the weight of a fishtank, so be sure to check up on that first. Measure the stand/table/doohickey that you're gonna use, and be sure the you'll be able to fit the tank on that. The tank mustn't stick over on any of the four sides, and the tank must be 100% level (you'll need a spirit level for this task).

Next, measure your door/doors. Height and width are important here. Also take into consideration arm and body space - arms are those things you're going to use to hold the tank, and the body is that thing that arms are attached to.

Then, do some measuring on your mode of transport (if this includes a bus and/or bicycle, you'll in for an interesting time). Door width and height, trunk size, collapsible seats, you name it. Just make sure that you can fit it in your car, you have a way to stop it sliding about, and that you can get it out afterwards.

e) Whatever I'm willing to put the effort into

Don't let this happen. People are, at first, proud of their huge tanks, but after time their interest wanes, or their tank is just too much effort to bother cleaning. Big tanks cause more problems, and should you have to wear a wetsuit to clean your tank, buddy, be ready to gear up when you have to. If it's beyond your capability to take care of the tank, go for something smaller.

f) Whatever is practical
Somewhat the same as above, but includes some other little things to consider too. For instance, if you want to start a marine tank, don't go nano instantly. The smaller the tank is, the more quickly things can go wrong simply because there's less water. Think practically.

Also, think what is practical to your lifestyle. If you barely manage to feed your children because you're on the job way too often, go for something a little smaller. Smaller tank = smaller maintenance = less time taken during maintenance.

g) Whatever



Don't even get a tank.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Threadfin Acara, Acarichthys heckelii

Common Names:
Threadfin acara, threadfin cichlid, Heckel's cichlid, "fairy cichlid"

Scientific Name: Acarcichthys heckelii (Muller and Troschel, 1849). Sometimes referred to as Geophagus thayeri.

From Where? South America, across most of the Amazon and the main surrounding rivers, like the Xingu and Negro, as well some other arbitrary rivers thereabouts as well - pretty much wherever there are tropical rivers.

Size: Gets to a maximum of 15cm (6 inches), and captive specimens can reach this size if given proper care.

Foodstuffs: Will accept a huge range of foods, but don't take this for granted. You'll only get the best growth and colour out of these fish if you supplement their diet with frozen/live foods. Some people recommend adding some veggies to their diet, which makes sense if you want to give them an all-round meal.

Water: Try to keep the water similar to what you'd keep your 'typical' Amazonian fish in - a lowish pH (6.0 - 7.0, although they're tolerant of slightly higher), and kinda soft. You won't want to be adding any buffers or salts to you tank, or rocks that may dissolve and alter the water chemistry.
They're proper tropical fish and appreciate it when you keep the water between 24° and 28°C (75° to 82° F); raising the temperature is said to induce spawning.

Pretty fishy

Aquarium Specifics: Not particularly fussy. A three foot (90cm) tank can work for a group of 2 or 3 (1 male and a female or 2), and the decor should be somewhat 'foresty', but that definition is really up to you. Occasionally they'll make use of hiding places, and wood in the tank helps keep the pH lower, so putting 2 and 2 together, wood sounds like a good idea. The aquarium lighting shouldn't be too harsh, but not so dim either. Try to strike a balance between what suits you and what suits your Threadfin.

Compatibility: They aren't bad characters, really. Even the males don't cause any noticeable chaos, although I wouldn't put this to the test by cramming too many males in a small tank with insufficient females. They'll get on with small to medium peaceful fish, so long as these fish aren't noted fin-nippers, like tiger barbs, or general bad-boy bullies, such as some cichlids, especially those that go nuts during breeding (convicts, jewels... )

Specific Problems: Especially at first, they're susceptible to some diseases, mostly parasites. Watch for signs of external parasites (scratching against gravel or decor) and internal parasites (not growing or gaining weight, concave belly).

Rarity: Can be hard to get your hands on, but if you know the right places to go to you'll be able to find some.

Similar Species: sometimes gets muddled up with Geophagus (earth eaters) or Mikrogeophagus (Ram cichlids), especially when younger. It's useful to carry around some form of identification if you're looking for them.