National Local Fish Store Meet Up Day: July 13, 2013

Whereas the Capital Cichlid Association isn’t having a meeting on that Saturday anyway, and quite a few of us are still in town;

Whereas it’s better to actually do something about the decline of local fish stores rather than whining about it on fish club forums;

Whereas most of us really don’t need much of an excuse to visit a local fish store anyway;

Without any authority vested in me by absolutely anyone, anywhere;

I hereby proclaim Saturday, July 13, Two Thousand and Thirteen to be National Local Fish Store Meet Up day. Enthusiastic aquarium hobbyists and fish geeks world wide are entrusted with the solemn duty of organizing a meet up for their fellow club members and fish buddies at the INDEPENDENT local fish store of their choosing, after which they are directed to descend, en mass, on a local INDEPENDENT eatery of their choosing for lunch (or breakfast or dinner, whichever the case may be).

The aforementioned proscribed actions are intended to assist local INDEPENDENT (in case you missed that the first couple of times) aquarium-related businesses to withstand the creeping economic malaise of these recession-weary times, and maybe, in the case of those in dire straits, to meet a payroll or two and ward off the sheriff for at least another month;

This proclamation applies not just to traditional INDEPENDENT fish stores but also to such mom and pop enterprises that are run out of local homes, warehouses, garages or what have you as Aquatic Life Farms, Batfish Aquatics or Invertebrates by Ms. Jinkzed (provided they are up for it and agree to having a bunch of fish people descend upon them.)

Go forth and organize, help your INDEPENDENT local fish businesses and INDEPENDENT restaurants, and above all, HAVE A GOOD TIME.

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At Long Last: Batfish Aquatics’s Grand Opening

As many of you know, Josh Wiegert, President of the Potomac Valley Aquarium Society and all around fish guy, just opened his business to the public today. Batfish Aquatics, named, presumably, for Josh’s favorite super hero, is his fledgling fish supply business. Josh has been specializing in unusual and hard to find species for advanced and discriminating aquarium hobbyists. Josh posts his stock lists to many DC area Fish Club Forums. Today, however, Josh opened his doors to the public, allowing fish fans to browse the aisles. If you’re looking for lighting and decor, then maybe Batfish isn’t for you. But if you’re looking to cross those unusual, uncommon, and hard to find species off your fish wish list, then you might want to get in touch with the Batfish. Located in a loft above an auto repair business in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the racks of tanks aren’t much to look at. But if you take the time and trouble to look at what’s in the tanks, I think you’ll be impressed. Here are some of the photos I took while I was out there today.


One of the many nice little Apistogramma species at Batfish Aquatics.


More apistogrammas

Josh Wiegert

The Batfish, hard at work, doing Batfish stuff.

White crayfish

One of the cool white crayfish at Batfish Aquatics.

Cristy and Nagesh

Lots of local club members turned out for the grand opening.


Here's Damian, looking over some of the Anubias.

Violet corydoras

One of the violet corydoras. (Bad photo of a nice fish.)


From the Batfish plant selection


The lighting wasn't good, and I'm not a good photographer, but this is a nice Farlowella.

Josh and Pierre

Josh answering questions about the fish.

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I’m Back!

It’s been awhile, I know. With any luck I can blog more often during the coming year.

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Up to $1000 available for education projects on US native fishes

Native Fish Sign

A native fishes display sign at the Beaver Creek State Park Nature Center, developed by Rob Carillio, the first recipient of the Corcoran Award. Photo used with permission of the North American Native Fishes Association.

A grant for up to $1000 is available from the North American Native Fishes Association for projects to educate the public about North American native fishes.

The Gerald C. Corcoran Education Grant was established in memory of past NANFA President Gerald C. Corcoran, who stressed public education regarding the continent’s native fishes.

NANFA will consider funding such projects as books, brochures, posters, displays, video, Internet resources, public lectures, nature center displays, school materials and displays, and teacher training workshops.

Applicants must be members of NANFA, but non members may qualify by submit a membership application and dues payment along with their grant proposals.  Funding will be awarded on June 1, 2012, after proposals are evaluated and ranked by a NANFA review committee. Proposals are due March 31, 2012.

More information is available from the NANFA Website at

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New pages on color enhancement and home made fishfood

shrimp in coffee grinder

Dried crustaceans contain lots of carotenoids and a coffee grinder is a handy tool for grinding dried ingredients to add to homemade fishfood.

I added two new reference pages: one on using natural substances to enhance the colors of your fish, and another on how to make fish food (so that you have something to put the color enhancers in. I actually got the idea from Kurt Johnston at the Lancaster club, who gave a talk at the Capital Cichlid Association awhile back. I’ve been working out the concepts for awhile now, and finally got around to putting it all down.

I hope you find the new pages helpful.


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Shop Report: Rick’s Fish and Pet Supply

Entrance to Rick's

The Entrance to Rick's Fish and Pet Supply

I drove up to Frederick, Maryland, recently, to visit Rick’s Fish and Pet Supply.  It’s in a shopping mall on West Patrick Street, off Route 15, just north of I 270. In this store, they do everything right. For starters, I didn’t see a single sick or dying fish. I know, I know, it’s not necessarily the store’s fault when fish get sick. Sometimes they arrive from the shippers in less than optimal condition. Still, I’m not likely to take a chance on livestock if someone can’t check the tanks every so often and scoop out the floaters and the wobblies. Anyway, like I said, I didn’t see any of that at Rick’s.

Entrance to the fish room

Entrance to the fish room at Rick's.

The racks were painted black, and the overhead lighting was subdued. The combination made it really easy to see what was inside the tanks. All of which, I want to point out, were clean and well vacuumed.


I think this was a Badis. Unfortunately it was the only one in the tank, and there was no description of it on the glass.

It’s a decent size store– not really big, but not small either. Rick’s has a respectable assortment of fishes to meet nearly every aquarist’s tastes. For the most part, all the tanks were well labeled, with the names of the tank inhabitants legibly written out. The staff was also courteous and eager to help. If you’re ever in Frederick, Maryland, I definitely recommend you stop in and visit Rick’s Fish and Pet Supply.

Discus tank

The discus tank at Rick's.

Rainbow cichlids, Herotilapia multispinosa

The rainbow cichlid tank.

Fish room Aisle

Looking down one of the aisles at Rick's.

Congo tetras and catfish

Love that gravel! And the congo tetras and the catfish were really nice, too.

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Fatheads or rosy reds? By any name, a marvel among minnows

Why don’t fish keepers appreciate Pimephales promelas? Most commonly known as the fathead minnow, P. promelas is native to the central United States and southern Canada. The species is fairly small— usually not getting any bigger than 2 ½ inches— although the Peterson’s Field Guide says that they can reach 4 inches. Fatheads are bred in ponds throughout the United States, and sold in bait shops. True, the wild type P. promelas isn’t much to look at: dark olive above, dusky horizontal stripe through the middle, transitioning to a dull white on the underside.

P. promelas in flowerpot "cave" with eggs

Unique among minnows, fatheads and other Pimephales species lay their eggs on the upper surface of a cave and guard them until they hatch.

An orange color morph, known as the rosy red, is available in the pet trade. The orange morph, too, is under appreciated. The aquarium shops sell them by the dozen, not so much as long time aquarium residents, but for use as feeders. (A while back, there as an article on the NANFA site which held that the rosy red variety was actually a hybrid between P. promelas and other Pimephales species. I was hoping to link to it, but it appears to have been taken down.)

Rosy red minnows

The orange color form of Pimephales promelas, usually marketed as "rosy reds."

But appearance isn’t what makes P. promelas great aquarium fish. It’s their behavior. The Pimephalesspecies are a select group, unique among cyprinids. Pairs spawn on the underside of rocks or old logs and males guard the eggs until they hatch. All other minnows scatter their eggs among plants or on the bottom, and then swim away.

Sign showing price of rosy reds

At 10 cents apiece, rosy red feeders are one of the greatest bargains in the aquarium hobby. This photo was taken at House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, Maryland, a Baltimore suburb.

Like goldfish and many other cyprinids, male P. promelas develop protuberances, called tubercles, on the snout. The common name “fathead” comes from the thick fleshy pad that the breeding male develops from the nape of the neck to the dorsal fin. Wild type males also develop alternating light and dark bands on their sides.

Male (top) and female Pimephales promelas

The common name “fathead” comes from the thick fleshy pad that the breeding male develops from the nape of the neck to the dorsal fin. Wild type males also develop alternating light and dark bands on their sides.

Males stake out a “cave” territory. In the aquarium, they’ll readily make use of an overturned flower pot or a length of pvc pipe, and males compete over spawning locations. Breeding males will periodically herd females into their caves, and then drive the females away after the adhesive eggs have been deposited on the cave roof and fertilized. As dedicated as any cichlid parent, males will aggressively defend the eggs against other fish. When the eggs hatch, however, they seem to lose interest.

Golden Orf

Rosy reds are sometimes mistaken for the much larger golden orfe (Leuciscus idus) a pond fish native to Northern Europe which may reach 18 inches. These fish were photographed at the House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie.

Females and other tank mates will greedily consume the tiny fry. To save the fry, I remove the spawning cave place it upright in a separate tank and drop an airstone near the eggs to maintain circulation. Once they start spawning, P. promelas are prolific breeders and probably will lay more eggs than you can successfully raise to adulthood.

PVC spawning cave with eggs

Adults will eat the fry soon after they hatch. To save the fry remove the spawning cave (in this case, a pvc pipe) and place an airstone near the eggs to maintain circulation.

In the wild, spawning begins when temperatures climb into the 60s. Mine bred well in the mid 70s. Spawning is also light dependent. The number of eggs per spawn increases with day length, topping off at about 14 hours of light. (If you want to learn more about how day length influences spawning behavior in P. promelas, you might want to check out this masters thesis by a student at Texas Tech.)

P.  promelas in a shop feeder tank

One of the tanks of rosy red feeders at the House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie. The tank holds a few wild type "fatheads" along with the rosy reds.

P. promelas aren’t hard to care for. They not fussy about water chemistry and will stay healthy if you avoid extremes of pH or hardness and keep up with water changes. Being minnows, they like a reasonable amount of vegetable fair in their diets, and will do well on flakes, cichlid granules, and the occasional spirulina wafer. You probably will need to quarantine—and perhaps even medicate— store bought specimens before introducing them to their regular quarters. Most bait and feeder tanks are overcrowded, and a lot of shop owners don’t bother to keep up with water changes. Such poor conditions can stress the fish and make them susceptible to illness. If you’d like to learn more about them, Robyn Rhudy has a nice page about rosy reds on her site.

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Hatchery Spotlight: Peter Thode on Breeding Discus

Peter Thode’s discus hatchery burned down. Not once, but twice. And each time, he rebuilt it. “If you’re really into it, you don’t give up,” Thode said.

Thode is the owner of Gwynnbrook Farm, a largely Internet-order hatchery in the Northwest Baltimore suburb of Owings Mills, Maryland. I visited the hatchery, and wandered through the aisles while Thode was busy with a few walk-in customers. His fish all seemed well cared for. Healthy and alert, they hovered in their eye-level tanks, watching me as I watched them. Among the exquisitely beautiful discus strains were brilliant turquoise, Manaea Peru, red diamonds, flame marlboro, white snowflakes, and red spotted greens.

Peter Thode

Discus breeder Peter Thode in his hatchery, Gwynbrook Farm. -photo by David Snell

Along with discus, Thode also raises piranhas in his hatchery. He breeds these in several large cinder block tubs on the floor of the hatchery, providing them with trays of rounded stones to spawn in. From a friend in Germany, Thode acquired several altum angels that he hopes will breed. In addition to the hatchery, he maintains a 180 gallon reef tank in his house and a 10,000 gallon ornamental goldfish pond just outside his back door.

The hatchery is Thode’s labor of love, the culmination of a life-long fascination that began in childhood. Thode was born in Dresden, Germany, in 1932. When he was a child, he and the other neighborhood children would collect sticklebacks. A local woman would pay the children a small bounty for each fish, which she fed to her cat. Intrigued by the little fish, the young Thode kept some for a small aquarium he set up.

…a young man’s fancy lightly turns to…
He left Germany for Sweden in 1952. In that country, he met a young woman who would later become his bride. He was fascinated by the angel fish in the aquarium his future father-in-law kept. He found himself going to visit more and more often, as much to see the fish as to see the young woman.

In 1957, the couple moved to the United States. They saved their money until they could afford a house, which they bought in 1960. Gradually, Thode filled the basement with aquariums. Old refrigerator liners, also, became makeshift fish containers, each holding about 100 gallons of water. He soon acquired the angel fish he loved, along with various killifish and barbs. It wasn’t long, however, before the humidity from all the tanks soon became a problem.

“I put so many aquariums in that poor little house that I basically ruined it,” he said. “The drywall was so soft that you could push it in with your thumb.”

More tanks, more space
Eventually, Thode looked for larger quarters. He gutted the house and replaced all of the water-logged drywall. In 1972, he bought Gwynnbrook farms, the 10 acre farm where he and his wife now reside. He built the house they live in without any extra help. But before he moved out of his old house, he worked out an agreement with the owners of the property he was buying. In preparation for the move, they allowed him to begin constructing an outbuilding on the property to house all his fish tanks. Eventually, he expanded the structure to include his current hatchery.


Gwynbrook Farm discus. -Photo by David Snell

To keep the hatchery warm, he converted an old furnace to burn used motor oil. Unfortunately, a malfunction in the boiler led to a fire that destroyed the hatchery. He rebuilt it, only to have it catch fire again several years later, when a florescent light overheated. Before he began breeding discuss, Thode had bred angel fish for his friend Merrill Cohen, the owner and founder of the Baltimore-based Aquarium Products Company. Cohen passed away a few years ago.

“He was a wonderful man,” Thode said. “He was the nicest person I ever met.” It was Cohen who provided Thode with his first discus. In 1975, Cohen surprised Thode with 12 wild-type discus he had brought back with him from an aquarium trade show in Seattle. Thode began breeding discus full time in 1982. Previously, he had worked as a service manager in the automobile business for 28 years. When the owners sold the company, he devoted himself to his discus and the cattle he raises on his 10 acre farm.

More than 25 years later, he’s still going strong, getting up at 5 am every day to take care of his charges. To keep his discus healthy, Thode changes 10 to 15 percent of their water daily. He begins with water from the tap, at a pH of 7.3. He adjusts the pH to 6.5, as many of his customers have difficulty maintaining their water at 6.0.

Filtration is provided by large Triton swimming pool filters, which circulate the water through beds of sand. The tanks are maintained by 7 separate filtration systems, he said. Should an outbreak of disease occur, it is limited to one system and won’t affect fish in the others. Windows and skylights keep the hatchery well lit. To keep sunlight from turning the water green, Thode keeps a mesh bag of maple leaves in each system. The leaves leach tannins, which tints the water just enough to prevent suspended algae blooms. He maintains the hatchery at about 82 to 84 degrees, heating it through steam pipes under the floor. Heat is provided by home heating oil and a furnace that Thode stokes with scrap lumber.

Feeding discus
Thode makes his own discuss food, from a such diverse ingredients as canned green beans, oatmeal, shrimp, turkey hearts, and turkey livers. It’s important to use the best ingredients possible, he said, to ensure that the fish will eat it. “If the fish don’t like it, I have to take it out the next day,” he said. “All it does is pollute the water.” Thode makes about 400 to 500 pounds of the food at a time. He doesn’t sell his discus food, but he does provide instructions on how to make it on his Web site, at

Soon after his discus spawn, he removes the eggs from the parents and hatches them in a solution of methylene blue. Discus are reputed to be good parents, he said. In fact, about 90 percent of discus are not good parents. “Parenting varies with the fish—like people,” he said. After the eggs hatch, he places the fry in little bowls. Thode lines the outer edge of the bowl with raw egg yolk, then dusts the raw yolk with powdered egg yolk before filling the bowl with water. About 3 to 5 days after the fry are free swimming, he feeds them newly hatched brine shrimp until they are large enough for other foods.

Thode explained that many people fail to get their discus to spawn because they over look the fish’s need for solitude when they’re ready to breed. Similarly, showing discuss fry to visitors may also spook the parents into eating the fry. When he plans to breed discus, Thode moves them to a corner of the hatchery that is closed off to visitors. “Animals will destroy their babies if they can’t take care of them,” he said. He explained that getting discus to spawn isn’t that difficult, if the fish are well fed, kept away from visitors, and are given water conditions they like. Many hobbyists know about these conditions but ignore them anyway, and then are disappointed when they fail, he said.

“There are no secrets to breeding discuss,” he said. “It’s all been written already. You just have to follow the instructions.”

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Female Guppies Put the Brakes on Sperm to Avoid Inbreeding

Female and male guppies

Guppies at Super Pets in Annandale, Va.

Female guppies have a built-in mechanism to avoid inbreeding, according to a new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Scientists at Italy’s University of Padua reported that when female guppies are inseminated with an equal quantity of sperm from both a related and unrelated male, the unrelated male sires 10 percent more of the resultant fry than does the related male. Other female guppies that mated with either an unrelated male or a related male produced broods of roughly equal size, suggesting that embryo survival was not affected by mating with a close relative. The researchers, Clelia Gasparini and Andrea Pilastro, found that when sperm from a male guppy is placed in the ovarian fluid of a sister, it travels at a slower speed than does guppy sperm in the ovarian fluid of an unrelated female. The researchers conducted the study to uncover evidence that polyandry–the practice of a female mating with multiple males–came about to prevent inbreeding. Other factors being equal, females that mated with multiple males, the theory holds, are more likely to mate with a non-relative than are females that mate with only one male. Inbreeding, or mating with close relatives, can lower the survival of a population by increasing the tendency toward genetic diseases. Before Gasparini and Pilastro conducted their study, scientists assumed that there were natural control mechanisms to avoid mating between relatives, but they did not have any evidence to support this view. True, female guppies seem to prefer mates with colors and other physical characteristics different than those of local males. However, when appearance is not a factor, female guppies aren’t very good at distinguishing unrelated males from related males. Also, female guppies are often unsuccessful avoiding mating attempts from males they aren’t interested in. For these reasons, the two Italian scientists deduced that there must be some mechanism in place to hinder inbreeding aftermating has taken place. It is not yet known which factor or factors in ovarian fluid hinders the movement of a sibling’s sperm. Finding the cause, the two authors write, is a topic for a future study.

Cryptic Female Preference For Genetically Unrelated Males Is Mediated By Ovarian Fluid In The Guppy, Proceedings of the Royal Society B

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Fish Collecting in Uruguay

At a recent meeting of the Capital Cichlid Association, CCA member Matt Quinn recounted his trip to Uruguay. According to Wikipedia, Uruguay is in Southeastern South America, South of Brazil and East of Argentina. In South America, Matt said, Uruguay is best known as a vacation destination, primarily because of its beautiful beaches. The northern part of the country is warmer, like Miami, while the South is cooler, with a climate like Tampa. The people are regarded as outgoing and friendly, the environment safe. Because the climate is subtropical, Matt said, he didn’t need to get vaccinated against any tropical diseases. Matt and his family flew into Buenos Aires, and then made the 2 1/2 hour trip across the Rio de La Plato to Colonia. Matt traveled with Aqva Terra, a guided tour service run by Felipe Cantera. The group visited two sites in the south of the country, and two further north. Understandably, Matt’s talk focused on Uruguay’s cichlids:

Gymnogeophagus, which means “naked eartheaters,” so named because they lack cheek scales.
-Chanchitos, or eastern Australoheros. “Chanchito” means “little pig” in Spanish. (These fish are said to eat a lot.)
-Acaras (Cichlasoma species).
Crenicichla, or pike cichlids. These are ambush predators bearing a superficial resemblance to the true pike found in North America and Europe
Apistogrammas, the dwarf cichlid family found throughout South America.

Gymnogeophagus rhabdotus

The Gymnogeophagus rhabdotus I got from Matt last year, in a community tank with zebra and yo yo loaches.

With the exception of some mouthbrooding species Geophagus (gymnogenys, labiatus, tiraparae, and australis) all of these cichlids are substrate spawners. In general, Matt said, Uruguay’s cichlids are only mildly aggressive, and so shouldn’t be kept with tough aggressive species such as those from Central America. Although they will pick off any fish they can swallow, the smaller pike cichlids aren’t too agressive with other cichlid species. To keep smaller pikes form killing each other, they should be housed with other cichlids. Aquarium care is simple, and all of the Uruguay cichlids will take flake and other prepared foods. Because Uruguay has seasonal temperature changes, Uruguayan cichlids benefit from a cooling off period–particularly the Gymnogeophagus. In southern Uruguay, temperatures can drop into the 30s and 40s (Fahrenheit). Matt recommended that Gymnogeophagus be kept in the coolest room in the house, in an unheated tank. If needed, a heater can be used to bring the temperature up for part of the year, into the mid 70s. Matt cautioned against keeping Uruguayan cichlids warm for too long. If the fish don’t take a break from spawning, he said, they typically develop hole-in-the-head disease or some other illness. Because of their wide temperature tolerance, Uruguayan cichlids often do well in backyard ponds in the spring through early fall. Any of a number of fish that tolerate cooler water can be used as dithers Uruguayan cichlids, he said, including Buenos Aires tetras, bloodfin tetras and serpae tetras, goodeids, swordtails and platies, and White Cloud Mountain minnows. Matt added thatyou shouldn’t shock Urugayan cichlids with a cool water change to trigger spawning as you might do with some Amazonian species.Along with cichlids, Matt said, Uruguay has a number of other interesting species, including corydoras, ancistrus, farlowella, and other catfish species, killies, knife fish, and live bearers.

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