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NFC: flagfin shiner

<HTML><PRE>The Flagfin Shiner (Pteronotropis signippinnis) as an Aquarium

Robert Rice
2213 Prytania Circle Navarre Florida 32566
email robertrice at juno_com

Lying quietly back in the small tannic coastal springs of  Florida and
Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana is the Flagfin shiner . He lives as a
virtual unknown to those who live around him. He is one of the most
colorful and tolerant aquarium species around. He also is one of the most
obscure. This common Southeastern shiner should be a shining star of the
aquarium. He rivals all the well known tropicals in looks and he
surpasses almost all of them in toughness.  He takes flake , frozen and
every other kind of food with relish. Once established in the tank he is
gentle, almost disease free, and showy. He is an excellent community tank
member. Unfortunately he has remained an unknown species to the Aquarist,
and to a greater degree the general public. Only a few odd collectors,
NANFA members and fisheries personnel even know he's  there.

In this country there has developed a shyness of sorts against keeping
common native species.  Why ? Who knows? Fortunately this species is one
of literally hundreds of North American Native Species that are suitable
aquarium species. They pass the Aquarist test they are colorful , durable
and  breedable. All the priorities a serious Aquarist should have .  The
only missing factor for most Aquarist is information . Is there public
information on breeding habits, food requirements etc. ? In this case the
answer is no. There are little or no public records available on most
North American Native Species in general , and the Flagfin Shiner in
specific. With the exception of the odd article in small native fish
clubs like NANFA's publication American Currents this species has
remained anonymous. While this lack of species documentation presents a
challenge , it is not an insurmountable one .  

Aquarist unique skills in breeding and rearing unusual species  would
change the published life history for this species and so many others in
a heartbeat. Imagine the day when all the State agencies have full and
complete life histories on this and other species without spending a dime
. This input from Aquarist could help preserve the species. The agencies
would know the how, when and why of  breeding, they would know the
intricacies of raising and rearing. In short they would know the Flagfin
Shiner or any other species Aquarists set there sights on. How could the
state agencies get all that information for free ? The answer is simple
and can be summed up in one word , Communicate . Aquarist can do that ! 
If we can breed and raise and document habits of rare Discus and Cichlids
, then unusual  temperate water species should be a snap. We should share
our results with the local fisheries personnel and Colleges then the
whole country and the Flagfin shiner could benefit! Fisheries personnel
would then take our requests for expanded legislated access to Native
Fishes more seriously if we shared breeding, rearing and collecting data
with the greater fisheries community.

You decide the Flagfin sounds like an interesting fish and you'd like to
try this native species for your next tank. You have a few questions
first. You want to know is it worth the time and effort to do a serious
attempt at breeding and rearing ? Will it be colorful ? Will I be proud
of my Native Species tank ? Basically , is this fish one I should spend
my time, money and efforts on ? The answer to all the questions is yes.
For a unbiased opinion here is what the benchmark of native fish guides 
Peterson's Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes  by Larry M. Page and Brooks
M. Burr says about the Flagfin Shiner (keep in mind this excellent book
is written for the Scholar/Biologist in the field not the Aquarist ( page
118 ) " Identification :  Olive Gold above; upper side yellow front red
at rear: broad blue black stripe along side with vertical orange dashes;
pale gold lower side; gold snout. Red orange edge on yellow dorsal,
caudal, anal, and pelvic fins ; yellow pectoral fins deep compressed
body, strongly tapering to caudical peduncle..........". Beautiful,
common, unloved  and unknown , a prime candidate for the efforts of the
serious Aquarist .

Certainly the Flagfin Shiner is a colorful fish and when compared with
the various tetra's and danios out there, it is defiantly worthy of a
serious look . Let's say you are a Naturalist at heart . You have decided
you want to take the challenge and rear and breed the Flagfin Shiner .
Well first off, I congratulate you , and second off , I warn you. Most
likely you will fail several times before you succeed. You are venturing
into uncharted waters. There is scant documentation out there. Do not be
discouraged that is  part of the learning process. Here is my experience
with this "Rose of the South". When I have collected this shiner it is
always in coastal seepage springs. Seepage springs , are springs with no
particular head to them. All along the bed of the spring are very small
little seeps that bubble a small amount of spring water. What this does
is equilibrate the temperature all along the small creek beds that this
species occurs. You see , with no central concentration of spring water
there is no hot or cold end to the spring. It bubbles along with a bit
here , and a bit there , and in general maintains a very constant
temperature , pH and salinity all the while remaining pretty
insignificant (usually less than 6 feet across). During a creeks long
ramblings it picks up large amounts of leaf  litter and pine needles thus
it maintains a tannic , acidic quality throughout it's  stretch. This
leaf  litter gives it it's tannic nature. Typically these "springs" vary
only slightly in temperature  ( 65-71 degrees F) and pH (6.0.- 6.5)
during a year. This constancy is the key to rearing this species .

The Flagfin is often the most common fish in the places it inhabits. It
is easy to collect and a lot of fun . If you are able to collect the
species yourself  with a day or weekend trip, by all means do so. It is
the type of collecting many people pay thousands  of dollars for. It's
tannic home and the variety of flora and fauna you encounter during your
collecting trip will make you believe you are in a deep , dark foreign
land. Luckily for you may be able to collect the Flagfin Shiner for the
cost of gasoline, time, lunch and a fishing license. The streams in which
it occurs are cool , comfortable and a pleasure to seine or dipnet. These
tannic creeks usually carry few if any predatory species and a nice
variety of Darters, Shiners and plants. Check your Peterson's Guide, your
local Department of Natural Resources folks or a NANFA member for
suitable locations to collect and local regulations. With a bit of
research you will find them an ease to find and collect. 

  Suddenly you realize you have caught the dreaded Native Fish fever .
What now ? You sadly realize collecting this species is just not a
possibility ? Perhaps  your physical limitations preclude you from
collecting this fish? What if you live in Alberta Canada or Des Moines
Iowa ? Inspite of all this you are still burning with the fever to rear
and breed this fish ! Relax, there are regular trading post sections in
NANFA's publications which can help you get suitable specimens with
little sweat ! If you are not a NANFA member and would like a trading
post anyway try their WEBSITE at WWW.NANFA.ORG or the NANFE echo on the
fido net , or email me or  send me a self addressed stamp envelope. I'd
be happy to send you a trading post (see end of article for details).
Trading posts are fast becoming the most economical way to acquire native
species ! Make a trade , it is easy . Perhaps you are uncertain what you
have to offer as a trade (many people love to trade tropicals for natives
and vice versa) ! In many cases if you just have nothing to trade some
people are happy to send you fish at no charge,  of course you must be
willing to pay the postage .I use priority mail with a very high success

With a bit of elbow grease and bit of communication and a collecting trip
or trade anyone can posses some Flagfin Shiners. If you are a wise soul
you will adjust the water a bit before they arrive and take the liberty
of taking a water sample from their home waters with you when you
collected, Or asked your trading partner to send one along . Anyhow you
have all it takes to make a go of this . You know a bit about the former
home of these fish  so you can match things in a reasonable manner.
Unfortunately , you and I and most of the world are still are ignorant of
the intricacies of their lifestyle, reproduction and rearing.  Welcome to
the club and by all means let me share with you what I know. This species
is an egg  scatterer , they spawn in gravel depressions in the stream
bed. Contrary to published myth they will spawn all year around if
conditions are right. I suspect temperature around 70 F will get them
going but only in combination with other factors. What are those factors
? I don't know ! Aquarist could learn those factors . I have collect
gravid females in the spring , fall and winter. So temperature must be a
factor. Their diet consist mainly of small insects and crustaceans in the
stream. The closer that you can mimic that the better off you will be. In
my tank they thrive on bloodworms, earthworms and mosquito larvae. When I
have collected gravid females they have quickly spawned . They  young are
durable and become free swimming in 6 days and feed mainly of "green
water " and daphnia , then baby brine shrimp and finally bloodworms. 

I know there is much to learn about this species and there are better
Aquarist who should take up the torch. Their input will make the
difference. Biologist just do not have the time and resources to further
this species research. Their efforts are just spread too thin. Fisheries
personnel have to many hats to wear. Aquarist are needed in the
environmental fray more than ever . The breeding of these more common
species with documented data is a very practical way to help our fishes
and the knowledge about them. A last note of warning , Flagfin Shiners
are very sensitive to temperature changes and chlorine so plan your tank
maintenance accordingly and please by all means let us know of any
success you may have . The states of Florida, Alabama , Louisiana ,
Mississippi  and many of us out here await your results.

Robert Rice
Join the NFC and help save our fishes.   http://www.nativefish.org/  

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