May 2013 Meeting

Sunday, May 26th, 2013 at 10:51 am

Damian Davila hosted on May 25 at his home in Burke, Virginia. This was Damian’s first time hosting, and the first opportunity for many members to see his tanks and fish room.

GWAPA member Bob Bock spoke on Native Fishes for Planted Aquariums. 

Bob is a past president of the North American Native Fishes Association, and has kept and bred numerous native and non-native species. He currently maintains more than 20 aquariums in his basement fishroom, including a 65 gallon world biotope planted aquarium, which has, at one time or another, included species from every continent except Antarctica. Bob is also webmaster of the popular aquarium hobby blog Sonny’s Fish Room.

Fish available to us locally include sunfish (centrarchids), minnows (minnows, shiners, dace, and chubs), darters, killies, and catfish. Bob gave an overview of which species are suitable for planted tanks, as well as which species may appear suitable but aren’t.

Sunfish are the species most people are familiar with and likely to encounter, through fishing. Most people will catch Bluegills (Lepomis macrochirus). The males habit of digging nests in the substrate makes them unsuitable for a planted tank. Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus) look like something an aquarist might want to bring home, but Bob warned that in addition to getting large, its mouth is camoflaged and opens wider than you ever thought it would. “I had a nice minnow collection once,” Bob recalled, which “started disappearing when this thing yawned.”  To show us what he was talking about, Bob showed Joshua Wiegert’s picture of a weather loach being eaten by a green sunfish.

Another fish not recommended for home aquariums is the largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). It gets very large, and according to Bob, “becomes and eating machine.”

note: please be aware that not only are these fish unsuitable for most home aquaria because of their large size, but catching and keeping smaller specimens violates size limits on game fish

The Enneacanthus sunfish are species that Bob refers to as “manageable sunfish.”  The black banded sunfish, one of Bob’s “all time absolute favorite fish,” are native to the Atlantic coast. They live in areas with very acid, tannin stained water, and require water with as close to 0 conductivity as possible. Bob uses rainwater.

The closely related blue spotted sunfish is found in both soft and hard water locations. Males take on some nice coloration when breeding. Breeding is seasonal, and occurs when temperatures warm up after a cold spell. Males stake out a spawning site, but don’t dig or tend to disrupt things in the tank. Don’t put them in too small a tank (a 15 or 20 gallon is good for 1/2 dozen).

Minnows, shiners, dace, and chubs are all stream fishes, and require current. The rosyside dace (Clinostomus funduloides) is another of Bob’s favorite species. It is a commonly found species in areas where the water quality is good. He describes them as “fairly durable.” They should not be kept in a heated tank, but can be kept inside. These fish are among those often caught by those engaging in the latest trend of “microfishing,” in which bait fish are caught using miniature rods, reels, and hooks.

The blacknose dace (Rhinichthys atratulus) is a true dace, whereas the rosyside dace is probably more accurately described as a shiner. Dace may to be more torpedo shaped, dace flatter. These fish are very pollution tolerant, and are found in water that is not as clean. They do require a cooling down or resting period for breeding and more normal lifespan. Not all agree with him, but Bob feels that it is not the colder temperatures, but the shorter day length that is needed. Arlene Wagner mentioned that she keeps this species in a bottom tank in her basement, and notices that they become more active as the days get longer. When breeding, males become more colorful, with a yellow lateral stripe, and spots on top. Bob has seen some that are lime green.

The longnose dace (Rhinichthys cataractae) is found in Little Bennet Creek in Clarksburg, Maryland. The first time Bob found one, it was from under a rock, and he didn’t know what it was. “It was the weirdest looking thing,” he said, with a snout like the penguin Opus from the old Bloom County comic strip, and very wide pectoral fins. It is adapted to current. In Bob’s tank it would head right up to the current from the powerheads and spread its fins out like an airplane, leading Bob to dub it the “airplane fish.”

More suitable species can be found further afield, in the Shenandoah drainage, and the Rapahanock drainage south to the Roanoke drainage.

Mountain redbelly dace (Chrosomus oreas) is a stream fish, somewhat less common. Bob has found them alongside rosyside dace. The rainbow shiner (Notropis chrosomus) is native to Alabama. Bob has seen them at House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, Maryland, and they are available online. Arlene has seen them on Aquabid.

The fantail darter (Etheostoma flabellare) is a bottom dwelling stream fish (Bob calls it a “riffle fish).  It has no swim bladder, but hops along the stream bottom. It is streamlined, with long pectoral fins. It is a poor competitor, and needs moving food, strong filtration, contant circulation and oxygenation. It can perhaps be acclimated to Repashy Foods. It is a cave spawner.

The tesselated darter (Etheostoma olmestedi)  is bluish blackish when spawning.

The rainbow darter (Etheostoma caerulem)  was introduced to Potomac drainage. It is found near Sidling Hill Creek in Maryland It is a gravel spawner. One method of spawning is to submerge a plastic margerine tub in gravel, and remove after spawning.

The Northern greenside darter (Etheostoma blennioides) may also be an introduced species. It needs streams with vegetatation. They are plant spawners and poor competitors.

The swamp darter (Etheostoma fusiforme) is a plant spawner found in ponds and slow flowing streams.

The mottled sculpin (Cottus girardi) and the Potomac sculpin (Cottus bairdi) are very similar species. They are riffle fish, and need current and cool temperatures. They are extremely predatory. Bob described how his sculpins have terrorized his crayfish and choked on his darters. This is one of those circumstances that illustrates the need for a good field guide, so you know what you are bringing home.

The banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanous), a tidal freshwater fish, is found in the Potomac.  The males get faint powdery blue stripes when spawning. It makes up about 25% of the snakehead’s diet.

The mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), is Bob’s favorite killie.

The sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus), is “nasty, like small cichlids.”

Species farther afield include the Florida flagfish (Jordanella floridae). It is somewhat aggressive, and it is best to keep only one male per tank in small tanks. Flagfish prefer the bottom of the tank.

The banded topminnow (Fundulus cingulatus), another one of Bob’s favorites, is found in the Florida panhandle. It is not a soft water fish.

Goldan ear topminnow (Fundulus chrysotus)  is found throughout Florida.   They are “tougher on each other than some fish.”

There are approximately 130 species of the catfish known as madtoms. They are found in slow moving streams. Most are less than four inches in length. They are nocturnal, and predatory, although they have small mouths. Their spines are venomous; Bob has been stung by one, and it hurt for 30 minutes. People with allergies may have a more severe reaction. Madtoms are not very highly colored, but are interesting fish. Two such species are the margined madtom (Noturus insignis) and the tadpole madtom (Noturus gyrinus).

One way to be certain whether you have madtom or another species is to examine the adipose fin. If the adipose fin is not attached to the tail, it is not a madtom, and may be a species that gets to be too big for your aquarium.

There are a number of small native fish suitable for nano tanks, such as Elassoma or “pygmy sunfish.” Elassoma are mostly soft water fish, inhabiting slow, weedy backwaters. Some Elassoma species are threatened. Males are quite colorful, females less so. They are easy to colony breed in a species tank. In Bob’s experience, they need live food. He feeds his daphnia. He says that they could perhaps be adapted to non-live foods, but he has not tried. Josh’s feeding trick is to keep them with red cherry shrimp. They will not bother the adults, but will eat the baby shrimp.

Elassoma evergladei is a species that does like hard water. A colony could easily be kept in a 2.5 gallon windowsill tank.

Least killifish (Heterandria formosa), despite their common name, are actually a livebearer, not a killie. They are found in the southeastern U.S. and are very undemanding and prolific. In addition to being the smallest fish in the U.S., H. formosa are known for for their uncommon reproductive strategy of superfetation: instead of dropping a large brood at one time, they drop young one or two at a time over the course of many days.

The bluefin killifish (Lucania goodei) is a peaceful, undemanding plant spawner that grows up to two inches. They are common in weedy backwaters and canals in the southeastern U.S. Populations vary: you’ll find some that are blue, or all red, or yellow.  They require hard water. Bob says that he has kept them with java moss, but “couldn’t get them to keep going.” He thinks all the calcium in the water went to the java moss. He now keeps coral in his filter when keeping these fish.

Pygmy killifish (Leptoleucania ommata) come from weedy backwaters, from Northern Florida to Georgia. They are very shy. Bob had some that he finally gave away because he never saw them.

Bob uses two collecting methods:  seine and dip net. A seine is used just like a big scoop. A dip net works better for weedier areas. Bob uses this Florida, along weedy areas by the shore. Fish can be transported in a bait bucket or cooler with a portable aerator, or in individual plastic bags.

A good field guide, such as Peterson’s Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes, is a must. It’s important to properly ID fish, because little fish sometimes become big fish! Golden shiners, often sold as bait fish, are a prime example.

Most states allow collecting of baitfish with a fishing license, but always check local regulations before collecting. Virginia is more lenient than Maryland, which requires more paperwork. It’s important to be aware that if you have a bucket of fish and are approached by someone in law enforcement, they may not know about fishkeeping. If you start talking about collecting fish to keep in a fish tank, this can complicate matters, because it brings up issues that law enforcement may feel it needs to check. Just say that you are collecting baitfish, since that is literally what you are doing, and is legal (again, check local regulations first).

Also, NEVER release fish into local waterways (this includes releasing native fish back into local waterways)! You could introduce a disease or parasites to the local population, or introduce a species that can outcompete native fishes.