Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Hello All!

Kee Huat had a question about leaving lights on 24/7 and Romi had a question about raising Moina, Dero Worms, and Snails together. Little Miss noticed an improvement in the health of her fish using green water. Philip saw the light, while Joe had a question about Blue Moscows as regards Lace Snakeskins.

Kee, leaving lights on 24/7 does not appear to have any effect on the fish whatsoever. It is merely a precaution against a green water crash, which causes oxygen depletion at a rapid rate.
Actually, a 14-16 hour photo period is more than enough to prevent a green water crash. So, you can enjoy the benefits of greenwater and still allow your guppies to rest.

Romi, yes, yes, I did, in fact, raise the snails, Dero Worms, and Moina together. Absolutely! The snails (Red Ramshorn) produce an infusoria along with infusoria produced by the Dero Worms that fed the Moina. The only problem I experienced was that my tap water was lethal over the long haul to the Dero Worms. Perhaps it was too hard or high in pH.

The trick is to use rainwater mixed with a slight amount of tap water, well aged, and leave a light on(100 watt spiral flourescent) over, say, a 10 gallon tank until the water becomes green. Aeration is really necessary, too. Then add your Moina/Dero Wormculture to the mix along with some Red Ramshorn snails.

Believe it or not, Amazon Sword Plants, or Cryptocorne Becketti( they do NOT melt like other Crypts) either in pots (I use the bottoms of 2 liter soda bottles) with peat moss/potting soil topped with gravel, make a PERFECT addition to this set-up. They grow wonderfully in the green water!!! Always start back up cultures!!!

Little Miss, it is true that green water aids in guppy health. Green water is full of infusoria, and, in fact, you can even sustain newborn egglayer fry like Bettas, etc., in green water. Anything that can sustain the newborn fry of an egglayer will at the very least be beneficial to livebearers.

Green water keeps ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and phosphate levels down, and oxygenates the water as well. It truly is a win-win situation.

Some show breeders change 20% of their water twice a week; some, 40% three times a day! LOL Overdoing anything is courting disaster. Clean water is definitely necessary; however, so long as ammonia and nitrites are low, and trace elements still present in the water, the water is "clean" as relates to your guppies. We are not washing dishes in it or drinking it. LOL Some beneficial bacteria, protozoans, and infusoria are appreciated by the guppies-- even if we would not necessarily want to drink it. Good guppy water will have a natural smell to it, much like pond or river water. The currator of the London Aquarium said that keepers of freshwater aquaria need not concern themselves with nitrates-- that is more a concern with saltwater. So, if frequent water changes work for some, so be it. However, it is highly unnecessary.

As much as I enjoyed culturing Grindal worms, Dero Worms, Moina, and as much as I may have hatched live baby brine shrimp and religiously changed water (in my early days), I never could see any benefit or advantage to any of it as regarded the health, beauty, quality, or size of my fish. Never. It was, in fact, my wife who pointed this out to me. Had it not been for her, I might still be on that crazy train, with bottles of brine shrimp hatching and bubbling everywhere, and siphon hoses and buckets strewn about! LOL

A good flake food from Tetramin or another major brand, a well-seasoned box filter, and a 20% monthly water change seemed to be about as good as it got.

Philip, I am glad that discussion is behind us. The thing with the Lace Snakeskin is that it is actually the females that determine what is and is not a Lace Snakeskin! LOL Just like with humans, the female calls the shots. The Lace-caudalled snakeskin has a unique female. She is the "Plain Jane" of guppy females, short, cobby, round-caudalled, and essentially colorless. She is the epitome of a neutral female, and can even be used with solid colored strains to good effect, as she seems to not interfere with the solid caudal of the desired strain.

Joe, I am not sure entirely of your question; but, if you refer to a Russian, or Metal Head Lace Snakeskin, the "lace" properties would, again, be found on the tail or caudal fin. Many Metal or Russian Snakeskins are, indeed, Lace Snakeskins. Some are not, depending on the caudal pattern.

The Asians determined at one point that Lace was X-linked. Regardless, it only interacts with the gene for snakeskin (typically on the Y chromosome). JoAnn Davis, a Canadian breeder with the IFGA, once had a lovely canary yellow Variegated Snakeskin she claimed would produce Lace Snakeskins if used with the "right" female. Of course, this would be a short, cobby, round-tailed, patternless, essentially colorless female of the type described above that carried the lace trait. Rarely, a Lace Snakeskin female will show an ever so slight lace pattern in her caudal. For some reason, most show breeders refrain from using those and use only those with the clearest caudal.

Virtually all other varieties of snakeskin will exhibit giant females with an array of tail types including delta, Robson (shark), as well as others, and have a discernable pattern on their caudal.
Some of these might even carry a single gene for Lace(heterozygous) and throw a percentage of Lace Snakeskin males. They can be quite colorful as well.

Lace Snakeskins are a useful fish; however, they do tend to throw more than their fair share of veils (as any show breeder will tell you), as well as the occasional double sword or "lyretail" as well. This is all part of their uniqueness.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Lace Snakeskin Defined

What is a Lace Snakeskin guppy? A Lace Snakeskin guppy is a snakeskin guppy with a lacetail. Though, as of late, some have erroneously referred to the term “lace” as having something to do with a fine snakeskin pattern. This usage simply has no provenance. And so, herein lies the necessity of this article.

Quite simply, the word “lace” is an English word, and its association with the guppy comes in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s with the occurrence of the English Lace Snakeskin guppies of G. W. Philips. Now, these guppies even predate the veil tails of Paul Hahnel, and as such were not much to look at, coarse, almost nonexistent snakeskin patterns. However, the lace pattern of the tail was unmistakable, only to improve with decades of selective breeding after G.W. Philip’s death. This is the simple origin and provenance of this little English word as it applies to guppies.

Enter German scientist Michael Dzwillo, who in 1959 makes the first scientific reference to “filigree”, which is the German term for snakeskin. I repeat snakeskin. Lace and snakeskin are not the same thing, though lace is most frequently found on a male guppy having a snakeskin body—but not always. Some have postulated that since Dzwillo made no reference to the term “lace”, the term associated with Philip’s guppies did not even last until 1959. The term “lace” has survived to this very day, and furthermore, Dzwillo was not studying lacetail guppies. He was studying run-of-the-mill, garden variety, plain vanilla snakeskin guppies. In no case would any snakeskin or lace snakeskin have had a “fine” snakeskin body pattern, or even a “fine” lace tail pattern for that matter, in 1959. Dzwillo was simply not studying lace genetics, or lacetail genetics. To my knowledge no one has, and it is now 50 years on from Dzwillo’s studies.
Dzwillo was German, and it is only natural he would call the snakeskin pattern “filigree”. Lace is a decidedly English word with a decidedly English provenance. On top of that, the IFGA, which established the standards for guppies which are adhered to throughout North and South America, makes it clear what the term “lace” refers to. You will find the same in Singapore. Singaporean guppy judge, Derrick Tan and I have had many talks about the lace snakeskin guppy, and the term “lace” holds true on the other side of the Pacific.

The system of naming snakeskin guppies has always followed the format of tail type followed by the term "snakeskin" or "cobra". So essentially your template is __________ snakeskin, where the blank is filled in with "solid", for solid snakeskin, or "leopard", for leopard snakeskin, or "variegated", for variegated snakeskin. It is an easy convention and has always suited well.

On a final note, the erroneous usage of “lace” in referring to a fine snakeskin body pattern falls on its face from its own unwieldy weight. How so? Here is how so: Are you really going to call that Solid Snakeskin (solid-colored caudal) in the corner a “Lace Snakeskin” guppy just because it has a fine body pattern? Also, at what point is a fine snakeskin body pattern no longer “fine” and merely average—or even coarse. I have raised snakeskins for years, and that is a no win discussion because it is so subjective. A lacetail is not subjective, regardless of how coarse or fine, a lace guppy has that interlinked, web-like tail pattern. Many Red Metal Lace Snakeskins have a somewhat coarse tail pattern; and, yet, they are known the World over as “lace”. Very rarely does a Lace Snakeskin have a tail pattern so coarse that it would confound.

Friday, June 4, 2010

"Killing Them With Kindness" by Anthony Fischinger

Old timers in the guppy hobby, as well as those who had them growing up many years ago and have re-entered the hobby recently; both can wistfully remember when guppies enjoyed much greater popularity. Guppies created a sensation a century ago and were called millions fish by the Germans due to how easily they were kept and multiplied. Fish keeping was low tech from then to at least the 1970's and the fish thrived. Gravel in guppy tanks was more popular in those days. Obviously, their beauty and small size, peaceful nature and the ease with which they were bred made them big winners in the aquarium hobby. In Chicago in the 70's and 80's when I was growing up there were dozens of pet stores that had multiple tanks of fancy guppies. Some carried a dozen or more varieties and the quality of fish then was high enough to shock many new to the hobby today if they could travel back in time and sees them. Fancy guppies at that time were hardy fish, recommended to all beginning fish keepers. They were a joy to keep and rarely got sick in my experience. A lot of friends I had in those days growing up kept guppies in peaceful community tanks, even some with angelfish, and the guppies thrived. Back in those days, I did water changes and major tank cleaning once a year, since my mom hated water on the floors. I usually just added water to replace that lost by evaporation. I always had live plants in the tanks, and so did many others in those days. I think that was and remains a key to success-- the plants prevented ammonia spikes and nitrate buildup and provided a margin of safety when mistakes in overfeeding were made. The fish just seemed to be happier as well with some live plants in the tanks. I also didn't realize it was important at the time, but aged tank water and the gunk in gravel contain infusoria that are both a food source for fry and a source of challenge to the immune system of the guppies.
One crushing blow to the guppy hobby that happened after I left guppies to go to college was the accidental importation of viruses that wreaked havoc with domestic show fish. We may never know exactly when the viruses first appeared here, but I saw somewhere on the net an account (and I apologize that I can't recall where that was) that the virus arrived here from Asian imports. Tom Allen told me a virus appeared soon after the 1998 Milwaukee show and some breeders suspected European fish were the cause .However the virus(es) got here, ever since then our show guppies have been vulnerable, having little or no immunity and subject to 95% viral wipeouts. Imports have since replaced domestically produced guppies in pet stores for the most part. There is an excellent article in the online IFGA library on fighting guppy disease by Stan Shubel. He handled his crisis admirably, his account of fighting guppy disease is a classic textbook case of the process of viral attenuation that is a virus grown under adverse conditions grows weaker and is rendered harmless or much less dangerous over time. He would have made virologists proud with how he handled it. Though it was unclear exactly what was causing it at the time, by treating the secondary infections and fighting to save his stock, he was in effect vaccinating his fish in the process. He doesn't specifically identify it as a virus, but only a virus can wreak the type of havoc he describes and then burn itself out and attenuate over a period of a few months. Attenuation is a classical method of production of vaccines against viruses and occasionally some bacteria. I had a similar experience to his with a viral wipeout, (mine was from chain store Asian imports for sure) and I rebuilt my fish room from the survivors soon after re-entering the hobby a few years ago.
The hygiene hypothesis basically contends that people raised in too sterile of an environment are more susceptible to nagging illnesses. I believe wholeheartedly and speak from experience that this also applies to keeping guppies. One of the biggest hurdles the guppy hobby needs to clear today is that of loving them to death. Expensive trios that die when moved to a new environment with good water parameters before fry are dropped is, to me, totally unacceptable, as are fish that need constant medication to stay alive. A lot of eager first time hobbyists are lost forever after a bad experience with expensive fish. I was an experienced guppy keeper and was disgusted when I re-entered the hobby and found fish difficult to keep alive. Warning bells go off now for me when a breeder recommends elaborate preparations and attention to pH and hardness and medications, other than possible a bit of salt and worming/parasite medications for the arrival of a trio. Their directions might be meant to help a novice but they make me a bit nervous nonetheless. Let me say that as long as a breeder will stand by their fish and guarantee a drop of fry, I have no problem with them and would buy fish if needed without reservation. I also think a shift to sending fry packages versus trios would be of benefit to the hobby, as they acclimate easier. Guppies should be able to tolerate a wide range of PH and hardness and a fairly wide range of temperature conditions, from acidic backwater filled with tannins to even full saltwater, and from the 50s to the 90s in temperature for at least short periods. I have had my fish survive in both during the last year, I had some fish outside in barrels in dark tannic waters and I gave culls to a friend that acclimated them to saltwater over 24 hours to use as feeders. I rescued some stunned fish from a barrel after an early fall freeze that dropped the water temperature to the low 40's, they were dying and wouldn't have lasted long but recovered fully.
I think the root of the problem is that we are killing them with kindness, raising them in sparkling clean tanks with frequent or constant water changes .A return to simpler methods of guppy husbandry is needed. I think a change is also needed in how we select our breeders. I used to think that inbreeding over too long of a period was the main problem, but mine eyes have seen the glory, so to speak, and I have seen that for even the weakest inbred fish there is hope of recovery of vigor, hardiness, and deportment through selection and husbandry. I have brought strains back from the brink of extinction in my fish room and so have others. The problem really doesn't seem to be the inbreeding like I originally thought, but instead selecting the wrong breeders out of a population. If you breed the two wrong fish, there will always be problems. You can't improve and win with a strain you can't keep alive. Guppies need to be a pleasure to keep, not a burden. Vitality and deportment and favorable responses to stressful conditions need to be the, most important selection criteria if a strain is hard to keep. Perfection of conformation can be worked on conventionally once the fish are easier to keep healthy.
There is something in genetics called the "operon concept". We as hobbyists don't really need to understand the details, but the gist of it is that all animals have genes that can be activated or repressed by the environmental conditions they encounter. Some of these are obviously connected to the adaptive responses of the fish to stress and disease. There is a lag period sometimes, unfortunately, and some fish don't adapt quickly enough and die. Fish that can most easily adapt to stress should be kept as breeders, and those that cannot, should be culled. Common sense guppy breeders have followed this for a long time without any need to understand the reasons why it works, and there are still enough old breeders out there that I have hope for the hobby. It appears the guppy is a good case in point for the concept of genes either being repressed or activated based upon what the guppy encounters in its environment. Fish raised in sterile environments do not have the ability to cope quickly enough with changes in their physiology to changes in their environment such as pH, hardness, temperature swings, parasites, protozoans, bacteria, fungi, etc. Their immune systems have never been challenged and they are vulnerable to all sorts of maladies. We need to make sure these dormant genes for fitness are expressed by challenging the fish and giving their immune systems some exposure to infusoria during their growth and development. I had such trouble getting fry to work with when I re-entered the guppy hobby a few years back that I crossed selected wild type males into fancy females to try to get some fish that would live. When I had much better luck at that point I chalked up the success to the wild genes for fitness that the males carried, and wasn't sure a toughening treatment would apply to inbred IFGA strains. Then I had a conversation that changed my mind and really made a few light bulbs go off in my head.
The good news is you can bring a problem strain back from the brink. Even the weakest of inbred strains can be saved if you can get a few fry to work with. A fellow hobbyist, Greg Dickman, got caught in the trap of a beautiful trio of high dollar fish with no viability. While gorgeous in conformation, the fish were a disaster as regards fitness
criteria. Only one drop of fry was realized from the original trio after nearly 6 months of waiting, and these were not virgin females! The male's ability or lack thereof played no part in the lousy reproductive performance. Luckily, the 3 fry were 2 males and a female. Split tails and fin rot also plagued the original male's short life. It should be noted that new sterile equipment was used to receive the fish and all water parameters were followed to the letter. Shipment was in May, very mild conditions.
After receiving lots of one-word, one-sentence answers from many in the I.F.G.A., Greg was able to finally get some help from the Mousseaus, and Steve Rybiki of AngelsPlus.
This led Greg to examine his fish closer. Sure enough, the females were dropping small, underdeveloped fry. A breeding trap was employed to save a good drop from the lone female offspring. The irony is that the very device that caused the problem was initially employed to save the line. The line was producing extremely small fry that would lie on the bottom of the tank for up to 9 hours before attempting to swim. Not premature, no yolk sacs—just plain weak fish. There are not enough unraveled Chore Boy scrubbers in the World to save such "sitting ducks". The females were not so much cannibalistic as they were simply opportunists. It seems the line had theretofore been kept going artificially with the habitual use of breeding traps by an I.F.G.A. breeder hyper-focused on numbers. They were German Red Lace Snakeskins, and many who have had this line/strain have lost them.
Meanwhile, the original male was kept in as near sterile surroundings as possible, with additions of water-soluble vitamin B to feedings of live baby brine shrimp and doses of Melafix to attempt to treat his split tail and finrot. Nothing worked.
It is now 4 years later, and Greg's Red Lace Snakeskins are alive and well, having survived power outages, a range of temperatures from 49 to 105 degrees, viral infections, and enough brushes with bacterial infections to warrant "combat" pay. Today they are a pleasure to keep. Colony breeding, once sufficient numbers were realized, has replaced breeding traps, and selection for conformation is done from the deserving population—fish that have survived from birth to maturity in a near natural environment.
Fish are kept incredibly overcrowded in ratios of up to 200 per 10 gallon, growing to very good size, shedding considerable doubt on the theories surrounding release of growth-inhibiting hormones in crowded conditions. One to two inches of mulm—a pretty reddish brown color similar to iron-rich river sand—covers the bottoms of all tanks, with algae freely covering the back and sides of each aquarium. Chick brooder heat lamps in clamp fixtures supply light 24/7 and all necessary heat, subject to, of course, wide variations. Fry are raised in green water with liberal feedings of boiled egg yolk, live baby brine shrimp feedings having been left for those profiting from the current Depression. Many of these tanks have no aeration or filtration, this job being done by heavy algae growth. Water changes are done when a tank's biological filter crashes—very rare. New water is limited to capping off evaporation. In short, every rule of typical show guppy husbandry is broken with the result that finrot and split tails have not been seen in years. Greg's examples and mine that follow are extreme, but show how tough guppies can get over a few years if they are really challenged. Green water can support extremely high fish density as Greg has shown, but I recommend aeration and circulation and 24 hour lighting if highly crowded to prevent it from crashing. I toughened my guppies a bit differently than Greg, did but there were some similarities as you will see; we both used response to crowding as one of the selection criteria. Now I will tell you of my experiences in toughening mine over the past few years.
The best way to start a toughening process with a strain is with a new drop of fry. I keep up to several hundred fry in a 2.5 gallon tank for several weeks without changing the water, and they grow like weeds. The tank has a box filter with aragonite and floss in it. The tank is filled at least 50% by volume with hornwort. I like hornwort since it does well and grows very fast even under relatively weak lighting if you let it float. A cheap 4 foot shop light a few inches above a row of tanks is plenty to keep it going. It you are doing this for the first time, shake out the filter that is ready for cleaning and seed the tank with a few ounces of the dirty looking water. This will add filter bacteria and some infusoria to help jump start the immune systems of the fry. Snails or some water in which they have been kept can be added to help seed the tank with some infusoria. If the tank is kept under 24 hour lighting, with a lot of plants or green water, several hundred fry can be kept in a 2.5 gallon tank for several weeks without the water parameters going out of whack. When I feed, I push the plants aside, so there is a bare area of surface. I feed them decapsulated brine shrimp and spiralina flake and they grow nicely despite the crowding .By the end of 3 weeks there might be a half inch of mulm and detritus on the bottom and the tank walls might have a lot of algae on them. I guess I am also selecting for fish that grow well despite crowding, though it didn't really hit me until I was writing this was selecting for fish that were able to tolerate crowding and stay healthy, I guess I got a two for one there. I dump the entire contents of the tank into a 29 gal and immediately remove all the males to their own tank. I scrub at least one or 2 sides of the 2.5 gallon tank with a diaper wipe and refill it for the next batch of fry. I do not try to get it sparkling clean. As for the 29 gal tank, I might keep up to 500, one month to 2 month old fish in it during the culling process. My 29 gal is in front of a sunny South window and is green water. Sometimes, I will do a water change just so I can see the fish to cull and sort. I have to raise a lot more than I otherwise would and cull harder since my strains are still new. I usually let mulm and detritus build up on the bottom and there is usually floating hornwort in all of my tanks, it is temporarily removed to a bucket when I need to net fish. If green water gets thick, you might need to use a big net and get all the fish out and sort them in a clear tank. My fish are so fertile now that I usually just let them drop in the breeder tanks and let the fish do the first cull of any weak fry before I net the survivors and move them to a fry tank, and I still have too many fry. That is a problem I wish I had a few years ago. I scrape the front walls of my tanks with a credit card usually about once a month or when I have trouble seeing the fish. Usually the only time I have a sparkling clear tank is if I want to take some photos. My 10 gal tanks usually have up to about 20-40 adult size fish, and the fish do well and show no stress at those stocking densities under the conditions I keep them in.
I let temperatures fluctuate sometimes up to 10 degrees up or down from the tank water when I do water changes to see if any weaker fish get stressed. They get culled if any seem to not return to normal activity within a few minutes. Usually I do about 80-90% water changes about once a month to two months, or when I can't see the fish anymore. I leave at least a little crud on the bottom in my bare bottomed tanks. The water is typically tea colored when I change it. If I have a bunch of breeders that look about equal, I will crowd and stress them until some show obvious signs of stress or get sick. The stressed or sick fish are the first culls. Sometimes a few fish would get sick with fungus and others would be totally unaffected without any treatment. Some males are much more susceptible to caudal erosion than others when crowded, which is also an easy culling choice. Once you get the numbers up a bit, it is obvious which fish to cull. As a general rule of thumb, if salt, methylene blue, or melafix can't cure a fish in a 5 gallon hospital bucket in a week, the fish are culled. As your fish get tougher over a few generations they will be a pleasure to keep once again. I use anti-protozoan and anti-worm flake food as needed if any fish show white stringy stools, but at this point those fish usually just get culled. One other thing I think that seems to help, especially in male grow out and holding tanks, is to keep a power head running , the fish build some muscle in their caudal peduncles so they can carry a large caudal well. The toughening process can be gradual and I am giving a lot of detail so people can pick and chose what might work for them in their fish rooms. There is more than one way to go about the process as Greg has proved. I gradually let water go longer between changes, letting the interval go longer if the fish looked OK. Also raise some fish outdoors between April and October, roughly between last and first frost. I take a few fish outdoors and acclimate them over an hour in bags in 55 gal barrels in partial shade in Spring when water temps are in the 50's and then add a cow patty to each barrel to grow green water and daphnia for them. I just give them anti-protozoal and anti-worm flake food when I bring the best of them indoors in the fall, usually when the water temps are in the 50's. This is an additional and optional selection step for fitness that is hard to do indoors and I get a lot of extra gallons to raise fish in, most of which go to become feeders, only a few of the best come back indoors to the breeder tanks. My strains are relatively new so large numbers help, I have a lot of culling to do but they are still improving, I was told my fish made a good showing last year at the one show I took them to. Now that they are a pleasure to keep, I can spend the next few years fine tuning them, and the process will not be fraught with worry for their viability.
I suppose toughening fish to some useful degree can also be done in tanks with central filtration as well, I would just seed tanks with infusoria and a bit of mulm and detritus. If I had a water holding tank to draw water from, I would seed that by shaking a used filter into it. Some Asian breeders are keeping some tanks half bare, half gravel with some potted plants. The gravel provides a home for some infusoria to help challenge the immunity of the fish and the filter bacteria and plants there also provide a safety margin to keep water parameters acceptable for a while if the primary filters might fail.
Every Fishroom is different, hopefully people will ask themselves if their fish are as tough as they would like them to be, and if not, take some small steps at first and add a few extra selection criteria for breeders. Maybe scrape only the front wall of your tanks as a start? There is more than one way to do it, Greg shared his account which was different from mine in some ways, similar in others, but also succeeded in producing easy to keep fish. Start with fry or young fish and over time, make fitness one of your selection criteria and your fish can be a lot tougher and pleasant to keep. You don't need to toughen them to an extreme, just enough to make them easy to keep without constant worry. Show males can always be treated to a sparkling tank when their caudals near full development if you have any problems with caudal erosion in older fish. Over time caudal erosion could become less of a problem if you make ability to resist it one of your selection criteria. I have a few males in a crowded holding tank that have been there for months with a half inch of crud on the bottom that have no caudal erosion. Some still get it to a degree, but guess which males will get a second chance with some young females in their old age? Toughening them should improve deportment, so you might gain a point in a competitive class. I saw improvement in health with the first generation raising fry the way I described, and the fish in my breeder tanks are improving in conformation, tolerate crowding better, and continue to have fewer and fewer health problems over time as I select for toughness.
I would also ask others to share their Fishroom experiences and submit articles to the ebulletin, exchange of ideas will help keep the hobby strong. (we don't always have to agree, but debate is healthy and if someone raises some good fish very differently that I do and participates and shows them ,I will still have respect for their skills and methods, and gain an appreciation that there is more than one way to raise a good guppy. I am sure this article will provoke a lot of healthy debate and self-examination. I didn't want to just complain about a problem without doing my best to help fix it. I hope breeders will consider Greg's and my examples and choose to consider whether they may relate to any problems they have encountered with strains that were difficult to keep alive. What are you waiting for? Show your guppies some tough love and keep your guppies and the hobby strong!
Contact the author : Anthony Fischinger

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Green Water Miracle

Here is a thread I started for back in 2006 that has since become one of their most widely viewd threads at over 12,000 views. Enjoy!

The Green Water Miracle
Hello Guppians:I am not sure where this thread should really go, but I HAVE to share this with you.Like everyone else who is serious about raising guppies, I do the bare-bottom tank/ water-changing/ multiple feedings/ live brine shrimp routine. However, there is a far better way.Back at the end of May I set up a 5 gallon tank right in front of a North window, equipped it with a box filter, and promptly dumped 8 young snakeskin females into it. I had 2 gorgeous males that were about two days away from death that I really did not think had a chance to mate-- the females were virgin from about the age of 3 weeks. So we have 10 adult guppies in a 5 gallon tank.The water turned green almost immediately and actually resembled pea soup-- I couldn't even see the fish!!It is now September and that 5 gallon is absolutely teaming with fry of all ages, growing easily twice as fast as the fry in other tanks, the original females are the size of BIG swordtails and the 2 old males are growing and acting like juvies!!Not a single water change. No brine shrimp. One daily feeding(if they are lucky) of flake food. I did have to change the filter medium when the box filter started floating around the beginning of August.I am presently conducting an experiment with a drop of high-dollar German Red Lace Snakes. I put half in a clean tank with 4 + feedings a day, lots of brine shrimp and water changes. The other half went into green water with NO water changes and 1 brine shrimp feeding per day. At 4 weeks of age I can tell you there is NO comparison!Green water is an absolute miracle.Check it out.Greg

More Blue Lace Snakeskins

Co-Culturing Daphnia and Dero Worms

In February of 2003, with funding of $100,000, Hawaii’s freshwater ornamental fish industry sought to find “alternative food organisms that could replace brine shrimp in the larval and nursery stages, in light of increasing prices and variation in availability of brine shrimp cysts.” They used swordtails, a livebearing relative of the guppy, and found that a small species of daphnia called Moina, Moina micrura, fit the bill. Also in the new millennium, a small relative of the tubifex worm began to see use as a live fish food. Known as a micro-tubifex, or Microfex, this little aquatic oligochaete has been known to science since it was named Dero digitata in 1773 by Muller.

Perhaps no other aspect of tropical fish husbandry evokes as much passion as that of what one shall feed. The pleasure an aquarist derives from seeing his or her fish in a feeding frenzy over newly hatched baby brine shrimp is only equaled by the sight of those bulging red bellies in the fry. With a we-are-what-we-eat philosophy for a Holy Grail, the aquarist feels a sense of accomplishment knowing they have fed the best to their stock available. In competition breeding, the right “fuel” takes on an even greater meaning. Indeed, many feel they can feed their way to the top. Alas, this idea is only a half truth. Nutrition is the single most important environmental factor in an organism’s development, but it takes a back seat to genetics every time. That said, it is a well known fact that British conscription troops during WWI were of small stature owing to lack of meat in the diet of so many urban poor. This is a clear case in point where an environmental factor, or lack thereof, can place a damper on genetic potential. In his expose, “People of the Abyss”, author Jack London in 1905 chronicled some of the squalid life in London and remarked that an American could be spotted in a crowd by virtue of the fact he would be a whole head taller than those around him. Unfortunately, the reverse is not true—we cannot exceed the limitations of the genetic blueprint. Nevertheless, the gullible consumer is always beset by glossy advertisements for a dog food, for example, showing this year’s Westminster Champion with his handler receiving his ribbon, as if to say, “Feed our product and your dog, too, can be a champion.”

With nutrition’s scope of influence rationally defined, we as keepers of stock will still want to feed the “best”. While the scientific research that goes into commercial feeds is above reproach, the special interests of Big Business are not. By lobbying to have the canine, for example, labeled an omnivore rather than the more correct appellation of carnivore, Big Business created for itself a huge built-in profit margin. You see, AAFCO, or the Association of American Feed Control Officials, operates within guidelines set forth by government agencies, and the government and Big Business are…well, bed fellows shall we say. Grain is a whole lot cheaper than meat—easier to package, too—and on paper these grain-based feeds meet AAFCO standards; but, in fact, phytates present in great amounts in grain-based feeds render the bioavailability of the meat/protein ingredients very poor. The guppy is classed as a omnivore, but I suspect insectivore would be a more accurate classification, and insectivores are carnivores.

How many times have you seen your guppies truly eat plant leaves? They do not. They may graze lightly on algae that grows on the surface of leaves and glass, but primarily they feed from the water column itself, or the water surface. This means insects, terrestrial or aquatic. Given a choice, the guppy will go after the mosquito landing on the water, or its larvae swimming in the water. That annelid wriggling on the substrate? He is lunch. What vegetable matter a guppy gets is predigested in the intestinal tract of insects. Some species of fish cannot even be induced to spawn without live food, thus the serious aquarist’s fascination with live food. But the procurement of live food is difficult. Live portions of tubifex and daphnia were once commonly available in independently owned and ran pet shops—this can be seen to this day in other countries—but the “big box” chains have homogenized the American consumer into a one-size-fits-all mentality. We now get our Daphnia freeze-dried or frozen in little cubes. Though much of its nutrient content is left intact by freezing and freeze-drying, live foods that are no longer alive do not offer quite the same benefits to fish as the real article—plus, they are so expensive. A few struggle on with hatching live baby brine shrimp, but while undoubtedly a superior food, it is not a renewable live food source for the home aquarist, and its constantly rising cost has driven even commercial concerns to explore different avenues. Compounding the problem is the fact that so many viable live foods are difficult to culture and maintain, and those that are easy and idiot-proof, like the vinegar eel, are of dubious nutritional value. Well, that has all changed.

Strangely, we have come almost full circle back to the days of Innes and Axelrod when Tubifex and Daphnia were King, the be all and end all of live foods. Of course, tubifex fell out of favor when it was discovered to contain harmful parasites. But tubifex has a very close, albeit smaller, cousin that is not plagued with such problems when cultured in controlled conditions, it is known as the Dero worm, or Dero digitata. Also known as the Microfex due to its resemblance to a small tubifex, the Dero worm is a prayer answered for those wanting an idiot-proof, nutritionally-unsurpassed, renewable source of live fish food. While quite long, and sizeable enough to interest any adult guppy or Betta, the Dero worm is quite thin and readily taken by fry as well. What is more, it is usually cultured alongside an old friend, Daphnia. It is an undisputed fact that nothing puts color on a fish like Daphnia. By creating favorable conditions for one species, we are by extension making things favorable for another species; a true symbiotic relationship—two for the price of one. In this case, one merely feeds the Dero worms, and they, in turn, excrete waste favorable to the proliferation of infusoria which the Daphnia feed on. The need for multiple large containers of green water grown under 24 hour lighting is eliminated.

The typically suggested cast of characters for this biotype is as follows: Dero worms, one or more of a species of Daphnia, java moss, and snails. This author cringes only at the snails, for they will leech calcium necessary for the Daphnia’s carapace or exoskeleton from the water. This could be offset, I suppose, by the additions of shells to the tank. While either can be cultured separately, Daphnia and Dero cultured together makes for a productive and compact set up.

Essentially, all one is doing is setting up a cycled fish tank without fish. As aquarist and Daphnia culturist Dave Koran states, “My advice to those wanting to culture daphnia is to first think about how you are going to control water quality. Remember, you won't get 100% conversion of food to daphnia. You need oxygen, circulate your water or facilitate oxygen exchange. Second, you want something that generates protozoa likefood. You will either get that by adding a protozoa soup to your culture or possibly by reconstituting dry yeast. Many things are capable of generating protozoa, from a co-culture to a separate culture of fish or worm manure, cow dung, sweet potatoes, peas, dry baby formula, etc. but do it in a separate container and feed that to the daphnia.” Another writes, “Overfeeding a daphnia culture is very easy to do. It almost always results in oxygen deprivation. However, I believe the notion that "daphnia cannot tolerate aeration is a misnomer. I have found that one of the best ways to stabalize a culture and prevent the described scenario is to add a sponge filter.... the kind that do not require an airstone.” In the statements made by these two gentlemen, you have the core reason for success or failure: water quality. By using the Dero as our source for protozoa, we eliminate one cause of poor water quality, overfeeding. By using a seasoned sponge filter, we stabalize the tank and insure water quality. As previously stated, there is no need for separate cultures of greenwater, manure teas, or elaborate concoctions to feed the Daphnia, as it is built-in with the Dero worm, garbage-disposing, protozoa-emitting vermiculturist that he is. The Dero worm relishes algae wafers, pieces of fish, entire dead fish, decaying leaves, mulm siphoned from your tanks (my food of choice), and even leftover vegetables from your plate—in small amounts, of course.

Several pitfalls do await those wanting to start this type of culture. First, if you have ever had a drop of just a very few fry, you know how difficult it is to feed a half dozen creatures in a 10 gallon tank. Regardless of how sparingly you feed, you are probably overfeeding. Second, every seller I have seen on Aquabid insists this culture can be maintained without filtration or aeration; indeed, I cannot recall even one seller stressing the importance of having cycled quarters for the culture. And so, your culture arrives, a pathetic parcel with a pea-size ball of worms and what looks to be a half dozen Daphnia.
Seasoned aquarists all, we are astute enough to fill a gallon-sized vessel with aged aquarium water and proceed to empty the contents into their new home. We drop a piece of algae wafer on top of the worms and hope for the best. Here is what, in fact, happens. First, while present in the aquarium, infusoria are not to be found in great enough numbers in the average aquarium to satisfy a filter feeder such as Daphnia, which will not actually seek or prey upon infusoria; but, rather, merely take in water with the “hope” infusoria is present. Second, I question the idea that Dero worms eat algae wafers. It is my belief they eat the bacteria from decaying algae wafers. You have an ammonia spike ready to happen, certainly so if you add any greenwater or activated, reconstituted brewer’s yeast under the correct assumption the Daphnia do not have enough to eat. In a small vessel with no aeration or filtration conditions are unstable at best—it is why goldfish in goldfish bowls never really works without constant water changes. The whole thing crashes. Even the Dero worms, which essentially feed off sewage and have developed a way to produce hemoglobin (thus their red-orange color) for oxygen supply in less than well-oxygenated waters, suffer and die. As Paul from Sachs Aquaculture writes, “The worms are not dependent on water changes for growth. However, if the water becomes too stale (my guess is Oxygen goes out the door), the culture will fail.” So to anyone wanting to try this culture, I advise saving all the mulm you siphon from your fish tanks and place it in another tank of at least 10 gallon size, fill with aged aquarium water, and use a sponge filter well-seasoned with helpful bacteria before starting this culture. This way you can feed the daphnia reconstituted, activated brewer’s yeast (2 teaspoons sugar to ¾ teaspoon yeast well mixed in 2 cups of water) until you get over the “hump” and there are enough Dero worms to take care of the Daphnia. You feed just enough to make the water slightly hazy. The Daphnia should clear the water up within 24 hours.

Hornwort, or any other fast-growing floating plant, will greatly help with conditioning the water as well. Further, it does not hurt to start an infusoria culture in a mason jar filled with pond water and some lettuce leaves, which is then placed by a window to both properly inoculate the tank with infusoria and have as a standby.

Another problem that might confront you is the species of Daphnia typically sold with these cultures. It is Daphnia Magna, a species native to Great Britain. For starters, they are too big for all but the largest females. Second, like their American cousins, Daphnia Pulex, a smaller species, their populations will “pulse” under even the best conditions; that is, you will experience a boom or bust cycle with these. Not so with Moina. According to researchers at the University of Florida, “High population densities of Daphnia can result in a dramatic decrease in reproduction, but this is apparently not the case with Moina. The egg output of Daphnia magna drops sharply at a density as low as 95-115 mature individuals per gallon (25-30/L). The maximum sustained density in cultures of Daphnia reported is 1,900 individuals per gallon (500/L). Moina cultures, however, routinely reach densities of 19,000 individuals per gallon (5,000/L) and are, therefore, better adapted for intensive culture. “

Moina has consequently replaced newly-hatched live baby brine shrimp in Singapore’s aquaculture industry. Realistically, it is claimed that a bare 10 gallon aquarium will at least provide a feeding of Moina for 5-7 tanks of fish every other day. I have seen claims of this set up feeding up to 7 tanks daily. This does not even factor in the harvest of Dero worms, which double their number very 3-4 days. One of the original Aquabid sellers of these worms claimed to pull 2lbs a week from the several tanks of them he kept! The bottom line is that this combination culture is getting rave reviews.

From personal experience, I can attest to the ease of culturing the Dero worm. I had received a starter culture a few months back. I made the mistake of supplying no aeration or filtration and had fed the Daphnia greenwater. Of course, the thing crashed—or so I thought. Long story short, I found the one remaining healthy clump of Dero worms and threw it in a tank of guppies. A month later, the bottom of the tank was covered with them, feeding off the bottom mulm. I had done nothing but feed the guppies.

Nutritionally, the protein content of Moina is 50% of dry weight, fat 20-27% in adult females. They are considered as good as, if not better, than newly-hatched brine shrimp. Moina are associated with an unparalleled 95-99% survival rate to ¾ of an inch in ornamental fry. The Dero is nutritionally similar to the tubifex of bygone days, with a protein content of 46.1% of dry weight according to Mary Allen, PhD, of the Smithsonian Institute. The fat content of the Dero is 15.1% of dry weight, similar to the earthworm’s 17.7% of dry weight. By comparison, the protein content of brine shrimp nauplii is 41.6-47.2, according to the University of Gent in Belgium. According to the same source, fat content of brine shrimp nauplii is 20.8-23.1% of dry weight.

This combination live food culturing system is very new and largely still unknown, thus questions remain. As the University of Florida states, “Unfortunately, there is very little information concerning practical mass culture methods of Moina, and the available information is in mimeograph documents, foreign journals or other scarce publications.” Already, many are using the principles behind this symbiotic culture and co-culturing California black worms, Tubifex, and Nais worms with Daphnia. The killifish and betta breeders are largely leading the charge in new developments. Competitive guppy breeders are encouraged to at least explore this new avenue of live food, as only through the innovation of many will advancement come. For guppy enthusiasts with less than, say, 50 tanks, the co-culturing of Dero and Moina will offer immediate freedom from the labor and expense of hatching brine shrimp nauplii. For the hobbyist with 150 or more tanks, this system of live food culture offers at least a substantial reduction in the reliance on live baby brine shrimp. The skeptical aquarist will scoff at this discovery, but it is only through trial and error that advancement will occur. The Dero worms, alone, are worth the price of admission. As I so fortunately learned by accident. Dero worms rival Vinegar eels as a maintenance free culture. As with all endeavors, patience is the key to mastery.

To close on a final thought, the Dero worm does not have to be kept in mulm. So long as it has something decaying to eat, such as a piece of fish or algae wafer, it would thrive equally well in a bare-bottom tank. This leads us to the possibility of growing them in each guppy tank along with the guppies, or even in breeding traps suspended in each tank. For some reason, the guppies do not prey upon the worms balled up in their feeding clumps. This gives the hobbyist with a hundred or more tanks options for culturing enough live food for their fish without designating huge amounts of tanks or space to the project. Who knows what techniques will evolve?

Cold Water Guppies

In April of 2004, I read an article in the April 2004 e-Bulletin of GuppyLabs entitled “The Full Blue of Rio de la Plata – Part One” by Rosario Arijon. In this piece, the author described how a certain Professor Daniel Tejedor, a man of impressive credentials, maintained a fish farm in Olidin, Uruguay where many varieties of ornamental fish were raised. Of specific note was the fact that the gentleman raised, among these various species, guppies that were perfectly adapted to breed at 18 degrees Celsius, and live at 14 degrees Celsius. That is 57.2 to 64.4 degrees Fahrenheit! “No way,” I thought. At the time, I was barely keeping my fragile IFGA strains alive at a constant 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and drops of fry were out of the question! Further, I would later find out I was dealing with some of the tougher strains. Was there a misprint in the GuppyLab’s article? It was just so inconceivable to me.

Over the years that followed, I would occasionally search the web for any other corroborative information on “cold water guppies”. I found some who swore they had some in ponds or in coldwater tanks with goldfish, but other forum members would always dismiss the claims as lies, or insist such guppies were, in fact, Gambusia (mosquito fish). One rather famous American guppy breeder claimed that he knew for a fact guppies would not reproduce below 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and as a long-time New England resident, he should know.

My interest in the subject was born out of a bit of necessity. As the owner and inhabitant of a 115-year-old Victorian cottage, things can get a bit, shall we say, “drafty” in winter. The fact is that the house does not get above 68 degrees from November until the first of April. Due to high utility bills, even those with modern homes typically set the thermostat to 70 degrees during the winter. In my case, with winter temperatures between 10 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit, my home never sees anything warmer than 68 degrees even with the furnace running non-stop. It is usually around 64 degrees through most of the winter.

Since I do not have a room I can designate to my tanks, my tanks are spread about the house and are part of the decorum, if you will. I have 14 tanks at the moment. I have 5 gallon and 10 gallon. The 10 gallons I divide in half with a piece of fitted glass siliconed in place. Obviously, I do not have the luxury of being able to heat a single fish room, as my tanks are strewn about the entire house. Electric heaters I have always used in the past, but always found them highly inaccurate. Perhaps the really high-dollar ones are better. No, I found that clamp lights held 12 inches from the water’s surface and fitted with 100 watt Sylvania “chick brooder” bulbs provided a nice, safe, even heat during the winter, keeping the tanks at about 80 degrees Fahrenheit if the ambient room temperature was around 68 degrees. The problem, however, should be obvious. Essentially, it is like sleeping with the lights on.

The Great Recession of 2008/2009 found me returning to school for nursing, while pinching pennies to cope with ever-rising energy costs. If I was to have this many tanks of guppies, they would have to be able to survive at room temperature, whatever that “room temperature” was. Either that, or perhaps my living arrangements were better suited to goldfish. Cold water guppies were no longer some esoteric consideration, but a hard cold reality, no pun intended.

I have a line of German Red lace Snake Skins imported from Germany by Luke Roebuck and Edgar Chiasson, a line of Blue and HB Blue Deltas out of Bob Lewis stock, a line of Yellow Lace Snake Skins from Anthony Fischinger, and a line of Green Lace Snake Skins out of Joe Rosenberry. Anthony Fischinger had “proofed” the Yellow Lace Snake Skin line—that is, subjected them to extreme water temperatures and conditions—before I even received them. The German Red Lace Snake Skins and Blue/HB Blue Deltas had been greatly toughened over the last half decade in my care, as like Anthony Fischinger, I unequivocally reject the sterile, constant conditions of guppy husbandry set forth by most of the guppy fraternity—I feel such conditions have resulted in the weakened immune systems we currently see and wrongly attribute to inbreeding. But that is another article, and a bit of a “hot potato” at that. My Green Lace Snake Skins were new arrivals, however, having been received in March of 2009. I awaited, with high levels of anxiety, fry from these Green Lace, but was rewarded with tiny drops of up to 5 fry now and again very sporadically. Things were not looking too good going into the winter of 2009/2010.

I relate a bit of background information about my fish because some, reading what follows, will no doubt say, “Well, he is a bit of a nutter anyway, and his fish can live happily in a sewer.” I will deny none of that, but what is important to note is that going into the winter of 2009/2010, I had not had the Green Lace Snake Skins long enough to improve or destroy. Therefore, the experience which I am about to relate can well pertain to those of you who have, what I would call, “puny” fish. This is meant as no slight, for here in America, many major pet shop chains have quit stocking guppies because they often fail to thrive under even the best conditions. So perhaps a disclaimer is in order. Changes to a guppy husbandry regimen should be gradual. Since my fish and I all inhabit the same house, and since I like to do an outcross now and again, I had, for example, stopped disinfecting nets and hoses when going from tank to tank for quite some time. Initially, an outbreak of disease would result, but soon those that survived the outbreak imbued future generations with a vigor superior to that with which I had started.
I have not had an outbreak of any disease since 2007, and I perform water changes very rarely—perhaps twice a year under normal circumstances--- and virtually all my tanks have an appreciable substrate of mulm. Algae is part and parcel of nearly every tank, and plants of some variety or another inhabit most. I am also a great believer in the merits of the Ramshorn Snail. I also attribute most of my success to feeding a good commercial flake food such as TetraMin Betta Flake, as the formulation of these products will not foul water as will some of the “specialty” flakes from the so-called “specialty” dealers. Modernity does have its benefits. No, I leave the homemade beef heart and earthworm flake concoctions to those with either more time on their hands than myself, or an automated water-changing system. Like the aquarists who wrote at the turn of the last century, I belong to the Cult of the Old Water, and have the highest regard for a strong nitrogen cycle and ancient, seasoned filter media.