MAINTENANCE A PRACTICAL APPROACH
article was first written in 1986 and appeared in LIVEBEARERS #87. This 1999
version is an update and adds new information.)
are confronted today by the grim prospect that their hobby may be
self limiting to the extent that it may eventually falter and extinguish
itself. In our throw
consumer society, wherein replacement seems always the preference rather than
maintenance and repair, aquarists seem also plagued by the mentality that newer
is better. New imports are the vogue and the fishes you saw at last year's shows
are often déclassé' today. The amazing aspect of this is that at one time wild guppies,
neon tetras, and convict cichlids were as exciting to aquarists as the golden
Sailfin goodeid, the dwarf neon
rainbowfish, and Rift Lake cichlids are today. Aquarists are often so snobbish
that some have never kept the “older” favorites. Other aquarists are so
naive that they fail to recognize an exciting "new" fish is a
reimportation of an older favorite, which a past generation of aquarists allowed
to die out!
habitats and wild populations of many species are disappearing
forever. Populations of such easily maintained aquarium species as
Skiffia francesae, Cynolebias whitei, and Barbus nigrofasciatus may already be
extinct in the wild. For such a
species, there will be no reimportations if captive stocks are lost! William
Beebe, a famous naturalist, once wrote: “...when the last individual of a race
of living things breathes no more, another heaven and another earth must pass
before such a one can be again.”
aquarists and, more importantly, aquarist organizations must accept the
challenge that Species Maintenance Programs need to be implemented NOW! Goals
and attitudes need to be changed. Aquarists
should not be praised and envied for their expensive "new toys".
Rather, I suggest that the faddish aquarists should be educated to the
importance of using their skills to breed and maintain species over a long time.
Breeder Award Programs have helped tremendously 1) by sustaining stocks locally,
2) while distributing fishes widely, and 3) by rewarding aquarists for
reproducing fishes. But in small
organizations, there is always the risk a species may
disappear after everyone has worked with it.
one aquarist nor organization can accomplish the task of species maintenance -
there are too many imperiled species. But
collectively, WE can do it! and, I offer the
following guidelines to
successful species maintenance.
DEFINE YOUR GOALS.
reasonable in your project scope.
Evaluate your own capabilities after all, you know yourself best.
Be honest! How dedicated are you to the hobby?
Are you a faddist, by nature? Can you discipline yourself to keep 1, 2,
5, or more species reproducing for at least five years?
be overzealous or you'll burn out. Leave yourself energy and facilities to also
play with new fish or specialty fishes (e.g., fancy strains of livebearers,
bettas, or angelfish). Perhaps 25% of your facilities could be dedicated to
species maintenance. If so, call attention to your goal label the tanks as a reminder to yourself and as
statement to visitors of your
commitment to species maintenance.
a group or make friends even by mail or on the Internet with
other people who are interested in the same fish.
Cooperation and competition are both healthful adjuncts to your long-term
choice of species to be kept is very critical.
Don't be an elitist here either! Not everyone should concentrate on only
the MOST endangered species. Our
hobby should divorce itself from the need to import wild fishes in general.
Normally, one importation should be able to establish a species or a
unique population within captivity hopefully forever!
feasible, working with a group sharing similar goals is desirable here.
Each species should ideally be kept by at least three different parties;
but for fifty people to keep it whereas another species is NOT kept by ANYONE is
counter productive to our goals.
to deliberately keep one species that no one else wants. Maybe it is
"mean", "ugly", "too big", or
"too small” but it does need a friend and a home. Aquarium
societies would be wise to establish rewards or special recognition for such
selfless dedication by aquarists. The hobby should recognize these people as our
safety in the preservation of genetic purity, it would be best not to keep
closely related species. Everyone has experienced “that” fish which
mysteriously appears far from "home" having jumped or been
carried by accident in a net or jar to another tank.
Many fishes are transferred accidentally by aquarists who habitually dip
brine shrimp or daphnia nets into one tank after another; always shake out such
live food ABOVE the water line for safety's sake!
Disastrous hybrids could totally destroy your effort and might wipe out
the integrity of a whole species if stock is exchanged in the future!
that taxonomy is terribly imprecise. Generally
you can expect species within a genus to be capable of inter-hybridization, but
many genera can hybridize as well! And
because even family status is subjective and not always uniformly applied, don't
be too confident that traditional family lines can't be crossed by
MAXIMIZE YOUR EFFORTS.
on an aquarist’s involvement and dedication in the hobby, there may be one to
perhaps ten or more aquaria devoted to species maintenance.
While remembering the potential for - as well as the dangers of
hybridization, an aquarist may judiciously choose several unrelated species for
maintenance in a single aquarium. Ideally,
any species maintenance tank should be as large as possible but probably never
less than twenty gallons. Tanks
that are too small may pollute quickly and may also cause increased social
pressure on the residents; even non territorial species exhibit some
have had good luck housing together reproductive colonies of Brachyrhaphis
rhabdophora and Ilyodon xantusi in a 55 gallon tank; of Goodea atripinnis and
Priapella compressa in a 55 gallon tank; and Skiffia bilineata and Heterandria
Formosa in a 20 gallon long tank. For each species, birth and growth to maturity
occurs regularly in the tank and a regular surplus is produced.
house closely related species together, OR above or below one another, OR next
to one another. Ideally, they should be widely separated if kept in the same
room to minimize the risk of accidental mixing.
CULL AND SELECT.
may be the most important tools in long-term management.
presumably love our fish and hate to be callous or hard hearted.
Yet in a way we are “gods”! Malevolence or benevolence are subject to
interpretation. An old saying of which I am fond is "a weed is a flower in
the wrong place". All nature
lovers routinely kill plants and animals either deliberately or inadvertently.
What is important, I think, is the reason.
I always cringe at euthanizing an animal
I probably kill a million brine shrimp a day by feeding them to my
fish. Is there really an
ethical or moral difference?
maintenance will require optimal conditions to be successful in the long run. An
aquarist simply must be practical in his methods. Reasons for culling include:
Tanks must not be allowed to overpopulate.
Breeding stocks must be kept young to maximize reproduction.
Defective fish must be removed to safeguard against possible genetic problems
swamping your gene pool remember spontaneous mutations do occur; most
mutations reoccur repeatedly with a mathematically known frequency.
Your colonies are not going to be genetically stable just because you
never introduce new stock!
some fishes, surplus stock is readily marketable.
The soft‑hearted aquarist is saved the unhappy chore of euthanizing
healthy fish. But, please, don't
only choose species with high marketability or our goal of overall species
maintenance will be destroyed. Sometimes, a satisfactory solution is to keep a
large piscivore as a pet, which eats your surplus fishes.
Dr. Joanne Norton had a Mata Mata turtle for this purpose; other
aquarists keep Oscars or other large cichlids.
your program proceeds, culling of fish will encompass more than the removal of
adult, defective, or sick fishes. From among surplus fishes, a choice must be
made which will go and which will be retained for brood stock.
Generally, the best choice is to keep the TYPICAL fish.
We want species maintenance, not strain development! If you always pick
breeders subjectively the biggest, the smallest, the prettiest, etc. -
you will create domestic morphs that are not even remotely typical of the wild
creature. Remember that Saint
Bernard’s and Chihuahuas were once wolves!
Our purpose here is to retain a wild phenotype.
be afraid to intensively inbreed your stock.
If you cull carefully and retain your average
fishes for breeders, no meaningful genetic disintegration will occur.
An absurd blanket condemnation of
inbreeding is commonplace today that cannot be proven analytically.
The subject is long and detailed beyond the scope of this article.
Most criticisms of inbreeding were actually based on problems of
poor husbandry. A change in conditions usually corrects the population
problem in the next generation.
of genetic diversity is certainly a probability among inbred fishes. Whenever a
closed population of any organism exists, selection and genetic drift will
likely permanently reduce the genome. What often is not accepted is that by the
time a population in the wild is ENDANGERED, it often has been through a genetic
bottle-neck and already has limited genetic diversity in the wild. Unless you
know that genetic diversity actually exists, do not just assume it does! There
are many highly inbred populations of mammals, birds, and fishes that do not
show the deformities, disease, and loss of virility that the doom-sayers
prophesize! Ask any Zoo or institution why they do not sustain more endangered
species than they do. The answer always is COST! To maintain multiple genetic
stocks with maximal genetic diversity for a few species while letting other
species become extinct is abhorrent
honest! Would you not prefer to see every species retained as a homozygous
colony than a handful of representative species maintained with “partial
genetic diversity? “Partial” you ask? Regardless of the platitudes of those
opposed to inbreeding, the managers of so-called outbred stocks regularly cull
examples of genetic diseases, unusual morphs such as “short-legs”, aberrant
pigments, and other atypical phenotypes which are natural components of “true
genetic diversity”. They also minimize the simple truth that mutations
regularly occur and even reverse themselves. If we save a species into the
future as an inbred population, it has the very real potential to some day
evolve into a diversified genome again! An opportunity not available to an
fishes are of course best euthanized and discarded.
Since fish are cold blooded, gradually lowered temperatures are not painful nor traumatic as they are to
warm blooded animals which experience thermal trauma.
An easy death for fish (and for the aquarist!) is to bag the fish in its
tank water and then to set the bag in a freezer. The fish's metabolism simply slows down bringing stupor and
death without apparent trauma.
manage my colonies by never
allowing breeders to remain more than one year after reproductive maturity. For
most livebearers, removing all adults once a year in the Spring is a good
program and can save a lot
on the food bill. Young fish
quickly mature and reproduce during the lengthening day light and a
whole new generation revitalizes your colony. Some fish (e.g.,
large cichlids and catfishes) may require more than one year to become
reproductive but once they do, move out the older generations. Train yourself to love the species and protect its
long range welfare, rather than
attached to individual fish. It frequently happens that when an aquarist
keeps older breeders, one day the colony becomes senescent and reproductivity is
my point back in "1. Define Your Goals"?
KNOW YOURSELF; you
can pamper yourself by
keeping some personal pet-fish but do so in aquaria external
to the project. You do need to enjoy the hobby to stay in it! So don’t
stagnate. Revitalize your interests in any way necessary!
GROW IN STATURE.
of you are better persons than you perhaps believe. In our society
self denigration is commonplace. I'm not sure why but rarely do people
appreciate and value their self worth.
It is common to hear: "...but I'm not as well educated", or "...she's more
skilled", or "...he's a professional". Never forget that
education is only the formal molding of the innate intellect; that skill is only
the overt expression of latent talent; and that a professional is paid, an
amateur is not there is no
inherent implication of skill or intellect in either title. A professional can
be incompetent and many amateurs within their field are without equal.
An expert can be either professional
or amateur, so strive to become
expert in your interest.
yourself to read, to observe, and to keep records. The small scale aquarist has
unique opportunities to grow beyond the boundaries of a limited fish room.
Your time is less divided than is the case for someone with too many
charges. The quality and quantity
of care is probably greater within your small set up.
You can become a competent
and respected aquarist in
spite of limitations. The late Braz Walker, one of the hobby's most respected
authors and aquarists,
became so while a quadriplegic restricted to a respirator!
underestimate yourself. Don't
approach an expert
for help. Friendly people
are friendly and unfriendly people are unfriendly regardless of
occupation. Some experts are very cooperative and will
help you as
much as they have time for. Obviously
they cannot drop everything for your immediate needs; to expect this, casts you
in a bad light, not the expert. Curb
your impatience the wait can often be rewarding.
Experts recognize sincerity but
don't expect them to be your mentor.
Do your groundwork. Prepare
intelligent, concise questions and keep them to a minimum at any given time.
is one of the most rewarding aspects of our hobby. New and often lifelong
friendships can be made by being sincere, generous, and friendly.
or trade your surplus at reasonable rates;
or even give them away outright sometimes, future reciprocal gifts can
be very rewarding. Don't overprice
the rare species it probably
cost the same to raise as the common species in reality. Ideally I prefer to
give away endangered species in order to broaden their base of existence as much
the event you close down your maintenance of a given species, be as responsible
as you can in relocating your stock.
Try to find a recipient who
will have a long term commitment. What ever you do, don't just abandon your past
commitment to safeguard the species. Some
Zoo professionals today prefer to
euthanize surpluses of endangered species rather than to allow private amateurs
to work with them. I am not referring to dangerous species that are
ill suited to home management,
but small birds,
fishes, herptiles, and mammals.
Such irresponsibility by those professionals is not furthering species
maintenance. Amateurs generally
have better track records than Zoos
with small animals; they are simply better cared for in the home environment
the average apathetic, 40 hour/per week public servant. Usually the best
Zoo track records for species maintenance are where the staff members were
hobbyists who brought
their PRIVATE expertise to the Zoos.
I'm not saying to indiscriminately distribute your stock
hesitate to give
a sincere person a chance to
get involved. We all had to start somewhere.
Publish your experiences or, when possible, give verbal presentations. Question and answer sessions rarely “flow” only one way usually both parties can learn something.
my "5. Grow
in Stature" premise, communicate
with others. You will be surprised at the professional zoologists who are
ignorant about good
husbandry practices and need help with research programs. Many
in-house laboratory programs had to be curtailed
due to government-funding cut backs. Some professionals request amateur
involvement in on going research
return, you may receive
access to libraries, lab equipment, or personal knowledge.
be guilty of being close mouthed. There should be no hobby secrets.
Success is usually a measure of constant care and not a secret method.
I'm afraid I have no respect for the concept
of patenting, copyrighting, or refusing to share methods. I suppose a
fine line exists between the
commercial need to protect a service or product and between our own
concerned aquarists. Nonetheless,
I respect cooperation and generosity as a sign of a truly great aquarist.
I hope you'll take my suggestions to
heart. Our wild species need
all the captive support we can give to them.
Remember that this program will work best if you leave room for your own
self gratification. Just as total abstinence from sweets and fattening foods is
less successful than moderate intake during a diet - a careful balance of your priorities between
keeping fun fish
and maintaining one or more
species may allow you to indulge your whims - while simultaneously improving your image as an aquarist!.
i wish to thank j.langhammer and the ALA for their permission to use this article on the livebearers website