Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My Trip to Cranberry Bog; The world’s only Island Bog
By Wiktor 

            Cranberry Bog is a Bog completely surrounded by water on Buckeye Lake near Hebron, Ohio.  It is the only bog of its kind in the world.  Today Cranberry Bog is just 10 acres in size and likely will not survive another few decades.  Both of these facts are because Cranberry Bog is not itself a natural phenomenon.
In the 1800s the state of Ohio was largely undeveloped and there were few if any reliable means by which to transport goods in and out of the state.  Inspired by the recently built system of canals in New York the Ohio legislature set out to build what would be called the Erie Canal which connected Lake Erie to the Ohio River, connecting the two bodies of water which form the northern and southern borders of the state of Ohio (a distance of nearly 300 Miles).  In order to achieve this monumental feat it was necessary to find elevated sources of water which could feed the canal with water to maintain the necessary depth of water.  These “feeder lakes” were created artificially by damming up rivers and bogs.  Such was the birth of “Buckeye Lake”.  Before being flooded Buckeye Lake was a massive bog filled with plant life brought south from Canada by the glaciers which formed north and central Ohio’s characteristically flat terrain.  When this bog was flooded a 50 acre section of bog floated to the surface of the lake forming Cranberry Bog.  Ordinarily a bog grows from the outside of a lake towards the center which is why this Bog is so unusual.

Above is Cranberry Bog as it is today and to the right is a typical bog notice that cranberry bog is an island while the Triangle bog to the left grows from the outside in.

         A bog is distinguished from a swamp or fen by its growth on top of Sphagnum moss and layer of peat below which makes the bog soil and water extremely acidic.  The acidity is so great in fact that it almost completely inhibits bacterial activity which has in some cases allowed bodies submerged in a bog to remain almost perfectly intact centuries after death.  Because of bogs high acidity they tend to be very poor growing conditions for most types of plants and those that do grow there grow almost nowhere else.  This is what brought me to the Cranberry Bog, to witness the yearly blooming for two species of bog orchid which only grow in the bog environment.

This is the flower which brought me to the Cranberry bog.

            The Cranberry Bog is a short boat ride from the site of the old Buckeye Lake theme park which once was one of Central Ohio’s greatest attractions bringing people from all over the country.  After penetrating the ring of trees and poison sumac on the periphery of the island we came into a clearing filled with orchids, ferns and the bog’s namesake cranberry plants.

                                                                                                                                                                                                   Above is a picture of Cranberry Bog, to the left, of the diminutive cranberry plant.

          In addition to the Orchids, Cranberry Bog also hosts two of Ohio’s species of carnivorous plants, the pitcher plant and the sundew.  It is believed that carnivorous plants evolved their penchant for killing in order to gain access to nutrients which are exceedingly rare in the nutrient poor bog soil.

This is the sundew.  It gets its name from the sticky, bug trapping substance which coats its leaves which resembles dew.

Here is a cluster of pitcher plants.  These plants have a cup shaped leaf which insects tend to fall into where they decay and release their nutrients for the plant to absorb.

       Cranberry Bog’s gradual decline over the past century is a direct result of its unnatural formation.  Bogs require constant acidity to maintain their characteristics and because the lake water of Buckeye Lake is comparatively basic the island is slowly deteriorating.  It is almost impossible to alter this unique habitats fate however it isn’t gone yet and was a sight to behold.

Arrow Arum and Cinnamon Fern are two other notable plants on Cranberry Bog.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The care and keeping of Triops
By: Wiktor
            So years ago I got a little packet of triops eggs off the internet after stumbling on to information about these guys on a website.  I followed the directions but after making a couple dumb mistakes they all died.  I resolved that one day I’d try again to raise these interesting creatures.  Some time later I came across another package at Hobby Lobby and then promptly put it on the shelf for several months.  After reading an article in tropical fish hobbyist about Triops I set about the task of raising them and I got bit by the Triops bug.  Despite the seemingly complicated process of raising them they are generally very easy to keep if you follow the rules.

Triops Australiensis, Note the grey area just above and between the eyes.
This is a third, simple eye! (hence the name Triops)

         The Triops is a crustacean and despite looking like miniature horseshoe crabs they are most closely related to brine shrimp and daphnia belonging to the branchiopoda class.  Branchiopoda meaning gill feet describes the breathing method of its members utilizing their many feathery legs to breath.  Like brine shrimp Triops produce cysts which can remain viable in a state of suspended animation called diapause reportedly for as long as 30 years or more.  Triops come from vernal pools which are only full of water for short periods before drying out much like annual killifish.  Also like annual killifish they have a very rapid lifecycle going from newly hatched to dead in a couple months tops.  Triops come from vernal pools which are only full of water for short periods before drying out much like annual killifish.  Also like annual killifish they have a very rapid lifecycle going from newly hatched to dead in a couple months tops.  An interesting fact is that the European Triops Cancriformis is the oldest still living creature on earth, pre-dating even the dinosaurs!

Triops eggs (hint they are the stuff that looks like sand)

            Back to the story, my kit only managed to hatch one Triops (the retail packages are very stingy) and it grew before dying to nearly two inches!  The process of rearing Triops begins with the dried eggs.  Triops hatch when they come into to contact with water which is both free from dissolved organics and dissolved solids, distilled water works best for this purpose.  It’s best to start them out in a small amount of water since they are essentially the size and appearance of baby brine shrimp upon hatching.  Being so small means that they need to eat similarly tiny food sources and to this end kits all include some substance which contains infusorian cysts since this will be the only food source small enough for their tiny mouths until the Triops reach a few millimeters long.  It is best at hatching to merely let them sit untouched for a few days until you can clearly see the baby Triops then feed them finely crushed foods.  One nice thing about triops is they are detrivores and will eat anything from fish food to duckweed.  Once they reach a size where they can eat the only thing left to do is feed them whenever they need more food (they practically do nothing but eat and swim rapidly all over the place).  They require no filtration and a volume of water 2 liters or so per Triops will do.  I raised my first in a jar of maybe 1 liter in volume though he would perhaps have survived a bit longer in something larger.  The trick with triops is to feed their massive appetites without letting water become toxic but they are very forgiving and once or twice weekly water changes do the trick wonderfully.

Triops Longicaudatus, This is the most common species of Triops in the US in kits

            Triops are tons of fun to watch they endlessly zip around their homes and seem to be having a great time.  I think if they made a noise it would be akin to a little kid squealing with glee while running around in circles until he passes out.  All in all Triops are not only fun but in a lot of ways cheaper and less labor intensive than raising fish, as well as a very exciting and unique pet.

Somebody call the fun police!

Monday, May 2, 2011

An experiment with almost no-tech planted tanks
 By: Wiktor
            One day while surfing the web I stumbled upon a site explaining a planted tank method referred to as the Walstad method based on a methodology laid out in the book Ecology of the Planted Aquarium by Diana Walstad.  After reading about it I was intrigued but found myself much too busy to try it out until several years later when spring fever caught me.  I couldn’t find very detailed info about what exactly I needed to get this working but from sifting through morsels of useful information I got my materials together and began.  Firstly you will need a tank, in my test run I chose a 10 gallon I had lying around and some soil.  I used a composted topsoil material which I would characterize as a sandy loam and got a bag with probably enough to fill a 75 gallon for 4 dollars at Oakland Nursery.  You want organic material to comprise the bulk of the soil but go composted to avoid the risk of rapid decomposition causing your tank to turn into a stinky mud puddle.  I before putting in the soil rinsed it out to separate floating woody debris like sticks and such this also helped to separate out the sand giving me the better for this purpose dark rich organic material.  I then placed an inch of this substrate into the ten gallon and covered it with a half inch to an inch of gravel primarily to keep the soil in place.  I then planted it as you would any planted tank and voila!  A little cloudy but that’s to be expected.

Tank at set up (10 gallon with the new and very sleek T5 standard strip $20 or so)

            This tank has no filter for two reasons, one to prevent loss of CO2 and two to slow down the conversion of ammonia and nitrite into nitrate since aquatic plants prefer these forms of nitrogen.  The foundation of the Walstad style tank is to balance plant growth with the waste and CO2 excretion of the fish and other animals inside.  As this is the first such tank I have ever worked with I played it cautious and didn’t add any fish for the first few weeks to see how things went.  I added some snails of various types notably malaysian trumpet snails to keep the substrate aerated and to help break down mulm.

Here is the tank at about one week, nice and clear and new growth appears.
At the one week to two week point water parameters are more or less ordinary for a newly set up tank with minimal nitrite and some nitrate and most of which likely came from the old tank water I seeded this tank with.

Tank at about a month some euglena hazing the tank but undetectable nitrite and minimal nitrate

            At this point the tank has been running (figure of speech) a month and has undetectable nitrite and less than 20 ppm of nitrate after a partial water change.  I have started growing a little euglena (green water) but since it is not growing much I doubt there is much nitrogen available for it.  Since the tank seems stable I have added a small corydoras and a platy to add nitrogen and CO2 sources to the tank.  They seem happy enough and I will keep an eye on them and the tanks parameters over the next couple weeks but so far this seems to be a resounding success and the plants are growing vigorously and I expect will grow even more lush with fish in the tank.  All told if you didn’t have most or all of the supplies just lying around this is easily an afternoon project with supplies totaling 30 bucks or so assuming you can provide your own plants.  I think this sort of set up would be extremely good for making a shrimp tank once you were sure the water had stabilized.

     After about 3 or 4 months The tank is lush and green with not a bit of algae in sight.  The Platy died somewhat unexpectedly however the Corydoras has done wonderfully and the tank could likely handle more fish.

The tank going strong at 3 or 4 months

Monday, October 25, 2010

The life and times of Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis”
By: Wiktor

            Africa is home to an abundance of beautiful cichlids but often overshadowed by their brethren from the great rift lakes are the West African riverine cichlids.  Among these cichlids is the genus Pelvicachromis and this paper is about one of the rarer and least well known, the “Sacrimontis”.  There is much conjecture on the internet over whether the species name is valid or not but if you want to find information about this particular variety of Pelvicachromis it is the only name that will yield any results.  Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” may in fact be merely a race or geographic variant of Pelvicachromis Pulcher better known as the kribensis.  The defining feature of the “Sacrimontis” is the brilliant iridescence of the gill plate which is visible even in very young fry of only a few weeks old.  Also males have a fin edging of blue on the inside and red on the outside as opposed to yellow on the inside and red on the outside as in Pulcher.  Females of “Sacrimontis” never have spots on their fins and exhibit the black vertical barring on either side of their trademark red stomach area similar to that of Subocellatus females.  Their dorsal fin and indeed the whole upper half of their body during breeding coloration is a gorgeous lemon yellow and the leading half of the dorsal fin is a burgundy red.

 Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” female  
  Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” male

          Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” hails from black-water habitats and prefers low ph and low hardness however I have kept mine for many generations in water that is neutral and sometimes a little basic with hardness around 150ppm with little problems.  They prefer their water on the warm side even for tropical fish and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is where I maintain my temperatures.  I find that with fish like these that even if the water is not exactly that of their native habitat so long as the habitat is properly designed to meet their needs and water quality is maintained they will flourish. 

          Kribensis are frequently extolled for their easy going nature (except when breeding) this is not a quality which “Sacrimontis” shares.  They are somewhat bigger than Pulcher and they have attitudes to match, they constantly squabble amongst each other and have a well defined pecking order.  Even in the absence of members of the opposite gender both sexes will not only argue amongst each other but chase fish of other species with relish.  I find with effective visual barriers a 30L tank can comfortably house a half dozen or perhaps more specimens but I would not advise using a much smaller tank for even a pair due to the sometimes violent nature of their pecking orders and mating rituals.  Despite their salty disposition “Sacrimontis” are an exceedingly shy species and without dither fish you will never see them.  They are much more comfortable in a heavily planted tank with suitable hiding places and look very nice against a dark substrate.  Suitable dither fish are large and fast, my personal choice of fish is the Congo tetra Phenacogrammus Interruptus.  

My Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” tank

          As with other Pelvicachromis species “Sacrimontis” is a cave spawner preferring to lay its eggs on the underside of driftwood, clay pots and the perennial favorite, the halved coconut shell.  The spawning surface should ideally be enclosed with only a small opening (preferably 2 openings) but it should also allow for water movement as I have found that eggs often fail to hatch if there is not adequate ventilation.  They lay very large eggs as fish eggs go perhaps 2-3 millimeters long roughly oval and orange.  Though I have heard accounts of these spawnings being between 50-200 eggs I have never personally seen nor feel it possible for spawns to be in excess of 30-50 eggs and often are smaller than that. 

          There is really no special method to inducing spawns in “Sacrimontis” and despite the fact that their native habitat is very soft acidic water likely in the upper 70s to low 80s in temperature they regularly breed in my neutral ph water with 150ppm hardness.  That being said they are quite a bit more finicky than kribensis when it comes to water quality and it can take some effort to convince them to breed.  The process of conditioning can take several weeks of heavy feeding and good water quality.  Often it is helpful to introduce a target fish to induce spawning behavior; my personal preference is an extra female “Sacrimontis”.  They are most easily bred in a tank like the one shown but with other “Sacrimontis” and tetras present they are not likely to succeed in raising the fry so it is prudent to remove these fish after spawning has taken place or even to remove the eggs or fry shortly after hatching.  The babies like the eggs are of a fairly good size and can eat finely powdered fish food at birth but are very sensitive to water quality.  They also seem to grow fairly slowly and it will likely take over a year for them to reach full size.

A suitable spawning site for Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis”

          Courtship often looks more like a brawl than romance by human standards but it has a certain kind of elegance to it and it is one of the most interesting aspects of all Pelvicachromis.  The dominant male will establish a territory (in the case of the photo above, a coconut shell) which he will defend from all comers.  The females then each compete for his attention by swimming up rapidly, bending into a U shape exposing their red belly and quivering vigorously.  The male then chases them off (quite angrily) until eventually (after a period of days usually) he allows the female to live in his coconut.  He will then patrol around chasing everything away (including the female when she comes out) until such point in time as they either fail to produce a spawn or the fry are free swimming.  You will know when eggs have been laid because the female will cease to leave the spawning surface for any reason, in many cases even to eat.  Once the eggs have hatched and the fry are free swimming the male and female will corral them around the tank looking for stuff to eat.  They maintain this relationship typically until the fry are large enough to be sexually differentiated which can be months later.

          Pelvicachromis “Sacrimontis” despite their enduring charm and gorgeous color are still for some mysterious reason far harder to find then many of their fellow Pelvicachromis but are worth the trouble of finding them.  Their grumpy disposition and exciting courtship make them not just beautiful but endlessly entertaining.