Darter Articles

Dr. Mark Mitchell, DVM, presented a talk to our monthly meeting in the Spring of 2012.

His PowerPoint presentation is linked HERE. Click on the link and it will down load to your computer. It is 1.02 megs so it may take some time to down load. You may play it on your computer if you have MS PowerPoint or Apple's Keynote.

Below are reprints of articles that have appeared in recent editions of the Darter.
The Darter is the official MASI publication that is mailed out six times a year to members.
To become a member, please visit our Membership page.

The Ralph Wilhelm Memorial Writer's Award Article Page

Lessons Learned
by Steve Edie

The Greatest Fishroom Ever!
by Ed Millinger

What to Do for a Prolonged Power Outage
by Charles H. Harrison, Ph.D.

The Story of 5 Bala Sharks
by Gary McIlvaine

Eretmodus Cyanostictus - A “Goby” Cichlid
by Cory Koch

From Seattle to Uganda via St. Louis:
Seeking and finding Lake Victoria Cichlids

By  Lawrence Kent

Aquarium Tech Tips – Moonlight
By Andy Walker

Lessons Learned
by Steve Edie

Complacency is evil. I didn’t lose power last summer when the huge thunderstorms knocked out power to over half a million folks in the St Louis metro area. I’ve got underground utilities in my neighborhood. I didn’t lose power after Thanksgiving during the big ice storm. Yep. Underground utilities again. So I wasn’t worried when they forecast an ice storm this last weekend. I wasn’t worried when the ice storm delivered as forecast. I wasn’t worried right up to the second that my power went off. Say what? This can’t happen to me. And my fish. I have underground utilities. Remember?

To say I was unprepared would be an understatement. To say I responded methodically and efficiently would also be a little inaccurate. I am aware that the major issues for the fishkeeper in a power outage are temperature, aeration, and water quality (biological filtration.) In a winter power outage, heat can be supplied by a wood burning or gas fireplace, or a gas oven, provided there’s a way to circulate the heat into the fishroom. Warm water can also be added into a cooling aquarium, either directly or in a zip-lock bag, refilled with warm water as needed. Aeration can be provided by dipping water from the aquarium and then slowly pouring it back into the aquarium from a foot or so high to agitate the surface. Or use a battery operated pump. Lots of ‘em. All this is probably adequate in the short term, but for someone who has 1100 gallons of aquariums (me), it is virtually a full time job. By the time the last tank has gotten a little heat and air, the first tank is already past due for another turn. Unless there are multiple people to do this in shifts, the lone ranger will eventually have to sleep.

The third item is trickier to deal with. To make matters worse, Mike Hellweg sent out an Email the day before the storm reminding us of steps to take to prevent disaster. Do large water changes to reduce the amount of organic matter in the water so that the loss of filtration will not cause problems as quickly. Clean the filter media fairly well to avoid a problem that Mike experienced many years earlier. Normally a healthy biological filter contains lots of good bacteria (nitrosoma and nitrobacter) that convert fish waste into relatively harmless nitrates, which are easily removed with water changes. These bacteria are aerobic and rely on constant aeration to provide them with oxygen. However, at about the twelve hour mark in a power outage, these bacteria die off, become anaerobic and are toxic to the fish. When the power comes back on, this evil mess is pumped back into an aquarium of fish that are already weakened by reduced heat and oxygen. Mike learned this the hard way and we should learn from others’ mistakes, followed by their good advice. I am not disputing any of this.

But. By the time I got home that Friday evening through heavy traffic and freezing rain, and read Mike’s Email, I was just too tired to take on a bunch of water changes and filter cleanings. Besides. Refer to paragraph one. Can’t happen to me. Mike was the hard-working industrious ant preparing for hard times ahead, and I was the grasshopper. And not that cool kung fu grasshopper, but the foolish, stupid, lazy one in the Aesop’s fable. So when the power went out just before dawn on Saturday morning, I was screwed. Some of the people who lost power in the previous outages were out for a week or more. I was royally screwed.

After stumbling around in the dark, I looked out and saw ice everywhere, tree branches broken off, and not a light to be seen in any direction. I went through a quick mental checklist of what I had and what I might need. Flashlights? Yes, I have maybe a half dozen, but half of them are those little tiny ones for looking at hiding fish. (And I don’t even keep Killies.) Batteries for all those flashlights? Well, I have some. Assorted sizes. Somewhere. A lantern? Well, no, not since Boy Scouts. Candles? Er, no. A charged cell phone? Yes. Kinda; two out of five bars. I meant to charge it last night. May have to talk fast. A transistor radio? Um, I’ve got a portable CD player, does that count? Okay then, no. A generator? Of course not! (See paragraph one again, in case you’ve forgotten.) A fireplace? Sure. Firewood? A little. A gas oven? Yes. But. In the back of my mind, I had always assumed I could use the gas oven for heat. The top burners could be lit with a grill lighter, no problem. But the oven has a little electronic digital controller for the gas and can’t be lit manually, so it is useless in a power outage. I just now learned this. Durn. Food? Plenty, mostly in the refrigerator and freezer. Okay, so I’ll need a few things.

Actually the streets don’t look all that bad; it seems the trees have hogged most of the ice. I don’t get the car out of the garage because of the electric garage door opener, but the pickup is in the driveway. And it has a drooping tree branch literally frozen to it. Best friends. So I chipped away what ice I could, broke off several smaller branches, crawled in through the passenger door, and slowly backed up the truck, hoping I wouldn’t pull the tree over, or at least the part that was in love with my truck. So I headed to the place where I was sure I would find most of the things I needed and a calm within the storm. The local Wal-Mart. Wow. If you’ve seen some of the “Mad Max”/”Road Warrior” movies, then you can probably picture the scene inside. Somehow, I suspect that even the British wouldn’t be so civil in a Wal-Mart in an ice storm. The two old ladies put up a pretty good fight, but I got the last lantern in the place. No “D” batteries left however. I did get an electric space heater so I could warm things up quicker if the power came back on, or if I managed to find a generator. I also bought a newspaper. I don’t know why. It’s dark inside.

After hearing that the next suburb over hadn’t lost power, (yet) I headed over to their Lowes for a slim chance at a generator, since this thing may last awhile. They were out, of course, but at the front desk, they said they had sent a truck to Columbia, Missouri to pick up some more, and were taking a list of names and phone numbers for them. The guy in front of me wanted to negotiate for a cheaper model generator, but a well placed knee sent him on his way. I said whatever they got was exactly what I wanted, so I got on the “list,” but there were a lot of names already on it, so we’ll see. They said they would call in three hours or so. I was already on my way back over there when they called and said they were arriving and that it was “first come, first served.” “But I’m on the ‘list’, I’m on the ‘freaking list’” I shouted to one in particular, since they had already hung up. I arrived a few minutes later, obeying some traffic laws, but not all. Okay, few. I was told they were unloading in the back corner of the store, where it looked like another “Mad Max” sequel. Those of us on the list shouted out our names, while those in the front of the line shouted that they were told first come, first served. Somehow, I emerged from the mob with a generator and shopping cart full of dirty looks. I resisted the urge to end-zone dance. I wrestled the thing into the truck and headed straight home, in case some mean people tried to take it away from me. Survival is serious business. A neighbor helped me get it into the house. After noting that it had a five-gallon gas tank, I headed back out to get gas for the thing. The first couple of stops yielded only two-gallon gas cans, but I finally found some five-gallon cans, grabbed two and filled them at a gas station that still had power. I may pull this off yet.

I hadn’t taken the time to start a fire in the fireplace, since I was gone most of the day scavenging for survival stuff. The inside temperature had dropped to 59 degrees; most of the tanks were around 65. The power’s been off for eleven hours; I’m running out of time. So reading the generator manual by lantern light, I cut the carton open, tilt the generator up on one end, install the wheels, tilt up the other end, install the leg bracket, and refer back to the manual. All that’s left is to roll it outside, fill it with oil, fill it with gas, and fire that baby up. Then hook up the cables, run extensions into the fishroom, then clean filters and bring them back online one at a time. As I grab the handle to move it outside, the power comes back on. Ironic, but pretty cool. Even though I didn’t use it, I have no regrets about buying the generator; it will provide peace of mind if the power ever goes out again. It’s something I should have already had, considering how many fish I have. As I breathe a sigh of relief, I realize that the gurgling sound I’m hearing is all of the power filters starting back up. I run around the room, frantically unplugging them so as not to pump that bad stuff back into the tanks. I had neglected to unplug them earlier, because of the darkness, because I was preoccupied, or because I was stupid. Your call.

There was a feeling of euphoria that the crisis had passed with seemingly little consequence. I relax a little and look around at all of my new survival gear. I still needed to clean the filters before plugging them back in, but the furnace was running, the tank heaters were on, and I just realized that the Colts-Baltimore game was on and still in the third quarter. So I casually settled into a routine: clean a filter or two; watch a few football plays; get a drink out of the refrigerator (the fridge has a little light inside it – that is so cool); clean a filter or two, eat dinner, etc. There was a second playoff game, the Bears and Seattle, so the routine continued with little sense of urgency for a couple of hours. Until the power went off again! If the first one was a surprise, this time was a stunner. It really didn’t occur to me that it would go out again after being fixed. I had not managed to use my time well, and had only cleaned about two thirds of the filters, so a number of tanks had not gotten any relief, other than temperature. I called myself a number of names above and beyond stupid. Naughty names. Now it was too dark outside to try to fill up the generator with gas and oil. Feeling defeated, I just went to bed, hoping I had learned a lesson in time management and setting priorities.

The next morning about an hour after daylight, the power came back on. Yea; but with much less enthusiasm than before. The inside temperature had again dropped to 59 degrees; the tanks to 65. Without messing around this time, I immediately cleaned all of the remaining filters and got them up and running. I apologized to those fish that got cheated out of a couple of hours of aeration and filtration the night before. By that evening, (Sunday) all tanks had been running with clean filters for at least ten hours and all temperatures were back to normal. While some were showing some signs of stress, none had died, so I may get out unscathed yet. Not that I deserve to. So the power went out again. At least at this point, I felt I had done all I could do as far as having the fish prepared for an outage, although much later than I had intended. I had lanterns, batteries, a space heater, a generator, and at least some concept of what to do. I figured that this time, I would try to get the generator going in the dark to avoid another cycle of temperature fluctuations. After only about half an hour, and before dealing with the generator, the power came back on, so I didn’t have to rush around and do anything other than be humbled by the experience and grateful that it wasn’t worse. That evening, all the fish were hungry, especially the Pike Cichlids, who were splashing water to make sure I noticed them. All were fed and we all went to bed happy that night, content and comfortable.

The next morning, I awoke to a comfortable house, turned on a bunch of lights, made some coffee, toasted a bagel, turned on the TV, and generally flaunted my electrical blessings. No further outages, thank you. I now own a still virgin generator, just in case. I probably would not have gotten one without this experience. Outside of some minor discomfort, medium tree damage, and semi-major panic, I came through this just fine. No harm, no foul. But that’s not the end of the story. When I went downstairs and turned on all the fishlights, I found that both of my fourteen inch Pike Cichlids were dead! I was surprised and saddened. Of all of my fish, they were the toughest and were seemingly indestructible. I think I could have slugged them with my fist and not hurt them. As I was cleaning the filters two nights before, I chose the tanks with the smaller, more delicate fish to attend to first. The Pikes didn’t get their filtration until the following morning. Had I been thinking logically, I would have started with the tanks with the heaviest bio-loads, and then worked down the line from there. To make it worse, I fed them the night before. So this is my punishment for not being better prepared on several levels. Had I not spent the first day shopping, I could have cleaned all the filters with the limited daylight available. Had I focused on cleaning filters before anything else when the power did come back on, I would have finished before it went off the second time.

What can you learn from this? Believe that it can happen to anyone, even you. Keep your cell phone charged. It’s too late after the power is out. If severe weather is forecast, make sure that you have all or most of the basic things on hand – lanterns, flashlights, radio, batteries, candles, firewood, food, water, blankets, etc. If it’s an ice storm, the roads may be impassable, preventing you from going out to get supplies after the fact. You’ll waste a lot of time trying to find these types of things if everyone else is competing for them. I ended up going to a half dozen different stores to get everything. This time will be better spent tending to your fishroom. Most important, have a plan. Think about it in advance what you will do. Realize that your gas oven may not work without power, so have a plan B. Make preparations in your fishroom. Mike was absolutely right. Change water; clean filters. The worst that can happen is that if you don’t lose power, you did an extra water change. This is not a bad thing. Keep adequate supplies of Amquel (to counteract ammonia buildup) and StressCoat (to counteract stress and slimecoat damage) on hand. You may need extra doses during this time period. Have ich medication on hand; you might need it for chilled fish. Realize that you may not have enough heat, pumps, clean filters, or time to save all of your fish. I know this may be hard, but you may be forced to save what you can and leave the rest to chance. Prioritize which fish get attention first, and which ones last, such as Anabantoids. Bio-load should factor in heavily, (pun) but also if particular fish are more delicate or sensitive than others. How valuable are certain fish relative to others; could these be replaced easier than those. I felt like I was in the position of “Sophie’s Choice”, where she had to choose who lived and who died. It sucks. Tough decisions, but better considered ahead of time than in the heat of the moment. Out of hundreds of fish, I only lost two, but which two was my fault. I believe I would trade almost any other two fish I own to have them back. In the big picture, I was extremely lucky. But what’s done is done. I do expect to see some ich in the coming days, but I’ll have enough light to read the label on the medicine bottle.

Hindsight is wonderful. Take steps now.


The Greatest Fishroom Ever!
by Ed Millinger

This is a story about someone who had a big fishy influence on me as a youngster growing up.  To think of it today reminds me of the old saying "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."  I don't think I'll ever see anything like it again, at least not in the backyard of a residential neighborhood.  It in many ways was a mini fish farm.

Two blocks from my house and next door to a classmate of mine lived an elderly brother and sister, Tad and Marjorie Broesel.  I don't remember how I met them but I'm sure glad I did!  Tad had lived in this house all his life and could tell me tales of keeping chickens and other barnyard animals over the years.  But the most impressive feature of his backyard was his fish house.  I'll try my best to describe it if you'll agree not to accuse me of exaggerating.

Before I describe the fish house let me tell you about the yard surrounding it.  Tad had six concrete  vats approximately two feet wide, eighteen inches deep and ten feet long.  He covered them with glass in a wood frame.  Running through them and covered in concrete were pipes that were connected to a hot water pump that enabled him to keep fish outdoors throughout the winter.  He also had a large oval pond that was no longer operational when I met him.  I would guess he was around seventy years old at this time and had cut back his activities to the fish house only.

His fish house consisted of two greenhouses connected by a common back room.  As you entered you were immediately looking at a seventy-gallon aquarium filled with a variety of fish.  This tank was not quite as wide as the inside vats.  These vats were close to 50-60 gallons each.  They were built of smoothed concrete with a glass front.  They sat back to back and ran 25-30 feet down the middle of the room.  With an aisle down the left and right side of the room even larger vats completed the outside walls.  These too had glass fronts but were wider and longer.  As if this wasn't impressive enough, sitting on the concrete in between them were fifteen-gallon column tanks.  I have never seen them since and they probably weren't that practical because of their small surface area.  They were five inches wide and eighteen to twentyfour inches tall.

Walking into the common back room off to the right was where he kept his pump and supplies.  Tacked on the door was an article from the old Globe Democrat newspaper that told about Tad having ordered a seahorse from Florida only to have it arrive with babies that were released during transit.

There were only two vats in the common room, both of them very large.  This is where he conditioned his water.  He had airstones running in them but I don't know if he added any chemicals or not.  As you proceeded into the second smaller greenhouse you would notice fewer but much larger vats.  On the left were six vats again with a glass front that were two feet wide, two feet deep and seven feet long.  Opposite of these were four vats, four feet deep, five feet wide, and five feet long.  At the end of the room was a large industrial size fan to cool the greenhouses during the summer.  All the indoor vats had a water pipe covered in concrete running through them like those outside for heat in the winter.

Tad's favorite fish were guppies. In the vat closest to the fan were easily 500 guppies of every color imaginable.  He also kept guppies in the column tanks I wrote about earlier.  It was especially impressive to be in the fishroom in the afternoon when the sunlight would strike these colorful guppies.  Tad wanted to spawn red tail sharks but never succeeded.  He also had this wild idea once to raise crawdads to the size of lobsters and sell them to restaurants.  As gullible little kids of course we bought into it and went down to Deer creek, tied a piece of meat on the end of a string and pulled up many crawdads.  Tad was going to selectively breed the large ones to obtain supersize restaurant ready crawdads.  Needless to say this venture failed.

As I grew older and started cutting lawns Tad would give me fish in exchange for cutting his grass.  I used his mower and his gas but I must say it was quite a deal for him.  Looking back now I wish I had spent more time at Tad's place.  He unfortunately passed away and his sister had to shut down the fish house.  It no longer stands and the house is now occupied by new owners.


What to Do for a Prolonged Power Outage
by Charles H. Harrison, Ph.D.

We live in St. Louis Missouri, USA. Heartland America, not supposed to be without power anytime, HAH! Not so!

Wednesday afternoon, late, July 19th, I was talking over our backyard fence with our next door neighbor about how hot and dry it had been this summer. The Weatherman had promised rain that afternoon but I had the sprinkler going anyway, in disbelief. Quite suddenly the clouds moved in and it got dark as the wind out of the North picked up in a big way. The clouds began swirling around above us. I turned the water off and went inside. And none too soon! It began to rain, horizontal rain! Heavy rain, fierce swirling winds. Bits of leaves peppered our windows on the North side, the kind of bits of leaves produced by tornadic winds, high wind sheer and hail. Ten minutes later the yards and street was full of broken trees and impassible.

The lights went out, the AC went quiet when the broken treetop landed upside down on the power lines behind our house. The power lines almost reached the 4-foot chainlink fence in our back yard. Fortunately, the Charter TV cable held it off. Outside communication was just about nill. The phone lines were jammed. Calling 911 and reaching the electric company was hopeless. We got a reminder that portable phones in the house only work when the house power works. So glad we still have a land line that plugs into the telephone wall line so at least we had telephone service. Other than that, we were on our own.

There have been lots of suggestions for the power companies to bury all of the connecting lines, keep them out of the trees, the ice, the wind storms, etc., but I don't think I'm going to see that in my lifetime. By Thursday noon most of the members of the neighborhood were gone, moved out to the nearest relative's home or motel with power. We were very much alone in our subdivision. The traffic signals were dark around us on Telegraph Rd. and no street lghts either. It wasn't a pleasant situation and I wasn't about to leave the generator unattended for hours to do the program scheduled for the MASI meeting that Thursday night.

We purchased a gasoline generator in 2002. I have had to start it up 5 times now for the power outages here in the midwest. The ice in the trees and power lines and the wind storms that come through this part of the country can be sneakers. The last big storm that blew through here took out power to about 750,000 homes and businesses for 3 nights in our part of the county and a second storm took things down for another part of the northern metro area for an additional 4 nights. Some people were without power for 7 to 10 nights. Many on the east side and up north were without drinkable water as well. That was this July, 2006! During that time the temperatures reached 100+ F during the days and broke some records for high temps. The humidity was nearly 99% along with the heat. We were lucky, only 3 nights - but we did have a generator, 5500 watts worth. That is enough to keep the refrigerator and freezer running along with some fans and the air compressor for the fish room. The neighbors up the street came down to ask what size generator they should go try to find. I told them anything less than 9 HP was a waste of money. That'll usually get you about 4,000 to 5,000 watts and it's best to have a 220 volt outlet on the generator so you can plug it into your house circuit without all the extension cords.

One does have to plan ahead though. I had to travel 20 miles to find a gas station open to purchase gasoline for the generator. It is good to have some stored around just in case. Another precaution - we have installed is battery back up for the fish room air pump. I purchased an inverter /battery charger combination along with a Deep Cycle Marine battery. This one is 2200 watts output but depends upon the Amp hour rating of the battery to what it will run and how long. The biggest I could find for a single battery is a 110 Amp/hour deep cycle from Sears. Information sez that after discharging for 20 hours, this battery will continue to provide 110 Amps. It doesn't say how long after 20 hours this will continue, but the generator is used during the day mainly because it is so loud it disturbs the neighbors. I don't like to do that at night especially when they have their windows open to have air to sleep at night.

We watched neighbors carry their food from their refrigerators and freezers to the trash after the power was off for 3 days. Frozen things don't last that long in heat like this either. The generator has paid for itself at least 3 times over in the food saved. Now the battery backup will run these things during the time we need the continuous power. I purchased the inverter/battery charger combination on ebay. $200 to $300 for something good and reliable. JHEMCO.com sells the linear air pumps and battery backups for them as well. One just needs to purchase a deep cycle battery locally to hook it up. It stays on, connected, in the fish room continuously. If the power goes off the Brine Shrimp continue to have air bubbling in and keeping them alive for feeding. Air powers most of my in-tank filters and those keep on bubbling as well.

If you are interested in an inverter/battery combination for supplemental non-interruptible power for your fish room, you will need to add up the wattage consumed by each one of the things you want to keep running. Power filters usually consume something like 5 to 20 watts. It gives the wattage consumption on the bottom of the filter. Fans and lights all have their wattage stamped or marked on them someplace, usually on the back next to the label. Add up the wattage you need and purchase an inverter with the output you need with some room to spare. If you don't want the extra expense, almost any good battery charger will work to keep a deep cycle marine battery charged. Don't forget to discharge it (use it to empty) at least every 3 months to keep it from having a charging memory.

There are several battery powered Bait Bucket air pumps available. I have 2 just for the chance the problem comes around again. One "D" cell makes these pumps run for 30 hours. They are available from Bass ProShops on line. Another great little gadget is the PENN-PLAX Silent*Air B11. It holds 2 "D" size batteries and plugs into a power outlet. It monitors the house power and if it goes off, the battery powered air pump turns on. It will deliver air to 3 or 4 outlets about 12 to 16 inches deep for 26 to 30 hours before the batteries need replacing. This is available at local pet stores and on line as well in several sites. (www.thatfishplace.com, etc.)

Planning ahead is all important. Once slapped in the face with having to carry $$'s of food to the trash for lack of refrigeration or no radio or TV to keep up on news and local information, one tends to wish for such things. If you don't have it when needed, it's difficult if not impossible to find it in the nick of time. In Florida and other parts of the southern US when hurricanes blow out the power lines - one is left without everything for weeks at a time. It teaches you to plan ahead or you suffer. Having batteries around all the time is a must. Flash lights and battery powered radios and or a TV come in very handy. There are rechargeable batteries and their chargers all over the country now (check out HarborFreight.com) DC to AC inverters and deep cycle batteries and battery chargers ( 120 and 220 Volts AC) of several different wattages are available.

The new lights using light emitting diodes (LEDs) flash lights consume very little power and really supply the light! These are very energy efficient and a good buy when one finds them or go looking before you need them!

Not enough can be said about being prepared. If I had to go out and purchase these things all at one time I could not afford it. TV, radio, several flash lights(LEDs) a stash of rechargeable batteries and a charger, a power inverter battery charger, deep cycle Marine battery(s), battery powered air pump(s), OH! lap top computer so I can check my e-mail and GuppyLog, and don't forget a land wired telephone. Those portable house phones don't work when house power is off. You need fans and perhaps an electric heater or 2 unless you have gas to heat the house with, and don't forget the gasoline generator and the extension cords to connect everything to it.

All this adds up to some investment in money and requires someplace to store it (hope you will NEVER need it). But, beyond that, Plan Ahead! Add up the wattage you will need, bare minimum and wish list and prepare for it.

Caveat: DO NOT operate a generator in an enclosed area! like the garage or a back room! Carbon monoxide kills slowly and silently! It's also important that if you connect the generator to the 220 outlet in your home that you disconnect the mains from the outside power. If you have this connection installed by a qualified electrician they will build it in for you; otherwise, stick with extension cords and don't plug anything into the household circuit!

Check out more great fish articles and information on Charles' site at: http://www.inkmkr.com/Fish/


The Story of 5 Bala Sharks
by Gary McIlvaine

I have a confession to make and it involves the aforementioned title. I have had 5 Bala sharks in my 125 gallon aquarium in my kitchen for 3 1⁄2 years. When I first set up the 125 I purchased these Bala’s, because they were inexpensive at the time. This was shortly after setting up the tank (about 5 hours) The water was still murky from the freshly rinsed gravel. These 5 Bala’s had been purchased with the mind set that I was probably going to kill them, all in the name of cycling the tank, but I was too excited that I had to start my community tank that day. The Bala’s managed to survive their first night in the 125 and had been fed, so I decided it would be a good idea to go to the store and pick up some livebearer’s to further expedite the cycling of the tank, Over the next two weeks I enjoyed shopping the local stores and stocking this tank. I bought some Gouramis, Angels, Tiger Barbs, 2 Pleco’s, albino Cory’s, and a school of 15 tetras. I even knew in the back of my mind I had over done the stocking level, by going too fast and not letting an adequate cycle establish. Regardless to say a crash did happen and their were several casualties and yet somehow the Bala’s lived through it all. This began my fascination with the Bala’s. I was diligent in doing more frequent water changes when the crash started and I removed all the sick fish, before they caused further harm. The whole time this was going on the Bala’s were the highpoint of the tank they were small about 2 inches, but they darted all over the tank and schooled and were generally the neatest fish to watch in the tank as they were very active and swam all throughout the tank.

Shortly after the crash I adopted my old habits of aquarium maintenance, and provided my brand of “super care”. To me this means not overfeeding, frequent water changes, good filtration, and a variety of small frequent meals. I had to succeed in this endeavor you see, because my wife at this point was starting to say, “see you should not have gotten a tank that big.” (I do realize I used you instead of us, because my wife was not a big fan of my decorating showcase for our Kitchen.) Luckily I purchased the tank as a combo at Pet Market Place and it came with two large capacity Bio-Wheel filters. (These are the best filters I have ever used.) I started doing two 15% water changes a week. I rotated cleaning the filter pads and changing the filter media one filter at a time every other week doing one of the two also never cleaned the Bio-wheel. Two months after following this routine, the balas really started showing signs of prospering. They were racing around the tank and growing rapidly, all while getting used to a few new tank mates now and then. I really found myself sitting in front of this tank and having the Bala’s monopolize my attention to the tank. I would watch them when I was eating dinner and for months I took great care of the Bala’s and they continued to prosper. Gradually though I began to lose my intense interest with them and they became just like the other fish in the tank, taken care of, but not especially noticed, eventually their size began to become a problem as I had a number of decorations in my tank that they loved to swim around when they were smaller, but they now stayed to just one corner of the tank. In fact, they became a nuisance to me when doing maintenance on the tank. They even startled me so bad one time when I was cleaning that I pulled a muscle in my neck. It was then that I decided they needed to go.

This brings me to the point of my story, I was reading the March/April darter and there is a story from Ed Millinger titled “Is it Time For Reassessment. This article got me thinking about my Bala sharks which I used to really enjoy. You see about the time I had read this article the Bala’s had become huge almost 8-9 inches in my guestimation, and their behavior had changed. They no longer acted happy, or provided me with a lot of enjoyment; you see I had grown tired of them. My first thought after reading Ed’s article was to sell the Bala’s at the upcoming auction, besides they were really good sized and everyone would probably be impressed with how large they had gotten. The morning of the auction my wife noticed me walking up to the 125 with a big bucket and said, “What are you doing?” I replied, “I am getting rid of the Bala sharks, because they are making it nerve racking to keep the tank clean by freaking out whenever I clean the gravel.” My wife quickly changed to one of her famous tones and said, “But, those are the only fish I LIKE.” “They are my favorites.” I instantly stopped putting water in the bucket and replied, “If they are your favorites, I won’t get rid of them.” I do have to admit at this point that was really not what I was thinking. You see I am devious and knew I could later use this interaction for ammo when I brought home more tanks to squash the resistance to me filling up one of the racks I had built with some additional tanks.

At the auction I began to think about how I could not change the 125 into a discus tank like I wanted, because of the Bala’s and my wife. I was wishing I had gotten rid of them. Then I got to thinking about Ed’s article when they were auctioning off the 200th bag of angels and how I used to like the Bala’s. On my day off I removed the canopy off my 125 and pulled all the decorations out of the tank and ran them under hot water and scrubbed them as they had developed some hair algae and the tank had not been deep cleaned in this manner in several months. As I was taking all the plastic plants out and was rinsing them clear of algae, they no longer looked anything like they used to. Some of the plastic plants had seen 5-6 years of aquarium decoration duty and had been through many cycles of heavy algae growth only to be scrubbed clean. They found their way into my fish room to serve as livebearer cover plants, because I did not like the way they looked any more. I took a lot of the decorations out that day and pretty much uncrowned the tank from decorations. I decided for something different I was going to get rid of all the odd decorations and go with just rocks for a while.

I went to the fish store and could not believe how much they wanted for rocks, so I returned home without any rocks and began looking at some articles on the web about where to find good rocks for aquariums. In my reading I learned to just avoid the sand stones, or anything porous and the best place to look was a landscape supply house. I went to Kirkwood Material supply and picked up some nice slate, and some of their “border stones” for ponds. I asked the gentleman if they were okay for fish tanks and he said absolutely. My son Evan who is 4 helped me pick out the rocks for the tank, we both had a good time doing it as Evan loves rocks and big machines and they have both. He and I had a conversation about it today, how he and I picked the rocks out together.

The tank had a nice look when I finished with it and for the most part was now totally opened up, aside from some rocks on the bottom and a big piece of driftwood in one of the corners. After a couple weeks, I noticed when feeding the tank that the Bala’s were not as skittish as they used to be, and in fact I realized since making the change in the tank I had not had any jumping incidents when doing routine maintenance. Today after feeding a large portion of blood worms to the tank I had an “oh wow moment” as I realized just how much their behavior has changed over the last couple months. I am glad I followed Ed’s advice and mixed things up. The Bala’s are my favorite again and can be seen zipping through the tank and spending time playing in the gravel again. They also make noises which is fun to listen to. I am no longer plotting against them or hoping they jump out through one of the openings of the hood. Thanks Ed.


Eretmodus Cyanostictus - A “Goby” Cichlid
by Cory Koch

Whenever I talk to “fishy” people and I tell them that I keep mostly Tanganyikan cichlids, I often get a semi–puzzled look which seems to say “Why wouldn’t you want to keep the “pretty” peacocks of Malawi? Sometimes the person will just say “Aren’t the cichlids from Lake Malawi more colorful?” While it is true that most Tanganyikan cichlids are not known for there color or stunning beauty, I gotta tell you that looks aren’t everything! Not that I have anything against colorful fish, I enjoy “pretty” fish as much as the next person. Actually the first cichlid I fell in love with was a huge red spotted green Symphysodon aequifasciatus I saw in a pet shop as a teenager. After later buying one and slowly killing it due to inexperience and misunderstanding, I began to do a little research and came across a picture of teeming Discus fry feeding on the sides of the parents. That T.F.H. picture of such fascinating parental care is what cemented my interest in cichlids in the first place. However pretty can only get you so far, and besides (to use another cliché), beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Eretmodus cyanostictus (pronounced sigh–an–o–stik–tus) while not very attractive in a conventional sense are another example of a very interesting parenting strategy. These fish are actually bi-parental mouth brooders, meaning that both parents take turns mouth brooding the fry. These fascinating cichlids inhabit the “surf” zone of Lake Tanganyika. The surf zone is just as it sounds…the upper three feet of the lake where the water slaps up against land. Eretmodus are well suited for this turbulent environment, as they have an under developed swim bladder which allows them to remain negatively buoyant and hug the bottom rocks. This coupled with the fact that they seem to have very strong pectoral fins allows these fish to flourish where others would surely be crushed on the rocks of the shoreline. Eretmodus possess a broad snout with baby blue eyes and an under slung mouth full of red scrapping teeth used to graze on the algae and bio cover that grows on the shoreline rock (One fun side effect of this odd mouth is that my gobies always seem to be grinning at me!). These are small cichlids reaching only about four inches. The fish starts with its massive head and powerful dorsal fins and tapers down towards the caudal fin. The fish is a tannish color with some light brown to black vertical banding and baby blue speckling throughout the head and body of the fish. The caudal fin has a very slight tinge of red along the upper edge. Watching Eretmodus Cyanostictus “swim” only adds to the already gangly appearance, as they don’t really seem to swim (due to the swim bladder) but instead kind of “hop” around the aquarium.

After reading much about this intriguing cichlid I finally came across an opportunity to purchase a group of eight wild caught adults. I set up two thirty gallon “breeder” aquariums with a fine “play sand”, two sponge filters each with the air powered all the way up to replicate the highly oxygenated surf habitat of Lake Tanganyika, and added lots of three and four inch PVC elbows and tees to mimic the rocky shores of the lake as well. I set up two aquariums because I wanted to get at least one mated pair and while this goby cichlid is easy to keep with most other Tanganyikan cichlids, they cannot seem to stand each other unless they are a mated pair. Therefore the plan was to put all of the fish into one aquarium and then remove the outcast’s to the other tank. This strategy actually worked quite well and I had my pair within two weeks.

Once established as a pair in the new tank I traded away the remaining fish to a fellow hobbyist and set my sights on getting my first spawn. I began by feeding a variety of foods like spirulina wafers and flake, New Life Spectrum pellet food and frozen myssis shrimp. I also extended the duration of fluorescent lighting to encourage algae growth. The fish instantly accepted all of the previously mentioned foods with gusto, and soon I also had numerous long scrape marks all over my PVC “rocks” from the gobies using their red, shovel shaped teeth to feed on the excess algae growth. I did fairly regular weekly 50% water changes using aged, treated water kept at fishroom temperature (about 78 degrees). The male made a few unsuccessful attempts to persuade the female to breed which ended up with some fin tearing and the female hiding in the upper corners of the tank. To alleviate this problem I floated the sponge portion of a Hydro-Sponge in the tank for the female to use to avoid the males unwanted attention. He searched each and every PVC cave repeatedly during this period, however never managed to figure out that she was hiding just a few inches above him. Having a safe haven seemed to help the female settle down to finally breed, as about a week and a half after adding the sponge shelter I witnessed the fish spawning.

Initially the fish swam alongside each other closely, head to head, back and forth, until the female began to do a little dance, she then released a single egg and immediately swooped around to scoop the egg up into her mouth. At the same time as the female began her dance, the male also began dance and he seemingly fertilized the egg as the female was scooping it into her mouth. This process was repeated eight more times, until the females mouth was bulging with eggs. She continued to hold the eggs in her mouth for the next 10 days or so. In the meantime the male went about his business of eating, eating, and eating some more. On the eleventh day the female began rather impatiently trying to get the males attention, she chased him around the tank, occasionally head butted him, shook, danced, and overall harassed him. For his part the male seemed to be desperately trying to ignore the female! He must have finally given up because on the morning of day twelve I noticed that the female came out at the morning feeding and was eating ravenously, while the male lazily hopped along the bottom of the tank with a mouthful of eggs. After seven more days I pulled the male from the breeding tank and stripped him of the fry. He spit the fry into a previously prepared ten gallon tank fitted with only a seasoned sponge filter and water from the breeding tank. The male was returned to the female and was eating again only a few hours later.

The fry were miniature versions of the Eretmodus adults with the exception of coloring. Some were a very dark brown color while others were much more of a light brown. This color change only lasted for a few days and then the fish all seemed to be a dark tan color. I have read that the darker fish will grow up to be males, while the lighter fish will grow into females. As I stated previously, I did not separate the fry to see if this was true but may do so with a future spawn. I fed the fry newly hatched brine shrimp for the first week and a half and then switched them over to crushed spirulina flake. The fry grew well the first few weeks and even began chasing each other around the bare ten gallon tank after the first week! As they grew larger so did the size of the food and soon they were taking small omnivore pellets and the occasional treat of frozen myssis shrimp. I also performed at least 50% water changes each week as the fry grew. In a few short months the fry were ready for B.A.P. and I turned in three and kept the remaining five because I wanted to keep as many as I could. I have had these fish spawn since and did not strip the male of fry. Both times I allowed the male to spit on his own, I never saw any fry in the tank. Since this is a breeder tank containing only the parent fish, I have to assume that the Eretmodus Cyanostictus are eating their own fry.

Eretmodus Cyanostictus would be an excellent fish for many cichlid community fish set ups, as they are fairly mellow once paired up, easy to please in regards to diet, and only seem to really need good oxygenation. I must say that while not the most attractive fish, Eretmodus Cyanostictus has earned a place on my favorites list with its spunky behavior and comical appearance. This is a fish I would suggest trying to just about anyone. I never seem to grow tired of the wagging puppy dog tails and ugly little smooshed in faces pressed up against the aquarium glass, grinning at me with those red teeth!

As a side note, at the most recent MASI auction I came across a new “power sweep” oscillating powerhead and decided to add it to the already turbulent goby breeding tank. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this device it is designed to simulate the motion of waves in the ocean with a kind of back and forth continues jet of water, and is used primarily in reef set ups. I attached this powerhead to the tank, opened up the optional venturi air attachment and plugged it in. To say that the fish seem to appreciate this added water movement would be a definite understatement. The difference in behavior was noticeable immediately. The already thriving fish are much more active and seem to be preparing for another spawn.




From Seattle to Uganda via St. Louis:
Seeking and finding Lake Victoria Cichlids
By  Lawrence Kent

I’m writing this article from my hotel room in Entebbe, Uganda, just a hundred yards from Lake Victoria, one of Africa’s biggest lakes and home to hundreds of species of cichlids.  I am here on a two-week business trip, which luckily included a weekend available to look for fish.  This time I decided to travel a hundred miles or so north of Lake Victoria to visit some of the satellite lakes of its basin, rather than visit the Lake itself.  I’ll tell you why in a few paragraphs, but first let me tell you about my last short trip to Lake Victoria, about six weeks ago.

It was also a business trip, this time to Uganda’s capital Kampala to launch a new project to develop drought-tolerant corn varieties for African farmers. On my last day in the country, a Sunday, I decided to hire a car and head down to Lake Victoria to look for some of its famous cichlids before going to the airport that night.  Situated at the border between Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, the lake is about 240 miles long and 190 miles wide.  It is inhabited by an estimated 600 species of cichlids, most of which were originally classified in the Haplochromis genus but subsequently were split into several genera, such as Harpagochromis, Lipochromis, Astatotilapia, and Pundamilia.  Fifty years ago there were an estimated one thousand species in the lake, but some 200 of these are thought to have been extirpated by the Nile perch, which feeds on cichlids and can grow to six feet in length.  The Nile Perch was introduced into the Lake in the 1950s for commercial fishing purposes and multiplied quickly in the 1980s. Other cichlid species may have been wiped out by the deterioration in water quality caused by sediment runoff caused by erosion along the lake’s largely deforested banks. The water along the shoreline is pretty muddy.

Once my car reached those muddy shores, I realized my dip net would be useless, and I was reluctant to wade into the lake, because of the reported presence of the parasitic worms that cause a nasty disease called schistosomiasis, or bilharzia. I negotiated with some boys to take me out in their wooden canoe to try our luck with their hooks, worms, and line, which was tied to empty water bottles that served as both rods and reels.  We saw some beautiful birds, but caught nothing. After an hour we returned to land and made further inquiries of the locals, showing them pictures of the Haplochromines in my Barron’s book “Lake Victoria Basin Cichlids” to facilitate communications. We got a tip to drive to the nearby town of Bugonga where we could find more fishermen.  Arriving there and sharing the pictures in the book, I was quickly invited to sit in a larger canoe along with two locals who paddled us hard about a mile into the lake, where they located a home-make buoy to which was tied a jerry can filled with water suspended a meter below the surface. They pulled it up and then pulled from it about a dozen Haplochromine cichlids. They’d been storing them there, live, for later use as bait to catch…Nile perch.  These cichlids were dark blue, some with red fins, some with barring – not spectacular, but pretty handsome. It is extremely hard to identify Victorian cichlids to the species level because there are so many, there are so many that are undescribed, and those that are described are often distinguished by bone and teeth structures that are hard to see outside of a dissection laboratory.  But most of these guys looked like the Paralabidochromis sp. Rock Kribensis pictured on page 44 of that Barron’s book.  I left some money with the fishermen on the shore and asked them if they could round up a few more cichlids for me while I headed off to Mbamba island for a few hours to visit the chimpanzee sanctuary there.

When I returned to Bugonga later that afternoon, they had a couple dozen Haplochromines to show me.  Most seemed to be Rock Kribensis but there may also have been some Haplochromis limax and Astatotilapia sp. Red Tail.  I was able to bring a half dozen juveniles home, giving five to my friend Cory in St. Louis and saving one for my living room tank in Seattle.  It’ll be interesting to see how they color up as they grow. I’m counting on Cory to breed them and let us know how things develop, maybe in an article in about ten months?

Well, that trip was fun, but I wanted to do better on this second visit, especially after I read the Barron’s book more carefully and realized that many of the more spectacularly colored Lake Victoria Basin cichlids aren’t easily found in the Lake itself anymore, but are more likely to be found in the nearby satellite lakes.  I emailed a Ugandan travel agent and told him I wanted to visit Lake Nawampasa over the weekend, because this tiny lake seemed to be mentioned the most frequently in the Barron’s book.  The agent booked me an old Land Cruiser and a room in a tiny inn in the small town of Pallisa about five hours northeast of Kampala.

Upon arrival, my Ugandan driver (Sanyo) and I started asking around to get directions to Lake Nawampasa, which the travel agent had said was just 20 miles from Pallisa.  But nobody seemed to have heard of Lake Nawampasa.  Luckily we bumped into an outgoing young Ugandan from the region who convinced us to visit an alternative lake nearby that he assured us was filled with “nkedge” – the local name for all small cichlids.  We asked him to join us, and George Ouze jumped into our car and guided us another 15 miles down a dirt road through a landscape of traditional mud huts and papyrus swamps to a small, reed-lined lake he called “Daraja” but we later learned is more formally known as Gigati.

We negotiated with the locals a fee of 20,000 Ugandan shillings (about $13) for some help and the right to pull some fish from their lake, mainly to photograph and then return them to their home.  A few minutes later, four men were dragging my minnow seine a few yards off shore and catching dozens of juvenile cichlids for their photo sessions.  Many of these were tilapia (probably niloticus) but many were Haplochromines, showing eggspots on their anal fins and hints of color, but too young to be identified, except for one that was canary yellow with bright blue lips and a red and blue dorsal fin – the Dwarf Victorian Mouthbrooder, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor victoriae.  We realized that if we wanted to see more color we’d need to find adult fish, not just juveniles, so we hopped into one of the locals’ leaky canoes and headed out through the reeds into the lake.

We were intercepted on our way by another canoe coming in, its driver holding in one hand his paddle and in the other a plastic bowl filled with cichlids – samples that he’d quickly caught for us once he realized what we were after.  Seeing the diverse set of colorful fish in his bowl, I yelped with delight -- this trip was not going to disappoint!  Although I couldn’t be sure of my identifications, there seemed to be Xystichochromis phytophagus, which is called the Christmas Fulu in the hobby because of its bright red and green colors (actually yellowish-green) and Xystichochromis sp. All Red and “Haplochromis” sp. Ruby, both of which have bright, bright red caudal and anal fins along with bright splashes of red and yellow on their flanks and dorsals.  The local fisherman explained that he’d caught them on hook and line using worms for bait.

Once we penetrated the reeds in our canoe, we paddled over to a series of other canoes, each occupied by a pair of small boys fishing for “nkedge” using primitive fishing poles. As we pulled along side them we’d peer into their canoes to find the floors littered with dozens of freshly caught, dead and dying cichlids, many of them spectacularly colored.  The locals explained that they ate these little fish, almost all of them less than 4 inches in length, boiled or grilled, mixed with “G-nut” sauce (groundnuts or peanuts).  It was the kids’ job to catch them, one at a time, but they were easy to catch and twenty could be hooked in an hour.  We “rescued” the most beautiful and interesting and still living ones from the boys’ boats and put them in our bucket to bring back to shore for photographing and attempts at identification.  The Astatotilapia latifasciata (Zebra Obliquidens) were the easiest to i.d. because of their distinct thick black barring on yellow flanks and rosy cheeks.  The ones with the classic haplochromine shape and super red dorsal, anal, and caudal fins may have been “Haplochromis” sp. Cherry Fin.  The big-mouthed six-inch predator was shaped like the Harpagochromis mentatus in the Barron’s book and probably belonged to that genus.   The five-inch laterally-compressed Pyxichromis orthostoma was relatively easy to identify because of its distinct Altolamprologus calvus-like body shape and cavernous upturned mouth.  According to Barron’s, this species is an ambush predator that roams freely through the plants and open, sandy areas.  Another species we found among the boys’ catch was Lipochromis sp. Parvidens shovelmouth, which is distinguishable because of its protruding mouth and concave forehead.  Barron’s says that this fish is paedophorous, consuming baby fish and embryos by forcibly sucking them from the mouths of brooding Haplochromines. That doesn’t sound very nice.

We spent about four hours at that lake, before handing out about $30 in tips to the dozen or so locals who helped us at our task, and driving back to Pallisa, covered in mud with a half dozen unidentifiable juvenile fish.  The inn didn’t have electricity or even any coffee, but it had good mosquito nets, and I slept well after looking at the hundred or so new photos of fish stored in my digital camera.

            The next morning Sanyo, George and I took off at 6:30 a.m., determined to find someone who could help us find Lake Nawampasa, or at least someone who’d heard of it.  It turned out to be an incredible search, full of twists and turns, and I didn’t get back to Entebbe until 10:30 that night, sunburned and filthy.  I’ll tell that part of the story another day. It’s time to go to bed.  God bless you and your fish.


Seeking and Finding Lake Victoria Cichlids, Part II:

Where is Lake Nawampasa and
Is that Cichlid really “Extinct in the Wild”?
By Lawrence Kent

In part one of this article, I told you about my first trip to Lake Victoria in Uganda and then my second trip to the satellite lake called Gigati, about fifteen miles from the small town of Pallisa in northeast Uganda. Because Nile Perch weren’t introduced into most of the satellite lakes, their cichlids are said to have escaped the ravages of that big predator and maintained a greater degree of diversity.  We got lucky and found a lot of diverse and beautiful cichlids in Gigati, but I had read that there were even more species in a lake called Nawampasa. The trouble was that we couldn’t find anyone in Pallisa who had even heard of Nawampasa.  Later that night a local shopkeeper named George Ouze told us he’d made some inquiries and, although he wasn’t sure, he thought he now could find Nawampasa.  So we set off early the next morning with George Ouze, in the dark and pouring rain in our old Toyota Land Cruiser.

After a half hour, we came to a town called Namutuba and tried to buy a jerry can so we’d be prepared to collect lake water for future water changes. None of the little shops had any to sell, but we found a helpful man who said he would go home and get one he could sell us. He was desperately poor, barefoot, and wearing a stained and shredded old shirt.  I bought his jerry can, and we headed east on another dirt road that had become muddy and slippery in the rain. We passed dozens of tiny groupings of mud houses with thatched roofs, cassava fields, and barking dogs.  At each intersection, we’d stop and ask “Which way to Lake Nawampasa?” but our question would generate only confused responses in local languages and finger pointing.  No one seemed to really know. We kept going.  Past Kaliro, Nawaikike, and Irundu. At one point the road was blocked by a small van that had slid sideways and become stuck in the mud, half on the road and half off. As we tried to squeeze by, our car also slid off the road into a ditch, its wheels spinning in the mud.  I thought it might roll, but our driver, Sanyo, was able to drive up onto an embankment while maintaining momentum, and then crash through some bushes to stabilize the car.

We got to a place called “Nawampiti” and asked the locals about Nawampasa.  We’d been driving for almost four hours, so when they said they didn’t know, but told us of another lake nearby, we decided we’d try it.  One of the locals offered to guide us there, but was afraid to get into our car, because it was painted military green. There’s an ugly history of forced conscription by both rebels and official armies in Uganda, and this wariness was one of its legacies. So we followed him on his bicycle, a couple of miles down to the shore of a shallow, reed-lined lake.  The area in which it was located was called Wampala but there was some ambiguity about the actual name of the lake. It was probably a branch or “finger” of Kyoga. The Nile River actually flows through Lake Kyoga on its way from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert in Western Uganda, and then continues through Sudan and eventually to Egypt.

The rain stopped just as we parked the car, right on cue. We got out and were soon surrounded by fifteen young men and boys.  We showed them my minnow seine and the pictures of cichlids in the Barrons book on “Lake Victoria Basin Cichlids.”  Five minutes later, some of them dragged the seine through the mucky shallows and dropped the contents into the flooded bottom of an old canoe for us to pick through.  There were lots of young tilapia and unidentifiable, tiny haplochromines – nothing very interesting – so we gave up on that and headed further out into the lake in one of the canoes, armed with a local cast net.  It was a beautiful lake, with lots of pied kingfishers hovering above and water lilies and hyacinth floating here and there. Unfortunately, the local man throwing the cast net caught only a couple of tilapia.  The mesh was too big to catch the haplochromines I was after.  We headed back, closer to the shore, and a few of the locals agreed to try the seine again, but this time in deeper water – about 5 feet deep. The area had a lot of underwater vegetation and small fish that I could see from the canoe.  They caught a lot of little silvery and bluish happlochromine juveniles, but nothing too interesting.  Somebody noticed a Nile crocodile in the water about 50 feet away. We decided it was time to give up on that locale and continue our quest to find the real Lake Nawampasa.

I paid the requisite tips and we drove on.  After a couple more hours of driving, following seemingly random directions from locals who hadn’t heard of our lake but were willing to point in different directions, we were getting frustrated. It was 3 p.m. and the only thing the three of us (the local driver, George Ouze, and I) had eaten all day were the five granola bars that I had packed, which we had to share, and the drinking water, which was running very low.  Our driver, Sanyo, seemed particularly keen to throw in the towel. So we gave up on our quest for the holy grail of Nawampasa and instead settled for another local landing spot that someone told us had some of the fish pictured in my book. 

This papyrus-filled lake was near a traditional village called Buyuba, so there were plenty of boys willing to help us. It was probably another branch of Lake Kyoga but nobody seemed sure, and the language barriers were formidable. Some of the boys dragged the seine and caught scores of bright yellow Dwarf Victorian Mouthbrooders, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor victoriae.  Others headed out into the lake with hook and line and came back with about twenty beautiful haplochromine adults.  Looking these over, I faced the same problems with identification that I had confronted at Lake Gigati the day before; nonetheless, I think some were Haplochromis sp. “ruby” with dark sides and orange backs, separated by a blurred yellow stripe, with red fins and blue lips. They were gorgeous!  The dark blackish-blue ones -- glistening in the sunlight -- with bright red caudal and anal fins were probably Astatotilapia nubila.  There were also some fish with bright red on their backs, cheeks, faces, and caudal, dorsal and anal fins, with some gray barring and hints of yellow and green on their flanks. Greg Steeves later told me these were probably Gaurochromis sp. "cobalt" or maybe Xystichromis “Kyoga Flameback,” although he wasn’t sure.  By looking at the photos I emailed him, Greg helped correct many of my initial mistaken identifications. He’s the Regional Coordinator for the American Cichlid Association’s Conservation Priority List for Lake Victoria. My friend from St. Louis – champion fish breeder Mike Hellweg – put me in touch with Greg, who’s been extremely helpful. Mike also helped identify fish in my photos by looking at Ole Seehausen’s book on Lake Victoria’s cichlids. That book is out of print and I don’t have a copy.

We also found and photographed another unusual haplochromine-shaped fish at that spot. It had orange-pink blotches on its gill covers and lower anterior flanks, a dusty reddish stripe along the lateral line, yellow-green on its lower posterior flanks, a violet patch right above its anal fin and into the caudal peduncle, a blotched violet back, and red unpaired fins The blend of shiny but subtle colors on that fish gave it an overall “mother of pearl” appearance. Neither Greg Steeves nor I could identify it.

From there we started to head back towards Entebbe, where I’d booked a hotel room. But first I wanted to stop in Jinja, a small city located at the “source of the Nile” where the great river flows out of Lake Victoria.  I wanted to visit the Ugandan Fisheries Research Institute there to try to get some more information. I’d read about this institute in an article by Lee Newman available on the web. He’d reported that the Institute housed several exhibit aquaria with local fish.  We raced to get there before its staff went home for the night.  But by the time we arrived, the guard with the key to the aquarium room had left so we couldn’t get in. One of the staff told us “there’s not much left in there to see anyway” and then provided some identification tips on the more common haplochromine species, suggesting that many were Xystichromis. He also told me we had gone totally the wrong way in our quest for Nawampasa: “My goodness, why did you go all the way to Pallisa? You should’ve just taken the Kamuli road from here. Next time, come see me first.”   He also said he might be able to take me out to some nice rocky islands in Lake Victoria to catch more species, if I would pay for the boat’s fuel. Sounded like a good deal to me. I hope there is a next time.

From Jinja it took another four hours to reach Entebbe (traffic when passing through Kampala) so I didn’t reach my hotel until about 10:30 that night, dehydrated, filthy, starving, but pretty happy.  Luckily the cook made me some spaghetti.

Five days later, after many work meetings on agricultural issues, it was the weekend again, so late Saturday afternoon I took a motorcycle taxi down to the Bugonga waterfront to look for the fishermen who had helped me seven weeks earlier during my first trip.  I asked them to round up some “nkedge” (haplochromines) and they said they would do so early the next morning.  That Sunday I got up early, went to church, then headed back to Bugonga to find my fisher-friends.  One boy had a couple of dozen fish swimming around in the water on the floor of his canoe, but nothing very interesting.  Another canoe arrived on the beach filled with freshly caught Nile perch. There were about twenty of them and a group of women gathered around to buy these delicious fish.  The women were (food) fish traders.  Then I bumped into Bernard, the old Ugandan fisherman who had taken me out in his canoe the first time I visited.  He recognized me and told me to get in again.  We paddled out a few hundred yards and he pulled up a jerry can full of fish he’d been storing underwater. When we got back to shore he spilled its contents onto the floor of his boat, and we started looking at the species.

Most seemed to be Rock Kribensis, although I’m not really sure.  They were about 4 inches in length, grayish-blue, with bright red caudal and anal fins. Some were yellow with six dark bars crossed by two lateral stripes, generating a checkered appearance. They also had some reddish orange in all of their fins. Maybe a yellow race of Rock Kribensis?  Maybe an Orthochromis species?

I found two more species of note, both of which I was able to get home to Seattle. The first was a gray-bodied fish with black bars, blue lips, a red-edged tail, and a bright, metallic blue dorsal fin. It looked just like Pundamilia pundamilia, although none have been reported previously from this part of the Lake.  The second was a long snouted cichlid with a yellow-green base color, dark bars, a dark greenish stripe along the lateral line, red-edged fins with blue rays, and rosy patches straddling its gill covers. Greg identified it from a photo as Lipochromis parvidens.

While we were sorting through the fish on the beach, a local came up to show us a big synodontis catfish he’d caught, about nine inches long, probably Synodontis victoriae. Another guy came by to show us a big elephant fish, probably 20 inches long, probably Mormyrus kannume. Then Bernard said “this one is different” and pulled a three-inch haplochromine from his boat. He showed me the unspectacular grayish fish with the torpedo-shaped body of a harpagochromis. It had two black stripes and some subdued barring. I snapped its photo, and thanked him.

When I got back to my hotel room, I looked at that photo more carefully and compared it to the photos in the Barrons book.  It matched the photo of Harpagochromis sp. “Two Stripe White Lip.”  But the text explained that this species is “extinct in the wild.”

“Wow” I thought, “either my identification is off, or this species really isn’t extinct, which is great news.” Maybe the Nile perch haven’t gobbled them all up yet.

Once home, I shared the photo with Greg Steeves, and he said: “Maybe. It’s definitely a Harpagochromis species but I can’t tell if it’s a Two Stripe.  We need to share the photo with more experts and collect their opinions.” 

Greg’s doing so through the internet. If this newsletter publishes the photo, take a look, and share your opinion with me (lawkentnorton@yahoo.com). In the meantime, I’m hoping for the best.

God bless you, and your fish.




 Aquarium Tech Tips – Moonlight

By Andy Walker

Moonlights that attach to your light canopy can be purchased for $15 to $25. They have one or two ultra-bright white LED that simulates the cool white glow of a full moon. The soft light glimmering through the water helps you observe nocturnal nightlife you may not have seen before.  I bought one and was able to observe all of my Otocinclus cleaning plants while they enjoyed a nice evening meal along with my some of my Corydoras that preferred the dark to my 4 watts/gallon of compact fluorescent lighting. You can also assemble one of these with little effort as far as projects go. All you need is an ultra-bright white LED, a resistor, an old discarded AC to DC power adapter and a device to house and attach to moonlight to your tank or hood. To illustrate how simple you can make it, I used a “bendy” soda straw and wire clamp to house and attach the moonlight to the aquarium. Since the straw I had was white with red and blue stripes so I decided to spray paint it black. That’s the color of the paint that I had.

The most confusing part of this project is knowing what size resistor to use. You can make this circuit work with a 1000-ohm resistor. This is very conservative and should work with any power adapter rated less than 17 volts. If you want a brighter light, however, you can opt to calculate the smallest resistor that will work by using Ohms Law. It is the difference between the power adapter voltage and the LED voltage (usually 2V, but 4V for ultra-bright blue and white LEDs) divided by the LED current (about 20mA). For example, If you have a 12VDC power adapter, an ultra-bright LED with voltage of 4 and a current of 20mA, the calculation, (12-4)/.020, shows the minimum resistor value is 400 ohm. Any resistor 400 ohms or larger will work. Use the closest standard value that is higher, e.g., 470 ohms. Please note that power adapters have their voltage rating on their label and the LED voltage and current is on the package or specified in the catalog if purchased on the web or through mail order.

The 5mm LED I had fits nicely inside the soda straw. My idea was to enclose all of the wires and resistor inside the tube and attach the straw to the hood stand that sits atop my tank using a wire clamp. Coupled with the flexible end of the straw, the wire clamp allows freedom to adjust the position of the light. Note that you could also use PVC coupling and tubing to make the housing if you have that. Nevertheless, start the assembly by soldering the long lead of the LED (the anode) to the resistor. Plug in the power adapter and find the positive wire to solder to the anode resistor by connecting the adapter wires to the LED. If it doesn’t light, switch the wires. Note that my positive wire had a white stripe. Now that you have identified the positive wire, feed it through the straw and solder the wires to the LED. Be sure to insulate one of the leads so you don’t get a short. Fill the end of the straw that holds the LED with aquarium sealer, hot melt glue or some other adhesive and pull the LED into the straw using the power adapter wire. Your moonlight is ready to go once you have attached your wire clamp.

For price and ease, you can’t beat the simple commercially available lights. I bought my first one locally at Marine Solutions in St Charles. You can also order them from a number of web retailers. Use your favorite search engine and type in “aquarium moon lights” and that will get you started. If you don’t have any of the components or tools on hand and mounting the light is enough challenge in itself, that’s the way to go. If you want to tinker and have the ability to change the color, brightness and configuration of your light, a do-it-yourself project is in order. Radio Shack has the LED’s, resistors and additional hardware (like multimeters, soldering irons, power adapter, etc) that you will need. You can also order all of this through the web as well. You can use a search engine to find a source but retailers for the public that won’t hit you with substantial minimum order or large shipping charge can be hard to find. You can start with Futurlec and Electronics Goldmine and go from there. If you want to start an electronic project, keep in mind that this one is as simple as it gets and could be quite rewarding in the long run.

Andy Walker