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Just what is disease or its antithesis health? Once at a hobbyist conference I heard a pitch called "Koi Are Designed to Die" (Image1: Koi in pond), in which the presenter regaled us with all the reasons (parasites, poor water quality (Image2: Dropsical condition in goldfish), stress from so many sources (Image3: Koi in rough netting), nutritional deficiencies (Image4: Koran with HLLE)'¦ why expensive pondfish should not make it in captivity. Considering all that can go wrong in the wonderful cascade of electrons which is life, it is indeed a marvel that there is so much vitality about.
Disease is "any deviation from a normal or healthy condition" as a definition will suffice for our discussion here. As such there are many types of disease, with a few ways of classifying them. Most prominent of these sources of non-health are genetic (Image5: a genetically tweak-mouthed Cirrhilabrus labouti), environmental, nutritional, social factors, infectious and parasitic pathogens. As conscientious aquarists we need to be aware of the root causes of diseases of our captive charges and do our best to identify, prevent, and if necessary treat to cure them or reduce their ill effects.
And there is much aquarists can and should do. Careful, intelligent livestock selection, properly acclimated and kept in an optimized, stable environment with its myriad factors, plus excluding and weakening infectious organisms are the primary aspects of prevention and control of disease.
A very useful model/pictogram detailing the three sets of factors determining the well being of any system is presented here (Image6: empty three sets), along with related notes, specific action to take in successful aquatic husbandry. Like many early idea-sets, this empirical model is a consequence of direct observation, tremendous trial and errors, and proof by utility. I encourage you to think deeply about this. Note the first sentence in this paragraph; "determine" is used, not "influence", and well being of any "system". The "three sets of factors" elucidated here are lessons beyond a small aquatic microcosm; they are the same conditions that determine the viability of an individual, planet or business corporation.
Factors Determining Health, The Three Sets:
The three sets of factors determining the health or well being of any aquatic system are (Image7: detail of three sets)
the accompanying pictograph. In the "real world" of aquarium culture it is ideal to select for and create the best circumstances for each of the three sets of factors; though, practically speaking, if two of the three are realized, livestock losses are greatly minimized. By using this model in your planning, execution and maintenance of a captive aquatic system to mentally keep straight the most important aspects of health control and their relation, you will lose many less organisms.
Let's further describe and expand on these sets of factors.
1. Initial State of Health:(Image8:1st set)
Your livestock's' initial condition is a function of its genetic heritage coupled with its developmental history. Similar to cultural discussions of "nature versus nurture" in our species, how can an individual, population or species become something more than its genetic makeup? Or discounting DNA, how important is ontogeny, the development of the one or many of a kind? Obviously both are crucial, to have the genetic potential to "fit" an environment, and the "lucky" circumstances generationally to grow up and reproduce within it.
2. Suitability of the Environment:
The suitability of the environment incorporates an amazingly large collection of sub-factors, chemical, physical and biological (Image18:2nd set).
A) Chemical/Physical Aspects of Environmental Stability:
iii) Reduction-Oxidation, temperature, carbon dioxide, calcium, strontium'¦. Plus many more, could
be listed as chemical/physical phenomena that have high and low limits and a need to display some
semblance of stability to permit life.
iv) Bio-Geo-Chemical Cycling Considerations'¦ nitrogen in ammonia, nitrite, nitrate. Indeed hundreds of
"cycles" exert their effects (and vice versa) on the life within and around them. Ammonia poisoning from
incomplete establishment of cycling is and has been the historical number one killer of captive aquatics. It
probably is number two as well, as a contributor to other stresses that account for mortality.
DÃ©cor (Image19: plants and gravel) is yet another aspect of the physical make-up of the non-living
environment that substantially contributes to the health of biota. How important is the break-up of
space, hiding places, dark spots out of the light to living organisms? Critically so.
vi) Light/lighting; quality, quantity, duration and even regularity are known to strongly effect the health of aquatic life. Photosynthesis is obviously impossible without proper illumination (Images 20,21:planted tank, Acropora gemmifera), fishes can be blinded over time by too much light, notably lions (Image22: Pterois volitans), but practically all livestock benefits from a regular lighting regimen.
B) Biological Aspects of Environmental Stability:
C) Foods/Feeding as Aspects of Environmental Stability:
The types, format, quantity, food value, frequency and method of delivery are all important parts of the behavior and nutrition of feeding. Think how stressful it is to you to not get the foods you prefer properly prepared and presented, at a regular interval, nutritionally complete, in a "conducively" pleasant consuming environment.
D) Almost Infinity:
How many more environmental criteria can you think of? Obviously this is not an exhaustive list of contributing environmental factors, such a counting would be vast indeed, detailing all interactions, chemical, physical, and biological, conscious and not that each organism has with their world.
3. Presence and Degree of Pathogenicity of Disease-Causing Organisms (Image36:3rd set)
Absolutely no infection or parasitic disease can occur without its causative biological mechanism. Where would black spot disease (Image37: Paravortex) come from if not imported into a system on its yellow tang host? Certainly not from thin air. Specific pathogen free livestock is a dream that is near impossible to attain, but much can and should be done to "knock off" the majority of external parasites and weaken the rest. Consideration of biological agent disease principally involves:
Per the model presented here, REVIEW the three principal sets of factors that determine the health of all systems and their sub-sets and make a concerted, coordinated effort to disclose the root causes of a problem. Seek to cure or ameliorate those conditions, only lastly resorting to outright chemical treatments; and then only knowing what you're treating for and how.
Fenner, Bob & Dave Huie. 1987. A livestock treatment system. FAMA 1/87.
Fenner, Bob. 1989. Parasitic diseases of cultured fishes: methods of their prevention and treatment. FAMA 10/89
Fenner, Bob 1992. Copper poisoning. FAMA 3/92.
Fenner, Bob. 1993. Chlorine, chloramine poisoning; or, how I treat my tapwater. FAMA 3/93.
Fenner, Bob 1993. An argument against "feeder" goldfish. FAMA 11/93.
Fenner, Robert 1998. Organism selection for the saltwater aquarist, pt.s 1-4. TFH 5-8/98.
Fenner, Robert M. 1998. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist; A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.
Guerri, Elmer A. 1998. It's the stress; using the techniques of professional aquarists. AFM 3,4/98.
Halver, J.E. (ed.). 1989. Fish Nutrition. Academic Press, London. 798pp.
Hiatt, Snake. 1998. Major, macro, micronutrients. TFH 7/98
Johnson, Erik L. 1993. The insidious threat of stray voltage. TFH 7/93.
Steffens, W. 1989. Principles of Fish Nutrition. Ellis Horwood, Chichester, UK. 384pp.
Watson, Thomas T. 1983. An ounce of prevention. TFH 9/83.
11, 12) Two batfish species; the doomed Pinnatus batfish, and tough teira batfish (Platax pinnatus, P. teira).
13, 14) A lesson in picking out livestock from better locales. 13 is a Philippine harlequin tuskfish (Lienardella fasciata), 14 is a superior Australian animal. Note the blue highlights and the darker area posteriorly.
15-17) SIZE matters; 15 shows too-small (about two inch) saddleback butterflyfish (Chaetodon ephippium), 16 is too big (about 7 inches), 17 is about right (3-5").
18) The second set of factors determining livestock health: Suitability of the Environment with some idea sub-sets: Principal chemical, physical and biological inputs.
19) Even unnatural dÃ©cor is preferable to a lack thereof. Here we have appropriate polyethylene plants and corals and epoxy coated (hence chemically inert) gravels.
20, 21) Light/lighting; quality, quantity, duration and even regularity have been shown to be important to almost all life investigated; especially so with photosynthetic organisms like vascular plants (20), and hermatypic corals, here Acropora gemmifera.
22) Too strong lighting can be problematical as too little. Lionfishes (family Scorpaenidae) are frequently victims of this environmental disease. Here is a Pterois volitans.
23-26) Mixing marine angels is part science, part luck. What frequently works are angels that are different enough in size and appearance, like mixing a gray (Pomacanthus arcuatus), with the next three (a juvenile annularis, sub-adult asfur, and young chrysurus), but not the last three together at near the same size. Providing plenty of coral and rock cover helps too.
27) Stress kills, either as too much running interference or too little sensory input and testing of individual fitness.
28-30) A stress-related disorder coupled with a bacterial involvement (Aeromonas). 28 shows a group of koi, one whitish individual displaying a chronic furuncular sore on its back. 29 is a close up of such a "hole in the side" chronic condition. 30 is a dead individual in which the condition has gone acute, microbes eating all the way into muscle and septicemia evident around the sore.
31) A haremic association of Anthias squamipinnis in the Red Sea. Many anthiines are only "happy" being kept in such a sex-ratio mix.
32) Similarly the flame angel lives in a polygynous association with one male often guarding a coral bommie with a handful of females.
33, 34) Don't have a date? Become one! Here a males and female Cortez rainbow wrasse (aka lollipop or popsicle wrasse for the male) covort in Mexicos lower Baja gulf. 34 shows more of the feminine herd. If the male is "lost", generally the largest female will convert sexes to become the new ruler of the roost.
35) Numbers of individuals kept of some species is critical. In the wild, Heniochus acuminatus are rarely seen as singles. In captivity they likewise flourish in groups.
36) The third set of factors; The presence and degree of infectiousness of disease-causing organisms.
37) Here is a stained individual of the not-so "free-living" turbellarian flatworm, Paravortex that are the little black dots of "yellow-tang disease". Easily gotten rid of with freshwater dips.
38) Lymphocystis on a captive queen angel, Holacanthus ciliaris. This viral infection can sometimes be eliminated by the use of biological cleaners; other times I've seen it go into spontaneous remission. just disappear on its own.
39) Another example of an infection going hyper, a furuncular sore on a koi's ventral surface.
40) Aspects of prevention and control using our three sets model offering sub-sets of the first set, selection and purchasing techniques.
41, 42) Contrasting health assessment within a group of species, two basses; a beautiful Liopropoma which tend to be out and about, and a much bigger, but shyer Epinephelus microdon. Doing with it does naturally; hide.
43, 44) An example of a species that does poorly from most everywhere (43 in French Polynesia), but surprisingly well from the Red Sea (44). This is the heartbreaker known as the regal angel, Pygoplites diacanthus.
45) An example of what a LFS (Livestock Fish Store) should be. One of our old Wet Pets locations in San Diego, California. Clean, neat, organized, and staffed with friendly, knowledgeable folks.
46) Aspects of prevention and control, 2d set: Environmental. What you can/should do.
47) Aspects of prevention and control, 3d set; Pathogens. Ditto.
48) I feel the need, the need to READ. There is no better vehicle to store and retrieve our species thoughts, discoveries, opinions and dreams.
49) Brown jelly disease on a living/dying coral. All incoming specimens should be iodide/iodine dipped and isolated in quarantine for two plus weeks to prevent disease spread, stress and outright pollution.
50) A marked-up Hemitaurichthys zoster. Marine butterflyfishes often show these sorts of cut-marks in advance of "breaking down", all too-often with Vibrio infections.
51) Should the type of infectious (bacterial, fungal) or parasitic problem you encounter not have a commercially made medicated food effective against it, consider making your own. Here being done shake n' bake style for pondfishes with soluble oxy-tetracycline and pellets.
52, 53) Biological cleaners, especially non-obligates (unlike genus Labroides wrasses) are a real boon to marine keepers. Here are prime examples, the cleaner shrimp, Lysmata amboinensis from the Pacific, and a tank-bred goby, Gobiosoma Elacatinus oceanops, hailing from the West Atlantic originally.
54,55) Some examples of human medicines and novel methods of application. 54: topicals, good for "scratches", punctures, mechanical injuries to eyes. 55 injectable antibiotics for larger, more valuable specimens with bacterial difficulties.
56) How to tell which antimicrobial might be efficacious? Culture methods are the best insight (given time, gear, cost-effectiveness).
57) Dropsy, or dropsical conditions are more environmental than due to infectious agents. When, where you detect disease, first look to water quality as the likely cause. Dropsy can be "cured" in different fish groups, but not with medicines alone.
58) An expensive marine angel, the blue (or yellow) face, Pomacanthus Euxiphipops xanthometopon, here with an eye "fungus" which is actually bacterial, probably actually bought about from rough net-handling. Treatment should include very clean water, and antibiotic-laden food.
59) The scourge of HLLE; vitamins C, A and D boosted foods or supplements might have saved this Koran from a scarred end.
60) Sometimes picking off (as with your fingernails) lymphocystis growth (aka "lymph", scat disease) triggers a/the anti-viral response in the affected individual, spurring remission.