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Eastern Shore Trip

August 25th, 2010

Last weekend, I spent some time on the Eastern Shore (to Marylanders that is east of the Chesapeake Bay), and took the opportunity to do a little bit of collecting while there. We drove around a little bit, and found a promising looking location (below) outside of Salisbury. This stream had several different plants in it, including Lindernia dubia, Ludwigia palustris, Eleocharis sp., and others. While it looks muddy, the substrate was actually pretty solid, so you wouldn’t sink in too much.

Collecting on the Eastern Shore

These are the types of habitats that are often interesting to plant collectors; roadside ditches, open streams, and muddy pond banks. There’s lots of native plants that will look spectacular in your aquarium!




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Native Fish – Sunfish, Killies, Darters

August 14th, 2008

I managed to get a few pictures of the native fish that I recently collected from the Potomac River in Virginia. I’m really happy with these fish so far. When I first put them in the tank, they went straight into the plants, not to be seen.

Blue Spotted Sunfish

Blue Spotted Sunfish - Enneacanthus gloriosus

Since then, I’ve been feeding them blackworms, and have spent a lot of time in front of the tank, which seems to be getting them used to my presence. The sunnies, in particular, were quite shy to begin with. Now, it’s not unusual to see several of them out and about at the same time.

Blue Spotted Sunfish

Blue Spotted Sunfish - Enneacanthus gloriosus

Many of the sunfish have also colored up quite a bit. Some of the younger ones don’t yet have their blue spots, but the older fish are actually quite striking. The little teardrop, or black stripe, under their eye reminds me of Bolivian Rams, Mikrogeophagus altispinosus.

Tesselated Darter

Tessellated Darter - Etheostoma olmstedi

In general, I tend to really enjoy lazy bottom dwellers, and this Tessellated Darter, Etheostoma olmstedi, is exactly that. I love how darters prop themselves up on their front fins, and just sit there waiting for food to come along.

Tesselated Darter

Tessellated Darter - Etheostoma olmstedi

He’s readily accepting blackworms, but even though I’m adding a few pellets with my other feedings to try and get him on commercial food, so far he’s not interested. The Banded Killifish, Fundulus diaphanus, are another one of the fish that are slowly calming down in my tank.

Banded Killifish

Banded Killifish - Fundulus diaphanus

When I first introduced them, they would often jump from the water when I approached the tank. Now, they’re still staying close to the plant cover, but they’re at least out in the open, while keeping a close eye on me.

Banded Killifish

Banded Killifish - Fundulus diaphanus

I’ve noticed that they have an interesting mouth that tends to open and unfold a little bit differently than other fish I’ve kept. I presume this is designed to suck surface bugs into their mouths. If I’m ever able to get a picture of it up close, I’ll post it. Overall, I’m still quite pleased with my recent acquisitions. All of the fish appear to be healthy, and should be a nice addition to my tank for some time.

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Collecting in the Potomac River

August 11th, 2008

On Saturday, a few GWAPA members got together in Virginia along the Potomac River to see what fish we could pull out of the river. Armed with the necessary permits and a few experts in native fish, we started pulling seine nets through some areas near the shore. Most of the shoreline was completely consumed by Hydrilla, an incredibly invasive exotic weed from Asia.

Potomac River

Potomac River, Virginia

Initially, the Hydrilla was way to thick, and besides pulling a few crayfish from the water, we didn’t have a whole lot of luck. We eventually crossed the street, and found a better location a little bit upstream in a creek that feeds into the Potomac.

Crayfish

Large Crayfish

Once we did this, we started pulling out all kinds of fish and critters. By pulling the net through the Hydrilla we were able to target the fish we were interested in, while also doing the river a service by pulling much of the noxious weed from the water and onto the bank.

Fish in Seine Net

Fish in Net

The main fish I was interested in finding on this trip was the Blue Spotted Sunfish, Enneacanthus gloriosus, which is a beautiful native sunfish that only gets to 2-3 inches in length. This makes it a wonderful fish for the planted aquarium, as it should not rearrange the tank like some of the larger sunfish, and loves the cover that plants provide.

Blue Spotted Sunfish

Blue Spotted Sunfish

We were also hoping to find some snakeheads, not to keep for the aquarium because doing so is illegal, but to see how widespread they really were in the river. Although a bit disappointing to us, I suppose it’s a good thing that we didn’t actually pull any in our nets. Had we found any, legally, you have to euthanize them on the spot.

Banded Killifish

Banded Killifish

We did get a large number of Banded Killifish, Fundulus diaphanus, which are also good fish for the aquarium. They get to about 4 inches in length, but most of the ones we pulled in were smaller than that. In addition to the killies, we also found one or two darters, specifically, the Tessellated Darter, Etheostoma olmstedi, which are fascinating bottom dwelling fish. I really would have liked to find more of these guys.

Tessellated Darter

Tessellated Darter

Besides the fish, we also pulled in a number of other aquatic creatures, including a countless number of nasty looking bugs, beetles, and dragonfly nymphs. In addition, we got some grass shrimp, Asiatic clams, and all sizes of crayfish.

Asiatic Clam

Asiatic Clam

The area where we found all the fish had a number of aquatic plants including Heteranthera dubia, Vallisneria americana, Myrophyllum, Najas, and a beautifully flowering Lobelia cardinalis. While many aquarists keep the small form of Lobelia cardinalis, you can see that this would be a beautiful pond plant!

Lobelia cardinalis Flowers

Lobelia cardinalis Flowers

With great weather, and a good haul, we had a really great time at the Potomac River this weekend. Huge thanks go to Bob in GWAPA for organizing the trip, and to everyone else for participating. Finally, I want to thank Jeff U for taking fantastic pictures, and allowing me to use them on this website.


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Aquatic Plants of the Patuxent River

July 31st, 2008

Yesterday, I went with a couple friends out to survey what native aquatic plants are growing along some portions of the Patuxent River in Maryland. I like to do this every once in awhile because each time you go, you’re likely to find something different. In addition, from year to year, certain plants may exist in huge patches, while the next year, they’ll be quite sparse. Finally, if I ever get around to setting up a tank to mimic my local habitat, it’s good to know what the local habitat consists of.

Patuxent River

Lake off the Patuxent River

We visited a lake that is part of the Patuxent watershed. The lake itself is covered with tons of lily pads, which during this time of year were flowering quite nicely. This trip, we saw both white and pink flowers. I didn’t know that the pink flowered lilies were native — perhaps they’re not?

Lilly

Lily pad, with flower

All along the banks, hairgrass, likely Eleocharis parvulus, carpeted the lake bed. Of course, there was also several giant hairgrass species as well.

Hairgrass

Hairgrass, probably Eleocharis parvulus

In several places, amoungst the hairgrass we found a flowering bladderwort, which could be Utricularia gibba. Although the yellow flower is pretty, this is definitely a native plant that I would not want to keep in my tanks. Often found as a contaminate on plants that you buy, this carnivorous plant is much like hair algae in its invasiveness of your aquarium.

Utricularia gibba

Utricularia sp. flower

All throughout the area, Ludwigia palustris could be found. This is one of the nicer local native plants that is an excellent stem plant for any type of tank. We were talking yesterday about how surprising it is that Ludwigia repens is the most widely sold plant from its genus, but that L. palustris is smaller leaved, and thus probably more suitable for a wider variety of aquariums.

Ludwigia palustris

Ludwigia palustris

One of the other surprises that we saw yesterday was this patch of Brasenia schreberi. Everywhere else throughout the lake this plant sent small 2-3″ pads to the surface. Within the cracks of the boat ramp it looked like this, staying completely submersed. That brings up the question as to why? My theory is that due to being on the boat ramp, it is occasionally trampled, and thus is being trained to stay short, like a Red Tiger Lotus can be trained in our aquarium. It’s also possible that it’s just stunted due to the limitations of living in a crack between the boat ramp’s cement tiles.

Brasenia schreberi

Brasenia schreberi

Another plant that could potentially be suitable for aquarium use is Lindernia dubia. Currently, I don’t think it is being produced by any of the large aquatic plant nurseries, but this is a nice stem plant. We found it growing both submersed, and emersed with flowers, as shown below. (I like the dragonfly too!)

Lindernia dubia

Lindernia dubia

One of the more interesting plants that we have locally is Proserpinaca palustris, or Mermaid Weed. Emersed, the stems look like a Rotala with serrated edges, but submersed, the leaves become quite tooth-like and bright red. I’ve never kept this plant myself before, but I understand it’s a fairly difficult plant to grow in the aquarium. This is probably why it’s available, but not commonly traded among aquarists.

Proserpinaca palustris

Proserpinaca palustris (Mermaid Weed) with Brasenia schreberi

We saw a few plants that we couldn’t identify, with the most interesting being this plant below. At first glance, we thought it might be an Eriocaulon sp., but the bulbs on this grass are wrong for that. It’s probably just a stunted giant hairgrass, but wouldn’t it be fantastic to find a grass plant that stayed this size underwater? (Updated: a reader identifies this as Xyris caroliniana.)

Hairgrass?

Probably Xyris caroliniana, unsuitable for aquarium use

Now that I’ve mentioned what we did find, we were surprised that we didn’t find any Lysimachia (Creeping Jenny) or Rotala ramosior. Both of these plants are excellent aquarium plants, and usually present in some quantity locally. Additionally, there were a number of Polygonum species around, but I didn’t get any pictures of those. Despite incredibly hot and humid weather, we had a really good time, geeking it up, exploring our local waterway. Lastly, I need to stress that whenever you go out in your local habitat, do not collect plants from protected areas. If you are in an area where it is legal to collect, only take a stem or two, and grow it out in your aquarium. Never take a plant if it is the only one in the area. Be responsible!

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GWAPA – June 2008 – Bob Bock – Sunfish

June 28th, 2008

GWAPAAt GWAPA’s June 2008 meeting, we invited Bob Bock, past president of the North American Native Fishes Association, to speak about native sunfish. While this doesn’t sound much like a “plant topic,” we asked Bob to be sure to let us know which fish throughout his presentation would be suitable for a nicely aquascaped tank. Otherwise, since many American aquarists are unfamiliar with fishes in their backyard waterways, we felt it was a beneficial topic regardless.

Bob Bock

The theme of Bob’s presentation consisted of comparing how sunfish, though unrelated to cichlids, exhibit rather similar behaviors. They are both intelligent fishes, care for their young, feed by sight, and are widely distributed throughout their areas. Conversely, sunfish have far fewer species, are solely predatory in diet, and don’t exist below some portions of Mexico. Bob then proceeded to discuss in detail many of the species within the Lepomis genus of sunfish.

Pumpkinseed - Lepomis gibbosus

One of the species that I had been looking forward to hear about was the Pumpkinseed sunfish, or Lepomis gibbosus. A beautiful fish (shown above), it is unfortunately not very well suited for a planted aquarium because it grows a tad bit too large, and uproots plants to nest. It can also be quite agressive, and thus would require much larger tank sizes.

Longear sunfish - Lepomis megalotis

A better suggestion might be the Longear sunfish (above), which is a medium-sized sunfish, just as beautiful, and can be kept more managebly in aquariums. Bob also mentioned how Longear males develop a lump on their heads with age similar to the flowerhorn cichlid.

Blackbanded Sunfish - Enneacanthus chaetodon

Bob also mentioned another nice aquarium dwarf sunfish called the Blackbanded Sunfish, or Enneacanthus chaetodon, which he keeps several. Unfortunately for me, these are protected fish, and Bob had to obtain a permit to collect and breed them. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed the presentation today, and hope to sometime collect and keep a few species of native fishes.

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Amazon Trip: Collecting Fish

August 17th, 2007

Yesterday, I just got back from Peru, where my wife and I spent about 2 weeks – 1 week in the Amazon rainforest, and another in the Andes. We went on a “photography tour” with Margarita Tours, which is an excellent company that I would highly recommend. Our photography leader, Dr. David Schleser, also leads subsequent fish collecting trips, and when he learned of my interest, he scheduled a sample fish collecting expedition to let me see what the week-long expedition is like.

Waist Deep in Mud, collecting fish

I must say, that collecting in the Amazon is a little bit different than our Florida collecting trip. Take away the boat ramps and add a lot of mud; like waist deep mud. On the plus side, in a single seine attempt, we probably pulled out 20 different species of fish, including some beautiful angelfish, and even a red-bellied piranha. There were plenty of catfish, who spines invariably poked your hands, and got tied up in the nets. There appeared to be a few different types of characins too.

Boy we were muddy!

This is really the only aquarium-related part of my trip, but as I gather together some of my pictures, I think I will deviate from the aquarium theme, and just post some of my rainforest experiences that I think will have a broader appeal. Keep posted for more soon.

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Collecting Plants in Maryland

July 9th, 2007

This past weekend, Aaron from GWAPA and I decided to go on a small collecting trip at a reservoir about 30 minutes away. It was a warm, humid day, but we braved the heat and found some really interesting stuff. Like my Florida trip, the water levels were well below their normal levels, exposing most of the aquatic foliage to the air and sunlight. Most of the species that we found had to be able to grow emersed from the water. A striking example is this field of emersed Rotala ramosior.

Field of Rotala Ramosior

One of the few exceptions was this little gem that we found in amongst a huge patch of Hydrilla. We believe it’s some form of native Sagittaria or Vallisneria. None of the leaves that we found were much longer than 4-5 inches, so we have high hopes that we’ll experience the same thing in our tanks. The crinkled, or slightly spiraling leafs could have a very nice mid-ground potential is they stay that size.

Some kind of Val or Sagiteria
There was no shortage of Polygonum available around this reservoir. We found at least two distinct species, although I didn’t take any as I don’t find many of this species appealing in an aquascape. As you can see, there was lots of nice driftwood available too, but we didn’t take any of that either. In fact, the few pieces that we were interested in were tree stumps where the water had carved out amazing crevices throughout the root system. Unfortunately, those roots were still very much planted in the ground!

Lots of Polygonum

Below is just another example of where we were finding plants. In among a ton of tiny toads, there was more Ludwigia palustris than anyone would ever want. Rotala ramosior was also mixed in with other non-aquatic plants.

Lots of Ludwigia palustris and Rotala ramosior

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Florida Trip – Florida Aquatic Nurseries (Day 5)

June 20th, 2007

Monday, our last full day in Florida, we had an appointment with the owner of Florida Aquatic Nurseries (FAN) for a personalized tour through their facilities. FAN is probably the largest grower and wholesaler of aquatic and pond plants for the entire United States. Chances are, if you see a potted plant at your local fish store, it originated from these guys. Their 5 and 10 acre facilities are really quite impressive. Below you can see how most of the aquatic plants are grown hydroponically in their greenhouses. The plants sit in large tubs of water that are constantly circulated throughout the bins.

A Florida Aquatic Nursery Greenhouse

Other plants are grown individually in pots like the Anubias barterii var. nana ‘petite’ shown below. Nearly all of the plants are flowering throughout the greenhouse, so we saw flowers for crypts, sword plants, various hygrophilia, ludwigia, hydrocotle, you name it.

Anubias barterii var. nana 'petite'

Outside of their greenhouses, they have countless numbers of large concrete ponds where they grow more aquatic plants, this time, mostly submerged. These ponds are packed with stem plants, all bright red and orange from the intense Florida sun. Take note of the Ludwigia inclinata var. verticillata ”Cuba” below. They have a fairly large work force at hand, constantly monitoring all of the plants, and taking cuttings from the large ponds to sell.

Ludwigia sp. 'Cuba'

We were quite surprised at the sheer number of popular plants FAN is growing that rarely seem to show up in our local stores. Everything from nana ‘petite’ to HC to downoi were there. I’m not sure if the distributors aren’t stocking these plants, or if the local stores only carry bread and butter plants, but it’s a shame to know that these things aren’t widely distributed. Beyond aquarium plants, there were countless water lilies in bloom throughout the nursery. Beautiful!

Lotus Flower

Our last stop before heading home was an orchid nursery that supposedly stocked some rare crypts that were given to them by the late Robert Gasser, a pioneer grower of Cryptocoryne species. We called the owner of the nursery, and he agreed to show us around. Not a crypt guy himself, the owner didn’t know many of the species that were spread throughout his nursery, but we did end up purchasing a pot or two of what we believe is Cryptocoryne cordata var. zonata. Beyond the exotic types, he had Crypt. wendtii growing in his ponds, one shown below.

Orchid Nursery Crypt Pond

I have to say that this trip was unlike any other that I’ve been on. It was very free-form in nature, and had surprises at every waterway, nursery, or ditch that we stopped at. Hopefully, GWAPA members will make this trek down I-95 an annual or semi-annual occurrence!

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Florida Trip – Around Miami (Day 4)

June 17th, 2007

We woke up Sunday, ready for a full day of collecting around the Miami around. In Miami, canals crisscross the entire area, allowing us plenty of accessible collecting spots via public boat ramps. In addition, due to the large population density, many non-native fishes have made their way (unfortunately for the habitat, fortunately for us) into the waterways. At our first stop, we found a boat ramp behind a fairly large shopping complex. Walking down the canal banks, we didn’t see a any signs of life outside of a few clumps of Hygrophila polysperma and Cabomba. There were more office chairs and discarded garbage in the canal then we saw fish.

Canal in Miami

We decided to cast our nets into the polysperma anyways, and to our surprise, we found 4-5 small cichlids! There seemed to be two types present, 1 type with vertical bars that are probably juvenile Mayan cichlids, and the other, a much more colorful Jewel cichlid (shown below.) What was originally a very bleak looking habitat suddenly came to life. As we continually pull more of these cichlids from the water, we start to see some larger fish take interest in our activities. Peacock bass start coming in to feast as we startled the smaller fish from their protective plant mats. We continue netting fish for several hours, before deciding to grab some lunch and move on to our next location.

Jewel Cichlid

A few miles away, we located another canal system with public access to the waterways. Unfortunately, this dock was much more frequented by jet skis and motor boats, so we decided to investigate a more seclusive pond right next to the canal. A few of us are looking down in the pool, seeing the usual batch of mosquito fish swimming around, when a couple of plants take our eye. First, floating on the surface is a very frilly plant, that upon closer investigation is a carnivorous badderwort. Well, I have to try that one out, and while I’m gathering a few small fronds of that, I notice another plant with elongated brown and yellowish leaves. Immediately, I get excited that I had found a bed of crypts! So, I pull a couple out, and take them to Ghazanfar. “Nope, they’re not crypts,” he says, but instead appear to be some sort of an Aponogeton. In this pool, none of the Aponogeton are taller than7-8 inches. I’m really hoping that they intend to stay that height because every other species that I’ve tried tends to grow multiple feet in length.

Investigating a pool

Meanwhile, a few other folks had started dipping their nets in the canal, now free of jet skiers. More great fish start showing up in our nets, including a very pretty variety of sunfish (shown below), some shiners/minnows with really nice red on their tails, two varieties of darters, and a new color strain of Jewel cichlids. The Jewels in this canal are much redder in coloration, while in the first canal, they were more turquoise. After being out under the sun for a number of hours, we all decided that it was time to cool off back at the hotel.

Sunfish in hand

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Florida Trip – Day 3

June 14th, 2007

Day 3: Somewhere outside of Tampa

First Collection Site for the Day

We spent the night in Tampa on Friday, spending some time with Michael’s cousin, who treated us to some homemade ice cream. That provided exactly the fuel we needed to get up and going on Saturday, hitting lots of collection ditches across the state. Our first collection site happens to be outside of Tampa near where a few fish farms used to be located. Our thinking is this: where fish farms used to be, leftover exotic fish must have escaped via flooding or hurricane into the local waterways. We’re driving around and pass over a small stream-fed canal, where we come to a sudden stop to get out. As you can see above, it’s not the prettiest site, but as we’ll soon learn, sometimes the least promising looking pools can yield the best results.

What's in the net this time?

We dip in our nets, and find a plethora of different species. Of course, we pull out more than our fair share of gambusias (mosquito fish), but we also end up with some blue-fin killies, Heterandria formosa, and grass shrimp. In addition to that, we see a very large gar and a group of bass and sunfish. All-in-all, a very nice catch on the fish side. Unfortunately, there weren’t many interesting plants to speak of. That will soon change.

Parrots Feather

We get back in the car, head out toward Zolfo Springs, in the middle of the state, and along the way end up on a bridge overlooking the Little Manatee River. We look down at some beautiful patches of bright green plants along the edge of the river. Ghazanfar and I identify some of the plants as the common bacopa monnieri, hydrocotle, and hygrophilia polysperma, but one other plant is hard to identify from above. Of course, at the possibility that we might have discovered a new stem plant, we descend down the steep and heavily overgrown riverbank to take a closer look. What do we find? Well, the extremely exotic *cough* Parrot Feather. Nevertheless, we sample a few stems and head on our way.

Gator!

Continuing to drive across the state, we see signs for Lake Okeechobee, spot a boat dock, and pull over. On a previous GWAPA trip, three years ago, our members pulled pounds of grass shrimp from vegetation along the banks of this very same canal. This time, not only was the water very low, but it was also completely free of any vegetation. We later learn that the state is treating the water with herbicide to try and contain some invasive species of plants. It seems that it’s killing more than just the invasive types. In any case, our stop was not totally uneventful because off in the distance, one of our members spot two humps, the head and back, of an alligator swimming down the channel. Check that one off my list — See an alligator in Florida, DONE!

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