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.
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).
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.