A Blast From The Past
They have been in and out of the hobby since the 1930’s; its sliver of fame comes and goes from decade to decade. They have not had much publicity or respect. However over the decades they have had a few advocates. Some of the greats in the Aquarium field like Innes and Axelrod have written about them although rather briefly in their works. Who is it, you ask? Who is this antique of the fish hobby? It is the melanistic Fundulus Chrysotus or golden topminnow. He is the classic native killie fish. A tough, durable and colorful killie fish not that the melanistic version bears much resemblance to its more common cousin. The melanistic version is a fish so colorful that you would swear he was not real. You would faint if you saw this stained glass denizen alive in your tank. His combination of golden speckles, dark spots and intense orange fins makes him one of he most attractive killies out there bar none. This fish is that beautiful. This fish is supermodel Cindy Crawford beautiful. The type of fish that makes even the disinterested say, hey what was that I just saw in your tank? It is truly a rare find, a find worthy of any aquarist.
Unfortunately until recently it has been but a wisp of smoke. Like a tale told around a campfire, it remained a Loch Ness monster of sorts of the aquarium hobby. Observed, rumored, talked about but never kept. We who follow temperate fishes have heard the rumors, the stories and seen the old grainy black and white pictures. Sadly we had never seen the fish. No one that I have heard of was keeping this jewel. Sure, I got the odd story of someone seeing one in a collecting net in south Florida, or the odd story from an old timer who had kept them in the 60’s but a live specimen was not to be had. We in the Native Fish Conservancy wondered was it out there? Not that it mattered in an ecological sense but heck we like a pretty fish as much as the next guy and we wanted to see if the stories were up to snuff. So we kept asking our members, dropping an odd email here and there, and waiting and waiting and waiting.
Snooping around eventually paid off. Like a classic painting that suddenly reappears at a garage sale. The melanistic Chrysotus were rediscovered in 1999. Former NFC exotic removal guy Daryl Roche located a population of melanistic Chrysotus in its traditional south Florida haunts. Daryl selflessly asked me if NFC members would be interested in donated brood stock and just like that we had our first hobbyist strain of fish. Daryl diligently spread pairs out to members who had breeding skills and now 2 years later we have hundreds of melanistic Chrysotus in tanks all across the world. Daryl dropped out of things soon after his donation, life being how it is I certainly understand, but I just wanted to go on record as saying Daryl’s efforts brought this fish back to breeders and thus back to the greater hobby and I wanted to thank you publicly. Daryl if you’re out there THANKS!
Now back to the fish. It is all ways a Golden Topminnow. It breeds in spawning mops or vegetation, needs 80 plus degree temps and high quality food to be conditioned for breeding but is generally a easy killie to keep. Here is the kicker. This version is absolutely stunning with a capitol STUN! His orange fins and body inter spaced with black dots has motivated my kids to call him the leopard killie. A deserved name for a deserved fish. He rivals all the tropicals in durability, color and coolness. It is hands down my favorite killie. Here is the second kick they all vary, each killie has his own unique pattern, some more spots some less, more orange, less orange. It’s amazing my first male lived 2 years in captivity (he was a wild caught adult) and produced dozens of prodigy. My children named him Pike because of his aggressive nature. Pike’s body was a black as the ace of spades with dots of orange. He grew to almost 6 inches and would consume frozen, flake and live foods with relish. The females it seems need a richer diet to produce eggs. I suspect it has more to do with body fat % than anything else. Whether a female was conditioned or not Pike always remained ready to chase the ladies and any other male foolish enough to get in his way. Thus making him a favorite amongst our home kept fishes. He had a personality as brash as his colors and we miss him.
To keep Fundulus Chrysotus of any type you will need a heavily planted small tank with soft slightly acidic water. Food and temperature seem to be the determining factors in success. A typical 70 F setup will lead to failure. The Chrysotus are a southern killie that lives in shallow water and they LOVE it hot. Temps in the mid 80’s are common in their habitat. So put em on the porch or turn up the heater. I keep my tanks at 82 degrees year around. The other most common failure is inadequate food. Flake food may be taken by the Leopard killies but they will not thrive on it. They need a richer diet that more closely mimics their natural feed. They absolutely love mosquito larvae and brine shrimp. I also feed mine regular old table shrimp, frozen bloodworms and an odd earthworm now and again. If you have proper setup breeding should be no problemo as they say.
Much to my surprise I found that most of the Fundulus Chrysotus spawning occurs in the night or just at dawn. Perhaps this late night schedule reduces the risk of predation in the wild or perhaps the moonlight adds to the watery romance. Either way the leopard killies seem to like the dark hours, the male will dance, romance and wiggle to his prospective mate until she joins him in a clump of vegetation or a spawning mop. She will then lay a few (less than 10) large amber colored eggs. The beauty of this is that if she is happy, well fed and unbothered they will continue to spawn daily. I had a female and Pike spawn for over 50 consecutive days documented in my notebook. Yes it’s strange that I spent 50 nights in a row watching fish spawn and was willing to write about it. Such odd behavior is a different topic for sure. A topic I suspect more than one of my readers can appreciate. Anyhow Pike fathered over 60 young in the summer of 1999, in my primitive setup. A feat I have yet to replicate personally and have thus stopped at three. So obviously the Chrysotus is an easy species to keep. Humans I can attest are a bit more trouble.
The young will quickly take baby brine shrimp, bloodworms, black worms and about anything they can fit in their mouths. They are very durable and to be honest with you I raised most of mine in the parent’s tank with no supplemental feedings. I just let them pick up scraps and hide from their folks. I’m not one of those high tech aquarist. I just do not have the space or time to have separate baby grow out setups. Others in the NFC like Bill Duzen who is a killie breeding fool have had much better success with removed mops and raising of the eggs in a separate setup. I with a small house three young kids and a wife in residency settled on a 20-gallon tank with no filter or gravel and a huge mass of cabomba and java moss. My primitive setup laced with live foods collected from my ponds or local ditches was a killie honeymoon hotel. I produced enough young to give starter colonies to scores of other hobbyist. So don’t let you lack of equipment be an issue to setting up a killie tank. They lend them selves very well to low tech setups.
Leopard killies are a fun species to keep. They are also an easy species to keep. They are also just about impossible to get in the hobby. That is until now. You see our loosely knit NFC network aided by the Internet has produced several sources for this fascinating killie. Availability and prices will vary but they are available. I don’t recommend one source over the other nor do the NFC or I profit in anyway from their activities. I just offer them as options and let the buyer beware. So for the first time ever you can save a trip to Florida and get some leopard killies from a breeder. I suspect that like almost all of the killies temperate and tropical they will never make it to the pet store as their life history habits make them difficult to collect in large numbers or to breed in a hatchery setting. Thus they will be on the B List of fishes. You know the fishes that are cool but not easy enough for commercial mass production. That’s Ok though and that should not stop you from getting into the killies or your local fishes for that matter. It’s an exciting and fun addition to your hobby. Just think you could be the first to bring the leopard killie to your local society auction. Shock em and tell em it’s from Katmandu or some other exotic location like Florida. So for the first time there are sources for this fascinating killie fish. The Leopard Killie, like most of our local species is under studied and under loved and worthy of your passion and interest. Interested? Do something about it!
Until next time good luck and good fishing.
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