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Interview with Mike Hellweg

The “TFH Breeder’s Challenge” Champion and author of the book Culturing Live Foods was kind enough to participate in an interview on Monday May 23, 2011. He provided advice about fishkeeping and breeding techniques along with information about his own endeavors. For those of you who were unable to participate live, here is a transcript of Mike’s interview.

TFH Breeder's Challenge Champion Mike Hellweg

Crazygar: Before we begin the interview this evening, I would like to thank Mike Hellweg for being with us this evening. Mike has been on a busy tour circuit so I am sure he’ll enjoy not having to leave his house for this one!

Crazygar: This evening’s format will be slightly different as Mike has a few questions for us TFH Forum Staffers to answer, should be interesting…

Crazygar: Before I begin the interview, I would like to remind everyone about a few ground rules before proceeding:

Crazygar: 1) While the interview is in progress, I would like to ask everyone from refraining from popping in with a question or comment. Please write down your question, as we are having a small open forum at the end of the session.

Crazygar: 2) When the Open Forum begins, I will queue people on a first come first served basis. Remember, we only have a limited amount of time, so there can only be a limited amount of questions. If not all questions get answered, I am sure Mike will answer them via the PM system in time. Remember, like the rest of us, he has a life outside as well.

Crazygar: 3) Use the PRIVATE MESSAGE Command on the right hand side of your chat window to ask to be put in queue for a question, an updated list of “order” will sent (privately) as more participants increase.

Crazygar: 4) Please ensure its only ONE question. If there is time, you may have the opportunity to ask another one.

Crazygar: Now that the rules and welcomes are down, let’s begin…

Welcome to the TFH Forum Mike! It’s good to have you this evening. Are you ready?

MikeH: Ready to go!

Crazygar: Congrats on winning the Breeder’s Challenge! I thought Ted was going to be the winner! How did you feel after this was all over?

MikeH: After my slow start (compared to Ted’s lighting fast start) I thought Ted was going to win, too. When it was all over I was tired! I didn’t really realize how much work it was until the contest ended and I found myself with a lot of free time that I hadn’t had for much of the year of the contest.

MikeH: At the very end of the contest, after raising out the last of the fry and passing the breeders back to people who had loaned them to me, I actually let several tanks go empty for a few months. At one point, I had nearly 30 tanks that had no fish in them – a first for me!

Crazygar: Like I asked Ted, what was one species of fish that proved to be difficult during the year long contest?

MikeH: The one that proved to be the most challenging for me was the banjo cats – most likely the one I have is Dysichthys knerii. They dug out nests a few times, but I never got any eggs – at least none that I know of.

MikeH: Unfortunately, due to the volume of fish with which I was working, I really didn’t have time to sit in front of the tanks and just watch the fish, which is something I normally do on a daily basis.

Crazygar: Do you have any general advice for people wanting to breed fish?

MikeH: One of the most common things I run into is people asking how to breed a certain fish – usually something that is fairly challenging or even something that has never been bred in the hobby before. They keep asking questions, which is good, but then they never actually get around to working with the fish! They want every single thing to be perfect and ensure 100% success on the first try.

MikeH: It just doesn’t work that way. Each fish is an individual, and while I can tell you what they SHOULD do, only you can actually try to get your fish to spawn and find out what they WILL do. Instead of spending so much time trying to get everything perfect, try it. Get your hands wet.

Crazygar: The comradely between yourself and Ted is incredible. How did this all start?

MikeH: You read about my (and other breeders’) successes with spawning, but there are still plenty of failures. During the contest I had 169 successes. But I likely had 50 or more failures! The main difference is that I kept trying. So I would have to tell people who want to try their hand at breeding fish is to start with easy species, build up your confidence, then try something more challenging.

Crazygar: oops, my bad.

Crazygar: The comradely between yourself and Ted is incredible. How did this all start?

MikeH: No worries! I’ve known Ted for several years. I’m not even sure where we first met – I think it was at an ACA convention many years ago. Our fishkeeping philosophies are similar and we both like smaller fish, and we hit it off. We’ve been friends ever since. I’ve been up to visit him and talk to his club, and he’s been down to visit me and talk to my club. We actually planned out the Breeder’s Challenge in Ted’s kitchen while I was up there visiting.

Crazygar: You’ve done many articles, talks and even written a book. Did you have significant reason(s) behind writing Culturing Live Foods?

MikeH: There were several reasons. One of the most pressing to me was that THE live foods book by Charles Masters – the Encyclopedia of Live Foods, was thirty years old and really needed to be updated. Many of the food animals discussed had fallen out of favor with hobbyists, many new ones had appeared, and over the years many hobbyists had discovered new/easier protocols for culture than those in the Masters book.


MikeH: In addition, that book has become something of a “holy grail” of sorts. It is hard to find, and when it is offered for sale, it is really expensive. It was time for an update. I should mention that I still look up to Masters – I still consider his book an important and useful part of my aquatic library. David Boruchowitz was a huge help in getting the book going.

Crazygar: With Live Foods, what would you consider the most “gross” (I have to ask, I am sure a few of us are thinking this) and smelly of all them you have cultured?

MikeH: Smelly – that would have to be a culture of microworms that has gone bad. When I open a microworm culture that has gone bad in my basement fishroom, a few minutes later my wife will comment from upstairs something about the smell.

MikeH: As for all out gross, disgusting, etc. It would have to be houseflies, which I left out of the Culturing Live Foods book. I wanted to add them to the Raising Live Foods book I did for the TFH Complete Herp Care series, but when I went to the guy’s place that raises housefly maggots locally, I was almost knocked over by the overwhelming stench. No way was I even going to think about culturing them at home!

Crazygar: haha. What type of live food is the most time consuming of them all and why?

MikeH: I think that would have to be rotifers. First you have to culture the algae they eat and have that well-established, then you have to culture the rotifers. With their short lifespan, you can’t let up on the work, and you have to work with them pretty much every day.

Crazygar: With the wealth of information you’ve posted online regarding breeding fish, have you ever considered putting this into book format?

MikeH: Yes, I’ve actually got most of a breeding book written, but it appears to be a bad time in the publishing industry as publishers try to figure out the new electronic media and how that will affect traditional publishing.

MikeH: Personally, I’d still rather have a real book. 100 years from now someone can still go and pick up a copy of that book, search out the references, and find all of that. With electronic stuff, as time goes on and companies come and go, much of that, especially referenced material, will just disappear. There is a myth that once something is online it is there forever, but that isn’t necessarily true.

Crazygar: Your blog on TFH Magazine’s main website (​s/category/mike-hellweg/) is super informative. Have you ever considered putting this into book format as well? Diary of a Mad Aquarist comes to mind…

MikeH: Ha Ha! That is an interesting idea. I’ve read a couple of books like that, and all have been enjoyable reads. Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that.

Crazygar: One thing that comes directly to mind is that you generally work with smaller fishes (under 4”) as a general rule. Why is that?

MikeH: I’ve always been fascinated by miniature things. When I set up my first fishroom, it was in the second bedroom of a townhouse. I needed to have small tanks to keep the weight on the floor to a minimum, but still have more than one tank. So I had to keep small fish.

MikeH: Also, at one point I kept a really neat lungfish. As he grew, he became more and more aggressive. One day when I was cleaning his tank, he took a chunk out of my hand. That was enough. No big fish!

Crazygar: Ouch! That would do it for me as well. Out of all the fish that spawned, what was your favourite and why?

MikeH: The white cloud mountain minnow – Tanichthys albonubes. I’m not sure why, but I’ve just always liked them. I’ve had them many times over the years, and I still find just as much enjoyment of them now as I did 35 years ago when I discovered them for the first time.

Crazygar: On an average year, what do you think you spend on running your fishroom?

MikeH: My fishroom (100 + tanks) costs about $30 a month in electricity and about $10 a month in water and sewer costs. So it costs about $480 a year in utilities.

Crazygar: While I see that most of your experience is with Freshwater, have you ever ventured outside the realm of Freshwater and what type of tank was it?

MikeH: I mostly work with freshwater fish, but I have kept and bred a couple of species of seahorses over the years. I really like the diminutive Hippocampus zosterae. I would have done them during the contest, but I just never got around to them. I’ve also worked with several species of freshwater, brackish and marine pipefish.

Crazygar: Do you keep any aquariums that are mainly just for “show” only with no special intent in mind other than display?

MikeH: I’ve set up a couple of “show” tanks, but they quickly become working tanks. My wife has instructed me that at least the tank in the living room has to be a show tank. I set it up as an Amazon river tank with driftwood and a sand bottom, but it quickly became a breeding tank, too. It looks really cool, and most “fish people” who’ve seen it like it and know what it is immediately. Not the same for non-fish people who think it’s just a brown mess. I’ve promised her that it would become a “pretty” community tank, but I just haven’t had time to do that yet. One of these days…

Crazygar: I notice, like Ted, you do a lot of talks and conventions, how do you manage the time between family, work and fish?

MikeH: I try to limit my talks, and I no longer get to go to conventions unless I am speaking. Not because I don’t enjoy them, but just because I can’t justify the time. I’ve cut way back on the number of talks that I do, but I’m still gone 20 to 25 days a year on talks. But I’m getting better – it did get up to 50 days a few years ago! Maybe in another year or two I’ll have enough time to go to conventions again!

Crazygar: Of all your talks and conventions, what was the most memorable and why?

MikeH: They’re all memorable for one reason or another. I enjoy going to the Minnesota Aquarium Society because it is just an hour away (by air) and I have many friends up there.

MikeH: I loved Winnipeg and the snow that didn’t even phase the huge turnout…

MikeH: I love Chicago because I get to visit my friends at Shedd Aquarium, the first public aquarium I ever visited as a child. I still love going there.

MikeH: I enjoy the Salt Lake City club because we do all kinds of interesting things along with the talk – collect brine shrimp, go fossil hunting, etc.

MikeH: I enjoyed the Raleigh NC club’s annual show because we went collecting and I got to actually collect Banded Sunfish – one of my favorite North American native fish.

MikeH: There are many others and I enjoy them all. All are unique and I can’t really pick a “most memorable”.

Crazygar: On the issue of Aquarium Societies, can you define the importance of joining one or the usefulness of an Aquarium Society?

MikeH: Wow. To answer that in depth would take an entire hour all by itself! In short, there is the camaraderie of sharing your hobby with other enthusiasts. Unlike with online forums, you actually get to know local club members in person, and visit their fishrooms while getting to share yours with them.

MikeH: You don’t need to have a lot of fish or a lot of tanks to be active and have fun. Many of our club members only have a couple of tanks, and some of the most active long time members only have one! You have people that you can ask in person if you have questions or need help.

MikeH: We’ve helped club members build fishrooms, tear them down, move, etc. When someone is sick or traveling, there are people who can help care for fish or fishrooms. That’s a lot to ask of someone who doesn’t really know fish that well. Caring for 20 or 30 tanks isn’t that hard for someone who knows fishrooms already, but may overwhelm the casual pet sitter.

MikeH: Then there are other fun things – Swapping fish, plants and inverts; monthly programs; barbeques; dinners; raffles; mini-auctions; bowl shows; annual workshops; annual shows; competing for awards; club newsletters; having travel companions to visit other club’s events, conventions, public aquaria in other cities, etc. There are so many more!

Crazygar: Well said! Well said indeed. You have been in this hobby a long time, what do you consider the most technological breakthrough say in the last 20 years that has made fishkeeping all that easier?

MikeH: The number one invention has to be the Python No Spill Clean and Fill. It has made tank maintenance so easy that people have no reason not to do large, regular water changes.

Crazygar: Do you have any other hobbies other than Aquariums? Or Fish is where it’s at?

MikeH: Fish are my main hobby and take up most of my time, but yes, I have several. When I was young, a popular local radio host always said “never trust anyone who doesn’t have at least two hobbies”. I’ve always tried to live up to that.

MikeH: I collect books and have a few rare first editions going back to the mid-1800’s. I collect beer steins. I love Aroid plants (aquatic and terrestrial). I enjoy model trains (miniature scales – HO and N), and still occasionally build military models (WWII – ETO, 1/32 – 1/35 scale).

MikeH: I enjoy fossil hunting, fish collecting (in the wild – another benefit of club membership – having collecting buddies!), bird watching and used to be a fairly decent league bowler (236 average) until I broke my right middle finger several years ago.

Crazygar: Wow. Busy guy.

Crazygar: And now a different twist on things, Mike has some questions he’d like to ask us the TFH Forum Staffers regarding all things Aquarium, are you ready Mike?

MikeH: Ready if you are!

Crazygar: Ok, be gentle on us…

MikeH: The first question goes to Dutchman, the Mad Scientist of the TFH Forum Staffers. You have been working on a project regarding light in the Aquarium world, can you tell us about some of your findings?

Dutchman: I have collected emission spectra of fluorescent lights (and some LEDs) used in planted tanks. I have 44 spectra at the moment and I’m currently hunting for GE information. From these spectra you can derive various properties such as: Lumen, PAR, PUR, RED/BlUE ratio, and a rating which compares the tube’s spectrum to the solar spectrum. I also collect prices.

Dutchman: : Preliminary conclusions so far are: (1) Tubes with the best solar rating include the cheapest (±$6ea) but also the most expensive (±$35ea).

Dutchman: (2) It follows that there is little justification in buying expensive tubes, particularly if more than one tube per tank is required. In that case there are plenty of possibilities to combine different tubes with different spectra that complement each other to such an extent that the combination surpasses the performance of many “champion” tubes.

Dutchman: : (3) LEDs compare poorly to the solar spectrum, and they should not be used as a single light source. However, they are excellent at complementing sections of the spectrum of poorer fluorescent tubes.

MikeH: Thanks Dutchman, that is incredibly interesting and informative. Your research is posted here on the Forum correct?

Dutchman: Yes, and thanks Mike.

MikeH: The next question goes to Crazygar our Interviewer this evening. Gary, have you ever attempted live foods and why?

Crazygar: Yes we (Erin, aka Soul-Hugger my Girlfriend and Loach Hobbyist) have Mike. Unfortunately, all times were a disaster. Soul-Hugger and myself have attempted MicroWorms, African Red Earth Worms and Brine Shrimp.

Crazygar: Other than the Brine Shrimp, all were catastrophic failures due to one large factor: forgetfulness. We’ve discovered that live foods are unhappy about being forgotten about. The smell was unholy off the Microworms.

Crazygar: We were trying to alternate the diet of our fish and hoping that our Dicrossus filamentosa would breed. We’ve long since attempted less, time consuming and less difficult live food sources such as collection of insects and Gammarus pulex (Scuds here in Saskatchewan).

MikeH: Ha Ha! I know what you mean about the smell of a neglected microworm culture! You picked the easiest ones and still had trouble? Maybe you should ask the powers that be for a copy of my book!

MikeH: Just kidding… in all seriousness it might be best to focus on a single easy one, like microworms or brine shrimp, get that one down first, then try another instead of trying several at once. It’s just like fish keeping. Start out with one tank, get good at keeping it going, and add on from there.

Crazygar: As long as we don’t forget where we put it.

Crazygar: haha

Crazygar: Thanks Mike, this has been a good little twist on things. Your patience with me is commendable, you deserve a medal.. haha..

Crazygar: As we close on the end of the Interview, I would like to thank Mike Hellweg for taking the time to answer these questions that have been on our minds since the closure of the contest. I have one final question, and it’s totally random…. are you ready…?

MikeH: Okay…

Crazygar: (I can see you are worried) On the subject of Pickles (I love food), what is your favourite out of this list and why? (1) Dill Pickles (2) Pickled Onions (3) Pickled Hot Peppers?

MikeH: Dill pickles by far! Pickled onions in a martini, maybe. But hot peppers? Nah…

Crazygar: ROFL

Crazygar: I prefer pickled Onions, keeps people away…

MikeH: One of the ladies in my club makes great butter pickles…

Crazygar: On behalf of Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, the people whom have shown up for this event this evening, we’d like to thank you for your willingness to share and educate us in this wonderful hobby.

MikeH: Thank you Gary. And thanks to all of the folks at TFH for their support during the contest. We couldn’t have done it without you all. Especially, though I want to thank all of the readers of TFH. If you weren’t reading the magazine each month, none of this would have even been possible.

Crazygar: At this point, we’ll have an open Forum where you can ask Mike some questions in turn, please respect the question being asked by not typing until your turn. A transcript of this chat will be up shortly within the TFH Forum and TFH Magazine Website shortly. Thanks and Mike, I turn the floor to you for some questions. Remember, at 9pm (TFH Standard Time), the interview session concludes…

Crazygar: For line up, I have KJBhasRTS and FredO

Crazygar: KJB, you have a question for Mike?

freshfish: (to clarify for those who came in late, please pm crazygar here in the chat if you want to get in line to ask mike a question…)

KJBhasRTS: MIke I have been looking for Pipefish

KJBhasRTS: How did you get your original source for breeding

KJBhasRTS: and are live shrimp and young guppies a useful food source once they are adults. I also have daphnia?

MikeH: A few freshwater Asian species are available in the trade. For the American ones, I had to find someone in the area who would collect them.

KJBhasRTS: Oh and I liked your recent article on breeding them

MikeH: Young ghost shrimp and cherry shrimp are great for fresh and brackish species and aren’t too hard to culture. For marine species, mysis seem to work best.

MikeH: Young guppies might work with some of the larger species.

MikeH: Thanks! I hope you found it useful.

Crazygar: Thanks KJBhasRTS, your handle is hard to type… FredO has a question, after Scottfish…

Crazygar: FredO

FredO: I am a semi-retired General Surgeon and spend much of my free time in my fishroom (only seven tanks) with 100+ tanks Mike do you have a job outside of caring for your fish and writing about them? Thanks Fred

MikeH: Hi Fred. Fish have pretty much become my job. Another club member and I, after years of planning, are hoping to finally open a shop later this year…

Crazygar: Is that it Mike?

MikeH: I’ve also simplified care as much as possible…

MikeH: drilled tanks, overflows to drains, central fill system.

MikeH: And hiring my nephew to clean filters!

freshfish: lol

MikeH: That’s it Gary…

Crazygar: Ok, Scottfish (our resident Harasser of Forum Admins and Mods)…

ScottFish: I can’t believe you are going to make me ask Mike this. Okay, on a serious note: if you could be a fish, what fish would you be? (Thanks Gary.)

freshfish: ROFL

J.B.: lol

MikeH: Cute… I would be a seahorse.

Crazygar: Really?

J.B.: I’m curious…

freshfish: He wants to carry around babies.

Crazygar: Mike, can you elaborate on that?

MikeH: Yeah. I think they’re cool. And they’re not so easy to care for that it would be a challenge.

Crazygar: Good question Scottfish!

MikeH: Aside from the babies bit…

freshfish: hehehe

Crazygar: ROFL

ScottFish: I would be whatever eats otos (Gary’s favorite fish).

J.B.: are you saying you are somewhat “high-maintenance”, Mike…lol

MikeH: Actually, pretty laid back. Just like a seahorse. Mine actually figured out the currents in the tank and would just sit waiting for food to come by..

Crazygar: Ok, now we have N2Biomes up for a question (I gotta take a breath, laughing good over here)…

N2Biomes: Mike, how do you run you fishroom such that you have such a low electrical cost?

MikeH: My room is super insulated. I don’t need to use heaters at all. I also don’t use power filters. I just have a single Jehmco air pump running sponge filters in each tank.

MikeH: And florescent lights. single bulbs and now mostly CFL’s over each tank.

N2Biomes: That’s about how I run mine as well, I guess your electricity is less expensive than mine

MikeH: I do have a fan rigged up to a humidstat that pumps out the humid air. It’s a low wattage fan, too.

N2Biomes: My tanks are unlit, only daylight fluorescents on timers at ceiling level

MikeH: Yes, our electricity is about the lowest in the country – around 7 cents a KW hour.

N2Biomes: I do run a dehumidifier all the time, that’s what heats the room

MikeH: Humidifiers are pretty expensive to run.

MikeH: It’s good to use it as a heater, too.

N2Biomes: I run it at 50% now and 35% in winter.

Dutchman: llllllll

MikeH: I keep mine at 50% year round.

MikeH: Mold doesn’t start becoming a problem until around 60%.

Crazygar: Good question N2Biomes, as always a pleasure. Now we have my Girlfriend Soul-Hugger up to bat…

soul-hugger: Hello, Mike. We all know you like to write (I am a writer too but stick mostly to poetry) do you have any general advice for someone who might want to write about fish?

MikeH: Hi Erin. Sit and watch the fish. Take notes. Then write about your experiences. All of my articles cover first a bit about the fish’s history in the hobby, then my experiences with it. Then wait a few days and re-read it. Make changes. Wait again. Then, when you don’t make anymore changes, it’s good to go.

soul-hugger: Thanks, I think that is great advice. Not too much different really to the way I write poetry.

soul-hugger: Lots of patience involved, I think

MikeH: Except that you wouldn’t read my stuff outloud!

Crazygar: 1 Fish, 2 Fish.. wait that’s already been done.. Thanks Erin… Dr.Fred again…

MikeH: Yes, lots of patience.

Crazygar: FredO….

FredO: I observed Blue Gouramis breeding in a tank in my grade twelve biology class and became hooked on fish. Two summers working in a seed and pet shop and I had my tanks running. Mike how did you start in the hobby?

MikeH: With a goldfish when I was 3. My Mom let me go over to look at the fish at the drugstore. Back then drugstores sold fish, too. I’ve had fish ever since.

FredO: Nice start!!

Crazygar: Ok, 19ghost79 you are up….

19ghost79: Mike I have a group of 12 WC pterophyllum altum that are just over 2 years old. I am attempting to breed them. Any advice?

MikeH: Patience, a really big tank that is at least three feet deep (full grown altums are nearly 2 feet tall), lots of water changes with soft, acid water filtered over peat…

MikeH: And lots of live foods.

19ghost79: Diet?

19ghost79: pH is in the 4′s

19ghost79: tds is 50 or below

MikeH: I would feed them lots of things like cherry shrimp, small red worms, etc.

MikeH: Water parameters sound good. How big are they?

MikeH: And how big is your tank?

19ghost79: nose to the base of the tail – over 4 inches around 11 inches tall

19ghost79: They are crowded its a 120

MikeH: They’ve still got quite a bit of growing to do.

MikeH: And a 120 is way too small. A good excuse to buy a bigger tank!

19ghost79: I would like to be able to isolate a pair

19ghost79: A 120 should do fine right

MikeH: For a pair, yes. But in their current situation they might be too stressed to even think about spawning.

19ghost79: They fight alot. They do court and pick at the driftwood.

MikeH: The fighting is the problem. Not enough room…

MikeH: They are cichlids after all.

19ghost79: Thanks

Crazygar: Ok… Thanks 19ghost79, next up is Chris_Walker…

Crazygar: Chris, are you still here?

Chris_Walker: yep

Chris_Walker: Hi Mike…I enjoy reading your articles…I am a avid cichlid person now since 1977

MikeH: Thanks Chris!

MikeH: I keep a lot of dwarfs, and some Tangs and Victorians. I’ve just started keeping Mbuna…

Chris_Walker: One of the things that got me “hooked” was H. multispinosa breeding when I was a young teen

Chris_Walker: tangs and vics are some of my favs

MikeH: Yes, I enjoyed multis and even convicts when I was younger.

Chris_Walker: what was your first species to breen in one of your tanks and how old were you?

Chris_Walker: er to breed

MikeH: The first fish I remember spawning for me was the green swordtail. Zebra danios and others soon followed. My first cichlid was the angelfish.

Chris_Walker: do you take your own photos for most of your articles ?

MikeH: I take some of them. But Shari lets me know (very gently – by not publishing them!) that my photos aren’t really that good. I need to get a better camera setup.

Crazygar: haha

Chris_Walker: danios! that is pretty cool…angels are nice to expereince them spawning…I enjoy angels when spawning

Chris_Walker: Very cool…..thanks!!!!​ser/christopherwalker.html are photos of my fish…I would private message you but uncertain if i can

MikeH: I like the wild silvers the best. They’re hard to find now. I’ve got a nice group of wild Peruvians that are just starting to spawn now.

Crazygar: Thanks Chris. Now up is TFH Forum’s own Freshfish, the Moderator whom keeps us Admins in line…

freshfish: (tries, you mean…)

freshfish: Mike- what species of fish has been your biggest challenge ever, and what was the “trick” that finally worked for you with that fish?

MikeH: So far, Akysis vespa (or prashadi). I worked with them for almost a year before the contest, nothing. Then I gave up on them and they spawned. I discovered that baby cichlids that I was trying to raise for the contest turned out to be their ideal growth food!

freshfish: lol i had to google those- nice fish!

MikeH: Now that they’ve spawned, I keep finding little ones in the sand after I think the tank is empty…

Crazygar: Thanks Freshfish, and now JakeJ…

JakeJ: Hello Mike! I have a question concerning writing articles, specifically for magazines.

MikeH: Okay Jake. Fire away.

JakeJ: Do you have any tips for a younger author (me! I’m 14) for writing article and getting them submitted?

MikeH: Great to have you already writing for the hobby! The easiest thing is to write what you know. Write about your experiences – both good and bad.

JakeJ: The one I am currently working on right now is about a new type of freshwater planted aquarium known as riapriums (riparium being the singular).

MikeH: Then you can contact the editor directly and ask about submitting your article. Pictures help a lot, too.

JakeJ: Done and done! I have high quality pictures lined up, and I contacted the editor as my first step.

MikeH: Riparian tanks are becoming very popular. It is a good thing to write about something that is on the cutting edge. It gives you a better chance of getting published.

MikeH: Your already on your way, then. Good luck, and I look forward to reading your article!

J.B.: JakeJ…one of our younger “Mentors” here on the forum is Hudson T.Ensz and he’s written some articles for TFH Magazine. Perhaps you could Private Message him here in the forum and I’m sure he’d share some tips with you…from one young writer to another

JakeJ: Ok! Will do! Thanks much Mike and J.B.!

MikeH: Oops. Sorry. You’

MikeH: re on your way. Grammar…

tfh_shari: Hi Jake, please take a look at our submission guidelines on

MikeH: Shari’s the Editor, Jake.

Crazygar: Thanks JakeJ, now comes firefish423…

firefish423: so I have a 20 gal tank of 2 neolamprologus brevis and 2 jewel cichlids. Everything is going fine. Then the jewels breed. The jewels are showing normal behaviour. No more than usual aggression, and the brevis are fine.Then I come home from school one day to find the fry gone, the female nearly dead and the Male super agressive. I flush the female and male to avoid any damage 2 the brevis. Wat went wrong??? the BTW JakJ im 14 2!!! Didn’t realize there was anything else our age on the site

JakeJ: Yep! The second thing on my list!

firefish423: Good 2 know that there are a few younger hobbyists here 2.

MikeH: Nothing went wrong. The jewels and probably the brevis were both just doing what comes naturally. The male’s aggression is used to guard the perimeter, but sometimes in a tank there just isn’t enough room and his guarding instinct makes him try to drive any perceived threat, even his own mate, away.

MikeH: But it’s hard to know exactly what happened without actually having seen it.

MikeH: BTW, cichlids often eat their spawns if they are stressed.

firefish423: Got it. Thanks. Good 2 know it was entirely my fault. I had the lives a quite a few fishies on my mind. Thanks 4 the help!

MikeH: It’s usually best to keep pairs of cichlids in tanks by themselves. Sometimes you can use danios or hatchetfish as dithers to help keep up the pair bond.

Crazygar: Next up is jpguppy08…

firefish423: Got it.

jpguppy08: Hi Mike. I’m very interested in starting to breed Killifish, either annuals or nons. Do you have any specific species that you would recommend for beginners? I’ve only bred guppies and bettas as of now (I’m only 21 and in college, so I am lacking the room to do much more). I have tried Australe once, but no luck- it was a pair kept together. They always seemed to try but no young.

MikeH: It’s great to have all the young folks here tonight! I’d recommend you start out with one of the Fundulopanchax gardneri variants. You can usually find them online, through the American Killifish Association, or through local club auctions. They’re easy to breed and the fry are easy to raise.

MikeH: Australe are a bit more challenging – not usually the best to start with.

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jpguppy08: That was another species I was looking into. I saw the Australe at a club auction and thought I might as well give them a shot. Thanks!

MikeH: If you can raise young bettas, you can raise gardneri.

Crazygar: Thanks jpguppy08… …and Scottfish again…

ScottFish: Thanks. I seem to be the only person who can’t breed Blue Pearl Shrimp. I’ve had a dozen for 9 months in a stable planted 10 gal. species tank with good water numbers, but no little guys.

MikeH: May seem like a silly question, but did you have both sexes?

ScottFish: 12 –I like my chances.

MikeH: Yes, odds are almost 100%. But it’s the first question I always ask. You’d be surprised how many times the answer is no.

ScottFish: I know I’ve never seen any carrying eggs

MikeH: Are you feeding them or just letting them graze?

ScottFish: feeding them a variety of goodies

MikeH: Are you keeping them around or above 80? I’ve heard they don’t spawn when the water is too cool…

ScottFish: 76, I’ll raise it and play some romantic music tonight.

MikeH: The other thing to look at is the nitrogenous waste in the water. Especially this time of year, even tap water often has some nitrites or nitrates in the water from farm runoff.

ScottFish: I’ll double check the water numbers. Thanks.

Crazygar: Thanks Scott, and now I have a question to ask…

Crazygar: On the question of breeding fish, what have been your experiences with Dicrossus filamentosus? Erin and I have 8 and none seem “interested”. Should we play mood music to make things more romantic for them?

MikeH: Try Handel’s Water Music…

MikeH: Sorry Gary…

Crazygar: ROFL

ScottFish: (who is breeding the fish or Gary and Erin; sorry Erin)

MikeH: The usual questions> Do you have both sexes (males have a lyretail)? Are they old enough? Softer water? Plants – mine spawned on Anubias leaves.

Crazygar: We have 3 Males, 5 Females. No plants, we keep them in a Blackwater Biotope.

Crazygar: pH around 6.4, temp 80F

soul-hugger: ROFL, Scott

MikeH: I think in the wild they like to spawn on plants. Mine didn’t spawn in a driftwood only tank until I added some Anubias. They spawned within two days of my adding those. Not sure why. The rest of your water parameters sound fine.

freshfish: ya’ll know how old they are? I was thinking you guys just got them recently…?

MikeH: The males do get to be about 4 inches long, with females an inch or so shorter.

Crazygar: Really. Now that is interesting. I think they are about 6 months old. Not fully mature but lyretails are showing well.

MikeH: They may not yet be old enough.

soul-hugger: They are nowhere near that size yet. Still babies, I think.

Crazygar: Ok, might have to put on the mood music anyways

MikeH: Patience is a major factor. Mood music doesn’t hurt…

soul-hugger: Perhaps the plants will help, have to try that in the future.

MikeH: Another trick is to feed them worms. Worms always seem to help get fish in the mood.

Crazygar: Thanks Mike, and next up is KJBhasRTS….

KJBhasRTS: Ladies and Gentlemen Burt Bacharach

KJBhasRTS: Mike, have you ever tried to breed any Puffer species or know anyone who has?

MikeH: I’ve bred the little Carinotetraodon travancoricus. Also got eggs from lorteti. A guy in our club just did the arrowhead puffer.

KJBhasRTS: Wow, I wish I was closer to your club. Any secrets or tricks of the trade to deal with aggression beyond multiple tanks?

MikeH: Keeping pairs in large, well planted tanks seems to help. Also, feeding them constantly.

KJBhasRTS: Thank you Mike. I will try again with Fangs

MikeH: Give the male a place for a territory, and lots of places for the female to hide until they’re in the mood. Also, know that most puffers in the trade are babies and may take a year or more before they even think about spawning. It may be best to keep them apart until they’re sexually mature.

Crazygar: Does anyone else have a question for Mike?

Crazygar: I think Erin has one…

Crazygar: hold on folks…

soul-hugger: On aesthetics: we all have fish we find either “interesting” or “beautiful”. Which fish do you find most beautiful, and why?

MikeH: I think the most stunning fish that I have ever seen is a wild type male green sailfin molly courting a female in the sunlight. The colors are unbelievable. It looks like they were painted on. And the way he carries himself – with fins fully flared and bending to catch the sunlight as if to say “look at me” – and I do.

soul-hugger: Wonderful things become visible in the sunlight… that seems to be the case for our Western Rainbowfish, who show their best colours in the morning when a thin beam of sunlight finds its way to the tank…

soul-hugger: Thanks, Mike

MikeH: Rainbows in the sunlight are stunning, too.

soul-hugger: I tend to like fish with streamlined bodies.

Crazygar: Ok, next is JB… you are up buddy…

J.B.: Mike, you said earlier, you keep/kept some Tanganyikan species

MikeH: Yes. Mostly smaller ones.

J.B.: I’ve currently got a 125g Tang community with several species in it to include N. sexfasciatus ‘gold’

MikeH: Sounds nice!

J.B.: they’ve been doing a lot of mouth-fighting lately, and I’m wondering if you’ve any experience with them

MikeH: I haven’t kept sexfasciatus specifically, but in general cichlid mouth fighting is a way of testing strength between same sex fish and a way of measuring a potential mate in mixed sex fish.

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J.B.: I’m almost positive I’ve two females and two males…one of the females has claimed a spot under some rocks and the two males have been doing the fighting thing right above it for about a month now

MikeH: Are the fish similar sized? I think that is the best way to sex sexfasciatus – males are larger and females smaller.

J.B.: yes two are smaller and two are quite a bit more stout

MikeH: Males are supposed to be pretty territorial once they reach maturity. That might be what you are seeing.

J.B.: the one smaller one stays to the other side of the tank

MikeH: The female they are “fighting” over may have reached maturity and they are looking to mate. You might want to remove one of the males and see what happens.

J.B.: I’m curious if the presence of the tankmates might be the problem keeping them from spawning…they are the largest species in the tank though

MikeH: The others might be keeping them from spawning, but they do have to compete in the wild. And maybe the distractions will keep the males from killing one another.

MikeH: I would be willing to bet they are just getting ready to spawn, and the two males reached maturity with the female at the same time, so they’re just having to settle a few things before they can get down to mating.

J.B.: the other species are A. calvus, A. compressiceps, N. brichardi, N. leleupi, S. petricola and J. marlieri…they are all well balanced and there is no real aggression in the tank

J.B.: I hope so

J.B.: Thanks for the confirmation!

MikeH: The petricola would be the only ones to watch for disruption. They like to get into places they aren’t welcome. Once you have fry, watch the others.

Crazygar: And our final question goes to discusfishies….

Crazygar: Discusfishies, you are up…

discusfishies: Cool, has anyone ever heard of using a willow branch for clearing up green water?

MikeH: You mean just putting some cuttings from a willow tree in the water?

discusfishies: Yea I’ve heard it sprouts roots, sucks up all the nutrients and outcompetes the algae

discusfishies: I’m going through green water outbrake that’s why

MikeH: I’ve not heard of folks using willow trees, but you can do something similar with Philodendrons, Irises, and other plants.

MikeH: Irises especially really suck up the nutrients from the water.

MikeH: To use the irises you put the plants in a small net breeder. They soak up the nutrients as they grow.

discusfishies: Do you have any suggestions for preventing green water?

discusfishies: Cool maybe I’ll check that out thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!

MikeH: The easiest way to remove green water is to filter it out with a diatom filter. Then do a couple of water changes to get the nutrient level down in the tank. Next you have to figure out where the nutrients come from…

discusfishies: My tanks by a window but I can’t move it

MikeH: Discusfishies – do you have a background on the tank?

MikeH: I use contact paper…

discusfishies: No but I looking

freshfish: discusfishies- have you ever hooked up the timer for your light or is that still on all day?

Crazygar: Thanks all!

FredO: Thanks Mike and Gary!!!! Events like this fuel my enthusiasm for the hobby.

ilroost: thanks mike, learned alot

freshfish: Thanks very much Mike!! A very enjoyable evening.

Crazygar: Mike, you’ve been a great sport (especially put up with us TFH Forum Staff.) I would like to thank all whom attended this evening with the live chat with Mike Hellweg. I hope it’s been as informative as I have found it and I am glad you all made the effort to attend. Thanks and a good and safe evening to all.

Eupterus: Thanks for coming MikeH, sorry I didn’t know or I’d have come earlier.

MikeH: Thanks all! Great questions. If you have more, you can PM me and maybe I can figure that out over the next few days…

freshfish: *mails Gary some more eggs as a thank you present*

ScottFish: Same time, same place, next month?

J.B.: You’ve done a lot for the hobby, Mike and we all appreciate it! Thanks for your time

Crazygar: No more eggs!

freshfish: hehehe

discusfishies: Thanks this is soo cool!

Crazygar: Mike, thanks, this was a truly great interview! Like Ted, you were a great Interviewee! If you wish to remain, you are free to do so, but I am afraid I have dinner to make and if I don’t eat, I am going to eat our fish…

ScottFish: Gary, Erin, now about that breeding program…….

Eupterus: OH no!…lol

Crazygar: Thanks all, and have a wonderful evening! Scott, you are an evil man.

MikeH: I’ll have to head out, too. Thanks again everyone.

freshfish: nite gar

Crazygar: Bye Mike!

freshfish: nite Mike and thanks again

Eupterus: Bummer.

jpguppy08: Thanks all!

soul-hugger: Thanks, Mike, it was nice chatting with you

Crazygar: Have a safe and good evening everyone! Good night.


Posted May 25th, 2011.

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Live Interview with Cichlid World Columnist Ted Judy

By Gary MacDonald

On Saturday, March 12th, 2011, Ted Judy participated in the first Online Interview we’ve had in a few years. Needless to say, Ted has given some stellar information and been a great Interviewee. Once again, thanks a lot Ted, you were great! We enjoyed your questions to us at the end of the Interview. We had 24 people attend the event which gave everyone an opportunity to ask Ted questions.
The following is a transcript of the event. Enjoy…

Crazygar: Before we begin the interview this evening, I would like to thank Ted Judy for taking time out of his busy schedule to be with us this evening. There were a few moments of utter confusion but we managed to get this organized. Before I begin the interrogation.. err.. interview, I would like to remind everyone about a few ground rules before proceeding:

Crazygar: 1) While the interview is in progress, I would like to ask everyone from refraining from popping in with a question. Please write down your question, as we are having a small open forum at the end of the session.

Crazygar: 2) When the Open Forum begins, I will post questions on a first come first served basis. Remember, we only have a limited amount of time, so there can only be a limited amount of questions. If not all questions get answered, I am sure Ted will answer them via the PM system in time. Remember, like the rest of us, he has a life outside as well.

Crazygar: Now that the rules and welcomes are down, let’s begin…

Crazygar: Ted, firstly, we are all impressed with your efforts in the Breeder’s Challenge that ran last year. I was so sure you were going to win. Did you and Mike have any side bets that we were not aware of?

Crazygar: You need to send the response Ted. Haha.

Crazygar: ROFL.

freshfish: we having technical difficulties?

Pasionis: taking the 5th?

tjudy: Just a second folks. We are indeed having a technical moment.

Crazygar: Ok, I will send out the first response while Ted goes to find the questions…

Crazygar: No. I think that the competition itself was challenging enough. Before we started, Mike and I talked about what we thought it would take to win. We both thought that the winner would breed about 60 species. Once we both surpassed that number, I think that we were both just overwhelmed with what we are accomplishing to do anything more than just keep up the momentum

tjudy: No. I think that the competition itself was challenging enough. Before we started, Mike and I talked about what we thought it would take to win. We both thought that the winner would breed about 60 species. Once we both surpassed that number, I think that we were both just overwhelmed with what we are accomplishing to do anything more than just keep up the momentum

tjudy: LOL

Crazygar: ROFL

Crazygar: Ok, folks, I swear, it’s been a long time. Sorry Ted.

Crazygar: Ok, now that we are in sync…

tjudy: OK… sorry about that everyone.

Crazygar: Ted, you are very active in the hobby. How did this all start and can you point to the defining moment in your life which brought you to this level today?

tjudy: I started pretty young, but my hobby as a pre-teen was limited to what I could catch in the local streams. Aquariums were just receptacles for tadpoles, minnows, crayfish and snakes. To my mother’s chagrin. I started keeping tropical fish in middle school, and breeding purposefully in high school. I started working in stores in college. The club influence started when I was living in Louisville in the very early 1990’s. The turning point for me was getting out of retail. Until then I did not keep fish purely as a hobby. There was always a profit motive. Once that was no longer a part of the equation I started to enjoy keeping fish a lot more.

Crazygar: During your year-long list of fish successes, was there any species of fish that you so wanted to include into the challenge but never had the time?

tjudy: There were some that I did not have time enough. Pangio myersi, the giant kuhli loach, were laying eggs that was not able to get to hatch. I have since managed to get a few. I also have a few cichlids I purchased during the contest that I ran out of time on.

Crazygar: With all the fish that both yourself and Mike have bred, what have you done with the excessive amounts? I sure a year’s worth of Breeding would over run even the largest of homes and fishrooms.

tjudy: The secret was not to try to raise too many. The contest required five fry 30 days old. My local clubs are five fry to 45 days old. I would spawn pairs instead of groups (for tetras and barbs) to get smaller numbers of eggs, and with cichlids I would only pull 15 fry from the parents to raise. My local clubs got some of the fry as BAP submissions. I also donated a lot of fish to the clubs I presented talks to. Everything else I did not intend to keep went to club auctions or were given away to friends.

Crazygar: Who approached Mike and yourself about this challenge? What was your first reaction to it? Or was this an effort between Mike and yourself for TFH to chronicle?

tjudy: The whole contest was my idea. I came up with it after Mike visited my home and we ranted on and on about the sorry state of fish breeding in the hobby. I thought that a contest between Mike and I would be a good way to promote breeding. I approached David B about the idea, and he liked it; so it ended up in TFH. Had TFH not published the series it would have ended up on my blog, but TFH’s involvement is what made the project such a success.

Crazygar: Many of us here keep more than one Aquarium. While they are mainly show tanks, we each put a considerable amount of time into their upkeep. Breeding fish on this scale must have required a massive amount of time. How much time did you spend daily on this challenge?

tjudy: When you keep a lot of tanks you learn pretty quick how to service them efficiently. Breeding and fry tanks are not as hard to keep up as show tanks… which are intended to look good. A bare tank with a sponge filter and a mop does not need more than 5 minutes a week to do a water change. During the contest I spent about an hour each day, minimum, in the fish room. I would also spend a couple 3-4 hour sessions ‘down in the hole’ (as my wife would say) a couple times a week. But it is a joy to do it… I have a fish room so I can hang out in it.

Crazygar: What was the one species of fish that presented a particular challenge during this competition?

tjudy: Ok… I have to know what a ‘compeudderion’ is… LOL

tjudy: I would say Pangio myersi, again, but I never had any illusions that it would be easy to breed. For some reason I had a hard time with gouramies. I worked with at least a dozen species/varieties, but was only successful with a few.

Crazygar: Ok, the word filter that I tweaked is, well, too efficient. Bear with us folks! ROFL

aclockworkorange: :D

freshfish: ROFL at our word filter

Crazygar: What was your favourite fish during this whole competition and why?

tjudy: That is a tough one. It is hard to pick a single species. Some of the fish I bred I am still breeding, most I am not. I think I enjoyed the cory catfish the most, because I had not bred many of them before the contest

freshfish: [substitute "contest" for that "other" word]

Hurriken: Pangio myersi

Crazygar: If you were to do this all again, what would you have done differently to help improve your last set of results?

tjudy: Tank you Hurriken

tjudy: I would have to find a better source of new species. Towards the end of the contest I was having a hard time finding breeding stock of fish that I had not already spawned for the contest. I could have doubled my rate if I doubled my spawning rack… more 2.5 and 10-gallon tanks. But without new species to spawn the expanded space would be moot

tjudy: LOL… the filter is substituting the word ‘udder’ into those words…ROFL

Crazygar: During all your and Mike’s efforts, can you slate the one technological improvement say in the last 10 years that has helped accomplish this task?

tjudy: The only ‘new’ technology I have adopted recently is the foam matten filter. A solid wall of porous foam at one end of the tank. This is a HUGE biological filter. It is not really a new idea though… it is a big sponge filter. Live foods are not new technology either. R/O water? Maybe that is one of the big differences. But I often wonder why hobbyists were breeding fish 50 years ago that we have a hard time doing now… and they did it without R/O machines. So I do not think that R/O water is the key factor to breeding success.

Crazygar: Your efforts were exhausting to us readers. I can only imagine how frustrating and stressful things must have got sometime. What do you do to relax?

Crazygar: Hold on folks, I believe Ted is experiencing some Technical Difficulties…

tjudy: I find keeping fish very relaxing. Outside of fish keeping, I pretty much dedicate my time to family stuff. We are very much into soccer. All of us play (even me still) and my boys are developing into pretty good players. I enjoy coaching them, plus we ref as a family too.

Crazygar: You’ve written many articles on your website (

) to help other’s start up their own Fish Rooms. In your opinion, what are the three most important things to consider when starting one up?

tjudy: Temperature/humidity control… poor planning on these factors will cost you in money, as well as causing damage to your home. Electricity… if you are an electrician, hire one. Electricity is expensive and dangerous. A well-wired room saves money and prevents accidents. Time management… if you do not have 6+ hours a week to dedicate to a fish room, do not build a big one.

tjudy: If you are NOT an electriction… is what is should read

tjudy: 152

Crazygar: Ted, you are a part of many different Clubs, Forums and Associations. Can you tell us your favorite one and why?

freshfish: [please hold off on comments/questions till after the interview is over]

tjudy: Actually, I am active in only a very few. We have two local clubs: the Madison Area Aquatic Hobbyists, which I help to found about two years ago, and the Milwaukee Aquarium Society. Nationally, I am a member of the ACA. I have to draw the line somewhere, and I drew it at paying for club memberships. I would love to be able to afford to be a member of all the national clubs. I worked it out once… if I joined all that I am interested in my annual dues would be about $400. I cannot afford that. Forums… my favourite forum is

. I own it (now) and have been active on it since 2002. I used to be active on many forums, but I set a time one day and figured out that my daily forum involvement was costing me 4-5 hours a day. Too much… so I stopped.

Crazygar: On your recent trip to Gabon in Africa, did you find anything interesting?

tjudy: Lot’s! We found freshwater pipefish hundreds of kilometres from the ocean in water with very low conductivity and pH 5.0…. with babies! So much for the idea that freshwater pipes need salt water to breed. Gabon is killifish-central. We collected several species. We also found five species of Parananochromis cichlids. The only disappointment was not locating Chromidotilapia mrac

Crazygar: Those Pipefish sound interesting…How much preparation and planning did this collecting trip take? What things did you plan to experience in preparation for the trip and what unexpected surprises popped up?

tjudy: This was my second trip, but I still took too much luggage. Logistically, we could have done better. We had a large group and only one vehicle. That was the biggest challenge. When we go back we will have at least two cars

Crazygar: How many different locations have you collected in and what was the scariest moment you encountered during these trips?

tjudy: Locations? Many per trip. I have been to Cameroon and Gabon. The scariest moment was when our overloaded 12 passenger van (with 11 people and all our luggage) went off the road at 1:00 in the morning after 16 hours of travel… with one driver.

Crazygar: Wow…I see you are trying to recreate a Gabon-Style biotope at home. Do you have any tanks are just display only and how many? Can you list gallonage and type?

tjudy: To me, a display tank is where you keep fish that you are growing up to spawn or are not currently spawning. I have 110-gallon tank with Paretroplus keineri and some other small cichlids, some barbs and a couple large west African spiny eels. I also have a 40-breeder with a pair of Hemichromis cf. lifili (sp. Moanda) and a bunch of tetras. Is it really a display tank? It is on the bottom of a rack, but it is planted and I leave it alone…

Crazygar: Can you describe a Gabon-Style biotope?

tjudy: Black water, low pH and low conductivity. True aquatic plants are very rare. We only saw a couple crinum here and there. Some habitats were rocky, others were muddy. All had sunken wood. Slow water had lots of sunken leaves, which is important habitat for small fish. Tetras and barbs were present in large numbers. Shrimp are everywhere! Many types of Macrobrachium sp. and something like an Asian Caradinia species. If there were cichlids present there were usually very few killifish, and vice versa.

Crazygar: I see you are involved with the ACA. What things have you learned and gained from this Association to one of the most impressive Clubs in the World?

tjudy: I have learned that the ACA is run by regular people. We have jobs, a hobby and families to manage. Running an organization like the ACA takes some time, but it is really not much of a burden. What I get out it is a great group of friends. Some of my best friends in the world I met through helping out with the ACA. I an also a part of something that supports the hobby and science in a very tangible way. That is very important to me.

Crazygar: Were any of the Cichlids bred during this competition donated to the ACA?

tjudy: A lot of them ended up in some of the display tanks at the 2010 convention and then donated for auction. I had a community of Lake Malawi cichlids that had all bred for me, so I moved them out and restocked with fish purchased at the convention

Crazygar: You are involved with the Species Preservation Program (C.A.R.E.S.

) that Claudia Dickinson started up. In your own words, what is the biggest personal reward participating in this has brought you?

tjudy: I am not all that active in CARES. There is only so much time in a week. I do keep a few CARES species, however, and I champion the conservation cause whenever I can. My motivation for keeping CARES species is selfish… I like the fish and want to be able to have access to them. So I dedicate some space to the long term maintenance of a few species, and hopefully other people are keeping other species. Someday we can trade!

Crazygar: Now that the Breeder’s Challenge is over and you have started writing for the Cichlid World column, what would you like people to know about it?

tjudy: When I started with the Cichlid World column (thank you TFH!), I looked around the fish room and realized that I had fewer cichlids than I thought I did. When I remodelled the fish room last Summer I added some larger tanks and obtained some new colonies of cichlids to work with. I took on the project thinking that I would tell the story of my ‘rediscovery’ of cichlids. For example, until last summer it had been nearly 15 years since I had kept a cichlid from Lake Tanganyika, and 25 years since having Oscars. I have tangs and Oscars now, and am enjoying them a lot.

Crazygar: Ted, you have some announcements you’d like to make before finishing this interview, the floor is yours to do so,

tjudy: [color=red]I want to plug a few events happening this year and encourage people to attend. Mike Hellweg and I will be presenting our team-talk on the Breeder’s Challenge at three shows this year: The North East Council Convention (March 25-27), the Minnesota Aquarium Society show (April 9-10) and at the Circle City Aquarium Society Fall workshop (Indianapolis, Sept. 24-25). Mike and I have decided that we will do talks about the contest only when we can be together, which means the presentation will be rare. Thank you to these clubs for making it possible for Mike and I to be at the same event. The ACA’s annual convention is being hosted by the Capital Cichlid Association in Washington D. C. the week of July 21-24. This event is the life blood of the ACA, and every year thousands of dollars are raised at the convention that support the ACA’s conservation projects. Plus it is an absolute blast with great speakers, a huge show, tons of vendors and lots and lots of fish to buy. Don’t miss it!
The Federation of Texas

tjudy: The Federation of Texas Aquarium Societies is holding the first ever CARES convention in conjunction with their annual show. It is being hosted by the Hill Country Cichlid Association in San Antonio the weekend of November 4-6. The speaker line up is STELLAR… including some experts in the field of freshwater ichthyology and conservation who rarely give presentations at aquarium society events. This is an important event, especially in these times when people in our government want to label our hobby as a danger to our environment. We need to show that we truly care about conservation issues. Attending the FOTAS show in November will help send that message.

tjudy: No.. that last paste was too long.

Crazygar: ROFL

Crazygar: 1040 character limit my friend.

Crazygar: Should have remembered that as well.. getting forgetful in my age.

Crazygar: As we close on the end of the Interview, I would like to thank Ted Judy for taking the time to answer these questions that have been burning in our minds since the closure of the contest and joining the Writing Staff at TFH. I have one final question, and it’s totally random, are you ready?

tjudy: sure

Crazygar: Ok, when doing up your pants, do you button then zip or zip then button?

tjudy: button fly….

freshfish: [i knew it was going to be something like that]

Crazygar: ROFL

Crazygar: Thanks Freshy

Crazygar: Though I often forget the Zip part…

tjudy: … that or a kilt

Crazygar: ….oh Ted has been talking to Freshfish…

freshfish: LOL

Crazygar: On behalf of Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, the people whom have shown up for this event this evening, we’d like to thank you for your dedication and furtherance of this hobby. Your efforts and dedication to the hobby are truly inspiring Ted.

tjudy: Thank you, and you are welcome

Crazygar: At this point, we’ll have an open Forum where you can ask Ted some questions in turn, please respect the question being asked by not typing until your turn. A transcript of this chat will be up shortly within the TFH Forum and TFH Magazine Website shortly. Thanks and Ted, I turn the floor to you for some questions. Remember, at 7pm (TFH Standard Time), the interview session concludes…Bettababy, you are first up…

2rivers: Ill be addin more leaves and branches to my killi tanks. thanx Ted

Chris_Walker: cool….ted…can I ask you one?

tjudy: Bettababy asked a question about angels earlier… coupd you post it agian please BettaBaby?

bettababy: i just have my original questions about spawning angelfish that i asked earlier

tjudy: You are next Chris

bettababy: yes, let me scroll back

bettababy: i have 2 pairs of spawning angelfish, still have not “gotten it right” over the past yr they’ve been spawning… have had free swimmers twice but the parent fish continue to eat the fry, any suggestions? also, any idea of cause of premature hatching of angelfish eggs?

tjudy: Preamature hatching… what is it you are seeing that indicates that the fry are premature?

bettababy: hatching within 24 hrs of eggs being laid, fry not moving around much

bettababy: and of course parents eating them right away

aclockworkorange: I would also like to ask a question… is there some sort of system for “getting in line?”

Crazygar: Chris is next then yourself.

Chris_Walker: cool

tjudy: Maybe the temperature is too high. When I was raising a lot of angels I would keep the temps in the 73-75 range. As far as the parents eating the fry goes… they may be inexperienced, or there is somethign wrong with the fry

tjudy: Bad genetics maybe.

bettababy: temp ranges from 74 – 76

tjudy: I would try artificially rasing fry once to see if they do ok. If they do, then the problem is the parents.

bettababy: ok, tyvm

Crazygar: Thanks Bettababy, Chris…

bettababy: i am waiting for the new wigglers to go free swimming before taking them

tjudy: You can remove them while they are eggs and place them over a bubbler. THey will hatch just fine if they are healthy

Chris_Walker: Ted….if you do not mind me asking. What is the tank count in your fish room and would it be imposing on asking how much your monthly electric bill in…I am in western NY and have a 45 tank fish room…most are 55g and 125g tanks with a few 75g and 90g…do you have heaters in all of your tanks?

Chris_Walker: bill is..correction

Chris_Walker: … alker.html

here are photos of my fish (proud of them)

Chris_Walker: but the electric cost is killing me

tjudy: I have 62 aquariums in my fish room, and a few more around the house. My electrical bill is manageable, but I do not know what portion belongs to the fish room. I set it up when we bought the house, so I have no baseline.

Hurriken: Do you do anything to try saving money in this area?

Crazygar: Ok next question goes to Aclockworkorange then ILuvMyGoldBarb… Thanks Chris.

Chris_Walker: I just saw your article on your page regarding electric management….I have not read it yet but …thanks for answering

Chris_Walker: and i will check it out…hope ti learn something from your exp..

aclockworkorange: Ted, I know you are very well known for your large collection of fish and tanks… but if for some reason you could only keep one or two tanks on a hobbyist level, what would size would they be and what would you stock them with?

Crazygar: Nice one…

tjudy: I heat the room rather than the tanks, and reduce evaporation as much as possible. I also leave teh lights off a lot. It was pointed out to me a couple days ago by a very good and meticulous aquarist that the cost of energy is about $1 per watt per year if the item is running 100% of the time. So a 100 watt linear piston pump costs about $100/year to run.

Chris_Walker: awesome info…thanks!

tjudy: One or two tanks… hmm… Both would be large, at least 135 gallons. One would be a SA community planted tank, and the other a semi-aggressive West Africa tank with cichlids, catfish and tatras.

aclockworkorange: Any particular species?

Hurriken: place me in line Gary

SeattleJD: I would like to ask a question as well, if Ted has time

tjudy: SA tank would have apistos and corydoras for sure. Probably lots of various tetras. WA woudl have Pelvicachromis of some sort, a peaceful red jewel and as many different tetras as I can find.

tjudy: We have at least an hour.

Crazygar: Thanks Aclockworkorange. Next is ILuvMyGoldBarb and then Hurriken!

Crazygar: ROFL

ILuvMyGoldBarb: Ted, with your great success in spawning FW species, have you ever considered trying your hand at spawning some marine species such as the Dwarf Angels?

tjudy: Back in the late 80′s I was breeding three clownfish and yellow-headed jawfish. I would like to get back into marine tanks, but I know if I do I will go crazy with all the options. Especially with corals. Someday….

ILuvMyGoldBarb: It would be great for the hobby. With the number of species being captive bred now it sure would help. do you currently keep any marine tanks?

tjudy: Not at the moment, but they are in the plans for the near future. Probably August

ILuvMyGoldBarb: Very nice.

ILuvMyGoldBarb: Thanks for your time

Crazygar: Thanks ILuvMyGoldBarb (your name is hard to type…) now we have Hurriken!

Hurriken: one sec

freshfish: one

Hurriken: Cyprochromis Leptosoma: I do quite well breeding them but from time to time I end up killing of some. It is always right after a water change and I can’t figure out why. I will change the water ten times and the eleventh they will die. I have gone to smaller water changes and try to match water temp. But I’m still nervous when I clean the tanks. Any advice here?

tjudy: Do you add salts after a water change?

tjudy: Are you filling from the tap?

Hurriken: Never use salt

Hurriken: always tap and I add Prime

Hurriken: It always seems to be the yellow tails too

freshfish: [out of several different species mixed in the tank, right Ken?]

tjudy: Ok… water chemistry is a tricky thing. Whenever two waters of different chemistry are mixed there is a period of time when some of the chemical reactions that are occurring produce temporary toxins. Cyps are, in my experience, very sensitive to minute changes. Tap water changes too… water companies do wierd unexpected things. What I do is run all my tap through prefilters….

Hurriken: It is a community but the Cyps seem much more sensitive

tjudy: I use filter canisters designed for filtering tap water for drinking that I buy at a Home Depot or equivalent…

tjudy: I put four inline from the tap…

tjudy: The first two have sediment filters… 5 micron and then 1 micron…

Chris_Walker: hmm..less stress observed?

tjudy: The next two have carbon filters….. 10 micron and then 5 micron…

tjudy: I do not use dechlorinator and do slow water changes.

freshfish: how often do you have to change the carbon?

tjudy: I have some cyps and paracyps and have not had a problem. But I have in the past, which is why I went to the prefiltered tap water system

tjudy: I change the carbon every other month.

Hurriken: OK can I ask one more?

Crazygar: Dure

tjudy: I just use the cartidges I can buy at Home Depot

Crazygar: Sure

Hurriken: I will look into that.

ScottFish: one

Hurriken: I fell in love with Cyps when I saw how they breed. Are there any species that “caught you off guard” with their breeding habits?

tjudy: WARNING… if you use this system the water in the canisters will get funky between uses. Always run the tap into a sink for a few minutes first.

Hurriken: noted

ILuvMyGoldBarb: can I get another one in?

Crazygar: Hold on please, Ted is not done answering this question. After you may have your turn

aclockworkorange: Well since we’re all asking to get more questions in…

tjudy: I have had a few species that I could not find anything about that I had to figure out how to breed… but most species there is info out there. As far as Tanganyikans go, I once kept Gnathochromis for years without any breeding…. until I gave them a cave!

SeattleJD: i’m still in line too, right, Crazygar?

tjudy: next…

Hurriken: It’s funny how that happens! It took me 5 years until my A. Comps spawned.

Crazygar: GB…

Hurriken: Thanks Ted

ILuvMyGoldBarb: While I mostly have salt in my veins, I do still have a bit of the FW bug. Is there anything that would be a good breeding project in a 2.5gal Natural planted tank?

tjudy: Betta coccina or B. rutilans would be cool. The spawn in floating caves. I use film canisters on their side. Really choke the tank with plants and use R/O water.

Crazygar: Thanks, and now Aclockworkorange…

ILuvMyGoldBarb: thanks.

ScottFish: (Seattle JD is next Gary)

tjudy: Another cool fish, if you can locate some, are the Danionella species. Smallest vertebraes in the world, and will self populate a planted tank.

N2Biomes: May I please get in line too?

freshfish: smelt- we’re in the middle of a question/answer with Ted Judy- if you’d like to get in line to ask a question, we’re taking turns

aclockworkorange: I know you regularly deal with new species to the hobby… is there anything especially exciting that has become available recently you are particularly excited about? Either through your own collecting or just in general?

aclockworkorange: I said excited twice…

freshfish: [seattle hang on, we'll get your question in here soon]

tjudy: I am really excited about the Enaecampus ansorgii, freshwater pipefish, I brought back from Gabon. They have been around before, but are not commercially exported. The freshwater pipe that Mike Hellweg has bred is a different species with much smaller fry. Two of the males I collected were gravid, and released healthy fry. And they were large enough to eat brine….

aclockworkorange: So they breed like saltwater seahorses?

tjudy: I hope I will be able to spawn the adults, and get the species established in the hobby. It is really cool. THere is a video blob that shows them on

tjudy: Yes, pipefgish and seahroses are in the same family

aclockworkorange: Yes, I knew that, but never thought that about pipefish breeding though… I have seen one species available locally. Thanks.

Crazygar: Now that is interesting! Thanks Aclockworkorange! Good question… Next is Seattle.. hopefully he`s not sleepless…

ScottFish: (yuck)

SeattleJD: Still awake, but not sleepless. ;-) Ted, you said earlier that you were enjoying fishkeeping more now that you were not involved in the retail side. Is your current job completely unrelated to tropical fish? Or are you earning some/all of your income through tropical fish-related work (just not the retail side)?

tjudy: I am a kept man… I was a teacher for 13 years, then quit when we moved here. I keep the house. My fishroom does not really pay for itself. Thanks to TFH I can cover some of the bills by writing, and on a rare occasion I will sell some fish. Very rare. Usually I give them away to clubs that host me as a speaker. Every now and then a company will use my photos for a product label and pay me well, but I think that they are just being nice to me for helping them out with some free consulting.

N2Biomes: Ted, have you ever bred plecos, or whiptail cats, or oddballs such as gobies/gudgeons?

N2Biomes: sorry….

Crazygar: Thanks ok..

SeattleJD: Thanks, Ted. I appreciate your taking the time for this chat!

Crazygar: Thanks, and now N2Biomes…

bettababy: can i get in line again plz?

N2Biomes: Well, I was too quick on the trigger LOL

Crazygar: You are up N2Biomes…

tjudy: Some of all those, many of none. Unfortunately, I do not have the resources to purchase expensive fish, so L-number plecos are rarely in my fish room. I have bred a few whiptails. Severa’ gobies/gudgeons though… they are fun to work with.

N2Biomes: I’ve been having fun with them, have some gobie and whippie spawns

tjudy: Other oddballs I like to work with are loaches, eels and ctenopoma

N2Biomes: and I’m always looking for more experienced breeders’ info

tjudy: I have bred AFrican butterflies a few times (Pantodon buccholzi)… fun fish

N2Biomes: Thanks Ted

Crazygar: Thank you N2Biomes for that question. Does anyone have any other questions

aclockworkorange: Um, I could come up with a few

tjudy: I think Bettababy asked for another question

Crazygar: Ok, Bettababy…

bettababy: yes, i did, thank u… what can u suggest for someone to outlet the spawns when someone beats them to the local market? i don’t have any local fish clubs to work with and am swamped with 500+ geophagus fry right now

bettababy: and the parents have a new spawn about to hatch this week…

tjudy: That is a tough question. One of the hardest things to do is find homes for fish, especially if the species is not something that the mainstream consumer is going to buy…

bettababy: these are geophagus iporangensis, not common to this area til recently

tjudy: THere are are few species that will always move well in any well-populated area… angels, cories, bristle-nose plecos….

tjudy: Rare fish, like you Geos, have a very specialized market, and there is just not much demand.

bettababy: i gave up on some of those when i got stuck with 300+ mollies all of a sudden

tjudy: My advice is A) learn to ship fish… that expands your market. THere are places in the USA with none of that species, and they want them.

bettababy: what would you do with them?

bettababy: i know “how” to ship, but with shipping rates so high, i am struggling to find buyers who can afford shipping costs

bettababy: is there a trick to cheap shipping?

tjudy: Be willing to take a much lower price and try to sell them to a wholesaler…

tjudy: C ) Reduce the amount you raise. Let the fry stay with the parents… forever. That will slow them down.

bettababy: not sure how to find contact info for the local wholesalers, i thought of that a month ago, lol

tjudy: Shipping is prety easy.. cheap it is not. Buyer pays shipping though

bettababy: my tanks aren’t big enough for 500+ fry to stay with the parents

bettababy: i had expected the parents to eat at least some of them… but that didn’t work out so well

tjudy: Not all of the fry will survive… that is the point. You can also keep the pair in a community and have a few fry predators in there

Crazygar: Ok, Bettababy, I wish to clear the floor to make room for other questions. Please and thank you.

bettababy: sorry, and thank u

tjudy: Large tetras, barbs and catfish are very good at eating fry

Crazygar: No problem.

aclockworkorange: So my turn again?

Crazygar: Yes

aclockworkorange: I know you have ties with and are obviously a fan of dwarf SA cichlids… I’m currently keeping some myself and am really enjoying them. What are some of your favorite species and why? (don’t necessarily have to belong to the Apistogramma genus)

aclockworkorange: (as I’m typing this I’m watching my Dicrossus maculatus male and Laetacara dorsigera male flare at each other a bit, good stuff!)

tjudy: Dwarf is a relative term… I like West African dwarves, mainly Pelvicachromis species. Currently I am keeping three species, four types total. I used to have 25 species/varieties in my fish room. From SA, I like the A. njisseni group

aclockworkorange: I am actually keeping a pair of A. nijsseni right now, female is stunning and they have great personality… very fiesty! Thanks.

tjudy: FYI… I own… but I took it over just to keep it going. My wife says it is my favorite charity

aclockworkorange: Yes, I thought that was the case but didn’t know 100%… could I ask another quick question about breeding?

Crazygar: Sure

tjudy: ok with me

Crazygar: rofl

tjudy: Then I have some questions if you are all willing to humor me…

Crazygar: Sure that works, 20min mark right now.

aclockworkorange: I recently spawned my Corydoras sp. C121s and have about two dozen fry growing out in a 20 gallon tank… Any solid food I feed has a tendency to “fungus” over on the substrate. Any tips for feeding if I’m not using something like hatched brine shrimp to avoid this?

aclockworkorange: And I’m really not overfeeding, it’s just a small amount but they are still quite small… a few weeks old.

tjudy: Feed less… if the fish are eating, and food is spoiling, then there is too much food. If the fish are not eating the food, find a different food.

aclockworkorange: Yes, I suppose it’s just learning a balance, as I don’t want them to go hungry and I don’t want to overfeed… thanks for all your answers.

Crazygar: Is that it, as Ted wishes to ask us some questions. Thanks!

tjudy: If the fish are not eating it all, then there is too much food. It is a tough balance. The food has to have a enough density for the fish to find it, but little enough not to go to waste….

tjudy: Live foods help. I like microworms and grindal worms for cory babies.

tjudy: They will live a long time on the bottom…

tjudy: If that is not possible, confine the fry into a smaller space so it is easier for them to find the food. You will need to do more water changes.

aclockworkorange: Thank you for your response… please don’t spend any more time on me I’m interested to hear your questions!

tjudy: OK… Please respond with a :D if there is a general (meaning non specialized… like a killie or cichlid only) aquarium club in your area.

aclockworkorange: :D

Crazygar: :D

djtrfish: :D

ScottFish: :D

ilroost: :D

SeattleJD: :D

N2Biomes: :D

vman: :D

smelt1234: :D

Chris_Walker: :D

bettababy: seeing all those smiles makes me jealous, wish there was one closer to me, lol

FredO: :D

Crazygar: FredO and I share the same Club.

ChatBot: Online Users: AQUASAUR, AlgaeBeater, BillTee, Chris_Walker, Cpt_NAPA, Crazygar, FredO, Hurriken,ILuvMyGoldBarb, N2Biomes, Pasionis, ScottFish, SeattleJD, TFH_Blake, aclockworkorange, bettababy, djtrfish, freshfish, ilroost, smelt1234,tfh_shari, tjudy, twfish, vman

Crazygar: Next question Ted…

tjudy: Even if you are not a member of that club, I would like to know if there is one nearby you…

aclockworkorange: Greater Portland Aquarium Society for me… You should come visit! I believe our city also has the largest freshwater wholesale fish operation on the west coast with The Cichlid Exchange/The Wet Spot!

ScottFish: nothing near by me

bettababy: me either

tjudy: Anyone adding a :D ?

N2Biomes: Would you like to know our club names?

tjudy: Yes, but for what I am doing here it is not necessary… please bear with me.

tjudy: I count 11 . Of those 11, please respond with a  if you are a member of that club.

Crazygar: :D

N2Biomes: :D

djtrfish: :D

ilroost: :D

SeattleJD: :D

FredO: :D

smelt1234: :D

Chris_Walker: i know have the members but I am not one….

Chris_Walker: er half the members

Cpt_NAPA: I haven’t found an aquarium society around sw ohio short of cinncinati. It would be nice to find a club/society around Dayton ohio

tjudy: Ok… so of the 24 people in chat (including me), 11 (just less than 50%) have a club near them. Of those 11, seven (just over 50%) are members…

tjudy: So I would like to hear from the four of you who have a club near you and you are not a member. Why not? One reason is all I need. This is not a guilt trip, it is sincere market research. I talk to clubs a LOT, and we are constantly trying to figure out what attracts, or does not attract, members..

tjudy: Cpt_NAPA… how close are you to the GCAS?

aclockworkorange: Mine meets once a month at a time I cannot attend… I am a member of another active fish website (don’t know if we are “allowed to mention the name) and we have our own meetups frequently in town and help each other set up tanks and trade fish.

tjudy: aclockworkorange… that is what I think is the most common reason people are not members of clubs… the schedule of the meeting.

vman: mainly a time issue

Chris_Walker: meetings are a 25 mile drive for me….yes agree

aclockworkorange: Also, I think some of the “politics” (just from talking to other local fish keepers) of our particular club has put some people off from it… very “clique-y”

aclockworkorange: but I have not personally experienced that

Chris_Walker: the time is takes to drive 2 and from…would be as long as the meeting is

tjudy: 25 miles!!!! I drive 110 for Milwaukee A. S.

tjudy: But that is a personal choice…. and I am doing less of it with the current gas prices.

Chris_Walker: and you have more tanks!…I will get off my but

tjudy: THere is an auction tomorow and I am not going

Cpt_NAPA: back in the late 1970′s I was the president of the Stanaslaus Aquarium society that met in Modesto Calif. I am currently in Piqua Ohio and it is about 60 miles from where thw GCAS meets.

N2Biomes: If I may ask, why not start a more local club?

Hurriken: I live in Elgin, IL, The GCCA is nearby! I am so fortunate

bettababy: how to start a club in a small town without a lot of fish people?

vman: ok aclockworkorange since you said that the politics are a problem in my area too …

Crazygar: I would like to thank all whom attended this evening with the live chat with Ted Judy. I hope it’s been as informative as I have found it and I am glad you all made the effort to attend. Thanks and a good and safe evening to all. I see things are continuing, as long as Ted wishes. Thanks again for a wonderful evening. Ted, you`ve been a great test subject.

ilroost: thank you sir i learned alot

tjudy: aclockworkorange… I hear you. Clubs can get that way

bettababy: thank you ted and crazygar for putting up with me, lol… lots of great info ted!

Hurriken: Thanks Ted.

tjudy: I a ok for a while.. not dinner time yet

SeattleJD: yes, thanks again, Ted

N2Biomes: Thanks, Ted and TFH for a great evening

Hurriken: Don’t thank gar his head will swell up

tjudy: Starting a club….

aclockworkorange: Really enjoyed this afternoon! Thanks so much

bettababy: thats ok as long as it doesn’t explode

vman: Thanks Ted & TFH !

tjudy: A club can be large or small. Some of the best I have been involved with meet in people

tjudy: meet in homes once a month just to chat and socialize

bettababy: how to find local fish friends in a small town full of “strangers”?

tjudy: You are all welcome…. thank you Gary and TFH for organizing the event

tjudy: Do you have a pet shop?

bettababy: hahaha, i wouldn’t quite call it that

aclockworkorange: One of the most enjoyable and unexpected parts of this hobby has been meeting other people that are involved, either through sales and trades on craigslist or other community websites

bettababy: more a dirty little hole in the wall with 10 tanks and no fish knowledge

Crazygar: Not a problem, it was a little awkward at first, but I things progressed nicely.

aclockworkorange: stuff like that

Chris_Walker: this is great!…thanks folks for settign it up

ScottFish: Hope everyone continues to visit our Forum!

tjudy: aclockworkorange…. I used to live in a small town of 300 people. There were 25 aquariums in town, and 20 of them were mine. The other five people got teir tanks from me…

N2Biomes: you could try to start a local online fish forum

Hurriken: I love meeting fish people. My non-fish friends think I’m nuts

aclockworkorange: I moved from california to portland last summer, and met what is now my best friend up here through fishkeeping. If you aren’t involved with other local hobbyists I think you could be missing out on a very enjoyable aspect of this hobby

bettababy: hurriken my non fish friends “tolerate” me, lol

Cpt_NAPA: I got in late but thanks I went to my new LFS today and purchased staples and a new glass top to try to keep them profitable. Anyone around Piqua Ohio that is intrested in fish give me a pm.

tjudy: Portland has a LOT of aquarists!

Hurriken: Hey Ted, have you ever brought an unsuspecting non-fish person into your fish room? I’d love to see the reaction.

Crazygar: I unfortunately have to leave. But before I do, I would once again like to thank you all for showing up! I appreciate the support you`ve shown Ted tonight. Blake and Shari, thanks for the quick action to my slow reaction. Next time… Good night all.

tjudy: One of the best stores too!

N2Biomes: nite, crazygar and TYFM

tjudy: Hurriken… they come over all the time. Lots of local friends and their kids.

Hurriken: Bye Gary

tjudy: Thanks Gary

Crazygar: Your welcome, good evening.

—Transcript end. There was a lively discussion well after I left, and if requested, I can post it as well. Thanks again!


Posted March 16th, 2011.

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The Heat and Humidity of Summer

By Mike Hellweg

One of the unexpected problems that I encountered during this year-long contest was temperature control in the fishroom. My fishroom has been up and running for nearly 15 years, so this year’s temperature fluctuations in the summer were a bit of a surprise. When I built my fishroom in the mid-1990s, building code required that I seal the room with thick plastic on the inside of the insulation before installing wall board. This created a nice, warm box which is perfect for fish for most of the year, and it keeps humidity in the room from escaping to the rest of the house.

The bare concrete floor serves as a heat sink that helps hold heat in the fishroom, slowly releasing it in the cooler evenings to keep temperatures fairly constant. I have the room on our home’s central air and heating system, which also helps to maintain a fairly constant temperature in the upper 70s throughout the year, except during the heat of summer, when temperatures may creep up into the 80s for a few days during hot spells.

This past summer was just a bit warmer than normal—okay, it was a good ole’ fashioned three-H (hazy, hot, and humid) St. Louis summer. We experienced temperatures in the 90s or low 100s for much of the summer, with an average temperature about 5° above normal. This, coupled with the fact that it did not cool off too much in the evening, allowed heat to slowly accumulate in my fishroom in spite of air conditioning. Some days even the cold water coming out of the tap was in the mid-80s! By the end of July, temperatures in my fishroom were in the mid-80s, and the upper row of tanks had reached 85°. There were a few days in early August when temperatures in the upper tanks got up near 90. The apistos and a few bubblenest building anabantoids absolutely loved it, and fry grew quickly, but most of the fish just sat and looked at each other for several weeks during the height of the heat spell. It wasn’t until late August that things finally cooled off and the fish started thinking about spawning again.

Another problem could have been humidity, which would make everything worse as far as I was concerned, but I addressed that problem during construction so humidity would not come back to haunt me. As I researched my construction plan, I heard horror stories about mold traveling all over the house from a poorly constructed fishroom. I was determined not to deal with mold. This was before we knew that mold was also a hazard to health, so as the character Barney Fife would say, I “nipped it in the bud.”

First off, I built my fishroom walls an inch away from the outside walls to allow a path for air circulation around the fishroom. To control insects that might find this area comfy, I covered the floor of this airway and the edges of the foundation above it with a layer of diatomaceous earth. The boards themselves were treated with a solution of boric acid. The sill around the fishroom is up off the concrete, separated by specialized sill insulation, and I sealed around the baseboards with clear silicone caulk to keep any water spills in the fishroom. So far this has worked well.

After insulating the room walls and ceiling, I installed the vapor barrier and the wall board. For the ceiling I added an insulated drop ceiling designed for wet locations—it is essentially a thick, rigid fiberglass board with an acoustic, water resistant cover on the inside. This has worked exceptionally well for both sound insulation and temperature insulation. When I’m working in my fishroom it is nice and relaxingly quiet. I can’t even hear the phone ring! All of the tanks are covered to slow evaporation and control humidity further.

I installed a simple bath fan designed to move the entire volume of air in my fishroom every four minutes. This is controlled by a humidistat set to 50 percent humidity. Mold grows above 55 percent humidity, so this has kept the room comfortable and mold free for 15 plus years.

An exhaust fan helps keep the humidity in Mike's fishroom below 50 percent.

 It pumps the air outside via a dryer vent, and a couple of years ago I added an extra nylon (metal can rust) damper to the exhaust vent line to keep cold air from backing up into the fishroom during a power outage. The fishroom door has a slightly larger opening underneath, and one above that allow for fresh air from the rest of the house to be drawn into the fishroom when the fan is running. A nice, simple design that keeps humidity under control, but even with air conditioning it can’t quite control the heat when there is just too darn much of it during the heat of summer. I’ll keep working on that…

Posted January 19th, 2011.

1 comment

Mini Filters and Lasagna Containers

By Mike Hellweg

A completed mini filter in a lasagna container.

Necessity is the mother of invention, as the proverb goes. When I began using a large number of lasagna containers for newly hatched fry, I needed something to hold an airstone in place. They really don’t need filtration as I do an almost 100 percent water change every day, but still, insurance is a good thing and since I was using an airstone anyway, why not use a filter to hold the end down in the shallow water?

I couldn’t find a commercial design that would work in the very shallow trays, so I tried several homemade designs that others have used over the years, especially fellow killifish hobbyists since they use lots of small containers. After a few failed attempts I started looking at other things I had available in my fishy parts bin, which is full of all kinds of accumulated bits and pieces. I also started looking through my fishroom closet, which has shelves of accumulated filter parts, chemicals, and other things that I used at one point but no longer use. I keep these around, just in case.

I noticed that I had a large bag of sponge filter cores from my friend Ray “Kingfish” Lucas, which he gave me a few years ago. I used some of them, cut in half, to fill the overflows in my tanks to keep small fish from going down the drain. They fit perfectly in ¾-inch PVC fittings. That got me thinking…

I came up with a simple design made of ¾-inch PVC. It takes a tee, a 90° elbow, a U-bend piece of rigid airline tubing, and a small plastic airstone, along with two halves of the sponge filter core.

Using ¾-inch PVC, a tee, a 90° elbow, a U-bend piece of rigid airline tubing, and a small plastic airstone, along with two halves of the sponge filter core, you can create a mini filter.

Drill a small hole in the outside bend of the elbow just big enough to tightly wedge the U-bend rigid tubing through it. I cut one end of the bend about halfway down, too, so that it doesn’t stick out of the elbow for better flow. I cut the soft plastic airstone in half, and insert it over the inner part of the U-bend tubing. The elbow then goes onto the center fitting of the tee, and the sponge filter cores go in either end.

The airstone installed in the mini filter.

Add a bit of fine gravel from an established tank to the inside of the tee, and there you have a perfectly weighted, seasoned tiny filter that will provide circulation and filtration in a 2-inch deep lasagna tray without causing any harm to the young fish.

The lasagna containers that I use are the disposable containers made by several large container manufacturers and sold in the kitchen gadget area of major retailers. They are approximately 10 x 13 x 2½ inches and hold about a gallon and a quarter or so. They have about the same surface area as a 5 gallon tank. They are lightweight, easily cleaned, and have snap on lids so they can be stacked, allowing you to keep a lot of fry in a small area.

They are easy to work with and easy to move, so I can stack them on a shelf in the fishroom all day, and simply move them to the counter next to the sink for water changes and fry feeding. They are perfect for hatching eggs and for newly free swimming fry. I put them on a shelf up high in the room as it is warmest there (around 78° to 80° most of the year) and the fry generally grow more quickly in warmer water. The small size keeps the fry close to their food so they can spend all of their energy in growing for that first crucial week to 10 days. After this, they are gently moved to 5 or 10 gallon tanks and converted over to brine shrimp and microworms.

Posted January 5th, 2011.

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By Mike Hellweg

Over the past few years, as I’ve been visiting various clubs and getting to see other’s fishrooms, I’ve come across a “new” type of filter. They are easy to make, easy to use, and require little maintenance (all things I really like!). Apparently they’ve been popular for many years in Europe, appearing in the 1960s in Hamburg, Germany. The Germans call them Mättenfilters. When they migrated to other countries, this became “Hamburg filter” or simply “wall filter.” A few years ago, Stephan Tanner of Columbus, Ohio started importing the special rigid foam material  to make them from Europe and selling it. It’s a bit different from sponge filter foam in that it is in sheets, it is able to stand upright, and water flows directly through it. He also came up with a great design that works very well and is very easy to make. At this point I believe he is the sole distributor in the USA.

A mattenfilter.

Essentially, the filter becomes one of the short walls of the tank. This works really well in a fishroom setup when tanks are set up end on and one side becomes the back of the tank. These filters essentially disappear, as they are the entire back of the tank. The coarse foam material is also excellent for plants like Java moss, Java fern and Anubias to attach themselves and form a sort of living background. Behind the wall filter is a small area about ¾ to one inch or so in depth. This forms an in-tank settlement well where detritus can collect and be siphoned off. It also works as a great place to put the heater so it is out of the way. This is also where most of my overflows are located, hiding them and preventing even young fish from going over the wall. They give a clean, neat appearance to the entire tank, and make it very easy to catch fish when the time comes as there is no filter, heater or overflow fitting for them to hide around.

The parts needed to create a mattenfilter.

Essentially all you do is cut the foam to the dimensions of the tank, just a hair oversize so it fits snugly. This can be done with a straightedge and a sharp knife. Then cut a small hole in the center near the top (some folks cut a notch right at the top). This is where the return flow pipe will go. The return pipe simply consists of a length of PVC pipe, a 90° elbow, a piece of fiberglass soffit screen material (larger than window screen so it doesn’t clog over time), and a zip tie to hold the soffit screen piece to the end of the pipe. This keeps overly zealous fish from swimming down the pipe into the back area of the tank (loaches and danios especially LOVE to do this). On the plus side, this is where I’ve found baby Myer’s kuhli loaches Pangio myersi on a couple of occasions, including right at the end of the Breeder’s Challenge. It’s a nice safe place full of food.

Drill a hole in the rigid foam and place netting over it to prevent fish from swimming through.

Anyway, getting back to construction—drill a small hole in the top of the elbow to allow a piece of airline tubing to fit through it, and add an airstone in the uplift part of the tube. This will create a gentle current moving water from one end of the tank through the filter to the other end. The filter will become covered with nitrifying bacteria, but the flow will be slow enough that the filter won’t become clogged with detritus, needing to be cleaned regularly.

Drill a hole in the PVC pipe for the airline tubing.

Stephan says they just need to be rinsed once a year, but so far I’ve had some going as long as 18 months and they have yet to need anything but a rotation of the airstone as it clogs and flow slows down. To clean the tanks, all I do is move a HOT filter from tank to tank once a month. Of course, water changes are also simplified as all I need to do is run water to the tank and it flows out the overflow and down the drain.

Posted December 8th, 2010.


Infusoria, an Instant Live Food

By Mike Hellweg

Throughout this challenge I have had many successful spawns from egglayersanabantoids, tetras, rasboras, barbs, danios, etc.  All of these fish produce large numbers of tiny fry.  These fry require tiny foods as first foods.  While there are many excellent commercial fry foods available, not all fry recognize these as food and some will starve to death surrounded by what we think is the perfect food.  For this reason, among many others, I prefer to use live foods.

Infusoria, a type of live food, can be easily cultured in plastic jars.

Just as with brine shrimp and microworms, I have had to step up production for the challenge.  In the past, I’ve maintained pure cultures of paramecia for first foods for egglayer fry, but these can be hit and miss unless they are maintained regularly, and they can be too large for some fry.  For the contest, in order to produce a large enough quantity of tiny food on a regular basis and not create too large an amount of work, I decided to go back to what I used in the old daysinfusoria.

Infusoria is not a specific type of animal, but rather a soup consisting of all kinds of one-celled and miniature multi-celled animals such as free floating algae, motile algae, ciliates of all kinds, rotifers, and more.  It will vary from culture to culture, depending on the dominant life forms in your tanks.  One of the great things about infusoria is that there will be a variety of critters of differing sizes and with different movement so that just about any type of fry will find something that it recognizes as food and can eat.

There are as many ways to culture infusoria as there are hobbyists who culture it.  The following method works for me.  I’ve used it for many years.  I also asked several friends to try it while I was writing my live foods book just to be sure it would work for them, too.

Steps to Culture Infusoria

Start with a clean, sterilized jar.  For the challenge I’ve been using quart sized peanut butter jars, as I have access to a large number of them.  You can use anything up to a gallon sized pickle jar.  Larger cultures are unwieldy and unnecessary.  I start a new culture (or two) every day, depending on how many spawns I think I will have to feed.  You can feed several small spawns or one large spawn from each culture jar.  Fill the jar with water from a healthy, well established (preferably planted) aquarium.  Some hobbyists use plain dechlorinated water, others use boiled water, but I’ve found that water from a healthy tank really gets the culture going quickly.

I add a couple of grains of boiled white rice.  Boiling starts the breakdown of the cellular structure and helps to get bacterial activity off to a good start.  You can use anything vegetable from rice to wheat to peas, potatoes, turnips or whatever you have available.  Within hours, bacteria will begin to decompose this food source, and the animals in the water will begin to feast on the bacterial bloom and reproduce.  These will become the food for our baby fish.

Grains of rice can be added to a new infusoria culture to serve as a food source.

Depending on your particular culture animals, jars can be ready for harvest in just two to three days, or take a week or more.  You can harvest as soon as you can see a grayish swarming cloud in the water column.  Use a baster to suck water and critters from the middle of this grayish swarm.  This can be squirted into a larger container such as a catch cup and from here be fed to baby fish, or squirt the baster directly into the fry container.  Within a few hours you will see that all of the fry have bulging bellies as they are feeding.  I feed the fry twice a day.  Some breeders will simply dump water from the culture into the fry tank, but I prefer to have a bit more control and use the baster.

A week-old infusoria culture that is ready to harvest to feed to fish.

After a week to ten days the culture will begin to smell pretty nasty.  For this reason, and to ensure domestic tranquility (the “alluring” scents from an infusoria culture on the edge of going bad have a tendency to seek out the one person in the household who finds them the most repugnant), I only harvest from each culture jar one time.  I remove as many infusorians as possible, then clean and sterilize the culture jar and start a new culture with new rice grains, water, and a squirt of the infusorians from the old culture.  Set aside a baster full of the animals and use it to inoculate a new culture container to give that a head start.

After a week or so of feeding infusoria, I will begin to mix in newly hatched brine shrimp and microworms.  When I see that all of the fry have bright pink to orange bellies from feeding on the shrimp, I discontinue using infusoria.

Posted November 18th, 2010.


Baby Brine Shrimp and Microworms

By Mike Hellweg
I feed newly hatched brine shrimp (Artemia nauplii) to my fish every day, and have done so for more than 30 years. It is one of my keys to success in raising large numbers of fry. During this contest, I have had to increase my production considerably. I’ve moved from using two 2-liter hatchers to using 3-liter ones. I’ve increased the production per hatcher from one teaspoon to one half tablespoon per day per hatcher—more than double the production. Instead of going through a one-pound can every 48 days or so, I’ve been going through one every three weeks! One thing I would like to note here is that during the year, several of us in my local aquarium club made the mistake of buying from one supplier that only puts 14 oz in a “one pound” can for about the same price as others sell a full pound – that was really noticeable. Lesson learned – always check to make sure it is a full pound that you are paying for!

My hatch procedure is exactly the same as I’ve used for decades—it’s simple and it works. Like many of you, I like to experiment and I’ve tried other “better mixtures” and always have found that my simple procedure works best for me. Some people like to go through the extra step of decapsulating, but I’ve found that an unnecessary step. They argue that the nauplii use up a lot of energy in hatching. It is true that the nauplii do use up some energy, but it is such a small amount that a single fry need only eat one more nauplius to more than make up the difference. Since they’re each eating dozens to hundreds per feeding, one more nauplius or one less doesn’t really make a lot of difference in the overall scheme of things, negating this argument. So in my opinion it’s whether or not you want to go the extra step. I just don’t think the extra effort is worth it for the miniscule payback. What is important is to feed the newly hatched shrimp to your fish as soon after hatching as possible. Never let your hatched shrimp sit for more than 5 or 6 hours post hatch. I set mine up to harvest at the 24 hour point. This makes sure almost all of the eggs that are going to hatch have had time to hatch, and even the earliest ones to hatch haven’t been out of the shell for more than a few hours.

Nauplii in a catch cup ready to feed

Nauplii in a catch cup ready to feed brine shrimp

In a 2-liter brine shrimp hatcher add two tablespoons of plain table salt (iodized or not—it makes no difference—growing fish need iodide in their diet just like humans do, and contrary to internet rumor passed along as “fact,” the miniscule amount that would get into the aquarium with the brine shrimp is harmless), a tablespoon of plain Epsom salts, and up to a half tablespoon of eggs. Add plain cool chlorinated tap water, no need to dechlorinate. Then add one to three drops of plain bleach. Cover the container and add aeration – just enough to keep everything swirling in suspension. Let it run for 24 hours at 78° to 80°F. No more. Turn off the aeration and let it settle for 15 minutes. I use a small nightlight next to the hatcher to attract the nauplii to one point in the container to make harvest easier.

I run a siphon from the hatcher to a plankton sieve in the sink (a permanent coffee filter would work just as well). The hatch water goes down the drain. I never reuse it. Reusing the hatch water is a false economy. Sniff it. Would you feed that to your fish? Why try to grow food in that stinky mess? It is full of bacteria which compete with the newly hatched nauplii for oxygen. It is also full of waste products from decaying dead shrimp, and, if nothing else, it takes several extra minutes to clean out the unhatched (or dead) eggs and hatched egg shells. By the time you do this, you could have rinsed out the old container and re-set it with new water. Cost of salt and Epsom salts is negligible. Over the course of a year, it runs to less than $10 for all of the eggs I’m hatching. Why reuse it?

I then rinse the nauplii under a slow flow of cold tap water and rinse them into a catch cup (the kind shops use when they catch your fish). I can hook this on the tanks as I move around the fishroom and feed the fish. I feed with a small turkey baster. That’s all there is to it!

I also feed a lot of microworms. The ones I’m using during the contest are known locally as “banana worms”. There are also microworms, mikroworms, Walter worms, potato worms, and likely others as well. All are small nematodes less than an eighth inch or so at maturity. I believe all are livebearers, but I’m not 100 percent sure about that. All are cultured in the same way. I’ve tried a lot of the methods for culturing them (over 40 different methods when I wrote my first book a few years ago) and found this to be simple, reliable, and able to produce all of the worms I’ll ever need. Others argue their chosen medium is best. They’re right. Whatever works best for you is what you should use.

I use quart sized containers with a 6 x 3 inch bottom and 2 inch high sides. They come with sandwich meat from the deli. I add enough mixed baby cereal to cover the bottom to a quarter inch in depth and mix in a quarter teaspoon or so of yeast. I then add enough dechlorinated water to make the whole mix mushy but not quite wet, and add a starter culture of banana worms. I cover it with the lid that comes with it and put it in my live food cabinet in my fishroom. I poke about 100 pin holes in the cover. This allows oxygen exchange without allowing other critters into the culture. Within five or six days the sides are covered with worms and the culture is ready to harvest. I swipe my finger around the sides and remove all of the worms that I can. I then rinse this into a catch cup. I dip my finger into the medium of the culture a couple of times and add this to the catch cup as well. It is now ready to feed my fish. I feed with a small turkey baster, just as with my brine shrimp.

Differences in the various Nematodes:
Microworms and Mikroworms (This is a trade name and may represent a different, closely related species. They are sold desiccated and must have water added to reactivate them and get them going.) They reproduce relatively slowly and are just a bit larger, relatively speaking. They are also a bit more slender. They sink quickly in the water column and are great for young catfish, cichlids, tetras, cyprinids, and Anabantoids that spend their time near the bottom.
Banana worms reproduce extremely quickly and will get production up quickly if you need a lot of nematodes fast. They also seem to sink pretty quickly and are great foods for all of the above fish fry.
Walter worms are a bit thicker and just a bit shorter than microworms. This makes them sink quite a bit more slowly in the water column and makes them great food for surface and mid water feeders like many killies and livebearers. They will also reach the bottom and can be used for all of the same fish as microworms.
Potato worms may or may not be another nematode species. They are cultured on potato flakes. I’ve never cultured them or used them as food so I cannot comment on their culture method or distribution method in the water column.

Posted November 2nd, 2010.

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An Easier Fishroom

By Ted Judy

With so many tanks in his fishroom, Ted needs to be able to spend less time doing water changes.

When people visit my fishroom one of the questions that usually comes up is how I find the time to maintain more than 60 aquariums. My room is small, compared to many, and I do not have a system-wide automated water changing system. I dream of having one someday, but that will not happen until I build the next fishroom and can start from scratch. At the start of this contest I was draining each tank with a siphon and refilling from a 150-gallon aging vat. The system worked pretty well for five years, but recently (ever since I took a real job), what I thought was an easy system suddenly became a burden.

The most time consuming aspect to the drain and refill system is paying attention to water levels. If I drained 150 gallons of water from various tanks in the fishroom it would take me an hour or more just watching the tanks refill. Other problems with my old system were that I could only change 150 gallons in a session, and I had to carefully plan days for changing soft water tanks different from hard water tanks, because I only have one aging vat. All of the aquariums in my house add up to 1541½  gallons of water, so if I wanted to do a 50 percent water change on all the tanks once each week I would have to refill the aging vat five times. If I am using RO (two vats per week on average) it will take about 20 hours to just fill it up (my RO machine makes 180 gallons per day), plus the time to age it.

The total result was that I was spending time in the fishroom every day doing water changes, and since that was not always possible the tanks were sometimes not getting the regular maintenance they needed. When my time became more limited the problem was compounded, and what was an hour or two per day in the fish room became five or six hours two or three days a week. Unacceptable… to my wife.

The solution was to find a way to multitask. If I could figure out a way to walk away from the tanks as they drained and filled I could do other things in the fishroom at the same time. The answer was to start using a combination of old-school and new technologies.

Before the days of drilling tanks aquarists looking to automate their aquariums used a home-made device built from a piece of flexible tubing coiled into two loops called a self-leveling siphon. This apparatus sits at the top of the tank and will automatically drain water in the tank down to a specific level. The siphon itself has a high loop and a low loop. The high loop sits on the edge of the tank with its open end extending into the water a few inches below the level the water will be maintained at. The lower loop sits outside the tank, and the top of this loop is set at the level the water is to be maintained at. An air hole is drilled in the top of the low loop. When the siphon is started the hole is covered and water is allowed to flow through the loops. Once the water is flowing the hole is uncovered and the flow rate slows down, but it will keep flowing until the water in the aquarium is down to the same level as the hole in the top of the lower loop.

A self-leveling siphon.

PVC pipe fittings make the construction of a self-leveling siphon easier and more adaptable. I know aquarists who have installed them on the back side of every tank in the room with the level set at a couple inches below the top rim of the aquarium. All that is needed to change the water is to add new water to the tank that is slightly cooler than the tank water. The cool new water sinks and worm old water exits via the siphon at the top. An automated refill can be set up so that new water runs into the tank for a few hours on a regular schedule (just like an auto change system with a drilled tank would be set up to do). What a lot of self-leveling siphon users do is go around the room with a hose and fill the tanks up to the brim quickly and let the siphon drain it back to the starting level. Both methods take a lot less time to do than draining and refilling.

Unfortunately, the expense and space needed to put a siphon on every tank in my fish room was too much. Instead, I made a siphon that I hooked to the end of a drain hose that I could move from tank to tank and have flow through water changing one tank at a time. This is a compromise that allows me to do other things in the fish room while a tank’s water changes.

The problem of having a limited amount of return water in an aging vat was solved by the use of new technology. Instead of using the aging vat for all the water I filled with I set up a filtration system using household water treatment filters. I set up four canisters inline on a hose that I connect to the faucet. The first canister has a 5 micron sediment filter, the second canister has a 10 micron carbon block, the third a 5 micron carbon block and the last canister has a 1 micron sediment filter (to catch carbon dust and anything that makes it through the first three filters). The filters remove all the chlorine from the tap water. I change the front-end sediment and carbon cartridges once each month and the back-end cartridges every three months.

A tap water filter.

I use this new system to change water in all the tanks that do not need soft water or water that has been aged, which includes about 80 percent of my fishroom. All I do is put the self-leveling siphon on a tank and get it started. Then I run filtered water from the faucet into the tank at a rate of about 1½ gallons per minute (any faster and the siphon cannot keep up). A 10-gallon tank gets a 50 percent water change in about 5 minutes… but I do not have to pay attention to it during the process. I will let the system run on a 75-gallon tank for 20 to 30 minutes. I can still use the system to do changes on soft-water aquariums, but I refill from the RO vat rather than the sink.

The system even works for small fry. I cover the end of the siphon tube with a piece of foam and refill the tank from a larger aquarium above the fry tanks using a piece of airline tubing gravity feed water into the fry tanks. The flow of water is very slow, the temperature is the same as the fry tank and the water is well aged.

I like the new system, but it does not take any less time to do the water changes (water flow is water flow). What it permits me to do is other things at the same time, so my overall time spent in the fish room is reduced. I do not even need to be in the fish room. While writing this blog entry I did 50 percent water changes on three 75-gallon tanks.

Posted October 28th, 2010.

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Quick and Easy Egg Tumbler

By Ted Judy

Egg tumblers are a great way to artificially incubate the eggs of mouthbrooding cichlids.

•    1-inch diameter rigid plastic tube (standard lift tubing),  a 2-inch piece, and a 6- to 8-inch piece
•    2 bull’s-eye pieces from sponge filter frames
•    2 pieces of fish net, cut to 2-inch squares
•    2 submersible heater suction cups with brackets (large enough to hold 1-inch diameter tube)
•    Airline and a source of air

The tumbler does not require too many materials to make.

Building and Using the Tumbler:
1)    Place a piece of net over one side of a bull’s-eye and push the longer piece of plastic tubing over it so it is held tightly in place.

Place the fish netting over the bulls eye from the sponge filter frame.

Push the longer plastic tube over the netting so it is securely held in place.

2)    Slip the heater suction cup brackets around the tubing, and then sink the not-quite-finished tumbler into the aquarium you want the eggs to be incubated in.  Secure the tumbler to the glass of the tank with the suction cups (with the open end up) and push it down until the entire tube is under water.

Put heater suction cup brackets around the tubing.

3)    Place the eggs into the tumbler through the open top.  They will fall to the bottom and rest on the netting.

Place the eggs inside the submerged tumbler.

4)    Hold the second piece of net over one side of the second bull’s-eye and carefully insert it (net side down) into the top of the plastic tube.

Cap the tube keeping the net side down.

5)    Slip the airline from the air source through the smaller piece of plastic tube.  Attach the airline to the center port in the top bull’s-eye, and then push the plastic tube onto the bull’s-eye.

Attach the airline to the center port in the top bull’s-eye, and then push the plastic tube onto the bull’s-eye.

6)    Push the entire tumbler down until the top is just under the surface of the water.
7)    Adjust the air flow to the tumbler to a point where the eggs are just visibly vibrating on the surface of the netting.

Trouble Shooting
•    Keep the number of eggs low in a tumbler.  They should not sit more than 3 to 4 eggs deep on top of the net screen.
•    Check the motion of the eggs and larvae often.  They should move but not rise up into the tube more than 1/8 inch.
•    Dead eggs or larvae should be removed.  Turn off the tumbler, remove the top and suck out the dead with a piece of rigid airline tubing.
•    When the larvae are actively swimming up into the tumbler column it is time to move them to a small aquarium or plastic box.

Posted July 29th, 2010.

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The Importance of Observation

By Ted Judy

Some species of aquarium fish are very well documented in hobby (and scientific) literature, and many, many more are not.  What should you do if published advice is lacking?  Use the power of observation to help figure out what the fish wants and needs.  During the entire process of keeping and trying to breed a fish species, learning from the fish themselves may be the best, if not the only, way to get the clues you will need to be successful.

What do similar species do?

Two species that are in the same genus, or even the same family, will have behavioral similarities.  I have kept and bred several species of mouth-brooding Betta species.  When I first obtained Betta krataios I really had no idea if there was anything special the fish needed, so I set up a dark tank with lots of hiding places and a tangled mix of Anubias sp. plants and yarn.  That is the environment that worked well for other similar species such as B. falx and B. edithae, and it worked well for B. krataios as well.

Betta krataios is very similar to other small mouth-brooding Betta species.

Observe during the quarantine period.

I use the quarantine period to make some initial observations of the fish.  This has proven very useful to me when working with small tetras and barbs.  There are so many different species that even some that are closely related will behave differently enough to suggest using a different strategy when trying to breed them.  For example, there are two very similar dwarf barbs from West Africa that are hard to find information about:  Barbus hulstaerti and B. candens.

Barbus hulstaerti males are aggressive towards each other.

I first bred B. hulstaerti and discovered the hard way that in small tanks the males will kill each other.  I chose to use a pair-breeding strategy using one pair in a 2.5-gallon tank with a lot of tangled plants and yarn.  I was able to get a few eggs from the pair, but not very many because the fish only lays a few eggs each day.  When I first obtained B. candens I suspected that they would be the same, but during quarantine I did not see any fighting.  I spawned them in the same 2.5-gallon set up, but with a group of 8 fish instead of just a pair, and they produced many more eggs and fry than a single pair of B. hulstaerti did.

Barbus candens males will live together peacefully.

Learn the language.

Fish communicate with a combination of color pattern and movement.  An observant aquarist will learn to read some of these signals.  Females of the Pelvicachromis genus of cichlids, for example, have a specific color pattern for each stage of their reproductive cycle.  A courting female looks different than when she is tending eggs, and shows a different pattern when she is guarding free-swimming fry.  Once the language is understood a quick glance at a female krib will tell you if there are eggs or fry in the tank, even if the pair is doing a great job of keeping the babies hidden.

This P. sacrimontis female is showing a neutral color pattern.

This is the same female P. sacrimontis defending her territory from another female, but she has not spawned yet.

The same female again, but this time she is defending a cave full of babies.

Learning the signals a fish gives with color pattern and body posture is also important for the health and conditioning of fish.  Most fish have a stress pattern that they express when they are being bullied or the conditions in the tank are not right.  There visual clues for disease or poor water quality, such as clamped fins or “scratching,” the flicking of the body against the substrate or an object in the tank.  Watching the fish is a part of the fun of keeping them, so a few minutes observing for possible problems should not be a burden.

A short pencil vs. a long memory

They say that memory is the second thing to go.  I have forgotten what the first thing is!  Taking notes is especially useful when solving a problem through the process of elimination.  The first time I worked at breeding neon tetras Paracheirodon innesi I found the eggs difficult to hatch and the fry frustratingly hard to raise.  I played with many different combinations of pH, hardness, temperature, food density and light intensity until I found a combination that worked.  Had I not taken notes down I would have repeated some unsuccessful combinations.

This neon tetra fry survived after many weeks of trial and error figuring out what it takes to keep them alive.

Taking note of dates is important as well.  Livebearing fish have gestation periods, and being able to predict when a female will give birth can prevent babies from being eaten by other fish.  When I put livebearers together to spawn I mark the date on the front of the tank, as well as the date of the first possible day fry could appear.  That way I know when to separate gravid females into birthing tanks.

Let the fish guide you.

Even when there is a lot of information about a species available to read, sometimes the fish will still surprise you.  I have yet to see a fish read the books.  The fish will tell us what they like and do not like.  All we have to do is pay attention and learn to read the signals.

Posted May 21st, 2010.

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