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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

MAX BLAKE: Saving Sandelia - how YOU can help

Because very little has happened with regards to either alien animals, or ABCs, it is I think, time to look at some new and interesting species turning up in the pet trade, focussing on fish. I have found two very different groups of animals undergoing resurgence at the moment, the first is a group of fish called the Snakeheads or Channidae, and a very strange looking anabantoid called Sandelia capensis.
As you will have read, Jon and I went to Wildwoods at the weekend. I knew this place was good, but I didn’t expect to see this number of snakeheads here! I will swiftly explain, as an article in The Amateur Naturalist #7 explains, I adore snakeheads. They are very attractive looking animals, but with some serious intelligence (for fish) which endears them to me. It is odd that their family contains only two genera, the Asian Channa and African Parachanna, who are very similar indeed, both fulfilling the same role of predator on small fish and aquatic invertebrates in their eco-systems. Now, new species of this fish turn up in the trade with comparative regularity (two newly described species, C. ornatipinnis and C. pluchra, turned up in the aquatics trade almost a month after they were described), but I didn’t expect the ridiculous amount of undiscribed species for sale at Wildwoods. We have:
i. Channa sp. 'Platinum', a stunning fish seeing it’s first time appearance in the UK. It could be a new species, but it looks to me to be a striking colour form of C. striata, itself not a common fish. (below)

ii. Channa sp. 'Assam blue', the smallest snakehead found so far at a maximum of only 4”. I myself keep one of these stunners, and it is one of my favourite fish. (left)

iii. Channa sp. 'Meghalaya Leopard', an incredible fish with complex colouration as well as a high dorsal fin which reminds me of a giant species called C. barca (indeed, this rare fish once fetched a price of £4,000 for an adult pair!).

iv. Channa punctata “fluoro green”, a new colour morph of a described species, this deserves to be here because it is, err, striking! (see top)
I’m sure there were more there, but I can only find these four on their website. This was in addition to a host of new L-number plecs (large catfish with sucking mouths adapted to scraping algae from rocks and sunken logs) and the assortment of other animals. I will add, that should some of you be interested in snakeheads for your community tank, I will point out that they are highly predatory and will eat fish under 1/3 of their size, and are often aggressive to similar looking fish. The price of the new species varies, but Channa sp. “Platinum” (left) will set you back £130! They are very easy to keep though, and will live for over 10 years. This particular individual will eventually get to over a foot long.

Now, for something slightly different: endangered fish. I found, lurking in a corner along with some rasboras, some odd looking fish which attracted my attention. They were not colourful, active or exceptionally strange looking (characteristics which normally attract people to fish), but they were intriguing. I vaguely remembered the scientific name, but I couldn’t remember what with (Wildwoods tends to overload your senses, so you forget almost everything you know about fish). There were a form of Perch like fish (with spiny rays in their dorsal fin), and they looked to me like dwarf cichlids (they were most certainly not though). I guessed that they were from one of the strange families that one rarely encounters in aquaria, so, I bought one. I enquired about them, and found out that they were captive bred in Germany (the Germans can breed anything aquatic), originated in South Africa, it’s name was Sandelia capensis, grew up to 8”, were Anabantoids and were endangered in the wild. Endangered fish, in an aquatics shop? Strange.

The one I got (I could not afford more) settled into his new aquarium, acquainted himself with his tankmates (including a pugnacious Arulius barb and a very rare snakehead) and decided to ignore them. Good thought I, here we have a nice looking display fish who should be pretty damn hansom when he grows up. I pottered upstairs to my books to find out more about him. It turns out he is a relative of the climbing perches (Anabas and Ctenopoma) but it has evolved from the parent stock to rely less on it’s labyrinth organ (an organ which allows the fish to breath atmospheric air, an adaption to water with low amounts of dissolved oxygen) and more on its gills. This was the reason I had not twigged that it was an anabantoid in the shop, none of the fish had come up for air!

I then realised, David Marshal, a very good writer on tropical fish, had penned an article in Exotic Pets magazine about climbing perches, and had mentioned the genus Sandelia. This was the moment that I realised that I had a very rare fish in aquarium circles in my house, and one that I had been interested in keeping for a while, but one that I knew I never would. How wrong was I!

I read through the article, and then read “Sadly these fish, seldom seen in aquarium circles, are some of the most highly endangered creatures on the African continent and only remain in existence due to the work of a small number of dedicated local naturalists”. Bloody hell! thought I. After researching, I found that C. bainsii, the other species in the genus, was highly endangered and at threat from large introduced Clarias catfishes. C. capensis (my species) is listed by the IUCN as being “Data Deficient”, but that its population was decreasing. This was justified because “Several different lineages have been discovered in this species that requires a taxonomic revision. Several of these lineages will be threatened with extinction, but no reliable assessment can be made without understanding the distribution and taxonomic status of these lineages.”. It seems then, that the lineage I have could be extremely rare indeed, or “merely” Near Threatened.

Hummmm. I began researching how to breed them after that, and it looks to be fairly straightforward, but the only trouble is sexing the blighters, when sexually mature (from the small size of 2.5”) and in the breeding season, the males darken in colour and you can easily tell them apart. The problem comes in trying to get both sexes, you can’t do it with just one fish! So, I gave my idea to Jon: to breed this species, whether it is endangered or not, and try and do our bit to save a species. Are you with us? All we need are donations to help us buy fish at £17 each, but we will be able to get them a fair bit cheaper if we buy the lot. Will you do your bit to help?

Do you want to help us work with this rare and beautiful fish? If every person who visited this site yesterday gave a pound or a couple of dollars, we would have more than enough to set up a Sandelia breeding project, and have enough money left to carry out all the refurbishment we need to do to bring our other tanks up to scratch. Please be generous...


tai haku said...

Some of those are lovely; especially that little Sandelia. I can see it being safe from extinction in the "Apistogramma role" in community tanks the world over!

Max Blake said...

The do look similar to Apistos it has to be said! Only trouble is they do get a fair bit larger and will eat small fish.
Although the Sandelia of mine if much more peaceful than any Apistos I have had in the past...