Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Keepers of the Sun

Sun Coral colonies in the author's aquarium.

 Keeping Tubastrea spp. - The Sun Corals

I remember the day I saw the radiant glory of my first colony of Yellow Sun Coral at my favorite LFS. It was the same day I bought my first colony of Yellow Sun Coral and I really didn't understand what I was getting myself into. Luckily, Cy, the owner, had the knowledge and integrity to explain to me that this coral species was azooxanthellate and needed to be fed meaty foods to survive. This lack of zooxanthellae, the symbiotic algae that allows us to fuel so many of our captive corals primarily with light, was responsible for the uncluttered brilliance of the hues of oranges and yellows that visually exploded from the tank, even among the company of many other colorful and beautiful cnidarians. I simply could not leave this animal at the store and, as Cy bagged it up, I entered another of those little reef keeping clubs you don't know about until you're in them. In this case, The Keepers of the Sun.

As we begin to explore keeping this demanding coral, I would like to clarify some of my terminology. Throughout, I will refer to all yellow and orange species and color morphs of Sun Coral as "Tubastrea" and drop the "spp." for aesthetics if nothing else. I am not able to definitively identify the various species and, as a reef keeper, I have no real need to as their cultural requirements are basically the same. If the specific species is known and relevent, I will use the full scientific name. I will always refer to Tubastrea micrantha as the Black Sun Coral or by its full scientific name as its habits and needs are slightly different than the others, not to mention it's amazing greenish black coloration.

A small colony of Tubastrea micrantha that the author has been working with for several weeks. It's kept in a holding tank with a semi-open system that allows for very heavy feeding without water quality fears. Those areas of exposed skeleton are prime real-estate for opportunistic organisms like algae, sponges and hydroids and this is a major issue with keeping all the species of Sun Coral.

Over the next several years, I acquired a couple of other colonies of different color morphs of Tubastrea and I also acquired a good feel for their feeding needs, the key aspect to their successful care. With adequate feedings of meaty foods, these animals can thrive, grow and even sexually reproduce in the aquarium. Without these feedings, the tissue between the corallites will begin to recede, the kiss of death in our little club. Once that tissue gone, several things happen. The individual Tubastrea animals lose a presumed ability to share nutrients that this tissue affords, thus rendering the individual feeding of every single polyp an absolute necessity. Further, as mentioned in the caption above, this exposed skeleton is readily colonized by a host of nuisance organisms that make it nigh impossible for the animal to rejuvenate in these areas, even if enough nutrition were to be provided. As the compromised colony continues to grow under increased feeding, these bare areas may be covered over as new corallites come into being and the whole colony expands outward. But this process is long and difficult and in the mean time, you've got a home for pests and a much less visually rewarding animal in your display. The bottom line on this is, DON'T LET THE TISSUE RECEDE IN THE FIRST PLACE! Aggressive feeding is the order of the day nearly every day! If you can't meet this prime directive, please leave this animal to others who can. There are many less demanding corals to be kept and enjoyed. For those who are up to the task, grab your basters, your syringes, your pipettes and thaw some mysis, you've got feeding to do!

A badly compromised Tubastrea colony. Note the sponge growing between the corallites. The author has begun an attempt to coax this and a number of other colonies back from the brink.

Biological Basics
Like all the corals we keep, the various species of Tubastrea are in the phylum Cnidaria and they share the basic characters of that group including radial symmetry, a ring of stinging tentacles and a single gut opening. Many species of Cnidarians live as solitary polyps while many others live in colonies with all species of Tubastrea falling into the latter category. Most species have stout, chunky corallites about 1/2 inch across. One yellow species has smaller corallites about half that size and the corallites of the Black Sun Coral are in between the two, about 1/3 of an inch across. In hobbyist terms, Tubastrea are LPS or Large Polyp Stony corals. All the yellow and orange species have the same basic growth habit of an expanding mound and colonies of 3 to 5 inches across with 15-40 polyps are the size commonly available to most aquarists. The Black Sun Coral has a branching, vertical habit and colonies may grow to more than 3 feet tall. In addition to its different growth habit, the Black Sun Coral, Tubastrea micrantha, has some amount of endolithic algae living in its skeleton which may provide a measure of nutrition but in no way changes their need for a continuous supply of delicious zooplankton or, in the case of captive colonies, at least daily feedings.

Sun Corals have stoney skeletons, the structure of which may be glimpsed here on the underside of a colony that has settled on the glass in the "Tubastrea Garden" of German aquarist Daniela Stettler. Photo by Daniel Knop and published in Coral Magazine, Volume 3, Number 4.

Common species of Tubastrea include Tubastrea coccinea, Tubastrea aurea, Tubastrea micrantha, Tubastrea diaphena, and Tubastrea faulkneri. Their range varies by species and in some places, Sun Corals have actually become invasive. Both Tubastrea coccinea and Tubastrea micrantha are the sole colonizers of oil rigs off the Louisiana coast and in areas there and down into the gulf, both species can be considered invasive. A bit ironic considering the difficulties associated with their captive care.

Captive Care
As mentioned, Tubastrea species lack symbiotic zooxanthellae and are entirely dependent on meaty foods for their survival. As such, they don't need the light levels most corals need and have found their major niche in relative darkness on the ceilings of caves and overhangs in areas of high flow. They require this high flow to bring them their daily dose of zooplankton. Some aquarists follow this natural lead and affix their colonies to rocky ceilings out of direct light. This can be a cool effect and, if flow to the area is good and feeding of the tank is heavy, Tubastrea may require less direct feedings in this position. Further, algae is less likely to colonize any exposed skeleton if the colony is kept out of the light the algae needs to survive. In spite of all this, Tubastrea can not only withstand all types of reef lighting, they can thrive in it. Wherever you put your Sun Corals, it's about food and flow, not about light, so I suggest putting colonies where you can see them well and where they're easy to feed. Of course you want to keep them away from other stinging animals, though colonies of different color morphs and species may be kept touching each other without damage.

Three small Tubastrea colonies kept in a group in the author's aquarium. The visual impact is greater when the colonies are massed together.

Other than their "Feed me, Seymour!" way of looking at life, Sun Corals have the same basic requirements as the other corals we keep in terms of water quality, salinity, temperature, PH, etc. Moderate flow by reef keeper standards is appropriate as too much flow may damage the fleshy tissue. "High flow" in nature is much different than the high flow we provide the animals in our tanks. Enough flow to keep the colonies free of detritus and, if possible, carry suspended food to them is perfect. I prefer to display colonies on the sandbed but they may be affixed to rock work by standard means.

It should be abundantly clear by now that effective feeding is the key to success with Sun Corals. Though target feeding is the most common approach, it is possible to feed Tubastrea indirectly by creating a sufficient density of food in the water column and sufficient flow to keep it suspended long enough for the coral to extend its polyps and capture the food. The density of foods required for this style of feeding is extremely high, putting water quality in significant jeopardy. Some aquarists account for this by moving their colonies into a separate tank for feeding and then back into their display. I've been using this method with the badly compromised colonies I've been charged with.

The feeding tub minus the airstones for the photo. At least 3 species of Tubastrea are represented including the yellow species at the top in the center with very small corallites. As you can clearly see, these animals are clinging to life.

I place the colonies into a tub of water from their holding tanks and add several airstones for water movement. I then introduce copious quantities of cyclopeeze and prawn roe as well as the occasional treat of live Artemia nauplii. The corals are left in this food-rich environment for about 1 hour with care taken not to let the water temperature fall too far. This feeding is done 4-5 times weekly (that's as much time as I'm able to spend at the facility where they're being kept.) After 4 weeks, some improvement in color and some polyp extension can be seen but the road ahead for these animals remains a long and difficult one with an uncertain end.

After four weeks of this feeding treatment, some colonies are producing extended polyps and may now be target fed the same small foods used in the suspension. Progress, no matter how small, is always exciting. Once a measure of health has been achieved, these individual polyps will likely be fragged and attached to new substrate in sufficient densities to produce a new, small "colony."

In my experience, the easiest way to feed healthy Tubastrea colonies is to target feed the individual polyps with the aquarist's tool of choice. I used to use a turkey baster but food would tend to trickle out even if I wasn't putting pressure on the bulb so I've moved to the daintier pipette. It can be more difficult to suck up the mysis with but its delivery is more controlled. And when you're feeding this much food, you don't want to be wasting any. I take a chunk of frozen mysis and thaw it in water for about 10 minutes. I then drizzle this water into the tank in the vicinity of the coral. This typically triggers polyp extension in about 5 to 10 minutes. In nature, these animals are primarily nocturnal feeders and thus often have closed polyps during the day which gives rise to the need for this procedure. With daily feedings during lights-on, most aquarists find their colonies will adapt and begin to produce polyp extension during the day. Once the polyps are out, its a fairly simple if laborious process to deliver one mysis to each polyp. After feeding, polyps will be noticeably plump as the food is digested. Undigested food will be regurgitated.

A fat and happy Tubastrea colony chucking up undigested mysis in the "Tubastrea Garden" of German aquarist Daniela Stettler. Photo by Daniel Knop and published in Coral Magazine, Volume 3, Number 4.
Reproduction in the Aquarium
Thriving colonies of Sun Coral not only grow, producing new corallites as they do, but may also reproduce sexually, releasing planular larvae which can settle and grow into new colonies. One of the most famous examples of this is the so-call "Tubastrea Garden" of German aquarist, Daniela Stettler and presented in an article by her published in Coral Magazine, Volume 3, Number 4. Here she describes her methods of feeding as well as capturing the larvae (so as to keep them from becoming fish food) and encouraging them to settle on introduced substrate. She found that good flow was key to settlement and survival which corresponds to Tubastrea's flow-rich niche in the wild.

German aquarist Daniela Stettler target feeding her "Tubastrea Garden". She doesn't look too upset about it. Photo by Daniel Knop and published in Coral Magazine, Volume 3, Number 4.

German aquarist, author and publisher, Daniel Knop, suggests that daily feeding of every polyp is necessary for colonies to have the extra energy necessary to produce gametes. In my experience, a slightly less intense schedule can still be effective. I typically fed the colonies in my aquarium at least every other day. Again, feeding every single polyp at least one mysis shrimp. With this schedule, I was able to get the production of larvae and successful settlement of the occasional animal. I removed my colonies over a year ago upon introduction of my first pair of Oxymonacanthus longirostris, a coral eater. Nevertheless, just weeks ago, I found several polyps growing under an overhang in my tank and appearing quite healthy. I was suprised and delighted.

Pioneering polyps of this Sun Coral were discovered well over a year after the mother colony was removed from the author's aquarium.

With time and dedication, Daniela Stettler's amazing tank is a testament to what can be achieved with Sun Corals.

Another view of the "Tubastrea Garden" of Daniel Stettler. Photo by Daniel Knop and published in Coral Magazine, Volume 3, Number 4.

The Black Sun Coral is thought to require even more care than its yellow cousins and reports of success with it are comparatively rare. I have been target feeding the two colonies in my care 4-5 times weekly with mysis and they seem to be holding their own after 4 weeks. More time will reveal the relative efficacy of my methods. Ideally, colonies of Tubastrea micrantha would be fed multiple times daily. It is wise with any Sun Coral to error on the side of caution and, if anything, over feed.

Feeding Tubastrea micrantha in a semi-open system like this one allows for very heavy feeding without compromising water quality.

With all Sun Corals, food robbers can be an issue. Whether it's hungry fish or invertebrates, it's common for other animals to come and take food right off of the tentacles of your Tubastrea colony. Some aquarists will combat this by putting an inverted plastic bowl or other cover over their colonies immediately after feeding so that their corals can ingest and digest in peace. My method was to feed the fish heavily first, then feed the Tubastrea. This worked pretty well but my Peppermint Shrimp were always sneaking a few pieces of mysis anyway. This issue is another to consider before you embark on your Tubastrea odyssey.
Though the various species of Sun Coral are some of the most dazzling colorful and fun to feed corals we may keep in aquaria, they are not for the faint of heart of busy of schedule. Target feeding as well as maintaining high water quality in the face of copious feedings are the two main challenges and they are challenges which can definitely be met by dedicated aquarists who fancy a challenge.

The information in this article comes primarily from personal experience as well as anecdotal information gleaned from internet forums and other online sources. Additionally, "Propagating Stony Corals in Your Own Living Room" by Daniela Stettler and published in Coral, Volume 3, Number 4 was a major source of information and inspiration. The World Register of Marine Species website was also a source as was this article from Jake Adams of Reef Builders.

We have babies! And black ones at that. Yes, the two colonies of black Tubastrea have produced planulae which have settled and are visibly growing. I'm trying to feed them Cyclopeeze along with the other small-polyped colonies. This is quite exciting. As mentioned, the black form of Sun Coral is often considered the most demanding and to have reproduction is a bit of a deal. Wheee!

All Tubastrea colonies continue to be fed 4-5 times weekly to satiation with a mix of Hikari Mysis and Cyclopeeze brand copepods.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Keeping Sepia bandensis

Keeping Sepia bandensis - The Dwarf Cuttlefish

I’ve long considered myself a “fish guy,” but after a month working with Sepia bandensis, the Dwarf Cuttlefish, I must admit I’ve never seen, let alone kept, a more amazing marine animal than this remarkable mollusk. Despite its name, this little critter is not a fish at all but a cephalopod, closely related to octopus and squid. They've been described by cuttle pioneer Richard Ross of the Steinhart Aquarium as looking like little UFO's zipping around the tank. And of all the animals that may be kept in tropical saltwater aquaria, Sepia bandensis is a most fascinating and rewarding species in so many different ways. They are visually stunning animals with the ability to change color, pattern and texture in the blink of an eye. They are perfect predators, like tiny raptors of the sea as they swoop down and snag their prey with their lightening-fast feeding tentacles. They are intelligent, interacting with their keeper and each other in subtle and dramatic ways. And at only 3-4" long when mature, they're small enough to make housing them a real possibility for expert hobbyists as well as public aquariums.

Biological Basics
Like the other cephalopods, Sepia bandensis possess an array of amazing adaptions that make them one of the most unique animal groups in the marine world. Perhaps most amazingly, they can change color and pattern in the blink of an eye from a blanched white resting color to near jet black when they’re excited and every shade and pattern in between. They can even scroll bands of color across their bodies, an effect which some have suggested is used to mesmerize prey as well for intraspecies communication. They achieve these amazing effects through the use of specialized pigment cells commonly referred to as chromatophores but which are actually cells of 3 different types, each of which has its own unique role in creating the colors and patterns for which this group is so well known. Chromatophores produce the basic colors in a range from off-white through beiges and browns and finally to a near jet black. Iridiphores produce iridescent blues and greens which can be particularly visible around the fin of S. bandensis. And leucophores, which are white, scatter light to help the animal blend into its surroundings. In addition to color and pattern changes, these little cuttles can produce a texture like tags or folds of skin which further aids their ability to camouflage. Like the color changes, these textural changes happen in an instant. The speed and complexity of the color and texture changes of cephalopods and especially cuttlefish like Sepia bandensis surpass those of any other animal group, including some fish like flasher wrasses and even chameleons which have become the archetypal color change experts in the animal world.

Beyond their amazing skin, S. bandensis has a number of other unique physical attributes and adaptations that they share with their cephalopod cousins including 3 hearts, a ring-shaped brain, copper-based blood (it’s blue!), jet propulsion, 360 degree vision and the ability to squirt ink (the fact that they share their genus name with a type of ink is no accident.) They also have mouths with a sharp beak and a rasping radula for a tongue, both of which they share with octopus and squid. They have 8 arms arranged around their mouth as well as two feeding tentacles which they can fire with amazing speed and accuracy. In addition to their ability to swim with jet propulsion via their excurrent syphon, they can cruise around more slowly and nimbly using undulations of a lateral fin that girds their mantle. Inside this mantle is their cuttle bone, an incredibly light and porous calcium structure used to regulate buoyancy and often sold in pet stores as a calcium supplement for captive birds. Finally, these crazy critters can actually walk across the bottom using two of their arms and two skin flaps on the bottom of their mantle.

Here we see a pair S. bandensis displaying two of the most recognizable of their myriad awesome behaviors; "walking" and scrolling bands of color across their bodies.

The range of Sepia bandensis includes island groups in the southwest Pacific Ocean where they are typically found in shallow waters over coral and sand and where they are most active at night. This map from shows their known distribution.

S. bandensis are ambush predators, blending in with their surroundings and waiting until an unsuspecting fish or crustacean ventures too near and then firing those feeding tentacles with blinding speed to snare their next meal. And they are short lived animals with fairly high reproductive rates, both of which factor heavily into their captive care to which we will now turn our attention.

Captive Care
For any person or institution considering keeping Sepia bandensis in captivity, a number of issues need to be considered and accounted for and I will attempt to address the basics of those issues here. This article does not attempt to cover all possible ways to successfully keep the dwarf cuttle, but will focus on one successful effort where a breeding population has been kept in holding and display tanks for nearly two years. And this author does not suppose to be an expert in the maintenance of dwarf cuttles but a student anxious to share information gleaned over a month-long stint as one of the aquarists primarily responsible for the care of this captive population.

No one should consider keeping S. bandensis who has not successfully kept a marine reef tank for at least a couple of years. These animals are not supremely difficult, but they do require the rather rigorous parameters of a reef tank in terms of temperature, salinity, pH and nutrient levels. They also require twice-daily feedings by hand or via feeding stick of a variety of frozen crustaceans. And, finally, if you're keeping at least one male and female and you would like to have these animals in your care for more than just one year, you must be able to care for eggs and babies at various stages of development. We'll address the basics of these three areas of their care, housing, feeding and rearing of the offspring, in the following three sections.

As was mentioned above, basic reef tank water parameters are appropriate for a Sepia bandensis tank. This means temps in the range of 74 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, salinity close to 34 ppt, a pH between 8.0 and 8.4 and very low nitrates up to 5 ppm with ammonia and nitrite at 0. And, as with a reef, stability of these parameters is as key as the levels themselves. Big swings in temp, salinity or other water parameters can be devastating to all captive marine animals, but particularly to sensitive invertebrates like these cuttles. A mature aquarium with live rock is ideal and, if lighting is adequate, these animals may coexist with non-stinging corals like mushrooms, polyps, soft corals and leathers. Hermit crabs may be used as a clean-up crew but snails and other crabs will definitely be on the menu of these little hunters. Water flow should be moderate; enough to keep the water well aerated but not so strong as to blow these rather delicate creatures around. Filter and pump intakes should be covered with sponge filters to prevent any mishaps. A skimmer is recommended to keep nutrient levels low, increase oxygen saturation in the water and to remove any ink before it can harm the animals. Because these animals are not the escape artists of their octopus cousins, no secure lid is necessary and the cuttles currently in my care are in open-top systems.

Tank size must allow for natural behavior and water stability. It has been noted that too small of a tank, in addition to inciting aggression, can also lead to "butt burn" which is the cuttle bone actually protruding through the mantle tissue as a result of running into the side of the display tank during a sudden jet after being startled. Richard Ross recommends 30 gallons for a single adult animal, 40 gallons for 2, 55 gallons for three and suggests as many as 8 may be housed in a 125 gallon tank. I have been working with these animals in a roughly 50-gallon display that typically houses between 5 and 8 adult S. bandensis with great success. As with most captive marine animals, it may be supposed that increased feeding will result in decreased intraspecies aggression and that may be partly responsible for the success of this rather heavily stocked cuttle display. Nutrient levels are kept in check with 10-20% water changes every 3-4 days. This display relies on live rock, two canister filters and an undergravel filter for it's filtration and a return pump with loc-line returns for water flow. They are housed with leathers, mushrooms and polyps under power compact lighting with a half-dozen or so small hermits. Water parameters are steady and within the ranges described above. These cuttles have been thriving and actively reproducing in this environment for nearly two years. Additional adults as well as eggs, juviniles and various live foods are housed in a separate large trough and in breeder nets of various sizes therein with the same water parameters as the display. These additional holding areas are essential for the long-term care of a breeding population of S. bandensis.

Dwarf cuttle in holding trough.

Feeding Sepia bandensis is either the funnest part of keeping these animals or the most laborious depending on your disposition and availability. If you fall into the "laborious" category in your approach to feeding your cuttles, you should go ahead and leave this animal to other aquarists who have the time, schedule and patience to meet the feeding requirements of these ravenous little beasts.

Queued cuttles.
I think the shot above shows my little cuttle friends all lined up to be fed. Our electrician, Ryan, is sure he heard one of them say, "you go left and I'll go right" in an attempt to organize an attack on me and thus secure my hidden stashes of krill and grass shrimp. Regardless of who is correct, these animals definitely recognize that people mean food and they will "beg" at the glass when their keepers come around. Adult S. bandensis will generally not take dead food off the substrate and must be fed either by hand or with a feeding stick. I feed our population of adults a mix of frozen krill soaked in a vitamin and amino acid supplement, extra large frozen mysis, frozen "bait shrimp" and the occasional gut-loaded live grass shrimp.

Enriched krill on a feeding stick.

The adult cuttles are fed twice daily at 8 am and 3 pm. With no real way to tell who has eaten in a larger population such as the one I work with, we simply introduce at least as many pieces of food as we know we have cuttles and rely on their natural survival instincts to drive them to feed. Typically, the food is large enough that each cuttle can only handle and eat one piece at a time which may take minutes, allowing even the more timid animals a chance to grab their share. Below we see one of my little pals taking an enriched krill from a feeding stick. As usual, it grabs the monofilament line for a bit as we play a quick game of interspecies tug-of-war before it finally lets go.

It should be noted that enrichment is essential to keeping highly intelligent animals like Sepia bandensis. The interactions in the feeding video above are great examples of how simple activities like feeding your cuttles or cleaning their quarters can provide valuable stimulation for those little doughnut-shaped brains of theirs. Much more could be said about enrichment for these other and captive animals but we will leave that topic for another day.

In spite of the time involved, feeding adult S. bandensis is a rather simple affair with various frozen whole shrimp foods readily available and easy to store. Feeding the hatchlings and juveniles is a more complicated endeavor and requires live foods and all that providing such foods requires. The S. bandensis keeper with a breeding population will be faced with an array of egg clusters and juveniles at various stages of growth. The eggs are easy to tend to. They should be removed from the display as soon as they are noticed and placed into a holding tank with the same parameters as the display. When the ink-covered eggs are swollen and the babies clearly visible, the eggs should be moved into a breeder net in preparation for hatching. As the babies hatch, they may be moved to another breeder with others from the same clutch where they will receive their first feedings of live mysis. Live mysis and the other frozen and live foods mentioned here are all available through online vendors and may be available in local stores. The babies may not feed for the first week but live mysis should be maintained in the breeder net as soon as the hatchlings are introduced. As the babies grow, they may move on to very small live grass shrimp. Eventually, mature animals reliably ween onto frozen foods presented as described above but exact timelines will vary. Be prepared to offer live foods to your developing baby cuttles for months, not just weeks. This can be costly and take up considerable space and time and is a big factor in whether this animal is a suitable one for captivity for you or your institution. More about housing and feeding baby cuttles as we turn now to breeding these short-lived animals.


In 2009, Richard Ross is thought to have been the first aquarist to breed Sepia bandensis in captivity. This animal does not occur naturally near North America and this may be the reason these animals weren't kept sooner. Adults do not ship well and this perhaps contributed to their reputation as difficult to keep. Should you acquire specimens of this species it will likely be as eggs or hatchlings and these ship much better. These animals are also currently bred and maintained at the Seattle Aquarium in Seattle, WA as well as by other public and research institutions and individual hobbyists. Ultimately, it appears keeping and breeding S. bandensis in captivity is not particularly more difficult that maintaining a reef other than the feeding and breeding requirements noted here.

Here are presumably a male and female pair flirting. It's thought impossible to sex Dwarf Cuttlefish visually though they reportedly recognize each other's sex on sight.

S. bandensis reaches sexual maturity at about 5 months at if you have at least one male and one female, it's quite possible you'll see clusters of 10 to 40 eggs soon thereafter. These animals mate head to head for several minutes during which the male passes his sperm packet to the female. She broods the eggs and lays them in grape-like clusters. She covers each egg with her ink which hides the developing baby and becomes more translucent at the eggs swells and matures.

Swollen S. bandensis eggs with babies clearly visible. The babies will hatch as tiny replicas of their parents.
After the eggs are laid, the cluster should be moved into a breeder net in a holding system with the same parameters as the display tank. As the eggs swell and near hatching, a few live mysis may be added to the breeder net to provide first food for an unnoticed hatchling. Once the babies hatch, they should be moved to another breeder net. A turkey baster may be gently used for this purposed. As the young get larger, they'll need to be scooped from tank to tank and net to net with a cup. It's best not to lift their fragile bodies out of water if at all possible. Note, a perturbed juvi can ink, if only a tiny amount. Try not to p*%$ off your baby cuttles too much in the transfer process.

As various groups of babies grow they should be moved through a series of breeder nets, always being kept with individuals of similar size to avoid cannibalism. Quantities of live mysis should be maintained in the breeder nets at all times if possible. These little animals grow fast and first-time keepers will likely be surprised by the number of live mysis they eat. Be prepared and have plenty on hand. Eventually, small and then larger live grass shrimp may be fed. The grass shrimp can be easily gut-loaded prior to feeding with a high-quality pelletized fish food.

Hatchlings and live mysis in a breeder net.

These little cuttles have all the attributes of their adult counterparts; lightening-fast feeding tentacles, amazing agility and the ability to ink and to change colors and patterns.

Eventually, if you're successful at breeding and raising cuttles, it's entirely likely you'll end up with too many. Way to many. It's good to consider what you'll do with those little animals before you have to deal with potentially hundreds of Dwarf Cuttlefish. You may be able to donate them to public aquariums, research institutions or other hobbyists. You may be able to sell or give them to a high quality local marine aquarium retailer. Or you may be able to distribute them yourself online. Regardless, this is a big undertaking with much life at stake. All this needs to be considered before getting your first batch of eggs or juvies. Like the intensity of the feeding regimen, this prolific aspect of this species may be either a boon or a bane to its keepers depending on their interest in and capacity to deal with their ever expanding cuttle family.

After about 3-5 months, your little cuttles may be ready to join a population of adults. As with the batches of juveniles, keeping same size adults together will cut down on aggression and cannibalism. As keeping and breeding these animals is still in its infancy, issues of inbreeding haven't really been explored. Long term maintenance of a breeding population of S. bandensis would likely reveal many new aspects to the life history as well as the captive care and breeding if this amazing and very keepable cephalopod.

After about one year, your adult cuttles will begin to die through a process called senescence which is a gradual loss of faculties ending in the animal's death. This can take the form refusing to feed or being unable to grasp food with the feeding tentacles. It may also involve parts of arms or other body parts sort of rotting away. Hermit crabs have been observed feeding on a living cuttlefish in senescence and the cuttle appeared entirely unperturbed. This process can be heart-wrenching for an aquarist who has doted on these animals and this should be considered if a captive population of S. bandensis is in your future.

I used the following references in preparing this article as well as my own experiences working with Sepia bandensis in captivity. All photos and video are my own.

I hope this is helpful to anyone considering keeping this species and I thank you for reading.

Cheers, Paul

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Hello and Welcome!

Oxymonacanthus longirostris pair in my 75 gallon mixed reef.

Hello and welcome to Aquarium Animals! I'll be using this blog to document my experiences working with marine animals in aquaria, both at home in a public aquarium setting. In general, posts will focus on a single species or species group with information on their biology, life history and captive care. I'll be focusing on my favorite animals which also tend to be those that are a bit trickier to keep either because of their cultural requirements or because they have only recently begun to be kept in aquaria. I've always been drawn to keeping animals that represent a challenge. Perhaps it began with my first saltwater fish, an emaciated pair of Scooter Dragonets (Synchiropus ocellatus), about which I knew little other than that I was told they were easier than the fish I really wanted, a Green Mandarin (Synchiropus splenidus). That day I embarked on a fish feeding odyssey that would include 4 species of pipefish, 3 species of dragonets, 1 species of leopard wrasse and 3 species of filefish, including the incredible Long-Nose Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris), an obligate coralivore in nature. In spite of at times heroic efforts, I've had distinctly mixed results keeping some of these more challenging animals. I regret the losses deeply but I have learned a lot from them as well as from my successes and I'll be discussing both here. Some posts will focus on species with which I've had significant experience while some will rely largely on the reports of other aquarists for care information. I hope you enjoy Aquarium Animals!

Cheers, Paul