Saturday, January 31, 2015

Katie: The Saltwater Saga, Part II: Finding Nemo (and Other Ichthy Things)

The tank progress 
             The days following the initial set up of the tank were filled with a flurry of final touches and fishy research as we finished the tank arrangement and started contemplating what corals and fish we wanted to add to our soon-to-be kingdom in the salt. 

Unfortunately, while we were contemplating rock arrangements, Aiptasia reared its ugly head. One lone stalk had snuck past our initial inspection of the rocks, and had started to waive its sinister tentacles in anticipation of overtaking our newly-established dominion. Thanks to Husband’s keen eyes (and slight paranoia of all things saltwater-pest related) we were able to catch it early. We considered trying to remove it, but due to its virulent nature and heart of pure, infectious evil, the entire rock it was attached to had to be banished to the nether-realm of a plastic bowl on our bathroom floor. We carefully inspected every inch of the remaining rock with a small LED flashlight and found a few foreign growths on another small rock. We weren't 100% sure they were Aiptasia, but unwilling to take chances, that rock quickly joined the other in plastic-bowl prison. Eventually, we are going to move them to a better location where all things living on them will die off, and maybe in a couple years we can re-introduce them to whatever tank we have at the time. They will no longer be considered ‘liverock’, but can still be added to a tank if you don’t mind waiting a while for your chemical levels to balance back out (incase all you fishly-oblivious people – like myself – didn’t know).  

After re-settling the remaining rocks, we put the whole tank on Aipsia watch.When a week went by and there was no discernible sign of our nemesis’s return, we figured it was safe to go ahead and start stocking the tank. The first order of business: fish!

Specifically clown fish. Now before you start thinking “Clown fish, how original” (a thought I of course did nothing to encourage with the title of this post) let me explain why almost every saltwater or reef tank owner has one: They’re pretty much the perfect reef fish. Most of them don’t take up a lot of space in a tank, but they do grow and can hold their own, so they can be kept in almost any size set up. They are also extremely coral friendly; other than occasionally trying to adopt a coral in lieu of a proper anemone – which most corals don’t appreciate at all and get rather grumpy about – they bring almost zero negative effects to their coral co-residents. They are also extremely hardy fish who don’t die easily, and they can be very personable. They’re also extremely cute!

Interesting fact: Finding Nemo was semi-accurate in a lot of ways. ‘Dori fish’ - Blue Tangs – can actually co-exist well with clown fish, and Gill - the fish that was always orchestrating the escape attempts is a Moorish Idol, a breed of fish that notoriously doesn't do well in captivity, as they just can't handle or adjust to the glass walls. Who knew!

 But back to the search for our own Nemo: many varieties of clown fish were considered. There is of course your traditional clown fish made popular by the movie, but there is also a plethora of alternate varieties, including designer clown fish (yes, it’s a thing!) that can range from your traditional orange and white, to black and white or maroon, with anything from stripes to patches to almost full-cover white, and everything in between. Some also have electric blue outlining their patterns. One particular pair that caught our collective eye were the Phantom clown fish: black and white irregular patterns outlined with the electric blue, they were stunning fish. Unfortunately they were accompanied by a price tag that left us a feeling a bit stunned as well.

Wanting to keep the over-all price tag fro the tank as small as possible, we decided to keep looking as we mulled it over. It was then that Husband found them: The Solomon clown fish. So named because they hail from the Solomon Isles, the pair he came across were wild-caught with the traditional orange with white stripes patterning, but the orange was an unusually bright, vibrant orange, reminiscent of the flames found in the heart of a fire. His patterning fit Husband’s desire for a more traditional clown fish, while his unique coloration fit my desire for a more unusual fish.

I was at work when Husband made the discovery; he sent me a picture, of which I approved, but wanting to wait to buy the pair with me – because he’s a loving and thoughtful person like that – he waited till I got home that night to talk about it. In the meantime, he called other fish stores to check on the availability of Solomon clowns. It turns out that they are somewhat rare, and ordering any in could take at least - if not more - than 3 months.  
You wont be able to see the blue due to lighting and my camera

          Considering the uniqueness of the fish and their perfect fit for us, their comparative rareness, and how much Husband liked them, we decided to buy them the next morning. When we got there, we realized that one of the fish had sold already, but there was one Solomon left. Lucky for me though, the store also had some Picasso clowns – a variety that I was partial too, with traditional orange, but with white patches in patterns unique to each fish. Upon inspection of their available selection, we found one adorable one that had some of the electric blue lining the intersection of the white and orange. Since the blue was the one thing I hoped to find most in the clowns, we declared our picks to be perfect and bought the two. It’s our hope that they will become a mated pair, and already we are happy with how personable they are. They love to swim right up to the glass and say hi, and they move around enough to provide some tranquil watching and animation to the tank (though the moving makes it very hard to get a good picture). They seem to be settling in quite well, and are making themselves at home – we think the Solomon might be already adopting the output valve since we don’t have an anemone for him.             
The Duncan
Our Hermit Crab that came with the tank and the Duncan

Clown fish don’t actually need anemones, though they are very cool. They were on the top of the list when Husband and I started looking at things for the dream list. Unfortunately, anemones have a tendency to get pissed off and go on a killing rampage. They have a foot and will literally uproot themselves and move when they get grumpy, killing everything in their wake as they go. Since we have a small tank and not a lot of room for one of our corals to go on random killing sprees, he was off the list. We did get a small Duncan, which has a lovely color and the same general shape and wavy tentacles as an anemone, only with much less of a penchant for death and destruction. He’s a bit small for the clown fish to live in, but we’re looking into getting some macro algae which might be a good replacement – plus, there is always the output valve.

Dragon's Breath
We did already get two types of macro algae, which has sealed our love for this plant type. The purple stuff is Ochtodes and adds some nice color and shape to the tank. Our favorite though is the Dragon’s Breath. It’s the beautiful red algae that literally looks like dragon flame suspended in water. The best part is; as it grows, the tips will turn orange, adding to the coursing                    flame effect. This is definitely one of our favorite things in the tank!  

We also found some lovely mushrooms – Husband picked out the orange one on the left, while I picked out the purple and blue one; thankfully they were a good price and we were able to get both!  

The combination Zoa rock 

We found a great Zoa rock as well from what is quickly becoming one of our favorite stores. The rock came with the two types of Zoa, which are encrusting, meaning that over time they will spread out and cover some of the rock surface, creating a beautiful floral-pasture-esque landscape.

        The future of the tank will hopefully include more awesome macro algae, a few more fish varieties, and lots of coral. Husband is busy researching options and contacting dealers, so I’m sure the tank will soon be filled with an abundance of  all kinds of  exotic and stunning saltwater life!           

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