J. R. Shute interview

J. R. Shute 

To date, all of the interviews I’ve conducted for the blog have been with aquarists who are involved with cichlids in some capacity. Today’s interviewee is different. Because I am a real proponent of fish conservation, I’ve been looking for someone to interview who is heavily engaged in the practice. Many of the core values of fish conservationists span all types of fish, cichlids included.

J. R. Shute is co-director of Conservation Fisheries Incorporated (CFI), founded in 1992 by he and co-director Patrick Rakes.

Over the past 25+ years, CFI has worked with more than 60 species of rare and imperiled fishes of the southeast United States, some of which are considered the rarest in the country. Recently, J. R. and Patrick were awarded the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director’s Conservation Partner Honor Award in recognition of “Outstanding Performance”.

A few weeks ago I asked J.R. if he would be willing to do an interview for the blog about CFI and the organization’s efforts. He happily agreed and, after giving me a personal tour of CFI’s facility a few weeks ago, we completed the interview.

Let’s get started!

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Mitigate vibration, reduce sound

If you’ve followed the blog for a while, then you’ve read some posts about sound in the aquarium and its effects on the inhabitants. I am a huge proponent of sound reduction in aquaria.

Quite simply, sounds are products of vibrations. Thus, anything that vibrates can create audible noise, depending on the frequency and the sensory capabilities of the recipient. All power filters produce vibration, hence sound. This continuous sound propagates but can’t dissipate in closed systems like fish tanks. So whether you use sponge filters, canisters, sumps, or HOBs, you’re generating noise in your aquarium.

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A new heater to market

Image from http://thegoldfishtank.com/.

A few days ago, I was fortunate to be given a prototype of a new submersible heater under development, which will eventually be released by one of the major aquarium equipment companies. It’s made of carbon fiber with a thermal shutoff, a patented out-of-water safety shut-off, and patented thermostat. I also passed along a couple of improvement suggestions, which I hope will be implemented.

Stay tuned for more information about this heater. At present, there is no set date for it to hit the market.

The variables DO matter

So what exactly does the title of this post mean? If you’ve done your due diligence with regard to cichlids, then you’ve undoubtedly read they are naturally aggressive and more so than many other tropical fish in the hobby. However, your experience may not reflect that. Why? The variables.

Members of each cichlid species carry innate behaviors, but like humans, every cichlid has a personality. Yes, mbuna species are known to be pretty aggressive in aquaria, but the breadth and depth of that aggression depends on many things. The species, gender mix, aquascape, tank size, tank mates, water temperature, time of day, and amount of light are all variables that can determine how a specific cichlid behaves, including how aggressive it might be.

That cichlid your friend has that is a nightmare might be a whole lot friendlier under different circumstances. The challenge for you as a cichlid keeper is to be able to identify those circumstances and understand them. How do you do that? Just pay attention.

Juan Miguel Artigas Azas interview


Juan Miguel Artigas Azas 

Where do you go for information about cichlids – species profiles, articles, etc.? If you’re like many cichlidophiles, you use multiple resources to satisfy your craving for cichlid knowledge. However, if there is one resource that I would recommend to any and all cichlid keepers, it would be the Cichlid Room Companion (CRC). As one of the largest, oldest, and most comprehensive databases for cichlid information, CRC is perhaps the best online site for cichlid aquarists. Today’s interviewee is the man responsible for it.

For those of you who’ve been in the hobby for a long time, Juan Miguel Artigas Azas really needs no introduction. Not only is he the creator of CRC, but he’s also an expert on Central American cichlids, especially those from his native Mexico. In addition, he is a regular speaker at various tropical fish events around the world. If you’ve ever attended the annual convention of the American Cichlid Association (ACA), you’ve probably also seen him and his extremely informative presentations. Without further ado, let’s gets started.

The Cichlid Stage: As a long time aquarist, how did you first become interested in cichlids?

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Interested in discus?

Alenquer Red Discus. Image from https://www.azgardens.com/.

Discus are some of the most colorful cichlids available in the hobby. Though few in species (only three formally recognized), there are multiple types, strains, groups, and classes used to distinguish them. If you’re a fan of discus, then you might consider joining the North American Discus Association (NADA). Founded in 2004, NADA is a non-profit organization whose goals naturally revolve around promoting this beautiful, mostly peaceful fish. Membership is very reasonable at $10 per year. Also visit their Facebook page to see the latest news about the association.

If you want to see some of the most awesome discus assembled in one place, you might also consider attending the 2018 Discus Show being held this year in New Jersey July 12-15.

Call it ‘fatal distraction’

Lamprologus ocellatus. Image from http://www.pinterest.com/.

In the world of cichlids, there are many species that simultaneously occupy predator and prey roles. That means paying attention to what’s going on around you is important. You can get eaten while you’re looking for food. But searching for food is only one predation distraction in the life of a cichlid. They also engage in mating, brood protection, territory defense, fighting, and other activities. Thus being completely distracted could be fatal if you’re a cichlid.

So how do species negotiate the effort they expend doing any of the activities above versus expended effort avoiding being eaten? A Japanese researcher recently set out to  answer that question, sort of. Experimenting with the ever popular shell dwelling, dwarf species Lamprologus ocellatus from Lake Tanganyika, Kazutaka Ota from Osaka City University actually sought to determine if vigilance during interspecific aggression decreased during intraspecific aggression via predation. In other words, how much effort was expended by male ocellatus fighting with other ocellatus versus effort spent looking out for predators.

Citation: Ota, Kazutaka. “Fight, fatigue, and flight: narrowing of attention to a threat compensates for
decreased anti-predator vigilance.” J Experimental Biology. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.168047

Does that flash photo affect your fish?

A recent study published in Applied Ichthyology suggests that flash photography of your cichlids may not stress them. The purpose of the study was to determine if flash photography triggered a stress response in the beautiful and popular Ram cichlid (Mikrogeophagus ramirezi), a dwarf species from South America. Cortisol and glucose levels, post exposure to the flash, were measured using whole-body homogenates (e.g., cells). In other words, the fish used in the study were euthanized shortly after the experiment and chopped into pieces where the body cells could be extracted and broken down.

The results of the study showed that the Rams in the experiment had lower cortisol levels than the Rams from the control group. Obviously, the expectation was that cortisol levels would rise from the flash exposure, indicating a potential increased stressor response.

The authors went on to express that the conclusion of the study should not be generally applied to other fish species. In other words, the authors stressed that, if the same study was conducted on other cichlid species, the same results and conclusion might not result. However, the effect of flash on your own cichlids could be similar.

Citation: Knopf K, Buschmann K, Hansel M, Radinger J, Kloas W. “Flash photography does not induce stress in the Ram cichlid Mikrogeophagus ramirezi (Myers & Harry, 1948) in aquaria.” J Appl Ichthyol. 2018;00:1–7. https://doi.org/10.1111/jai.13673

New fish workshop

One of the reasons for my move to a new(er) house was that I wanted more space for tanks. That wasn’t the primary reason, but…

Anyway, in my previous home I had a small walk-in guest closet where I stored all of my supplies, equipment, etc. Now I have a whole room dedicated to tank maintenance, supplies, etc. The room is roughly 12′ x 12′, which is 144 square feet. It’s actually an unfinished bathroom in the basement. Since I don’t plan to finish it in the very near future, I decided to make a fish workroom out of it.

Note the custom built workbench beside the utility sink in the bottom photo. It’s a simple bench made with 2 ‘ x 4’s and a 4’ kitchen counter top that I picked up at Lowes for $30. I needed something to set my filters on when I disassemble them for cleaning. Also, instead of doing water changes using a hallway guest bath, I can now do them with this sink. If you’ve ever snapped a plastic Python water pump off of your faucet, you’ll understand the purpose of the C-clamp on the front of the sink. It’s low-tech, but very functional. There are many things I could do to make this whole set-up better, but after buying a larger house, I can only get away with so much with the spouse.