Ask the WWM Crew
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When asked at the most recent Marine Aquarium Conference at Southern California (I gave a pitch on the "ethics of marine collection" with Craig Hooker of the Fish & Wildlife Service and Steve Robinson, formerly of Cortez Marine, in 1995) what people can do in the trade and hobby to promote sustainable collection practices, many of the retailers and hobbyists there expressed frustration with the current state of affairs.
Is it just a presumption that there is a higher percentage mortality of livestock originating from the Philippines and Indonesia? Whoever, whatever you believe re the validity of cyanide claims, cumulative effects of rough handling, long shipping time frames, other sources of loss of vitality, certain facts stand: The longer organisms stay 'in the bag' the more they die. Ready, inexpensive, efficacious assays for cyanide and other commonly used collection poisons do not exist.
There seems no definitive end to the accusations of whose livestock are 'worse', what sources are to be avoided... There are suppliers who buy weekly from the Philippine Islands with almost no incidental losses. For instance Quality Marine of Los Angeles. I've been at their facilities at random times and experienced zero Dead On Arrivals in their P.I. shipments first hand.
How do they do it?
1) They've been clear with their sources regarding what they want, will pay for.
2) Including instruction on how to pack their livestock properly; i.e. loose to allow the organisms to move, the bags to expand with lowered cabin pressure, with adequate water volume to dilute wastes during shipment. 3) In preparing the livestock to only send "A" specimens which they are willing to pay market price for... Holding them for an appropriate period of time to assess their likelihood of survival... Purging them (by not feeding) for a species & size-determined period of time prior to shipping.
4) Have ongoing provision (cargo container space reservation) with the airline carriers for weekly shipments, customs in the U.S.
5) Engage trained personnel with facilities for properly acclimating, handling and shipping livestock.
By visiting, helping set up collecting/shipping stations around the tropical world, Quality Marine has been a pre-eminent player in the trade. Sad to say, all companies in the industry have not been able/willing to put their money where their hearts should be.
But on with the topic of this article and the constructive advice I want to pass on to you. If you can't be at all sure as to the quality of livestock you're buying in any other way, pay close attention to its place of origin. Many of the organisms sold in the trade have wide geographic ranges. You don't have to buy fishes from the Philippines or Indonesia. Allow me to make this point in a different way; "Where do the best yellow tangs come from?" Answer: Hawaii. Why? On average they're larger, fuller, more yellow... and they live.
What I'm getting at is the fact that livestock from U.S. controlled areas is a better ultimate buy than from apparently (initially) 'cheaper' sources. Guam, Florida, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands, California among others are tightly regulated requiring permits, inspection and operation of adequate facilities, and a full accounting of the disposition every single organism collected; yes, each individual.
How can the end-user be sure they're not contributing to cyanide and other poisoning of the reefs? One definite way; buy American. In Hawaii and other states and 'protectorates' all drugs are prohibited for collection; and these laws are enforced.
Not to leave them out, Australia, Singapore, Sri Lanka... also provide consistently good clean livestock.
Thank-you for granting me the opportunity to make this overall statement. Now on with the practical exercise; a few of the species which you can utilize this choice, the Butterflyfishes of Hawaii.
The Butterflyfish family Chaetodontidae are a very important part of the marine aquarium world. Several species are 'stock' items (the Longnoses, Raccoon, Threadfin, Poor Mans Moorish Idols or Heniochus, among others) due to their overall adaptability, willingness to eat, and hardiness toward disease.
Unfortunately, there are many varieties of chaetodonts that are offered in the trade that are nigh impossible to keep in captivity. Some are obligate corallivores, others just can't take the vagaries of captive handling and/or life in a small transparent box.
Of the 'good' B/Fs (industry shorthand for the family of butterflies) we are blessed with having some of the best available from the aloha state, Hawaii.
About a third of all the native animals and plants in Hawaii are endemic; that is, they're found only there. Hawaii has the amongst the world's highest percentage of unique flora and fauna. Of the twenty or so B/Fs from Hawaii three are endemic, the blue-stripe, lemon and multi-band are found nowhere else. You'll have to go to the source for these whereas the others may be bought from other places, but why?
Butterflyfishes from Hawaii span the range for their family; four (e.g. corallicola) to twelve inches (e.g. ephippium) as adults. Their size belies their need for large spaces. Please see notes under habitat.
The Best Butterflyfishes From Hawaii: (Hawaiian names in bold in parentheses)
Though better than most western Pacific butterflies, the following are my less favored choices of Hawaiian B/Fs.
Butterflies From Hawaii You Want To Avoid
These species historically do poorly, the vast majority rarely living more than a month.
Chaetodon lunulatus Quoy & Gaimard, 1825, (kapuhili) and Chaetodon trifascialis Quoy & Gaimard, 1825, are the Melon and Chevron Butterflies. Besides being named by the same French shipmates in the early 19th century, these two are both impossible aquarium species, most refusing all food in captivity... except... live coral polyps! The Chevron is extremely rare from Hawai'i.
Selection: General to Specific
Careful observation combined with knowing what to look for is key to all livestock purchase, especially so with the butterflies. Cuts and reddening, especially around the mouth, is almost always a harbinger of doom.Shoot for specimens that are neither too little (less than 3") or too large (over 5"). Three to five inch individuals adapt best to aquarium conditions.
Large (fifty plus gallon) systems with oversized filtration and circulation. Do provide open spaces and caves, slots to give the butterfly a sense it can "get away".
Butterflyfishes enjoy large clean water areas with little measurable organic load. They do well only with such water quality. If yours goes "off-color" check your water.Behavior: Territoriality Most species (with the exception of Heniochus) are best kept as singles unless the system is huge or the specimens are observed associating at the dealers. Generally only aggressive towards members of their own, or similar appearing species.
Introduction/AcclimationBest placed in aged (six months plus) systems with subdued lighting. Watch that newcomers are not being bullied.
Eaten by larger predatory fishes in the wild and in aquaria.
Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation/Growing Your Own:
Some species have spawned in captivity, but the families' weird 'tholichthys' larval stage has resisted rearing to sub-adult size.
Butterflyfishes are one of the most accurately named groups. Their tremendous beauty in color and markings is similar to the Lepidoptera (the insect butterflies), as is their flitting swimming around and through their coral and rocky haunts.
Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, WastesA critical concern for these fishes is getting them established eating as soon as possible. Take a look at their mouths, the family name means "bristle-teeth". Their primary activity during light is searching for food. Make feedings frequent and varied to lessen boredom and the chance of mal- and lack of nutrition. Most good and 'medium' species accept all meaty foods in small enough sizes. Poor feeders, new specimens can be trained with live brine shrimp, living 'worms' of all sorts. A favorite trick of importers is offering a freshly opened clam or mussel intended for human consumption. Obviously even the smallest of butterflies will slowly consume a 'reef system'.
Be sure your butterflies are getting their share of foods. By and large they are not as aggressive as many fishes kept.
Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social
Quite susceptible to Cryptocaryon and Amyloodinium. Routine dipping (freshwater with or without, copper, formaldehyde) and quarantine are encouraged.
It just makes better dollars and sense for wholesalers, retailers, hobbyists, aquarium service companies to buy 'local', from United States controlled areas, if the livestock they want can be gotten there.
Cast your votes for sustainable practices. Try the 50th state.
Allen, G.R., 1979. Butterfly and Angelfishes of the World, Vol. 2. Wiley & Sons, N.Y.
Burgess, Warren E. 1978. Butterflyfishes of the World. TFH Publ., N.J.
Burgess, Warren E. 1979. The raccoon butterflyfish, Chaetodon lunula. TFH 8/79.
Fenner, Robert. 2000. A Fishwatcher's Guide to the Tropical Marine Aquarium Fishes of the World. WetWebMedia, San Diego. 192pp.
Gaffney, Rick. 1995. Like nowhere else (on Hawaii's endemics). Sport Diver 8,9/95.
Hoover, John. 1993. Hawaii's Fishes. A Guide for Snorkelers, Divers and Aquarists. Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, HI. 183pp.
Hoover, John. 1995. Hawaii's butterflyfishes. FAMA 11,12/95.
Miklosz, John C. 1976. Hawaiian butterflies. Marine Aquarist 7(2):76.
Parker, Nancy J. 1976. Lemon butterfly. Marine Aquarist 7(7):76.
Refano, Joseph, 1985. Butterflies from Hawaii. FAMA 7/85.
Steene, Roger C., 1985. Butterfly & Angelfishes of the World, Vol. 1 Australia. Mergus Publ., Germany.
Stratton, Richard F., 1990. The teardrop butterflyfish. TFH 6/90.
Tinker, Spencer W. 1978. Fishes of Hawaii. Hawaiian Service, Inc.