From Advanced Aquarist

The answer to the struggle of what to feed marine predators that require live foods is right under our noses. Fish might be friends, but in the real world the may also be food.
Richard Ross' pair of Dr. Seuss fish, Belonoperca pylei

Richard Ross’ pair of Dr. Seuss fish, Belonoperca pylei

Back in March, I wrote about Chad Vossen feeding a platinum clownfish that was to be culled to juvenile Dwarf Cuttlefish, Sepia bandnesis, and talked about how clownfish destined to be culled might be a great source of marine feeders for predatory marine animals. As a follow up I present to you the below video: Dr. Seuss eats Nemo. In the video I feed my pair of Dr. Seuss Fish, Belonoperca pylei, some captive bred designer clownfish that were raised in quarantine conditions, and were destined for the culling block. These clownfish were provided to me by Bay Area Reefers President, Steinhart Aquarium Volunteer (Thanks David!) and clownfish breeder extraordinaire, David Sheh.

https://vimeo.com/104619466

Feeding marine predatory animals can be difficult because finding appropriate live foods can come with all kinds of problems. Availability can be challenging, as finding the right size prey items, in the quantity you need them, when you need them can be problematic. Disease and parasites from wild caught prey items can infect your predatory fish, and quarantine of such animals is and added expense, as well as taking up time and resources.  Worse, the ethical issues surrounding wild caught feeder animals are significant; using animals flown halfway around the world as feeders seems exceedingly wasteful.  Furthermore, with some aquarium fish potentially to be listed as threatened or endangered in the endangered species act, the practice of feeding out wild caught animals can become even more inflammatory. Cultured freshwater prey items don’t offer a great alternative as they can have a different nutritional profile from saltwater prey items, and can present sub optimal results – for example, in my experience Dwarf Cuttles fed solely freshwater ghost shrimp tend to lay much fewer eggs, and fewer viable eggs than cuttles fed saltwater shrimp.

If only there were a whole bunch of captive bred, saltwater animals that nobody wanted, weren’t sellable, and were often culled as a matter of course. Oh wait. There are.

More »

From CalAcademy.org and AdvnacedAquarist.com

When I tell people that we’re in the field collecting saltwater animals for display and research at the aquarium, most of them imagine that the actual catching is the hard part. In reality, the hard work starts after we collect the animal.

Keeping animals healthy in the field—and then healthy while en route back to Manila for a 14-hour flight to their new home in Golden Gate Park—entails an entire slew of life-support equipment (LSS). We have that stuff at the Academy, obviously, but right now we’re out in the field. Where it’s too hot. Where there isn’t a store to buy what we need. Where we have to constantly battle a continually moving colony of fire ants that appeared right where we set up our equipment.

Fortunately, all the pre-planning we did to prepare for this is paying off. Want the laundry-list of what came with us on the plane? Two 200-gallon More »

From CalAcademy.org and AdvancedAquarist.com

There are two Academy groups currently in the Philippines for the 2014 Biodiversity Expedition: one from Research, and the other from the Aquarium. Though we’re staying at different locations, we collaborate when we can, like tonight.

It all started with a 90-minute night dive at Anilao Pier to try to collect a Bobbitt worm—a creature that lives in the sand, has jaws like a bear trap, and might be several meters long. It shoots up with lightning speed to catch fish and other animals, yanking them down into the muck like something out of a nightmare. In the 1990s, Academy Senior Curator Terry Gosliner named the Bobbitt worm after Lorena Bobbitt (and her legendary attack on her husband), and Academy crews have been trying to collect this animal both for display and for our preserved collection ever since. One look at the photo shows you why catching this animal isn’t easy, but take a look at this video for an even better demonstration.

Tonight’s effort was unsuccessful, though I did get my hand on one of the worms—yes, my hand. My wife is less than thrilled More »

Originally from Advanced Aquarist

This week, Chad Vossen of Vossen Aquatics and builder of the famed Vossen Larval Snagger, started feeding tiny clownfish, including Platinum clowns to his very young Dwarf Cuttlefish, Sepia bandensis. Cuttlefish hunting and feeding is always amazing to watch, but watching a cuttlefish hunt and eat a captive bred designer clownfish brings the experience to a whole ‘nother level that will thrill some while making others uncomfortable. After all that is a captive bred fish, and every captive bred fish is special, and expensive captive bred fish are even more special right?

One of the biggest hurdles in breeding cuttlefish and other cephalopods is the need for different sizes of live foods as the cuttles grow. Hatchling cuttles need tiny prey, juvenile cuttles need bigger prey, and adults need still bigger prey. More »

Richard Ross captured some great close-up video footage of tiny Banggai cardinalfish still in their eggs. Normally the male holds the eggs in his mouth; however the male spit most of his eggs a couple days prior so these were stripped shortly thereafter.

For more about breeding these fish check this out – http://packedhead.net/2008/breeding-the-banggai-cardinalfish/

From Advanced Aquarist

The ongoing discussions about and with anti aquarium trade groups have been hopping on Facebook. Sadly they have taken a turn that makes me feel engaging with the anti trade side is often useless and should possibly be avoided.

What these groups are doing is deleting comments that respectfully disagree with them, and then pretending to be generous by replying…while at the same time blocking the people they say they are replying to. They are also assuming that everyone that disagrees with them disagrees with everything they have to say and that everyone disagrees about the same thing in the same way both of which are of course, not true. Because blocking people shuts down all real discussion, these misconceptions cannot be addressed or cleared up in an effort to find common ground and move everyone forward. More »


Hybrid Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) and the Robust Ghostpipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus) larvae at day 1

From Advanced Aquarist

On 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition, biologists from the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences collected two species of Ghost pipefish, the Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) and the Robust Ghostpipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus). In June 2011 we reportedon the spawning and rearing attempts of the Ornate Ghostpipefish and were proud to get the larvae to day 7, after which we unfortunately lost the female due to the end of these fishes short lifespan. However, we did have a female Robust Ghost pipefish and decided to display her in the same tank as the male Ornate Ghost Pipefish, and though we thought spawning between the two was possible we were surprised that courtship began on the very first day of co-habitation. It is unknown if these fish hybridize in the wild, and we are excited to present video of the first documentation of the hybridization.

We watched excitedly as the eggs that were held in the females fins began to develop eyes, and were even more excited to hatch the eggs and get the hybrid larvae to day 22 using different methodology than was used on the Ornate Ghostpipefish larvae.   Currently, the female Robust is carrying more eggs fertilized by the male Ornate Ghost Pipefish, and Steinhart Staff is looking forward to another oppurtunity to raise another batch of hybrid larvae.

From Advanced Aquarist

We shot this video last week, and even though the footage is shaky, and made slightly more so in the 60’s editing style, it still shows some pretty amazing behaviors of one of the most fascinating of all the fascinating cuttlefish, Metasepia sp. This female balances on arm tips, walks on all fours (the rear legs being articulated fleshy appendages) and, most exciting to me, hunts by aiming its two feeding tentacles in different directions. This female, and two males, are currently on display at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences, where they are mating and laying eggs regularly.

In the wild these animals are often found ‘walking’ across sand flats or much habitats away from any cover, where it has been thought they live most of their lives protected from predation by their apparently toxic flesh, flashing their flamboyant colors as a warning – don’t eat me, I am bad for your digestion. However, some recent observations lead me to want to question where these animals may actually be spending their time. Atlantis Marine World in New York has been incredibly successful at raising these animals and recently shipped 10 juveniles to the Steinhart aquarium where they are being kept behind the scenes. In their holding tank, and in the holding tank of one adult male, there is a literal wall of rock against the sides of the tanks for biological filtration, and the cuttles spend most of their time in, around, and on this rock and not on the large area of open sand. This behavior is more consistent in the adult male, who over the past month, has rarely been seen on the sand. Last summer while on an Academy expedition in the Philippines, we saw only one Metasepia on the sand, but that sand was in the surrounded by rocky reef, so it just might be the case that these hard to find animals are actually hiding in and around the reefscape. It is important to make clear that this is speculation and that hopefully more observation of these animals both in captivity and in the wild will help to yield more information about these amazing animals.

The lone male Metasepia in this tank ignores the open sand and prefers to stay on the rock, often perched near the top of the stack.

Even experienced ceph keepers with mature tanks should think long and hard before obtaining this species. Their needs are resource intensive, specific, and not yet fully understood. Perhaps more importantly, the size and health of their wild populations is unknown.

Even the sharing of information, photos and video of these animals can be controversial. Some fear that detailed information and attractive photos may encourage inexperienced saltwater aquarists to obtain specimens. Personally, I believe that knowledge should be freely available, rather than hidden from view. I also believe that the admiration of a species can be of benefit to its preservation in the wild rather than its detriment. Furthermore, it is my hope that the information on the site will empower aquarists to make sound, rational decisions regarding the advisability of keeping these very difficult animals.

For more information check out this article, this article, and of course the site for all things cephy TONMO.com

From Advanced Aquarist blog and TONMO

Last week Godehard Kopp posted the video above of a Mimic Octopus, Thaumoctopus mimicus, and an un identifiable fish swimming amongst its arms at the divesite Jahir in the famous muck diving area of Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi Indonesia (the video of the octopus and fish starts at about. :44). Kopp followed the one octopus and fish for 15 minutes filming what appeared to be a previously unknown fish/octopus comensal relationship – a relationship in which one organism derives a benefit while the other is unaffected. Flurries of emails lit up the interwebs as fish and cephalopod and fish enthusiasts tried to determine what was actually going on in the video. Is this a commensal relationship or is something else going on?

The colors of the fish were so matched to the arms of the octopus, that it could easily be thought that this fish must have a previously un-described commensal relationship with the octopus. On the other hand, there are small fishes that swim around foraging octopus arms in search of an easy meal, so it could be that this was simply taking advantage of a possible easy meal as the octopus made its way across the muck. On the third hand, these octopus have been photographed and filmed so much in this area of the world that it might be hard to believe that this behavior had never been seen before. Perhaps the fish happened to be in the wrong place and got scared as the Kopp moved to film in, and was trying to hide in the frist thing it found – the octopus.

Initially, the fish was thought to be some kind of Blenny, but quickly the tide turned and it was thought to be some kind of Jawfish. Soon a more positive ID was soon made: Black Marble Jawfish, Stalix histrio (or another fish in the Stalix genus) shown below from Indonesian Reef Fishes by Kuiter, R.H. & T. Tonozuka. (2001). Since both the fish and the octopus live in, and are trying to blend in with, the same muck background, it makes some kind of sense that the two should share the same kinds markings and color patterns. Of course, there could still be some relationship between the fish and the octopus, more study is needed, but even if this isn’t commensal, it seems to be a brand new behavior for the fish (and possibly a new fish species!)

It was great to watch science in action in regards to this video. Observation, hypothesis, evidence, discussion, new hypothesis changing minds – science rules!

Indonesian Reef Fishes by Kuiter, R.H. & T. Tonozuka. (2001).

Text by Matt Wandell, Video by Rich Ross – Posted Jun 20, 2011 04:00 PM on Advanced Aquarist’s blog
Since our last update we’ve been able to observe mating several times, and Academy biologist Rich Ross has captured it on video.

Ornate Ghost Pipefish spawning and ‘birthing’ at the California Academy of Sciences, June 2011.

As reported earlier on Advanced Aquarist, the California Academy of Sciences’ Steinhart Aquarium has a pair of Ornate Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus paradoxus) on display which have released larvae in captivity. Since our last update we’ve been able to observe mating several times, and Academy biologist Rich Ross has captured it on video.

Check out the video below to see the entire process of ghost pipefish reproduction–from mating, to a close up look inside the female’s pelvic fins where she holds the developing eggs, to larval release. So far we have seen the female release between 20-50 larvae every morning for the last 8 days, followed by mating with the male as soon as we place them back together. Is this typical behavior for the species, or an artifact of captivity? Does she hold eggs and larvae of different age in her pelvic fins at the same time in the wild?

Before you go rushing out to obtain a ghost pipefish or two, you should be aware that the vast majority of these amazing animals collected for the aquarium trade die before ever reaching their intended destination. Those that do make it are often extremely weak from the journey. The individuals described here were carefully collected and shipped by Steinhart Aquarium staff from a shallow seagrass bed in a small Philippine bay to a display tank in San Francisco within less than 36 hours. Along the journey, they received several water changes and were always held in enormous containers. It is our firm belief that this extraordinary level of care during shipping is necessary for these fishes to arrive alive and in good health.

Things have been hopping at work with cephs! It is remarkable to work at a place with such diversity. Things are mating, hatching, eating and above all growing. I am amazed that the Sepia latimanus hatched in February this year are now almost 7 inches long. The Amphioctopus marginatus are growing almost visibly day by day. The Metasepia sp hatchlings are almost doing the same. Anyway, a video is worth a thousand words, so here is a bit of a long one featuring the A. marginatus on display moving faster than I thought possible, the Sepia bandensis on display (mating), the Metasepia eating and the S. latimanus eating and being burly!

From TONMO

http://vimeo.com/24524860As far as we can tell, on June 1st the Steinhart Aquarium became the first aquarium to display Amphioctopus marginatus, the Coconut Octopus or Veined Octopus. This small robust octopus has gotten a lot of attention over the past few yeas first as one of the documented octopuses capable of bipedal locomotionhttp://www.sciencemag.org/content/307/5717/1927.full and as an octopus possibly capable of tool usehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/science/pu…/2011/jan/20/1.

The animal on display was collected by Steinhart Biologists in Anilao, Philippines, as part of the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition http://www.calacademy.org/blogs/expedition/?p=800, just a week before going on display.

Needless to say, I am very excited to have the opportunity not only to have seen these animals in the wild, but also to be able to work with them in captivity. So much so that I am posting the above video shot on my iphone. In the video you can see the octopus flashing colors, a bit of a limb that is re growing, hunting and catching a ghost shrimp, and returning to its glass jar den.

From the California Academy of Sciences

First sunset after the first day in the Philippines

After a 14 hour plane flight and a 3 hour drive, Steinhart Aquarium biologists Bart Shepherd, Rich Ross and Matt Wandell arrived at Club Ocellaris and were treated to a breakfast of garlic rice, eggs and French toast. After filling our bellies, we suited up, went diving and have been on the move ever since. The first night, after a spectacular sunset,we dove on a stony coral dominated site called “Dead Palm” (apparently there used to be a dead palm tree under water). At the end of the dive we encountered something that we never imagined we would run into, never mind on the first night – Acropora sp. corals spawning. Thousands of egg/sperm bundles released into the water by branching corals filled the ocean with a peach colored ‘snowstorm’ rising towards the surface. Many screams of excitement could be heard under water. We collected some of the spawn, and after email discussions with friends from project SECORE (SExual COral REproduction – http://www.secore.org/ ), we tried to mix the gametes to harvest and settle ‘baby’ corals.  The effort was not completely successful because Acropora corals cannot self-fertilize and we couldn’t collect material from multiple corals. Regardless, the experience was worth the effort, and sets the stage for future work.

The collection of coral fragments has been moving along well, and we are getting ready to pack up the first shipment back to the Academy. We have been collecting fragments that have naturally detached from mother colonies, or harvesting small fragments from the growing edge of large colonies.  The parent colony should quickly heal and show no sign of disturbance within a week or so.

Traditionally coral fragments are collected and either glued to something (rock, a concrete disk, or a plastic plug) or left loose and stored in some kind of rack land in a holding tank. This presents a a couple of problems with water flow and water quality.  It also can cause shipping problems, as the coral either sits unsupported in the shipping bag, or is rubber banded to some Styrofoam (both of which can stress the coral and involve additional handling). Inspired by the work Ken Nedimyer is doing in Florida at the CRF (Coral Restoration Foundation –http://www.coralrestoration.org/ ), and after prototyping the system in the Philippine Coral Reef at the aquarium, we placed our coral strings about 50 meters off shore.

Coral fragments waiting for shipment to CAS

This system keep the fragments up in the water column with good water, flow and light until we are ready to ship them. For shipping, we simply snip the middle of the zip tie chain ( leaving the rest in place for future use) and attach the coral to another zip tie looped through some Styrofoam. This way the fragment is suspended in the shipping bag, and it will be hard for it to bump the sides or bottom, which can cause damage. The lines themselves are silicone airline tubing strung between repurposed plastic water bottles (floats) and dive weights (sinkers). Additional lines can be added to an existing float to quickly and simply extend the system. It seems to be working well and we are anxious to hear how the corals arrive at their new home in San Francisco.

Last night we spent two hours muck diving collecting cephalopods and seeing amazing and bizarre creatures, but we are out of time so that will have to be covered in a future blog as we are off to Manila for meetings and shipping.

Richard Ross, Bart Shepherd and Matt Wandell.

Steinhart Aquarium staff are currently in the Philippines surveying the reefs that serve as inspiration for the 212,000 gallon Philippine Coral Reef exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. The most surprising part of the expedition so far–a coral spawning event on the first night dive.

Many corals reproduce by releasing millions of eggs and sperm into the water in coordinated events. What better way to ensure you’ll find a mate than triggering a mass orgy? The coral gametes are positively buoyant and collect at the water surface, where fertilization takes place. Within a few days the fertilized eggs develop into what are called planula larvae, a small sausage shaped stage of the coral which has the sole task of finding and settling on a suitable location where the coral colony will spend the rest of its life.

For public aquariums interested in displaying corals in captivity, spawning events are a big deal. The collection of millions of potential coral fragments can be accomplished in a sustainable way with no damage to the existing coral colonies. An initiative of public aquariums and coral reef scientists called SECORE (SExual COral REproduction) collects gametes from spawning events and carefully holds them until they are fertilized and ready to settle in captivity. SECORE’s tireless work in the Caribbean has resulted in thousands of captively grown fragments of the critically endangered stony coral Acropora palmata.

On the second day of the Philippine expedition Steinhart staff collected several hundred egg and sperm bundles from two yet-to-be-identified spawning Acropora spp. Tending to the fertilized eggs is a delicate task, but we hope to have fantastic news of settlement in the next few days.

Update

During the Hearst Expedition, biologist from the California Academy of Sciences witnessed Acropora spspawning (video below). They collected the spawn and are attempting to get it to settle while in the field.

 

 

From TONMO

The 212,000 gallon reeftank will soon be getting new additions - photo by Tim Wong


Scientists from the California Academy of Sciences have launched the most comprehensive scientific survey effort ever conducted in the Philippines, documenting both terrestrial and marine life forms from the tops of the highest mountains to the depths of the sea. They will be joined by colleagues from the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, the Philippines National Museum and the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, as well as by a team of Academy educators who will work to share the expedition’s findings with local community and conservation groups. The expedition, which will conclude with a symposium at the University of the Philippines on June 8, is funded by a generous gift from Margaret and Will Hearst.

“The Philippines is one of the hottest of the hotspots for diverse and threatened life on Earth,” says Dr. Terrence Gosliner, Dean of Science and Research Collections at the California Academy of Sciences and leader of the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition. “Despite this designation, however, the biodiversity here is still relatively unknown, and we expect to find dozens of new species as we survey the country’s reefs, rainforests, and even the ocean floor. The species lists and distribution maps that we create during this expedition will help to inform future conservation decisions and ensure that this remarkable biodiversity is afforded the best possible chance of survival.”

The expedition’s shallow water team will conduct most of their research off the coast of Batangas Province on Luzon Island, in an area called the Verde Island Passage. Past research by scientists from the California Academy of Sciences and other institutions has suggested that this area is the “center of the center of marine biodiversity,” home to more documented species than any other marine habitat on Earth. However, many new species remain to be discovered—Academy scientists regularly find at least one new species on every dive in this area. During the expedition, the participating scientists will conduct side-by-side surveys of marine protected areas and non-protected areas to help the government determine how successful their current conservation plans are at fostering biodiversity.

“The expedition’s results will help our government better promote integrated coastal resource management,” said Malcom Sarmiento, Director of the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. “The data they collect will also help us decide if and where to establish new sanctuaries.”

Of particular interest to the reefkeeping community will be the Steinhart Aquariums additions to the expedition. From May 10 through May 26 2011 Bart Shepherd, Richard Ross and Matt Wandell will survey and document the dive sites that served as the inspiration for the Steinhart Aquarium’s 212,000 gallon Philippine Coral Reef exhibit. They will also will responsibly collect coral, cephalopods and other invertebrates for captive propagation, research and display at our Golden Gate Park facility. As the the only public aquarium permitted to collect stony corals in the Philippines, the three are excited to obtain these unique species for study, captive culture research, and to display for visitors. California Academy of Sciences staff and our Filipino colleagues are able to support aquarium trade needs with minimal impact. Look for new additions to the Coral Reef and Rainforest exhibits.

For more information, please see http://www.calacademy.org/science/hearst/


Coral fragments collected in PI by Steinhart biologists in 2009 have grown to more than twice what is pictured here. In 2011, more coral will be collected for culture, display and sharing with other institutions.

From TONMO and Advanced Aquarist Online blog and a bunch of other outlets

About a month ago, we got a Caribbean Octopus ‘vulgaris’ in at work, and put it right on show on the public floor. It quickly took up residence inside a glass bottle, which is exactly what I wanted it to do so it would always be visible to the public. Just as quickly, it moved back under some rock and started denning, and my heart sank because I knew it was a she, and the she had laid eggs. While eggs being laid in captivity is generally an exciting event, this particular species, like many but not all octopus, stops eating after it lays eggs and dies soon after they hatch which tends to put a damper on joyous hooplah. Even worse, this species is ‘small egged’ meaning it produces large numbers of very small planktonic ‘paralarvae’ which are notoriously difficult to feed and raise. So, I tilted the rock where the eggs were laid to make them visible to the public (but in a high flow area so they would continue to develop), and the adult octopus moved back into the bottle making for an all round cool and educational display of something most people don’t get to see. The unexpected icing on the cake was catching the hatching of the eggs from start to finish, and also being able to get much of it on video. Sure these tiny hatchlings probably won’t survive long, but we are trying, and the image of a waterfall of tiny octopus paralarve flowing up from the egg mass to the surface of the water is something I don’t think I will ever forget.http://vimeo.com/20288962Nuts and bolts

  • Caribbean Octopus ‘vulgaris’ (there are several Octopus that use the species name vulgaris which is why its in quotes)
  • Roughly 3 weeks between eggs being laid and eggs hatching.
  • Hatching occurred at 9 am.
  • When I turned off the flow to better witness the hatching, the female octopus quickly left her bottle den, agitated the eggs presumably to help the hatch, and is now sadly protecting the space where the eggs were.
  • The female many hatchlings will be on display at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences until they can no longer be displayed.
  • The hatchlings are 1-2 mm in length.
  • There are 1000’s of them.
  • The hatchings are in a Kreisel tank and being offered 24 hour Artemia, which the literature suggests is the correct size to be eaten by the little octos, along with rotifers which are smaller to cover all the bases we can reasonably cover.
  • A previous batch of hatchlings from my home had individual paralarvae survive until day 9
  • The Caribbean Octopus ‘vulgaris’ seems to be a smaller species than its larger Mediterranean Octopus vulgaris cousins

Some pics –

A very posed photo in a drop of water

The lines in the upper corner are millimeters.

The female in her bottle. Note she has plugged the opening with rubble. After I disturbed her den and eggs, she moved into the bottle and laid 4 or 5 additional strands of eggs in the bottle.


From Advanced Aquarist Online and Reef Life Magazine.

The Flamboyant cuttle is one of the most amazing animals I have encountered in the wild or in captivity. They are beautiful, masterful predators that live fast and die young. It is my hope that one day they will be bred in captivity and readily available for all cephalopod enthusiasts.

Cuttlefish are the artists of the sea. . They float through the water like oceanic ballet dancers. Their feeding tentacles shoot forward with a speed, accuracy and control that would make a martial artist weep.  One minute they have the color and texture of a smooth rock; the next they flash complex three dimensional patterns and suddenly resemble a monster out of Greek myth. While all cuttlefish share these abilities, there is one species that takes these arts to an apex, making the rest look like dull amateurs – the aptly named Flamboyant Cuttlefish.

Hatchling Metasepia with a mysid shrimp in the background for scale. The ‘rocks’ are grains of sand.

The Flamboyant cuttlefish, Metasepia pfefferi, is an astonishing little animal found primarily in muck habitats. These vast, rolling underwater plains of settled silt and mud appear desolate at first glance, but are in fact populated by an unexpectedly large number of strange animals including frogfish, ghost pipefish and a stunning array of nudibranchs. Fitting right in with these odd neighbors, the Flamboyant is normally a master of camouflage blending in completely with the grey substrate. When startled, however, those previously subdued colors change to bright purples, reds, yellows and whites. The colors shine out in coruscating patterns along the animal’s body.

Flamboyants are incredibly bold, even when startled, and will hold their ground while putting on their color show for an amazingly long time. These fantastic displays have helped make ‘muck’ diving popular, have put Flamboyant cuttlefish on the top of underwater photographer/videographers “must shoot list” and have made them a pined-for-but-rarely-obtained aquarium specimen.

Hatchling Metasepia on sand, with all the coloration that adults have.

What’s in a name?

The ‘Flamboyant’ part of the common name is easy to understand, but the ‘cuttle’ or the ‘fish’ part might be a little less straightforward.

The origins of the word ‘cuttlefish’ or ‘cuttle’ have not been been nailed down. According  to cephalopod researcher John W Forsythe, “The name Cuttlefish originally came about as the best guess of how to spell or pronounce the Dutch or perhaps Norwegian name for these beasts. It is derived from something like ‘codele-fische’ or ‘kodle-fische’. In German today, cuttlefish and squids are called tintenfische, meaning ‘ink-fish’. I’ve been told that the term fische actually refers to any creature that lives in the sea or are caught in nets when fishing, not just fishes. Anyway, that’s what I understand the derivation of name to be.”

Adult Metasepia.

Recently there has been a movement, at least in public aquariums, to make the names of certain animals more ‘correct’ to avoid confusion. For instance, neither Jellyfish nor Starfish are fish, thus they are now referred to as Jellies and Sea Stars respectively. Perhaps it is time to refer to cuttlefish as cuttles, because they aren’t fish at all. Cephalopod researcher Dr. James Wood sums it up clearly; “Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish and the chambered nautilus belong to class Cephalopoda, which means ‘head foot’. Cephalopods are a class in the phylum Mollusca which also contains bivalves (scallops, oysters, clams), gastropods (snails, slugs, nudibranchs), scaphopods (tusk shells) and polyplacophorans (chitons)”, however unlike their relatives, cephalopods move much faster, actively hunt their food, and seem to be quite intelligent.”

Nuts and bolts

There are actually two species in the Metasepia genus, Metasepia pfefferi, the Flamboyant cuttlefish, sometimes referred to as Pfeffer’s Flamboyant cuttlefish, found from the Indonesia to northern Australia to Papua New Guinea, and Metasepia tullbergi, the Paint pot cuttlefish, found from Hong Kong to southern Japan. Both species are small, having a mantle length of 6-8 centimeters, with the females’ being larger than males. Distinguishing the species visually is difficult, and telling them apart relies on subtle differences in the animals’ cuttlebones.

Metasepia, like all cephalopods, have three hearts (two branchial or gill hearts, and systemic heart that pumps blood through the rest of the body), a ring shaped brain, and blue, copper based blood. They have 8 arms, with two rows of suckers along each arm, and two feeding tentacles tipped with a tentecular club. The shafts of the feeding tentacles are smooth, while the grasping face of the club is covered with suckers, some of which are proportionally huge. The tentacles and tentecular club shoot forward to snare prey and pull it back to the arms. Once gripped by the arms, the preyis manipulated to a beak-like mouth and a wire brush like tongue called a radula, both of which help reduce the prey to appropriate size to be eaten.  Reducing the food size is critical because the esophagus actually runs through the middle of the cuttle’sring shaped brain; swallowing something too big might damage the brain.

The Flamboyant’s striking color changes are accomplished by organs in the skin called chromatophores The chromatophores are neurally controlled and allow for instant color changes over the entire skin of the cuttlefish by triggering muscles to change the amount of pigment that is displayed. The skin patterns aren’t necessarily static either, they can move, like animation on a TV screen, and are thought to aid in communication, hunting and camouflage. This is evidenced on the dorsal surface of the mantle where violet stripes can often be seen pulsing across the white areas Metasepia.

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In addition, to evade predators or hide from prey, Flamboyants can also change the shape of their skin by manipulating papillae across their bodies to break up their body outline. The larger papillae on the top side of the Flamboyant cuttlefish’s mantle don’t change at all.

Flamboyants use a three-tiered approach for movement. They have a fin that girds their mantle that allows for fine movement, and they can use jet propulsion via water pumped over the gills and through their funnel, which allows for surprisingly fast movement. Most amusingly, Flamboyant cuttles often amble or walk across the substrate using their outside pair of arms and two lobes on the underside of their mantle as ‘legs’. In my experience, Metasepia prefer this walking to swimming and only leave the substrate when extremely threatened or are overly harassed by groups of divers overzealously trying to get the perfect photo.

One of the most well known features of cuttles is the cuttle bone, which is often used by pet owners to provide calcium for caged birds. Cuttlefish use this multi chambered internal calcified ‘shell’ to change buoyancy by quickly filling or emptying the chambers with gas. Interestingly, while the cuttle bone of most cuttles is as long as the animal’s mantle, the diamond shaped cuttlebone of the Flamboyant is disproportionately small, thin, and only 2/3 to ¾ of the mantle length. The small size of the cuttlebone may make swimming difficult and may accounts for the Flamboyants preference to ‘walk’ along the bottom.

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Like other cephalopods, Flamboyant cuttles can also produce copious amounts of ink if startled. It is thought that the ink acts as a smokescreen to allow the cuttlefish to escape predation, but most of the Metasepiainking events I have seen have been more along the lines of ‘pseudomorphs’, or blobs of ink that are thought to further aid in escape from predation by presenting the predator with multiple targets.

Toxicity

Recent research by cephalopod researcher Mark Norman, as reported in the episode of the television series NOVA – Kings of Camouflage, takes a step at explaining the weird colors, the fearlessness, and walking behaviors of the of the flamboyant cuttlefish.

According to Norman “Well, it turns out the flamboyant cuttlefish is toxic. It’s as toxic as blue-ringed octopuses. And blue-ringed octopuses have killed humans from their bites, so we’ve got the first deadly cuttlefish in the world. And it’s amazing on a couple of levels. First of all, it’s actually poisonous flesh, the muscles themselves are poisonous. So this is the first time that flesh that is deadly has been reported in any of these groups of animals. And secondly, the toxin itself is not known. It’s some completely different class of toxins. And toxins like those could be the key to whole new discoveries for lots of human medical conditions… This is a fantastic result, because it makes sense of what we’re seeing in the wild. And this toxicity, this poisonousness is probably what’s underpinning the whole weird behavior of the animal. And the fact that a group of animals that normally swim around or spend a lot of time trying to be camouflaged, have become so obvious, have given up swimming, are walking everywhere, it’s like a major step towards a whole new line in the evolution of these animals.”

It is also possible the bite and ink of the Flamboyant contains toxins, so any handling of these animals should be taken with a good deal of caution and forethought.

Lifecycle

Metasepia begin life as tiny eggs laid in crevices or under overhangs or sometimes hidden inside a sunken coconut husk. The eggs are laid individually, and are approximately 8 mm in diameter. Unlike some cuttlefish species, the female does not incorporate ink into the egg mass, so the egg appears to be white or translucent.  This makes it easy to see the developing cuttle inside., Hatchlings are roughly 6mm in length at hatching and are miniature versions of adults. These are instant predators ready to get out into the world and start changing colors and eating a diet of mostly small crustaceans, stomatopods and sometimes fish.

A 2 day old hatchling Metasepia. Note the coin is under the container holding the animal.

Like all cephalopods, Metasepia grow very quickly and can reach adult size somewhere between 4 and 6 months after hatching.Adult female Metasepia are larger than males, reaching 8 centimeters in mantle length while males top off at less than 4-6 centimeters in mantle length; this may account for the size discrepancy in descriptions of these animals. Like most cuttles, Metasepia mate by coupling head to head. The male deposits a packet of sperm called a spermatophore, via a groved arm called a hectocotylus into a pouch in the female’s mantle.  The mating is very fast, the male darting in, making his deposit, and darting away, perhaps due to the threatening size difference of the mates.

Metasepia have a lifespan of about a year, and the end can be ugly as the animal enters into what is known as senescence. Motor control begins to fail, lesions can appear on the skin, and the cephalopod seems not to care about anything, including food or having arm tips eaten by bristleworms or hermit crabs.

Keeping Metasepia: Ethical considerations

The idea of keeping the more exotic cephs – Wunderpus photogenicus, Thaumoctopus mimicus, and bothMetasepia spp – has generated much discussion in cephalopod circles, mostly because the size and health of their wild populations is unknown. Even the sharing of information, photos or video of these animals in captivity can be controversial. Some fear that detailed information and attractive photos may encourage inexperienced saltwater aquarists to obtain specimens and encourage over-collection, perhaps impacting the ability of wild populations to recover.

Personally, believe that the admiration of a species can be of benefit to its preservation in the wild rather than its detriment. Experienced cephalopod keepers can and have made positive additions to the overall knowledge about these animals. My hope is that the open sharing of information empowers aquarists to make sound, rational decisions regarding the advisability of keeping these animals.

Keeping Metasepia is not something that should be entered into on a whim and even experienced cephalopod keepers with mature tanks should think long and hard before obtaining this species. Their needs are resource intensive, specific, and not yet fully understood, so if you do decide to take give it a go, take your time and please document your efforts so others can learn from your successes and mistakes.

Getting an animal

The biggest drawback to keeping any cephalopod in aquaria is getting one. Cephalopods are notoriously terrible shippers, often arriving at their destination dead in a bag of ink-filled water. This may have to do with an inherent inability of the animal to deal with the stress of shipping, or it may be because the time and effort needed to ship these animals successfully is not well understood. Either way, currently importers are wary of ordering these animals because of their poor survival rate through the chain of custody.

The aquarium trade does not distinguish between the Metasepia species, and if you are lucky enough to find one, and willing to pay between 300 and 800 dollars US per animal, you really can’t be sure which species you have. I do think that most of the animals that make it into the trade are actually Metasepia tullbergi from Japan where they have been tank raised. Metasepia pfefferi, to be best of my knowledge, have not tank been tank raised anywhere.

What’s even worse about trying to obtain one of these animals for your aquarium is the idea that most of the animals imported are single adult males, which means they may only live for weeks or months and there is no possibility of eggs or breeding. Over the past 7 years I have been able to obtain 3 live Metasepiaspecimens, once driving from San Francisco to Los Angles and back in the same day to give the animal every chance to survive. All were adult males and lived between 2 and 4 months.

Husbandry

A mature aquarium with stable reef like water quality is necessary for housing Metasepia. Water temperature should be approx 78f (25.5c), salinity 33.5-34.5 ppt, pH 8.1-8.4, with ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as close to 0 as possible.  Ammonia seems to be particularly problematic for cephalopods so regular testing and an ‘ammonia alert’ card are useful to determine the frequency of needed water changes.

Metasepia and the authors wife in Lembah, Suliwesi.

A good skimmer is necessary to provide oxygen and nutrient export as well as to provide “insurance” for any inking events. Carbon, along with mixed and heated saltwater for water changes is good to have on hand as well for any inking. A good amount of live rock and/or macro algae is a good “bonus” for filtration and shelter.

A substrate area of at least 36×12 inches (standard 30 gallon breeder aquarium) is recommended to provide enough ‘walking’ room for a single animal. I prefer to use a muck substrate substitute like Carib-Sea mineral mud, in combination with 4×6 inch sections of any of the ‘mud’ products available, but since Metasepia don’t dig, a fine sand bottom will also work adequately.

Simple fluorescent lighting is enough for the Metasepia, though something more powerful may be necessary if keeping macro algae or simple non-stinging (DiscosomaNeptheaXenia etc) corals along with the cephalopod. High intensity lighting should be fine as these animals are diurnal.

When possible, I like to keep my cephalopod tanks plumbed into a larger reef system. This allows for a larger overall water volume, more stable water conditions and alleviates the need for extra equipment. SinceMetasepia don’t escape from aquariums like their octopus cousins, a tight fitting lid isn’t needed and plumbing into an existing system is easy. Best of all, a tank plumbed into a larger system can be taken off line and put on line very quickly given the availability of Metasepia.

I prefer to not keep any other fish or ceph with the Metasepia. Either the Metasepia will eat the fish or the fish will harass the Metasepia. In reality, these animals are so rare in the trade that I am an advocate of anything that gives them a better chance at survival… which means avoiding annoying tank mates. Clean up crew animals such as snails, hermit crabs in moderation, and bristle worms won’t be eaten by the Metasepia, and will help clean up any uneaten food.

If the Flamboyant arrives in good condition, it may start eating right away – the three I have been able to obtain over the years have eaten within minutes of being released into the aquarium. Metasepia seem to need to eat more than other cuttles, and I suggest feeding them at least 3 times a day. If the animal doesn’t get enough food, it may begin to float at the surface and not be able to fully submerge; it seems lack of food may be related to poor buoyancy control. I have heard accounts of the backs of under-fed Metasepia actually drying out from the animal not being able to get away from the water’s surface.

Almost any live shrimp will be eaten with gusto. I have used live and frozen saltwater ghost shrimp(Palaemontes Vulgaris) and local San Francisco bay bait shrimp (Cragnon spp) with great success. Start with live and then experiment with thawed frozen because one of the most important things you want from a newly imported Metesepia is to get the cuttle eating. Live crabs seem less interesting to Metasepia than to other cephalopods, and thawed frozen krill has been flatly ignored.

Late Breaking News

After 8 years of fruitless effort, I was able to obtain a group of Metasepia for captive breeding at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences. While the group suffered 80% loss in the first week, 90% in the first month,  we were able to mate one male with several females which then laid eggs. Some of the eggs have developed, and at the time of writing, we have two hatchling Metasepia and several more eggs developing. This is a good, but baby step on the road to being able to keep and breed these animals in captivity. I am working hard to keep the hatchlings alive.

What this experience tells me is that even with all the resources of a Public Aquarium, wild caught, adult Metasepia are difficult to keep alive for any length of time. However, the small success means there is hope on the horizon for studying, appreciating, and breeding this amazing cephalopod in captivity.

Conclusion

The Flamboyant cuttle is one of the most amazing animals I have encountered in the wild or in captivity. They are beautiful, masterful predators that live fast and die young. It is my hope that one day they will be bred in captivity and readily available for all cephalopod enthusiasts.

If you are interested in keeping cephalopods, there are several species that are easily available, better understood and make better starter cephs than Metasepia. Please do some reading on www.TONMO.combefore purchasing any cephalopod.

References and other sources of Information

Hard Copy:

  1. Dunlop, C and King, N. 2008. Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquarium. TFH Publications. 269 pages
  2. Hanlon, RT and Messenger. 1996. Cephalopod Behaviour. Cambridge University Press. 232 pages
  3. Jereb, P. and Roper, C.F.E. (editors). 2005. Cephalopods of the world. Issue 4, Volume 1, FAO. PP 60-62
  4. Norman, Mark. 2000. ‘Cephalopods a world guide’. ConchBooks : pp.86-89
  5. Nesis, KN. 1987. Cephalopods of the World. TFH publications. 351 pages

Web:

  1. Nova, Kings of Camouflage; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/3404_camo.html
  2. Wood, J and Jackson, K, How Cephalopods Change Color;http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/cephschool/HowCephalopodsChangeColor.pdf
  3. CephBase; http://www.cephbase.utmb.edu/TCP/faq/TCPfaq2b.cfm?ID=4
  4. www.TONMO.com
  5. www.DaisyHillCephFarm.org
  6. www.TheCephalopodPage.org

From Advanced Aquarist Online and Reef Life Magazine

(With special thanks to Dr. Roy Caldwell)
Octopus chierchiae is an amazing little animal and  is clearly worth further study.
Without a doubt, octopuses are intriguing animals. Eight sucker covered arms, three hearts, copper based blood, defensive ink, a bird like beak, phenomenal carnivorous prey-stalking abilities, color-changing skin, eyes with an intelligent gleam and the apparent intelligence to escape the aquarium to explore all make keeping octopus a thrilling and fascinating endeavor.

In recent years there has been much public interest in the so-called ‘zebra’ octopuses – Wunderpus photogenicus and Thaumoctopus mimicus. And with good reason, as these animals can be stunning in coloration, patterning and displays. As their common moniker implies, these octopus can display distinctive black and white stripes over their mantle and arms. But there is another ‘zebra’ octopus that is rarely seen which may turn out to be even more fascinating than its better known cousins – the pygmy octopusOctopus chierchiae.

Richard Ross: The first Octopus chierchiae during acclimation.

Nuts and bolts

Octopus chierchiae is a striking, small octopus. The skin of the adult is usually a creamy color with dark bands bordered by white all over the body and arms. At times, the same individual bands can fade so the whole animal appears creamy with creamy stripes. At other times, that same specimen may become translucent, revealing the branchial, or gill, hearts beating in the animal’s pointed mantle. Finally, that same specimen might a uniform, dark brown. The skin itself alternates between a smooth and a bumpy texture, and there are star shaped papillae around each eye as well as prominent papillae towards the tip of the mantle.

Octopus chierchiae occurs along the pacific coast of Panama and Nicaragua, living in the low inter-tidal zone where they may be periodically exposed to air and may survive in water that collects in rock cavities between tides. Being from this zone, it may be that this species is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and salinities. Although they have been described in one of the few scientific papers about them as ‘common’, they may not be, or they may simply only be common at certain times of year. We simply don’t know because the science hasn’t been done. One expedition to collect these animals for research was unable to obtain a single specimen. If these octopuses are indeed not common, negative impact on wild populations due to collection is a very real possibility, as these animals are recognizable, andeasy to collect due to the environment they live in.

The lifespan of Octopus chierchiae is currently unknown, but thought to be roughly a year. The longest lived wild caught animal was kept alive for approximately 8 months.

One of the most astonishing features of this species is the female’s ability to lay multiple clutches of eggs over its lifetime. The reproductive strategy for most octopuses is semelparous, laying many small eggs at once and then dying. The small eggs almost always hatch as planktonic paralarvae and are essentially impossible to raise in captivity (although there has recently been some small success in that area). Octopus chierchiaehowever, is iteroparous, and it lays several, smaller clutches of eggs before dying. What makes Octopus chierchiae even more attractive from a breeding standpoint is that the eggs are large, and the hatchlings emerge essentially as miniature adults which makes raising the hatchlings possible in captive environments.

Females are larger than males, reaching a dorsal mantle length of 25mm and 18 mm respectively. The males have a hectocotylus, or grove, on the third right hand arm when the animal is viewed from above that is used to pass sperm packets to the female. It also appears that the males have ‘fringing’ along the tips of the arms that is absent in females.

It is also possible these animals are toxic in some way – their striking coloring and patterning seems very much like warning to would be predators. However, whether the bite is toxic or the flesh is toxic is a question that will have to wait for further research.

History

Octopus chierchiae was first briefly described by G Jatta in 1889. Most of what we know about their lifecycle and behavior comes from a paper written in 1984 by Arcadio F. Rodaniche, along with some first hand observations by cephalopod researcher Dr Roy Caldwell. In the early 1970’s Dr. Caldwell collected severalOctopuschierchiae while doing stomatopod research in Panama, and treated them as a curiosity. This experience was partly responsible for Dr. Caldwell becoming interested in studying pygmy octopuses. It was he who later returned to Panama to collect Octopus chierchiae and was unable to find a single specimen.

Since then, Dr Caldwell has obtained specimens of Octopus chierchiae sporadically, and they have leaked into the pet trade from time to time. The issue with getting them is there are few marine ornamental collectors in that part of South America, and they don’t collect and ship in a consistent manner for any animals, never mind a ‘specialty’ animal like a cephalopod. Dr. Caldwell wrote about them once onwww.TONMO.com (the online source for all things ceph related), but since they were so rare in the trade and in research, I never imagined I would be able to work with them.

As luck would have it…

In early April 2008, I received an email from a supplier asking if I was interested in some zebra octopus they had received from Indonesia. One was a Wunderpus, but the other was clearly something different. It looked like Octopus chierchiae. Later discussion revealed that the specimen did not come from Indonesia, but rather arrived as a stow away in a gastropod shell in a shipment from Nicaragua. I asked for the animal to be shipped to me and went about modifying part of my cuttle system into an octopus system in anticipation of its arrival.

Richard Ross: A male swimming in the water column. Note the ‘fringing’ on the arm tips and the hectocotlys is visable on the arm under the mantle

Roy Caldwell; Octopus chierchiae mating, male on top.

Richard Ross; Female in her barnacle den with eggs getting ready to hatch

Octopus are escape artists, inter-tidal octopus like Octopus chierchiae even more so because they are used to crawling around in areas without much water. They can also be cannibalistic, so keeping them separate is imperative. Luckily, the modifications were fast and straightforward because the system was mature, with Carib-Sea ‘mineral mud’ substrate. All that was needed was some ‘octo proofing’ of part of my cuttle breeding system. The cuttle system was a cube system with the cubes divided by slotted acrylic that an octopus could easily fit though, so I bought some small pored commercially-available aquarium divider material, cut it to size and super glued it in place over the slots while the tank was still full of water. Even though I didn’t think it would be possible for the octopus to escape through the return plumbed into each cube, I also covered the return… the chance simply wasn’t worth taking. I also purchased some large glass tiles to place over each cube and the system was ready to go.

The octopus arrived, was acclimated and introduced into its new home. Its mantle was about 15 mm across, and all of its arms were intact and looked healthy.

I wanted some kind of den or hiding place for the octopus, but wanted to be able to easily check on the animal’s health – and to be sure it hadn’t escaped or died. Some dwarf octopus live in gastropod shells, but such dens would have made it difficult to keep track of the animals because they could easily disappear deep down into the spiral of the shell.. My initial offering, a piece of large vinyl tubing, was ignored, so I replaced it with large individual barnacle shells and the Octopus chierchiae quickly took up residence.

I offered live shore shrimp (Palaemontes v ulgaris) but they were ignored for the first few days, as were local San Francisco bay bait shrimp (Cragnon spp). I collected some local shore crabs (hemigrapsis spp), which were taken with gusto, although that might have been because the octopus were hungry rather than due to a preference for crabs. The crabs stopped struggling within seconds of being bitten which may point to possible toxicity of Octopus chierchiae.

Cephalopood researcher Dr Christine Huffard came byto take a look at the animal and confirm the identification. She alsodetermined that the animal was female. I immediately followed up with the initial supplier, as well as others, asking if they could get more specimens.. If we could get more, not only would we could learn more about them, but we could perhaps establish a breeding population which could benefit both research and hobbyists.

An online retailer had one Octopus chierchiae listed, which I quickly bought. He also told me that they had seen 4 more individuals at their supplier. I immediately sent them more money, but in a heartbreaking turn of events, it turned out that they had escaped into the wholesalers live rock holding tanks… never to be seen again. Fortuitously, when the second Octopus chierchiae arrived it turned out to be a male andDr Caldwell, Dr Huffard and I set up a date the next week to attempt to mate them

I’ll never forget that night, the three of us crowed around a 3 gallon tank, in the dark, with multiple still and video cameras ready to document the cephalopod pornography. When we put the male and female together, they copulated within minutes. The smaller male sized up the female and then quickly jumped on her, inserting his hectocotylized arm into her mantle. The mating lasted several minutes and the animals were then returned to their individual homes. It was like cephalopod Christmas morning.

Here be hatchlings

Two weeks later, a second male arrived, thanks to a donation by a generous and selfless hobbyist. Dr. Caldwell came over to mate the second male to the female. When I went to move the female to the photography tank I discovered a clutch of eggs in her barnacle den.

Richard Ross; 2 day old Octopus chierchiae hatchling over US dime (approx 18mm) for size reference. Coins can contain metals that are deadly to cephalopods, so the coin was actually under the container that contained the octopus.

Richard Ross; Octopus chierchiae at day 85.

Roy Caldwell: 4 day old Octopus chierchiae hatchling with chromatophores developing.

Roy Caldwell; 30 day old Octopus chierchiae hatchling on calcarious worm tube used as dens.

Over the next few days, she tipped her den opening down and would walk around her tank as if she were trying to de-evolve back into a snail. If disturbed, she would use her arms inside the barnacle and against the bottom of the tank to ‘suck’ the barnacle to the bottom of the tank. I gently tried to pull up the den to see what was going on inside, but stopped because it was going to take a great deal of effort to separate it from the tank and I didn’t want to risk damaging her or the eggs.

Over the next several weeks I eagerly awaited hatchlings. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the female would sneak an arm out from under the barnacle to take freshly killed shrimp; according to Rodaniche the females don’t eat during brooding. While waiting for the eggs to hatch, I prepared for hatchlings.

I built a water table to house individual octopus hatchling containers. I took small, clear plastic containers, cut a slot in their sides and glued netting from a commercially available net breeder over the slots. I drilled a hole in each lid and glued a piece of rigid tubing into the hole. I then attached airline tubing to a valved manifold fed by a small power head. I drilled a second hole in the top of each container for feeding. This set up was inexpensive, allowed me to add containers as necessary, allowed me to control the amount of water in each container, and gave me easy access and easy viewing to each container with minimal stress to the hatchling during feeding.

Finally the first hatchlings arrived. I discovered in them one morning, and found them to be an amazing orange color, very different from the adult coloration. They swam in the water column bouncing up and down like fishing bobbers. Over the next 20 days I discovered hatchlings in 1s and 2s, for a total of 23 hatchlings from the first clutch. I fed them small amphipods collected from the aquarium glass elsewhere in the system, and gave them black airline tubing to use as dens – which they ignored. About half of the hatchlings went to Dr. Caldwell’s lab, where they were kept in glass jars with netting over the mouth to prevent escape in a larger aquarium, and were given calcareous tube worm tubes as dens – which they immediately took to.

Richard Ross: Octopus chierchiae hatchling eating an amphipod bigger than itself.

Roy Caldwell: Octopus chierchiae hatchling in an 'arms up' defensive post

As the hatchlings grew they were given larger amphipods both cultured and collected from around the San Francisco Bay. As mentioned earlier, everyone knows that octopuses are amazing predators, but there is something phenomenal about watching a 5 mm long animal hunt, capture and eat a 7 mm long amphipod.

The extended Cephalopod community

For several years now, Octopus chierchiae have been www.TONMO.com’s most wanted octopus, so the obtaining of specimens and the successful breeding of these animals made for excitement among cephalopod enthusiasts. As it happened, a few more Octopus chierchiae had turned up across the country. Since broodstock is a traditional stumbling block to getting captive cephalopod breeding populations established, I asked all three of the people who had an Octopus chierchiae, to send them to me, letting them know that Dr. Caldwell and I would gladly pay for them. If our breeding project was successful, we would send them hatchlings as replacements. We were able to get two more males from generous hobbyists. There was one hobbyist that had a female and ended up with hatchlings, but wasn’t able to get them into the effort. This was unfortunate because we needed the genetic diversity. The hunt for more animals went on for months, but none were to be found and the South American supplier had ceased shipping.

Some Final Details

  • Two of the hatchlings climbed up the side of their containers, and met a grisly, dried out death. Several more of the hatchlings were lost due to an unfortunate ammonia spike, while others were lost to unfortunate salinity drops. Others were lost for unknown reasons.
  • The hatchling wet weight at 3 days was 22.3 mg, while at day 123, the wet weight was 330 mg.
  • The female was mated to 3 males, resulting in 3 clutches laid and 46 discovered hatchlings (some may have undetected on hatching and escaped into the larger system).
  • There were more male hatchlings than females. The longest lived male survived for 340 days, while the longest-lived female lasted 326 days. Both of these far exceed the lifespan of any wild-caught specimen on record.
  • Any attempted sibling or oedipal matings resulted in no eggs being laid.
  • We were not able to obtain any more specimens, so the effort ended after all the animals died.

In conclusion

Octopus chierchiae is an amazing little animal and is clearly worth further study. Every time I speak to a supplier I ask about getting more from South America, but a year and a half has passed without further specimens. It is my hope that someday we’ll succeed in establishing a viable breeding program, and in the process learn more about this fascinating little ‘zebra’ octopus.

References and Resources

Hard Copy

  1. Boyle, PR and Rodhouse, P. 2005. Cephalopods: ecology and fisheries. Wiley-Blackwell, 452 pages
  2. Dunlop, C and King, N. 2008. Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquarium. TFH Publications. 269 pages
  3. Hanlon, RT and Messenger. 1996. Cephalopod Behaviour. Cambridge University Press. 232 pages
  4. Rodaniche AF (1984) Iteroparity in the Lesser Pacific Striped Octopus, Octopus chierchiae. (Jatta, 1889). Bull Mar Sci 35:99–104
  5. Caldwell, Roy. Private communication.

Web

  1. Octopus chierchiae mating video: http://www.stickycricket.com/aquarium/movies/oc_movie.html
  2. www.TONMO.com
  3. www.DaisyHillCephFarm.org
  4. www.TheCephalopodPage.org

 

Rodaniche_octopus_chierchiae

From Advanced Aquarist

It was exhausting. It was grueling. It was worth it.

Part of the reason the water and jungle at Milne Bay is so pristine is that getting there is an adventure in and of itself. It took us 4 flights (23 hours in the air), two hours by car (also an adventure,) and a half hour boat ride to get from San Francisco to the Tawali Resort.

It was exhausting. It was grueling. It was worth it. The Tawali caters to divers, and serves no more than 30 guests at a time. I cannot speak highly enough of this operation. Even though we were in a remote location, every luxury was provided. The rooms were spacious and air conditioned, the food was fresh and tasty, and the dive boats and equipment were top notch. The resort even had a mascot, a female cassowary in a very large pen – apparently there had been two cassowaries, until the local tribe decided to redistribute the bounty by eating the male during a local feast. Management arranged great childcare for our 4-year old daughter, who happily went off to play in the local village every day as we readied our dive gear.

A bobtail squid buries itself near the Tawali house reef. Photo by Richard Ross.

A cuttlefish flashes warning colors. Photo by Richard Ross.

Huge schools of fish swim above the reef. Photo by Richard Ross.

I believe that part of our challenge as aquarists is to find creative solutions to complex cultural and ecological conundrums. Tawali navigates these issues with grace. The resort was built next to a beautiful fringing reef that the locals fished for food. In order to protect their patch of coral from over-fishing, the resort spent the time and money to build an artificial floating ‘reef’ platform a few hundred feet away from the coral. The larger fish love the new habitat, the locals love the convenience of being able to fish from the platform, and the divers love the fact that this leaves the coral undisturbed. This creative solution has resulted in a house reef full of cuttlefish, bobtail squid, balls of coral cats, and giant nudibranchs. The highlight of the house reef is a nook with two large patches of branching Porites where, as night falls, pairs of mandarin dragonettes rise from the coral head and hover in a mesmerizing mating dance.

Milne Bay’s deeper waters are home to spectacular coral reefs. These are the healthiest reefs I have ever seen – no trash, no breakage, no bleaching, and populated by plethora of vertebrae and invertebrate animals. Mantas, rhinopias, turtles, crinoids, clams and the giant schools of anthias fill the water. Below the reefs, were gorgonian forests, home to many animals, including two species of pigmy seahorse.

Large tabling SPS, surrounded by softies. Photo by Richard Ross.

Pegasus sea moth pair, in 4 feet of water. Photo by Richard Ross.

As a reef keeper, I was astounded by the variety of both hard and soft coral. Branching, tabling, plating… it was all there. There were fields of staghorn that took minutes to swim over. Heavily prevalent were large branching colonies of green Tubastrea, bright pink/purple Acropora and red/orange softies. I was torn between wanting to get someone to set up a collecting station right away, and wanting to never tell anyone about this place. On the one hand, the income would certainly be welcome to the locals while reefkeepers back home would certainly would love to get some of the animals from the area into their home tanks. On the other hand, there are so few pristine areas left in the world, I couldn’t help but hope that this one might be left alone.

As wonderful as the reefs were, our favorite marine environment in Milne Bay was the muck fields. These huge, undulating vistas of settled silt and mud appear gray and lifeless at first glance. The creatures living there are generally masters of disguise; but if you have a keen eye, or a good dive master (which Tawali provides) the landscape is crowded with bizarre and wonderful discoveries. Pegasus Sea Moths, seahorses, crocodile fish, cuttlefish, octopus, ghost pipe fish, mantis shrimp, frogfish, and an unbelievable assortment of nudibranchs inhabit the landscape. Most of them live in shallower water, above 60 feet, which can lead to some seriously long dives – 90 minutes plus of slow, effortless, bizarre discoveries.

A small 'cleaning station' or patch reef sprouting from the muck. Photo by Richard Ross.

Clams and tabling Acropora side by side. Photo by Richard Ross.

Occasionally, you’ll find small patch reefs right in the middle of the muck, which the local dive guides call ‘cleaning stations.’ One minute you are swimming along over a desert of colorless muck, and suddenly you encounter a colorful oasis. Huge brain corals, branching corals and an overwhelming density of reef fish all crowd together in spaces as small as 8 feet in diameter. These little reefs are like fantasy tanks: densely populated by lionfish, pipefish, cleaner shrimp, coral banded shrimp, anemones, clown fish, puffers – even a giant school of cardinal fish. You can’t take one fin stroke without seeing something bright, exotic, or rare. It is an aquarist’s dream.

Colorful corals abound in PNGs reefs. Photo by Richard Ross.

While my wife and I spent most of our time poking around underwater, I would be remiss in not mentioning what there is to see on land near Tawali. There are no roads, so the only way to a get anywhere is on foot or by boat. The jungles are thick and green, and just a few feet away from the coast the heat becomes oppressive. But, again, your suffering will be worth it. Hornbills fly overhead, their wings rasping together with a sound like a swarm of bees. You trudge and trudge, and finally come upon a fissure in the limestone, only to find a skull cave, where the bones of the locals ancestors’ are stored in astounding quantities. You are led past orchids, clouds of bugs, and walls of greenery to a crystal freshwater stream. You follow the stream to a clearing where a picturesque waterfall plunges down the rockface to pool just deep enough for a refreshing swim. Yes, there is suffering. But it’s worth it.

Mandarin Dragonetts rise to mate at dusk. Photo by Richard Ross.

A field of staghorn coral that seems to go on forever. Photo by Richard Ross.

Dragon pipefish on a brain coral in one of the 'cleaning stations'. Photo by Richard Ross.

PNG is very strange, culturally speaking. Many of the body language clues we use to communicate with those who don’t speak our language, simply don’t translate here. If someone looks at you and doesn’t smile, you have no idea what they are feeling. As long as we were traveling with someone from the resort, we were met with warmth and hospitality; wander off alone, and we found ourselves in an environment of suspicion and territoriality.

'Dusty' water above the muck on a windy day. Photo by Richard Ross.

Pigmy seahorse blends into a gorgonian. Photo by Richard Ross.

This coral invoked feelings of lust and greed. Photo by Richard Ross.

Rather than lessening our enjoyment in the trip, this strangeness added to it. When we finally arrived home, I felt as if we had really traveled. The time, the difficulty, and the expense were all worth it to see a glimpse of this pristine and strange world, both above, and below the surface of the water.

One of many nudibranchs. Photo by Richard Ross.

A diver follows a school of fish around a 'cleaning station' or patch reef. Photo by Richard Ross.

Skulls of tribal ancestors are piled high in the skull caves. Photo by Richard Ross.

Our daughter was really hungry. Photo by Richard Ross.

The Tawali resort's mascot, 'Cassie'. Photo by Richard Ross.

From Advanced Aquarist

July 2004 – Richard shares his awesome 150 gallon tank with us this month.

I began reefing in the 80’s when algae covered rocks were thought to look good and bio balls were the end-all of water quality control. After working in several LFS in LA for 5 years, I moved to the SF Bay Area and took a hiatus from the hobby. When my wife and I were lucky enough to buy our first house I jumped back in with a 50 gallon and labored to catch up with all the new information that had become available. I was very happy with the tank, but always thought about doing something bigger and better.

Tank Shot: 2004

Tank Shot: 2002

Click here for a Shockwave time lapse of Richard’s tank.

My chance came in 2002. My wife was pregnant and we decided to move a whopping 5 blocks to a bigger home that would better suit our growing family. And, of course moving meant NEW TANK. The situation worked out perfectly because we had two months to prepare for the move, and I was able to use that time to design and collect the components for the new system. Best of all, beneath the new house was a 40 inch crawl space with great access, so a remote sump was high on the list.

Being on a budget, I searched the Internet for used equipment, and based my system around what I found. I knew I wanted a bigger tank, and soon I found a 150, 5x2x2, drilled with overflows and perimeter bracing (I love perimeter bracing because it allows you can put all kinds on stuff right by the tank where you need it). I also got a used Euro Reef CS-3, some used 250 watt DE pendants, a used Ampmaster 3000, and a used 180 acrylic tank for the sump. All these were significantly less money than the same items new, so if you have the time, searching for used equipment is the way to go.

A custom-made stand and canopy were a must because the old tank was rigged with temporary solutions that seemed to always become permanent, and the room it was in was slowly taken over by the kudzu-like growth of reef equipment…it drove my wife crazy. The stand and canopy were the single most expensive purchase for the new system: red oak, 30 inch high stand, 16 inch high front opening matching canopy – mmmm pretty. I now completely believe that a good looking stand and canopy are a must because they make your tank look like showpiece rather than a cobbled together hobby.

I wanted to locate the tank in our living room because that’s where I spend most of my relaxing time, but there really wasn’t a good place for it. I considered another room, but knew I wouldn’t be happy with it there. I posted diagrams of the house on RDO and asked for input. There was a perfect wall for the tank, but in that wall was a door to a bathroom. Someone suggested I move the bathroom door, an idea I never considered. This strategy had the added benefit of allowing me to access the back of the tank from inside the bathroom. So a contractor friend and I moved the door, reinforced the floor under the tank, and began the move-in.

Set up for this system officially began in August of 2002. The first order of business was moving the old tank to the new house (the move actually went very well, only needing 2 friends and 20 containers for livestock…and the result was almost no losses). The livestock stayed in the 50 gallon until the new system was up and stable, which was pretty quick because almost all the live rock came from the old system and any new rock had been curing for months at the LFS. In the third week of August I moved a couple of LPS and softie frags over and they did well, so over the next two weeks I moved everything over.

Two years later, the system is flourishing, (knock on wood, we all know how quickly that can change!) allowing me a constant stream of frags for sale or trade to other hobbyists.

Philosophy

My idea about how the system should work was based largely on the idea of ‘a little bit of everything’. In building this system, I have tried to incorporate the best techniques from the reefing world. In my opinion, this includes:

  • The biggest show tank possible.
  • A big, remote sump for macros and coral farming. I think the benefits of a big sump are huge: stable temperature, stable water quality, hidden mess (which, from the pictures, you can tell is important) and no noise in the living room. I am currently thinking about adding a 300 gallon tub to the sump as cheap additional water quality insurance because I have the room under the house.
  • An over tank refugium to keep the in-tank supply of pods stable for the fickle fish.
  • A medium sand bed mainly because I like the look of it, and I like the stability it provides. I also regularly ‘storm’ the sand with a power head to help remove detritus build up.
  • A big skimmer running wet to take out the nasties quick.
  • A calcium reactor for the stability and peace of mind.
  • Good lighting that will allow the keeping of practically anything.
  • High water turnover rate and strong, random circulation.

Automate everything possible – timers for lights, temp controllers for fans, auto top off, auto skimmer shut off – because it is more fun to look at your tank than to spend time doing menial tasks.

Water Circulation

  • Ampmaster 3000 as return, feeding 2 1 inch Sea Swirls located in the front corners of the tank.
  • Mag 9.5 on a SQWD closed loop, entering tank in the bottom back corners. The pipe into the tank can be rotated so the direction of the output can be changed.
  • Mag 7 running a SQWD, one output to the above tank ‘fuge, the other I move around the tank depending on where I think more circulation is needed.
  • 2 power heads on an MVT wave maker to eliminate dead spots, and one large power head, also on the MVT to act as a ‘surge’ across the top of the tank.
  • Currently adding another Mag 9 and SQWD for additional circulation.

Lighting

  • 2 250 DE PFO mini pendants, running 20K X bulbs
  • 2 250 DE PFO mini pendants, running 13K Geisman bulbs
  • 3 48 inch super actinic VHO bulbs, two in front and one in back
  • DIY moonlight with 8 LED’s
  • The lights come on staggered. At 10:30 am the VHO’s come on, then the 20 K’s at 11:00 am. The 10 K’s come on at 2:30 pm and go off at 8:30 pm. The 20k’s go off at 9:30pm and the VHO go off at 10:30. The moonlight comes on at 10:30 and goes off at 1am.

Additional Equipment

  • Euro Reef CS-3 skimmer
  • 2 350 Watt Won titanium heaters, one in an overflow, one in the sump.
  • 100 GPD RO/DI unit
  • DIY Kalk reactor
  • DIY Calcium reactor

Rear of tank

Full tank shot

Sump in crawl space

Above tank refugium

Failsafes

I am a little bit of a redundancy and anti flooding freak. My auto top-off has two float switches: one for low water, one for high. The return pump is on a float switch in the main tank in case the 1.5 inch overflows clog. The ‘fuge pump is on its own float switch and has 2 drains to the main tank, one above the other in case of clogging.

DIY skimmer auto shut off, so the skimmers stops foaming when its external collection container is full.

All power cords are clearly labeled; so it is easier to trouble shoot something over the phone.

My one vulnerability right now would be in case of a catastrophic power failure. Eventually I will acquire a generator of some kind; in the meantime, I employ several Penn Plax battery powered air pumps on the tank and the sump that kick on if the power goes out. I also have a 600 watt inverter in case of longer outages.

Maintenance

I feed PE mysis and Cyclop-eez every day. I occasionally feed Golden Pearls and flake food. I’ve tried using other supplements, but was unconvinced by the results.

I clean the interior surface of the tank with a magnetic cleaner every couple of days using a magna scraper when coralline is present. I use vinegar on a paper towel to clean the exterior surface of the tank, particularly if guests are coming over..

Once a month I harvest Macros from the sump.

At least once a week I check to make sure that all the pumps the house and all the reactors under the house are working properly.

I add some salt to the sump when the 5 gallon skim mate container is full.

Due to the large volume in the system, I don’t perform regular water changes, and I do generally run carbon and at least one polyfilter. However, I will occasionally do a water change when I get worried, when I ‘steal’ water from this system for my other tanks, or if something looks unwell.

Aquascaping

The basic layout for the tank consists of two distinct pinnacles, with some shallow rubble between them. I arranged each pinnacle with multiple swim- throughs for the tank denizens, as well as overhangs and cavelets to shelter some of the shyer tank-dwellers. I use the vertical surface of the back and side tank walls for additional aquascaping, and to provide the illusion of depth of field.

As the tank has matured, I’ve encountered the happy problem of having the space between the two pinnacles close organically. While this “crowding” disturbs my minimalist friends, I see the changing landscape in the tank as being part of the fun, and content myself with only minimal intervention. I do harvest frags when they threaten other corals, or when a colony simply gets overwhelming. But for the most part, I let them do their thing. Of course, when a cool new frag comes into my possession, I somehow always find a way to place it!

I have also come to look forward to the occasional rock shift or slide, as it gives me the opportunity to re aquascape making me feel like the tank is new again.

Livestock

Fish

  • Purple tang
  • 3 Bartletts Anthias
  • 3 chalk bass
  • 2 black perculas
  • 1 Yellow Watchman Goby
  • 2 garden eels
  • 4 various pipefish
  • 1 psychedelic mandarin
  • 7 blue eyed cardinals – the coolest fish ever!

Blue eyed cardinals

Goby on open brain

Inverts

  • 2 fire shrimp
  • 2 cleaner shrimp
  • 3 sexy shrimp
  • Various snails, tubeworms, tiny brittle stars, and cucumbers
  • a host of ‘pods

Corals (P = propagated, WC = wild Collected)

SPS

  • Purple/blue tortuosa (P)
  • Blue stag (P)
  • Blue table (P)
  • Purple, green, and orange digitata (P)
  • Blue, green, neon green, orange, and red capricornis (P)
  • Pink, purple Millepora (P, WC)
  • Pavona (WC)
  • Porites and worms (WC)
  • Green Slimer (P)
  • Mycedium (P)
  • Echinophyllia (P)
  • Hydnophora (P)
  • Yellow Turbinaria (WC)
  • Tricolor (P)
  • Asst sps frags (P)
  • Deep water acro (P)
  • Efflorescens (P)
  • Blue tipped acropora (P)

Blue tip acro

Left side

Pavona

Purple digi

Side view

Left side

Middle

Bubble

Open brain at night

Polyps

Umbrella

LPS

  • Pagoda Cup (WC)
  • Metallic Green Frogspawn (WC)
  • Bi colored frogspawn (WC)
  • Hammer coral (WC)
  • Green Candy Cane (P)
  • Red Candy Cane P)
  • Pink Candy Cane (P)
  • Green Tubinaria (WC)
  • Red Green brain (WC)
  • Green Bubble (WC)
  • White Bubble (WC)
  • Elegance (WC)
  • Heliofungia (WC)
  • Red Scolymia (WC)
  • Multicolored Cynarina (WC)

Softies

  • Encrusting Gorgonian (P)
  • Purple Gorgonian (P)
  • Green Star Polyps (P)
  • Clavularia (WC)
  • Yellow and green open brain (WC)
  • Various Zooanthids (P)
  • Green tree (P)
  • Colt (P)
  • Assorted mushrooms and Ricordias (P)
  • Xenia (P)
  • Umbrella Leather (P)
  • Yellow Tonga Leather (P)
  • Green Toadstool (P)

Other

  • Green and Blue Maxima clams (WC)
  • Rose Anemone (P)

Odds and Ends

  • I decided not to clean up all my equipment before I took photos for this article. I am always more interested in seeing how people actually ‘work’ their systems than sanitized pictures for display.
  • I am not a stickler for the Latin names of my critters, especially corals because they are so hard to id correctly – for instance, it looks like my “Bay Area” tortuosa is actually gomezi.
  • I don’t try to maintain a particular kind of biotope; rather I choose corals I want to look at.
  • I try to buy propagated corals as often possible, I frag and trade both privately and to LFS, and if I am buying a Wild Collected coral I like to split it with at least one other reefer.

Thanks to RDO and Advanced Aquarist for their support over the years, and for including my reef as a featured aquarium.

More information on this tank and my cuttlefish project can be found athttp://www.stickycricket.com/aquarium.