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"Jeff Fullerton" <tcmajorr at westol_com>: NANFA-- The Eastern Starhead Topminnow

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From: "Jeff Fullerton" <tcmajorr at westol_com>
To: <nanfa at aquaria_net>
Subject: NANFA-- The Eastern Starhead Topminnow
Date: Fri, 2 Jan 1998 20:06:11 -0500
Message-ID: <199801030107.UAA26582 at oak_westol.com>

Fellow Native Fish Enthusiasts

I first encountered the Eastern Starhead Topminnow - Fundulus escambiae
the Florida panhandle while searching the backroads of Bay and Washington
counties in November 1995. It was a totally unexpected discovery made
my friend Mike and I stopped where the road we were traveling bisected a
wetland area - perhaps what the locals might call a 'slough'. We were not
really looking for anything that spectacular. Just a long sought after
plant : the Small Floating Heart - Nymphiodes cordata which is a floating
leaf plant related to the familiar "Banana Plant" - N. aquatica of the
aquarium trade.
The dark waters of the slough which were supported dense growths of water
lilies and other aquatic flora looked like a promising habitat for N.
cordata , but again it came up empty. Before moving on , we decided to
break out our nets and sample the resident fish fauna which had become
another ancilliary interest to the photography and field observation of
local plants and herpetofauna.

Actually , Mike & I started making these trips to the Panhandle insearch
the elusive Appalachicola kingsnake and those gargantuan Gulf Coast Box
Turtles and carnivorous plants that have so intrigued us thru the years.
But that's another story !

The waters of the slough were very deeply stained with tannic acids ,
gave them a color somewhat like Ice Tea and a very astringent , almost
antiseptic odor. A familiar smell remembered from before ; such as when I
caught Blackbanded Sunfishes in the "Cedar waters" of the N.J. Pine
, or the habitat of Bluespotted Sunfishes in southern Maryland. And in
keeping with the above situations they tested very acidic ; in the
neighborhood of 6.0 or the high 5s with a minimal hardness.
This makes for a harsh environment for fish life. But this slough was
teaming with fish. The familiar Mosquitofish G. affins and it's tiny
Heterandria formosa were the most abundant elements of the fish fauna ,
followed by some rather fleet and skitish species of top-water killifish
that bore a bright irridescent greenish / golden spot in the midst of
heads. My first sweep of the dip net astonished us with a thrashing
juvinile Alligator Gar which was returned to the water , followed by
of mosquitofish & "Hets". We also caught a few small sunfish which we
deemed to be young Dollar Sunfishes - Lepomis marginatus. But it was
dazzling little killies that we really went after.
The first two specimens were hard to come by.With our trusty Peterson
Guide we keyed them as the Eastern Starhead - Fundulus escambiae ! They
were very beautiful fish , rivaling even the more familiar Golden Ear -
Fundulus chrysotus that we had caught elsewhere on our trip. With much
difficulty , we caught a total of 6 specimens before darkness descended
we had to leave. Later examination revealed that we at at least two males
and a female along with three sub adults.

The Starheads proved to be a very adaptable fish ,despite mortality of a
good part of what I collected on that trip due to fungus which wild
fishes from Florida seem to be very susceptable to. The three adult
Fundulus escambiae that did survive , survived quite well and not only
the adjustment to my water , but also thrived on a diet of live , frozen
and of all things : Flake !
Because this species tollerated acidic water well , it had promise as a
sumertime resident in my garden pond which already supported a mixed
community of tannic water fishes. My pond even has many of the same
features that made the slough from which they came such a great place for
them. Soft water with a pH of about 6.4 to 6.8 and plenty of lily pads
which these topminnows seem to perfer for cover. Since my first three
specimens took well to the pond after being wintered indoors , it was
decided as the end of Summer 1997 approached : that I had to go back and
get some more !
Which I did in early September 1997. Returning to that same slough better
prepared for collecting fish , we caught a total of 32 - mostly
and this time maintained them in style : in a large transluscent plastic
crate with aeration ,generous feedings of live brine shrimp and frequent
water changes (luckily there was a nice clean lake of similar chemistry
the water of origion on a wildlife refuge near the place we were staying)
These made the trip well from the Tallahassee region to Orlando from
they were bagged with oxygen and sent via Delta Air cargo to meet me
in Pittsburgh a a day later !
All 32 Eastern Starheads subsequently adapted to pond water and then to
water and are now split between four ten gallon tanks with gravel bottoms
and a few plastic plants for cover. Mortality was much lower this time ,
think because of better handling and prophalactic treatment given upon
arrival for fungus. All specimens are currently feeding well - they took
flake almost right away and hopefully they will spawn this coming summer
when I move them outside. A half dozen or so will go into my pond for
and the remainder will be conditioned for spawning in separate pools or
tubs to ensure better success than might be possible in the compeditive
environment of the pond.
Hopefully they will spawn prolifically!
By the way , I am still looking for that Floating Heart - Nymphiodes
Anyone seen it lately ?
Jeff from PA.    
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