By Bob Goemans
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The 'LIVING' Marine Aquarium Manual

Basic and Advanced Husbandry for the 'Modern' Marine Aquarium

by Bob Goemans

Chapter 14 - Animal Husbandry

Whether it's fish or invertebrate health, the successful interactions of those living organisms will affect the overall health of the entire system. Therefore, before jumping in so to speak lets review some thoughts on the husbandry of these animals before they are brought home and begin here with 'Fishes' and complete with 'Corals/Invertebrates.'

Please consider the four chapters in this section a 'guideline' for selection possibilities and general husbandry needs

The Fishes

(Please keep in mind all underlined word(s) are linkable files - just click on them and be taken to its content/photo. Also, all shown photos are clickable, which often allows a larger file to be seen.)

Upfront Wisdom

We may not be able to control all the reasons stress occurs in our daily lives; yet, aquarists are god-like when it comes to their aquariums. Keep in mind stress wears down resistance to infectious diseases and therefore it's a major factor as to why humans or the animals, especially the fishes in our aquariums develop various maladies. As to where it concerns the fish we normally keep in our aquariums, when first captured their first response is in the form of 'panic.' Then in this panicked state they immediately shutdown non-essential processes such as digestion and the immune system thereby saving that energy for escaping. This timeframe then provides the small number of parasites or bacteria normally living on their bodies, which in the wild are in a controlled state due to the animal's exceptional health, a window of opportunity to increase their numbers while the animal is in transit to hobbyist aquariums.

In addition, the conditions experienced in this transportation period, probably about two weeks or longer, are filled with extremely poor conditions such as bad water quality, overcrowding, and no doubt unsuitable tankmates. With the immune system now further reduced, parasites and secondary bacteria infections now take advantage of this opportunity to multiply their numbers. Knowing the window of opportunity has been opened for possible maladies, one needs to approach the selection process with much wisdom! And there are also some other aspects that should be taken into consideration, especially during the planning/selection process, such as temperament, nutritional needs, physical size, lifespan, suitable tankmates, and whether or not the species can exist in captivity by itself or does better in groups/having a mate.

Physical Size

A good example here would be the common Batfish, which when a juvenile may only be a few inches (5 - 7 cm) in height. But if introduced into a somewhat small aquarium at this size, a year later it would not fit, as it will grow to about 20 inches (50 cm) in height! And one should ask themselves if the selection were a small juvenile of some species, would it still be a desirable when fully grown in the system, as there are many pretty juveniles such as some in the angelfish and wrasse families? If the choice is larger fish, give some thought to feeding, as greater quantities of food would probably be needed, which might affect water quality. So planning ahead with upfront increased filtration should be considered in the planning stage.

There's also the possibility larger fish may eat smaller fish and that needs to be assessed before it occurs, especially in systems that contain a lot of hiding places, as removal of unwanted specimens become very difficult to say the least! Therefore, always look at fish selections as if they were fully-grown, and do not overload the carrying capacity of the system.

Nutritional Needs

There are also nutritional factors to take into consideration when planning the new system, as there are many different types of feeders needing different types of foodstuffs. As to nutrition basics, understanding that often begins with knowing whether the selection is a carnivore, herbivore, or an omnivore. Then to specifics within each category, e.g., the casual feeders such as surgeonfishes/tangs, which are similar to cows grazing the meadow or aggressive feeders such as puffers, often stuffing themselves with foodstuffs whenever available. And it doesn't end there, as there are the shy ones, such as comets that cannot compete with aggressive fish when mealtime comes.

Add to this the specialized feeders such as obligate coral eaters, e.g., some butterflyfishes, and you'll find their foodstuffs are not readily available unless willing to sacrifice some live corals! And with some species the cost of their food might easily far outweigh the cost of the fish specimen itself, or the food itself is simply almost impossible to obtain at least without great cost and effort to locate. This is just a heads up here, as much of this will be explained below in the topic titled 'Nutrition Requirements.'


Becoming familiar with the various types and sizes of fishes, their diet and general behavior is a good starting point. Then follow that up with the fact aquarium size has a direct relationship to territorial behavior, and the learning curve lengthens. Add to this some fish eye others as a future meal, especially in small systems and choosing tankmates for a new system gets even more interesting.

Compatibility sometimes also hinges on sex ratios, as some species have one alpha male in a harem containing several females. On that same note, sometimes the strongest male will not tolerate a second male in the aquarium. As for schooling fish, they are often stressed if maintained singly, and if desired in numbers, enough open space must be provided for them to form their natural shoals so they will not be constantly interrupted by some of their tankmates. Also, keep in mind active fishes need more space than sedentary species. And yes the list of possibilities goes on and on. But that is where upfront research comes into play, and where you need to go in the 'planning' stage!

Here are some more thoughts on this subject - consider a mix of bottom dwellers, open water swimmers, and those that like swimming around or living in close relationship with various types of invertebrate, as that will help provide a more social environment. Have a balance among the three basic types of food consumers, i.e., omnivores, carnivores, and herbivores, as that may add to the stability of the environment and reduce stress levels. And always keep in mind troublemakers in the wild or rarely compatible with others or invertebrates, will not be any better in aquariums, in fact worse!

If the system will contain aggressive fishes begin stocking with the species with the least aggression and when ready to complete the stocking goals, finish with the most aggressive. Be sure to have places for the not so aggressive to hide if need be before the more aggressive species are finally added. Furthermore, when adding a newcomer consider feeding present inhabitants before adding a new tankmate and/or adding it right before the lights go out as that may reduce newcomer stress. Keep in mind similarly shaped or colored species will often produce increased levels of stress if housed in the same aquarium. I've also heard of using mirrors to attract those bent on attacking the newcomer, but have never personally tried it. Bottom line, if the newcomer is taking a beating, move it to a refugium if possible or back to the shop where it was purchased. Learn from this experience!

To overcome some of these incompatibilities some have suggested rearranging aquarium aquascaping when adding a new fish as the thought there is tankmates will spend their time redefining their own territories, not battling each other or the newcomer. In my opinion, this is only a temporary solution, if that! Incompatibility is just that; therefore recommend not adding stress to the animals or yourself in rearranging the aquascaping.

For what its worth, have had many letters from those wanting more than one Yellow Tang in their aquarium, even though its well known they are often belligerent to each other in the same aquarium. Yes, they are seen in large numbers in the wild, but their food supply there is vast, but not so in the closed system. In aquaria they are simply protecting their 'turf' so to speak, as 'their' food supply is in short supply. Even though I do not normally recommend more than one per aquarium unless in a very large system, over 250 gallons, small groups can be added to smaller aquariums if all are placed in the tank at one time. Shops do it this way frequently with good success. Sometimes, individual hobbyists have success by adding specimens quite different in physical size (pecking order), yet this is still not always successful.

Finally, unless there's the dedication necessary, animals needing special care are not among the best of choices for average aquariums. Understanding their needs is extremely important, as it will influence their wellbeing and longevity. Research, research, and more research needs to be accomplished before selection is made! Keep in mind that guesswork or impulse buying is dangerous to the wellbeing of the already established wet pets, and your sanity!

Shipping Bags

Most aquarists are familiar with the clear plastic bag their selections from local shops are placed in for the trip to their home aquarium. The size of their selection determines the size of the bag and its water content. Often, the bag is not filled completely, leaving an air space at its top inside area. For short trips, these inexpensive non-breathable bags suffice nicely. Yet where its necessary to keep the specimen bagged for much longer periods, such as shipment by airlines to far distant places, there's plastic bags that actually allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to freely pass through the plastic material, thereby allowing the bagged animal inside to breathe normally for very long periods of time, e.g., for many days or even weeks. And if such extended periods were necessary, the only drawback would be the lack of food for that creature.

Breathable bags are perfect for long bagged stays, such as what can be experienced with interstate or intercontinental shipping, and even those experienced at aquarium society meetings when animals are sometimes auctioned/sold during their meetings. In fact, carbon dioxide actually passes through the bag surface to the atmosphere four times faster than oxygen; therefore there is never a buildup of it in the bags! Because of this, the animal could remain in the bag for an extremely long time without ever running out of oxygen - as long as the bag outer surface remains in contact with the atmosphere. And these bags, which are available in many different sizes, should be 'completely' filled with water, i.e., no air space, and not laid against any non-breathable or possibly contaminated surface, as gas exchange with surrounding air is either severely limited or completely stopped or the chemical absorbed directly. These bags, of course, should also not be laid against each other, as that also prevents gas exchange with the atmosphere. In shipping containers, simply place cardboard or foam peanuts between the bags. Even a sheet of newspaper will suffice.

Even though slightly more expensive, for extended stays in plastic bags these 'breathable' bags are unbeatable as they prevent sloshing/damage to the specimen and reduce the stress normally associated with travel in a bag. And where long travel periods is required, are actually less expensive because no oxygen is required in the bag and the bag itself can be just large enough to hold the specimen thereby saving the cost of extra water, as the weight of the water is a major part of the shipping cost. And very possibly more animals can be shipped per container. Another factor affecting water content is whether or not the specimen has been 'cleaned-out' i.e., will not deposit an undue large amount of feces into the holding water. Sometimes more water content is advisable if the animal has recently been fed. For shipping animals with spines, a layer of newspaper around the filled bag, then placed in another water filled bag should provide some additional protection.

Keep in mind the breathable bag cannot be 'floated' in the aquarium to begin the acclimation period, e.g., equalize temperature to the new home as the bag surface does not allow for gas transfer between the two water surfaces, only that of its water to the atmosphere. It may be best to simply place the specimen in an acclimation vessel as more fully explained below. All in all breathable bags are an efficient way to transport marine animals, especially fishes, and result in far less stress and in some cases, far less shipping costs. And remember, they are reusable! (Checkout for more information)

Selecting Healthy Specimens

With the above firmly in mind and the species now decided upon, one of the first things to look for when shopping for the first specimens would be if the shop containing them quarantines their incoming shipments of fish. Without a doubt, this would make their selections somewhat more costly than a shop that prefers to sell their incoming stock in the shortest possible time with little or no preventive care. Nevertheless, animals that are first quarantined are well worth that additional cost as the chance of a disease slipping into the new aquarium or even that of a healthy well-established system is far reduced. In fact, dealers that properly quarantine their fishes add great value to these animals and should be rewarded by hobbyists by selecting their shops over those that do not quarantine. After verifying the shops quarantine procedures, spend some time looking at the various fishes in the shops aquariums, as appearance and behavior factors are helpful in determining their general health.

Probably one of the most important is to make sure the fish of interest is not scratching itself of any of the aquarium substrate. Doing so would most likely indicate a form of Marine Ich has infected that fish, and in fact, probably all others in that tank or system that tank is connected to. Therefore suggest shopping elsewhere. If it and all other fishes in that tank or system appear well, and if you have to put that fish directly in your home aquarium, ask the shop owner if its possible to place a deposit on it and come back in ten days to check on its health. And if okay, finish the transaction ten days later and take it home. The reason for this delay is that a ten day period is a somewhat good yardstick to judge if any other complication may arise, or if the fish was possibly captured using cyanide.

Unfortunately, capturing fish with cyanide is still practiced in many areas, and even sub-lethal exposure will damage its digestive organs including its liver. Such damage prevents the fish from digesting the foods eaten, ultimately causing starvation even though the fish continues to eat well! In fact, they can look perfectly healthy for varying lengths of time and then suddenly die. Nevertheless, most succumb within a few weeks after collection, so another ten days in the dealer's tank, especially if an expensive selection, should be considered a reasonable time period so as to 'insure' its health. You may also want to ask the shop owner where the fish comes from, as there are many areas in the world where the practice of chemical collection is not allowed, e.g., Red Sea, Hawaii, Australia, Africa, and the Caribbean. And if from these areas, it would mostly eliminate the need for a healthy looking selection to remain in the dealer's tank for another ten days.

Furthermore, look also for clear eyes, fins that are not torn or discolored, and breathing that is not labored or overly rapid. Observe its swimming behavior, as shimmying or swimming in short jerky movements is abnormal for most species. A specimen hanging out in the corner of the tank usually indicates it's either stressed or sick. Its colors should truly represent the species, however, some specimens may have less intense colors because of the stressful conditions they have endured or are being maintained in. Look for lesions or redness area's under the skin and/or protruding scales, as its body should be smooth without any obvious odd-looking bulges. Healthy fish should not have any concave or pinched areas on their body. And if everything is going well so far ask the shop to feed the fish, preferably regular prepared foods similar to what you will feed. Keep in mind almost any fish will eagerly accept live foods, yet may turn away from frozen or dried foods. If the selection shows little interest in the food provided, there may be something wrong with it.

If all has gone well so far, ask what specific gravity and pH the shop is maintaining, as this information is important to know in order to properly acclimate your selection at home. It would also be helpful to know what temperature the fish is being kept at. Knowing these factors is helpful with the home acclimation, but it also offers some insight into your dealer's competence.

As for purchasing livestock through mail order/Internet companies, those guaranteeing live arrival, providing a reasonable health guarantee, along with attention to your order specifications are the more desirable. They are especially useful for the hobbyists who live in remote areas where local shops do not exist or provide little or no reasonable choice of animals. Nevertheless, mail order shipments do require more scrutiny of the incoming livestock as they are always far more stressed than what is purchased locally! And furthermore, shipping containers sometimes arrive damaged/leaking, therefore, being prepared ahead of time for the unexpected is good husbandry! Obviously, it's always better to select animals' personally/at local shops, rather than have them shipped to you sight unseen, but there are many high quality on-line shops also.


Whereas improper acclimation techniques can surely lead to the premature loss of fish, proper acclimation techniques can lead to greater survivability and therefore greater success. And think it is equally important that dealers recognize and practice proper acclimation techniques, as should hobbyists. Unfortunately, as with all topics of controversy (our industry certainly has its fair share of controversies) there seems to be many disparities as to what can be agreed upon as 'proper.' Having said this, would like to suggest some methods of acclimation that I've found quite successful.

Before doing so, lets look at what is happening in the usual type plastic bag containing the new arrival. It often contains a small quantity of water; far less than what it had while still in the holding area. Because of that, the specimen immediately undergoes some physiological changes. Stress is definitely one of the factors it experiences. And as bagged fish(s) breathe (respire), dissolved oxygen in the bag water will begin to drop and its concentration of carbon dioxide will begin to rise and therefore its pH will begin to 'fall.' And if the fish excretes waste into this small amount of water, there's a very possible rapid build-up of ammonia. That ammonia at a lower pH is not a major problem, however, if higher pH water were dripped into the bag it could then be deadly! Also the temperature of the bagged water will change rapidly, in either an up or downward direction, but usually downward. And keep in mind these conditions are all 'time-dependent,' therefore the longer the fish spends in the bag the worst its water quality becomes and the more critical the acclimation procedure. And that's the reason why the time in the bag dictates different acclimation techniques, i.e., short-transit fish (less than a two-hour drive from the local wholesaler or dealer) or long-transit fish (overnight shipment from a wholesaler across the country or international transshipments).

Furthermore, for those purchasing from a local shop it is sometimes important to tell them how long the specimen will be bagged. A little more water and possibly bagged with some oxygen when there's extended travel time is greatly important to that little animal. And if the shop doesn't ask be sure to tell them just how long that specimen is going to remain bagged, and if they seem indifferent to your comment shop elsewhere. If traveling in a cold or hot climate, take the necessary precautions to insure the bagged specimen stays in a container where its temperature can be at least somewhat controlled. There's nothing like getting home with a 'live' specimen!

And as to this subject matter, whether I ask hobbyists how they acclimate new fish arrivals at home or shop owners on their acclimation techniques, I often get different answers. Odd isn't it that there could be so many different answers to such a straightforward question! Yet in all fairness there are different situations surrounding the needs of new additions, but one would think they shouldn't vary greatly, yet I've seen them ranged from totally inadequate to ridiculously involved. And in my opinion when some of them were used, it no doubt added unneeded stress to those poor bagged animals.

In fact, heard of one young lady after buying two small fish in a local shop, deciding to stop on the way home to have her hair trimmed because she remembered a local beauty shop had a special that day on hair cuts. Instead of getting home in 20 minutes, it took 3 hours, yet still thought that a reasonable timeframe to keep her new 'small' pets bagged. Then, a few days later all her fish had Marine Ich and questioned why! She also used the 'Dump and Pray' method, which entails little or no acclimation time with new specimens, and quickly got her little stressed fishes into the home aquarium!

As for the aspect of acclimation, i.e., care of newly received species, lets simply go with 'bagged timeframes' such as less than 2 hours, 2 to 4 hours, and those of far greater lengths. Yet keep in mind, once the acclimation procedures are complete, the specimens should enter a quarantine situation/timeframe as described below.

Less than 2 Hour Acclimation

The most common length of time newly purchased specimens stay bagged is less than two hours; therefore the temperature of the bagged specimen is a factor that should be addressed first, then its welcoming committee. As for temperature, keep in mind fish are poikilothermic (or ectothermic), which means their body temperatures will vary based on their immediate surroundings as they have no real means of regulating their internal body temperatures (Nybakken, 1982). Therefore, in situations where the bag water temperature may have been adversely affected while bringing it home recommend floating the bag in the receiving system. And should note I've frequently seen a temperature difference of more than 3 degrees between bag water and the water it finally goes into to cause outbreaks of disease, especially that of Marine Ich. Bag floating will allow a more gradual equalization of the bag's water temperature to the aquarium temperature. Based on the fact a poikilothermic organism takes its temperature from its surroundings, the animal will be under less stress if it has a longer period of time to adjust its internal temperature, even if the process by some is thought to be a lengthy one.

Nevertheless, if the bag temperature is approximately that of the receiving system, e.g., within 1 to 2 degrees, the fish should immediately be removed from the bag, preferably by allowing most of its water to escape into a handy empty pail and then gently slipped out of the bag into the aquarium. And as to that receiving aquarium, it should be darkened, with no lights lit, and its fishes adequately fed minutes earlier. Or if at all possible, into a quarantine facility.

But what if you have somewhat long travel distances, where the specimen will be bagged between 2 - 4 hours, or you've ordered from a dealer far away and the shipment will go out overnight from outside your local area! If so, it's even more important to understand certain acclimation procedures, as that specimen is no doubt going to be quite stressed.

2 to 4 Hour Acclimation

As above, recommend floating the bagged specimen in the 'receiving tank' until its water temperature is almost equal, i.e., within 1 to 2 degrees, of the receiving tank. Hopefully, this is not longer than 30 minutes, as time in the bag is detrimental to the animal. And then following its removal as described above. The less use of nets, the better! (Do not allow bag water to enter the aquarium as it may contain copper or other dangerous medications/compounds that would kill invertebrates!)

The main difference here is I highly recommend 'refraining' from using a drip of aquarium water into the bag. The reason for that is the pH of the bag water in this length of time has no doubt dropped, and its now possible ammonium content could easily be elevated to ammonia with an incoming higher pH water. In fact, more evidence is mounting in the industry that the drip method for this timeframe is resulting in greater levels of mortalities.

Overnight Shipments

When it comes to mail order/overnight shipments, recommend a more in-depth acclimation procedure. To accomplish there's numerous items needed, e.g., acclimation bin(s) sized accordingly to fish size; an accurate thermometer; air pump and airstones; sodium bisulfate/equivalent acidifier; a gram scale to measure chemicals used; rubber or latex gloves; pre-mixed seawater; pH meter or pH test kit; and finally, have the specific gravity in the acclimation bin(s) matching that of the receiving tank(s).

When the shipment arrives, take a pH and temperature reading of the water in the bag(s). If many bags calculate an average. As to pH in acclimation holding bins(s), if necessary, suggest using sodium bisulfate (caution is required if using this product) to bring it within 0.1 - 0.2 of the average in the bag(s). (FYI - 2.5 grams of sodium bisulfate will lower the pH of 10 gallons of water by approximately one pH unit (i.e., from 8.3 to 7.3)) It is advisable to place the chemical first into a suitable container holding freshwater, dissolve completely and then slowly add/mix into the new seawater monitoring its pH constantly. When that task is complete adjust the now pH corrected seawater temperature to a midpoint between the bag average if more than one bag and the final receiving aquarium temperature. Once these steps are completed, pour the now corrected new seawater into the acclimation bin(s) and aerate.

Carefully remove the fish from the bag(s), possibly by sliding it out of the bag over a net with bag water going into an empty pail and then placing it into the acclimation bin. And avoid at this time adding any medications, as those would only serve at this point in time to further stress the fish and may be negatively affected depending upon the type of medication by any ammonia present in the water. In fact, wait 24 hours before medicating them if necessary and at all feasible.

The pH of the bagged water will almost always be lower than normal as most, if not all of its ammonia will be ionized ammonium, which is non-toxic to fish. But if one were to drip tank water (at a higher pH) into the bag water the pH will rise, causing the ammonium to shift to un-ionized ammonia greatly raising the toxicity of the ammonia. This could potentially cause ammonia poisoning in an already stressed animal! This is why the acclimation bin water pH is reduced to match that in the bags! Again, pour the bag water into empty pails and slip the still bagged fish into the acclimation bins. Then establish a drip from the receiving tank and aerate, as the aeration will cause pH to slowly rise since sodium bisulfate only temporarily lowers it. Once pH is within 0.2 of the receiving tank(s) it should be safe to transfer the fish. This 'effort' is well worth the time spent to accomplish in my opinion!

Without question the time from capture to your tank is the most critical fish will endure in their lifetime! And its during this timeframe parasites/pathogens that have probably lived in a mutual relationship with that animal in the wild, have an open window of time to multiply their numbers because the fish is not capable/healthy enough now to prevent their numbers from expanding! With some reasonable acclimation procedures, aquarists can greatly limit many of the unfortunate disease problems that come about by not understanding what's involved during this time of animal husbandry! But one of the absolutely best ways to insure their health and possibly those in the aquarium where these will eventually be placed, is the quarantine method.


To quarantine or not to quarantine is often a subject discussed quite frequently in the industry and/or amongst hobbyists. If there is any question in your mind about going through the trouble and expense of this procedure, allow me to recommend you do so. In fact, another often asked question is, "Does quarantining increase chances of success?" All experienced aquarists will say it most certainly does because there is no telling what disease, parasite, unwanted alga spore or organism could be prevented from being transferred into the main system.

Professional aquarists are devoted users of quarantine methods and for good reason, as they understand what animals undergo from time of capture to arrival at their doorstep. These extremely caring and knowledgeable people realize what an unhealthy specimen could do to their usually very large captive systems if not first quarantined! In fact, this 'process' is also used for new arrivals going into their smaller systems as it's simply the right thing to do as there's no way to tell, even if healthy looking, what this animal could develop over the coming weeks. Keep in mind these creatures tend to have their resistance to disease lowered due the stresses encompassed by collection and/or transport to dealerships or private aquarists. In fact, they may already be developing a disease simply because this period of time has opened the window of opportunity for parasites/unwanted bacteria already in small amounts on a healthy animal while in the wild to enlarge their populations.

Ideally, quarantining, after proper acclimation, should always result in successfully preventing contamination of the aquarist's main/show system. Unfortunately or fortunately - depending upon how you look at it, the possibility of something unwanted being transferred into your aquarium is greatly reduced, yet not entirely eliminated! And if the choice is to Dump and Pray, you wind up taking your chances with the new specimens 'and' the rest of your collection. If you do this and happen to introduce an undesirable malady into the aquarium you will no doubt have to treat the entire system. In the case of aquariums containing only fish, this is less problematic than in a mixed-inhabitant aquarium containing vertebrates, invertebrates and live rock. In the latter case, most disease treatments will result in the death of corals, other invertebrates and perhaps even the bacteria inhabiting your live rock/filtration system. And if you're unfortunate enough to introduce a diseased specimen in your mixed-inhabitant aquarium, you will, almost always, be forced to separate the fish from all the other fauna for treatment in a separate system - a labor-intensive, time-consuming effort.

Do most hobbyists use the dump and pray method because they don't understand the relationship between parasite and host, possibly the stress level associated with capture, or that many transportation inadequacies exist? Or could it be they just don't have the space or time to practice good quarantine procedures? Past experience has shown all are reasons for not practicing adequate quarantine procedures!

I've often heard that fish in the wild are always healthy looking, and in fact, have also experienced healthy looking fish while diving. But the fact is that fish in the wild can live with various parasites and continue to function normally and look healthy. That's because many parasites have a special relationship with their host and are simply very happy maintaining a small population of their species without damaging the host. Simply put, the environment, i.e., salinity, temperature, nutrition, and/or stress level, is satisfactory for both host and parasite to remain healthy and continue their 'balanced' relationship. Therefore, a healthy looking fish is just that, healthy looking, but somewhere in its makeup there's a possible minor parasitic infestation just waiting for a window of opportunity to occur and increase its numbers.

And when does this timeframe occur? It comes when captured, as the balance then swings in favor of the parasite! In fact, once captured, and as discussed in the beginning of this chapter, the "fight or flight" response comes into play where all built-in survival strategies are routed to escaping. Therefore, by the time you see them, they are stressed, usually starved, and have been held captive in many different and questionable water conditions! In addition, the approximate 10 days to 2 week relocation process from the wild to your aquarium is just about what parasites need to take advantage of this 'window of opportunity' to increase their numbers. Furthermore, wounds incurred from collection and/or unsuitable tankmates during relocation are another problem, as bacterial infections often begin in this time period.

Its quite possible a healthy looking fish may not be as healthy as you think it is!

Could be the above should help clarify the reasons to implement quarantine procedures and not the dump and pray method. Nevertheless, would like to believe that even though aquarists are somewhat familiar with these aspects there's simply lack of space or time and resort to placing new arrivals directly in the aquarium without a prolonged inspection period, such as what quarantine provides. In fact, they are often lulled into non-compliance with adequate quarantining procedures because they are purchasing a fish that 'looks' quite healthy and the decision is to place it quickly into their aquarium with other healthy looking fish where it can be 'happy.' But nevertheless, even if the fish arrives looking to be in excellent health, it's not, and there's no doubt the conditions in their aquarium are not going to be what they were in the wild. Without doubt, the new arrival will have a smaller world, different tankmates, different foodstuffs, and reduced water quality to name just a few. And, past stress levels have given any existing parasites the favorable conditions to begin expansion of their numbers. The result of all this could be a very good chance of a disease outbreak looking for a place to happen, and that would be in 'your' aquarium!

Since quarantining makes so much sense and the equipment needed to accomplish it is quite minimal, why don't more hobbyists do it? Again, time and space are probably the answer, so lets look more closely at those aspects, as you may be surprised how uncomplicated and undemanding they are!

As for equipment and supplies, the quarantine tank is just that, a small environment that can house a new fish in somewhat comfortable surroundings while its owner makes sure it's free of any maladies. The 10-gallon tank would suffice for most small and medium size fish. Maybe a 20-gallon would be better for somewhat larger fish. My preference for filtration would be a previously established external hang-on-tank (HOT) biological filtration system or sponge filter, as that will immediately provide the needed bacteria for accomplishing the nitrification cycle. I prefer the previously established HOT filter because it's capable of housing other filter media such as activated carbon. An airstone or very small powerhead, possibly one that sweeps the surface water, is another item needed to keep dissolved oxygen as high as possible. As for substrate, none would be the best way to go. Nevertheless, if you think some is absolutely necessary, then use a non-carbonate based medium. The reason for this is that just in case a malady does occur and a copper-based treatment is utilized, the medium will not help remove the medicine. As for decorations, artificial rock will help make the new fish feel somewhat at home while in this transition mode. Again, artificial rock would not have to be removed if the quarantine tank were turned in to a hospital tank. And the quality of the seawater in the quarantine tank should be equal to that in the show aquarium, i.e., same pH, salinity, and with no ammonia and nitrite. I should note small quarantine tanks with all the fixings so to speak; such as shown in the attached photo, are often available through better local shops. And if you do decide to go this road, suggest coating it's outside side and rear panels with black paint, and/or black paper, so as to reduce the stress on its inhabitants. The less movements outside the tank seen, the less stress the animal incurs. And this small quarantine world should be prepared and up and running several days prior to the coming of the new arrival(s).

As for the amount of time involved, tend to believe a few hours at the most to get everything placed and operating. Ongoing time depends upon various conditions, but maybe 15 minutes a day should cover most applications. As for space, not much! As to the period of time the fish should remain in quarantine, recommend 30 - 40 days. Anything far less may allow a pathogen/parasite with a long life cycle to escape untreated. Two freshwater baths spaced 7 days apart while in quarantine might also be advisable, and should suffice if desired. If everything goes well the specimen can be transferred to the show aquarium after the 30 - 40 day timeframe expires.

If at all possible, the fish should 'not' be 'netted' out. A container should be dipped into the quarantine aquarium after obstacles are removed, the fish trapped inside, and then moved to the show aquarium. Furthermore, if everything went well, this small quarantine aquarium could be kept going if further additions were planned. If not, there's always storage space the garage! Quarantining, easier said than done, but well worth the effort!

Overall, you basically have two choices, dump and pray or quarantine! However, maybe a third exists if purchasing locally - ask the shop owner if he or she would hold the specimen of interest for at about ten days, and note that you are willing to place a sizable down payment on the specimen, as mentioned above. This would at least be enough time to see if the animal's condition improves or worsens. Those purchasing through mail order have only the first two choices.

Hospital Tank

Unfortunately, things don't always go smoothly in quarantine tanks, which just happen to be the reason for quarantining, and if so, the tank can be turned into a hospital tank. Generally speaking, the maladies most often incurred are the fairly common external parasites Cryptocaryon or Amyloodinium, where the usage of copper has been used quite frequently in the past as a treatment regiment. Its usage will be described more fully when discussing these maladies below, but for the purpose here, maintaining its effectiveness in enclosures containing a calcareous substrate is at least time consuming and often difficult to precisely maintain the proper dosage level. Therefore, it should suffice to say no substrates should be utilized in a hospital tank. And since copper treatments will kill filtration bacteria, the nitrification processes will be impaired and attention now needs to focus on monitoring ammonia levels. Water changes are the way to handle that problem, along with monitoring and controlling pH.

Also, keep in mind long-term unnecessary copper treatments suppress immune systems, making fish more susceptible to other pathogens, and that some angelfishes, blennies, butterflyfishes, cardinalfishes, dragonets, and wrasses exhibit sensitivity to copper. And since copper increases the animal's mucus covering, dragonets may suffocate since they normally have a heavy coating of mucus. Another medication is proving to be better than copper, and it is described further along in this chapter.

Freshwater Dip

This process has been used for decades to dislodge outer attached parasites from newly purchased/disease-infected fish simply because when freshwater moves across the protozoan cell wall, the flow from areas of lower electrolyte levels in the freshwater to areas of higher electrolyte level in the cell body cause it to burst and fall off. Unfortunately, deeply imbedded parasites will not respond to this treatment and need to be treated by chemical means. Be aware the internal salinity of fish is 11 ppt, (1.008 specific gravity at 78°F (26°C) and that of freshwater is quite lower, therefore extreme osmotic imbalance will occur in the fish being treated. If used, monitor and remove if overly distressed.

As to the freshwater being used, it should be the same pH and temperature of the water in the home aquarium. If necessary, a commercial buffer or baking soda can be used to raise the freshwater pH to match that of the seawater the specimen is coming from. Keep in mind most of the time the pH of tap water will be lower than the seawater. Nevertheless, if need be and its higher, swimming pool acid (Muriatic Acid) or sodium bisulfate can be used to lower it and if so, take the necessary precautions to protect yourself and the surrounding areas from any spillage/splash if using these harsh chemicals.

Furthermore, many water supply companies use chloramines rather than chlorine to treat the water that flows through their distribution networks, therefore recommend if needed using commercially prepared ammonia neutralizers that are often available through local aquarium shops. As to the freshwater used, recommend using purified water (RO/DI) although the pH may need to be buffered up somewhat.

The dip should be limited to 5 to 10 minutes depending upon the species. Should there be obvious signs of stress remove the fish sooner, and furthermore, if the fish has any lesions or open wounds you cannot use this method, as it would severely affect its osmotic balance and further stress or kill the fish. Remember, fish are already stressed just bringing them home and a freshwater dip can add to the stress problem, and diseased fish are even further stressed. Depending upon the severity of the problem, a freshwater dip may be beneficial, yet is not recommended for newly purchased fish unless deemed absolutely necessary! Hopefully not, as the specimen probably should have not been purchased in the first place!

Freshwater baths are also very effective in treating fish turbellarians (such as what causes Tang Black Spot disease) or flatworms that pester some soft corals. More is explained about this further on in this chapter.


Unfortunately, this form of therapy has not received all the discussion it should have, mostly because its misunderstood or improperly used. If instituted, specific gravity 'must' be reduced to 1.010 at preferably 78 to 80ºF to be effective. If lowered to 1.015, which is not dangerous to many invertebrates, Cryptocaryon parasites can continue their life cycle. In fact, some shops keep their fish-only systems in the range of 1.017 - 1.019 in order to 'slow' these cycles. And since you should not raise the specific gravity more than .002 - .003 units per 24 hours, e.g., 1.013 up to 1.015 or 1.016 per day, its important to know the shops specific gravity before leaving with your fish selection!

This therapeutic level against parasites will require the removal of all invertebrates, live sand and live rock, or all of the fish to another holding/hospital tank. If the problem is in an established reef tank, the fish should be moved to a hospital tank if this therapy is to have a reasonable chance of success. And if the fish are removed, be aware its been shown these parasites can survive for months in the show tank without any fish present.

Contrary to many authors' recommendations, the process can be implemented immediately. Therefore, salinity can be reduced to 14 to 16 ppt (approximately 1.010 specific gravity at 78 to 80°F (27°C) and the fish placed into the treatment facility in the same day without any ill effect, with the treatment period being three to four weeks. At this level of salt content, Cryptocaryon irritans are said to be unable hatch from the tomont stage. But when raising the specific gravity, one must proceed carefully as mentioned above.

When implemented, frequent specific gravity checking is a must, therefore recommend crosschecking specific gravity readings with more than one hydrometer. In fact, use a refractometer instead of the far less expensive and somewhat less accurate plastic swing-arm hydrometers. Keep in mind any rise above the recommended treatment level only prolongs the treatment period. Also monitor alkalinity and pH. Hyposalinity treatments for Cryptocaryon and Black Spot at 1.010 specific gravity have seen good results, yet maintaining at this exact setting is difficult. And remember, sharks and rays cannot be treated in this fashion since they have a different osmoregulatory system. Additionally, the use of ozone and/or UV can also be helpful while using the hyposalinity regiment. However once a medication is introduced, their use should be suspended so as not to reduce the effectiveness of the medication.

Environmental Conditions

Where fish are involved, and that of many invertebrates, the conditions that surround these animals, e.g., water flow, organic loading, biological filtration methods, temperatures, and/or water chemistry, are extremely important to their wellbeing. Some have already been discussed, but lets expand here with how fish regulate the amount of dissolved salts inside their bodies, as it's lower than the surrounding seawater, then move on to some other yet to be discussed conditions that should be explored so as to lessen stress in the captive environment.


As just mentioned, their internal salinity is lower than surrounding seawater, and that's because marine fish 'drink' seawater and purge more salt than they retain via osmosis across the gill membranes. Just the opposite is true with freshwater fish, as they store in their kidneys the low level of salts found in freshwater. Marine fish no doubt have to work harder to expel excess salts because of the high content in seawater. With that in mind, a salt content either too high or too low will negatively affect marine fish, possibly killing them.

For those preferring fish-only systems, 1.0175 - 1.020 will help to reduce energy requirements when purging excess internal salts; reduce stress; reduce the level of aquarium parasites; and, the water will contain slightly more oxygen. Yet, where reef aquaria are concerned, 1.023 should be considered the absolute minimum, with 1.025 - 1.026 considered optimum unless maintaining Red Sea animals, where 1.027 - 1.029 can be considered.


Research has shown most tropical marine aquarium species, either that of fish or corals, come from waters having a temperature between 74 - 82°F (23 - 28°C). Nevertheless there are fish, such as a freshwater tilapia species that can live in waters about 100°F (38°C) or those in the far north or south of the globe where waters are ice capped. In fact, fish and invertebrates are cold blooded, and it takes a long time for them to equalize internal body temperature with that of their surroundings (in some cases, as much as 10 - 14 days!).

Living in a range that has suited them for eons, the temperature of that surrounding liquid therefore directly affects their activity level, their desire for food, overall immune system response, and various other daily functions. As to nutrition, too low temperatures slow feeding activity, which reduces uptake of vitamins and minerals and may result in reduced growth rate or death. Overly normal temperatures result in a greater appetite, often resulting in a higher level of waste products/increased water pollution. Their respiratory rate is also affected by too high or too low temperatures, as cooler water has a greater quantity of oxygen than does warmer water. Therefore, certain types of equipment, e.g., protein skimmers and trickle filters, which are excellent for boosting dissolved oxygen content, should be considered during the planning stage.

For short-term too high temperature, ice, placed in a plastic bag and floated in the aquarium may help get through a temporary situation. Also, floor fans pointed towards the aquarium/cabinet doors open, have in my office, lowered water temperature by at least a couple of degrees during excessively hot summer days! Yet, for long-term control, give some thought to a chiller, especially those incorporating a heater, as they are the ultimate temperature controlling devices! They are available in many different sizes, priced quite reasonably and overall, give you peace of mind when it comes to temperature control.

Carrying Capacity

The issue of 'overcrowding' often arises, and this relates directly to what is called 'Carrying Capacity,' which is looked at differently by many people. Hobbyists are often prone to adding one more pretty fish, and sometimes judge the number of fish their system can maintain by the number of gallons the system holds. Then use inches of fish per gallon to resolve the 'carrying capacity.' One such common recommendation suggests not exceeding 1 to 2 inches of fish not counting the tail per 10 gallons of water when it comes to reef aquariums. For fish-only systems, twice that amount is often recommended. Unfortunately this 'rule of thumb' is far from accurate. One must keep in mind the bulk of the individual specimen is of more importance than length, as this factor is more responsible for the amount of waste it generates than is creature length. How the species feed is another important factor, i.e., one that nibbles all day or one that is satisfied with one ample feeding per day. And whether the selection to be purchased is a juvenile or adult is another important aspect, as some juveniles grow quickly and when so, possibly consume more foods.

Actually, a system's biological load is really dependent upon the efficiency of the system's filtration! How many gallons of water are in that aquarium has nothing to do bioload, as once bioload from X-amount of fishes exceeds the capability of the system's filtration method, pollution is the end result no matter how gallons are in the system! Regardless of what form that pollution takes, e.g., excessive nutrient level, low oxygen content, or unwanted algae growths, fish become stressed. In my opinion, there is no simple equation that can be applied to resolve carrying capacity because factors such as how dependent the system is upon its sandbed/live rock for biological filtration or that of its equipment must be the upfront consideration.


In today's aquarium world, most marine aquarists are very in tune with the light spectrum and intensity requirements of their daytime photosynthetic coral animals, and more often than not, also utilize a sunset/sunrise light timeframe that either slowly diminishes overall light intensity or slowly increases it to prevent animal shock when main lighting systems go on or off. Nevertheless, other than for aesthetics, they often seem somewhat less informed when it comes to the 'science aspects' of the 'moonlit' timeframe.

As to those aspects, besides tidal effects caused by various phases of the moon, Mother Nature has targeted its ocean shallow depths for eons with visible light from both the Sun and Moon. And because of that, there are major animal activity differences between daytime and nighttime, as there is in the species that encompass those timeframes. To define this further, scientists have placed these animals into three categories: Diurnal, Nocturnal, and Crepuscular.

As for those more active during daytime, they are called 'Diurnal' species, e.g., angelfish, butterflyfishes, damselfishes, gobies, parrotfishes, puffers, surgeonfishes, and wrasses to name only some. They mainly use their eyes to locate food, find their way through the areas they call home, and distinguish colors (even though some are color blind) to identify juveniles, the opposite sex or possibly a competitor or threat. At nighttime, they must find a safe place to sleep, yet many do not, but simply rest somewhere thought to be safe in a state of reduced consciousness. Some also produce a cocoon of slime to spend the evening in such as some parrotfishes that helps deter nocturnal predators, or lodge themselves between the sharp spines of some corals or into small cracks in the reef structure such as some triggerfishes.

Then there's the nightshift, and those more active at night are called 'Nocturnal' and they include cardinalfish, eels, groupers, pinecone fish, scorpionfish, snappers, soldierfish, and squirrelfish, to mention some. They are more solitary and prefer to stay in caves or under ledges during the daytime. Furthermore, they tend to have larger eyes than diurnal species (better to see in those dim conditions!), and also many tend to swim slower and are less colorful than diurnal species since it helps them blend into the low/dim level of actual moonlit environments. In fact, the color red is often seen on nocturnal fishes, e.g., squirrelfishes, because this color becomes impossible to differentiate as the intensity of visible light levels decrease. Their very well tuned sense of smell is also a major asset as it helps find 'sleeping' prey in the dim conditions. Some, such as lionfish/scorpionfish have a more developed lateral line that gives them an improved ability to sense very slight water movements, which aid in finding prey in low light conditions. Also, nocturnal fish tend to be mostly carnivores whereas diurnal species are more herbivores or omnivores.

Even some invertebrates fit into the 'Nocturnal' category, e.g., lobsters, shrimp, octopus, and crabs, as do other invertebrates such as worms, seastars and urchins, and also the polyps on many corals that mainly feed during evening hours when plankton is normally more available. There is also another category that pertains to those especially active at dusk and dawn and they are referred to as 'Crepuscular,' such as goatfishes. There are also certain fish and invertebrate species that recognize moon-related cycles, which induce spawning. It seems Mother Nature has bred this more active time period into the genes of these animals for one very good reason, among others - it's the time when 'their' food supply is the most available - and then added some physical attributes to enhance their skills and on-going survival.

Besides creating a more natural overall 24/7 environment, those in these three categories are, in some ways, affected by the phases of the moon/spectrum provided by the moon. Take away this natural trigger mechanism and some health aspects of the animal will be affected. And I've seen changes to some coral animals after being lit by moonlights for 10 months that I've never seen in aquariums prior to systems without moonlights, such as my Yellow Leather coral, Sarcophyton elegans producing polyp-like structures on its 'underside' that eventually dropped off forming new daughter colonies (See Chapter 16 for its photo.)! Also, my very large Chalice or Cup Coral, Turbinaria peltata, also developing a series of projections along its underside. Whether or not the moonlighting was responsible for these reproduction activities is not a question I can honestly answer. However, I've had these species in other aquariums years before moonlights became available and never saw such interesting growths.

Therefore, lunar/moonlights, LED lamped or actinic fluorescent lamped fixtures, and of course, sunrise and sunset photoperiods should be considered when planning your aquarium!


We 'all' experience stress, and its detrimental results are the same whether human or animal. We may not be able to control all the reasons we humans experience stress in our daily lives, yet, we hobbyists are GOD-LIKE when it comes to our aquariums. There are numerous situations that cause stress in the aquarium the hobbyist has the ultimate control over, e.g., poor water quality; improper diet; incorrect tankmates; improper lighting; improper use of chemicals; noise and/or vibrations; incorrect water movement; rapid or extreme changes in temperature or salinity; pathogens; high carbon dioxide or low oxygen levels; overcrowding; and, improper aquascaping. And if not sure about what to add as tank-mates, what to feed or how often to feed, etc., ask before you make a mistake. There are a lot of knowledgeable/experienced people willing to help.

Stress Memory Joggers

Water changes help prevent water pollution

Inadequate aquascaping

Do not use excessive chemical additives

Maintain proper salinity levels

Question the safety of anti-parasite chemicals in reef aquariums

Use a protein skimmer, activate carbon, and the Poly-Filter to help prevent the buildup of dissolved organic compounds

Know the dietary needs of the animals and do not exceed

Feed a variety of foodstuffs

Don't overcrowd. Resist the temptation of adding one more pretty fish

Understand water movement and lighting quantity and quality the animals need before being placed in the aquarium

Utilize a photoperiod similar to the one in nature. Ramp up intensity in the morning hours and slowly dim lights at night. Don't simply turn on/off all lights

Maybe the best place to begin reducing the stress level with new fish is when they are first purchased. When selecting/purchasing a somewhat large fish, e.g., greater than 5 inches (12.5 cm), your first question to the shop owner/clerk should be, "how would you capture that fish if I were buy it?"

If the answer is with a net, recommend immediately beginning to yell and scream! (Just teasing!) It has always been my position that fish this size and larger, whether they have a gill spike or not, should be dipped out using a plastic container. Netting induces extreme stress, besides possible body damage and only adds to the coming transportation stress. In fact, a LFS has 'mostly' done away with nets and is using clear plastic containers of different sizes to capture buyer selections of all sizes!

Remember, when stress is reduced, bacteria and/or parasite problems are also reduced. Most happy fish generate a copious amount of slime to ward off parasites. But stressed fishes can stop generating slime protection, which opens them to infections/infestations. Understand the needs of the species being maintained/desired, along with seawater chemistry and the long path forward will be much improved for all concerned!

Nutritional Requirements

As mentioned above, one of the preselection aspects is to determine the dietary needs of the fishes to be maintained. Meeting those needs is the second biggest challenge that faces most hobbyists, right behind that of maintaining water quality. In fact, all the substances that are normally needed for growth and maintenance of bodily functions, except for that of oxygen, are introduced into the body through nutrition. And making the task more difficult is the fact that dietary needs vary by species. Then add to that the effect environmental conditions have, such as temperature and their tankmates, and meeting dietary needs becomes an even more daunting task, but not impossible to meet in most situations. In fact, their nutrition is as important as yours, as it will influence wellbeing and longevity.

Understanding individual food needs along with manufacturer claims and labeling is a good starting point and begin with determining whether your fish are carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores. Once that is determined you can choose what type food meets their needs.


Looking at what 'categories,' e.g., carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores your choices fit into, is important if for no other reason than because carnivores require a greater percentage of protein, whereas herbivores and omnivores a more balanced approach.

Carnivores, i.e., meat eaters, make up the biggest majority of fishes in coral reef communities. Marine fish and crustacean flesh, and other marine meaty foods should make up the majority of their diet along with some plant/algae matter. Herbivores are mostly vegetarians, with most feeding throughout the daytime. Nevertheless, they will accept animal matter since in the wild its sometimes part of the plant/algae substances being eaten. Where herbivores are part of closed systems, they should be considered omnivores, as many will consume both plant matter and meaty foods. And as for omnivores, who make up the second largest majority of reef fishes, they eat a variety of plant, algae, seaweed and animal matter; therefore their diets should consist of a variety of plant-type and meaty foods.

There are of course fish that only take in huge amounts of planktonic animals (zooplankton) and plants (phytoplankton) by straining water containing them through their gill rakers. These fish are referred to as 'filter feeders' and can be considered a subgroup of carnivores. However, because of their generally immense size, such as Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks, such animals are outside the discussion here. Nevertheless, there are aquarium fish, such as cleaning wrasses, Labroides dimidiatus, which feed mostly upon the dead skin and parasites found on other fish or by nipping their fins. In most hobbyist situations, fish such as these should be avoided. Actually, they probably shouldn't be collected and sold in the trade as they are most often unsustainable in hobbyist aquaria. Then there are those that are considered 'detritivores,' which feed upon detritus. They can be considered a subgroup of omnivores as they feed upon a collection of both live tiny animals/bacteria and decomposing matter made up of plant and animal matter.

There are other factors besides that of general categories to consider, such as what type feeder is it. Some are shy, while others are possibly bold feeders. And there are those that are finicky or secretive, with some open water, surface, or bottom feeders. Others only feed on live foods, while some are solely nocturnal feeders. Along with the possible competition incurred when feeding time arrives, feeding your selections takes on added insight. Sometimes the location of the mouth, i.e., facing downwards, forward, or upward helps identify how the fish normally gets its food. Having barbels, as do goatfish, is another aspect that denotes a substrate feeder. Mouth type is another factor, as large mouths such as what groupers, lionfishes, and stonefishes have are designed for quickly 'engulfing' the prey, whereas butterflyfishes, tangs, and blennies have fine, brush-like teeth for rasping/tearing food bits from surfaces. And some fishes, such as trumpetfishes and seahorses have tube-shaped mouths designed for sucking in small crustaceans or smaller fish. Other factors to consider are temperature, water quality, intensity of light, and possible seasonal conditions from where the species originates. When those are resolved, various foods and feeding methods can be determined more appropriately.


Once the correct type, quantity and quality of the needed foodstuffs are determined, its composition, i.e., its protein, carbohydrate, lipid (fats), mineral, and vitamin content are also factors to research, as each provides certain health benefits. Nevertheless, just how much of these components must makeup the foodstuffs consumed by various fish species is far beyond the scope of this work. But highly recommend trying to minimize its ash content, as this is basically all the indigestible parts of the fish food and which when reduced by bacteria contributes to poor water quality. And before relying on what is written on fish food container labels, realize that what is seen there is not as what is seen on labels of food containers for human consumption. Where human foods are concerned, the information seen is based on a 'per-serving' basis. Of course, that would be an impossible task when related to a wide variety of organisms, such as kept in aquaria! Instead, aquarium food manufacturers generally use the percentage of protein, fat, etc., the products contain. There are some generalities as to percentages, as mentioned below, nevertheless do an extremely good job at denoting its contents.


Proteins are composed of 20 different amino acids, which in turn are composed of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sometimes sulfur. Plants and microorganisms can manufacture all their amino acids from inorganic substances, e.g., nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and other chemicals via photosynthesis. Animals however can only manufacture half of them (as do humans), with those remaining called essential amino acids, i.e., derived from foodstuffs consumed. Therefore the correct meaty and plant type foods must be provided so this crucial aspect of their health maintenance is fulfilled.

Fortunately this organic compound makes up a good portion of all living organisms, as it is essential to their functioning because it provides the material to build, repair, and/or maintain cells. It can also be used to provide energy if a surplus exists and there are too little lipids and carbohydrates available. When protein intake is below species requirements, growth and tissue replacement slows or stops and when in 'much' excess, is excreted into the surrounding water, possibly affecting water quality, e.g., nitrate excesses. About 35% of a growing marine fish's diet should be 'digestible/usable' protein, with fully-grown fish requiring somewhat less, e.g., about 30%.

Fortunately, most producers of aquarium foodstuffs list protein content first on their label analysis as it forms the larger part of natural diets. Yet keep in mind 'crude' protein must be digested and will result in only portions of it being usable. Therefore, where aquarists are concerned, label analysis content is guesswork as to the actual 'digestible' protein the product will supply. In my opinion, crude protein numbers higher than mentioned above for digestible protein are warranted, especially so when listed as minimum. Remember; feed a variety of foodstuffs to maintain a balanced diet!

Fats & Oils - Lipids

These are needed for energy and for building or repairing tissue and are found in plant and animal tissue. There are two forms - saturated and unsaturated.

Land-based fats (saturated), such as those in Beef Heart, are not digestible at all since the fat itself must be raised to a temperature higher than the marine animals internal temperature, which is usually that of its surrounding water. Fine for warm-blooded animals, such as humans, but not marine animals. In fact, no land-based animal product or freshwater animal species should be fed marine species on a steady basis and that includes goldfish and even that of mysis shrimp! Fats incorporated into marine based foods/creatures are unsaturated and therefore more easily digested.

Fats/Oils/Lipids should make up about 10% of the diet or slightly less, as too much can cause a fatty fish, i.e., overweight fish, as fishes in an aquarium are far less active than in the wild! A lipid deficiency usually results in lose of color and poor growth/repaired tissues, especially in older fish, and the inflicted fish may exhibit a listless disposition. Be aware that foods held too long or at improper temperatures will lose their fatty acids. Consider enriching various fish foods with commercial supplements, e.g., products having Highly Unsaturated Fatty Acids (HUFA) containing Omega-3 fatty oils e.g., Eicosapentaenoic (EPA), Docosahexaenoic (DHA), and Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). Again, feed a variety of foodstuffs to maintain a balanced diet.

Sugars & Starches - Carbohydrates

These provide energy and most are found in plant materials, which carnivores have problems digesting, yet herbivorous fish have little trouble digesting and utilizing. As for the animals' digestive tract, it breaks down the carbohydrates into glucose, a simple sugar, for absorption. It's then used immediately to produce energy for the process of respiration or built into a product called glycogen, which is stored in the muscles and liver to provide energy at other timeframes. In excess it can cause certain fish maladies such as liver glycogen deposition/liver degeneration or induce a diabetes-like syndrome.

Carbohydrates should not compose more than about 15% of the fish diet, with omnivores and herbivores tolerating more than carnivores. However, there is little need in marine fish nutrition for special attention to carbohydrates, as their energy needs are far lower than warm-blooded species and can easily and more effectively be provided for with attention to their lipid needs, therefore this item is rarely shown on fish food labels.


Another area of nutrition importance is that of vitamins, which actually have no caloric value and cannot be converted into energy. But they do however; serve as a catalyst in many biochemical functions. These organic substances are necessary for normal health and growth, and there are two forms, water-soluble and fat-soluble.

Water Soluble

As for Vitamin B, there are many, with the following the most important -

B1 (thiamine) - naturally found in algae, Romaine lettuce, broccoli, green peas, spinach, yeast, bivalves, beef heart, Spirulina, fish flesh and seaweed (Palmaria palmata, Porphyra yezoensis, and Porphyra umbilicalis),

B2 (riboflavin) - naturally found in Romaine lettuce, spinach, green peas, fish/crustacean flesh, and seaweed (Palmaria palmata, Porphyra yezoensis, and Porphyra umbilicalis).

B3 (niacin) - naturally found in brewers yeast, broccoli, Romaine lettuce, spinach, green peas, fish/crustacean flesh, and seaweed (Palmaria palmata, Porphyra yezoensis, and Porphyra umbilicalis).

B5 (pantothenic) - naturally found in liver and other organ meats, fish flesh, and broccoli.

B6 (pyridoxine) - naturally found in green peas, broccoli, spinach, Romaine lettuce, fish flesh, and seaweed (Palmaria palmata, Porphyra yezoensis, and Porphyra umbilicalis).

B12 (cyanocobalamin) - naturally found in green algae, lettuce (preferably Romaine), spinach, bivalves (clams & oysters), shrimp flesh, tubifex worms, beef heart and seaweed (Palmaria palmata, Porphyra yezoensis, and Porphyra umbilicalis),

These provide the nutrients for an array of valuable functions, e.g., growth, digestion, adrenal functions, cholesterol metabolism, good vision, and lipid, protein, and amino acid metabolism among others. Deficiencies can cause poor growth, loss of appetite, cloudy eyes, loss of equilibrium, rapid breathing, and muscle atrophy to mention a few. Keep in mind your fish should not receive a steady diet of uncooked fish and/or shellfish flesh since the value of Vitamin B1 can be neutralized by an enzyme (thiaminase), and the possibility of a transmittable disease existing is a very real one. Since this enzyme is contained in some uncooked fresh fish and shellfish flesh, first cook the flesh to be fed. In fact, cooking does not degrade the nutritional value of the flesh, as energy content per gram actually increases because tissue water content is lowered (Spotte, 1992). Additionally, the transmission of certain infectious diseases will also be limited.

When it comes to Vitamin C, - which is naturally found in green peas, lettuce (Iceberg and Romaine), broccoli, spinach, and some other dark green leafy vegetables, and seaweed (Porphyra yezoensis, Palmaria palmata and Porphyra umbilicalis), it's a powerful antioxidant, enhancing the immune system and aiding normal tissue repair. A deficiency in Vitamin C can cause spinal abnormalities as well as hemorrhaging of the skin, liver, muscle and kidneys.

Both of these vitamins can also be absorbed directly from aquarium water to 'some degree,' as marine fish drink the water. Therefore, these vitamins can (if needed), be added directly to the aquarium water, however; the best way to provide your fish with essential vitamins is to directly apply them to the foodstuffs being fed. And there are readily available prepared commercial fish vitamin additives that can be used to guard against deficiencies. There are also all natural (no preservatives) Vitamin B complexes and/or Vitamin C liquids available in health food stores that can also be used directly in the aquarium water, or on various foodstuffs. Always check their expiration date to be sure they are not outdated before use, and if it contains none, do not use. And even though this is a fairly easy method to assure the uptake of these vitamins, its always best for fish to obtain their required vitamins through the food they consume. So concentrate on feeding a wide array of proper foods. And note, when fish are treated with antibiotics, their needs for several B vitamins increase because the antibiotics kill the microbes in the gut that synthesize them.

Fat Soluble

These include Vitamin A, which is naturally found in crustaceans (krill), algae, lettuce (Iceberg and Romaine), spinach, broccoli, green peas, cod liver oil, beef and fish livers, and seaweed (Porphyra yezoensis, Palmaria palmata, and Porphyra umbilicalis). Its need may increase when fish become stressed, and if so, affects the quality of vision and growth. Vitamin D, which is naturally found in earthworms, mealworms, tubifex worms, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, fish liver, cod-liver oil, and crustacean flesh, is needed for bone integrity. There is also Vitamin E, which is naturally found in broccoli, green algae, lettuce (preferably Romaine), spinach, and seaweed (Palmaria palmata and Porphyra umbilicalis), which acts like an antioxidant. Then there's Vitamin K, which is naturally found in fishmeal, broccoli, spinach, green peas and some other green leafy vegetables that enhances blood clotting and skin integrity. These essential vitamins come from fat-soluble foods. As mentioned above, feed a wide variety of foods and the chance of any type vitamin deficiency is slim.


There is usually a plentiful supply of minerals, as fish absorb them directly from the surrounding seawater. Therefore, minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, cobalt, selenium, and zinc are usually readily available. These and others are required in bones, teeth, scales, body tissues, and also support various functions in body chemistry. In fact, iron enables the blood to carry oxygen; while calcium, magnesium and phosphorus are needed for bones and teeth. Nevertheless, iodine deficiency can result from poor diet; therefore small routine additions of iodine to the aquarium water can help overcome a possible deficiency. This is especially so for sharks and other elasmobranchs, where an enlargement of the thyroid gland (commonly known as a goiter) may result from a deficiency of iodine. If left unchecked, hypothyroidism and exophthalmia may develop as a result of this deficiency. Fortunately, a reversal of these conditions is feasible when iodine is sufficiently obtained through a well-balanced diet.

Phosphorus is a mineral that should be of special interest, if nothing more than for control of unwanted algae, in the form of a compound known as phosphate. When fish absorb excessive amounts of phosphorous from some foodstuffs, it is excreted as undigested phosphorus in their feces, where it eventually becomes dissolved inorganic phosphate, the perfect alga nutrient. Therefore, some research should be applied to the quality of the foodstuffs being be fed, i.e., contact the maker of the product and ask if their products are supplying enough phosphorus to meet fish diets, yet not an excess, thereby minimizing this aspect. A yardstick to use is that fish need a level higher than 0.5%, yet does not exceed 1.0%.


There are no recommendations as to limitations of fiber content in either plant or animal matter where fish diets are concerned, nor is there any documentation that I know of as to what constitutes reasonable types of matter. Yet these indigestible constituents can impair digestion and/or reduce the intake of needed nutrients, thereby affecting health somewhere in the future. What is known is that excess fiber will affect water quality, as it will be deposited in the aquarium as undigested waste. Therefore, this item, should be looked at and considered when buying fish food, and if the percentage looks unreasonable, look at other brands of the same type foodstuff, and compare. Go with the lowest percentage found for the type foodstuff desired.

Foods & Feeding

Fish easily get their essential vitamins and minerals in the wild, as evidenced by their good health, yet the same is not always true in captivity where their foodstuffs are the 'sole' responsibility of the aquarist. Consider what you are about to read as a step further than basic nutrition and what is found on food labels. With it, you'll hopefully have a better understanding of different foodstuffs, thoughts on the frequency of feeding, along with the type and value of certain products.


In recent times many professional aquaculture companies have began selling treated foods or additives containing various compounds that can reduce the chance of infections or improve the possibility of recovering from a particular malady. Because of these new products, words such as immunostimulants, glucans, probiotics and prebiotics have become buzzwords in some parts of the hobby. Some of these immunostimulants, (chemical mechanisms that help ward off disease) are derived from the alga Spirulina, which is a natural antibiotic along with other excellent qualities. Others are derived from various kelp species and other sources.

Enhancing the mechanisms that ward off disease with certain chemicals is accomplished, among other things, by increasing the level of macrophages, a particular killer white blood cell that devours disease-causing cells and which also activates T-cells that produce antibodies. It also seems to be effective against viral and parasite-related problems. Unfortunately this enhancement is a temporary condition and does not build increased permanent resistance. Therefore, any product containing enhancement compounds should only be used periodically, as animals seem to establish resistance periods for only a limited amount of time. As always, the manufacturer's recommendation should be followed to insure proper usage. If unsure, always rotate the use of enhanced products, e.g., every few days/weeks with regular untreated foodstuffs.

As for the use of helpful bacteria and/or their byproducts to fight troublesome bacteria, it's a method that has been known for many decades. Encouraging the good bacteria to utilize the same growth space that troublesome bacteria may utilize is a way of preventing the initial colonization of disease causing organisms thereby resulting in an overall long-term healthy animal. Encouraging these desirable organisms (generally termed probiotics, or the substances that provoke it called prebiotics), with enhanced foodstuffs shows much promise. This is a growing and worthwhile endeavor in the hobby that needs further study.

Enhanced products are also especially useful during stressful times when animal immune systems become overtaxed. Shipping, poor or improper handling, aggression by tankmates, poor water quality and poor diet are a few examples. If used correctly, these enhanced products are valuable tools in enhancing animal vitality and lengthening their longevity in our aquariums.

Yet, keep in mind that without an adequate supply of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins and minerals in the diets of our animals, no treated foods will be useful. Therefore, always feed a varied diet and simply supplement with known and tested enhanced products. Additionally, excessive use of treated foods is not beneficial as over-usage may inhibit the immune system as noted above, besides wasting money since these products are more expensive than non-treated foodstuffs. Remember the old adage - variety is the spice of life! A well-rounded diet will tend to all but eliminate any type of nutritional deficiency.


And you thought it was only good for keeping vampires away! Garlic-supplemented Marine Ich treatments are said to, among others things, be a prophylactic measure that is tuned towards making the animal generate additional amounts of slime, as does the use of copper. Also, there are products advertised as a way to enhance immunology of the species/ward off bacterial infections. Another 'advertised' advantage of using garlic is that fishes in a reef aquarium can be treated, and/or its an appetite enhancer.

As for 'garlic,' it comes from the plant Allium sativum, where the term 'allicin' is often used to describe its active ingredient diallyl thiosulfiniate. Its use in the hobby may have got a foothold in 1998 when Kelly Jedlicki was a presenter for the Midwest Marine Aquarium Conference in Michigan. She noted in her presentation on Pufferfish care an experience with garlic being a possible dewormer, and also made mention there seemed to be a decrease in Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans) when garlic was used.

As a prophylactic measure, its said to require fish foods be soaked in the garlic product and be fed daily for a few weeks. Thereafter, single monthly feedings have been said/thought to be sufficient/possibly to prevent reinfection. As to preventing or curing Marine Ich, whether the water itself is injected with garlic, the animal injected with garlic, or the foods fed are enhanced with garlic, there is 'no' proof that I know of, therefore find these claims all unreliable. Also, since it is not clear what the use of these type products will have on microbial processes and/or some invertebrates, their use remains questionable in my opinion. In fact, the overall value of garlic/garlic-impregnated foods still has many unanswered questions as to its overall value!

Keep in mind that garlic soaked foods can possibly generate much surface film, along with a strong odor. Additional water motion and proper protein skimming are helpful in retarding this problem. And if going this road, feeding a garlic product to live brine shrimp about 8 - 10 hours before they are fed to the fishes may alleviate the oily film problem and be one of the best ways to get the product into the targeted animals.

Yet, must say I've tried a garlic enhanced product by Weiss Organics, who markets a certified 100% organic product called 'Garlic Boost.' However, have yet to see any defined results I can pass on. Maybe those reading this can update me on the results they have had with garlic-enhanced products.


The ways food is stored will relate directly to how long it will remain a viable food product. Dry/freeze-dried foods once opened should have the opening day's date written on them and then be stored in the refrigerator as that slows down chemical reactions and any microbial growths in the product once opened. The product should then be used within the next six months, and if not, the remaining food discarded. To prevent waste, simply buy smaller containers. As for frozen foods, once opened, they should be sealed in a zip-lock refrigerator bag to avoid freezer burns, and should also be used within six months. And any dry foods that have become wet should not be restored, and any frozen foods that have become thawed should not be refrozen. Either use the food at that time or throw the remaining away. Additionally, all foods should be kept in the dark, as exposure to light will negatively affect vitamin and pigmentation contents.

Feeding Frequencies

When this subject matter arises, there are many thoughts as to what's correct or not correct, even when it comes to a single species. Generally, feeding fish small amounts numerous times per day is often recommended. While others say feeding once every other day is adequate. Then there are those that say once or twice day is sufficient. All are somewhat inaccurate since there are various categories, i.e., herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores to take into consideration. Their physical size, activity level, type of feeder, preferred foodstuffs, age, and numerous other factors need to be taken into consideration. When all these aspects are considered, it may be best to proceed by feeding the fish in question small amounts frequently until it becomes disinterested in any further food. And unless there is specific reliable information saying otherwise, this may have to be accomplished daily.

The above may be easy to accomplish when only one species is in the aquarium, but in mixed company it becomes more complicated. In mixed company situations try to feed the bold species first, then the others. Every animal in the aquarium should get its share of food so no nutritional problems develop, which are sometimes easily overlooked until they get severe. And to alleviate such happenings, always feed a variety of foodstuffs since no one food can meet the needs of every fish species. Yet don't overfeed, as the greater the input of food, the greater the chances of poor water quality and unwanted algae growth, and that in turn can contribute to many disease related problems.

There's also 'underfeeding' to consider! Overfeeding is easy to understand, however, when it comes to underfeeding, a totally separate issue evolves. Depending upon fish selections, some may be plankton feeders, others may graze algae and eat all day like cows, while others eat only when an occasional meal is available. And then there are other possible factors to consider, such as are there open-water feeders, shy feeders and/or specialized feeders in the community of fishes. All traits need to be taken into consideration! In fact, the remark that 'I only feed every other day' when there is a variety of plankton or algae grazers in the system is simply poor animal husbandry. Keep in mind the signs of malnutrition take a long time to become evident and once fish become weakened by nutritional deficiencies, they may never recover, no matter what changes are made to their diet. If water quality is a concern, there are ways to correct that without starving the fish! Always pay attention to your fish, particularly at feeding time, as this is the most opportune time to assess their overall health.

Fish Foods

Aquarists are fortunate to have an increasing variety of prepackaged quality foods available to them, as manufactures are constantly improving and widening their choices. Yet, there's no doubt the diet of the animal to be fed needs to be researched first, then the market explored as to what is available to meet those needs.

To describe some of these foodstuffs, the simplest way is to divide them into three broad ranging categories: Dry, Live/Fresh, and Frozen.


Those in this category make up the majority of available packaged foodstuffs because of their convenience and lower costs than frozen or freeze-dried foods. They come in different shapes, e.g., flake, pellet, tablet, granule, sheet-like, and block forms. No matter what form they take, always look on their label to be sure that if it contains 'oils,' they are fish oils, not vegetable oils, as those saturated oils are far more difficult to digest than unsaturated fish oils.


Lyophilization (Freeze-drying) is a process where the food is placed into a vacuum chamber and with high pressure, nearly all water instantly evaporates. Most are quite popular, with Krill among the most popular and various species of copepods, such as those incorporated into a product called Cyclop-eeze (Argent Laboratories). More and more of these type copepod products are coming to market and they all appear to be excellent foodstuffs.

Also, keep in mind this manufacturing processes may reduce the nutritional value of these foods, therefore consider enhancing their value with vitamin and mineral additives. In fact, dry foods are an excellent way to quickly bolster fish health by applying commercial additives formulated with valuable fish oils and vitamins just prior to feeding time. This can also be accomplished by using human all 'B' or 'C' liquid vitamins with no preservatives found in health food shops. Simply place three drops of either or both in a teaspoon of water and then apply that mixture to the dry food about to be fed. And lastly, keep in mind all dry foods should be kept air tight and protected from heat and light, and the best place to store them is actually in the refrigerator and if not married that should not be a problem!


By far the most popular of dry foods, these are available with a variety of ingredients, e.g., algae, liver, tubifex worms, shrimp meal, fishmeal, yeast, and beef heart to mention just some. Flake color is sometimes a fairly good nutritional indicator, e.g., green flakes provide vegetable matter and are said to enhance fish colors, whereas red flakes are said to help promote fish colors and encourage spawning. Yellow flakes are said to provide growth and conditioning matter, whereas brown flakes provide natural raw material and enhance resistance to disease. Some manufacturers add color to their flakes to help distinguish their purpose, as noted above. All flake foods tend to float on the surface of the water for a brief period of time giving fish species that feed in the mid-water column or at the surface an opportunity to feed on them. There are even floating feeders that keep the flakes within the confines of its outer floating framework, which helps to keep the flakes from quickly going to waste at the aquarium's overflow.

Granules and pellet foods are also popular and some of them are designed to float for a short time for surface feeders or rapidly sink to target bottom dwellers. Keep in mind the selection of these dry foodstuffs must complement the species being maintained, otherwise foodstuffs not fitting their needs will go to waste and reduce water quality.

I've also come across shops that were equipped with 'Food' machines where the hobbyist can actually individually select different type fish dry flake or pellet type foods and purchase them in bulk forms. Quite interesting, and even though mostly for freshwater fishes, must say the selection at these type dispensing machines were quite extensive, and several food types were also usable for marine species! There were also various compartments containing different dried foods that could be opened and their content spooned out and placed into available plastic containers and purchased!


This blue-green microalgae is certainly among, if not the most important of all dry/flake foods, especially for herbivores. Even though being an alga specially grown for human consumption, its high protein and beta-carotene content has also made it an excellent foodstuff for many marine fishes. In fact, South American Indians cultured the product over 500 years ago as a food source!

Besides providing many important vitamins and minerals, it helps to maintain fish coloration and also serves as a natural antibiotic. In addition to an excellent food for surgeonfish, angelfish and other species that require vegetable matter in their diets, another plus is that its cell wall is a saccharate. This sugar-like product will provide some energy, therefore differing from a celluloid-like material such as in lettuce, which can cause digestive track binding!


Krill is the world's richest source of pure protein, and the most commonly freeze dried fish food since its high in protein, Vitamin A, carotenoid pigments and fatty acids. Because of its popularity with fishkeepers, the industry has it available in many forms/shapes, e.g., pellets, flakes, meal, and/or the whole dried crustacean. There are some 85 species that represent the term 'Krill;' however, it's Euphausia superba, an Antarctic species the whale feeds upon, that is the most commonly known and utilized species.

These small, basically translucent 2.5-inch (6 cm) long crustaceans are in the Order Euphausiacea and have a life span of about seven years. They generally swim in dense clouds where their numbers can exceed a half million (more or less) in one cubic meter! They go through five stages of change during the three to four years it takes to reach adulthood, and during this period of time can go 200 days without food and must continually swim or sink to the bottom. Even though its said they are difficult to locate, once located they require processing within a half-hour after capture. Krill is highly sought after by many nations since it represents one of the most perfect food sources in the world.

They also contain high levels of fluoride in their shells and it is difficult to separate shell from flesh. Due to the processes involved in producing dried and freeze-dried krill foods, their taste and nutritive value may not be as good as fresh, live or some frozen foods. Therefore, suggest it be enhanced with a vitamin/mineral additive before feeding. Also, care should be exercised as to the amount fed at any one time, as dry foods begin decaying almost immediately upon contact with water, either leaching their vitamins or going to waste if not eaten quickly.

When feeding whole specimens, recommend they be soaked in aquarium water, preferably in a small dish, for a few minutes prior to feeding. This allows the specimen to regain much of the moisture lost in the drying stages and also helps remove the 'air' spaces inside the specimen. This helps promotes better digestion in the animals consuming it. The 'soaking' period is an ideal timeframe to add fortifying minerals and vitamins!


Another excellent dry food for many different surgeonfishes, rabbitfishes, and angelfishes is a variety of special seaweeds that originally were found in Oriental food stores for human consumption. When their use as fish food became popular with fishkeepers, it became widely available where aquarium supplies are sold. Called 'Nori' these kelps, such as Porphyra yezoensis, Porphyra umbilicalis, and Palmaria palmata are an excellent source of protein along with various vitamins, minerals, and lipids. Even though there are three different colors available, green, brown or red, I've found the green form to be the most popular with my fishes.

These foods most often come packaged in sheets as thin as newspaper, with the aquarist cutting strips and attaching them to a clip, often called a lettuce clip, allowing fish to nibble on it throughout the day. Care must be taken with strips of this kelp as some may come loose and have been known to clog overflows, leading to aquariums overflowing. Flake forms are also available.

These kelp products and the above-mentioned Spirulina and krill are by far the better 'dry' foods for most herbivorous fish. Nevertheless, even though 'Nori' is natural marine seaweed, the drying process may reduce its nutritional value somewhat. How much is unclear, especially where aquarium fish needs are concerned, therefore, still am of the opinion that live/fresh macroalgae remains the better 'green' choice for herbivores when available, as my past experience with feeding macroalgae has proven!

Feeding Blocks

There are various sizes and shapes of what is generally called 'Feeding Blocks' and they are available containing a wide variety of different foodstuffs. Those that contain different forms of green plant/algae may be ideal for surgeonfishes and especially parrotfishes to graze on throughout the daytime. Because these slow dissolving 'blocks' are normally placed on the aquarium bottom and there are different food varieties to choose from, they tend to be good ways to feed some types of animals while away on vacation.

Their foodstuffs are incorporated into these Plaster of Paris based products, and in fact, public aquariums often make their own feeding blocks as the base material is nothing more than calcium which may help boost the bulk water calcium content!


When one takes into account that live foods are by far the majority of foodstuffs consumed in the wild and that they contain fresh and active ingredients, their continuation in aquaria would no doubt be the best nutritional path. Nevertheless, when available, these type foods do require more forethought than dried/freeze-dried type products because they can easily be overfed since the animals in the aquarium sometimes do not consume all of what is fed (such as with live brine shrimp)! Therefore, target type feeding should be applied, where small doses of certain live products/foodstuffs are applied in small amounts directly to individual animals or their locations in the aquarium. Keep in mind overfeeding leads directly to poor water quality, and incorrect foodstuffs lead to unbalanced diets and even some serious health problems.

For those real difficult feeders, i.e., those requiring 'live/active' food, more and more shops are beginning to carry Ghost/Glass/Grass shrimp at highly reasonable prices! And since they are primarily herbivores, Spirulina foodstuffs can enrich them prior to feeding them to your species needing live food!

Probably one of the more often utilized fresh foods is freshly caught, unseasoned shrimp that is usually sold by the pound/kilo at the local grocery store! Without a doubt extremely nutritional and almost always quite economically as a little bit goes a far way as different size graders can be used to reduce it into tiny pieces or it can be cut into small morsels, and fed as needed.

For those of us that like the hands-on approach, it's possible to cultivate some live foodstuffs. Yet, some companies can now supply a wide variety of live foodstuffs delivered right to your door! And they provide all the necessary information to make good choices and feed their cultivated species correctly. Check the internet for their products.

Lets take a look at some of the more common live foodstuffs and leave those not so common to be researched in many fine books.


These small crustaceans, usually 1 mm or less in the Order Calaoida, are white or somewhat transparent little shrimp-like creatures that makeup about 90% of the zooplankton found in oceans. Most of its 8000 or more species are beneficial and feed on detritus and plant matter, e.g., microalgae in the wild and/or in aquariums, and in turn are then fed upon by its animals. In aquaria, these tiny 'bugs' are mostly seen on aquarium side panels or sand surface areas where some microalgae exists. Most are free living, however, there are some parasitic copepods that use their anchoring appendages to deeply penetrate flesh and can cause severe tissue damage. Yet, parasitic copepods are very rare in aquariums.

Copepods are considered an excellent live food source for small fishes, e.g., damselfishes, mandarinfish, wrasses, pipefish, and small angelfishes. Since they feed on detritus and microalgae, they can somewhat help keep unwanted algae blooms in check. Generally, their appearance in the aquarium should be considered an advantageous situation, and can often be seen moving about with the aid of a flashlight or moonlight after the main system lights go out. In fact, numerous on-line aquarium companies can supply various live species of copepods!


These are in the Order Amphipoda and these small crustaceans, generally with laterally compressed bodies, are mainly free-living bottom dwelling creatures found in intertidal zones. Antennae vary in size and shape and the eyes are unstalked. Size varies with species, e.g., a few millimeters to a few centimeters. They inhabit live rock and seaweed areas and are basically omnivores, although many are herbivores. They are naturally brought into aquaria on live rock and generally graze at night on filamentous algae, diatoms and cyanobacteria. Often, a very good live food source for many browsing fishes. A product I have used for many years to encourage the continuation of copepods and amphipods in my aquariums, along with the nutritional needs of some other filter feeding inverts has been ComboVital. Small amounts are premixed in a container with aquarium water and then slowly added occasionally throughout the day/when feasible.

Brine Shrimp

Probably one of the most popular live foods is brine shrimp, Artemia salina, although it's no doubt properly called A. franciscana, which can also be purchased frozen, freeze-dried, mixed with other foods, or in cyst form. It had its beginning back in 1924 when the former superintendent of the Steinhart Aquarium and president of the San Francisco Aquarium Society, Alvin Seale, found that brine shrimp from San Francisco Bay area was a perfect food for tropical fish. Keep in mind they don't live in the natural ocean/sea, as they only thrive in salt lakes. Commercially, they are naturally harvested in the San Francisco Bay areas, Great Salt Lake of Utah, and areas in Canada, China, and Western Australia. There are also commercial breeding stations in Brazil, France, Italy, and Argentina.

As a side discussion, back in the mid 50's brine shrimp were marketed as 'Sea-Monkeys' by a person named Harold von Braunhut (1926 - 2003). He first advertised them as 'Instant Life.' Just add water to the dried cysts/eggs and Presto you had live animals. But that proved to be an unsuccessful venture and in the early 60's he renamed the product 'Sea-Monkeys.' Many amusing claims followed, as did other products such as hermit crabs call 'crazy crabs' and he soon became a multimillionaire. To this very day some of his products are still very popular with children.

As for newly hatched brine shrimp they are quite nutritious for approximately 24 - 48 hours, but then lose their nutritional value as they grow to adulthood. In fact, adult brine shrimp are poor foodstuffs if not enriched with an additive, especially one containing Omega-3 fatty acids such as Selcon by American Marine, prior to feeding. To enrich live adults, place them in a container filled with aquarium water that has had a small amount of the enriching product added. Allow them to feed for 8 - 10 hours at a 'minimum' before placing the adults in the aquarium.

Brine shrimp eggs without shells, i.e., decapsulated eggs, can also be used as a highly nutritional foodstuff for some small fishes and/or corals by either sprinkling them on the water surface or mixed with aquarium water and flowed upon various corals with a turkey baster.

There's one further thought on live brine shrimp to remember, do not allow any of the water the shrimp came in to be used in the aquarium. The possibility that it contains potentially pathogenic bacteria is a real possibility. In fact, the original culture can be a real microbial soup, possibly containing a wide range of many different species of bacteria. Therefore, its always wise to strain out the shrimp to be fed and allow a stream of water, tap water would be fine, to wash them clean before they are enriched and enter the aquarium.

DIY Live Brine Shrimp

Look for a shop selling brine shrimp eggs, preferably eggs without shells, i.e., decapsulated eggs. However, there is a large price difference between regular brine shrimp eggs with shells and decapsulated, or shell-less brine shrimp eggs. For use directly in the aquarium recommend using shell-less eggs as the shells on regular eggs will float causing an unsightly mess and/or maybe clogging a piping connection or drive shaft of a water pump.

If price is a factor, buy the shelled eggs and place them in a few ounces of cold freshwater, e.g., one teaspoon of eggs in a glass container and aerate them for one hour so as to rehydrate the eggs. After an hour of aerating add two ounces of regular household bleach and continue to aerate. Within a few minutes foam will begin to build up as the shells covering the eggs melt away, and the eggs themselves change from brown to a light pink.

Usually, all are shell-less within three to five minutes. It's then time to pour them into a fine mesh net or coffee filter and rinse them under cold freshwater. Be sure to continue rising until the smell of the bleach dissipates. Even though the bleach smell may seem to be completely gone, its wise to take one further step! - Place one tablespoon of white vinegar in eight ounces of cold freshwater and then soak these eggs for one minute, as that will neutralize any residual amounts of bleach. Then remove and wash the holding net/filter of eggs under tap water. You're then ready to use them for hatching purposes or directly in the aquarium as a foodstuff for fish or some corals.

As to hatching, I prefer to use three one gallon jars and stagger their use by one day, i.e., set up one jar on day one, a second a day later, and the third one day later. Add one handful of rock salt to the first jar and one teaspoon of eggs, preferably the decapsulated eggs, and fill with freshwater. Add an aerator that can provide big bubbles and try to maintain a temperature of about 80 - 84°F. The following day, set up the second jar, then a day later the third jar. Within a day or two the water in jar one will turn a reddish brown - baby brine shrimp! A day later turn the aerator off, let everything settle out and notice that the babies all move towards the side of the container facing the brightest light. Now insert a siphon hose into the cloud of baby brine shrimp and let its flow go through a coffee filter. If using eggs with shells, be careful to not collect any of the shells as noted above, as they are hard and will not dissolve in the aquarium.

Depending upon how much is needed for feeding the aquarium, that collected can be fed directly to the animals in the aquarium. The remaining brine shrimp in the jar can be saved for another day by simply restarting the air supply, however, within a day or two the babies begin to lose some of their nutritional value, so moving on to jar two makes sense. Simply clean out jar one and begin the sequence over again. Once hatched, the newly-hatched brine shrimp are one of the most nutritional foodstuffs available to fish as their protein content is about 70%, and lipid content at about 18%, along with small amounts of fatty acids and the pink pigment Canthaxanthin.

In the far past a local friend use to take the remaining from his batches and placed them in an outside child's plastic wading pool that he kept full with old aquarium water and some hay (to supply infusoria), then raised them to adulthood.

Feeder Fish

As for feeder goldfish, not only are they not nutritious, their cost may soon far outweigh the cost of the fish being fed. They also cannot survive but a few minutes in seawater and also carry many different bacteria, fungi, and protozoa that may cause parasitic and/or other diseases. Furthermore, feeder goldfish can also cause blockage in the digestive track and/or kidney along with liver damage due to fatty degeneration in the consuming fish, which will ultimately lead to the consumer's death. In fact, fatty liver degeneration is a common cause of death in cases where marine fish are fed a diet that primarily consists of goldfish (as with lionfish for example), since marine fish cannot digest the fatty acids that goldfish contain.

It's also worth mentioning here the large air bladder in the goldfish can upset the internal balance in Sargassum/Rockfishes, sometimes causing them to float to the surface and stay there, which often either kills them or are picked upon/damaged by tankmates. Therefore, besides liver failure in fish, e.g., lionfishes, moray eels, triggerfishes, and groupers that are fed a steady supply of freshwater fishes, other maladies can befall them. Staying away from the use of freshwater feeder fish is highly recommended!

There are of course substitutes, and for those hobbyists living near marine coastal areas, local fishing/bait shops often provide small live 'marine' baitfish and/or shrimp for their local rod and reel fishermen. In fact, if available, a small amount of these 'live' foods could be maintained in a refugium for future feedings! But never keep more than what can be kept healthy.

If feasible, as an occasional treat, consider the use of live mollies, especially those raised in seawater as they are often raised under much better conditions than feeder goldfish. And besides, they can survive in the marine aquarium, even if not originally raised in seawater until your fishes are ready for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

There's no doubt some carnivorous marine fish are stimulated when seeing a tasty morsel swimming nearby! I've in the past had lionfish, moray eels, and triggerfish that went bunkers when seeing their lunch swimming in the aquarium! And yes, in the very far past occasionally fed live guppies, goldfish, and/or gambusia to help provide that natural feeding excitement found in the wild. Nevertheless, upon learning the negative side of these type foodstuffs took the time to train these type fish to accept freshly prepared marine shrimp or fish flesh of various kinds.


Plankton means wanderer and refers to a myriad of plants and animals that are generally, though not always, minute in size and which are all prisoners of ocean currents. Planktonic organisms generally float along passively with the currents even though some forms are capable of limited movement in the upper sunlit areas. The time spent adrift in this plankton soup can last from either a few hours or their entire lifetime. There are two categories of interest: plants, and animals. The plant division is termed "Phytoplankton," with the animal division called "Zooplankton."

The animal species that live out their entire life in planktonic soup are referred to as holoplankton. These consist of some, but not limited to, worms, copepods, shrimp, tunicates, krill, amphipods, and jellyfish. Those that live only a portion of their life in planktonic soup are referred to as meroplankton. They consist of a various number of fishes and invertebrates, which usually spend a part of their early life drifting on the ever-moving currents.

As for the division called Phytoplankton, it partly consists of diatoms and dinoflagellates. Diatoms have their cell walls composed of silica, instead of cellulose, which is the cell wall material of most other plants. Their growth rate is exceeding rapid in the upper sunlit levels of the oceans. They are often the nuisance brown golden alga in aquariums where silicate levels are not well controlled.

Dinoflagellates have the ability to move via the beating action of two small whip-like devices called flagella. They are well known for causing the dreaded 'Red Tide' phenomenon. Different species of dinoflagellates either contain toxins in their body or release them directly into the water. Filter feeders, i.e., clams or mussels, can absorb these toxins and in some cases become quite dangerous to the shellfish consumer, and that includes humans that have had their entire 'brain' destroyed! No, I'm not joking!

High quality live phytoplankton and zooplankton products can readily be purchased and many are designed to contain very specific plankton species. The reason for this is that some invertebrates, such as sea apples, feather dusters, and flame scallops only feed on certain size/type phytoplankton species; therefore, research is needed before a plankton-dependant species are acquired. Fortunately, product companies are widening their supply of various size planktons.

Keep in mind if these plankton foods are overused in aquaria that is not adequately filtered they can easily generate unwanted algae growths in the aquarium. If using these products, use tools made specifically for applying their contents directly and in correctly limited amounts to the organisms being fed.


The culturing of these very tiny marine creatures, such as Brachionus spp., are undertakings generally used by those attempting to raise certain small-mouthed larvae marine fishes because they not only reproduce quickly, they reach a swimming size that attracts the larvae. In fact, one rotifer can spawn about 135,000 offspring per week! This micro-zooplankton, which is far smaller than newly hatched brine shrimp, can also be used for feeding some suspension-feeding invertebrates/coral species. As for what fishes or invertebrates this foodstuff is useful for is beyond the scope of this work, but its mentioned here so the reader becomes aware the product offers another avenue to fulfill the nutritional needs of small-mouthed species.

But it should be realized that rotifers by themselves are a nutritionally poor foodstuff if not enriched with exactly the right enhancing products, such as the appropriate single-cell alga (phytoplankton/those in the genus Nanochloropsis) for the proper length of time prior to being utilized as a foodstuff. Therefore, greenwater, i.e., containers filled with cultured single-cell algae, must be prepared and be available for feeding/enriching the rotifers when needed and for the proper length of time before they are utilized as a food product. These green water containers should also be supplemented with HUFA additives as an additional way to fully fortify/enrich the rotifers.

Furthermore, enriched rotifers can be fed to some animals that require both zooplankton and phytoplankton in their diets as the rotifer is enriched with a phytoplankton product. Nevertheless, the diet needs of individual species should be researched as to their specific needs since some accept only specifically sized food particles, such as Feather Stars. Keep in mind that overfeeding will result in waste and increase the bulk water nutrient content, leading to a diminished water quality. And with rotifers being so minute in size, the way they are applied to the animals' being fed requires research so that the least amount of waste is incurred.


The production of microalgae, i.e., phytoplankton, is a viable way to feed various invertebrates such as sponges, clams, feather dusters, tubeworms, sea cucumbers, sea squirts, barnacles, scallops, and some corals besides being a valuable foodstuff for raising some marine fish larvae species! In fact, it has also been used in sewage treatment facilities as a way to reduce nutrients, such as nitrates, from the water being treated.

Some hobbyists setup small scale culturing systems using clear plastic 2 liter soda bottles, as round-shaped containers provide the best circulation and their narrow openings reduced the possibility of airborne contamination. Best of all, they can be discarded when the culture has reached its finish point. Besides the bottles, other basic equipment includes a timer for light operation, fluorescent light fixtures sized to light the number of plastic bottles to be used (sunlight can cause the culture to overheat), glass beaded airstones (one per bottle), and of course an air pump and air manifold to deliver and control the air flow.

As for all items coming in contact with the culture, including any utensils, they need to be effectively sterilized before use. In fact, scrubbing them with good grade dish soap and then soaking them in vinegar for ten minutes before using is a must, as the smallest bit of contamination can be devastating to the animals being fed the resulting microalgae.

Be sure to get a quality starter culture and algae disc containing the correct genus alga, and follow the path laid out in the culture manual, which is a must read before setting up the system. I also highly recommend no culture be maintained over six months, as they have a tendency to become a haven for all kinds of nasty/disease carrying bugs/microbes. Starting new cultures every six months with completely sterilized containers and utensils with new culture mediums is the way to go!

A LFS has a 'green water' container vertically mounted under the main store show reef aquarium and near its bottom refugium. As needed, its contents are allowed to flow into the refugium where its water is being returned to the main aquarium. Works well for them!


Tubifex (Red/Black)

There are two types of these small, hair-like worms, which are about 1.5 inches (3.75 cm) in length. There's the red worms (genus Tubifex), which are usually collected from areas high in nutrients, often areas where human sewage is discharged. They may be contaminated with bacteria or heavy metals, and in fact, probably pose the greatest source of disease potential than any other live food! Then there are the black (Lumbriculus variegatus) worms of similar size, which are almost always deliberately cultured, therefore no doubt a healthier species.

Keep in mind these worms die almost instantly when contacting seawater, and I've found the best way to feed black worms is to place a small amount in a high-sided dish and allow it to slowly fill with aquarium water, then place it on the aquarium bottom. Fish wanting to eat the worms will swim into the dish and eat them. This dish method prevents worms from being scattered about the aquarium as would happen if simply introduced directly into its surface water where the current would dispense with them throughout the aquarium with many possibly going to waste. When stored in the refrigerator, they can be placed in a small dish containing just enough freshwater to cover them, with its water changed daily. Since this is another foodstuff containing a high level of protein, it should be fed sparingly/infrequently. Consider it more a treat than a stable. Make sure the spouse is OK with storing them in the refrigerator!


For those with a garden in their backyard, it might be possible to dig up a earthworm and use it as a healthy food for some of their carnivorous aquarium fishes. In fact, as a child I use to dig them up to scare my sister, which did not go over well with my parents! As for city dwellers, guess you're out of luck! And kidding aside, these worms, Lumbricus terrestris, are about 6 to 8 inches (20 cm) in length and can be considered an occasional treat and one that is high in protein, calcium, and various vitamins. When fed whole, they are good for larger fish such as stingrays, squirrelfish, hawkfish, and snappers, however, may be chopped or shredded into much smaller morsels for smaller carnivore-type fish.

It may also be possible to purchase these worms at bait stores. And whether you dig them up yourself or purchase them, they can be kept in a Styrofoam box in a medium such as peat moss. And they are quite simple to maintain, as the medium should be kept slightly damp and the worms fed baby oatmeal. And if kept in a cool, dark place it's possible they may breed and provide an ongoing supply. If the spouse would agree, these worms can be maintained for months in the refrigerator if kept slightly moist.

Keep in mind these worms eat dirt, so be sure you know where they originate if purchasing them, as some may come from a agricultural site where fertilizers and pesticides may have been used. As noted, they eat dirt and because of that contain a large amount of it. Therefore suggest holding the worm near the head with the fingers of one hand and with two fingers of the other hand, squeeze the worm near the head and slide those squeezed fingers the length of its body thereby squeezing out the digested earth. Messy, but better to have it clean of any gut material than it to get into the aquarium and cause water quality or health problems. You can also roll a lengthwise worm body laid on a firm surface with a pencil or chopstick to force out its dirt-laden guts before feeding to your fishes. Either way, be sure its gut contents are removed prior to being used as fish food.

Other Terrestrial Foods

And there is several other type of 'live' worms, e.g., mealworms, white worms, microfex worms, and Grindal worms, along with fruit flies that, if you would like to culture them (culture information available on the web or in many books), will provide an array of different live foods choices that should keep your fish healthy and awaiting mealtime!

There are also some other forms of 'fresh' foods, such as beef heart, liver, or other terrestrial animal parts that occasionally are considered as fish foods, but highly recommend greatly limiting these because their fats are incompatible with the fats required by marine fish. As mentioned above with feeder goldfish, fatty liver degeneration may develop as a result of feeding such foods. Additionally, they are overly high protein substances, which can easily contribute to high nitrate levels in aquaria.

Fish Flesh

Where fish flesh is concerned, ocean perch, halibut, snapper, flounder, and haddock are good choices, whereas carp, herring, mackerel, and mullet are extremely fatty, with sardines far too oily.

Keep in mind that raw fish flesh often contains an enzyme known as thiaminase, which destroys the vitamin thiamine (Vitamin B1). Therefore caution is advised in the quantities and frequency of feeding raw fish flesh. To halt the transmission of this enzyme, first cook the flesh to be fed. Nevertheless, when prepared correctly, the fish flesh of some species are an excellent source of protein and fat; therefore a very good energy source.


When it comes to using shellfish as a foodstuff, these types of foods should be frozen before use to kill potential parasites, as they are filter feeders and there's no telling what parasites they may contain. In addition, many mollusks including clams, mussels and snails harbor and release the infective stage of many species of digenetic trematodes. Bottom line, freeze first, and then thaw before using.

Shellfish pieces, i.e., broken pieces of the whole shellfish, are a good way to get some very difficult feeders, such as Moorish Idols, to begin feeding. In fact, most fish will enjoy picking at a clam or mussel half shell filled with a meaty morsel. Have, in the past used an empty half shell of a clam and placed some frozen shellfish pieces on while it sat on my kitchen countertop. As soon as the frozen food slightly adhered to the shell, placed it on the aquarium bottom for my fish to pick at it. Learned this neat trick decades ago from a local who maintained several Moorish Idols in his aquarium, as he always had success with this method.

Leafy Foods

Many coral reef fishes, e.g., herbivores, incorporate algae into their normal everyday diets. Without sufficient greens they may incur some sort of malnutrition malady due to the lack of certain trace elements and vitamins that are generally available in the algae normally consumed in the wild. And with research continuing into the natural health aspects of coral fishes, it's becoming more evident large forms of green algae, generally termed 'macroalgae' play an important roll in the health of herbivorous fishes. Even though hobbyists recognize the need for 'green' foodstuffs for certain species of fishes, what is fed is not always in their best interest or at a minimum, not properly administered. Furthermore, different fish species have different dietary preferences or feeding habits, therefore species research and experimentation is required to adequately satisfy some species.


Live/fresh marine large-bodied/macroalgae is no doubt the best green foodstuff for herbivorous fishes - period! There two species of macroalgae that are of significant importance, Caulerpa mexicana and C. prolifera, as they have proven to be the favorite of many herbivores, besides being an excellent source of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid, an Omega-3 fatty acid). In fact, there are many forms of algae, whether they be brown, green or red that various fish find tasty, therefore some experimentation is necessary to find out what interests the species in your aquarium. But be assured, if you keep herbivorous fish, these two Caulerpa species provide many of the important trace nutrients, fatty acids and vitamins many fishes need to remain healthy. And yes there are many other species of Caulerpa and other types of large bodied algae, some tasty, some not. Nevertheless, the above two species have proven, at least from my past experience, to be widely accepted by a great variety of herbivorous fishes. But experimentation with other forms of macroalgae is warranted due to wide-ranging species needs.

People Green Foods

When this subject is discussed, hobbyists are quick to relate it to the leafy greens they consume in their diet, such as lettuce, broccoli and spinach. Many think their herbivorous fishes, such as surgeonfish and rabbitfishes will also enjoy these greens, but there is more to it where marine herbivores are concerned. Take into consideration that our long intestine and its chemical aspects are designed to slow the passage of food through it, thereby allowing the necessary time for it to extract the nutritional benefits from the cells that form the material passing through it. But herbivorous fish do not have the same length/type intestine or chemistry, as do humans, therefore they instead use different means for gaining nutrition from the food gathered.

Some simply nibble all day like cows, allowing for a constant supply of algae to be present in their gut where 'some' of its nutritional benefits are utilized before expelled as waste. Others swallow sand grains along with their algae, thereby allowing the sand to grind it up into a more useable/digestible content. Nor are they able to digest cellulose as efficiently as humans, therefore you may want to accomplish some research on herbivore species feeding habits and the difference between feeding habits of the juvenile stage and adult of some species, especially that of surgeonfishes.


People foods, e.g., Iceberg or Romaine lettuce, is another live/fresh foodstuff frequently used for herbivores. Iceberg lettuce is a poor choice for several reasons. First, it's very high in cellulose, in fact higher than Romaine, and may clog the animal's digestive tract if fed too often. It also contains fewer vitamins than does Romaine lettuce, which would be the better choice, if for no other reason than it provides a source of Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), one of the three important Omega-3 fatty acids. If either is used, consider blanching it in scalding hot water for about 30 seconds or freezing it prior to feeding, as this will aid in the breakdown of some of its cellulose content. Microwaving for 15 seconds prior to feeding may also help to breakdown its cellulose content, unfortunately both actions reduce its nutritional value. Neither, in my opinion is considered a worthwhile product to feed any herbivore species.


These green lefty foods are also used for feeding herbivores, however their nutritional value where reef fishes are involved is little explored. Both contain Vitamins A, C, E, K and some various 'B' Vitamins, yet their cellulose content remains high enough to present problems in removing these vitamins and other valuable minerals from the leaf structure. Its safe to say that spinach should see minimum use, as overuse can cause crystals to form in the kidneys. Placing these leafy greens, including the dry Nori, in a Lettuce Clip is a good way for dispensing this type food; nevertheless, their true nutritional value is highly questionable! Keep in mind a fat belly does not mean the fish is getting the benefits of the foodstuff within its intestine!


There's no doubt a wide range of excellent frozen foods exist on the market and their number is growing. As improvements in their makeup continue, some name brands are gamma-irradiated, which kills any intermediate parasitic stage that may have been present in the food prior to freezing. Others are fortifying their products with Vitamins C and E because freezing alters amino acids. Nevertheless, enriching many frozen foods prior to feeding is still recommended.

It is also well known that freezing often bursts the cell walls of the product, thereby allowing its valuable nutritional contents to leak out. Yet, those contents are often frozen right 'onto' the product. Therefore, completely defrosting store bought frozen fish foods in water prior to feeding is an ill-advised approach in my opinion. The reason for that is water-soluble Vitamin B and antioxidant Vitamins C and E are leached into the thawing water from the frozen product, thereby going partly to waste. Such a practice also causes some foods to break down into such fine particles that fish are no longer able to utilize. Recommend simply allowing frozen food to naturally 'soften' at room temperature and then placing the morsels into the aquarium.

Mysis shrimp and brine shrimp are among the most popular frozen foods on the aquarium market. As for frozen brine shrimp, enriched products are widely available. In fact, always look for those labeled as such, as adult brine shrimp without enrichment are nutritionally of no value.

Mysis Shrimp

These small crustaceans are found in the Order Mysidacea and there are over 1000 species of mysis/mysids worldwide that live in a range of water conditions, e.g., full seawater, estuarine waters, or freshwater. Nevertheless, a freshwater species, Mysis relicta has become a standard among many aquarists as its considered one of the best foodstuffs for fish in general.

When one considers the vast amount of energy these shrimp use when they make their nightly feeding migrations from the depths to the surface, its no wonder they naturally contain vast amounts of energy! In fact, they contain large quantities of naturally occurring fatty acids (Omega-3 and Omega-6) and are also very high in protein (about 70%). Even though highly nutritional, mysis is not high in carotenoids and that fact should make us aware that if feeding a fairly steady diet of mysis they should be enhanced with specialty foods known to contain color enhancers. Also, beware, as necropsies have been performed on deceased fish fed primarily on a mysis diet and they were found to have Fatty Liver Degeneration, which was the main cause of death. Therefore, caution is advised to vary the diet with other foods. In other words, a steady diet of mysis, a freshwater animal/shrimp, could kill your fish!

Keep in mind whole specimens are nutritionally of more value than small pieces, simply because pieces of mysis shrimp when thawed leach their valuable fatty acids into surrounding water. Therefore look for products that offer entire specimens.

In a conversation with Piscine Brand Mysis Shrimp, they noted a preferred way to defrost their shrimp, one that would prevent whole specimens from bursting open and losing some of their very valuable fatty acids. They suggested a small container be filled with seawater that is slightly above the salinity normally found in the wild (about 1.025) and it be placed in the refrigerator. When its time to feed the frozen mysis, it be placed in a separate small dish and be covered with some of this saved seawater and allowed to thaw. Then once thawed, either pour it into the aquarium water or into a net, then taking the net caught shrimp and placing those into the aquarium as needed. This second method could prevent a protein skimmer from overflowing! Mysis also contain little in the way of sodium making it easier for marine animals to maintain their osmotic balance.

DIY Frozen Foods

When it comes to preparing your own frozen food, purchase a small quantity of various food items, e.g., squid, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels, crab, and fish flesh (halibut, perch, flounder, snapper, and haddock). Avoid oily flesh such as tuna, mackerel, herring and sardines as those create an oily film on the water's surface. Cut and clean each item and separate into small pieces and then layout a sheet of aluminum foil to place the cut pieces upon. Starting across the top of the sheet, place a variety of these pieces separated with a space about the width of your finger. About the same space down, start another row, etc. After the sheet is filled, roll the sheet lengthwise, pressing gently between each piece so as to somewhat seal the area between each piece. Then place the whole roll in a large plastic Zip-Lock refrigerator bag and store it in the freezer. It's then only necessary to slightly unroll the sheet to have a variety of frozen food so your fish have something different at each feeding. For very small bite-sized pieces run the frozen piece over a cheese grater. Many graters have varying size openings; therefore, bits of flesh can be had at various sizes to feed fish of different sizes. Whether you cook these items first is up to you, but if you do not, recommend these uncooked foods being used as 'occasional' treats, for the reasons given earlier in this chapter. Also, I've found frozen Silversides, first defrosted, excellent for lionfish and moray eels. Keep in mind these foodstuffs must be kept in an airtight container to prevent them from drying out.

Maladies and Treatments

Although fish die for many reasons, many of the causes are related to diseases that are commonly encountered. And whether new to the hobby or an experienced aquarist, if fish deaths continue, many will eventually lose interest and sell off their equipment and leave the hobby! Therefore, it's quite beneficial to be prepared in advance to recognize and deal with various common diseases and disorders. In doing so, one should realized that fish contract diseases to epizootic or epidemic proportions because of poor environmental conditions such as temperature fluctuations, overcrowding, aggressive or inappropriate tankmates, low oxygen levels, poor water quality, and inadequate nutrition to mention just some.

All these conditions contribute to stress, which in turn leads to chemical imbalances in the fish, creating an open door for an outbreak of disease in the aquarium. Obviously however, since stress itself does not create the disease, one would not have a disease outbreak unless there are pathogens present to begin with. And normally, diseases are introduced with the addition of new fish or possibly by the fish net that was used in another aquarium containing a possible disease. Stress is merely the 'catalyst' that lowers the fish's immune system, opening the door to various diseases.

I've already laid the groundwork for helping maintain a healthy environment, but nevertheless maladies of one kind or another occasionally arise and need to be recognized and dealt with in a workmanlike manner. Therefore, lets first take a look at some hopefully helpful subjects upfront, and then proceed to actual health problems and the tools/methods one should have and/or understand to hopefully help overcome them.

Fish Immune System

Although not as involved as it is in humans, the fish immune system is still quite effective considering their smaller size and complexity. Their outer barrier of scales and layers of dermis and epidermis protect them from invading disease organisms and parasites. Also, a continually renewed layer of outer mucus provides further protection as it enables them to simply slough-off some of the invaders. Then there's the hostile conditions found in the digestive track where enzymes and an unsuitable pH level produce an unfavorable environment/another line of defense. And if some pathogens were to get through those defenses, the blood carries the antiviral chemical interferon and C-reactive protein that can counter various bacteria and viruses.

Nevertheless, take into consideration they are only separated from the surrounding body of water by a simple membrane and that their body is already 80% water, and its then quite easy to understand their wellbeing would be influenced by the quality of that surrounding seawater. Nutrition would be another important influence, as its number two directly in back of poor water quality as to detrimental conditions that affect the immune system. And of course, 'stress' caused by either of these two aspects or from other unsuitable conditions, simply magnifies the overall impact. Therefore, one should keep in mind the strength of a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the same is true of the immune system. Provide poor water quality and/or poor nutrition, and the chain becomes weakened.

Warning Signs

One of the most common ways to recognize any type of disease is simply by 'looking' at the fish, as outward conditions are usually a precursor of what is about to occur. Among the many outward signs that something negative is about to happen, refusal to eat, hiding in corners, odd swimming patterns, scratching on substrates, prominent or streaking blood vessels in the fins, swollen abdomen, changes in stool color or shapes, and pale coloration are among the leading possibilities. Clamped fins, white spots, red blotchy areas, cloudy eyes, increased respiration, frayed fins, decreased swimming activity, along with visible ulcers and open wounds are also indicators that something is not normal. Unfortunately, even though poor water quality and/or nutrition can be reasons for some of these above mentioned conditions, some maladies exhibit similar outward signs so putting forward an accurate diagnosis is sometimes impossible solely using the human eye.

Nevertheless, appearance and behavior are the two most obvious aspects needing careful observation. Those observations can generally be fitted into two broad ranging categories: 'Short-Term' or 'Long-Term.'


Any abnormal symptoms that develop within a day or less without outwardly signs of a disease, such as fish swimming near the surface that normally do not, fish having sudden darting movements/odd swimming patterns, possibly with torn fins/body wounds or hiding more than normal, may all be signs an environmental or water quality problem exists. Therefore, first check water parameters, e.g., temperature, specific gravity, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, and if possible dissolved oxygen levels. If any are found not normal, correct as needed, possibly by accomplishing a significant water change.

Airborne chemicals should also be given some thought; as household freshly applied paints, glues, and/or insect sprays can all have a detrimental effect on water quality. I've even heard of ammoniated window cleaners that were overly used to clean various surfaces in the home being absorbed into the aquarium water! And if any of these were thought to be the culprit, activated carbon/Poly-Filter would be an excellent filter media to help alleviate unwanted toxins. Again, water changes should be the first line of defense.

If there are injured inhabitants, the questions to ask seem quite simple - are there incompatible tankmates in the aquarium and if so, where should they be place, as the present aquarium environment no longer suits all its inhabitants.

As for temperatures, fairly steady levels between 75 to 83 degrees suit most marine fish, and then maintained with no fluctuations greater than a 2 degrees. If necessary, an additional heater might be required to avoid low swings, and perhaps a chiller to avoid too high swings.

Other questions to ask oneself are: Is there sufficient hiding places in the aquarium for those needing it? Is overall system maintenance up to date? Is there adequate filtration and water movement for its inhabitants? Is there overcrowding? - The solving of such situations is self-explanatory.

And if there was a major quick die-off, there's the possibility there may have been a 'Vibrio' infection, which can be caused by very poor maintenance/bad water quality and if so, see 'Toxic Tank Syndrome' further along in this chapter for details.

Overall, water quality issues are number one here, with the quanity and species of fishes number two.


As for 'Long-Term' symptoms, i.e., such as what developed over an extended period of time, these include but are not limited to: loss of balance, odd fish deaths, outward growths/tumors, scratching on various surfaces, and/or diminishing body weight. Since a particular disease no doubt causes these, do not medicate until the problem area has been identified. At a minimum, at least narrowed the obvious conditions to some very good possibilities. Keep in mind that in some cases it may require 'ante-mortem' practices where the specimen might have to be taken to an outside laboratory, or doing the investigation oneself (the preferred choice) if at all possible. In fact, information on ante & post-mortem examination should be researched, as it's sometimes impossible to clearly discern the health problem by simply viewing the outside condition of the animal.

Yet, there are no doubt many visible conditions that can lead one to say a certain disease is the cause, and then hopefully treat as thought needed. For example: Probably the most common are Cryptocaryon irritans (Marine Ich) or Amyloodinium (Marine Velvet), which cause fish to scratch itself on various objects, with its body and fins often coated with white pinhead spots or a fine dusting of what appears like a white powder. --- White-like growths on fins and/or skin may be Lymphocystis. --- Pitted areas on the face and possibly the lateral line may be a sign of what is call Head & Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), a very possible malnutrition problem. --- An internal bacterial infection or worse, a non-curable internal fungus causing a distended eye (popeye). --- Turbellarian worms causing tiny black spots on fish sides. --- Weight loss, which may be caused by improper diet or an infectious disease such as Mycobacterium, which is also known to cause Tuberculosis (TB) in humans. --- Bacterial infections could be causing hemorrhages or ulcerations. (These and many other conditions/maladies and their treatments are explained below.)

Medicine Usage

No matter what medications are utilized, their proper application must fully be understood, as most are equally dangerous to humans as they are to the pathogens to be treated. As to human safety, consider using eye protection and latex gloves when handling liquids, and possibly a dust mask when using fine powders. And always keep anything considered a 'treatment' product far from the reach of children.

Since improper use, especially with antibiotics, can foster new strains of more resistant pathogens, always follow the manufacturers' suggested recommendations regarding their use. The past has proven that some aquarists have casually used antibiotics in concentrations lower than what is required, or for shorter durations than recommended. Practices such as those can and have led to the creation of resistant strains of bacteria, some of which can no longer be controlled by available drugs. This simply makes the treatment of our fish far more difficult and expensive. Practice good judgment at all times and if in doubt, consult with a veterinarian or at the very least a knowledgeable dealer or hobbyist before proceeding.

Also keep in mind dosage rates per-gallon are referring to the net volume of water in the 'entire' system to be treated, not the gross capacity of the aquarium as sold, e.g. aquarium gross volume may be stated as 100-gallons, but that is typically based on the outside dimensions, not the actual amount of water it holds, nor the level to which it is filled. Additionally, one must consider the water being displaced by decorations, substrate, in-tank plumbing and filtration equipment, etc., which potentially reduces its net volume to something considerably less (or more, in the case of over-sized filter sumps). Correctly estimating the true volume of water in the aquarium prior to treating is essential to judging dosing amounts accurately, as under-dosing will not be effective in many situations, with overdosing possibly killing your fish. Also, always remember to remove all chemical filter media, such as activated carbon or halt UV or ozone use while treating, since they will remove or reduce the effectiveness of any medications introduced into the aquarium.

As to medicine dosage levels, the following three examples are generally used and applied to a given amount of water to be treated: parts per million (ppm); grams per milliliters (g/ml); or milligrams per liter (mg/l). Actually 1 ppm equals 1 mg/l or 1 milligram (mg) when used in 1 liter of water, which is 1000 milliliters, or 3.8 mg per US gallon, since there are 3.8 liters per US gallon! For what its worth, I've occasionally seen in my email simple misinterpretations of dosage levels when the expressed dosage was given as e.g., per liter (20 mg/l or 20 ppm). Again, when seeing dosages expressed in mg/l or ppm, that quantity must be multiplied by 3.8 when adjusting the dosage to the correct amount for treating one 'gallon' of water. Then multiplied by the number of gallons in the treatment vessel for the amount of medicine needed to accomplish the prescribed treatment. (20 mg/l or 20 ppm becomes 76 mg/l or 76 ppm per gallon)

Unfortunately, there are occasions where some medicines are not in their pure form (100% pure), i.e., mixed with a substance called a 'carrier,' which should be noted on its label. If so its potency is reduced, and if not sure about the exact amount of medication needed suggest contacting a more experienced aquarist for the way to resolve this situation. Also, be aware there are pre-weighed tablets and capsules containing a given amount of a specific drug that effectively applies that drug to 10 gallons of water. For example, a 50 milligram dosage would then equal 1.3 ppm for that 10 gallons, and/or a multiple of that, e.g., 200 milligram dose would equal 5.2 ppm. Again, any questions on dosage levels, contact someone that can give you an accurate and swift 'correct' answer before possibly making a major mistake!

Next, it's a must to judge the volume of the water to be treated accurately so the correct amount of the medicine can be utilized. And depending where in the world you live, either the English or Metric measuring systems will be used to decide that liquid volume, so let's look at both.

Should the container be square or rectangular and the English system will be utilized, measure in inches its 'inside' dimensions preferably, as they are the true 'holding' dimensions. If a sandbed is in the aquarium, begin the vertical measurement about half way up the bed to the aquarium water level. Then measure the inside length and width (inside front to inside back) and multiply length x width x height and divide the result by 231, which results in the number of US gallons in the container. If the aquarium contains live rock or other solid items, use your own judgment as to their volume, and then apply a subtraction, maybe 5 - 15% to the above result. This should result in a reasonable estimate of water volume. Then apply the correct level of medication to this volume of water.

If centimeters are being used (Metric System - 1 inch = 2.5 cm), use the same length x height x width multiplication as discussed above and divide its result by 1000, which equals the number of 'liters' in the container and keep in mind there are 3.8 liters per US gallon.

Traditional Therapeutic Products

There are several fairly common, easily obtainable products or applications used in the hobby that may have some therapeutic value. On the other hand, their purpose or actual application is often not clearly understood. Their applications should be given careful consideration before applying them.

Hydrogen Peroxide

This is a product most homes have in their medicine cabinet, as it's a strong oxidizing agent with good disinfecting properties. It can also be used in aquaria to solve acute oxygen deficiencies that may arise during a power outage. And if need be, the common 3% solution utilized at a rate of 1 teaspoon (5 ml) per 50 gallons can be used to raise oxygen levels and can be dosed every 6 - 8 hours. Yet if overdosed, it can act as an antibacterial agent and destroy nitrifying bacteria. Even though its dissociated products are water and oxygen, therefore not poisonous, caution is advised when used in aquariums as some fish are sensitive, especially angelfish.

In a discussion with Lance Ichinotsubo, Nelson Herwig said the following: "For the purpose of disinfecting damaged fins and tissue, particularly in cases of territorial aggression and bacterial infection, suggest adding 30.5 ml of the 3% solution (1.03 oz., 2.03 tbsp., 610 drops) to a 100 gallon aquarium that has been newly set up or to a 10 gallon aquarium that is old and well established with a considerable amount of mulm (detritus) in the substrate."

He then goes on to note: "...this is the lowest common denominator that should be harmless to fish cell structure while being lethal to microbial organisms. This is an oxidizing agent and burns up everything it comes in contact with, including old food particles in the gravel, mulm, microorganisms (both good and bad) and any cell tissue (living or dead) that is susceptible to its action and is unprotected by slime such as is found on the integument of fish and most higher invertebrates. Its action and use depends on the suppression of lower life forms and the oxidizing of dead and decaying tissue, thus allowing the normal healing process to continue unhindered at a much more rapid rate."

Edward J. Noga, in his book FISH DISEASE, Diagnosis and Treatment (2000) states that for a prolonged immersion in a separate treatment facility, a more precise treatment can be prepared with 0.25 ml of the 3% solution added to 1 liter of water or 1.0 ml per gallon, which result in a 7.5 ppm solution. In cases when the need is not extreme, he notes the treatment can be reduced to 0.10 ml of 3% solution per liter, which equals approximately 3 ppm. He goes on to say that hydrogen peroxide can also be used as a protozoacide for skin parasites; however, many fish do not tolerate this treatment. And suggests two possibilities exist - add 10 ml of 3% solution per liter, equaling 300 ppm, and treat for 10 to 15 minutes, or add 19 ml of 3% solution per liter, equaling 570 ppm, and treat for 4 minutes.

Keep in mind since this product is a sterilizing agent, it can be used directly on a skin wound while the fish is out of the water. And since it can solve an acute oxygen deficiency, which bagged fish at aquarium society meetings often incur, one drop in the bag could revive an almost dead fish, however, do not repeat.

On an experimental basis, Lance Ichinotsubo has been experimenting with a food-grade hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). He states the following: "Initially, I can personally say that several trials in the past were ran, whereby H2O2 was used at 3% and 35% in an effort to eradicate nuisance algae from non-reef aquariums. Some good results were achieved, although there were some mortalities associated with the 35% solutions, particularly with angelfish (Pomacanthidae sp.) Also used it in treatment trials against some diseases, such as Cryptocaryon irritans, as well as certain sporozoan diseases. I can say with certainty that it did work in eliminating unicellular algae from artificial coral substrates. Now then - (briefly) given that experience, as well as other information available, all indications appear that H2O2 can be used effectively to treat many diseases, including Amyloodinium ocellatum, as well as metazoan, mycotic and bacterial diseases, as found by a quick search in Google. The concentrations of H2O2 used in the trials researched state that H2O2 at various concentrations were used, and that although there were mortalities at higher concentrations, H2O2 was very effective in most of those trials. There are several papers and other works using many different stock solutions at many different concentrations.

In the Journal of World Aquaculture, Montgomery-Brock, Sato,, describes an effective trial and presented the article "The Application of Hydrogen Peroxide as a Treatment of Amyloodinium ocellatum." They report that A. ocellatum was eradicated with an initial dose of 75-150 ppm in a static bath for 30 minutes on Pacific Threadfin, Polydactylus sexfilis, followed up with an additional 30 minutes bath three days apart. Roy Yanong of the University of Florida also presented a paper entitled "Use of Hydrogen Peroxide in Finfish Aquaculture," which indicated the successful treatment of many disease, including A. ocellatum with 35% H2O2. So the use of H2O2 can be an effective treatment against A. ocellatum (albeit used with caution). However, as far as its use in the presence of corals and other invertebrates, much more study needs to accomplished."

I should add here that many have reported fish loss with the use of the higher concentration, so extreme caution should be utilized in its use. Also, it causes 'burns' if allowed to contact the skin, so gloves should be worn when handling it. Interestingly (as a side benefit), Lance has witnessed what appears to have been a 'cure' of an Emperor Angel that had been severely infested with a sporozoan, most likely a myxosporidian sp. Lance has also been impressed with the apparent cure of a Koran Angel that was affected by Lymphocystis, all at a similar concentration used to control the undesirable algae. His research will continue and you may contact him directly at Click Here if you wish updates.

Malachite Green

Often combined with various other products, such as formalin or mixed with quinine hydrochloride. And/or mixed with other carriers where they are said to be quite effective on Brooklynella, which has appeared to be resistant to copper treatments. Also has shown evidence it interrupts Amyloodinium ocellatum tomont division. Unfortunately I have no further information/details on the use of this product, which if used should be in a hospital tank.

However, if of interest recommend reading "Captive Seawater Fishes" by Stephen Spotte, ISBN 0-471-54554-6. Furthermore, be aware that Malachite Green "is a respiratory poison, teratogen, and suspected carcinogen" (Noga, 2000).

Methylene Blue

Often used in the freshwater hobby as an antiseptic to prevent fungal infections, especially on eggs. Nevertheless, it can be used in both freshwater and marine aquariums where there may be gill damage, as it's an oxygen carrier and be absorbed directly through the skin easing fish stress.

And if highly stressed, it can be dosed at 2 drops within a high water flow area and repeated when the color dissipates.

Caution is advised if used in established show tanks since it has been known to interrupt nitrifying bacteria (Gratzek, Wolke, Shotts, Dawe, & Blasiola, 1992). Keep in mind this product will stain any 'material' it touches, and as to removing it from water, passing the water through activated carbon will filter it out. Never use methylene blue with any products that contain formalin.

Potassium Permanganate

Basically a strong oxidizing agent and mainly used in freshwater aquaculture as a clarifying agent or for alga control, and occasionally seen as a treatment for reducing excessive organic loads in marine aquaria. It will also kill external parasites and may burn sensitive gill areas if overdosed.

Since small additions of this product will quickly reduce/oxidize system organic content and thereby rapidly improve redox potential in marine aquariums, much care is advised when using this product so as not to overdose - a dangerous product if used incorrectly!

When used, the treated tank should be equipped with a redox meter, and it should be slowly dripped in where the current is quite swift and redox not allowed to rise too quickly or exceed an increase of more than 50 units per day. In fact, in my opinion, it should not be allowed to exceed 450 mV. It can also be used as a disinfectant at 50 ppm, however, care should be used as it will stain the hands, so use gloves. This product is usually available where goldfish/Koi/pond accessories are sold.


This commonly and long used product, sometimes used in conjunction with other agents like formalin or methylene blue, has a history of being a helpful treatment for many different maladies, especially Amyloodinium and Cryptocaryon. Yet 'some' fishes exhibit sensitivity to the product, e.g., angelfish, blennies, butterflyfish, cardinalfish, dragonets, and wrasses. And where dragonets are concerned, they normally have a heavy coating of mucus, therefore since copper increases mucus production they are in danger of suffocating. Keep in mind, if overdosed, its very toxic to almost 'all' forms of marine life.

There are other drawbacks associated with this product, such as inhibiting biological filtration processes, which makes it necessary to monitor ammonia levels, and the possibility of unnecessarily treating for too long periods of time, which will suppress the immune system. There's also the requirement all chemical filtering media be removed prior to adding copper, as it would remove the medication.

As for the copper medication products on the market, there are two different forms on the market - Ionic and Chelated


There are basically two forms, a pure solution of copper sulfate, and that of a lightly complexed form where the copper is bound with chemical agents that quickly dissipate once added to the aquarium. (Complexed only to remain in solution/well mixed while in the bottle)

Unfortunately, in aquariums containing calcium carbonate based sandbeds, about 50% of the copper dosed will be absorbed by the substrate material within the first two hours. Within the next 22 hours, another 20% is absorbed (Cardeilhac & Whitaker, 1988). Therefore, on the very first day of treatment almost all of the initial copper treatment is unavailable. As a result, during this first day of treatment 'and' thereafter, frequent attention must be given to the therapeutic level of ionic copper, which is 0.15 to 0.20 ppm because of this depositing or bonding to various substrates, especially carbonate based products as copper carbonate.

Keep in mind whether purely copper sulfate or lightly complexed, both precipitate in environments with or without carbonate-based substrates, and therefore require frequent monitoring to maintain a therapeutic treatment level.


To prevent or at least slow precipitation, chelated copper solutions, i.e., those bonded with various chelating compounds, have far reduce the need to closely monitor its level, which depending upon manufacturer may slightly or greatly exceed 0.2 ppm.

Even though it seems like chelated copper products are easier to use, I have personally refrained from using them in the past (no longer use copper treatments at all!) because a more precise dosage level could always be maintained with ionic copper (in my opinion), even though more attention to the treated tank was needed. Not only that, I found it easier to remove from solution and would not introduce undesirable chelating agents such as EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid).

Should also add that if you decide to use chelated copper, its highly recommended you 'only' use a test kit produced or recommended by the manufacturer of that copper medication product in order to obtain a true and accurate reading. Otherwise, either under dosing or overdosing the treatment tank is possible with other brand test kits!

And think it prudent here to note there have been questions pertaining to varying levels of copper in treatment tanks containing a substrate where it appeared the copper level was at an adequate level, then suddenly was too high without additional doses of copper. To resolve this situation, visited with Dr. Craig Jones who stated the following: First realize that copper is a transition metal, i.e., it 'conducts' since it's a positively charged ion looking for a negatively charged ion, such as oxygen. And copper is more capable of oxygen attraction than iron, aluminum, magnesium, and calcium; therefore, copper will bind oxygen and kill bacteria such as aerobic, autotrophic, and heterotrophic species that perform mineralization and nitrification. This is a well-known fact.

However, and not yet fully understood is the fact that in aquariums with a substrate, deeper existing anaerobes such as facultative and obligate anaerobic heterotrophs living where little oxygen exists in the sandbed or rock actually take up the copper as a food source, possibly reducing the availability of an ionic copper product by as much as 80%. This suggests that when the fish are fed carbohydrate/sugar-based products, the anaerobes expel the copper in favor of this preferred food source, causing an increase in copper levels. Therefore swings in bulk water copper levels can happen, especially where the treatment tank contains a fairly deep substrate or rock and the treatment animals receive a diet containing sugar-like products. And if chelated copper products are used, those products used for chelation, such as heavy metals, can also be released into the bulk water when this oxidation process takes place (pers. com.).

Therefore, as noted above, my choice if I were to use copper, would be staying with ionic copper forms and treatments occurring in a bare-bottom hospital tank where resulting ammonia problems can be handled with water changes. Of course, when it comes to reef aquariums the use of copper and most other medications are taboo. In fact, the toxicity of copper need only be slightly higher than it is in NSW, i.e., 0.001 - 0.09 ppm, to harm most invertebrates.

While on the subject of copper, questions as to why small levels of this element would show up in an untreated system have occasionally surfaced in my email over the past couple of decades, and have given the following thoughts;

1 - The hobbyist used lava rock, dried/bleached corals, substrate, and/or possibly a glass aquarium that was part of a system that was at one time treated with copper. They were surprised to learn precipitated copper, whether deposited on dead coral rock, coral gravel, glass aquarium sealer, or possibly directly from lava rock can, under some circumstances leach back into solution. Remove anything easy to remove that could possibly be causing the problem and use a Poly-Filter to filter the aquarium water.

2 - If tap water experiences small amounts of copper there are two possibilities. The water supply may be coming from a land area naturally high in copper or copper pipes in the home may be leaching a small degree of it into the water. If the natural supply of water doesn't contain copper, it's probably coming from copper pipes. Simply run the tap water for a few minutes before using it, as this helps remove copper that has collected in stagnate portions of the system. Slowly running the water through activated carbon or molecular absorption filter pads will also remove a significant portion of it. Of course, processing the water through reverse osmoses and/or deionization equipment is a more preferred method. It's a good idea to get an analysis from the local water company or test it before using it in the aquarium.

3 - Some distilled bottled water may contain copper! If the pipes in the distilling process were made of copper it can leach into the product water. An ionic copper test kit would resolve its usefulness.

4 - Child proofing goes a long way as I've have heard of things anywhere from small copper toys to copper pennies being found at the bottom of the aquarium or in its sump.

5 - Trace additives were high in copper, either from the manufacturer's water supply or the ingredients themselves. Purchase only well-known aquarium brands or test the product if possible before use.

6 - If replenishing evaporated water directly from the tap you may want to set up a system I used many years ago. I simply connected a small quarter inch plastic line to the water spigot in our laundry room and ran the line to my aquarium sump where the water dripped through a I.V. drip valve over a Poly-Filter pad before entering the sump water. Even though a small section of the pad turned "blue" indicating there was some copper in our tap water, the pad was able to completely remove all the copper at a slow drip rate. This reef system worked perfectly for the four years I had it and I rarely ever had to manually add water.

Epson Salt

Besides an occasional boost to the magnesium level, as explained in Chapter 10, the addition of this very common product at the rate of one teaspoon per five gallons, is thought to ease swelling, such as what may happen if a fish bumps into something and a swelling results, e.g., a possible Popeye condition or a blister/bruised area. This dosage has been said to have been applied in fish-only or reef tanks without harm to its other inhabitants, although I've never personally tried it. However, since Epson Salt is magnesium sulfate, those two aspects will increase their percentages in the water and very possibly affect overall water quality. If, and I say 'if' swelling is reduced, as popeye can be the result of an internal fungus (Ichthyosporidium hoferi) infection under the eye where no truly effective medication is known, then suggest a water change to bring the water's constituents back within what is found in NSW.

If feasible, in my opinion, the treatment should be applied in a quarantine tank, where ongoing treatments can be applied after water changes. Or the tank turned into a hospital tank and various medications tried to cure the situation, if Epson Salt treatments do not have a positive affect.


This product is usually sold in reduced forms, usually as part of a combination of other ingredients making up a brand named product. It is used for treatment of external parasites, e.g., gill flukes and marine ich in quarantine or hospital tanks, and note, will negatively affect the nitrification cycle. Cannot be used on fish with open wounds. Sometimes used in combination with other chemicals, e.g., Malachite Green. Keep in mind, it is preferable to keep formalin products in the dark, and should a white precipitate form in the bottom of the bottle, the product should be discarded. This product is considered a carcinogen and must be handled appropriately. Also, be sure to aerate the water vigorously as formalin tends to lower its oxygen content. The availability of formalin containing products is dwindling, especially the US.

Note, Freshwater Dip, Hyposalinity, UV, and Ozone are other tried treatment methods and have already been discussed. And let me add here that any and all chemicals and/or drugs mentioned throughout this chapter and/or entire book do not in anyway represent an endorsement or a recommendation as to their use. Nevertheless, their history of use has proven when properly utilized, positive results were obtained.

FYI:, is a good place to find a fish health veterinarian

Diseases & Disorders

Probably the best way to approach this subject is to discuss the most commonly encountered, as its impossible to discuss all. And since 'Parasitic Infestations' are by far the most common, begin with it. Then follow on with a couple of maladies of great importance in 'Bacterial Infections' and one very commonly seen that will be discussed in "Viral Diseases.' As to other less common 'Bacterial Infections' and 'Fungal Infections,' along with those caused by 'Crustaceans,' suggest those be researched if of interest, possibly by reading the very popular 'The Marine Fish Health & Feeding Handbook' a TFH/Microcosm publication. Keep in mind there are other well-written books describing the majority of fish diseases, and some of their titles are listed in the Reference section of this book.

Parasitic Infestations

These can be generalized into two main groups - 'Protozoan' (single-celled) and 'Metazoan' (multi-celled) organisms. Unfortunately, parasites seem to be the most common cause of fish disease as well as fish death since they are capable of reproducing (sometimes quite explosively) in aquariums. As you may already know, parasites also disrupt the protective slime coating and epithelium (skin), causing secondary bacterial infections that can also affect fish health. In fact, it seems that no fish is exempt from these infestations once exposed. Lets begin this topic with protozoans, and complete it with those classified as metazoans.


These are single-cell organisms, and there are three main groups.The first group is known as the Flagellates, the second being the Ciliates, and lastly the Sporozoans. Therefore, lets divide this area of discussion into several topics so that you can come away with a good idea of what malady exists in each grouping.

First, the 'Flagellated' protozoans, which are motile, as they move, feed and attach to their host using their flagella, which are long whip-like appendages. The flagella may normally originate from either end of the organism. In this grouping I'll discuss 'Hole-in-the-Head' (Hexamita) and the dinoflagellates responsible for Amyloodiniosis 'Oodinium' - Marine Velvet/Coral Fish Disease.

In the second grouping, Ciliated protozoans possess cilia, which are hair-like appendages. These cilia generally are exhibited about the entire cell in quite an even fashion. They use their cilia for locomotion as well as for feeding purposes. In this grouping I'll discuss Saltwater Ich/White Spot Disease (Cryptocaryon irritans), Clownfish Disease (Brooklynella), and Uronema.

In the last group, the Sporozoans protozoans do not have the ability to move since they are typically transferred in the water by already infected fish or by the food eaten (Bassleer, 1996). Although there has not yet been any cure described for sporozoans that I'm aware of, they are significant enough to be noted here, i.e., Microsporidians and Myxosporidians (Whirling Disease), and you may want to research them further.


These can be considered as normal fauna on fish since they only become a problem during stressful periods, therefore, its thought healthy fish have the ability to keep them from becoming a health hazard (Gratzek, Wolke, Shotts, Dawe, & Blasiola, 1992).

Hole-in-the-Head - Hexamita

As for this flagellated pest, very little has been known about the organisms Hexamita and Spironucleus, since it has been reported these parasites sometimes reside in the gut of healthy fish such as angelfish and tangs (Bassleer, 1996), thereby commanding little research. Yet when its populations greatly expand, it appears to result in pitting/erosions around the head!

Problems with Hexamita seem to occur when fish are exposed to high levels of stress, such as from exposure to poor water quality, cold temperatures, high levels of organic waste, etc (Bassleer, 1996). It is also thought that Hexamita is transmitted through the water from contaminated detritus/fecal matter.

When overly affected, fish begin to lose their color and become pale and/or occasionally darkened, lose their appetite and subsequently lose body weight and become emaciated, similar to the result of Mycobacteriosis. They will also seek dark corners of the aquarium, lie on the bottom and become listless (L. Ichinotsubo, 2007). Often, as the infestation progresses, excretions of slimy white feces are visible.

If you're positive Hexamita affects your fish, its recommended feeding medicated foods containing metronidazole (Bassleer, 1996). Also, it can be used in the bulk water at a concentration of 9.1 - 10.4 ppm for three days, along with feeding Spirulina or the medicated food as noted above. Keep in mind this med does not dissolve well and should first be dissolved in a small amount of water prior to its use. As previously discussed, when medicated foods are used for three days, switch to non-medicated foods for three days, then return to medicated foods for three more days. Such a program will usually rid your fish of these flagellates (L. Ichinotsubo pers. com.).

Mike Breen, a Florida fish farmer in West Palm Beach indicates that feeding his fish foods containing Spirulina (he uses pelletized rabbit food) will cause fish to purge such parasites from their intestines and may be helpful to eliminate this problem. Keep in mind Mike deals mainly in freshwater species, yet, Spirulina-based foods are available for both freshwater and marine fish.

If unable to discern the disease or cure the problem, suggest contacting a fish pathologist to perform a postmortem on a selected specimen to resolve what pathogens are causing the problem. And do not confused this malady with that of Head and Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), which has many other possible causative agents.

Note, a fairly new medication has become available for these single-cell organisms possessing flagella or cilia, therefore, see the subject matter titled 'Advanced Treatment for Flagella & Cilia Organisms' below.

Velvet Disease - Amyloodinium ocellatum

Another fairly common disease, and one caused by the dinoflagellate Amyloodinium ocellatum. This parasite is actually an algal protozoan and possesses a life cycle comprised of three stages. They are: 1) the parasitic trophont stage, 2) the encysted or palmella stage (tomont stage), and 3) the dinospore stage (Gratzek, Wolke, Shotts, Dawe, & Blasiola, 1992).

In the first stage, i.e., the trophont stage, its absorbing nutrients for its reproduction from the fish body and are non-motile. While in the second stage, i.e., the encysted or palmella (tomont) stage, it is beginning its division/reproduction. When reaching the third stage, i.e., the dinospore stage, it's free-swimming and in quest of a new host.

Affected fish fins and eyes appear as though they have been rolled in powdered sugar since the parasite is of very small size, e.g., 50 - 60 microns, thus the common name Velvet Disease. Once this malady becomes advanced, e.g., affecting all external areas including the gills, there will be rapid gill movement and will excessively slough the protective slime coating, which is similar to what occurs in other parasitic infestations. Body surface irritations will cause the fish to begin rubbing against aquarium decor or scraping their bodies and gill plates on bottom substrate. It's often incorrectly called Marine Ich.

Once seen, which will first probably be visible on the fins as tiny white spots, Kingsford (1975), Noga (2000) suggests a 5-minute bath in freshwater, which is said will only dislodge some of the trophonts on the fish. Moe, 1992, reports that freshwater baths yield almost immediate results. Conversely, there are some authors who do not feel that freshwater baths are effective for this particular malady (Vaughan, pers. com.).

In fact, Vaughan prefers the fish be treated in a hospital tank with ionic copper sulfate at 0.18 to 0.20 ppm for three to four weeks, and states this will usually eliminate this disease. He also states that under no circumstance should the copper level be allowed to fall below 0.15 ppm, since levels below this concentration are virtually ineffective against this parasite. In fact, he recommends that copper concentrations always be kept at 0.20 ppm. Kingsford (1975) suggests a copper concentration much higher, between 0.25 and 0.4 ppm; however, gill damage due to hyperplasia may occur at levels higher than 0.18 ppm, so care must be taken with copper above this level (G. Blasiola). However, hyperplasia may occur at most levels of copper treatments and as to where that may occur, it's most likely the site of penetration of each individual trophont in the gill tissue (Vaughan, pers. com.). There's also the possibility antibiotics may be required if secondary bacterial infections take hold from various body damages due to flashing activities.

Clifton reports that quinacrine hydrochloride (an anti-malarial drug) when used in conjunction with copper sulfate has shown good results, particularly during the trophont stage. This is apparently due to the fact that because it is absorbed through the skin and gills of fish, it then travels through the bloodstream. As the parasite derives its nutrients from the fish's blood, it also takes in the medication (Clifton, 1993). Unfortunately this medicine is difficult to obtain and you may have to substitute with quinine hydrochloride, which has also provided similar good results. FYI, some species of fish appear to be sensitive to this medication (Hog Wrasses of the genus Bodianus for example), so proceed with caution.

It should be mentioned that many times a hobbyist will end the treatment too soon, as is the case with Cryptocaryon and after a few days of apparent cure, the parasite will reappear and infect fish once again. It has also been reported that dinospores may live without a host for an extended period of time (in excess of three to four weeks). Therefore, it might be wise to continue treatment for at least 10 days after the last signs of the parasite has been observed (Clifton, 1993).

During treatment highly recommend the specific gravity of the aquarium (hyposalinity) be lowered (of course only in treatment systems). Although some authors recommend lowering the specific gravity slowly, suggest an immediate drop to 1.010 - 1.013. There will not be any ill effects to the fish by dropping the salt content in this manner. There have been dramatic results in controlling the parasite this way due to the fact they are not osmoregulatory.

Vaughan also states that if temperatures were raised up to 80.6 - 82.4°F (27 - 28°C), it is possible to increase the rate of reproduction of this parasite. This, he feels, would lower the risk of re-infestation by shortening the life cycle of the parasite and encourage the dormant cysts to hasten their development.

When the treatment period has ended be sure to raise the specific gravity slowly, as osmotic shock and imbalances can result by raising the salt content too quickly. Recommend an adjustment of no more than .002 - .003 per 24 hours when bringing the salt content back up. For obvious reasons this procedure and medications such as copper sulfate should never be applied in an aquarium containing invertebrates as such a procedure will prove detrimental or lethal to invertebrates. Unfortunately, if occurring in a reef aquarium, infected fish will have to be removed to a hospital tank for treatment.

Note, a fairly new medication has become available for these single-cell organisms possessing flagella or cilia, therefore, see the subject matter titled 'Advanced Treatment for Flagella & Cilia Organisms' below.


Generally the ciliates are some of the largest protozoans aquarists encounter with some of them possibly as large as 350 to 450 microns in diameter, as is the case with Cryptocaryon irritans, (Bassleer, 1996).

Marine Ich - Cryptocaryon irritans

Cryptocaryon irritans/Cryptocaryonsis is probably the most common disease encountered by marine fish enthusiasts and has a life cycle of about 28 days. These ciliates bore under the fish's epithelium, causing a build-up of skin and slime resulting in a whitish appearance, giving it the familiar name of White Spot Disease. As does the infestation discussed above, this also has three stages: 1) trophont stage, 2) tomont stage, and 3) tomite stage.

The trophont stage is the period when the parasites are imbedded in the fish's skin, also known as the feeding stage/doing the most damage. The tomont stage is the stage when the parasites have fallen off the host and have encysted to reproduce, also known as the dividing stage. When reaching the third stage, the cyst breaks open and large amounts of tomites are released and seek new fish to infest, and its only during this final swarming stage that medications can actually kill the parasite.

In fish-only tanks, hyposalinity conditions, i.e., a specific gravity of 1.010 to 1.013 can be established as first aid, if at all possible. Keep in mind that since a density above 1.013 is not therapeutic/has no effect on the parasite, much care needs to be taken to assure the specific gravity does not go above this level during the treatment period. Combined with hyposalinity, an ionic copper sulfate solution utilized at a concentration of 0.18 to 0.20 ppm for a 'minimum' of 28 days in duration so as to encompass the entire life cycle of the parasite is quite effective. Additionally, it has been reported that copper sulfate in combination with formalin/malachite green has shown more effectiveness than copper sulfate alone (Bassleer, 1996).

Also, Moe (1992) suggests the use of quinacrine hydrochloride at a dose rate of 4 - 6 milligrams per gallon of water, although some recommend a dose rate twice that, or 8 - 12 milligrams per gallon of water (Kingsford, 1975). However, Kingsford goes on to add when using quinacrine hydrochloride aquarium lighting should be turned off as light slowly denatures or inactivates the medication. As previously mentioned Clifton reports that quinacrine is absorbed into the bloodstream and is therefore taken in by the parasite allowing for enhanced therapeutic effect. Quinine hydrochloride, another anti-malarial drug, has also been reported to be effective and many hobbyists are suggesting the use of this drug in reef aquariums with no ill effects on corals and invertebrates (various testimonials). Moe (1993) suggests a dose rate of 1 gram per 100 liters of water as an effective treatment, with two doses spaced at 24 hours apart. Unfortunately, experience with this medication indicates that invertebrates do not tolerate the medication at higher concentrations since at 250 mg/10 gallons many corals, mushrooms and feather dusters perished in trial tests (L. Ichinotsubo, 2007).

Finally, although many sources from the past recommended raising the aquarium temperature to 85°F or so, we, Lance and myself, do not. Even though this may work for freshwater Ich by preventing the uptake of oxygen through the cell membrane, it serves to stress the saltwater Ich to the point the parasite will encyst and go dormant. It will remain encysted until such time as the temperature is returned to normal at which time it will seek a new host, reinfesting the aquarium (G. Blasiola, pers. dis.). Actually, Lance has seen Cryptocaryon lay dormant in a reef aquarium for over 90 days only to reinfest newly introduced fish which had been in quarantine for over 60 days prior. Therefore, we recommend leaving the temperature at the normal level, e.g., approximately 76 - 78°F and refrain from changing it during treatment.

In reef aquaria, the infested fish need to be removed and placed in a suitable environment without any invertebrates for treatment. Often a most difficult situation to adequately accomplish!

Note, a fairly new medication has become available for these single-cell organisms possessing flagella or cilia, therefore, see the subject matter titled 'Advanced Treatment for Flagella & Cilia Organisms' below.

Clownfish Disease - Brooklynella hostilis

Clownfish or Anemonefish Disease is caused by the ciliated protozoan Brooklynella hostilis, which seems to be quite virulent since its simple cell division occurs very quickly (Bassleer, 1996). Typically, this disease will enter an aquarium on a previously infected fish. As the name indicates, Clownfish, as well as Seahorses are exceptionally susceptible to this malady. Nevertheless, it appears to affect all marine fish with the exception of elasmobranchs (Sharks and Rays).

There has not been a description of particular stages of its life cycle as in the case of the above two maladies. But it is known the parasite quickly divides right on the host and matures and then spreads to other fish directly where it feeds on their skin and blood cells, causing serious and extensive damage. Because of the great potential for damage, death usually occurs quite rapidly, typically as a result of fluid loss/dehydration and possible secondary bacterial infections.

Unfortunately, there are initially little outward signs of this disease except for possibly small whitish spots on skin and fin tissue, which can be easily overlooked. Unfortunately, not long after the initial infection, rapid gill movement will be seen, as the parasite will be causing damage to the gills. Soon, a patchy appearance may become visible on external skin areas as the slime coat builds-up/thickens in various affected areas of the body. There will then be turbidity (cloudiness) of skin, fins and eye tissue, and as the slime coat thickens, sloughing will occur, with it possibly hanging off the body in slimy strings.

The infected fish will begin rubbing against aquarium decor or scraping their bodies and gill plates on bottom substrate (as with the above infestation), lose their appetite, display rapid gill movement, sometimes display a shimmying behavior, and possibly no longer remain active and lay on the aquarium's substrate/bottom. Secondary bacterial infections may occur from skin lesions, and also incur dehydration.

Once again, hyposalinity conditions as first aid have shown good results in treating Brooklynella outbreaks since the parasite is not osmoregulatory, thereby having no control over its osmosis. This is why many authors, such as Nelson Herwig, George Blasiola, Martin Moe and Gerald Bassleer recommend freshwater baths (at least for the stronger specimens) to help reduce the number of parasites present. In the past, most authors agree that the drug of choice in combating a Brooklynella outbreak is formalin or formalin/malachite green solution, (formalin at 15 - 25 ppm/ malachite green at 1 - 2 drops/gal) for at least three treatments and performed every other day. Although there have been successes in the past with ionic copper sulfate at 0.18 - 0.20 ppm for 28 days when combined with hyposalinity conditions.

Nevertheless, highly recommend reviewing the subject matter titled 'Advanced Treatment for Flagella & Cilia Organisms' below.

Red Band Disease - Uronema marinum

Often misdiagnosed as a bruised area from a mishap of some kind that has developed a secondary bacteria infection. However, symptoms caused by the Uronema parasite, an elongated oval-shaped ciliated protozoa, need to be correctly identified and quickly treated, as once this malady becomes clearly visible/more prominent, death of the animal can be only a few days away!

Symptoms often include the development of red marks forming on the surface of the skin that normally cover fat and muscle areas, and often follow rows of scales so the mark/lesion is elongated. Sometimes the marks are angled downward as they progress longitudinally. Within a short time, e.g., possibly a day or two, the fish stops feeding, breathing becomes labored and overall it becomes weary and exhausted. Scales above the wound may become loose and begin to fall off.

Unfortunately, this malady is often seen on newly arriving fish and is thought a bruise from collection and/or transportation/shipping that may be developing a secondary bacteria infection. Nevertheless, it's an internally developing malady, not one caused by an outward cause.

Treating this malady can be somewhat difficult, as experience has shown this parasite tends to be unaffected by simple copper sulfate treatments. As recommended for the treatment of Brooklynella hostilis described above, a formalin or formalin/malachite green combination may be recommended as the treatment of choice. Nevertheless, Chloroquine phosphate (diphosphate) is proving to be 'very' effective! In fact, when dosed at the initial rate of 20 ppm and renewed every ten days at 10 ppm for three additional treatments, it has shown great promise over the use copper and formalin treatments!

Advanced Treatment for Flagellated & Ciliated Organisms

As with all five maladies mentioned above, a decision must be made where the affected fish can be treated along with the impact the medications will have on system filtration. It now appears these medications can be considered 'outdated' and fish treated quite successfully in either fish-only or possibly reef aquariums with an alternative product, with no harm to filtration bacteria! This product is called 'Chloroquine phosphate' or Aralen®. Similar to quinine hydrochloride, chloroquine is an antimalarial drug, and also like quinine, has similar effectiveness in the eradication of protozoan parasites and got first attention when it was mentioned in the book Fish Disease, Diagnosis and Treatment (Noga, 2000).

Some public aquariums have been using and recommending the use of chloroquine for quite some time now with very positive results, as indicated by the discussions on the Aquatic Info Serve, which is an information exchange service for public and professional aquarists, hosted by the New England Aquarium and moderated by Brian Nelson. In fact, in a personal discussion with Lance Ichinotsubo, Michael Stafford, a doctor of veterinary medicine and the consulting veterinarian for the American National Fish and Wildlife Zooquarium in Springfield, Missouri, highly recommended chloroquine for the treatment of Cryptocaryon and Brooklynella. He also indicated that copper and formalin medications are now considered passé in his opinion, in as much as they have become somewhat outdated and archaic. In fact, chloroquine has proven to be very effective, while much safer and less toxic than other traditional treatments of the past. And since it remains very stable in solution and only requires one dose every five days, it simplifies the procedure greatly, eliminating the need for daily testing and treating, such as what is required with other medications, e.g., copper.

Further research led to finding some public aquariums experimenting with it and having very good success treating the above-mentioned maladies, including Uronema. Early experiments with the product showed that while much safer and less toxic than other traditional treatments of the past, it did have a negative effect on alga. Therefore, aquarium alga and invertebrates containing zooxanthellae were at risk, which were witnessed firsthand in some early experiments, where some soft and stony corals perished (L. Ichinotsubo, pers. com.). Nevertheless, Richard Terrell of the Pittsburg Zoo Aquarium & PPG Aquarium has reported using chloroquine-dosed gel foods to halt an outbreak of Cryptocaryon in a giant clam exhibit, with excellent results and credits Robyn Doege of the Dallas World Aquarium for providing the information.

In a preparation of the gel food that is made at the aquarium, Rich states: "I used our Metronidazole gel recipe to arrive at an approximation for the Chloroquine. Metro is mixed at 625mg/100g gel diet to yield 25mg/Kg body weight. Chloroquine is supposed to be 50mg/Kg. So I added 3.7g of Chloroquine phosphate to 300g gel powder. Then I added hot water to make the consistency I want. I estimated about 100-125g of fish in the exhibit. Figuring a little less than one part gel powder and medication mixture per one part water by weight, I arrived at about 4 g of gel food per feed. For the garlic gel I mixed about a third of one container of garlic powder into roughly 300g gel powder. Then I added hot water and mixed."

Additionally, in a follow-up discussion with Rich, he offered the following information: "I just wanted to pass on an update to the Crypt outbreak in our giant clam exhibit. We started feeding Chloroquine gel food every third day on July 3. We also started garlic gel on the off days from the Chloroquine gel. I have done two 30% water changes with hydro-cleaning in that time period. The fish have mostly cleared of their infestation. The lone exception is a flame hawkfish (Neocirrhites armatus) which looks better but is still a bit pale in color and just looks a bit off. But he is still active and feeding. And the treatment is supposed to continue for another 2 weeks. The only adverse reaction I have seen is a hammer coral that is directly below the usual food introduction spot. Half of it showed RTN-like symptoms. We immediately started feeding on the opposite side of the tank and added..." (a chemical filter media/Poly-Filter) ..." to the system to remove any dissolved Chloroquine. The remainder of the coral looks healthy at this point as do the Discosoma, Rhodactis and Tridacna."

I must say, this method of introducing chloroquine to fish in a living reef aquarium, which otherwise could not be treated, looks very promising. It represents an idea on the cutting edge of new and creative thinking. Such innovation and creativity is what continues to improve our ability to keep fish in captivity healthier and happier for a long time. Furthermore, the door has opened to a medication that is proving to be much more effective than copper or formalin.

As to availability, Lance has purchased it in the form of bulk crystalline powder from Spectrum Chemicals, located in Gardena, California, and also from Fishman Chemicals in Marathon, Florida. Lance goes on to say that many of the public aquariums that use chloroquine obtain it from Sigma-Aldrich, another chemical supplier located in St. Louis, Missouri. Alfa Chemicals in Kings Point, New York also advertises themselves as suppliers of this drug. Also, there are a few distributors in Europe, such as Applichem and Chemos GmBH in Germany, as well as many in China, such as Betapharma Shanghai Inc. Co., in Shanghai; Kinbester Co., Ltd. in Xiamen; and, Lemman Laboratories International Co., Ltd., located in Hangzhou. Of course, there are many others as well, too many to mention here. Since it does not appear that any special permits or licenses are required to procure this chemical, it should not be a problem acquiring the chemical directly, without consulting a veterinarian.

We, i.e., Lance and I, recommend the bulk crystalline powder form over the chloroquine phosphate USP tablets since it is easier to measure and administer. Keep in mind a gram scale is required to properly measure the appropriate quantity. If tablet usage is the way you'll go, then you will need to crush them, preferably with a mortar with a pestle. In most cases, 250 mg tablets have an equivalence of 150 mg chloroquine base, and 500 mg tablets have an equivalence of 300 mg chloroquine base. Although the purity mentioned above is generally accurate, it would be best to verify the chloroquine base contained in the tablets of your choice in order to be able to properly calculate the exact dosage. Keep in mind if you decide to use the tablets, there are some inactive ingredients, which you may have to deal with, e.g., Camauba Wax, Colloidal Silicon Dioxide, Dibasic Calcium Phosphate, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Magnesium Stearate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Polyethylene Glycol, Polysorbate 80, Pregelatinized Starch, Sodium Starch Glycolate, Stearic Acid, and Titanium Dioxide. And as mentioned earlier in this chapter there are occasions where some medicines are not in their pure form (100% pure), i.e., mixed with a substance called a 'carrier,' which should be noted on its label. If so its potency is reduced, and if not sure about the exact amount of medication needed, suggest contacting a more experienced aquarist for the way to resolve this situation. Keep in mind; by dissolving 10 mg of pure chloroquine power into one liter of water, it yields a 10 ppm dosage. That is equivalent to 38.5 mg per gallon, or almost 40 mg per gallon, as Noga indicates.

As with most medications, suggest removing any activated carbon from the filter system since it will remove the medication from solution. Also suggest turning off your protein skimmer during the course of treatment, as experience indicates it too may remove the medication to some degree. Also, if ultraviolet sterilization and/or ozone are being employed, turn them off also during treatment since they have shown the ability to denature or even destroy chemical compounds. Worse than that, they can even create free radicals and other toxic compounds, which would be contraindicative of the purpose. Although it remains unsubstantiated these actions are necessary, believe that the prudent thing to do would be not taking any chances of lowering the efficacy of the medication.

In trials using this medication there have been excellent results in treating flagellated and ciliated protozoans and further want to say that the medication does not seem to have any detrimental effects on biological filters, as it is not a true antibiotic. Nevertheless, as previously mentioned it seems to be extremely toxic to algae in aquariums. This fact was clearly noted by the disappearance of all nuisance algae in some treated systems! It could be that chloroquine limits the availability of iron to the algae, inhibiting its intracellular multiplication, yet that's still not a clarified position.

As to this seemingly toxicity to algae (remember that zooxanthellae is an alga), it has demonstrated negative effects on some stony and soft corals, many of which quickly perished in some test systems (L. Ichinotsubo, per. com.). It could then be assumed this chemical is having deleterious effects on all organisms containing symbiotic algae within their tissues, such as Tridacna Clams. Then again, the mechanism could be totally unrelated; nevertheless, more research will need to be accomplished to know for sure. To reiterate, it should be understood that chloroquine is not safe for use in reef aquariums, and it would be best to remove fish from reef aquariums and treat them in a quarantine or hospital aquarium.

Even since writing about its usage in "The Marine Fish Health and Feeding Handbook" (TFH/Microcosm, 2007) and several magazines since then, I've personally tracked its usage as discussed in associated Q&A sessions with interested readers. Even though initial and on-going dosages have varied over the last few years, it now seems the initial dose should be 15 ppm/l, (60 ppm/gal) with 3 additional treatments of 10 ppm/l every 7 to 10 days, with a 10 - 15% water change just prior to additional doses. One further point of information has arisen, and that in some treated aquariums some fish species seem to lose their appetite. In those cases, which have been few, suggested increasing water changes by 50%, i.e., 15 - 25%, and even somewhat further if still not effective. Furthermore, when treating with chloroquine, the use of hyposalinity seems redundant, as its just another task to be implemented and maintained properly. And since past chloroquine usages/experiences without the use of hyposalinity have shown excellent results, it seems that hyposalinity is not needed to assist with the recovery. Nevertheless, the jury is still out on that, so to speak. So make your own decisions on this aspect.

And once the treatment has ended, performing a water change of at least 50% (more if deemed necessary) to remove any metabolites or degraded chemical, which may be in solution, is recommended. Also, since phosphate is part of the compound's formula, the use of this compound will tend to increase the concentration of this undesirable algae nutrient, if by no other reason than default. Besides a water change, the use of phosphate-removing media may be required after the treatment has ended. And as with most chemicals, activated carbon should be placed back in the filter to remove the remaining drug from solution, and to fully terminate the treatment.

Furthermore, as good words spread about this medication, there is now a chloroquine phosphate impregnated food available! If that and an Anti-Bacterial food product may be of interest, research Dr. G's fish foods at for more information. Also checkout 'New Life International, Inc.,' ( for their products.

All in all, chloroquine phosphate or chloroquine phosphate (diphosphate) - no important difference - appears to be the next step forward in the treatment of the above-mentioned maladies. Nevertheless, there still remains 'unknowns' associated with this medication, therefore proceed with care.

Update Mid-2013

As of this date, evidence continues to mount that CP is especially harmful to blue tangs (Paracanthurus hepatus), and also some others in this family such as Powder Blues (Acanthurus leucosternon), so give much thought to systems containing these Surgeonfish before treating.

Also, more dialogue has been received showing that some fish appetites become negatively affected when dosages are too high, e.g., >20 ppm.

Because of this, there is growing thought that CP usage needs to be reduced. Therefore, have discussed this situation with Lance Ichinotsubo, the co-author of my last book, "The Marine Aquarium Health and Feeding Handbook' who has just opened his own shop in Florida, as to his thoughts, as he personally uses CP in his shop. His recommendation is: dose 0.013 gram per gallon per day for the first three days. This results in a 10 ppm solution at the end of the first three days. Then wait seven days and accomplish a 30 - 40% water change. Then repeat dosage, however, only treat for the number of gallons replaced and use only 'half' the gallon dosage originally used. Wait another ten days, and do the same amount of water change and re-dose as just described.

If wanting to begin with a 20 ppm solution, simply double the above dosage levels. However, that may affect fish appetites. Yet good water changes and reduced follow-on doses 'may' alleviate that situation. Nevertheless, still somewhat speculation at this point in time, as detailed info from various sources is extremely difficult to collect.

There have also been some emails from hobbyists in countries where CP is unavailable, and have been asked if products like mefloquine (Trade name Larium) or hydoxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug could be used. From what I understand, these are effective against protozoans and could be used as a substitute. Unfortunately, those requesting my thoughts never did follow-up and therefore, have nothing further to add.

Update Late-2014

The use of fish foods containing Chloroquine has had a problematic past. But at the 2014 MACNA in Denver, had the opportunity to talk to two leaders in this field of endeavor, Dr.G's Marine Aquaculture and New Life International, and both assure me that in the past the problem has been its 'taste ability' or palate ability!!! I'm now informed by Dr.G's that his fish roe/fish eggs soaked in Chloroquine will have the fish gulping down the medicated food - problem solved! Also, New Life International appears to have also solved that situation and has 1mm sinking pellet food called ICK-Shield that contains Chloroquine. They also have a Chloroquine 'powder' product also called ICK-Shield that can be used in the water to directly treat the maladies.

Highly recommend contacting these companies for further information! Could well be, hopefully, that said food products used for 21 days, then diet switched to other regular foods, is the 'future' for the hobby where treating this malady/maladies is concerned.

Update Mid-2015

The following letter from an oriental hobbyist is just one of many from around the world that have been using CP these past couple of years noting their successes. I'm very pleased to see much progress being made with the use of this product!

"Dear Bob,

I just let you know it didn't kill my scorpionfish even though local petstore owners were against doing it. All of my scorpionfish, 2 waspfish, cockatoo and seagoblin are so far doing fine and eating well. All of showsize tangs were infected velvet a month ago. They all have healed; all of fine spots were long gone and the respiration came down normal. I am very impressed with the CP. Have a nice day."

FYI - there has been some unkind remarks about the quality of the Fishman CP product, to which Lance and I looked into but found no evidence of it being true (in fact Lance uses the Fishman product in his shop), so we are giving Dr. Fishman a clean bill of health on his CP supply.

Update Mid-2017

Since there continues to be major interest in the use of CP have again discussed this situation with Lance Ichinotsubo, my co-author of the book, "The Marine Aquarium Health and Feeding Handbook' who I consider one the leading authorities on aquarium fish diseases in the USA.

He has now owned his own shop in Florida for several years where he is a user of CP, and wanted to know his latest thoughts since he quarantines all his stock to be absolutely sure his customers get 'only' perfectly healthy specimens. In fact, even prior to CP usage, Lance has over the past couple of decades always quarantined all his fishes in his previous stores.

After trying several different dosages over the past few years, Lance is now of the opinion the following now appears to be the best procedure;

His recommendation is: initially dose a 20 ppm solution. Then wait ten days and accomplish a 30 - 40% water change. Then dose 5 ppm and wait an addition ten days and again accomplish a 30 - 40% water change, then repeat the 5 ppm dosage and wait an addition ten days and again accomplish a 30 - 40% water change, and finally then repeat the 5 ppm dosage one more time. That's an initially dose of 20 ppm, followed by three 5 ppm doses after the mentioned percentage water changes. According to Lance, he now feels sure the slightly higher initial dose is needed, and the follow-up smaller dosages will insure the malady is fully exterminated.

We also discussed the usage of CP medicated foods, those from Dr.G's Marine Aquaculture and New Life International. I mentioned these medicated foods, if fed once every 5 - 7 days will, in my opinion, possibly help maintain enough CP in the blood stream to ward off these type maladies from the introduction of a new species into the aquarium that might be an active carrier of the disease. Lance thought that quite feasible, and mentioned that a third company is now close to introducing products in its food line that will also contain CP. When I have more info and the timing is proper, it will get mentioned here.



There is no doubt many metazoan (multi-celled) parasites, with worms and crustaceans mostly affecting marine fish. In fact, Moe (1989) states, most of the "...metazoan parasites affecting marine fish belong to the categories of worms and crustaceans."

As to crustaceans, i.e., isopods and parasitic copepods, very rarely are they a problem, therefore suggest researching these pests, again possibly in a book mentioned in References.

As to worms, flukes, round worms, anchor worms, and gill worms, some are problematic maladies and can also be researched if desired, however there is one worth mentioning here and that is often referred to as Yellow Tang Black Spot Disease.

Black Spot Infestation

There is still discussion on what genus this free-living worm belongs in but for the discussion here its black spots are easily seen on the sides of Yellow Tangs, and in fact other genera of fish such as butterflyfishes, angelfishes, and wrasses to mention a few. This malady is often found in aquariums with a high level of organic waste, and the black spots on fish sides are actually the host's blood which the worm is feeding upon.

In fact, poorly maintained aquariums that are overfed and overcrowded are an ideal breeding place for this worm. A major infestation can begin with one free-swimming worm finding a host where it attaches to the skin or gill tissue and then feeds on the animals' blood. Within a few days it leaves the host and drops to the aquarium bottom where it matures. Several days later it splits releasing a swarm of many free-swimming worms to begin the cycle all over again (Blasiola, 1991; Moe, 1989; Noga, 2000). Having a short life cycle of about 10 days at 76°F (24.5°C) (Noga, 2000), this parasite can create an infestation of vast proportions within a short period of time if treatment is not swiftly implemented. In fact, Noga (2000) reports that a single mature parasite can develop upwards of 160 juveniles, and that within 20 days a single infested fish could be harboring up to 4500 parasites! No doubt death of this specimen would not be far off!

Visually, small black dots can be seen on affected fish sides and possibly fins, and often the fish will begin scratching themselves on aquarium surfaces and in severe cases stop eating, experience rapid breathing and become inactive. If occurring in a fish-only aquarium, hyposalinity is a possible treatment, with severely infested fish undergoing freshwater baths containing formalin, or formalin and malachite green. Prepare the bath water with 2 to 20 drops per net gallon of water with a 37% formaldehyde solution. Time in the bath relates directly to the concentration of formalin, with a stay in a two-drop solution possibly far longer than one using more drops of formalin. Keep in mind the bath water should be aerated since formalin tends to rob oxygen from the bath solution. Carefully observe the fish undergoing the bath, terminating it if showing excessive stress. Refrain from using formalin dips if the fish has severe lesions or skin damage (Gratzek, Wolke, Shotts, Dawe, & Blasiola, 1992).

Since formalin can inhibit nitrification, ammonia poisoning is a real problem; therefore highly recommend its use be limited only to hospital tanks or via freshwater baths. Also, if the overall infestation is really severe moving all severely infested fish to a suitable size hospital tank, instead of moving individuals frequently, is a far better practice. Then using hyposalinity along with formalin or formalin/malachite green solution at a dose rate of 15 - 25 ppm formalin (@1.25 - 2 drops per net gallon) combined with 0.05 ppm malachite green is recommended for at least three treatments, every other day (Gratzek, Wolke, Shotts, Dawe, & Blasiola, 1992).

Other hospital tank treatments include Trichlorfon (also known as Masoten, Dylox or DTHP) at 1.0 ppm daily for three consecutive days.

David Vaughan suggests that even though praziquantel (trade name Droncit) at a dose of 1 ppm may possibly be effective, his experience indicates that a dose of 18.75 ppm was required to eradicate this particular genus worm from a system he treated at the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town South Africa. The use of this product at 250 mg/100 grams of food is another possible way to deworm the infested species, and this application has been highly recommended by Kelly Jedlicki.

There is no information on the use of chloroquine phosphate at this point in time concerning this malady, however, Kingsford (1975) recommends quinacrine hydrochloride, another similar drug used to treat malaria, at 8 - 12 mg/gal of water in divided doses, 1/2 immediately and the other 1/2 in 6 - 12 hours.

Whatever your choices are of the above medications, at the same time any of the above treatments are taking place, thoroughly vacuum the aquarium sandbed and remove any obstructions that are preventing from keeping a clean aquarium, and if overcrowded, reduce its bioload. Once hospital tank treatments end, slowly raise its specific gravity as previously mentioned and reintroduce the fish to its now hopefully clean aquarium.

Viral Diseases

There's only one viral disease that can without any in-depth testing be easily recognized and that is 'Lymphocystis,' or what is often called the Cauliflower or Nodule Disease.

Nodule Disease - Lymphocystis

The virus known as Iridovirus can, in its initial stage be identified by a salt-like appearance; either on the fins and/or the body, and in advanced cases an almost cauliflower-like cluster of giant cells. Rough handling often causes it and/or very stressful shipping conditions (Bassleer, 1996, Moe, 1992), and once the slime coatings on the fins and/or body are disturbed, tissue becomes open to the attack of this virus.

Even though all fish are susceptible, it's usually seen on large fish such as angelfishes and butterflyfishes, especially new arrivals. As mentioned above, when first beginning, it may have a salt-like appearance and this has led to it be treated as Marine Ich, usually with copper treatments, which of course have no effect on a virus, nor does any medication. As the growths progress and get larger it spreads to the body and can make its way to the mouth and gill areas. Once there, it can interfere with respiration and feeding.

In situations not overly severe and where aquarium conditions are healthful, such as good water quality, proper tankmates, and where the food supply is adequate, the best course of action may be to allow the virus to run its course as it sometimes dissipates within a few weeks.

If for some reasons it continues to progress, placing the affected fish in quarantine may be prudent. If doing so, the worst infected fin areas can be trimmed away with scissors, with those fin edges then treated with a swab of Tincture of Merthiolate or Mercurochrome (if still available in your area) or that of Tincture of Iodine before returning it to the quarantine tank. Any growths interfering with breathing and/or feeding should also be removed as carefully as possible to prevent any further damage. To reduce the possibility of a secondary bacteria infection, there's a Chinese tea extract that is found in a product called MelaFix, which may be helpful. In fact, I've used it to heal secondary bacteria infections on some fish, even in my reef aquariums.

Bacterial Infections

Many different genera/species of bacteria are associated with marine fish diseases, and it can safely be said all marine fish are susceptible to bacterial infections! The treatment 'key' is then to identify the species of bacteria and whether they are gram positive or gram negative (does not absorb a laboratory stain used to identify the species therefore making the shotgun approach necessary - see below). Even though aquarists are ill equipped to make this decision distinction, fortunately the majority of bacterial infections affecting marine fish (upwards of 95% or more) are gram-negative, which somewhat simplifies treatment for the most part (J.B. Gratzek). Therefore, one can almost always assume if a bacterial infection is present, an antibiotic, especially a broad-spectrum antibiotic (often called the 'shotgun' approach), used to treat gram-negative bacteria will more often than not be appropriate (L. Ichinotsubo pers. dis./G. Blasiola).

When one thinks about it, disease-causing bacteria seem to be quite widespread in nature, nevertheless, most of the bacterial 'infections' in aquaria can be considered secondary and/or opportunistic, which means there is usually a primary or initial problem (i.e., parasitic infestation, trauma to the fish, poor nutrition, poor water quality, territorial aggression, etc.) causing an open window for the bacteria to gain a foothold. Therefore, treatment with antibiotics could be considered a secondary treatment, with the improvement of environmental conditions the primary direction to undertake.

Keep in mind nitrification occurs as a result of bacteriostatic activity, and those bacteria are gram-negative; therefore, many antibiotics may inhibit and/or kill them, particularly ones designed to treat gram-negative bacteria such as erythromycin. Therefore, since these type infections are usually species specific, i.e., not all tankmates, its much wiser to treat the infected specimen in a hospital tank, not the main aquarium. In this manner, nitrifying bacteria will not be harmed in the main system.

There are several external and internal bacterial maladies that are well-worth reading about, such as White Skin Patch Disease, Fin Rot, Lesions, Skin Hemorrhaging (all external) along with a couple of internal infections such as Mycobacteriosis (Wasting Away Disease) and that of a 'Bloating' condition that can be troublesome. Nevertheless, only one internal infection will be discussed here since it can be transmitted to humans! As to the others mentioned above, they can be found discussed at length in several books mentioned in References.

Wasting Away Disease/Tuberculosis

This is by far the most common of all internal bacterial infections, and even though its thought there are several species of this bacterium, i.e., Mycobacterium, it is also known to cause Tuberculosis (TB) in humans. In fact, its one of the few fish diseases that can be contracted by humans, and since it normally lasts over a long time period, its also known as the 'Wasting Away Disease' as death comes about over an extended period of time where the body loses strength and energy.

As for affected fish, they will begin to lose weight and an area just behind the head may become sunken, while the areas behind pectoral fins will begin to bulge because the liver is becoming enlarged. Possibly one or both eyes may bulge, and scale loss may occur. There may also be white patches and/or lesions on the body with the fish becoming lethargic and seeking the more darkened corners of the aquarium.

When such conditions exist, the bacterium now present in the bulk water can enter the human through a cut or wound and an open sore that will not heal will develop. In such a case, the fishkeeper must go to a doctor and inform him or her they work with fish and suspect 'mycobacteriosis' may be among the causes of the problem. If infected, antibiotics will be prescribed and hopefully resolve the human problem.

But where fish are concerned, once recognized, it's often sadly too late to cure. And if so, it would be wise to sterilize the entire system, with first euphonizing all fish. Nevertheless, if one wants to try some different medications, kanamycin, at a dosage of 20 - 40 ppm for 3 - 5 days (Bassleer, 1996) has shown some effectiveness. Its also been recommended by Bassleer, that Ionized (a tuberculin drug) used at a dosage of 1.0 g/100 liter for 3 or 4 days has been helpful or streptomycin at a dosage of 2.0 - 4.0 g/100 liter for 2 - 3 days has been helpful as well. However, further doses at somewhere between 30 to 60 days may be required. Herwig, (1979) suggests Rifampin (also known as rifampicin) at a dosage of 6 mg/100 g of food as a possible cure. Vitamin B6 in the form of baby vitamins has also been put forth as a helpful 'aid' when treating this malady with drugs and its suggested it be added to the treatment tank at the rate of 1 drop per 5 gallons as an initial dose, and repeated after every water change. Of course, these are all treatments that should take place in a fish-only or hospital tank. Again, by the time most aquarists recognize this malady, the disease has advanced to a point where the fish(s) can probably not be saved.

It is worth mentioning here that in chronic cases, the disease causes deformities within the fish's outer layer/skin, making it impossible for the fish to accept any food. As a result, deaths may also occur from starvation (Bassleer, 1996). And should this malady infect your fish, be sure to sterilize nets and other tools to prevent the spread of this disease. No doubt a difficult malady to cure, and one that requires aquarist education so as not to spread it to other aquariums, or their self!

Other Causes

There are 'conditions' that either contributes to a disease, or itself become life ending. Lets first look at what is sometimes referred to as New Tank Syndrome, and then what is commonly called a Wipeout. Then discuss Gas Bubble Disease, Popeye, and HLLE.

Ammonia/Nitrite Poisoning

Sometimes referred to as "New Tank Syndrome." It occurs either in new aquariums where bioload outstrips the capability of any existing bacteria to process incoming ammonia or where medication has suppressed the functions of existing bacteria. Excessive amounts of ammonia/nitrite impair the function of the kidneys and liver and results in excessive mucus in the gill areas. Rapid respiration occurs, mouths hang open, fish may try to jump out of the tank, eyes cloud, colors fade, swimming may be erratic, and death follows.

Remove some or all of the affected fish and place them in a well aerated, ammonia/nitrite free holding container, possibly a quarantine or hospital tank. Add 20 drops of 1% by weight methylene blue per gallon to their holding tank, which will add additional oxygen and aid respiration. Use commonsense as to bioload and/or the cycling of the system when placing the fish back into their aquarium.

Toxic Tank Syndrome

Often called a 'Wipeout' where there may be loss of all fish within 24 hours. Even though there is usually no noticeable level of ammonia or nitrite, a virulent toxin may have been released by the biological filter and is sometimes species specific. Therefore, its possible only certain species in the tank will be affected. The bacteria, Vibrio is thought to be a possible culprit. It fits the syndrome as it proliferates quickly, attacks fishes externally and internally, and overrides/replaces other bacteria in the system. Symptoms include rapid respiration, colors darken, may be listless, shimmy-like swimming, possible weight loss, lesions, and sometimes grouping together and facing into a current of water where they shimmy and shake.

There are other possible causes, such as airborne chemicals entering the aquarium water, evaporation water makeup not properly working and radically affecting species gravity, toxins released by some tankmates, radically temperature shift, and the list goes on and on. These type possibilities require commonsense corrections, however, if the cause is thought to be toxin related, numerous water changes and use of activated carbon/Poly-Filters 'may be helpful. If necessary and the cause remains unknown, sterilize the 'system' and its components before starting over.

Head & Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE)

Probably one of the most bewildering maladies is that of Head & Lateral Line Erosion (HLLE), and an ideal subject that in my opinion should follow any discussion on nutrition. Nevertheless, its cause(s) are still being discussed in aquarium land. As for this malady, it often appears as a pitted area on the face and/or along the lateral line of the fish, the cause of which has generated much conjecture.

As for the lateral line itself, it's an organ on both sides of the fish and also surrounds the eyes and mouth and is made up of tiny gelatinous neuromasts and hair-like cells similar to those in the human inner ear. It helps fish sense its surroundings, such as changes in water current and water disturbances, which can then be related to the size and location and even the shape of others fishes in the area. It could also be considered a backup warning system when in darkened areas.

That of dietary or vitamin deficiencies, stray electrical current or free electromagnetic fields, exposure to heavy metals, protozoan organisms, poor water quality, stress, the use of activated carbon, certain medications, and even various viral and bacterial infections has been put forth as possible causes to lateral line erosion.

It would seem reasonable to assume that any of these conditions could (possibly in conjunction with others) provide the emphasis necessary to get this malady going. Until more evidence is presented, I am personally convinced that poor or inadequate diet combined with stress and poor water quality (in that order) remains as one of the leading causes. Furthermore, that HLLE could be considered comparable to rickets or beriberi in humans, and that poor water quality and stress no doubt irritates a vitamin/mineral deficiency and the deteriorated areas on the fish body then become a haven for bacteria and viral infections.

My position is based on an incident that occurred over 20 years ago when the president of a local aquarium society was given a Purple Tang that had come into a local aquarium shop riddled from head to tail, or what was left of the tail, with HLLE. The fish was placed in a 100-gallon aquarium that contained some lionfish and lots of good hiding places. The water quality was excellent and the tang was fed flake food soaked in an all-natural multi-vitamin solution and was also given the excess macroalgae from another aquarium. The flake was fed as often as possible in the beginning, sometimes as many as ten to fifteen times a day. Only a small pinch of treated flake was dropped in the aquarium, never any more than the fish would eat in a minute or two. Within a few months the fish was almost fully recovered and was beginning to look like it just came from the ocean! About a year later the above remedy was suggested to a fellow hobbyist in England who was having a severe HLLE problem with one of his angelfish. After trying the recommendation for a few months he wrote back saying the fish was returning to normal.

Often, tangs and angelfishes are among the most affected, as most are herbivores where their diet consists mainly of algae. And since micro and macroalgae contain a wide variety of trace elements and vitamins, the lack of a proper supply of these elements and vitamins may just be part of the problem. Also, keep in mind that broccoli, which contains Vitamin A, C, E, and some iodine, may be something to occasionally feed fresh or blanched to those fish requiring vegetable matter in their diet. Additionally, it's said that fish exposed to natural sunlight don't seem to be affected by this malady, possibly due to the fact that Vitamin D synthesis requires exposure to sunlight. It could be there's a connection there also, although this it's only anecdotal at this time, based on personal observations.

Somewhat recently, Jay Hemdal has offered some new information on the condition of HLLE, as he reports that although pathogens by their very nature are considered contagious, there has never been any demonstration of HLLE being spread based on introducing affected fish into aquariums with unaffected fish. He speaks of case studies where fish affected with HLLE have been moved to a new aquarium but fed the same diet have had the symptoms reversed, while fish not moved to a new aquarium but fed a new and enhanced diet have not had any remission. And where the thoughts are that copper-based medications or the use of activated carbon may be possible causes, he is of the opinion it's somewhat coincidental with no clearly demonstrated cause and effect, yet does mention that some cases of HLLE have appeared in public aquariums where considerable amounts of activated carbon 'dust' entered the aquarium.

Ultimately however, further research on this condition is required, as there are still many unanswered questions as to the true cause(s) of HLLE, but my thoughts on its cause is still on the 'nutrition' factor, with secondary infections creating an ever-increasing area of concern.

Gas-Bubble Disease

When water becomes supersaturated with gasses, usually mostly nitrogen as it makes up about 80% of air, the gas is absorbed directly into the fish's tissues where gas bubbles will form in the eye, gills, skin and/or fin tissue. If they form in the gill area it can block the uptake of oxygen and/or prevent the elimination of carbon dioxide. When fine bubbles form in the bloodstream, blockage/blood clots form. In fact, oxygen depletion - death by asphyxiation - can also result from 'excess' nitrogen being forced into solution, often caused by an improperly operating water pump and in such cases, entire collections of fish have been known to quickly die.

Of course loss of life in this case cannot be stopped by treatment with any medication, as there are no disease-causing organisms associated with this problem, as the cause is usually an improperly operating water pump. Most often there is an air leak on the suction side of an externally mounted high-pressure water pump. As the air comes in contact with the pumps impeller, usually rotating quite rapidly (in most cases, up to 3500 RPM or more), the air becomes 'atomized' and is forced into solution at concentrations much higher than those found under normal atmospheric conditions and nitrogen gas supersaturation results. Although oxygen may also be supersaturated, nitrogen presents the greater problem under this condition. The fix requires the pump in question to be shut down and the suction side fitting's thread to be wrapped with something like Teflon tape and reassembled. Once the cause is eliminated, fish having bubbles should return to normal over time.


The unnatural extension of the eye, exhibiting unilateral (one-sided) or bilateral (two-sided) Exophthalmia (Popeye) may be caused by impact damage to the eye area, such as those caused by various factors including collisions with other animals/objects in the aquarium, or an internal fungus. Should the extension be caused by other than a fungus, possibly a small amount of Epsom Salt, e.g., 1 level teaspoon per 5 gallons might reduce muscle tension enough to allow the eye to return to near/normal condition. No repeat of the Epsom Salt treatment should be attempted unless there is a significant water change.

However, if a popeye condition is accompanied by an unsteady motion, similar to whirling or other odd swimming movements and/or possibly rough/bumpy skin tissue, it could have an internal fungus known as Ichthyophonus hoferi invading its organs. This fungus was previously known as Ichthyosporidium hoferi due to confusing taxonomic descriptions in past works (Post, 1987).

It is attained from eating other infected tissue, usually feeder fish/fish flesh Unfortunately this disease, called Reeling or Sandpaper Disease, usually does not exhibit any symptoms until the fish is in its latter stages of infection, and if exhibiting these additional symptoms is no doubt impossible to save and should be isolated in a hospital tank. Food, soaked in a 1% solution of phenoxyethanol can be used as an effective treatment against Ichthyophonus, although not always successful (Bassleer, 1996).

Should this disease appear to infect your fish, it would be wise to relocate it to hospital tank where it can be treated, as this 'may' help to prevent the spread of this disease to other fish in the main system. Unfortunately, once the symptoms appear it's usually too far advanced for a cure to be affected, and it may be necessary to destroy affected specimens.

Sterilizing the Aquarium

There may come a time when all methods of care have gone for nil, or a disease has become overwhelming and the system as a whole will have to be disinfected. Keep in mind if any remaining animals look well enough to be save, they may still be a carrier of the malady that has initiated this drastic task. And if saved, should be placed in a separate system and never returned to another healthy aquarium. It other words, remain in said system by themselves.

When the time comes, remove all interior substrate, sand and rock, and place them in a separate container the size that will accommodate them. If there are any fishnets, those too will require disinfecting. Any system decor and piping should also be removed. Once the tank is completely void of any matter, use one-half cup of common household bleach per 10 gallons of water and fill the tank as needed with this prepared solution. Do the same in the vessel holding the sand and rock. Aerate both vessels while the disinfecting process is occurring. Make sure to stir the sand and reposition the rock so as to make sure the disinfecting solution enters all portions of the rock. Keep in mind that everything and anything that was in contact with this system must be sterilized and that would include any piping that carried its bulk water. Nets should be dipped into this solution and then flushed clean as they may deteriorate if left in the treating solution too long.

Keep everything being sterilized in this solution for at least one day, preferably two. Then drain the disinfecting solution and repeat the process for another day. When finished, drain and flush with freshwater until no smell of bleach remains, then give everything a couple of days to dry out. Then refill the aquarium/containers with freshwater and allow it to stand for one or two days, and then drain and allow everything to dry before proceeding to the next step.

When the bleaching process is complete and everything is dry, the next and final step is 'dechlorination.' A good product to use is sodium thiosulfate, as any remaining chlorine/bleach can be quickly and safely neutralized. This product is usually available in bulk crystal form from companies that sell chemical products. Since there is not any set ways to accomplish this neutralization process, those that have done so say to begin by mixing one pound of crystals in one gallon of cool purified freshwater. Once this solution has been prepared, place one full cup of it in 10 gallons of freshwater. Use this to refill the containers holding the sand/rock, and/or aquarium and allow to stand for three days. When finished, remove the solution and rinse everything with fresh tap water. The nose knows if the dechlor process was successful, as there should not be any odor of chlorine. Nevertheless, if one is detected, repeat the dechlor process.

FYI - Never put anything having a chlorine odor in a functioning aquarium, as it will kill bacteria, fish and invertebrates very quickly. And as to your safety, always handle bleach/chlorine and dechlor products very carefully, following proper safety and laboratory practices, such as by wearing gloves and eye protection.

Finally, keep in mind some aquariums are treated with copper, and should they be sterilized and then reused as a reef aquarium, the following possibility is feasible!

Questions have arisen about the possibility of 'glass' absorbing and retaining some of the copper it came in contact with and possibly of it leaching back into solution when the tank is reused. While it is true that glass is comprised of super-cooled silicon dioxide, which is an oxygen source, and since copper is a conductor, copper can and usually will react with its oxygen molecules and be somewhat retained by the glass. To what extent, or what type of copper, i.e., ionic or chelated has the greatest attraction, that is not yet known. Nevertheless, its believed ionic coppers have the greatest impact since the attraction appears to be related to an electrical nature, whereas chelated coppers, which are bound by the chelating agent(s), seem to remain more stable.

Nevertheless, its important to understand that copper is not really 'absorbed' by glass. Rather, the copper is 'adsorbed' onto the surface of the glass. To put this in another way, this process can be called 'plating.' Plating occurs when a material or surface becomes coated or receives a deposit of another material, typically through electrostatic or magnetic attraction due to an electrical charge, like plating an auto bumper with chrome (in older days!) for example. Wikipedia, the free on-line encyclopedia describes plating as "...the general name surface-covering techniques in which a metal is deposited onto a conductive surface."

George Blasiola states there would have to be a very severe reduction of pH in the glass aquarium for the copper to be released and subsequently reenter into solution. He indicates that this radical change would have to cause a drop in pH of down to about 2, but since this is not a common occurrence, it is not very likely to happen under normal conditions. He further states that this adsorbed copper is toxic to anemones primarily since anemones secrete a glue-like slime substance at the base of their holdfast, which has a pH of between 1.0 and 2.0. Since the toxicity of copper is inversely proportional to pH, and since the low pH zone around the base of anemones is formed due to its excretions, copper can become released at the basal holdfast of anemones and be absorbed at very toxic levels. Forewarned is forearmed!

In fact, some laboratories needing to reuse glass enclosures that previously contained copper for further tests acid wash them to leach out or remove any copper that might have become previously adsorbed. Furthermore, in the far past have reused glass tanks that previously had copper medications in them, and after cleaning normally; have never seen bulk water copper increases in said tanks. (They never contained anemones.) Although it does not seem to be normally required, if you're concerned about reusing a glass aquarium that has been exposed to copper at some point in the past and are thinking of giving it an acid wash, would advise not doing so, as too many personal dangers exist in such an endeavor. Either keep anemones out of the tank, or if really desired, go with a brand new glass tank. As for acrylic tanks, there is no copper binding or adsorption that I am aware of; therefore a good cleaning with a soft sponge and water is all it needs to resolve any past copper usage.

Hopefully, you'll never have to resort to any of these drastic measures!


There's no doubt some of what has been said above could have been expanded, and/or other maladies such as fungal infections and non-pathogenic diseases or disorders discussed, but that would have simply been redundant since its already discussed in many fine books on marine fish health. In fact, if you have any questions pertaining to the above or are baffled by an unknown malady in your aquarium, contact me through this website, or my coauthor Lance Ichinotsubo of the book 'The Marine Fish Health & Feeding Handbook' (a TFH/Microcosm publication) at Disease resolutions can also be found on Gerald Bassleer's website,, an excellent site for resolving many different maladies, both freshwater and marine.

The Corals/Invertebrates

There are various areas in this world that greatly influence our hobby, e.g., the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic Ocean regions. What goes on in these areas concerning the flow of animals to our marine aquariums is of importance to every aquarist and shop owner. There's also our own aquariums, where conditions are almost always far from the exact environment, and not for the better, where those creatures were collected. Fortunately though, most collection methods are improving and more in-depth hobbyist education and improved equipment and products are making a positive impact on the health of these captive organisms.

Nevertheless, there are some aspects of aquarium animal husbandry (the goal of Section Five/Chapters 14 - 17); especially for those we call 'corals' that should be briefly reviewed here, as its possibly very important to that new specimen and also all other corals in the aquarium to which it will be added, e.g., does it have dangerous sweeper tentacles or emit a toxin of some type that may be detrimental to other downstream animals. I'll also, again quite briefly, include here some of the diseases that impact them and discuss some of the abnormal physical aspects that impact some corals in the wild. And Chapters 16 and 17 will specifically denote various species that come into the trade, some highly sort after and others that are questionable as to their longevity or desirability in captive systems.

And before moving into these subjects, want to pass along that it is quite possible to introduce a fish disease/parasite into a healthy aquarium by introducing a coral specimen that was purchased from an aquarium/holding facility that is experiencing a fish disease or contains invasive species, as its quite possible for that coral/invertebrate specimen to be a passive carrier of that unwanted pathogen or undesirable species. Therefore, it may be better, even if assured it came from a healthy environment, to place it in a quarantine tank for a week or two before its added to the main aquarium.

In fact, freshwater dips can be used on invertebrates such as sea anemones and corals prior to placing them in the quarantine tank. The emersion time is of course far less than with fishes, as 10 - 15 seconds is mostly sufficient, yet depends upon the sensitivity of the species to incur the freshwater dip. And if sure the species can endure a freshwater dip, be sure the pH and temperature of the freshwater is the same as the seawater they came from/will be going into. Even though a tend to like the quarantine method, there are prepackaged, various brand 'coral dips' now sold that are quite good in ridding in short dip timeframes unwanted coral pests such as flat worms or nutibranchs, such as Aeolidiopsis harrietae that like to dine on zoanthids.

Coral Nutrition

It is widely accepted the majority of corals animals maintained in our aquaria come from what is commonly called nutrient-poor coral reefs. Because of that, reef aquarists have strived to maintain very low nitrate and phosphate levels and overall excellent water quality along with proper lighting in the hope their corals would thrive 'and' also not be overrun with unwanted algae growths. And because of enormous improvements over the past decade in filtration techniques, protein skimming, and lighting (such as LED's), the 'technical equipment' aspects of the captive environment for coral animals have been greatly enhanced. In fact, these improvements have made it quite easy to maintain nutrient poor waters 'if' system animals are not overly fed.

But there is more to it than low levels of nitrate and phosphate in the waters that surround our corals specimens, as other aspects need to be addressed to keep them healthy. As discussed in the next topic heading, photosynthetic organisms containing zooxanthellae (alga cells), are capable of making about 85% of their needed foodstuffs, i.e., carbohydrates, fatty acids, and amino acids by metabolizing the corals own waste products, e.g., nitrate, phosphate and carbon dioxide. The remaining 15% of their nutrition and that of 100% of nutritional needs in non-photosynthetic coral animals are either supplied by their polyps capturing drifting zooplankton/phytoplankton and/or absorbed by their surface tissue coverings, including that of certain elements/compounds in the surrounding water.

Basically, coral nutrition begins with a foundation of optimal conditions/elements, such as the correct salinity and proper levels of calcium, magnesium, and bi-carbonates (HCO3/alkalinity), which impact coral biological processes, i.e., skeleton formation, ions exchange, and photosynthesis. Furthermore, other elements, such as strontium (Sr), iodine (I2), potassium (K) and iron (Fe) are also associated with many of its biological process, as are certain vitamins. And these are readily supplied in the wild, but in closed systems there is not the enormous amount of water as in the wild, therefore its biomass becomes depleted as its animals use these various substances. And even though water changes replenish some of these, it's certainly not adequate enough to provide a water quality that matches natural seawater, especially in large complex reef systems!

Where zooplankton/phytoplankton is involved, aquarists are fortunate to have many companies offering a large amount of different live foods/products that can sometimes be purchased locally or at least by mail order that will fulfill much of their coral nutritional needs. Nevertheless, research will have to be accomplished as to the type and physical size of the plankton the animal prefers, but this is quite possible via the Internet.

As to other dissolved elements and vitamins to aid growth and coloration, reef care products directed towards these aspects are now on the market and in some cases include the test kits for specific elements and the additives needed to replenished them. In fact, companies, e.g., Brightwell and Red Sea are leading the way in products especially made for coral care.


Hobbyists' do not have much control over shipping problems, but do have full control over what is finally purchased and how specimens are placed in their aquariums. Therefore, commonsense must be brought into play before bringing home a nice looking specimen for the home aquarium. Questions such as; how much light does this species need to survive, what kind of water movement does this species encounter in the wild, and how aggressive is this species so as to protect its neighbors from damage, are among the more important. To help answer those, have made the effort below to denote such needs, e.g., light and water movement needs, along with their level of aggressiveness in the majority of the many species discussed in Chapters 16 & 17.

As for light needs, even those requiring bright light should not initially be placed near the surface of an aquarium that is lit with intense lights. As previously discussed, many of the corals collected are photosynthetic organisms containing alga cells called 'zooxanthellae.' These alga cells are a vital part of their food chain and need the right amount of light intensity and spectrum to keep their hosts alive. Yet, after collection, these animals are subjected to days, maybe weeks of low light conditions, either during shipping or in inadequately lit store aquariums. Their zooxanthellae, usually seen as a brown coloring in the animal's tissue, may actually increase, or the animal's shape may change to allow a larger/flatter surface area for better light collection. It's such animals that if now placed under intense lighting can poison themselves by producing an over abundance of oxygen and/or possibly expelling its zooxanthellae. Its demise may soon follow, and even worse, pollute the aquarium water negatively affecting others in the system.

Become knowledgeable as to the depth at which this type coral is usually collected. Use that knowledge as to where to 'finally' place the coral. Notice I said 'finally,' because it is much safer for the new addition to be first placed somewhat low in the aquarium and given an opportunity to become accustomed to its surroundings and light intensity. And if it's a coral that requires bright/intense light, then moved to a higher position in a couple of weeks. If necessary, move it higher again in a few days to its final location. The same is true for water movement, research the desired species locale in the wild and once its needs are understood begin its placement in the system where currents are thought to be somewhat less than where it would have been in the wild. Then, when appearing fully healthy, move as necessary to its final placement area.

Of course, aggression needs to be taken into consideration with every species purchased, as its placement will affect not only itself, but also its neighbors. Is the species in question highly aggressive, somewhat aggressive, or non-aggressive? Good questions, as the answers to each affects placement. It should go without saying neighboring corals will either impact it or it will impact them in the comings months. Therefore, take into consideration the distances between different species when placing them.

Probably the last aspect to take into consideration is its growth rate, as some grow much faster than others. And besides simply building a greater mass, the shape it's going to assume is also important. Some corals can form large plate-like shapes, others can form entangled branches, either shading those beneath it or reducing water flow through and around its mass of protruding arms. If light needing corals are placed below corals that grow fast and take on plate-like growth, those corals below it will have to be relocated, not always an easy task to accomplish, and one that can affect their health while awaiting movement. As for reducing water flows, this problem area brings stress to the animal, opening it to a disease such as RTN or Brown Jelly as described below.

Finally, even good research will not always guarantee where a species should be placed since some come from a wide variety of environmentally different locales, but its much more helpful than nothing but guesswork! Nevertheless, keep in mind reef building Small Polyp Stony (SPS) corals , e.g., Acropora, Anacropora, Hydnophora, Pocillopora, Porites, Seratopora, and Stylophora differ husbandry-wise from that of many soft corals as they usually require clear, turbulent, and nutrient poor water. Their Large Polyp Stony (LPS) cousins do better in lagoons, tide pools, reef flats, harbors, and boat channels where water is more turbid and slow moving. For this reason, they are well suited for most reef aquariums. Do your research!

Remember, haste makes waste!


Bleaching is the loss of healthy tissue from the lack of pigments and/or zooxanthellae. When the symbiotic relationship between photosynthetic corals and their zooxanthellae are exposed to environmental changes that disrupt their normal activities, pigments may be lost, or zooxanthellae expelled. There are a few conditions that come to mind. The first is the misuse of activated carbon. Fresh carbon beds should not be placed in an area where water will flow through them overly fast. By doing so, bulk water element removal is dramatically hastened and can impact the health of the zooxanthellae. I've seen it happen in one of my reef aquariums where a large percentage of a few corals 'bleached' within an hour after installing a sack of carbon! Of course, lamps that generate too much UV are also a cause of bleaching, as is temperatures that approach something in the range that a particular coral has never been exposed to. Radical changes to salinity and/or rapid increases in pollution can also induce this form of stress. In fact, the increases of phosphate levels along with elevated temperatures in the Caribbean have caused bleaching in several areas. In fact, too many islands in this area simply dump human waste directly into the surrounding ocean contributing to the growing environmental problem. Bleaching could possibly lead to RTN if the causes are not rectified.

Rapid Tissue Necrosis (RTN)

Rapid tissue necrosis, the rapid loss of base tissue, is still a mystery is some ways. The attacking protozoans are quick to destroy the tissue, in fact, within just a few hours what was previously healthy specimens of Acropora, Pocillopors, Seriatopora, etc., can become white skeletons. And unfortunately, whole collections of stony corals can quickly be eradicated in a very short time! We tend to believe these protozoans are always there, yet not 'activated' until the conditions suit them. Physical changes that could do this may be rapid temperature changes, too low/high temperature, high nitrate/phosphate levels, lack of proper water movement, and/or low dissolved oxygen level. There is some thought that Vibrio bacteria, i.e., Vibrio vulnificus, may be factor, yet studies have shown it may only be an opportunistic feeder on the dying tissue.

As for treating areas of infection, suggest first removing the specimen from the tank to prevent the spread of this malady. Its worst branches/areas should be removed and disposed of. Then dip the remaining specimen in a solution that consists of 8 -10 drops of Lugal's per liter of newly made seawater for 5 to 10 minutes, longer if the coral can withstand the treatment, e.g., 20 minutes. If not successful, remove the specimen and dose Lugal's directly upon affected area using an eyedropper and return to a "holding tank." Then add to the holding tank one drop of Lugal's per 5 gallons of water. Daily repetition of the treatment depends upon the success or failure of the treatment. Keep in mind not to overdose, as the majority of this strong iodine (Lugol's) is quickly converted to iodide (four-fifths to iodide, one-fifth to iodate), and the speed in which it is oxidized may cause tissue damage at the surface of other organisms.

Removed colonies can also be treated with an antibiotic in a separate container. Use a solution of neomycin sulfate at 200/mg/gallon. Other treatment methods exist, such as with the use of chloramphenical. However, it requires a prescription to obtain, and the associated human health situations with its use does not in my opinion make its use practical or safe for 'hobbyist' use. Nevertheless, that has not stopped some of my best friends from using it!

Possibly, the most susceptible stony corals are Acropora spp., with Pocillopora spp., Seriatopora hystrix (Birds Nest Coral), Galaxea spp., and Trachyphyllia geoffroyi (Brain Coral) following closely behind. Could well be those collected in the wild undergo much stress while in transit and this malady is a result of that stress. To overcome such stresses, try to purchase captive-bred specimens where feasible. If not possible, than at least keep newly purchased specimens in a properly conditioned quarantine tank until sure it's fully healthy.

Brown Jelly

These jelly-like masses, consisting of the protozoan Helicostoma nonatum and bacteria, feed upon damaged/dying tissue. This problem area has been associated with abrupt temperature and salinity changes along with low dissolved oxygen levels. Their toxins kill adjacent healthy tissue and they then feed upon the new dying tissue, and the march goes on until the entire specimen 'quickly' dies e.g., within a day or two! Generally, a healthy specimen should never incur this problem, but damage caused by hermit crabs/true crabs, shrimp, fish, or something falling against it, and/or poor water quality can initiate this problem. And once it begins, needs to be immediately attended to because of the speed for which it spreads.

To overcome this situation once started, first prepare a well-mixed 'liter' solution of aquarium water containing 8 drops of Lugols iodine. Also ready, if feasible, a small holding container (hospital tank), such as a glass fish bowl or small aquarium, just large enough to house the cleaned specimen. It is filled with aquarium water that has 4 drops of Lugols iodine added to it per 'gallon,' and has no substrate, but does contain a small powerhead for circulation and is moderately lit. When fully prepared, remove the infected specimen from the aquarium and over an empty pail, use a soft brush and the prepared liter solution to remove as much brown jelly as possible. Then use a turkey baster filled with the remaining 8-drop solution and squirt only those brushed areas while continuing to hold the specimen over the empty pail. It should then be placed in the hospital tank which should have the same pH, specific gravity, and temperature of the aquarium. It remains there, with 10% water changes (using water from the show aquarium) every other day until sure the brown jelly infestation has ceased. If necessary, repeat the cleaning process. I've found the sanitizing effect of the Lugols often quickly ends the invasion of brown jelly.

Black-band Disease (BBD)

Fortunately, this malady is rarely seen in aquariums. It's primarily caused by the cyanobacterium Phormidium corallyticum, and possibly the bacteria Cytophaga, Beggiatoa (sulfide oxidizing bacteria) and Desulfovibrio (sulfate-reducing bacteria), and is seen as a dark band (black to dark red) of dying/dead tissue around the circumference of the coral. It slowly encroaches onto living tissue leaving a bare skeleton as it engulfs the specimen. The infection generally begins in a damaged area and forms this band-like growth that can migrate over its hosts flesh at a speed of about .5 inch (1 cm) per day when conditions favor it. Hydrogen sulfide is actually produced under this band and can often be smelled when the dying tissue is disturbed.

As for those conditions/those organisms that make-up this disease, they are no different than what are found in sewage discharged into the sea. In fact, originally found in the Caribbean, it migrated to the Florida Keys as I understand it and is now found around the world where poor water conditions, i.e., high phosphates, temperature extremes, and high nitrates exist. For the corals in the wild, processing human wastes before they are introduced into local seawaters and banning high phosphate containing soaps and detergents will go a far way to improve areas where this malady has become a problem.

Where the aquarist is concerned, there are two paths to follow. If the specimen is not overly affected, first make a liquid-like paste of neomycin sulfate by adding some water to this antibiotic. Then remove the affected specimen and brush off the dead and dying tissue with a soft brush and then dowse the effected area with some freshwater washing only that area somewhat clean. Use a brush or turkey baster to do so. Then coat that entire area by brushing on the paste. When finished, place the specimen in a separate holding tank and slowly adjust its temperature, if necessary, to no more than 77°F (25°C). Light moderately and provide excellent water quality and water movement as desired by the species. If there is no improvement or the condition worsens, repeat the process. If the specimen is near gone, it may be simply better to fragment it and take uninfected portions that can be saved by locating them in better surroundings.

Other Coral Maladies in the Wild

I'll close this chapter by simply saying there are numerous other known abnormalities affecting corals and even though some of them, briefly described below, appear mostly in the wild they may sooner or later affect the flow of specimens to hobbyist aquariums and/or possibly show up in the aquarium. They are mention here only so that if some unknown malady affects your aquarium corals and it does not fit those mentioned above, a description of the following may be helpful when sharing 'your' situation with the scientific community and asking for their help. And if deemed necessary, they in turn can alert the aquarium community of a possible impending problem with a particular coral species or those coming from a particular locale. And note, as for the following seven problem areas, have not personally seen them in the wild, but list these here as deduced from information supplied by Chris Aslett when he wrote about them in a now defunct marine magazine in the U.K.. Hopefully, if need be, it's found to be somewhat helpful.

Sea Fan Fungus

In the mid to late 90's a fungus was found to be attacking sea fans (Gorgonian species) in the Florida Keys, Puerto Rico, Bahamas and Jamaica and turning them brown. A terrestrial fungus, Asperigillus sydowii, was identified as the causative agent and was thought to be spread by local storms and possibly poor land control of seaside housing developments. It eroded the skin tissue of these sea fans, and at one time, 50% of all sea fans in the Florida Keys were lost.

White-band Disease (WBD)

There are two types, one produces a white band as it progresses at a speed of a few millimeters per day and its referred to White Band Disease Type I. Generally begins at the coral base. Coral tissue peels off, still containing healthy zooxanthellae. A second more virulent and faster progressing version called Whiteband Disease Type II often begins at the tip or mid branch areas. Both seem to occur where there is weaken growth, shading, or injury. Presently, no specific causative agent has been identified, yet stress for one reason or another seems to be an accepted theory as to what initiates this malady. Affects Acropora species.

White Plague Disease (WPD)

There are two types of this malady, each affecting massive and encrusting Caribbean type corals, e.g., Colpophyllia, Mycetophyllia, and Dichocoenia stokesi (Star Coral). In fact, the latter is the most stricken by Type II, which can spread more quickly than Type I, e.g., .75 inch (2 cm) per day. As in WBD, the tissue at the boundary of the infection appears to be quite normal. In Type II, a bacterium in the genus Sphingomonas has been identified as a possible causative agent.

White Pox (WP)

In the mid 90's, irregular shaped patches of bare skeleton at random locations on especially stands of Elkhorn Coral (Acropora palmata) were seen in the Florida Keys. The bacterium Serratia marcescens has been identified as the causative agent, a common bacterium found in humans. It appears the bacterium adheres to coral mucus, eroding healthy coral tissue areas.

Yellow-band Disease

First reported in the Gulf of Oman in 1998 affecting Acropora, Porites, Turbinaria reniformis and Cyphastrea species. A wide yellow band characterizes the disease and the denuded skeleton areas usually remain yellow in color.

Yellow Blotch Disease

First observed in the Florida Key West reefs in 1994. Wide, irregularly shaped yellow bands or blotches on the upper and/or sides of corals characterize the disease. It progressively consumes live coral tissue, leaving behind only yellow-colored skeleton, often taken over by filamentous algae. Usually affects boulder corals, such as Montastraea annularia. Very little is known about the disease.

Red-band Disease (RBD)

This malady is similar to BBD in the way it attacks Caribbean species such as Agaricia, Colpophyllia, Mycetophyllia, Stephanocoenia and Gorgonia ventalina. However, the band is more red/maroon in color, and the cyanobacteria affiliated with BBD is not associated with this disease. However, the cyanobacteria Oscillatoria sp. and Schyzothrix sp. appear to be present in the band and move forward only during daylight timeframes. Again, there are thought to be two types, with Type II taking on a different mat-like appearance during evening hours. It seems to affect Diploria strigosa, Colpophyllia natans, Montastrea annularis, Montastraea cavernosa, Porites astreoides, and Siderastrea radians.

Coral Aggression

Over the past ten years I've watched and made some notes about aggression between various species of corals in some of 'my' aquariums. The following is my list starting with what appears to be the least aggressive, to what has appeared to be the most aggressive. Of course, I've not kept every species in the world, nor have I had the time to scientifically study each species mentioned, therefore its only a personal yardstick and you may have different experiences!

1- Sea Mat Anemones, e.g., Ricordia florida

2- Mushroom Anemones, e.g., Discosoma ferrugata

3- Elephant Ear or Giant Mushroom Anemones, e.g., Rhodactis viridis

4- Gorgonians, e.g., Swiftia exserta

5- Clove Star/Palm Tree/Fern Polyps, e.g., Clavularia viridis

6- Leather Corals, e.g., Sarcophyton elegans

7- Flowerpot Coral, e.g., Goniopora stokesi

8- Yellow Polyps Anemones (have burned my Goniopora and Sarcophyton species) Parazoanthus gracillis

9- Feather Coral/Waving Hand, e.g., Anthelia glauca

10- Xenia (May dispense terpenoids which possibly can affect mushroom growth), e.g., Xenia elongata

11- Leather Corals (Various soft, tree-like coral), e.g., Sinularia brassica

12- Cup Coral, e.g., Turbinaria peltata

13- Open Brain Coral, e.g., Trachyphyllia geoffroyi

14- Closed Brain Coral, e.g., Favia danae

15- Moon Coral, e.g., Heliofungia actiniformis

16- Moon Coral, e.g., Galaxea fascicularis

17- Bubble Coral, e.g., Plerogyra sinuosa

18- Open Meat Coral, e.g., Cynarina lacrymalis

19- Torch/Frogspawn Coral, e.g., Euphyllia divisa

20- Acropora Coral (varies between species), e.g., Acropora youngei

21- Octopus Coral/Small Bubble Coral, e.g., Physogyra lichtensteini

22- Elegance Coral/Tooth Coral, e.g., Catalaphyllia jardinei


DIYS Culturing

The 'fragging' or cutting of various coral species into sections to produce smaller specimens for either personal use or sale has become a very popular endeavor! In fact, almost every aquarium shop has 'frags' for sale, either produced by them or sold to them by local hobbyists or ordered through companies that are highly involved in mariculture.

As to the natural frag bases shown, I personally collected these along the beach where we vacation in Mexico. They arrive from various islands offshore, and mostly show up along the beach after storms in the area. These natural calcium carbonate structures, which if too large can be broken into smaller pieces, make perfect holders for various coral frags!

When it comes to the hobbyist, who has mostly put the fear of losing a prize specimen by cutting it into pieces behind them, there are several ways to accomplish these procedures, whether its soft or stony corals.

Probably the most easy to frag are stony corals, e.g., Acanthastrea (Acans), Acropora, Montipora, Pachyseris, Pavona, Platygyra, Pocillopora, Euphyllia, Favia, Favites, Hydnophora, Mycedium and Turbinaria to mention some. Those that remain difficult to frag are cave/very low light species, e.g., Rhizotrochus and Tubastrea, while some light loving species such as Catalaphyllia, Fungia, Goniopora, Heliofungia, Herpolitha, Porites, Scolymia, and Trachyphyllia remain difficult if not practicable to frag.

Where branching stony corals are involved, such as Acropora/Montipora, simply snapping off a branch and attaching it with a dab of super glue to a firm surface/frag plug will usually suffice. As for the more mound/plate-type stony corals, these often require saw cutting the mother colony into small sections. This actually begins with gently 'petting' the colony to induce its polyps to retract somewhat, reducing its tissue weight and preventing possible polyp tearing/damage when removed from the water and during initial cuts. Once removed, it should be placed on the table of a stainless steel bandsaw where a gloved hand (a common rubber and nylon mesh gardening glove) should carefully move the colony through the blade making as many frags as feasible. All frags should then be placed in a shallow tray of aquarium water and gently shaken over the next 10 minutes to reduce emitted mucus. Then all should be moved to another shallow tray of aquarium water containing an additive to enhance their health (as should branching coral frags), e.g., Julian Sprung's ReVive Coral Cleaner. They should remain there for the next 30 minutes before being placed in frag grow-out systems.

When it comes to fragging soft corals, the method used to attach the trimmed specimen to a firm surface all depend upon the species being cultivated. Where very soft and slimy species are involved, e.g., Colt Corals, Mushrooms, and Xenia, when cut into smaller pieces they begin to ooze slime and probably deflate somewhat. And since they cannot be attached to a firm surface using a glue-type product, at least for very long, its best to first setup a propagation tank containing a very shallow bed of sand/gravel/ruble and a small powerhead to provide some gentle current flow along with moderate lighting. Then, branches of Xenia and Colt can be cut off and simply laid on their surfaces where they will eventually settle down and attach themselves to the surface of a firm object. As to mushrooms, the entire head of the polyp can be cut off its stem (it will grow back) and then cut with scissors into pie-shaped pieces. Simply drop them onto the bed material and they will eventually attach themselves and grow into fully sized polyps. Another possible way to attach these frags is by sticking a toothpick through them and attaching it with a rubber band to a firm object.

Where more firm species are involved, such as leather corals, the trimmed specimen can be attached to a firm substance using a rubber-band or the toothpick method. In some cases, monofilament fishing line threaded through a needle, then used to pierce the specimen and then tied to a frag plug or piece of ruble will also work well.

Star corals and zoanthids are among the few soft corals that can be glued to firm surfaces, including the sides of aquariums, which I have successfully done in past aquariums to cover the aquarium back panel and in some cases even side panels.

Where some softies are concerned, if the mother colony is encrusting a fair-sized rock, e.g., zoanthids, the rock itself can be split/cut into portions containing sections of animal, and then placed in a grow-out tank.

All-in-all, a separate, shallow propagation tank as noted above, complete with some snails and small easy to maintain fish so as to provide the frag cuttings some dissolved nutrients, possibly a mangrove-like system, would be an excellent DIYS mariculture system.

In the next chapter, lets begin looking at fishes, and get an idea of what is available and what may or may not be desirable.