by TFH Staff on November 18, 2009 at 5:08 pm
An avid participant in the American Cichlid Association (ACA), Ted Judy has earned a reputation as a skilled fishbreeder and incredibly knowledgeable aquarist who not only enjoys the hobby at home, but has traveled far and wide to see the natural environment of his fish.
How it all Started
When Ted Judy was a child, his parents were not into the fishkeeping hobby, but his neighbor was. That neighbor was kind enough to allow Ted to come over and view a 110-gallon planted aquarium, and one time a female common krib Pelvicachromis pulcher led her fry around the tank right in front of him. Ted immediately took interest and decided that he wanted a tank of his own. On his next birthday, his parents granted his wish by giving him a tank complete with all of the supplies he needed. Not surprisingly, he went to the pet store to get kribs, which remain a favorite in his fishroom to this day.
Since that time, Ted has only taken two breaks from the hobby, one for military service and one for college, when he was moving around too much to keep a tank of his own.
But while at Indiana University, Ted began working part-time at a fish store and was thus not totally removed from his favorite activity. Eventually he became the store manager. Having to work with aquarists to solve their fishkeeping dilemmas and constantly offering his own aquatic advice to beginners, Ted became more social in what had been until then a relatively private hobby, but he was still not connected with any specific club.
The ACA Influence
Then in 1991, he attended his first fish-related event—the American Cichlid Association’s International Cichlid Conference II held in Orlando, Florida—where he discovered “a whole new world” pertaining to fishkeeping. Ted met all new people, including Paul Loiselle, the author of the book he considered to be his fishkeeping bible The Cichlid Aquarium (Tetra Press, 1994), which he had handed out many times during his tenure as a store manager. Ted’s friend Charley Grimes was also an attendee at the convention, who introduced him to many people and convinced him to join a club.
Ted really enjoyed being involved in the club as time passed, so when he moved to Kentucky, he joined the Louisville Tropical Fish Fanciers. He describes clubs as a way to take the hobby from being only about fish (and your home tank) to a way to build relationships with other people who share your interests.
Ted moved to Arizona in the early 1990s, where he was not involved with a local club. He got involved with an early Internet chatroom called The Fishroom, where he met many of the aquarists who are leaders in the hobby today. Ted was asked by some of the Fishroom members to start writing for publication, and throughout the 1990s he honed his writing by providing articles for a few different aquarium clubs.
Ted took some time off from the ACA from about 1999 to 2004 (he rejoined when the ACA convention was held in Denver in 2004). Also, in 2004 Ted became a part of the ACA’s Buntbarsche Bulletin editorial team and started writing articles for that journal. In 2005 he moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where he built his fishroom and started the Tedsfishroom.com website. In 2006 he joined the Milwaukee Aquarium Society, where he is still a member. Ted was elected to the ACA’s Board of Trustees for a two-year term (2007 to 2008). The Milwaukee Aquarium Society is the host of the 2010 ACA Convention in Milwaukee.
Participating regularly in clubs has also allowed Ted to meet the experts both in science and in the hobby. Having these connections allows him to remain at the forefront of fish research. Ted keeps up with what the new fish are by talking with his friends and reading the scientific literature on fish taxonomy.
He also explained that if he manages to get an oddball fish, or one that hasn’t been spawned before, he doesn’t do much research about that fish. “I don’t do as much research as I probably should,” Ted joked. Instead, he looks into what has been done for similar species, such as fish in the same genus or similar fish that have spawned successfully. Often the same strategies work on related species.
Besides providing good-quality food and water, and giving the fish time, he has a few tricks up his sleeve (which he said he will reveal over the course of the challenge). He added that the number of strategies to breed fish is not limitless, and that there are some clear methods that tend to work in the majority of cases.
“I also don’t tend to set myself up for failure—if it’s too difficult to accommodate in a captive setting, I usually don’t try to work with it. For example, I avoid fish with a planktonic stage because it is difficult to provide for them in captivity,” Ted said.
Interestingly, Ted has also bred some marine species. When he tried to breed Banggai cardinalfish, he had some trouble at the outset—he only had a pair in a smaller tank. Eventually he established a 55-gallon tank full of Caulerpa macroalgae and put about 20 Banggais in it. He said that they bred constantly after that—he was always finding males holding eggs. He had also bred clownfish when he worked at the store. He said that while he would love to try and propagate corals, it is not possible for him right now. He may try clownfish again for the contest, as well as a marine invert and possibly convict blennies, jawfish, or a different species of cardinal.
Ted said that the key to breeding fish is patience. “I have had fish that spawn once yearly, twice if I’m lucky, but I tend not to give up on them,” he said. He has West African tetras that occasionally give him some eggs, but not a lot, and he is trying to figure out the best method for breeding them. “If I didn’t enjoy the hobby, I wouldn’t do it,” he said.
“I stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Ted, adding that if he develops a new technique, it is likely by accident. He laughed and said, “If at first you don’t succeed, steal other people’s ideas,” adding that most hobbyists are happy to share their techniques with other hobbyists. He said the popular assassin snail—which eats other snails—has been an elusive breeder for Ted and a good illustration of working with fellow hobbyists. He tried the method that his dealer uses but it hasn’t worked; now he is in touch with someone else who has bred them and is trying his (completely different) method.
Ted describes his fishroom as low-tech. He currently has 65 aquariums ranging in size from 2½ to 60 gallons, although most of the tanks are less than 30 gallons. In addition he has a 110-gallon display tank, which is the largest in his house. Except for the fry tanks, you can see the front of every one.
He uses sponge filters and air pumps in every tank in the fishroom itself. Ted heats the fishroom instead of the individual tanks, but each tank has its own heater because if something went wrong during a Wisconsin winter, it would get way too cold for the fish. According to Ted, each tank has basic lighting.
With several species of dither fish and cichlids in almost every tank, Ted said that he “can’t guess the number of species I have.” He notes that the front glass is clean on all of his tanks so he can be at the ready to take pictures. All of his tanks are aquascaped with driftwood, gravel, and/or sand.
Ted mostly keeps West African fish. An enthusiastic traveler, Ted noted that in the wild, many West African habitats only have plants growing on the margins of the rivers, if at all. Therefore, many of his tanks do not include live plants because he is trying to replicate their natural environment.
As mentioned earlier, Ted always keeps at least a pair of kribs on hand. Besides West African fish, Ted goes through phases with other types of fish, and describes himself as “fickle.” He varies their prominence in his fishroom based on what he likes most at the time. He has gone through phases with rainbowfish (he has 14 species), catfish, apistos, and even mouthbrooding bettas (although he no longer has them).
Unlike many other aquarists, he uses killies as one of his dither species, citing that it is a popular trend in Europe. However, he is worried about his fishroom becoming overrun with killies, which is why he only keeps two species around at any given time. “Killies are as addictive as candy,” he said, and he seems to be addicted—right now he is up to six species.
Ted said that although the setting up of the physical fishroom was a relatively recent occurrence, it is a culmination of his 30 years in the hobby, meaning that the experiences he has gained led to his ability to take care of such a large and complicated setup. “I have seen people start one aquarium, quickly move up to 10 or 15, get overwhelmed, and then drop out of the hobby,” he said. He recommends taking it slow, and added that if you are happy with one aquarium, then enjoy that one aquarium—there is no need to increase unless if you want to. “Let the hobby be fun,” he advises every beginning aquarist.
Ted prides himself on not pushing his hobby onto his kids. In fact, his older son, like his wife, is completely uninterested in the hobby. But now Ted has a partner-in-crime for his hobby, his seven-year-old son Matthew. Matthew keeps two aquariums in his room and has another 55-gallon in the house. Although Ted does much of the maintenance, Matthew likes to help and is attentive to each of his aquariums.
Like his father, Matthew went through phases with various types of fish, including guppies, blue gills, and others. Then, much to his father’s chagrin, Matthew has decided upon (and held steady with) African cichlids from Lake Malawi. Now Matthew even wants to visit the lake. “It’s fun to see him so into it,” Ted said.
Ted hopes to go back to Africa as soon as it is feasible. He also hopes to visit South America, Australia, New Guinea, and Asia to see distinctly different aquatic habitats. Ted wants to continue to write even more, and to speak regularly. He is looking forward to when the Milwaukee Aquarium Society hosts the 2010 ACA Convention, and says his time is almost entirely taken up by that now.