Employee blogs written by Kristen S

Top 10 Saltwater Reef Critters

»Posted by on Jan 20, 2017 in Blog, Kristen S, Reef Aquariums | Comments Off on Top 10 Saltwater Reef Critters

Top 10 Saltwater Reef Critters

Maintaining a reef aquarium allows an aquarist to create a mini ecosystem in their tank. The fish and corals are of course the highlights, but reef critters can perform useful clean-up jobs and are pretty fun to watch. Here are our top 10 most sold reef critters!   #10. Cleaner Shrimp are both entertaining to observe and useful in a reef aquarium. They can be seen cleaning parasites off of fish, which is important in a reef tank where medicating is difficult. #9. Emerald Crabs are great when that pesky hair algae takes over. They do a great job picking the algae out from between corals that can be difficult to get out manually. #8. Sexy Shrimp are just fun to watch. They will host an anemone and ‘dance’ by wiggling their tails. It’s especially cool if there’s a whole group in one anemone. #7. Banded Coral Shrimp are another purely ornamental reef critter. They usually hide a lot but their long claws make them a very interesting tank mate and they also come in gold and blue. #6. Trochus Snails are a very useful part of any clean-up crew. They do a great job cleaning algae off the glass, keeping the aquarium looking tidier for longer. #5. Scarlet Leg Hermit – another great clean-up crew member. They’re great for picking algae and detritus that collects on live rock. #4. Nassarius Snails are a helpful part of your clean-up crew that you’ll probably never see. They burrow under the sand and keep it moving to prevent algae and cyanobacteria from forming on the sand bed. #3. Sand Sifting Starfish are an alternative to the nassarius snails. They also burrow under the sand and move it around, plus they’ll feed on detritus in the sand bed. #2. Tuxedo Urchins are another option for cleaning up hair algae. They’re a cool alternative to emerald crabs and are fun to watch crawl across the reef. #1. Tigertail Sea Cucumbers are excellent detritivores, cleaning up left-over food in tough to reach places. They are also very unique looking and make an entertaining addition to any reef...

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Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: Keeping Seahorses and Pipefish – Not a Pipe Dream

»Posted by on Jun 23, 2016 in Blog, Kristen S, Reef Aquariums, Saltwater Fish | Comments Off on Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: Keeping Seahorses and Pipefish – Not a Pipe Dream

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: Keeping Seahorses and Pipefish – Not a Pipe Dream

Seahorses are one of the most unique and easily recognizable marine fish, so it’s no surprise that many customers ask about keeping them in their saltwater aquariums.  Because seahorses are very different-looking from other fish, they require special consideration when thinking about keeping them at home.  The seahorse’s lesser-known cousin, the pipefish, is also a very interesting fish to keep.  Unlike seahorses, pipefish can be kept in reef tanks, but certain considerations should be kept in mind such as tank-mates and feeding. Seahorses fall into the genus Hippocampus within the Sygnathidae family.  It’s easy to see at first glance that these fish are extremely different from your average tang or clownfish.  Seahorses don’t have scales; instead they have a bony armor that protects them.  They also don’t have a caudal fin; instead they have a prehensile tail that they use to anchor them on to rocks, coral, or algae.  They only use their dorsal and opercular, or modified pectoral, fins for movement and as a result, they’re not very strong swimmers.  In the wild, seahorses live in sheltered areas of coral reefs or grass beds with little water current.  Their horse-like mouth is specially adapted to suck up tiny organisms like amphipods, isopods, copepods, and mysid shrimp like a vacuum. Because seahorses are so specialized, they do not do well in high flow reef tanks competing for food with other fish.  A species only aquarium is the best way to house and appreciate them.  With the right equipment it’s easy to create a seahorse display at home.  A 29/30 gallon tank is a great starter option.  You may also want to consider getting a taller tank; seahorses are more vertical swimmers than horizontal.  After you have a tank picked out, you want to make sure that you have good filtration as seahorses are messy eaters and they are especially sensitive to changes in water quality, so a protein skimmer is a great addition.  The second thing you want to make sure you have is low flow because they can’t swim against strong currents. Unique features of seahorse tanks are hitching posts, or things for the seahorses to hold on to with their tail.  Branch rock, plants, gorgonians, and soft corals can all be used as hitching posts.  Soft corals may be used because they usually don’t have a strong sting; other more aggressive species of corals should be avoided because the seahorses lack scales and are stung much easier.  Crabs and shrimp should also be avoided as they may injure the seahorse or a particularly large seahorse may pick at them.  A good tank mate would be Nassarius snails; seahorses are messy eaters so having a sand-sifting snail will help prevent too much waste buildup.  Feeding seahorses can be a challenging task; they can be fed live foods such as brine shrimp, but should eventually be moved on to frozen food such as mysis shrimp.  Getting a seahorse to eat frozen food may take quite a while, so be patient.  There are many species of seahorse available to purchase that come in a few different colors.  The common species that we carry are Hippocampus erectus, H. reidi, and H. kuda.  There are also hybrids available that are combinations of two species. Pipefish may look very different from seahorses, but they are essentially stretched out seahorses.  Pipefish are much more suited to a reef aquarium than their cousins; but there are a few things you want to keep in mind.  Pipefish should be added to an established aquarium, preferably one that has a large culture of copepods, as getting these guys to eat frozen is also challenging.  There should be no aggressive fish in the tank, so in a reef tank, fish like tangs and maroon clowns may be too territorial.  Any strong stinging corals and anemones should be avoided; pipefish don’t have scales like seahorses so they are easily stung.  You may also want to place a guard over the teeth of the overflow box to ensure one of the pipefish doesn’t end up in the sump. There are two main groupings of pipefish that are commonly found in the aquarium hobby:  flagtail pipes and dragonface pipes.  Flagtail pipefish are a bit easier to get on a frozen food than the dragonface pipefish and like seahorses they should be kept a pair per 30 gallons.  The Bluestripe Pipefish (Doryrhamphus excisus) is perhaps one of the hardiest pipefish to keep.  These pipefish can be aggressive so caution should be taken adding more than one to a tank.  The Banded Pipefish (Dunkerocampus dactyliophorus) and the Yellow Banded Pipefish (D. pessuliferus) are much more sensitive than the...

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Freshwater Invertebrates for Aquariums

»Posted by on Apr 21, 2016 in Blog, Kristen S | Comments Off on Freshwater Invertebrates for Aquariums

Freshwater Invertebrates for Aquariums

When setting up a freshwater aquarium many of our customers ask what other kinds of animals they can put in the tank other than fish.  There are many species of invertebrates that are easily kept in a community aquarium and some even help keep the tank cleaner.  Some of these groups include snails, shrimp, lobsters, clams, and crabs. Snails are a great addition to most tanks because they eat algae off the glass and decorations and they scavenge on uneaten flake food which helps keep the gravel clean. A snail’s diet can also be supplemented with algae wafers for them to graze on.  They work very well in peaceful community tanks with nothing aggressive that might eat them.  Harder water is also beneficial, though not required, to keep freshwater snails; the minerals help them build their shell. One popular species is the Mystery snail because they come in several different colors including gold, white, and black.  These snails will help keep the tank clean by eating algae but be careful adding one to a planted tank as they will also eat plants.  Another popular snail is the Nerite snail; these snails have zebra striping on their shells.  Many aquarists also like them because their eggs will only hatch in brackish water so there’s no worrying about there being baby snails in the tank (only white eggs on the glass). Pest snails, such as trumpet snails, can be introduced accidentally to a tank on live plant leaves. There are a few ways to get rid of them.  One way is to place a sheet of algae on the bottom of the tank overnight and the next day many of the snails will be on the algae eating it so you can remove the whole sheet with the snails.  Another way is to introduce something that will eat the pest snails such as a species of loach or an assassin snail.  Assassin snails are opportunistic carnivores so they will eat pest snails if they are available, but they will also eat detritus off the gravel and they do have a cool yellow and brown striping pattern. Another great invertebrate addition for planted aquariums, are crustaceans like shrimp.  There are a lot of different kinds of shrimp that come in a variety of colors.  Similar to snails, shrimp are best added to peaceful tanks with nothing that will eat them, especially the smaller fancy shrimp.  They also like a lot of décor to climb on such as moss.  Shrimp pellets are needed to feed shrimp because it helps keep their exoskeleton strong and helps with molting. Japonica shrimp, or Amano shrimp, are a popular addition because they are great algae grazers, especially in planted tanks; they will eat the algae off of the plant leaves and moss.  Flower shrimp are a cool addition because they have fan-like appendages that they use to fan leftover food towards them out of the water column.  It’s a very unique and interesting behavior to observe.  Ghost shrimp, as the name implies, are basically transparent shrimp.  Be careful adding them to a tank with other shrimp, as they are known to be cannibalistic. The fancy shrimp come in a huge variety of colors.  These shrimp are much smaller than the Japonica or the Flower, so while they can be added to a community tank, they may do best in a shrimp-only tank.  The most popular of these is cherry shrimp, which is understandable given their bright red coloration.  Fancy shrimp also include Red Crystal shrimp, Blue Velvet shrimp, Yellow Rili shrimp, and Orange Sunkist shrimp. There are also a variety of lobsters that customers always want to add to their tanks.  These lobsters are actually freshwater crayfish.  We get them in several colors including red, white, and electric blue.  These invertebrates should be added to a tank with caution; if a fish is too slow or too small, the crayfish can grab it.  They should be kept with larger fast moving fish and one to a tank (unless the tank is at least 48” wide), as they can be aggressive with each other. Clams are rarely thought of when choosing animals for a freshwater aquarium.  While they’re not as active as most animals, when kept properly, they are very interesting to watch.  Clams filter food from the water by pushing water through their siphon; it’s cool to see a clam partially open filter feeding.  Sometimes they bury themselves so it helps to have a fine substrate and they should be kept with peaceful fish that are not invertebrate eaters like puffers. Finally, there are a few species of freshwater crabs that can...

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Designer Clownfish

»Posted by on Apr 1, 2016 in Blog, Kristen S, Saltwater Fish | Comments Off on Designer Clownfish

Designer Clownfish Kristen Schmicker   Clownfish are definitely one of the most popular and easy to keep families of saltwater fish. They’re great for beginners; they have great personalities; and many people love observing their symbiotic relationship with anemones. Perhaps the most popular species of clownfish would be Amphiprion ocellaris, or “Nemo” as many people refer to them. Another type of clownfish commonly kept in aquariums would be Amphiprion percula, which can easily be mistaken for A. ocellaris. The easiest way to differentiate the two is to count the spines in their dorsal fin; A. ocellaris typically will have 11 spines and A. percula will have 10. A third popular clownfish species is the maroon clown, Premnas biaculeatus. This species is much more aggressive than A. ocellaris or A. percula, but is just as hardy and easy to keep. From these three species there have been countless “fancy” or “designer” types available for sale. These different color patterns may occur naturally in the wild or are created through generations of selective breeding. You may notice that these pairs of designer clownfish are much more expensive than their standard counterparts. This is a result of the work that goes in to creating the different, and in some cases, rare patterns on the fish. Another factor is the grading of the pattern. You may notice the word “Ultra”, “Premium”, or “Extreme” before the name of the fish, or it might say “Grade A” or Grade B”. These titles depend on the amount of white on the fish, odd or desirable markings, extra stripes, and in some cases the white stripes have a hint of baby blue in the outline. As you can guess the more of those factors on the clown, the more expensive the fish because in most cases only a handful of clownfish will have those odd patterns. Ocellaris has perhaps the widest range of patterns out of the three mentioned. One of my favorites is the Naked Ocellaris. These clowns have no white striping whatsoever; this was simply a unique mutation that occurred in the breeding process. A similar type is the Nearly Naked Ocellaris, these clowns have only a single dot behind their head. There are also Misbar Ocellaris where one or more of the stripes did not form completely, or in the case of Extreme Misbar Ocellaris, the stripe is missing altogether. One popular variation are the Snowflake Ocellaris; these were created in the UK through selective breeding of regular A. ocellaris.These also come in Premium, where the first two stripes are joined, and Ultra, which has the most white. Wyoming White Ocellaris were also developed from a regular pair of A. ocellaris; these clowns are almost all white. The DaVinci Ocellaris were created by crossing a Wyoming White with a regular A. ocellaris and the result was an interesting white pattern that resembles a painting. The DaVinci Ocellaris also come in Extreme, Grade A and Grade B depending on the amount of white. Another naturally occurring color morph of A. ocellaris is the Black Ocellaris, these clowns are completely black and white. Some may possess small amounts of orange but this is typically lost as they mature. The Black Ocellaris also come in Misbar varieties. The rare Midnight Ocellaris is another unique mutation where the fish is completely black with no white striping. The Domino Ocellaris are the offspring of the Midnight Ocellaris and have only one white spot behind their head. The Black Ice Ocellaris are a cross between a Premium Snowflake and a Black Ocellaris; these also come in Ultra and Premium varieties.   The Mocha Ocellaris (like the ones we bred at our aquaculture facility) are a cross between a regular A. ocellaris and a Black Ocellaris. There are also MochaVinci Ocellaris that were created by crossing a DaVinci Ocellaris with a Black Ocellaris. Percula has a naturally occurring pattern mutation called a Picasso Percula. This clown also has unique striping similar to a painting. From the selective breeding of Picasso Perculas, the Platinum Percula was created; this clownfish is also almost completely white. The A. percula come in Misbar varieties as well. The Maine Blizzard Perculas were created by selectively breeding the Premium Picassos; these clowns look very similar to the Wyoming White, the main difference being the species of clownfish. Onyx Perculas were selectively bred to have more black between their stripes. And when an Onyx Percula and a Black Ocellaris were bred the result was the Black Photon Clown. Maroon Clownfish also come in many varieties. The Goldstripe Maroon is a naturally occurring variation where the stripes are slightly gold rather than yellow. When...

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The pH of Your Freshwater Aquarium

»Posted by on Nov 5, 2015 in Blog, Education, Freshwater Fish, Kristen S | Comments Off on The pH of Your Freshwater Aquarium

The pH of Your Freshwater Aquarium Kristen Schmicker   One of the water parameters that we like to test here at the store is the pH of the aquarium.  The higher the pH the more basic the water is.  This may also be referred to as having hard water which means there are a lot of dissolved minerals present.  The lower the pH the more acidic the water is.  This is usually soft water which is lacking dissolved minerals.  In general, the ideal pH of a community aquarium should be around 7.0 on the pH scale which many fish species prefer.  There are species of freshwater fish that thrive better in an aquarium that has a lower or higher pH.  Some fish tolerate a large range of pHs so you don’t have to monitor the pH as closely but for other species the required pH should be maintained and only fish with similar pH ranges should be added to the aquarium.  Below is a chart of common freshwater fish and their ideal pH ranges. Lower pH Wide Range (6.0-8.0) Higher pH Rasboras (5.8-7.0) Barbs Blind Cave Tetra (7.5-9.0) Loaches (6.5-7.5) Danios Mollys, Guppies, Platys & Swordtails (7.0-8.5) Hatchetfish (5.5-6.5) Sharks & Minnows Rainbowfish (7.0-8.0) Glowlight Tetras, Head-and-Tail-light Tetras, Rummynose Tetras, Serpae Tetras, Black Neon Tetras, Lemon Tetras & Red Phantom Tetras (5.5-7.5) Bloodfin Tetras, Black Skirt Tetras, Silvertip Tetras, Buenos Aires Tetras, Neon Tetras & Emperor Tetras S.petricola & S.multipunctatus (7.5-9.0) Cardinal Tetra (4.6-6.2) Corydoras African  Rift Lake Cichlids (8.0-9.0) Synodontis sp. (6.5-7.5) South American Cichlids (7.0) Freshwater Puffers (7.5-8.5) Plecos (6.0-7.5) Kribensis Apistogramma sp. (6.0-7.0) Angelfish Rams (5.0-6.5) Bettas & Paradisefish Discus (6.5-7.0) Gouramis (6.5-7.0)   Changing the pH of your tank to suit the needs of your fish can be pretty simple assuming your water chemistry is good.  The first step is to test the pH of the water you are using to fill your tank.  If you are using hard tap water and you want to lower it, you can use a Neutral Regulator buffer or an Acid buffer depending on how high the pH is and how much you want to lower it.  You could also use Reverse Osmosis water, which usually has a pH in the 6.0 range.  Adding a piece of driftwood to the aquarium can also lower the pH. If the pH of your water is too low you can try a buffer like Neutral Regulator or Alkaline Buffer.  You can also use crushed coral, Texas Holey Rock, or salts for African Rift Lake Cichlids or Rainbowfish.  Low pH can also be a result of a dirty gravel bed or a dirty filter especially if you have high nitrates.  A good gravel vacuum and water change or filter cleaning can raise the pH back up. Changing the pH of a freshwater aquarium varies greatly from tank to tank.  If you’re interested in checking or changing the pH of your aquarium to suit your fishes’ needs or you’re not sure what your pH should be at, come on in to the store and we’ll help you get started!   Reference:  Sweeney, M.E. (2009) Tropical Fishes. Neptune City, NJ:  T.F.H....

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Marine Fish for Sale – Tangs

»Posted by on Jul 24, 2015 in Blog, Education, Kristen S, Reef Aquariums, Saltwater Fish | Comments Off on Marine Fish for Sale – Tangs

Marine Fish for Sale — Absolutely Fish, NJ   Tangs  By Kristen Schmicker   One of my favorite groups of marine fish is the tang family, Acanthuridae. A distinguishing characteristic of all tangs is the presence of scalpels, which are razor–like curved spines on either side of the caudal peduncle (where the fish’s tail meets its body). Some tangs have only one on either side while others have rows. They are used as defense from predators and in fights with other tangs. Many tangs’ scalpels are partially cut before being sold as pets, but a few are not and are usually marked as “uncut” on the aquarium. Extra care should be taken when handling and catching tangs from aquariums; the scalpels, even cut ones, can cut skin and get tangled in nets. Another common characteristic of all tangs is their herbivorous, or algae-based, diet. Tangs are not the easiest family of fish to keep; they’re often called “ich–magnets”. The best way to keep these fish successfully is through the use of a UV sterilizer and a protein skimmer to prevent parasites from infecting the fish. They can be kept in a reef, or a FOWLR (Fish Only With Live Rock), but should be in no less than 55 gallons. Another key to keeping healthy tangs is the proper diet. Since they are herbivores, it’s recommended that they are fed algae in some form, whether it’s strips of seaweed, spirulina brine shrimp, or algae–based pellets. Some of these foods can also be enriched with a vitamin or garlic soak to further strengthen the fish’s immune system. In the wild, tangs graze on algae constantly throughout the day so it’s also important that they are fed several times a day. Tangs can be aggressive fish, especially with other similar–looking tangs so care should be taken when mixing more than one in a tank. A successful community of tangs would include different sizes and genera of tangs usually added to the tank at the same time to avoid one from being more territorial. There are many different genera of tangs so it’s easy to pick ones that have different body shapes. The following table lists the genera of tangs as well as common species found in stores. Genus Common Names Acanthurus Powder Blue Tang (A. leucosternon) Clown Tang (A. lineatus) Orange Shoulder Tang (A. olivaceus) Convict Tang (A. triostegus) Mimic or Chocolate Tang (A. pyroferus) Sohal Tang (A. sohal) Ctenochaetus Chevron Tang (C. hawaiiensis) Tomini Tang (C. tominiensis) Kole Tang (C. strigosus) Naso Naso Tang (N. lituratus) Vlamingi Tang (N. vlamingi) Blue Unicorn (N. caeruleacauda) Paracanthurus Hepatus Tang (P. hepatus) Zebrasoma Desjardini Tang (Z. desjardini) Yellow Tang (Z. flavescens) Scopas Tang (Z. scopas) Sailfin Tang (Z. veliferum) Purple Tang (Z. xanthurum) Tangs make an excellent addition to any reef or fish-only tank with their variety of colors, patterns, and sizes. If you’d like to learn more about keeping tangs, come on down to the shop and talk to an associate about which species would be best for your...

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