Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Curious Case of the Missing Conch

I know I haven't posted in a while, so I thought that I should give you all a quick update about how my internship is going and what projects I am working on. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had proposed getting sea hares for the Clownfish tank in the Malacology Hall at the HMNS to clean some of the algae that is blanketing the bottom of the tank. I talked to Christine about this, but it was turned down because sea hares can get very large, too large for out tank. We have, however, amassed a collection of snails that are herbivores. These snails have done a great job with cleaning a lot of the algae out of the tank, but I still have to go in weekly to pick out what they miss. Christine also wanted to transform another aquarium in the Malacology Hall into a tank that would house carnivorous snails. I have been researching information about a couple different types and trying to find a couple key species that would work well in our tank, as well as with each other. I have deduced these snails to just a few important ones: a fighting conch, banded tulips, and apple murexes. The good thing about all these snails is that they have really pretty shell designs with lots of ornate colors and patterns. We also purchased a conch for the clownfish tank, yet we have not been able to find it for the past week. It shouldn't be able to get out of the tank cause it would have had to climb the tank's walls, so we think that it may have buried itself into the sand bottom on the tank. We even raked the sand with a pair of tongs yet were still unsuccessful at locating it. Hopefully we'll be able to find it soon to check on how its doing!

Sunday, November 15, 2015


        For the past couple months, I have been tackling the challenging problem of trying to keep algae out of the clownfish tank at the HMNS. This has been a great struggle as I have found that just as soon as I can clean the algae out, it will come right back. However, I was doing a little research into good ways to keep algae out of a tank and I found what could be a solution: sea hares.
        Even though their looks might be deceiving, sea hare are remarkable creatures. Sea hares are known as being consumers of algae, which is why many aquarium owners add them to their own tanks. Adding one or two sea hares to the clownfish tank at the HMNS would help eliminate the green hair algae and green slime algae that is building up on the rocks and on the sand of the tank. Sea hares prefer tanks with live rocks, open stretches of sand, and lots of algae growth, which will provide them with food. Our tank at the HMNS would be able to provide them with this environment. Sea hare death can be common in some tanks and is usually attributed to high levels of metals in the tank, specifically copper. Without high levels of metal in the tanks, they will flourish and devour algae on rocks in the tank. Because, we work to monitor the clownfish tank at the HMNS, we should not have a problem with high levels of copper or other harmful metals. 
       The only potential problem with getting them would be that they have developed a reddish purple ink that they release when they are threatened or disturbed. This ink has been known to be toxic and dangerous to organisms living in the tanks with sea hares. It is believed that sea hares developed this ink as a defense strategy as they have no outer shell to provide extra protection. To combat this ink, however, many sites recommend a good chemical filter (which our clownfish tank has) in the tank to remove the ink before it can cause any damage. I hope that in the future, we will be able to get one or two sea hares to add to the tank to combat our algae problem.

Friday, September 18, 2015

My Progress

As I've been going to my internship consistently for about 2 years now, I thought that it would be best provide an update of how far we've come and what our future plans are. When I first started cleaning and reorganizing this tank, it was a mess. The tank had become so infested with green algae and red flatworms that you could even see the rocks that laid underneath.

Photo of Tank from Fall 2013
Now, however, the tank looks much better! Nearly all of the algae is gone, and the tank is a clear difference from what it began as. One can actually see each individual rock, and the fish certainly look happier and less stressed to be in this cleaner environment.

Photo of Tank from Fall 2015
To get the tank to this state, we had to do an extensive cleaning, which involved individually scrubbing each rock (to get rid of algae and other harmful organisms found on the rocks), creating a quarantine tank (to ensure that the parasites had been killed off), and many water changes (to maintain a stable chemical balance in the water). Although this sounds as if it could have been accomplished in a couple days of solely focusing on this project, it actually takes much longer, as making drastic adjustments to any tank will dramatically shift the presence of key chemicals found in the water, which would result in fish and mollusk stress and likely death. For this reason, we had to slowly, and carefully, work to make small changes each week, so that if there were any changes in the chemical balance, the fish and mollusks would have time to acclimate themselves to these changes. By making small changes each week, we also helped reduce the likelihood of chemical changes because we were only affecting small parts of the tank, not the tank as a whole, which is what a massive cleaning would have done.

By Matthew Watowich

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Tank is Nearly Back to Normal!!!

Good news!!!! The clownfish have readjusted to their original tank and are happy being there again. In addition to the clownfish, there are also nine snails: 3 Margarita Snails, 3 Netrite Snails, and 3 Mexican Turbo Snails. These snails are doing a great job maintaining the algae growth in the tank, yet we would like to add a sea hare to the tank, which would aid these snails in algae maintenance. We also had a representative from Fish Gallery, an amazing fish supply store, come in to identify the algae that is still growing in our tank. However, the man who came in said that he had never seen the type of algae we have growing in our tank. It is a dark brown, slimy, hairy algae that could possibly be a new species. When testing the chemical balances of the museum's clownfish tank, I found that the calcium levels were extremely slow, about 260 ppm versus the 400 ppm that they should be. I concluded that this must be caused by one of two things: the snails pulling more calcium than we expected out of their water to build their shells or a faulty test kit. I should be able to determine if it was caused by a faulty test kit sometime next week because we ordered another kit to compare the results. If it is not a faulty test kit, I will assume that the snails are pulling more calcium out of the water than we expected, but I will have to do more experiments to determine if this theory is correct. However in the mean time, we will continue to add calcium supplements to the tank to "normalize" the levels of calcium in the tank.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Clownfish are Back!!!

After a few weeks of working on cleaning the original tank, we finally got the balance of chemicals to be able to support clownfish. Because of this we were able to add the clownfish back to the tank. To do this, we had to put the clownfish in a small bowl. We did this so that we could rest the bowl in the water and let the clownfish adjust to the water in the tank. If we had placed the fish directly into the tank, they would have been shocked by the difference in temperature and water quality.
The clownfish were pretty angry while being moved because moving from one area of water to another tends to cause a lot of stress on the fish. Another reason that the clownfish were mad is because the box that we placed them into while they were being moved was small, causing them to be crowded together. Other interesting animals that we have recently added to the tank are 3 Mexican Turbo Snails and 3 Nerite Snails. Mexican Turbo Snails are large for snails, about 1.5-2 inches in diameter, and are white and sometimes having a shiny surface. On the other hand, Netrite Snails are smaller, about 0.5 inches in diameter, and have a white and black striped surface. We added these snails so that they would clean some of the algae that has been growing on the rocks and sand of the tank. Another way that we are dealing with this abundance of algae is by pulling out individual rocks and manually cleaning them.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Water Tests and Lots of Algae

      I just visited the HMNS to work on the clownfish tank. I took a sample of the tank water downstairs, where I would be able to perform multiple tests to determine the levels of different chemicals in the water. I tested for pH, nitrites, nitrates, ammonia, phosphates, and carbonate hardness; I, however, was most concerned with the calcium test. This is because in the previous weeks, Christine and I have found that all of the chemical levels in the tank are normal except for the calcium, which is a little low. I found that the calcium was lower than it should be, but it was higher than it has been in the previous weeks. It was about 320ppm, which is a 20ppm increase from the 300ppm that it used to be during the past few weeks. To further increase the calcium levels, I added calcium supplement to the tank. Christine and I have been adding this calcium supplement once a day for the past couple of weeks, and the calcium levels have slowly begun to rise.
       One interesting thing that I found while at my internship was that the clownfish tank had a thick layer of algae covering the bottom. This is interesting because I visited the museum two weeks ago and saw almost no algae in the tank. It was so impressive that algae could grow from barely being in the tank to coating the entire floor in just two weeks.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Water Tests and Margarita Snails

     So much more has been going on at my internship, and it is so exciting! Christine and I took water tests of both the touch tank (in the Hall of Malacology) and the original clownfish tank (in the Hall of Malacology). We found extremely high levels of Nitrates in the touch tank. The nitrate measured at    >20ppm (it should be around 0ppm in a healthy tank). Neither her nor I were sure where these high levels of nitrate were coming from. Nitrates are made from ammonia caused by the fish. This ammonia is converted by bacteria to nitrite, where it is then converted into nitrates. However, nitrates are usually kept at low levels by the algae living in the tank because high levels of nitrate can be toxic to fish and invertebrates. To fix these nitrate levels, I suggested that we do a water change on the tank. We would take out around 30% of the water currently in the tank replace it with water containing correct chemical levels. You don't want to do a 100% water change because it can cause the fish and invertebrates to go into shock and die.
     Within the original clownfish tank, the chemical levels were more reasonable, but we are going to wait a few weeks to add in the clownfish, just to make sure that the chemical balances will stay constant. However, we noticed algae growing on the rocks that are currently in the tank. To make sure that the algae doesn't get out of control again, Christine and I added margarita snails (Margarites pupillus). These snails are known for eating algae and are able to survive in water conditions that might not be the best for other animals. Hopefully, the water levels will stay constant, and we will be able to add the clownfish back.