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Here is the first article for TFH 11 more to go...On the second article I
have enlisted the Help of Stephen Vernon to co write with me....I want to
use my column to promote new writers , artist , photographers in the
native fish field......So look for some new folks getting into the native
fish outreach buzzyiness....

       The North American Native Fish Community Tank !
                         Robert Rice
                 email roberterice at juno_com

A great many folks out there have a wonderful idea. If I
could stock my tank with local species I could save  a  few
bucks and learn about the local flora and fauna at the same
time.  Then  I could spread the word all over  town   about
how these fish are pretty and cool ! Alas, most folks don't
know where  to start , so they do not start  at  all! This
article ( I hope) will motivate you the readers of TFH to
think a bit about doing the N.A.  native thing. It is fun,
easy, and a good way to  help your community. You see folks
who collect are usually the  first to discover pollution
and  other  local environmental problems (the "it stinks the
most when it is in  your  house" theory). Then you factor in
the general absence of  most local species' life history ,
and the lack  of public awareness of even our most common
non- game  species and you can see how aquarists can help
with the dirty  work.  However, to help, you must consider
your hobby a bit more than a form of live TV. You must
consider your hobby a form of nature study. Many of us do,
we just need your help to get the word out and the job done.
We should let  the local authorities know aquarists count.
Please  join a conservation organization , it  will  make a
tremendous difference.

To start off you must begin to observe the things in nature
if you  are  to  successfully create a N.A. Native
community tank (what  fishes  school together ,  live
together  ,eat together and  die together). With just a bit
of observation you will  see  that in all parts of the
country  there  are species that make a great community
tank. I live in North Florida and have created several
biotype tanks for local schools and nature centers. It is
just as easy to do for the home aquarium. First we must
understand the environment in which our future tank
inhabitants live. If the water is tannic and soft, or clear
and hard we must  adapt our plans and  tank setup
accordingly. It is much easier for us to change our tank
setup than it is to change the basic nature of our fish.

A water sample and a temperature check will yield the basic
information  that you need. If you are replicating a local
pond it  is relatively simple. A substrate of 6 inches of
medium gravel and a simple box power filter and a hood light
should be  all  you will need. Heaters and powerheads are
unnecessary.  Just set it up like a typical generic setup
with some  cover  and  a few live plants  and  you  are  in
business.  Fishes that would typically do well in such a
setup would be killies of all types, the smaller  sunfishes
you know  such as orangespot sunnies, longears,  pumpkinseed,
most  of the catfish family including the madtoms and a few
of  the tougher shiners like the golden shiner, red shiner
(AKA the Asiatic fire barb) and fathead minnow (AKA tuffies,
goldies or some other cute trade name). With this type of
diversity available you should have a tank that is busy on
all levels. Now when it comes to dinnertime most natives can
be induced to eat  prepared food. However I recommend a
mixed diet of frozen, prepared and fresh when available.
Your pond tank will need a nice mix.
The second most popular setup is the stream or riffle tank.
This easy -to- make setup is perfect for darters, sculpins
and many of  the shiners. Darters and shiners are some of
the most stunningly beautiful fish you will ever  come
across.  They are truly the hidden jewels of our North
American fauna.  When I build a riffle tank I seldom use
gravel.  Instead a use egg sized stones I collect from
various sites and pile  them in cave like formations at one
end  of  the tank.  I then let the outflow of the box filter
pour down onto those rocks creating eddies and riffles that
these fish love so  much. I also will set a stand -alone
small pump on the opposite end of the tank aimed at the
middle  of  those rocks.  I prefer Aquarium Systems micro
Jet but there are others out there. I mix in several small
clay pots and I am in business. When setting up a riffle
tank make sure that your location  does not get above 75
degrees  for  extended periods of  time as it will stress
and  can  kill  your specimens. A basement is just about
perfect. For lunch you are going to have  to feed your guests frozen
bloodworms and  live  worms, or , shrimp if  you  can  get
them. Be forewarned, sculpins are serious  chow hounds, so
you might want to feed them redworms in addition  to the
other feedings or they  may  eat  their neighbors.
One of the simplest and least expensive setups is what I
call the ditch tank. I do not mean this in a demeaning way,
I just find that it is the perfect setup for those small
fish  and insects my daughter and me find in local ditches.
I simply take a  small tank with no gravel and add as much
floating vegetation as I can get. I prefer Java Moss , Water
Sprite or Nitella  flexis ( AKA needle grass), a hood, and
an  air stone and that is it. I do a 10-20% water change
once a week or so  removing the debris off the bottom. This
set up is perfect for  species like the Pygmy Sunfishes,
Heterandria formosa and small killies like Leptolucania
ommatta. I keep several "ditch tanks" in my garage with
temperatures in the upper 80's and have no ill effects. The
key to this set up is to only  feed live or frozen foods
about 1X a week  and  do regular small water changes. I have
had so many colonies of ditch fish  set up over the years I
can't recall  them  all.  However, every one has had a
healthy,   self -sustaining  population with  little or no
work. I highly recommend a ditch tank  for  your  home  or
school.  Watching those Everglades pygmy sunfish males in
full color displaying for a female still gives me thrill.
Their velvety blackness with iridescent blue spots it as
good as it gets.  I have even raised Blackbanded and
Bluespot sunfish in my "ditch tanks" so I highly recommend a
"ditch tank" .
The last and very popular setup is the super predator single
fish single species tank. Typically these setups are used
for Bass, Bluegill, Gars, Pickerel , Catfishes, Bowfin  and
the like.  The sportfishermen will often times love their
quarry so much that they set up a home aquarium as a further
way to study and enjoy their adversary. For this setup the
only real concern is keeping the fish in the tank (imagine
if  a Gar struck at an errently placed child's finger),
enough filtration to cover for their messy eating habits,
and durable decorating materials. An  Aquaclear 300 or
similar type of filter and a 40 Gallon tank  with  a deep
gravel  bed  are  my  minimum  recommendations.  These
monsters will  sit for hours still and quite then  suddenly
leap into action when a prey species is detected. This makes
for a  very exciting tank. Most of the time visits to the
local bait shop are necessary to keep these beasts  happy
and full.  A great tank indeed.

A  N.A. native species tank sound good, doesn't it ? Now,
before you run  out there with a net or fishing pole, do  a
little homework.  Check on the various legalities and
limitations with you local fisheries department. You might
also want to check into  the  excellent book, Peterson's
Field  Guide  to Freshwater  Fishes by Larry Page and Brooks
M  Burr.   You will also want to check into the Native Fish
Conservancy , an aquarist friendly non- profit conservation
organization  (see side bar)  or  NANFA , a  native fish
aquarium  society  at WWW.NANFA.ORG.
I can be reached at robertrice at juno_com or by SASE at 2213
Prytania Circle,Navarre ,Florida  32566. Until next time
good luck and good fishing.

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