Welcome to my blog!

Some notes and guidelines for this blog:
–> Posts will be brought to the top of the feed whenever they are updated with new information, so re-read old posts if you see them jump the queue. I’m working on adding updated & created dates to each entry.
–> Some of my pre-formatted text sections seem to be magically losing their line breaks, so please let me know if you find one of these sections in a post and I will fix it.
–> Fish are friends, not food!
–> Fries are chips, not fish! (Baby fish are fry, plural)
–> Common names of species are printed in lowercase, unless they incorporate a proper noun, in which case only the proper noun is capitalised. (NOTE: Older posts are still being revised to fix this. Thanks Zed!)
–> Scientific/Latin names are italicised with a capital on the genus and lowercase for the species name. Genus names can be reduced to just their first letter if they have been spelt out in full once already.
–> This blog does its best to conform to the rules of the international flavour of English that is used in English-speaking countries other than the United States. All posts are written in international/UK/non-US/the Queen’s English. I’m Canadian; that’s how I roll.
–> Plurals of Latin loanwords have been preserved: medium becomes media, not mediums; aquarium becomes aquaria, not aquariums; data is treated as the plural of datum; et cetera.
–> Apostrophes should never, ever, ever (EVER!) be used to indicate plural, so EBJDs, not EBJD’s.
–> The contents of this blog represent original work. All pictures were photographed personally (or used with permission of their respective owners and cited appropriately), while the text represents many months of personal research, experience, and chatting with other aquarists. Everything is happily shared with you, but is here for informational and educational purposes only. Please do use, link to and learn from the this blog, and share it with your friends, however, stealing or reposting is just not good karma, and I will be forced  to hunt you if you do! Just sayin’.
–> Found something helpful? Have a story to share? Disagree with everything I’ve written? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment, comment, comment!
–> …However, if you’re posting comments for the world to see, please do so using full sentences and proper punctuation. I will not feel badly about editing out messenger shorthand and other such atrocities.
Posted in Uncategorized

True Red Terrors

It’s been a while, everyone! I’ve been slowly collecting data and will get you some updates to my parrot and convict posts one of these days. The EBJD and devil parrot experiments are basically dead in the water, but I hope to at least tidy up those threads a bit, post some more photos/results, and make some comments about the experiences, leaving the topic of cross-breeding alone in the future.

For now, I’ll just start with a small teaser of what’s to come, but after years and years of keeping an eye out at my LFSs, I have finally found myself some properly labelled, honest-to-goodness true red terrors (“Cichlasoma” festae)!

I’ll talk a bit about the ways to identify true vs. false red terrors and keep snapping pics as these gorgeous, but violent fish grow.

True red terror babies

[More to follow!]

Resources:

Posted in Fish Profiles | Leave a comment

Genetics of the Blood Parrot Cichlid

Last updated: 2012-11-04 — Created: 2010-09-08

Breeding fertile blood parrots has been a (lofty) goal of mine since I started keeping cichlids. Since male blood parrots are generally sterile and unable to reproduce, this post will attempt to shed some light on the formula used to create everyone’s favourite man-made Frankenstein-fishie. While the exact process used to create these freaks of nature is safely locked away somewhere in the heads of the breeders of Taiwan, we can attempt to piece together some of the puzzle and how they are able to keep us in good supply of these happy-looking fish.

Important note: Many blood parrots have been the victims of dyeing, as discussed in this write-up on Fish Channel. It is really important for those considering buying blood parrots to know that, regardless of the colour of the fish in the pet store (be that black, white, orange, yellow, blue, purple or pink), dyed and tattooed fish will lose their artificial colour as they age, and adult blood parrots will reach the same natural shade of orange whether dyed initially or not. So, why are customers dying to buy dyed fish? Good question!

The orange hue of the fish depicted in this post is the natural colour that all blood parrots turn as they age. I’ve made every effort to avoid dyed fish in procuring the female blood parrots used in this experiment. In addition to learning how these fish were created, my primary motivation is to be able to provide a source of guaranteed dye-free parrots to other local hobbyists.

Background:

Scouring the Internet for information, and reading a lot about genetics has given me a good understanding of what is involved. blood parrots are the result of three things:

  1. cross-breeding of two or more species
  2. selective breeding (for the specific shape)
  3. genetic mutation (for the curvy spine)

1. cross-breeding

Most sites suggest a number of potential species, however most are just synonyms for the same fish and are reduced to the following candidates:

  • midas (Amphilophus citrinellus)
  • red devil (Amphilophus labiatus)
  • severum (Heros efasciatus)
  • redhead (Vieja synspilum)
  • firemouth (Thorichthys meeki)

Because of the very bold patterning and colour variety found on the redhead, I find it hard to imagine it being part of the mix, however, after thumbing through a book at my local pet shop stating that it’s now “known” that the blood parrot is a mix of the midas and the redhead, I’m having to rethink this position. (I’ll try to reference this book on my next visit.) The article referenced below also shows these two fishes as the ancestors, but I was always dismissive of this fact because the article is so badly written/translated and seems be telling two stories in parallel, one about attempted cross-breeding techniques and pairings and one about the development and classification of King Kong parrots. With the comments given by Daniel below, a more conclusive explanation has been provided, however. His statements confirm that the cross used was indeed midas x redhead and that the severum is not at all involved in the cross, but only crops up because of a hybrid that was created and given a name that translates into English as severum, but is not actually the species H. efasciatus we know in the hobby. While the redhead is indeed a component of blood parrots, as well as some flowerhorn varieties, I believe the firemouth only got on the list because of either confusion (stemming from the fact that an alternate name of the redhead is the firehead) or because of its role in attempted cross-breeds.

Unfortunately the red devil and midas cichlids are two of the most confused cichlids available on the market today. They are cousins, do cross-breed very readily and look almost identical to the untrained eye. Something gets lost in translation, as “red devil” seems to be an umbrella term for both species in some languages. Some people refuse to distinguish, where others claim they’re the same fish. I’ve bought a red devil labelled as a midas and a midas labelled as a red devil, so it’s a bit of a challenge to find a pure-bred specimen of either. An article (written 30 years ago!) referenced below does a fantastic job of clarifying. The primary differences lie in the body shape (red devils are long and torpedo like, while midases are rounder and more hulking specimens) and the shape of the mouth (red devils have a V-shaped mouth with a blip at the tip of the top lip, while midases have a U-shaped snout and a flatter face).

Regardless, it’s safe to say that the blood parrot is the result of some combination of red devil and/or midas crossed with a redhead. FYI, the gold severum is the result of a recessive-gene mutation – a gold severum is to a green severum what a pink convict is to a black convict. Two problems spring to mind immediately. First, The red devil/midas is an extremely aggressive fish (especially the males) and generally will rip to shreds anything that moves (including its keeper…OUCH!) Second, the severum is very choosy about its mate, so you often have to raise a bunch of them and let them pair off themselves to find a compatible match. So, how do we get a violent fish to mate with a fish that may or may not be able to hold its own? Good question! It could be that you have to take all males from one species and all females from another and let them sort it out. This would likely involve redhead males and midas females, avoiding the nastiness of the male midas. Alternatively, a tank divided by egg grating could be used to house a single red devil/midas female on one side and a number of redhead males on the other, counting on the possibility that at least one of them will sense when the female has laid her eggs and fertilise them in time. The third option would be to strip the parent fish (which may or may not make use of injected hormones) for manual, external fertilisation and then incubate the eggs in a tumbler or other such apparatus. Regardless, it’s likely a painstaking procedure. So when you’ve gone through all this and are lucky enough to be able to cross-breed these two species, you’ll definitely end up with blood parrots, right? Wrong! There are two more factors involved…

2. selective breeding

If you are fortunate enough to get a red devil to mate with a redhead and end up with fry, the hybridisation process generally makes for some funky-looking fry. Each gene involved from either parent will be expressed in the offspring in an uncontrolled manner, and the models that have been developed to predict how offspring will appear no longer apply. Some fry may be long and torpedo-shaped, while some may be rounder. Some may have a very pronounced hook-shaped snout, while others have a straight, sloping forehead. All of them may look the same, but then certain mutations may come about that result in a couple of random freaks in the bunch. There is no way to know except to do the cross and see.

My thinking is that the original breeders of the blood parrot simply “played” until they got the general shape they were trying to “create”. This may have involved multiple generations of cross-breeding, back-crossing and selective breeding from choice offspring. The prime specimens of each generation would be selected for continued breeding, while the rest would be discarded, sold-off as hybrids (clearly marked, of course) or used to feed larger fish.

3. genetic mutation

The last factor involved in the creation of blood parrots is genetic mutation, specifically the abnormal curved spine shape that gives them that fat, round body. Other factors, such as the smiling mouth, hooked nose, orange colouration, etc. I believe to be attributed to the other two factors discussed above.

There are two genes know to exist that cause fish to have a misshapen body – wavy and fused. These genes exist at different loci and are therefore inherited independently of each other – a fish may possess one or the other or both. These genes are both recessive, meaning a copy of the gene must be inherited from each parent in order for any given offspring to display the trait. A pair of wavy genes will produce a fish that has a curved spine that usually arches upwards, while a pair of fused genes will cause a spine that is shorter and compressed. Examples of these mutations can be seen in a lot of pet stores among such novelty fish as: balloon rams, balloon mollies, balloon platies, balloon/jellybean convicts, et cetera. The blood parrot has at least the wavy gene and perhaps the fused one as well. It is thought that these mutations have a negative impact on a fish’s ability to reproduce, through either increased physical awkwardness or reduced strength of a male’s sperm and their inability to penetrate the eggs and/or make the journey through the water successfully.

Now, the exact order in which these steps were taken in order to produce what we now know and love as the blood parrot is unknown, but armed with this information, I figure someone might have a better chance at success. If you try it and it works, I would love to hear your results!

My Approach:

So, the question now  becomes, how does one get these wavy and fused genetic mutations into the fry of blood parrots if blood parrots cannot reproduce themselves? Having learnt all of the information above, I figured it was better not to reinvent the wheel…err…fish and try a different approach.

Some facts I’ve discovered in reading, experimenting and talking to other aquarists:

  • Male blood parrots are sterile, or at least mostly so.
  • Female blood parrots frequently lay eggs, but then eat them up when they don’t get fertilised and hatch.
  • A male red devil/midas will likely bully a female blood parrot to death.
  • A blood parrot will readily cross-breed with a midas, severum, convict (still unproven) or red devil.

My approach has been to start with a collection of blood parrot females and attempt a back-cross to a male of one of the parent fish – midas, severum redhead or red devil.

Through conditioning a pair in a tank divided by egg grating (the grids used to cover fluorescent ceiling lights in office buildings and such – check your building supply store,  near the Plexiglas, about $13 Canadian for a 2′ x 6′ sheet), I was able to encourage a spawn between a male red devil and a female blood parrot.

It took a few tries and a lot of patience to get a spawn to hatch – and survive – but I persevered and was successful.

June 7th, 2010 – Here they are at just 9 days old. Cross-breeding? Check!

Here they are (ignore the random convict in the middle there) at 38 days old! From the looks of things, all of them are really long and torpedo-shaped like a red devil and look very little like a blood parrot.

September 13th, 2010 – Here’s a clear picture of what the majority of the fry look like at 15 weeks old.

However, there are a few (literally three from the whole batch) that are displaying a slightly-rounder body shape, which have been separated as potential parents of the next generation. One such specimen is shown here at 15 weeks old. Selective breeding? Check!

Now, if you understand genetics/heredity, you’ll know that because blood parrots display a gene/genes we know to be recessive, they all have to carry two copies of the gene(s) and will pass one copy on to each and every one of their offspring. I’ve chosen the symbol “wf” to indicate this/these recessive gene(s), but what I really mean is “the mutated shape of the blood parrot”. This could actually be the wavy gene or the fused gene or both or something else altogether. It is unimportant to know for sure for the purposes of this experiment, except to know whether the genes are inherited and displayed or not.

Because the blood parrot mother carried two copies of the wf gene, and since none of the offspring fathered by a red devil show any sort of weird spine shape, it’s safe to say that the father red devil did not carry the genes for these mutations and did not pass them on to any of the fry, giving us fry that all carry one copy of the wf gene.

This can be depicted as follows:

Genes: 
wf = the wavy and/or fused genes
++ = the normal wild-type genes

Fish:
(wf/wf) = A blood parrot-like fish
(++/wf) = A devil parrot fish (carries the wavy and/or fused genes) 
(++/++) = A red devil-like fish
NOTE: I've include the word "like" here because with any hybrid
cross, the offspring will not be pure-bred and should not be called
as such.

So, if the original parent fish (P0) are a red devil father
(++/++) and a blood parrot mother (wf/wf), their F1 children
will be...

 x |  ++   |  ++   |
---+-------+-------+
wf | ++/wf | ++/wf |
---+-------+-------+
wf | ++/wf | ++/wf |
---+-------+-------+
= 100% devil parrots (look like red devils)

Since recessive genes must be inherited from both parents in order to be displayed in the offspring, none of these fry will look anything like a blood parrot.

Soooooo…now we have a whole bunch of fry that carry the genes, but don’t display them. If we select one of these devil parrot fry that is a male and mate it to a blood parrot female that has two copies of the genes we want expressed, what will result is a F2 generation (grandchildren of the original fish) that will come out 50% like a blood parrot and 50% like a devil parrot. Alternatively, if the males and females of the devil parrot fry are mated to each other, the recessive genes will be displayed in 25% of the offspring, while the other 75% will look like the devil parrot fry.

If we mate the F1 fry (++/wf) to each other, we will likely get
an F2 generation that looks like this... 

 x |   ++  |   wf  |
---+-------+-------+  
++ | ++/++ | ++/wf |
---+-------+-------+
wf | ++/wf | wf/wf |
---+-------+-------+
= 25% red devil-like fish
= 50% devil parrots (look like red devils)
= 25% blood parrot-like fish 

Alternatively, mating an F1 devil parrot male (++/wf) to a
(preferably unrelated) blood parrot female (wf/wf), will produce
an F2 that is... 

 x |   ++  |   wf  |
---+-------+-------+  
wf | ++/wf | wf/wf |
---+-------+-------+
wf | ++/wf | wf/wf |
---+-------+-------+
= 50% devil parrots (look like red devils)
= 50% blood parrot-like fish

And there you have a potential recipe for breeding blood parrots. Good luck! Alternatively, a midas, severum or convict are rumoured be able to father fry with a blood parrot female.


Phase I:
Red Devil x Blood Parrot Cross

October 5th, 2010 – “Select” devil parrots at 18 weeks old

November 29th, 2010 – Two of the larger “standard” devil parrots at 26 weeks old. These two were grown out in much less crowded tanks, so they are a lot bigger than their siblings. The fish on the left will likely end up a deep red-orange colour, while the fish on the right was one of the first to lose its stripes, looks to be showing some white spots and will likely end up a pale yellow-orange colour.

November 29th, 2010 – “Select” devil parrots at 26 weeks old. Notice how the colour change is not consistent; some fish turn a lot sooner than their siblings. Fifteen of these “select” fry have been separated as potential parents for the next generation. Some are more rounded than others, but I’m hoping to find at least one nicely-shaped male in the lot.


December 11th, 2010 – Photos of the “select” DPs at 28 weeks. The black patches should fade in time, but the fish with the white patches looks like it will be variegated!


December 18th & 27th, 2010 – Photos of the largest “standard” DP (shown Nov 29, left) as he starts to lose his black stripes and transitions to his final orange colour.


January 18th, 2011 – Photos of the largest “standard” DP after completing the colour change. Little brother below.


February 12th, 2011 – The “select” batch at 9 months, swimming with some larger BPs and a couple convicts.

April 5th, 2011 – I love this one!

April 5th, 2011 – The whole tank of 16 devil parrots, 4 blood parrot females, 2 redheads and a bunch of balloon-gene convicts…oh, and a chocolate pleco in there somewhere too.



December 13th, 2011 – Here are all of the devil parrots at 18 months old. Interesting to note the wide variety of shapes, colours and sizes. The two red devil-like males (far left, rear centre) show a paler orange colour (like their father), while the rounder ones are more orange (like mom). One has yet to fully colour still and two show some intense white patching around the forehead area.

I’ve earmarked five of the devil parrots as “most likely to be male” and will attempt to pair them with the blood parrot females in the coming weeks.


November 4th, 2013 – Below are a number of recent photos of the surviving devil parrots. They’re just shy of 3.5 years old now and show an enormous range of traits — size, colour, and shape all vary wildly from fish to fish. Keep in mind that these fish are all siblings and have been raised together for the most part. I think these results provide a pretty strong case for why one should most definitely NOT hybridise fish. The unpredictable results and predominantly downright ugly specimens are just not worth the chance that you may get lucky and produce something amazing. Hybrids are generally a genetic soup of mediocrity that pale in comparison to their parent species, so I implore you, DO NOT CROSS-BREED FISH! Check out this post for a look at some truly ugly specimens adding further weight to the case for no hybrids.  If you’re still tempted, some questions to ask yourself: Am I willing to euthanise unwanted hybrids or keep them for their entire lifespan? If I choose to pass them on to others, can I guarantee that not a single person who ever receives my hybrids will breed them, intentionally or inadvertently, polluting the pure-strain gene pool? Can I guarantee that everyone selling each and every one of my fish or its offspring in the future will know that they are hybrids and will know to label them properly as such? If you can answer yes to ALL of the above, have at’r. Otherwise, please think twice about what you’re doing.

20131030-BP1 left20131030-BP1 right
20131030-BP2 left20131030-BP2 right
20131030-BP2 vent
DSCF4745

BP1 & BP2.
A couple of female blood parrots, included for reference.

20131030-DP01 left20131030-DP01 right
20131030-DP01 snout20131030-DP01 mouth
DP01. (X) This one is labelled “devil parrot #2” in the above photos. This is by far the largest and healthiest of the batch and very clearly male. It has a slightly rounder shape and a more intense red colour, but for the most part resembles its red devil father.

20131030-DP02 left20131030-DP02 right
DP02. (X) This one is labelled “devil parrot #1” in the above photos. Initially, it looked to be the best of the bunch, but has grown to be anything but — stumpy fins, odd shape, disproportionate, blotchy colour. Ugly.

20131030-DP03 left20131030-DP03 right
DP03. Female. Very round and parrot-like. Slight black fringes on dorsal fin.

20131030-DP04 leftDSCF4790
DP04.
 Not quite as round as #3, but still very parrot-like. Probably female. Notice the red eyes.

20131030-DP05 left20131030-DP05 rightDP05. Very red eyes on this one. Female.

20131030-DP06 left20131030-DP06 right
DP06.
 You can almost see a barred pattern on this lighter-coloured female.

20131030-DP07 left20131030-DP07 right
DP07.
 Red eyes and skewed shape, like the belly is being pulled forward.

20131030-DP08 left20131030-DP08 mouth
DP08. Really deformed mouth and blotchy colours. Definitely male.

20131030-DP09 left20131030-DP09 right
20131030-DP09 mouth20131102-"koi" BPs
DP09. (X) 
The “koi” devil parrot. Also has a deformed mouth. Looks like this is becoming the new trend in blood parrots, as observed at my LFS the other day.

20131030-DP10 left20131030-DP10 right
20131030-DP10 mouth20131030-DP10 vent
DP10. Really murky colours on this one. Looks like it will never turn fully orange.

20131030-DP11 left20131030-DP11 right
DP11. Runt.

20131030-DP12 left20131030-DP12 right
DP12.
 Runt with white patches and red eyes.

20131030-DP13 left20131030-DP13 right
DP13.
 Runt with black patches.

20131030-DP14 left20131030-DP14 right
DP14.
 (X) Cadaver, lost in an unfortunate filtration failure, included for reference.

20131030-DP15 left20131030-DP15 right
DP15.
 (X) Cadaver, lost in an unfortunate filtration failure, included for reference. The male from the pairing below, I believe.

20131030-DP16 left20131030-DP16 right
DP16.
 (X) Cadaver, lost in an unfortunate filtration failure, included for reference. No big loss here.


Phase II:
Devil Parrot x Blood Parrot Spawning Attempts

January 3rd, 2011 – I’ve segregated these two – the largest round-bodied devil parrot male and the most shapely blood parrot female – as a first attempt in finding a fertile/compatible pair.


[ — updates to follow as more progress is made! — ]


Venting Parrots:

Below are some photos showing some some female blood parrots. Notice the ovipositor to the right of the anal pore in each photo. On females, the ovipositor will appear as a larger bulge next to the anal pore, while on males, the anal and genital openings will be about the same size.

Resources:

PLEASE NOTE:

As an ethically-minded pet owner, I do my very best to avoid species that have been mutilated, dyed or surgically altered. Please, please, please, if you see a blood parrot that is anything but a natural looking orange colour (or a dark striped colour if juvenile), avoid buying it. These artificially-tinted fish have been painfully stripped of their slime coating and dipped in coloured dye to give them their funky appearance. Even worse are the “tattooed” variety that display hearts and flowers and other such patterns on their sides. Chances are that these colours will eventually fade to the natural bright orange, so their purchase is not only unethical, but a waste of money over their unaltered counterparts, as their appearance is not permanent!

 

Posted in Genetics | 143 Comments

Believe It or Not

…Toronto now has a marine aquarium at the base of the CN Tower: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada — another tourist trap, designed to profit from the showcase of captive marine life under the guise of providing education to the masses. This is not sitting well with me one bit. 

Leave them on the reef!

Before I’m an aquarist and the Crazy Fish Guy, I’m an ecologist, environmentalist, animal lover, and 20-year vegetarian. (No, I don’t eat fish!) I have never kept saltwater tanks, and I’m now becoming much more aware of what doing so actually costs.

Passing through the area, I’ve known of the construction of this site for quite some time. It’s only been recently, however, that the true impact of its presence has become clear to me and what that actually means to marine life.

I’ll keep it short today, but hope you’ll all consider how you spend your tourist dollars before supporting a facility such as this.

For more information on how you can help:
http://toaquariumresistance.org/
http://www.facebook.com/TorontoAquariumResistance

Posted in Random/Useful Information | Leave a comment

Vermicomposting

Last updated: 2013-10-17 — Created: 2013-10-10

The third week in October is Waste Reduction Week! ( http://www.wrwcanada.com/ )

Somehow it’s been over a year since I’ve created a new post. *hangs head in shame* How on Earth did that happen?! Apologies for being away for so long, my dear readers. I’ve been taking a much more passive approach to my fish experiments recently, just allowing fish to grow and swim without too much careful observation. Fish that have passed on have not been replaced, letting me scale back a bit, but with a fish room clean-up and rearrange in the works, I hope to finally deliver on some of the photos and information updates about which some of you have been hounding me! (And I do thank you for continuing to show interest!)

Vermicomposting setupToday I’m going to talk about my adventures in vermicomposting, that is keeping red wiggler worms in a small plastic box, allowing them to much on compost and poop out a wonderfully rich soil additive.

red wiggler worms 1red wiggler worms 2
While this post might seem a little off-topic, but I assure you it does indeed relate to fishkeeping in that larger fish love noshing on live food, including earthworms. So, it’s a pretty easy and awesome thing to do, taking your food waste and turning it into food for your plants and tasty food for your fish too! Those of you who’d like to try breeding fish will find live/meaty foods will help bring your prospective parents into breeding condition.

Vermicomposting checklistI use/you will need:

  • a plastic bin with lid and holes for aeration
  • 2 shoe mats (or other form of drip tray)
  • 4 plastic flower pots
  • 2 ceramic flower pot saucers
  • bedding material (shredded paper, egg cartons, dead leaves, egg shells, limestone, etc.)
  • red wiggler worms
  • food scraps
  • soil
  • rubber gloves
  • trowel

Grey bin
The first thing you’ll need is a house for your worms. You can buy vermicomposting kits, use an old recycling bin, or make use of any old plastic bucket if you prefer the DIY method.

bottomlid
Your bin should have drainage holes in the bottom, as well as a tight-fitting lid with holes in the top for air to circulate. Worms are photophobic (scared of light), so the bin must be covered and kept in a sheltered spot.

drain coversbedding
I like to invert a plastic flower pot over each of the four drainage holes in the bottom of the bin to allow for some more air to circulate through the bottom of the pile, as well as keeping the holes clear of mucky composting goo. This isn’t necessary by any means, just a little trick I find works. The next step is to provide a bedding layer at the bottom, which will help absorb some of the excess liquid. I’ve used the output of the household paper shredder, but strips of newspaper, egg cartons, or dead leaves, mixed with a bit of crushed limestone or eggshells work just as well.

fresh compostold compost
Ideally, all “green” (i.e. fresh) matter added to the pile should be buried under a layer of “brown” (i.e. dead) matter to keep the smell contained. If you bury everything new you add under what’s been there for a while, the smell will resemble the earthy scents of trekking through a forest and nothing more. If you leave piles of rotting food exposed, you will probably need noseplugs. Shown are banana peels on the bottom, covered by remnants of the last binful of compost (the worms and yet-to-compost matter separated from the composted soil and worm poop).

covered compostsaucers in place
If you find that there’s an odour to your compost bucket or that it’s attracting bugs, just sprinkle a fine layer of regular garden/potting soil on top to cover. When the food scraps that you add contain a lot of liquid, you may find that a rich brown runoff oozes from the bottom of the bin. This liquid is about the colour of coffee and stains like a mofo, so not something you want on your clean carpet. I combat this by encouraging as much evaporation as possible. Inserting two clay flower pot saucers underneath the more loaded end of the bucket allows the liquid to seep to the opposite end of the bucket and drain out to collect in the tray. This also encourages more airflow underneath. I keep a second tray so that I can move the bucket to a clean tray, carry the dirty tray to the tub, and wash away the runoff periodically.

propped up binsetup complete
And that’s it! Just find a corner to stash your vermicomposter and you’ve got yourself a mean, lean, food-digesting machine. Worms reproduce in an hermaphroditic manner, and the population will shrink or grow depending on the available food supply. You needn’t worry about worms escaping and invading your home, as any that do will dry up and die within a short distance of the bucket.

Into your compost bin, you will want to put mostly fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds & filters, egg shells (though these don’t really break down much), grains, nut shells, seeds, crumbs, etc.  Avoid animal products, oils, and anything else you wouldn’t typically put in a regular composter. I find tea bags don’t break down very quickly in the worm bin, so break open the contents and toss the filter part into the regular compost. I have thrown some dead fish into the compost, however, bones will not compost, so you will probably find fish skulls later on if you do this. The rest of the fish will break down though.

You will want to remove the output from the bin every once in a while. Just throw on a pair of rubber gloves, grab your trusty trowel, and crumble shovelfuls between your fingers, putting the soil in one pile and the worms and undigested matter in another to return to the bin for the next batch. The soil will be a very rich, dense, and black. It has very poor drainage, so will hold water exceptionally well. Your end product is best mixed in with other soil to add nutrients to your potting mix as opposed to used on its own.

For a much more thorough DIY tutorial, please check out Jae Steele’s blog (she’s a former classmate of mine and published author). Cathy Nesbitt is also a wealth of knowledge and instructions on the topic and will set you up with a variety of commercial composting solutions if you check out her site. Both are linked below.

I’m often asked why I choose to vermicompost rather than make use of Toronto’s wonderful green bin services that pick up our food waste and cart it off to some far-off place to be processed into fertiliser, and the answer I usually give is that I’d prefer to process and deal with waste in my own backyard rather than burden a waste-disposal infrastructure unnecessarily. I’m trying to think globally and act locally on this issue. Besides, it’s a bit of a neat conversation (and conservation!) piece. You also really get to know who your friends are after you tell them you’ve got worms! *gulp*

Happy composting!🙂


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Convict Cichlid Marble Genes

Last updated: 2012-09-17 — Created: 2010-09-08

I’ve been playing with various colour combinations of convict cichlids to apply the theories of genetic inheritance. This post concentrates on the marble gene for the convict cichlid. Specifically, whether or not the mutation that causes convicts to come out marbled (i.e. pink with splatters of black on them rather than completely colourless (pink) or black (striped/wild-type)) is on the same gene locus as pink/black or in a different spot altogether.


PART 1 – Marble-Pink Interaction

Previous research has shown us that the black gene is dominant over the pink one, that is, if B represents black and b represents pink, crosses occur as follows:

true black (BB) x pink (bb)
 x  | B  | B  |
----+----+----+
 b  | Bb | Bb |
----+----+----+
 b  | Bb | Bb |
----+----+----+
= 100% black (but carrying a pink gene)

black, carrying a pink gene (Bb) x pink (bb)
 x  |  B |  b |
----+----+----+
 b  | Bb | bb |
----+----+----+
 b  | Bb | bb |
----+----+----+
= 50% black (but carrying a pink gene)
= 50% pink

two blacks, both carrying a pink gene (Bb)
 x  |  B |  b |
----+----+----+
 B  | BB | Bb |
----+----+----+
 b  | Bb | bb |
----+----+----+
= 75% black (25% true black, 50% carrying a pink gene)
= 25% pink

Two true blacks or two pinks will breed true, of course.
BB x BB = 100% true black
bb x bb = 100% pink

With this quick intro behind us, let’s move forward with my results…
My initial pairing resulted in fry that were 50% marble and 50% pink – no surprises there. Two of these fry are shown below as adults…

When these two marbled siblings were paired, something funky happened…

If you look closely at the fry in the above photo, you can see some fish that are lightly-marbled, some that are darkly-marbled and some that are plain pink. These fry are all from the same spawn, suggesting that the marble gene is co-dominant, that is, it has an  additive effect and works in “doses” – zero doses is pink, one dose is light marble, two doses is dark marble. A similar phenomenon can be seen in angelfish genetics for the dark gene – zero doses is silver (+/+), one dose is black lace (D/+), two doses is true black (D/D).

Comparing the (grand)parents to the fry would suggest that each marbled (grand)parent carries only one copy of the marble gene. From these results, it would suggest the interaction between marble and pink genes is as follows, where b’ represents the marble gene and b represents pink:

two light marbles (b'b)
 x  | b'  |  b  |
----+-----+-----+
 b' | b'b'| b'b |
----+-----+-----+
 b  | b'b | bb  |
----+-----+-----+
= 25% dark marble (b'b')
= 50% light marble (b'b)
= 25% pink

This will need to be verified through counting fry in future spawns. Those results may confirm this light-dark model, or it could very well be that the marble gene is subject to variable penetrance or expressivity, which would require a different way of looking at things altogether.

Further questions I would like to answer through future crossings…

1. Do two dark marble convicts produce 100% dark marble offspring?
2. Does a dark marble crossed with a pink convict produce 100% light marble offspring?
3. Does line breeding these dark marble convicts have any effect on their marbling amount or colour intensity?


PART 2 – Marble-Black Interaction

Shown here is a true black (wild-type) convict. He has fathered spawns with multiple females and all of them came out 100% black, so he carried two black genes (BB).

Pairing him with a female (light) marble mate was the next logical step in this exercise. Their fry were all black like dad, showing that marble genes are masked by black genes in the same way that pink genes are. Black genes are dominant to both marble and pink.

The next thing to try was to mate one of these black x marble offspring to a pink convict in order to paint a clearer picture of how the three colours interact.

For this part of the experiment, I was able to mate an unrelated pink jellybean convict (which I believe to NOT be a hybrid, but a pure convict with a balloon-like body mutation, similar to a balloon ram, balloon platy, etc, and also carried by the blood parrot — this will be explained in other posts) to a black x marble specimen. The offspring were raised for a number of weeks, until their body patters could be clearly distinguished.

The fry were separated and counted by visual appearance, and the counts were as follows: 25 total, including 12 black, 13 marble and 0 pink. All of the offspring were normal-bodied. Within expected error, this indicates that the result of this pairing is 50% black convict and 50% (light?) marble convict.

Further observation of this spawn to follow.

September 27th, 2010 – Inspection of the spawn today showed some of the “marble” specimens as almost completely striped, with a few breaks on a pink background, while some had barely any marbling on a pink background. Since it is improbable for any of these fish to have inherited a second marble gene from the pink jellybean convict father, the marble gene would seem to appear to have variable expressivity/penetrance. Further observations to follow. An analysis of parent gender and colour should be made as well to determine if the expressivity of the marble pattern is sex-linked.


PART 3 – Confirmation of Findings

Two siblings from the black (BB) x marble (b’b) offspring above were mated together. These two fish could have either genotype Bb’ or Bb, but there is no way to tell for certain just by looking at them since they both appear to be normal black convicts (with some ridiculously-blue hues).

The first spawn did not yield very many survivors, so a definitive statement about the black-marble gene interaction cannot be made at this time. However, the offspring that were produced were predominantly-black, though there were at least some that were light marble. No pink offspring were noticed. Interestingly enough, there was one short-bodied mutant in the mix, which adds a little bit of weight to the theory that there is no cross-breeding involved in creating jellybean convicts. Unfortunately, this small slow-growing individual was joined in his protective habitat by a larger specimen and devoured.

Two additional spawns from these parents are currently growing out, so a statement is forthcoming. It is expected that the results will be as follows:

 x  |   B  |  b   |
----+------+------+
 B  |  BB  | Bb   |
----+------+------+
 b  |  Bb  | bb   |
----+------+------+
= 75% black, 25% pink

OR    

 x  |   B  |  b'  |
----+------+------+
 B  |  BB  | Bb'  |
----+------+------+
 b  |  Bb  | b'b  |
----+------+------+
= 75% black, 25% light marble

OR 

 x  |   B  |  b'  |
----+------+------+
 B  |  BB  | Bb'  |
----+------+------+
 b' |  Bb' | b'b' |
----+------+------+
= 75% black, 25% dark marble

Since the marbled offspring that were initially produced appeared to be of the light marble variety, it would seem that the one parent was Bb’ and the other Bb, and it will be the second case above will likely be the outcome when the younger offspring are large enough to count accurately.

October 21st, 2010 – The two spawns (combined) were counted and observed today. Had I cooked the numbers, the counts couldn’t have come out any better! Out of 101 fry, 76 were black and 25 were marble, a 3:1 ratio pretty much exactly. This shows that the gene for marble must be on the same locus as the gene for black. You can see in the above photo the marble babies in the floating box and the black ones in the tank underneath.

Further experiments are underway, but my current position is that…

– The pink gene is recessive to black. (established)
– The marble gene is on the same locus as the genes for black and pink. (confirmed)
– The marble gene is dominant over pink, but recessive to black. (confirmed)
– The inheritance of these three gene options is not sex-linked and completely Mendelian.
– The marble gene behaves co-dominantly with itself (i.e. one copy of the gene gives lighter marbling patterns, where two copies present darker marbling).
– So,
—> BB, Bb’ and Bb represent striped/black convicts
—> b’b represents a lightly-marbled convict
—> b’b’ represents a darkly-marbled convict
—> bb represents a pink convict.


December 13th, 2011 – A spawn from (I think) my marble-gene black convicts was counted today and of the seventeen fry, thirteen were black (76.47%) and four were marbled (23.53%), again showing a 3:1 ratio pretty much spot on.


December 13th, 2011 – A spawn from my marble-gene black convict male and marble female was counted and of the twenty-two fry, nine were black (40.91%) and thirteen were marbled (59.09%). The expected ratio was 1:1, which these numbers approximate.

The marbled fry from the above two spawns were combined to grow out, while the black fry were used as food.

March 30th, 2012 – Above are the grow-outs from four separate spawns, combined – two each from a marble-gene black x marble pair and a marble-gene black x marble-gene black pair. Both pairs spawned at either end of the same tank almost simultaneously, however, the first pair’s fry were removed first in each case. Assuming all four spawns had equal survival rates (not a chance), the numbers should work out as follows:

MGB x M = (50% black, 50% marble) x 50% of total +
MGB x MGB = (75% black, 25% marble) x 50% of total
= 62.50% black, 37.50% marble

I’m pretty sure some of the older fry jumped in from or out to the surrounding tank and the older fry chewed on some of the younger. Since all things are far from equal, I don’t want to put too much stock in these data, but they are included for completeness anyway. Not-so-meticulous counts were 15 marble (34.09%) and 29 black (65.91%) of the 44 fry counted. Not too far off.

June 25th, 2012 – This spawn seemed to throw a wrench in the gears, but I’m hoping the results are more of an anomaly than anything. From a marble male, paired with a pink female, of 16 fry, ten were marble (62.5%) and six were pink (37.5%). It would seem I have more work to do on this part of the experiment!

September 17th, 2012– Here’s a grow-out from a pink male mated to a marble-gene black female. The count was perfect, thirty-two fry total, sixteen marble, sixteen black! (There was one little guy that could have been a black instead of a marble, so maybe it was 15 and 17, but still, it very close to 50% of each!). Mom passed a black gene on to 50% of her fry and a marble gene on to the remaining 50%. Dad’s recessive pink genes were masked by the marble and black genes, as expected.

 x  |   B  |  b'  |
----+------+------+
 b  |  Bb  | b'b  |
----+------+------+
 b  |  Bb  | b'b  |
----+------+------+
= 50% black, 50% light marble

[— More spawns to come! —]


PART 4 – Marble Gene Expressivity

February 28th, 2012 – No two marble convicts are alike, each having its own unique splattering of black patches. Some have very intense marbling, while others have barely any. I’ve theorised that the marble gene works in doses: zero doses (bb) giving a pink fish, one dose (b’b) giving a lightly-marbled fish, and two doses (b’b’) giving an intensely-marbled fish. However, I’m not entirely convinced it works like this, wondering if the gene instead has variable expressivity based on some other factor.

Shown here is a new store-bought pink female with a home-bred marble male that has barely any marbling on him, just a few spots on his right flank. They have recently spawned. I’m very curious to know if the degree that the marble gene is expressed a parent affects the expressivity of the gene in that parent’s fry, so this spawn will be grown out to observe and answer this question. The male was produced from a brother and sister marble pair, that were produced from store-bought marble male and a store-bought pink female, with both of these pairs shown in photos at the top of this post.

Something interesting happened as the male above aged, the few black specks disappeared, leaving him totally pink. He and the pink female managed to spawn one more time before she killed him off, so their final batch of fry is growing out now. I suspect they will all come out nice and plain pink.

September 2nd, 2012 – I’ve found one really nice male that has some really intense marbling on him. I’m growing him out and hoping to find a similar-looking female to pair with him in order to see if their fry come out just as intense.

[— Results to follow! —]


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Jellybeans? Convicts? Parrots? Balloons? What’s Going On Here?

Last updated: 2012-09-17 — Created: 2010-10-12

As a follow-up to my post titled Genetics of the Blood Parrot Cichlid, I would like to further my study of some of the weird mutant fish found out there, this time the jellybean convict. You may also know them as the jellybean parrot, balloon convict, gumdrop parrot, short-bodied convict or bubblegum parrot. Regardless of what they are called, they basically look like a dwarf version of the blood parrot cichlid with a pink body colour and a more convict-like mouth that can fully close. They have the same basic spinal curvature/compression as a blood parrot and grow very, very, very slowly. Did I mention they grow slowly? K, ’cause they grow slowly!

When I first learnt about the blood parrot, I also saw rumours of  the “jellybean parrot” – a less colourful pink convict male x blood parrot female double-hybrid (I don’t know what else you’d call a hybrid that has a hybrid as a parent). My understanding was that these were the fish sold as “bubblegum parrots” or “coloured parrots” after a procedure to strip them of their slime coating and horribly dye them those ridiculous colours. However, if left their natural colour, they’d be a pale pink. I’d never seen these available in their non-dyed state until I stumbled upon a sale at Big Al’s for colourless parrots cichlids. Young blood parrots are typically dark and striped, colouring up as they age, but these were something different. I brought two home to observe in December, 2008 – one black, one white…

Both of these fish turned orange as they aged and didn’t show any differences from the other blood parrots I’ve owned. In fact, the previously-white one, shown here, is also featured in the right-hand photo of blood parrots above (bottom/right of the two, I believe), now two years old. Regardless, she’s that same orange colour all blood parrots become (and so is the black one, though he lives elsewhere now). So, this makes me think that those dyed “bubblegum parrots” are just some naturally-occurring paler variant of a blood parrot that get “stripped and dipped” and have no cross with a convict involved whatsoever. Since I don’t wish to involve myself with dyed parrots, and this is not the “jellybean parrot” upon which this post is focused, I will move on and not explore this again, unless one of my male convicts takes an interest in one of my female blood parrots. (Unlikely, especially since they reside in different tanks!)

Time passed and my next sighting of “jellybean parrots” was in online ads, local aquarists selling to other aquarists. I figured I’d ask some of the local pros their thoughts, as well as some of the folks selling these fish about their origins. The responses were mixed, but all referred to the same fish:

  • “You are correct… jellybean parrots.”
  • “Those are just plain old pink convicts.”
  • “Jellybean parrots are a hybrid of pink convict and gold severum, the same as blood parrots are a hybrid of midas and gold severum.”
  • Fry were being sold from “the breeding pair that I bought from a Kijiji customer who was selling them as pink jellybean parrots.”
  • “I actually got about 10 fry from a breeder.”
  • “They stay about the size of a golf ball.”

So, interesting information, if not somewhat contradictory! So, how can all of these statements be correct? Well, looking at the information I was provided, it would seem that jellybean parrot males are not sterile, as their blood parrot counterparts usually are, and are fully capable of reproducing. It’s possible that these fish are a hybrid of sorts, but it could also be that they are a selectively-bred pink convict variety. After all, no one to whom I’ve talked claims to have done any sort of cross-breeding to produce these fish, only the breeding of them directly. Also, it would seem these fish stay smaller than the 20 cm sizes that both the severum and blood parrot can reach and show no hint of red or gold colouration whatsoever.

Looking at a lot of the photos that were provided with the ads, the colouration of the fish was identical to that of the pink convict, including the orange belly of the female when she is ready to breed. Also, males were shown as developing a nuchal hump with age – another known convict trait. Neither of these points prove anything definitive, but it does add some weight to the “plain old convict” theory.

October, 2009 – One of the folks selling these fish invited me to come over to buy some of the offspring that he’d been able to produce. I was able to see his pairs and many small tanks of various-sized offspring. I was told these fish were very prolific (convicts are very prolific!), mating quite often and that the fry for sale were the grandchildren of his adults. Comparing the P0 generation with the F1 and F2 generations, I observed a fairly pronounced elongation of the body between parents and their children; it seemed that the rounded shape/short-bodiedness was being bred out with each new generation. I selected five male specimens and brought them home out of curiosity…Look familiar? No? Okay, let me put this another way…

You can see here the similarity to the pure-bred marble convicts above. The five male “jellybeans” did not survive all that long for whatever reason, but were worthwhile in that jellybean parrots would appear to eventually “breed out” to convicts.

January, 2010 – A friend of mine (thanks Eric!) was good enough to provide me with fifteen of the little jellybean parrots made available from an online ad. The little guys were super-fast swimmers, but when they stayed still for a moment, you could see through their semi-transparent skin that they had some weird spine shape and some definite deformities near the tail. They grew out slowly, but I waited…and waited…and waited…

Meanwhile, I did a lot of reading about fish genetics, which brought to my attention the existence of two spinal deformities: “wavy” and “fused”. These are the genetic mutations that are responsible for most of the balloon-shaped fish available, whether those be balloon mollies, balloon rams, balloon platies, blood parrots or something else entirely. Both of these genes are recessive in nature and exist at different loci, meaning they are inherited independently of each other and must be present in a double-dose of the gene in order to be expressed in a given individual. So, a fish must inherit a copy of a gene from each of its parents in order to display the trait. A pair of wavy genes will produce a fish that has a curved spine that usually arches upwards, while a pair of fused genes will cause a spine that is shorter and compressed. Hmmmm…do we know of a fish that looks like a jellybean parrot, but only longer?

Considering all of the similarities between the jellybean parrot and the pink convict – the pink colour, the frequent mating, the orange belly of the female, the relative size and shape – I theorised that the jellybean parrot was in fact nothing more than a convict with a double-dose of the recessive short-bodied wavy and/or fused spinal mutation(s). I proceeded using the same experiment found in the Genetics of the Blood Parrot Cichlid post. The term balloon convict will replace jellybean convict and jellybean parrot from here on in, as this appears to be what they, in fact, are.

July, 2010

While I did not manage to get a photo of the exact pair during spawning (I know, good one, eh!) or before the father was killed off in a domestic incident over custody of the fry, I was able to mate a pink balloon convict male to a marble-gene black convict female (from the Convict Cichlid Marble Genes post experiment). The fry were hatched July 15th, 2010 and have grown considerably since then. As mentioned in the other post, a 50% black/50% marble/0% pink ratio of offspring has been noted, while all of the fry look like normal everyday convicts with no sign of spinal deformity (though their marbling is one heck of a lot more pronounced, which is interesting – watch the Convict Cichlid Marble Genes post for more on this as it develops). The photos below show the fry at 13 weeks.

Because the balloon convict father likely carried two copies of the wf gene(s), and since none of the offspring hatched to a regular convict mother show any sort of weird spine shape, it’s safe to say that the mother convict did not carry the gene(s) for this/these mutation(s) and did not pass them on to any of the fry, giving us fry that all carry one copy of the wf gene(s). Again, the symbol “wf” was used to indicate the wavy and/or fused gene(s), but what is really meant is “the mutated shape of the balloon convict”. It is unimportant, except to know whether the gene(s) is/are inherited and displayed or not.

Progress thus far can be depicted as follows:

Genes: 
wf = the wavy and/or fused spine genes
++ = the wild-type normal spine genes

B = black (wild-type) colouration
b'= marble colouration
b = pink colouration

If the original parent fish (P0) were a pink balloon convict
father (wf/wf b/b) and a marble-gene black convict mother
(++/++ B/b'), the resulting F1 children will be...    

 F1  |   ++   B   |   ++   b'  |
-----+------------+------------+
wf b | ++/wf B/b  | ++/wf b'/b |
-----+------------+------------+

= 50% black  convicts (carrying wf gene)
= 50% marble convicts (carrying wf gene)

October, 2010 – The next step of the experiment will involve pairing off some of my remaining male pink balloon convicts with either the marble or black female offspring from the cross above and observing the outcome. This should bring together two copies of the wavy/fused gene(s) and result in balloon convicts, as follows:

Mate: pink balloon convict father (wf/wf b/b)
    to black convict mother (++/wf B/b)

 F2  |   ++   B   |   ++   b   |   wf   B   |   wf   b   |
-----+------------+------------+------------+------------+
wf b | ++/wf B/b  | ++/wf b/b  | wf/wf B/b  | wf/wf b/b  |
-----+------------+------------+------------+------------+

= 25% black convicts (carrying wf gene)
= 25% pink  convicts (carrying wf gene)
= 25% black balloon convicts
= 25% pink  balloon convicts 

OR 
Mate: pink balloon father (wf/wf b/b)
   to marble convict mother (++/wf b'/b)

 F2  |   ++   b'  |   ++   b   |   wf   b'  |   wf   b   |
-----+------------+------------+------------+------------+
wf b | ++/wf b'/b | ++/wf b/b  | wf/wf b'/b | wf/wf b/b  |
-----+------------+------------+------------+------------+

= 25% marble convicts (carrying wf gene)
= 25% pink   convicts (carrying wf gene)
= 25% marble balloon convicts
= 25% pink   balloon convicts

Much to my amazement, I was taking a peruse through my local PetSmart and saw the little guys available for $12 apiece! This marks the first time I’ve ever seen this variety of Balloon Convict in a retail store. Neat!

October 31st, 2010 – Second sighting! PJ’s had some hot pink dyed ones, labelled “Pink Convict” for $10 each. Looks like these guys are making it into stores on the regular. Sorry for the blur – crappy cell phone camera.

January 18th, 2011 – I discovered a clutch of eggs from my one female balloon convict that had paired up with the largest male. This wasn’t my intention, but it will answer a question important to this experiment: Do two balloon convicts produce 100% balloon convict offspring? A ‘yes’ would indicate there are only recessive genes at work (both parents display the recessive trait, therefore they each have two copies of the gene, as would all their children). A ‘no’ would lend some weight to the theory that this fish is a hybrid (the trait is expressed in the children in an unpredictable, uncontrolled fashion). Mom & dad are shown here guarding their nest.

January 26th, 2011 – The balloon fry have hatched and been separated into an isolation bucket to grow out a little. They are all pale and colourless, as expected. Now to see if they all grow out to be balloon-shaped or not!

February 6th, 2011 – The above spawn got tipped, unfortunately, BUT I did separate the three male pink balloon convicts and five females into their own tank, where they have paired up successfully. I was fortunate enough to find a perfect selection: one male with a pink balloon female, one male with a black balloon-gene female and one male with a marble balloon-gene female, all shown below…

February 11th, 2011 – Here are offspring from pair #2 above. We’ll see how they are shaped in a few months, but if all goes well, these should be 25% pink balloon, 25% pink, 25% black balloon and 25% black.

April 4th, 2011 – I now have spawns from all three of the above pairs growing out, but the oldest pink x black balloon-gene spawn is large enough now to observe. There were only twelve survivors, but it was enough to get a feel for what the pattern will be. The theoretical yield for each of the four genotypes was 25% (or 3 fry in this case). Actual yields were:

B/+ +/wf – black normal: 4 of 12 = 33.33%

B/+ wf/wf – black balloon: 1 of 12 = 8.33%

+/+ +/wf – pink normal: 4 of 12 = 33.33%

+/+ wf/wf – pink balloon: 3 of 12 = 25%

Given the small sample size and since the balloon fry probably have a harder time getting food and are less likely to survive a fight with their straight-spined brethren, these results are quite acceptable, I think!


April 26th, 2011 – I have a new working theory! I’ve noticed the trend seems to be that pink balloon convicts pop up more frequently than their black or marble counterparts. Could it be that the balloon shape is the result of a genetically-influenced deformity, but is further augmented by the weakness inherent in all leucistic fish? Since the pink fish are already weaker because of the colour loss, it would follow that when the wavy and/or fused genes are present, the fish tend to “kink” more than a wild-type or marbled fish.


June 20th, 2011 – Below are some photos of my sole-surviving home-bred black balloon convict. While not as round and compressed a specimen as is perhaps possible, it definitely has the kinked spine and shorter body as compared to a regular convict.




October 25th, 2011– The black balloon survivor has grown up and turned out to be male (he’s got a bit of a hump forming too!). I’ve separated him and the store-bought pink balloon into their own space in hopes that they’ll get along and produce some fry. Because the male was fathered by a pink balloon convict and mothered by a balloon-gene black convict, he should have the genes B/+ wf/wf, while the female should have the genes +/+ wf/wf. Their fry should be all short-bodied, with 50% coming out pink and 50% black. If you remember, however, the male was the only one of his black-coloured brothers and sisters that came out with the short body, so further observation is required to see if the short-bodied trait is strictly genetic or more of a genetic predisposition that is influenced by other factors.

January 13th, 2012– The black balloon x pink balloon pair above has spawned twice, and of the seventeen fry surviving from the two spawns, nine are black and eight are pink. Spinal deformity seems present to some degree in most of the fry. No marble genes appear to have carried through from the father’s grandmother (a marble-gene black convict).

Lineage:
great great great grandmother: store-bought pink convict
x great great great grandfather: store-bought marble convict
(b'/b? ++/++ x b/b ++/++)
= great great grandmother: home-bred marble convict
x great great grandfather: store-bought black convict
(B/B ++/++ x b'/b ++/++)
= great grandmother: home-bred marble-gene black convict
x great grandfather: another hobbyist's pink balloon convict
(b/b wf/wf x B/b' ++/++)
= grandmother: home-bred black balloon-gene convict
x grandfather: another hobbyist's pink balloon convict (brother of great grandfather, likely)
(b/b wf/wf x B/b ++/wf)
= father: home-bred black balloon convict
x mother: store-bought pink balloon convict
(B/b wf/wf x b/b wf/wf)
= pink & black balloon convict fry?
= 50% B/b wf/wf
= 50% b/b wf/wf

February 29th, 2012 – Dad and his fry.

August 28th, 2012

I may call it a day on the balloon-gene experiments. All of the pink balloons have been killed off by other fish, as has the largest black balloon, shown above. To really thrive safely, it would seem the deformed fish need to be kept apart from their stronger, full-sized brethren. At this point, I’m content knowing that it is at least possible to breed short bodied forms of regular fish.

In summary, while the colour (pink/black/marble) of fry can be predicted from their parents, the balloon deformity does not appear to get passed on with as much certainty, only being displayed by a small number of fry within a spawn. This may be because short-bodied fish grow more slowly and have a harder time competing for food, or it may be that there are multiple genetic factors involved that are required to produce balloon-shaped fish. Regardless, to create the “ideal” result with these deformed fish, much care and patience is required.

Posted in Genetics | 46 Comments

Tangled Up in True Green Terrors (and Two-Bands Too)!

Last updated: 2012-05-02 — Created: 2012-02-11

I found them! I thought I was actually going to have to go on a fishing expedition to Peru before I’d be able to to get some, but thanks to Jeff Rapps at Tangled Up in Cichlids, I’m now the proud new owner of some F1 true green terrors. I ordered a couple F1 bifiasciatus as well to go with my older wild-caught female (courtesy of Bob at Aqua Tropics).

My fish-loving friend Brian (check him out at FishFlipper) asked me to go in on an order that (a different) Brian over at Fishopolis was putting together, so that we could all share the shipping and import costs associated with having fish airmailed from the US into Canada. Curious if I’d see something I might want, I had a look at the most recent Tangled Up in Cichlids stock list. There they were, like the shining holy grail of rare South American fish waiting to be ordered, just at the right place, just at the right time. Sweet. With this post, I just wanted to share my first “import” experience.

Andinoacara          stalsbergi               1.5”        15.00 or 6 @ 12.50
F1 juveniles of incredible and rarely-offered white-seam ‘Peru green terror’
Paratheraps          bifasciatus              2.5-3”      12.50 or 4 @ 10.00
F1 Rio Chacamax -- gorgeous red-spotted race w/ lots of yellow over body

I’ve always found other hobbyists reluctant to ship across borders whenever I’ve made enquiries on sites like AquaBid. At first, I thought it was just due to the fact that the shipping is usually much more expensive than the fish, but it’s a lot worse than that. Just shipping from Phillipsburg, NJ to Toronto, ON — about 600 km as the crow flies — incurred some serious overhead. The invoice below shows the breakdown of all the various fishes ordered by the group, plus the extra costs associated with shipping. I personally ordered eight fish at $12.50 US apiece, so you can see how this $100 order would have been prohibitively expensive to import if there weren’t others sharing in the added costs. I should probably also mention that any live arrival guarantees apply only to the cost of the fish, so the shipping (and return shipping) costs are all part of the risk of shipping fish.

Our fish were packed up and sent on Tuesday and available for airport pickup first-thing Wednesday morning. Apparently our fish took quite the detour in getting the short flight from Jersey up to T-dot, being routed all over in the process. Looks like they went from Newark, NJ (EWR) to Denver, CO (DEN) to Las Vegas, NV (LAS) to Toronto, ON (YYZ). They went next flight guaranteed (NFG), but in a very roundabout way!

Brian and Brian went to the CBSA offices at Pearson International Airport to get our package, where they were bounced between a couple of offices in order to pay our extra fees and get intensely scrutinized by the customs officers there (just doing their jobs, of course). They were then sent to a warehouse where they waited for a worker to bring the box out on a forklift. It was a regular unheated venue, so any extended delays would have meant frosty fishies! There was a concern because the waybill for the shipment had the contents label “fish and aquatic plants” abbreviated to just “aquatic plants”. Had this been noticed by officials wanting to prevent plant species migrating where they shouldn’t, it would have spelt certain doom for our fish. Apparently, a specialist is required to inspect in these situations, so you have to wait for him to be available, and that may be longer than your fish have to wait! Fortunately, this was not noticed, so our parcel did not get flagged for extra scrutiny.


(Thanks to Brian C. for grabbing the previous five shots during pickup! Used with his permission.)

The order came in a single polystyrene shipping box, about the size of a 25-gallon breeder aquarium, with heat packs to help with the cold. (It’s just above freezing right now, being mid-February, perhaps even colder at higher altitudes, such as in unheated plane cargo holds!) We were charged $14 USD for this packaging. Because the order went by plane, a $25 USD airport delivery fee was added. US Fish & Wildlife had to inspect our order to the tune of $186 USD. Lastly, the actual shipping charges were $141.46 USD. Oh, wait…not done yet! The government wanted its 13% harmonized sales tax upon arrival, and a terminal fee was owed to the airport. PayPal wanted 3% to convert our (practically at-parity) currency and dinged me for another 2.9% + $0.30 CAD to send my payment over to Brian. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie!

After getting the fish home, slowly acclimatizing them to my tanks and letting them get settled in for a day, they are ready for their first meal in Canada! All eight survived and seem to be doing well so far. With everything said and done, my cost per fish was $23.05 CAD — not too bad for some rare F1 imports, I’d say! A fun adventure!

Andinoacara stalsbergi:

Paraneetroplus bifasciatus:


Note: this fish is jumping genera faster than I change my socks. You may also know it as belonging to Vieja or Paratheraps, depending on who you ask.


March 2nd, 2012 – After a couple of weeks swimming in my tank, all six green terrors are alive and well. A couple of the smaller ones seem emaciated and showed signs of ich, so the tank is being treated with promising results. On the other hand, there’s one of the six that is really packing on weight, so it looks like I’ve identified my first male and the dominant fish in the group!


May 2nd, 2012 – The two smallest GTs did not make it, having not been able to keep any food down and grow along with their brothers & sisters. The four remaining seem to be doing well, each having a very distinct size, but also a plump belly, so I’m not worried about losing any more. Judging by the growth rates, I’m hoping for two males and two females and at least one pair from them.  Pictures to follow.

The wild-caught bifas female has laid eggs a few times now, but the F1 male is still too small (~3″) to risk them swimming in the same space (he’s on the other side of a divider). The F1 female is in another tank, but is growing steadily as well.


Posted in Fish Profiles, Random/Useful Information | 2 Comments