Public aquariums can provide hobbyists with numerous insights that can apply to their home systemsHere in the US, the summer travel season is well underway, and popular attractions all across the nation are swarming with tourists. For those of us enamored with marine life, vacation travel often involves a visit to major public aquariums, where we can spend several quality hours figuratively immersed in the underwater realm. (Turns out most facilities get pretty upset if you try to do this literally!) As a reefkeeper, what I find particularly interesting about visiting public aquariums is not just the enthralling experience they provide while I’m there, but also the information I glean from the exhibits that can be applied to my own systems back home.Here are just a few examples: Aquascaping inspiration The smaller display tanks that are often peripheral to the gazillion-gallon crowd-pleaser tanks in public aquariums can provide excellent insights on how to configure rockwork and other aquascaping features in your home aquarium for optimum aesthetic appeal. Sure, artificial elements (e.g., faux coral inserts, etc.) often stand in for the real thing in these tanks, but it’s easy enough to extrapolate from the design concepts on exhibit. Which fish species might coexist Seeing different fish species or conspecific groups “playing nice” in a public aquarium display tank can be helpful in determining whether they’re likely to get along in a home aquarium. However, you do have to take the size of the exhibit into account because both heterospecific and conspecific aggression tends to become more intensified as tank size diminishes.
Threadfin Cardinalfish (Zoramia leptacantha)Walk by an LFS sales tank containing a few specimens of threadfin cardinalfish (Zoramia leptacantha), and you might not give them a second glance. Chromatically speaking, this species isn’t exactly a showstopper compared to some, especially when viewed in your average LFS environment. But don’t let this cardinal’s unassuming appearance fool you; it can make for an impressive display species when kept in groups. Physical traitsZ. leptacantha is a diminutive fish, reaching only about 2.5 inches in total length. It’s laterally compressed and has two dorsal fins, the first fairly elongated relative to the second. As mentioned, this species’ color is nothing to write home about (in case you’re one of those types who like to write home about the colors of fish). It’s semi-transparent to yellowish-silver overall with iridescent blue around the eyes as well as blue and yellow accents on the anterior portion of the body.
Sun coral (Tubastraea spp.)When ascribed to the various species of the genus Tubastraea, the common name “sun coral” is both fitting and ironic. It’s fitting when you consider that the spectacular polyps of many Tubastraea species can quite justifiably be described as sun-like in both color and shape. On the other hand, it’s ironic in that these species, unlike so many of the corals that grace our aquariums, lack symbiotic zooxanthellae and, therefore, don’t depend on sunlight—or intense reef-grade aquarium lighting—for their sustenance. Having no special lighting needs might seem to suggest that these corals would be a good choice for the novice reefkeeper. However, just the opposite is actually true. Tubastraea are heavy feeders that require a high level of commitment and exceptional husbandry skills and are generally best left to more advanced hobbyists.Physical traits Tubastraea spp. are considered large-polyp stony (LPS) corals, with several species possessing striking yellow to orange polyps that emerge from tubular, and in some cases branching, corallites. There are also darker-polyped species that appear in the aquarium trade from time to time, such as T.
Rock Beauty Angelfish (Holacanthus tricolor)On one of my earliest dives down in the Florida Keys back in the 1990s, a gorgeous yellow and black angelfish caught my attention as I drifted over a section of reef. In my mind’s eye, I envision the angel hovering boldly above a large barrel sponge, but I can’t be sure whether that’s actually how it happened or just an idyllic memory. In any case, I was taken with its distinctive appearance and wondered whether it might make a good aquarium candidate. As anyone familiar with the fauna of the tropical western Atlantic has already guessed, the angel I saw back then was a rock beauty (Holacanthus tricolor)—a species that, unfortunately, tends to fare poorly in marine aquaria and is generally best left to advanced fishkeepers or, better yet, in the ocean where it can beguile other divers. I’ll get into why in just a moment.Physical traits H. tricolor is laterally compressed (flattened from side to side) and, in typical angel fashion, sports a sharp, backward curving spine on the gill cover (operculum). As alluded above, this species is yellow on the anterior portion of the body and on the caudal fin and black from behind the gills to the caudal peduncle (base of the tail). The margin of the anal fin, the edge of the operculum, and the opercular spine are orange.
The smooth giant clam (Tridacna derasa)Of all the Tridacna spp. clams available to hobbyists, perhaps the hardiest and easiest to maintain of them all is Tridacna derasa, the so-called smooth giant clam. This species is so smooth, in fact, that amorous, gold-chain-wearing male specimens have been overhead in bars making comments like, “Say, did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” and “If I could rearrange the alphabet, I’d put ‘U’ and ‘I’ together.” Okay, maybe T. derasa isn’t that kind of smooth, but its shell does lack pronounced ridges or scutes, making it relatively smooth to the touch. So, that’s probably where the name actually came from (though you have to admit my explanation is much more fun). It’s a fast-growing species when given proper conditions and a great choice for first-time clam keepers who have the tank space to spare.Physical traits T. derasa is the second largest of the Tridacna clams, potentially reaching 18 inches to upwards of 2 feet in length.