Photograph by Mike Jacobs.
By Charles Nunziata
There are several explanations of why most hobbyists are not aware of South American annuals and many have not seen one alive. First is their absence from consumer outlets and the relative lack of coverage in hobby communications. In addition, there is a widespread perception that all killifish have a short lifespan. Although this is not true of non-annual killifish, it is true of the annuals, and that fact alone is often a deal-breaker for some hobbyists. Lastly, killifish are considered to be difficult to breed and maintain, but this is not accurate.
General maintenance is not overly demanding, requiring only regular water changes and the provision of high-quality foods. Most annual killifishes can withstand large temperature variations, but as in most other fish, thermal shocks should be avoided. Mid-range hardness and temperatures in the 70s are ideal. Temperatures lower than 70 slow activity, and above 80 will accelerate aging. They do not thrive in poor water conditions and will not develop properly if undernourished, but any experienced aquarist to whom good aquarium practices are second nature will have no difficulty maintaining these species.
South American annuals tend to occupy all areas of a tank, are moderately active, and with some exceptions, are not aggressive to other killie or non-killie species. Rather, their color and finnage often invite aggression from other species. Non-aggressive species that are not overly active can safely be kept with most annual species. However, it is the practice of most killifish hobbyists to maintain South American annuals in species-only tanks, and better success can be expected if that method can be adopted. Tanks as small as 2½ gallons are sufficient for a few of the smaller species, and 5- or 10-gallon tanks are ample for all but the largest. Feeding is likewise straightforward. Live and frozen foods of all kinds and, with training, freeze-dried bloodworms and similar-quality foods will be readily taken.
The major difference between South American annual killifish and other hobby species is the time it takes for the embryos to develop. The eggs of non-annual fishes incubate and hatch within days or weeks, while annual eggs take months to develop and may well hatch after their parents are gone. The months-long uncertainty associated with not knowing whether a spawning has been successful is not compatible with everyone’s personality and is often the root of the idea that breeding these fishes is difficult. Killie-keepers have to be a patient lot.
For more information on breeding annual killies and what species are available, see my article in the June 2013 issue.
Photographs by the author
This tiny brook at Jhuguañaró, Paraguay was where the author collected speckled mosquitofish.
The speckled mosquitofish (Phalloceros caudimaculatus) was one of the earliest livebearers in our hobby. It was described in 1868 as Girardinus caudimaculatus by Hensel. Later the name was changed to Phalloceros caudimaculatus by Eigenmann in 1907.
It was originally described from southeastern Brazil and its range is in eastern Brazil from the Rio de Janeiro along the coast down to Uruguay and Rio de La Plata. It is also present in Paraguay.
The male reaches a length of approximately 3 cm (1 inch) and the female can grow up to 6 cm (2¼ inches).
A male (bottom) and female (top) Phalloceros harpagos from Jhuguañaró.
It is not a tropical species and is best kept at 18° to 24°C (64° to 75°F). However, it can withstand being kept for periods in both lower and higher temperatures. When kept at high temperatures all year around, I have found that it does not do well.
Otherwise it seems easy to keep and it takes both dried and, of course, live foods.
Earlier at least two subspecies were available in Europe: the golden tail spotted livebearer (P. caudimaculatus auratus) and the golden spotted livebearer (Phalloceros caudimaculatus reticulatus auratus). These are seldom seen nowadays.
The same concerns the original speckled mosquitofish.
A Trip to Find the Speckled Mosquitofish
In November 1995, which is early summer in the southern hemisphere, I went to Paraguay in order to look for livebearers, among other fishes. I had expected to find five livebearing species, but I only found three. One of these was of course the common guppy, which may have been released by some aquarist. The other two were the speckled mosquitofish and the rare Phallotorynus victoriae. Information concerning the distribution of the latter was very scarce in 1995 as I wrote in my March 2004 TFH article.
I went to a friend´s country estate at Jhuguañaró close to Guarambaré and 25 km (15½ miles) southeast of Asunción, the capital, in order to look for fish. Narcissus, who was a tenant close by, told me that there were tiny fish in a small brook emanating from a well in the forest. I brought the net and went to the so called Selva de los Monos, the Monkey Forest, where a kind of shy monkey, called kadjara by the local people, lived. The monkeys used to have the insolence to throw their excrements at intruders. Either they were having a siesta or showed respect for a foreign aquarist, as they did not bother me. After many hardships in the marshes we finally arrived at the brook where I found the longed-for speckled mosquitofish. The water temperature was 23°C (73°F), dH 2, and pH 7.6. The bottom consisted of gravel and stones. Plants were absent in the water.
Returning to Paraguay
As the fishing was successful, I returned to Jhuguañaró in November 1996 in order to look for these livebearers once more. My arrival was preceded by a period of heavy rain storms.
After a toilsome walk through the Monkey Forest we finally came to a torrent that the year before just had been a small brook. Masses of sand had filled the cavities where the fishes used to hide. There were no speckled mosquitofish.
I came back some days later, as the tenant Narcissus suggested that we should go deeper into the forest. I knew what was to be expected—mud to the ankles, thorns at the height of the knees, branches in the face and, moreover, mosquitoes en masse. Repellent did not help, as I transpired enormously. My guide showed me herbs that the local population used as medicine since time immemorial, from remedies against heartburn to diarrhea, but nothing against mosquito bites.
Suddenly I saw two monkeys at the top of a tree. It must have been an omen, as we did not walk far until we found a small well. I saw something at the surface and quickly I grabbed the net. There it was the speckled mosquitofish. The water temperature was only 22°C (71°F) with a pH 6.9, but the air temperature was 33°C (91°F). The species seems to prefer small brooks and wells in the shade—otherwise known as slow flowing, cool water—at least in the places where I found it.
A New Discovery
I brought back specimens of the speckled mosquitofish both in 1995 and 1996. As the coloration differed from that of the original description, I sent some specimens to the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm where they labeled them as Phalloceros species NRM 338 11.
I had the species for some years, but I think I kept it too warm. They did not do well. It is hard to have a winter season in the tank when you live in an apartment with central heating. The temperature in your apartment depends to some extent on that of your neighbors. Perhaps it should be kept outdoors in the summer, if you live in the temperate climate zone. Formerly, when aquarists had problems with the temperature being too low, the environment was more favorable to the speckled mosquitofish.
However, the most interesting thing about my catch is that it later showed up to be a new species. In 2008 Paulo Lucinda of Brazil, published an accurate revision of the genus Phalloceros. He described 21 new species belonging to the genus. Among these species we find Phalloceros harpagos. He analyzed a lot of specimens when describing the species, including NRM 338 11—the specimens that I sent to the museum already in 1995.
So watch up when you have found something new and put it in the tank! Who knows, perhaps you have tankmates waiting for description.
Lucinda, Paulo, H. F. (2008). “Systematics and biogeography of the genus Phalloceros Eigenmann 1907, with the description of twenty-one new species.” Neotropical Ichthyologi, 6 (2): 113-158, 2008.
Note: The fish in the pictures originate from the same site as those that I sent to the museum. It is highly improbable that the very limited habitat where I collected the fish should hold more than one Phalloceros species.
The lawnmower blenny (Salarias fasciatus). Photograph by Scott Michael.
In the April 2013 issue, Scott Michael described some outstanding reef residents with reknowned algae eating abilities, the lawnmower blennies. If the article has inspired you to acquire some, here is Scott’s list of lawnmower blennies that are available in the aquarium trade.
By Scott Michael
The whitespotted blenny (Salarias alboguttatus) is a smaller species (3½ inches) than S. fasciatus, that is grayish overall with numerous white spots on the head. There are seven or eight bars on the body and unbranched cirri over each eye. It is found from the Philippines to Samoa, south to the Great Barrier Reef, where it occurs on lagoon patch reefs and fringing coastal reefs at depths of 3 to at least 13 feet. The whitespotted blenny occurs singly and rasps microalgae off hard substrates. This smaller Salarias spp. is less of a threat toward other blennies and trophic competitors than larger members of the genus. You can keep more than one individual in tanks as small as 100 gallons.
Seram blenny (S. ceramensis). Photograph by Scott Michael.
The Seram blenny (S. ceramensis) is a larger species (it reaches 6 inches) that ranges from Sumatra east to the Solomon Islands, north to the Philippines, and possibly south to the Great Barrier Reef. It occurs on coastal reefs and lagoon patch reefs at depths of 3 to at least 100 feet. The Seram blenny is found among rubble and/or macroalgae and is often found on silty reefs. Its husbandry requirements are very similar to other larger members of the genus (see S. fasciatus below). Its greater bulk makes it a greater threat toward other fishes, and, therefore, care must be taken when selecting tankmates (especially other herbivores). Keep one per tank unless you can acquire a pair or your tank is very large (180 gallons or more). S. ceramensis is not as common in the aquarium trade as S. fasciatus.
The Seram blenny is very similar to the more common S. fasciatus. It differs in having a dark chest and belly and a large dark blotch near the pectoral fin. S. ceramensis also has 15 pectoral fin rays, while S. fasciatus has 14. The obscure blenny (S. obscurus) is another large member of the genus (it reaches a length of 5 inches) that is known only from the western Philippines. It is dark overall with light gray mottling on the snout and the back of the head.
The jeweled or lawnmower blenny (S. fasciatus). Photograph by Scott Michael.
The jeweled or lawnmower blenny (S. fasciatus) attains a length of 5½ inches and ranges from the Red Sea and East Africa east to Samoa, north to the Ryukyu Islands, south to the Great Barrier Reef and New Caledonia. S. fasciatus has eight irregular bars (with white spots on each bar) that have white ovals on the lighter interspaces. There are also wavy lines on the front of the body.
The jeweled blenny is found on fringing reefs, lagoon patch reefs, reef flats, and outer reef faces at depths of less than 3.3 to 26 feet. It has also been reported from estuarine habitats. It is often found among coral rubble with associated macroalgae growth. It feeds by rasping microalgae off hard substrates. The jeweled blenny will attack other blennies (especially smaller or similar-sized individuals) that enter its territory. It will also chase other grazers, especially smaller damselfishes.
A resident S. fasciatus will not tolerate another blenny in its territory. If a tank is large enough, subordinate confamilials may be able to avoid an aggressive jeweled blenny. But if space is limited, a newly added blenny or smaller individual is likely to be harassed to death. While S. fasciatus is infrequently aggressive toward non-related species in the wild, they may pick on heterospecifics in the aquarium. They have been known to attack smaller fish species (e.g., smaller hawkfishes, juvenile anemonefishes, firefishes, and dartfishes) and odd-shaped species that are not adept swimmers (e.g., seahorses, pipefishes, boxfishes). If you want to keep it with smaller fishes (especially those that are substrate bound) add these fishes before the blenny and/or keep them in a larger tank.
The starry blenny (S. ramosus) has become much more abundant in the aquarium trade. that the head and body of this attractive species are covered with tiny white spots. The spots are larger and fewer in smaller specimens. This species also has highly branched cirri over each eye. S. ramosus reaches 5½ inches and is found from the Philippines south to northwestern Australia. This attractive blenny is found on fringing reefs and protected patch reefs. It has also been reported from estuaries. It occurs at depths of 5 to at least 50 feet. The starry blenny rests and feeds among coral rubble and macroalgae. As with others in the genus, it rasps hard substrates with its comb-like dentition. It usually occurs singly, although it is occasionally seen in small groups.
S. ramosus has only recently been entering the aquarium trade. Keep one per tank, and be aware that it might quarrel with other members of the genus. While it is a very handsome fish, it can wreak havoc in the reef tank. It has been known to nip at tridacnid clam mantles and large-polyped stony corals. It has also been known to pester motile invertebrates (e.g., shrimps and serpent stars).
By R. Shane Linder
Photographs by the author
From the March 2013 Issue
Of all the fishes that I have maintained over the years, it is not hard to decide which were my favorites. My favorite fishes have always been anything that I have collected from the wild myself! From madtoms in Virginia, to mollies in Florida, to Ancistrus in Venezuela, I have always had a special appreciation for those fishes that I actually went out, caught, and brought back alive to my fishroom. Collecting your own aquarium fish creates a bond between the aquarist and the fish because the aquarist knows the fish in a way that one can never know a fish brought from a store. You know where the fish came from, what its habitat looks like, what other species share the same habitat, and how to replicate all of this in a true to life biotope. So if you are ready to bring ‘em back alive, here are all of the instructions that you will need. This article covers planning, equipment, collecting techniques, transportation, and adjusting fish to captive conditions based on my experiences from Maryland to Ecuador, and a few places between.
The first step is always deciding where to collect, and planning begins with a good map of the area. What specific creek, pond, or river do you want to reach? Are there any roads that allow access to the area? Is the area private property? How far will you have to walk to get to the location? All of these are important questions that must be answered before you pack a single net.
Sadly, you also need to determine if the water is too polluted for collecting. Follow the creek or river upstream on the map. Are there any major towns along its course? If there are, there is a good chance that the water will be polluted. Always look for collecting locations upstream of population centers. If the area is bordered by private property, always get permission before collecting. I have found that the majority of landowners are usually happy to let you collect on their own property as long as you ask first.
Alternatively, you may decide to travel to some exotic locale with a professional tour company. In this case you are lucky, as they will take care of most of the logistics. However, do not stop reading here even if you plan to utilize a professional company, because these companies specialize in tours, not catching fish, and catching fish is decidedly your goal. Once you have decided where to collect, it is time to get the equipment together.
For safety’s sake, the most important thing you can do is take along a friend. When collecting, the more people the merrier, especially if you should get your vehicle stuck or someone should become injured. If you are collecting in an area where there is cellular coverage, I also highly recommend bringing along a cell phone.
Dress appropriately for the climate and always pack an extra set of clothes. More often than not, you will fall in the water or need to swim in order to collect in a certain area. A nice set of dry clothes for the ride home, especially if it is a long drive, is very important. A clean, dry towel also always comes in handy, as does a good hat to protect your head and neck from the sun. The final and most important clothing item is shoes. Sandals are fine for some environments, but I prefer something that protects the entire foot and ankle and cannot be pulled from your feet in thick mud. The two best options are a pair of thick-soled neoprene reef booties or an old pair of high-top canvas tennis shoes. Whatever you choose, it should stay firmly attached and protect the foot and ankle from sharp sticks, rocks, and broken glass, and hold up through repeated soakings.
Also, do not forget to bring along an extra pair of dry shoes or sandals for the ride home. Lastly, pack plenty of sunscreen, bug repellant, food, and drinking water. Bug spray is key because while mosquitoes may not kill you, they can make you very miserable.
Large seine nets will require two or more people to operate them.
A good seine net is the single most important piece of collecting equipment. A 4-foot by 4-foot seine is ideal for individual use, but larger seines require two or more people to operate. The seine should be firmly attached to two wooden poles (known as brails) for ease of use. Also bring a large and small dip net. Dip netting with a large net is a good technique in heavy aquatic vegetation while the small, aquarium-size dip net is used to sort the catch in the field. Wire minnow traps, available from most sporting goods stores, are another great tool, especially if they can be left out for a few hours, or even better, overnight. Cast or throw nets work very well over stone or sand substrates, especially in deep water. However, they can be rather expensive and require hours of practice to be thrown correctly. One final piece of collecting equipment not to be overlooked is a small, ultra-light fishing pole. Special barbless hooks are widely available, or the hobbyist can file the barbs from hooks and small lures. A small fishing pole is the best method for collecting medium and large size sunfish, bass, cichlids, piranhas, and many catfishes. The small wound caused by the hook heals quickly and I have never seen a fish collected this way come down with an infection from the wound.
Small, barbless hooks can be used to collect fish such as piranhas.
Upon arrival at the collecting site, take some time to observe the general environment. Walk along the water and make some observations of the fish. Where are the fish and what species can you see? These observations will affect what equipment you decide to use as well as where in the habitat you will catch the most fishes. Fish watching itself, as aquarists well know, is entertaining, and I have spent hours watching schools of Corydoras dart about a crystal clear stream. In Miami, Florida I once observed a pair of Oscars in the pond behind my hotel defend their school of fry against a large red terror and several sunfish. This was not exactly a natural scene, since only the sunfish (maybe) were native, but it was still very fascinating.
Take some pictures of the habitat before wetting your nets, because once collecting starts, the water will turn brown with disturbed sediment. Also, record the water conditions before disturbing the environment. You can take measurements of the temperature, pH, hardness, and other properties on site, or you can take a sample of the water home in a clean glass jar for later chemical analysis. Be sure to take several temperature readings in still and fast-flowing water as well as in areas exposed to the sun and covered with shade. Carefully record the water’s color, substrate composition, aquatic vegetation, and ambient light. All of these will be important in reconstructing a suitable biotope in an aquarium and fleshing out your journal entries.
Record the environmental conditions before collecting anything.
The key areas to be focused on for collecting are the banks, open areas, riffles and currents, structure, and leaf litter.
Banks are best collected with seine nets. Stretch the net parallel to the bank and use your hands and feet to splash around in the cordoned off area. Fleeing fish will then swim right into the pocket created by the seine. This method is very useful for many cichlids and sunfish.
Collect by the banks by stretching out the net over them.
Open areas are best collected by running the largest sized seine possible through the water and towards a bank. As the fish reach the bank, they will turn around and flee back into the net. This is the best method for collecting tetras and minnows.
Riffles and currents are the homes of many interesting fish and are collected by kick seining. Place the seine across the riffle and set it firmly in place. The kickers then enter the water 8 to 10 feet above the net and work their way towards the net, kicking and turning over rocks and gravel. In the United States, this method works great for darters and sculpins, while in South America it is great for collecting loricariids.
“Structure” refers to large rocks and driftwood snags. These areas are difficult to collect from, but produce very interesting fishes. Ideally, the piece of structure should be surrounded by the seine and then lifted out of the water. If the object is too large, surround it with the net and then send someone inside the net to poke and prod around the structure in order to scare away the fish into the waiting net.
Finally, do not forget to collect in the leaf litter. With a large dipnet or small seine, simply scoop up a pile of leaves and then rummage through them to see what you have captured. In South America this method is the best for Apistogramma, banjo catfish, Otocinclus, and many other wonderful small aquarium fishes.
One last point: Never forget to ask the locals how they catch fish. The best guide in the world is a 12-year-old boy, because he knows how to catch anything that flies, crawls, or swims within a mile of his home. I have had this fact proven to me over and over again. Once, while collecting in the Rio Guarico, Venezuela, I was having rotten luck and not catching much of anything. Two boys were watching me and asked what I was trying to capture. I explained that I was after corronchos (plecos) and they replied they would catch me all that I wanted. Both boys took turns diving down to the bottom of the river and grabbing handfuls of leaf litter. With every sortie they brought up large Rineloricaria and Loricariichthys. In 20 minutes I had more fish than I could carry!
The chief danger when collecting is not poisonous snakes or piranhas but the water itself. Far more people drown every year than are shocked by electric eels or stung by freshwater stingrays. Stay keenly aware of both the water’s depth and current. While collecting with my wife once, in the Venezuelan Ilanos, she was swept away by the current. Luckily she did not let go of the seine’s brail and I was able to swim to shore and then use the seine as a life preserver to pull her back in. I teased her about being my “catch of the day,” but the river’s lesson was not lost on us.
I have never seined up a snake, but I once looked up from a net of mollies in Florida to see a large water moccasin a few feet away from me daring me to come a little closer. I have also had some minor panic attacks when caimans hidden on the bank have jumped into the water near me. My friend Julian “Jools” Dignall actually caught a caiman in his hoop net once while collecting Corydoras. (Rumor has it that Jools released a startled yell, dropped the net, and was back on shore all in less than one second flat.)
Besides the water, especially in the tropics, dehydration and sunburn are the other main enemies. Luckily these are easily kept under control provided the collector has packed lots of water and sunscreen. Minor cuts and bruises are the norm from slipping on rocks and running into submerged structure. Wear these bruises, scratches, and scars with pride. They are the marks of a true collector and make great visuals when relating your fish collecting stories.
Care and Transport
Perhaps more difficult than collecting the fish is getting them home in good shape. While collecting I prefer to carry along a 5-gallon bucket to place the fish in. The bucket should have a tight-fitting lid perforated with holes. Do not forget to change the water in the bucket every 15 to 20 minutes, especially in the tropics. At the end of the day, the fish should be sorted and photographed or videotaped. A small one- or 2-gallon tank is ideal for sorting and photography. Fish always look their best immediately after capture, and this is the ideal time to photograph them.
Sorting can be the most difficult time, because everyone’s natural inclination is to want to keep more fish than they can properly house. Think about this very carefully and then return excess fishes to their point of capture.
For transportation home, one-gallon clear plastic water bottles with a wide mouth are the ideal containers. Plastic bags are fine for a trip home from the fish store, but plastic bottles cannot be crushed or punctured, and the water in them can be changed with ease. The water bottles must be kept in a sturdy ice chest. The ice chest should hold four to six one-gallon bottles, one of which should hold frozen water. Fill a one-gallon jug with drinking water the night before collecting and freeze it solid. This frozen bottle will serve to keep the ice chest cool throughout the day and will provide cold drinking water as it melts. In the summer months, or in the tropics, the most important aspect of getting the fish home safely is keeping their temperature stable. Just be sure to lift the lid of the chest every hour so the fish do not get too cold. Keep the ice chest in the vehicle, not in the trunk, and out of direct sunlight. If it is a long way home from the collecting site, I would highly recommend the use of a commercial product designed to detoxify ammonia.
Home Again, Home Again
Once the fish are home, place them in a small glass tank and check them over for obvious wounds, diseases, or parasites that will need to be treated. Many commercial collectors dose their entire catch with strong medications “just in case.” I am not necessarily in favor of these treatments, as, especially with delicate fish, it can do more harm than good. The only prophylactic treatment I am in favor of is a short dip in full strength sea water (or fresh water for marine fishes), which will remove most parasites. All of the catch should then be placed in quarantine and carefully monitored for three to four weeks. The quarantine tank must have a very secure cover, as the fish, not yet understanding the boundaries of their new environment, will be very prone to jumping out. Do not feed your new acquisitions for the first three days, because with a healthy appetite they will more readily accept normal aquarium foods.
Once the quarantine period is over, it is time to move your new charges to their permanent homes. I promise that at this point, even if your new charges are nothing more than Gambusia mosquito fish from a nearby ditch, you will see them in a whole new light. You did not buy these fish, you went to their habitat, caught them with your bare hands, and brought ‘em back alive.
Oh yes, also by now your sunburn will have faded and scratches healed, and you’ll probably already be studying the map, and planning your next expedition. It’s an addictive hobby.
Posted February 22nd, 2013. Add a comment