Tuesday, October 7, 2014

DARWIN AS A MENTOR



Blue & Bride

Years ago I got this advice from the great Ann Rogers Clark of the dog world, “Make them typey.  Then make them healthy.  Then make the pretty.”  I never followed that advice.  You see, when I was planning my first betta spawn, I got this advice from one of my Thai mentors, “Put the male and the female in a large clay pot.  Add a reasonably clean leaf.”  Since then I have applied that advice to breedings in fish, snakes, cats, and dogs.  Breeding should be natural.  Focus on the healthy offspring.

When starting a breeding a program, I select parents that breed readily without much human intervention.   I’m very Darwinian in that respect.  If they die easily, I don’t want them in my program.  I set my tanks up, all planted, in my home without frequent water changes or super temperature controls.  When I have spawns, I purposefully do not baby the offspring.  What survives, survives.  From the survivors I will select those with the best form (type) and then make them pretty.  I have found this to be a very successful approach with a variety of freshwater tropical fish and have successfully raised Bettas, Angel Fish, and Jeweled Cichlids, using this approach.

Currently, I have a number of beautiful betta pairs.  Which ones will I put together to spawn?  Those who survive a winter in my family room. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

CHANNELING MAE WEST



Mae West, Vanity Fair 1938

Recently a betta fancier asked on one of the popular forums why others kept bettas.  I answered, in part, because they were among the most interesting of fishes.  Like most in the fancy I have focused on the male of the species, whose form and demeanor overshadow the less elaborately draped females.  However, one of my new purchases has shown me that the females are not to be ignored.

I recently purchased a very striking pair of yellow & black bi-colors.  They were marketed as koi, but lacked the white, orange, & black we normally associate with the goldfish pattern.  Nonetheless, I was ecstatic at receiving the pair, immediately dubbing them BB (bumble bee) and Miss Bee.  BB had a very difficult journey spending almost a week in his shipping pack trapped beneath the almond leaf that was supposed to ensure his health.  He is recovering in a spacious three gallon tank equipped with a lot of greenery and a gentle filter.  His intended, Miss Bee, was temporarily housed in a gallon cube adjacent to one of my most spectacular males, Mister Red.

Miss Bee, Black & Yellow Bi-Color

I awoke this morning to find that Miss Bee, a rather voluptuous female, in Mr Red’s tank.  Mr Red was still in his courting mode, blowing bubbles and strutting, but apparently had not moved onto more serious business.  I immediately scooped up Miss Bee and returned her to her cubicle, adding a construction paper chastity topper.  This evening I went to check on them only to find Miss Bee canoodling with Mr Red.  This time she was not going back to her cell without objection.  She flung herself over the net into an empty tank on the shelf below.  I swear she was channeling Mae West…”Miss Bee, are you trying to show contempt for this owner?  No, your honor, I’m trying to conceal it.”

I do hope BB survives.  I so want fry from this girl.  I think they will be pretty, but I know they will be sassy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

MY NEWEST ARRIVALS

Red Half Moon from Kaimook 15

Well, I knew it wouldn’t be long before my betta collection expanded and today I welcomed three more Thai imports in to my fishy family. Before they arrived I had to scramble to expand my betta bungalow neighborhood. 

As controversial as it is to some, I do not subscribe to the theory that bigger is better when it comes to housing these finny friends. You see, when I bought my very first betta, some 50 plus years ago, I had him in a 20 gallon aquarium. After spending several weeks’ allowance on the set up, I found that my pretty little fish hung out in just one corner of the set up. Now it could have been that there was too much bare space in the tank, although my guppy enthusiast mother had thoroughly schooled me on naturally planted aquariums and my betta tank was well planted. It may have been my four younger siblings constantly pressing their runny little noses against the glass to get a peek at the red fish with the drippingly long finnage. It might have been that Red was simply not the most selectively bred fish and was not particularly aggressive. I moved Red to a two gallon bowl on my desk and he happily oversaw my homework for the rest of his too short life. 

6" Clear Glass Square Vase available from Amazon

In any event I have kept bettas in tanks as small as half a gallon, but I have come to prefer something closer to two gallons, primarily because I can filter a two gallon tank. It is very hard to filter smaller tanks without creating too much current for the still water loving betta. I do keep a one gallon glass cube (6”X”6”X6”) next to my chair in the family room where I spend most of my time. It is not the permanent home of any one fish, but a rotating exhibit so each of the boys (and some exceptional girls) get their time in the spot light. I also find that a seasoned planted one gallon tank makes a perfectly suitable home for a betta. However, it takes a patient aquarist to condition such a small tank.


Acrylic Magazine Holder from Amazon

One tank I haven’t deployed yet is a seamless acrylic 5”X12”X9” tank (roughly two gallons) that is marketed as a magazine holder. The 9”X12” viewing surface makes it perfect for taking photos. The narrow profile allows the option of putting up to seven such tanks on a 36” book shelf. It will be a little more challenging to aquascape, but I think the fish will like it. 

Blue & White Marble from NP Betta

But, on to the boys. I am fascinated by the marbles, but I hate a muddy looking fish. These two are splendid examples of great contrast. The blue & white marble is from NP Betta and is close to the elusive Dalmatian pattern. The orange marble is from the Majcha Farm and has an very appealing tiger stripe pattern. I haven’t got a name yet for the blue & white, but the orange is definitely “Tiger”. 

Orange Marble Half Moon from the Majcha Farm

 I am a big believer that the benchmark for bettas is the red betta. If you can breed a betta that looks like he was cut from a velvet Valentine’s Day heart shaped box, then you have reached the apex of the hobby. This one from Sawanit Yyouchongdee (known on AquaBid as Kaimook15) comes pretty close to that description. He is actually looks better in person than in his AquaBid photo. Funny how we keep returning to the comforts of our youth.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

THE HOBBYIST'S CONUNDRUM





The Iceman, White Dragon Halfmoon from Aquastar71
I had mentioned earlier that bettas were like potato chips, you can’t have just one.  Herein lies the hobbyist’s conundrum.  Before you jump into a hobby take a moment to think about how much time and money you want to commit to your hobby.    Some of us are satisfied to have a few pretty fish adorning our homes.  Others want to pursue the perfect fish and set up elaborate breeding programs supported by dedicated rooms and dozens of tanks (if not hundreds).

The Dark Lord, Black Half Moon (not Melano) from StoryBettas
I am happily at the point in my life where I have lots of free time and enough spare change that I can keep and maintain a number of fish.  My first round of purchases were all multi-color fish: a red, white, & blue tri-color, a red & white bi-color, and a pale mustard gas with an aqua body and gold fins.  My second round of purchases are all solids: a black, a white, a red, & a blue.    

Blue, Blue Half Moon from Paitune
I have purchased females for each of my males and have been housing them in separate 2.5 gallon tanks.  When the new purchases arrive I will move all the ladies to a sorority tank, and reserve the betta bungalows for the boys.    

Red, Red Half Moon from Paitune
So have I thought about how far I will my hobby?  This first year back I am going to limit myself to 12 males.  I’m calling it My Betta Calendar.  Yet to be purchased are a solid yellow, a solid orange, a koi pattern (I’m looking for the right black, orange, & white combo) and two colors yet to be determined to complete the even dozen.  At least that's the plan....and yet there is that sorority tank.

Friday, July 4, 2014

TACKLING THE TALL TANK

I have long been a fan of the planted tank. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I have never allowed me and my fish to be banished to a basement or an aquatic man cave. I prefer my critters to be in the room I’m in, be it family room, study, kitchen, or bedroom. Now, the only way that can happen is if the tank fits in to the d├ęcor. We have found that anywhere you can put a vase of flowers you can put a small planted tank. 

60 gallon aquascape plan
The centerpiece of my fishy hobby is my 60 gallon angelfish tank in our family room. A while back a fixture failure resulted in the slow die off of all the existing plants. Two weeks ago I replaced the fixture with a full spectrum, high output fixture and ordered new plants. The tank presents a challenging task. It is an unusual configuration, 48” long, 24” tall, and only 12” wide, which gives you the viewing area of a much larger tank. However, the narrow base makes it difficult to aquascapes, both from a design perspective and a logistics point of view. With the rim of the tank 54” off the floor, it is difficult to reach the bottom, especially in a tank that is already occupied. 


planting platform in place
Here is how I approached it. I used Rice Paddy Herb (limnophila aromatic), Purple Cabomba (cabomba pulcherrima), Brazilian Pennywort (hydrocotyle leucocephala), Pygmy Chain Sword (echinorodus tenellus), Red Flame Sword (echinodorus red flame), and Crystalwort (riccia fluitans) on a substrate of Miracle Gro Organic Potting Soil covered with sand. I’ve used branches gathered from my yard for my hardscape. Originally, I had wanted to use Scarlet Temple aka Rosaefolia (alternanthera reineckii), to keep all the plants of South American origin, but I have never had any luck with it and the stems I purchased just melted when I put them in the tank, so I substituted the far prettier limnophila. 

After a fresh layer of sand, we wait.
The design calls for the plantings to slope right to left leaving the area under the power filter open. In order to avoid a long afternoon of me hovering precariously over the tank on a step ladder, I devised a planting platform of florists gauze stretched over a frame made from unpainted wire coat hangers (see, Joan Crawford, there is a use for wire coat hangers), placed the stems in the gauze and then dropped the whole thing into the tank. A sprinkle of substrate over the gauze provides a temporary disguise until the plants cover the area. The red sword was simply dropped into place, then the riccia, which was purchased in 3”X5” mats which I cut in quarters, was scattered over the rest of the space. Tomorrow I will give it a final layer of sand to give the tank a freshly groomed look and settle back and wait a couple of months for the landscape to mature. 

Next, I will tackle the aquascapes for the betta tanks.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

HOME, SWEET BETTA HOME


Tetra LED Cube 3-Gallon Aquarium
I have to admit that at one point I had a betta in a giant brandy snifter with colored gravel. Since then I have learned a lot about betta keeping and naturally planted aquariums. Now my goal is to house my bettas in functional, pretty to look at, inexpensive to maintain, tanks. To me that means naturally planted tanks with a sleek appearance free of lots of messy wires and equipment. 

Top Fin 10 Liter Cube Glass Aquarium
Ever since Takashi Amno came on the scene in the 1990s I have been a fan of the sleek aquariums inspired by the Japanese. The birth of the “Nano Aquarium” was all this betta fancier needed to pair a beautiful environment with a beautiful fish. So, I set out to find the perfect home for my soon to arrive Thai immigrants. At this point of my life I have had the happy circumstance of surrounding myself with many quality beautiful things. However, not since my dilettantish twenties have I been willing to over pay for an item. As much as I admired the stylish cube shaped aquariums popular with the current generation, I was unwilling to pay what I saw as an exorbitant price for a five gallon aquarium. I mean, my betta doesn’t need a $100 bowl to live in. 

Top Fin 2.5 Glass Aquarium
One of my go to places for pet supplies is Walmart. Go on, you can be politically correct all you want. I’m gonna shop where I can buy a quality item for my bettas at an affordable price. I first stumbled across  Tetra’s LED Cube 3-Gallon Aquarium, an acrylic, seamless tank with LED light and internal filter for just $30. It’s slick looking and though I may supplement the lighting, It will make an impressive home for one of my boys.

Azoo Palm Filter
However, I like glass. It doesn’t scratch or cloud over time like acrylic. On a trip to PetSmart to look for betta food, I found Top Fin’s 10 liter (2.6 gallon) aquarium. It is exactly the kind of space age, sleek showcase I was seeking for my finned jewels. More traditional, but highly functional are Top Fin’s 2.5 gallon aquariums, already notched for dividers to house the finny harem. 

Illuminada12-Inch Collapsible Full Spectrum Desk Lamp
All of these will be paired with Azoo Palm Filters and Illuminada 16291-006 12-Inch Collapsible Full Spectrum Desk Lamps, on an industrial chic chrome book shelf in front of my chair side window, affording me with easy viewing and the fish and plants with lots of natural light. Now where will I put the nursery tanks?