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NFC: RE: Florida Flagfish....
Question What is the average life span, in an aquarium for the
JORDANELLA FLORIDAE or the American-Flag Fish ?
Are they considered annuals or what
From: robert a rice [SMTP:robertrice at juno_com]
Sent: Monday, May 17, 1999 8:53 AM
To: nfc at actwin_com
Subject: NFC: Florida Flagfish....
Copyright Wright Huntley Commercial use without Authors
permission is strictly forbidden
The American-Flag Fish
Goode and Bean, 1879
Santa Clara, CA
Described by Tutaj9 as "An American Beauty," this strikingly
lovely and peaceful algae eater deserves a better break.
Of the hundreds of species of killies kept and propagated by
dedicated specialists, very few qualify as a suitable fish for the more
casual aquarist. The American-Flag fish, Jordanella floridae is a
notable exception. Misunderstood, improperly identified, and frequently
described inaccurately in the general aquarium literature, this pupfish
deserves a place in many community tanks that it has been denied by an
undeserved reputation. While consuming algae like the best Siamese
Algae Eater, it is beautiful, rugged and extremely tolerant of varied
water conditions. Highly prized in Europe, maybe it's too close to
home, here, for proper appreciation. Recently priced at less than $3.00
in local stores, it is a colorful bargain when it matures.
Originally thought to be a cichlid, this native of the gulf
coast, but primarily Florida, also was identified with the sunfish. Now
known as a unique, single-species genus of native American pupfish, it
has uncanny behavioral resemblance to both the sunfish and cichlid
groups. The spiny dorsal ray is unique among cyprinidontidae. The only
time the Jordanella floridae shows belligerence, above that of a molly,
is during courtship and when guarding eggs. At that time, the female,
or any territorial invader, is at real risk from an irate male, who can
do serious damage. This is no different than almost any nesting cichlid
or gourami. The generic name is for David Starr Jordan, the first
president of Stanford University. The species name is for the state
where it is most prevalent. The habit of shipping wild specimens from
selected gathering grounds in Florida has left the species free of the
dominance of ugly mutations that have ruined many other good aquarium
fish. Typical J. floridae of today probably look identical to the
specimens so eagerly greeted in Europe over 70 years ago.
Unfortunately, that appearance gets masked in the living conditions of
many fish shops, and poor understanding of the needs of this fish often
has turned a real swan into an ugly duckling.
As in most killifish, the male and female are different in
appearance, but their coloring is as variable as any chameleon. Each
has a different kind of attractiveness, but both may be quite dull and
drab in the wrong conditions. Their behavior is as interesting as their
appearance. In this paper, the author proposes a hypothesis to answer
the question of why there are so many conflicting descriptions of this
species. The breeding behavior under two different environments, and
their general behavior is described, following the description of the
fish and proper living conditions. A concluding section puts forth the
hypothesis. A proposal for defining correct conditions for keeping and
breeding Jordanella floridae is advanced.
The body is much shorter and more laterally compressed than most
other cyprynodonts. The unique spiny fin rays and unusual body qualify
it for a separate genus. The body of both sexes is similar, with the
male size about 25 - 30% larger than the female (3~ vs. 2 ¼~). The
flattened sunfish-like shape, with dorsal and anal fins displaced to the
rear, gives it an unmistakable silhouette. It is easily the most
colorful of our native aquarium fishes, rivaling the dwarf gourami in
overall attractiveness. The origin, unique shape, and bright colors
should qualify the Jordanella floridae as the signature fish in the AKA
logo, rather than some non-native that is rarely kept by most modern
killifish aquarists. The particular color pattern of the male is even
more reason we should proudly display this fish as our logo. In a well
lit, heavily planted tank, the male takes on the appearance that leads
to the common name. "American-Flag Fish" requires the hyphen of a
compound adjective, for the male looks as if he dressed in the national
pennant. [Almost all other authors and editors seem to miss this simple
grammatical point] With red stripes on the sides, and an upper
fore-quadrant of deep blue, the resemblance is uncanny. The iridescent
green-white spot on each scale makes the stars in the blue field, as
well as the "white" rows between the red stripes (if you don't mind a
grass-stained look to the white). The upper and lower edges of the
scales are bright red, forming solid, horizontal, brilliant red stripes.
The transparent unpaired fins are a pale sky blue, but dorsal and anal
are so covered with red markings that red is the dominant hue. The
female sports a false eyespot in the center of her side, directly below
the start of her dorsal fin, and another in the rear base of her dorsal
fin. Her basic color is tan to gray, and only the central portion of
two or three scale rows may carry the iridescent green shine. She has a
chameleon-like ability to shift colors and patterns in all kinds of
interesting ways. Sometimes a checkerboard, then vertically barred, her
most happy appearance is to echo the central eye spot several times back
toward the caudal fin, each spot with less contrast as the tail is
approached. At the height of breeding passion, she can become a buttery
bright yellow, with almost no dark body markings. The eyespot on the
side of the male is still present, exactly at the right angled corner of
the blue star field. It is not so hard-edged and well defined as in the
female. While the male loses his dorsal spot as he matures, the
female's jet-black dorsal spot has a brilliant white "iris," making it
more obvious than her normal eye. It should confuse many predators.
The male flashes his bright red unpaired fins, to attract the
female's attention, and uses them in the actual mating as described
below. The upward facing mouth has somewhat wide fat "lips." His sharp
teeth are capable of taking neat bites out of swordplant leaves, if
enough algae, riccia and duck-weed aren't present to satisfy the craving
for vegetable matter. Their face has an expression that some have
described as "froggy."
Like many partially vegetarian fish, the routine behavior is a
slow and dignified search for algae, and a calm resting position among
top weeds. In shallower tanks, the resting position may be nearer the
bases of plants. A mated pair will spend most of their non-breeding
time in close proximity, with lots of affectionate brushing and
touching. Rarely will they allow the other out of visual range. While
seldom molesting others, more aggressive species can cause the floridae
to become timid and to hide. Like many killies, the young do become
frantic when frightened, but this tends to go away with age. Small
babies are often very hard to see. They instantly dive for cover at any
approach to the tank.
The most striking behavior is during mating, described in detail
below. The spawning behavior is radically different in different
conditions, which has led to a lot of confusion in the literature. 1, 3
- 8, 10 Hopefully, this report will start to clarify this point, and
future efforts can proceed with better direction. Most of the cited
references contain some material factual errors, and only the
JAKA/Killie Notes references should be trusted. 2, 9 In particular, the
males are larger than the females, they are very brightly colored, they
don't "dash around" the tank, and they don't molest other fish, despite
the claims of some famous encyclopedists.
The literature is, again, somewhat divided on desirable
conditions. The J. floridae so readily adapts to very different
situations that most stated conditions are probably correct. This
author has obtained viable eggs from the same pair, both in soft,
too-warm, deep, acid water, and shallower, hard, cooler water. The only
requirement seems to be reasonable acclimation, and adequate mix of
animal and vegetable matter in the diet.
They first spawned in the top plants of a 55 gallon "Amazon"
plant tank. Since the temperature was 81º F. and the hardness was down
around 2 dGH, with pH about 6.2, the spawning was a complete surprise.
These parameters were well outside the range of almost every reference,
yet the floridae happily deposited eggs on hygrophila leaves, duck-weed
roots, floating water sprite and anything else near the surface.
Introduction of a power head caused enough surface turbulence that they
tried spawning on lower plants and an algae-covered log. They went back
to surface spawning when the current was directed slightly downward,
leaving some still corners at the surface. They never attempted to
spawn on the bottom. Some days after completion of the spawning round,
they were generally peaceful. However, an Apistogramma macmasteri pair
started defending a new brood, and the female J. floridae simultaneously
showed some tattered fins. Moving the pair quickly to an old 10G, they
received only hastily drip-acclimation to the 74º F., hard-water tank.
dGH was estimated at about 20, but was not measured, at the time, and pH
was well above 7 (above 7.4 without CO2 injection). The depth of the
10" (8.5~ from gravel to surface) was much less than the tall 55G show
tank (16~). Some salt had been added earlier, but intervening partial
water changes made the residual concentration uncertain.
Heavy rear-corner planting in the 10G filled all the swimming
space but a central clearing by the front glass. This turned out to be
an observational jackpot, for the area chosen for next spawn was within
range of a strong hand-held magnifying glass, in the center of the
Even with the abrupt change in conditions, the male harassed the
female, and, within a day, spawning resumed. Fussy about conditions,
they are not!
SPAWNING-HIGH VS LOW
The initial spawning in the 55G tank was at odds with the
sunfish-like descriptions in many books. The tendency was to just say
those authors were busy quoting each other and had not bothered to
observe that the Jordanella floridae was a typical killifish that should
spawn in mops near the surface. After all, everyone "knows" killies
don't guard their young.
In the shallower tank, the difference in behavior was almost
unbelievable. The mating dance changed completely, and the egg-laying
looked almost as if it really was in the gravel. The male fanned the
eggs, and in all ways fit the cichlid-sunfish-like pattern, described so
In the tall tank, earlier, eggs were rescued from the floating
roots of duck weed and placed in a small fishbowl to gestate and hatch.
One egg even floated in the meniscus at the top of the water. They
weren't very sticky, and the one egg led to the belief that the eggs
were buoyant. Later, the author observed that bottom-laid eggs were not
buoyant. They pulled on attached fine strands of algae to hang down
when undisturbed. The difference in spawning was so great it leads to
speculation that the salinity or fat content of the eggs might be
different for deep-water spawning and for shallow-water bottom spawning,
to minimize egg loss. The original mating behavior, in the deep tank,
started with a male dance to attract the female. When she was
receptive, she would swim up to him, and then lead him to some, often
distant, part of the tank she had chosen to deposit her eggs. Snuggling
together, head-to-head, she was always on top, with the male cupping her
from below as they semi-inverted to push her vent up against the plants
chosen. His unpaired fins all curled to clasp her in a cup as they lay
on their sides, nearly parallel to the surface, and vibrated along the
plants. Repeated several times each evening, there were long rest
periods while they recovered. When resting, they tended to stay close
and keep within easy eye-contact range. In the smaller tank, the male
so severely chased and bit the female that physical separation became
necessary. He, not the Apisto, had been the fin shredder. Despite the
fighting, both tried to find a way through the installed barrier. By
the next morning, they were getting so frantic that it was removed.
Spawning was resumed, right away. This time, the female clearly led the
dance. It takes quite a bit of room, and smaller tanks could be a
problem here. She grabbed the exact center of the clearing, and pointed
herself directly away from the male. Flicking little puffs of water at
him with her tail, as he circled the clearing (always in a clockwise
direction), he displayed his fins to her. She rotated with him to keep
him visible in both eyes, and her tail pointed directly at him.
Gradually, his circles tightened and/or she backed up until her tail was
actually stroking his side with each flick. When he became sufficiently
aroused, they moved to a side-by-side position and started a vibrating
spawning pass over the gravel. Cupping his anal fin near her vent, she
deposited the eggs on plant strands in rows as they slowly wriggled
Watching with a magnifying glass, it was possible to observe in
detail. The spawning "in the gravel" was no such thing. Every single
egg was getting deposited on a strand of hair algae, a root, or strand
of Java moss. No eggs were seen attached to, or free, in the gravel.
Driving the female away, the male groomed and fanned the egg site. He
thrust forward with his caudal fin and backward with his pectorals to
create a strong current over the eggs, while tilted, head down, at about
30º from the horizontal over the "nest." Several spawnings were
completed, over the next few days, before he drove the battered female
away for the last time. He diligently fanned and watched the eggs,
driving the female into hiding whenever he could see her, and
threatening the author whenever he approached the glass for a closer
look. Some eggs were lost to ramshorn snails (which the father
ignored), but most hatched successfully, after about a week. No
infertile or fungused eggs were observed. A portion of the spawned-on
plants was removed, early in the process, to a small floating container,
but most were left with the parents to see what happened. When all the
eggs were hatched, the male still fanned and watched over them. The
parents were finally returned to the big tank as the babies started to
scatter on the second day after hatching started. The separated fry
were returned from the floating container to the tank and the babies
were started on infusoria, to supplement the already active fauna of the
aged water in the tank. Yield of viable, free-swimming fry was very
poor in the 10G tank. The earlier eggs, collected in the deep tank,
hatched in a much shallower container, with much better results. Many
killies do not develop proper swim-bladder function if trapped in too
deep water, and it is easy to speculate that this is true here, too.
The fry struggle very hard to reach the surface as soon as they can
swim. The few who do, seem to grow better and swim better than the ones
left belly-sliding on the bottom. The ability to stay at the surface
seems related to the first attempts to get there. Filling the swim
bladder with air, early, may be critical.
Combining the need for shallow water in the babies, and the two
radically different spawning behaviors leads to an interesting
hypothesis. The spawning of the Jordanella floridae is simply adjustable
to the early needs of the young.
In deep water, surface spawning on free-floating plants allows
the eggs to be blown ashore, where the hatching can occur in shallow
water. In shallower water, the protection of the parent is more safe,
so the eggs are laid in a nest and protected. In nature, 8.5 inch deep
water is rarely more than a few feet from shore, so shallow water easily
could be reached by belly-sliding fry. Unfortunately, the 10 gallon did
not provide that protection, and most of those fry did not get to the
free-swimming stage. While algae growth was prolific in the old water
of this tank, the hydra came out in droves to further deplete the fry
population. The fry do not swim well for the first couple of days, so
were easy prey. Only five or six, that probably started in the floating
container, survived. The next variation on a theme will be to collect
eggs and test the growth of fry hatched at several different depths, to
see if an optimum can be defined. The results may take a while, so they
will have to be reported later.
It may be better to keep only males for quantity display in the
community aquarium, like dwarf gouramis. While mildly territorial, they
do well together if given a little room, and will even school in groups.
Parboiled spinach, algae or veggie flakes should supplement live foods
and regular flake food, if the softer plants are to be protected. After
all, these are pupfish, with long intestines, and they like and need
some vegetable food. Their grazing will, however, tend to keep
unsightly hair or beard algae under control. They are less expensive
and much more ornamental than almost all other really effective algae
eaters. The breeding roughness and fierce male guarding of the young
might suggest that females should be kept only for breeding, and
raised/maintained separately from the males, once breeding age is
reached. This author so enjoys their normal affectionate behaviour that
it seems a shame to keep them apart. If kept with a male, in a small
tank, just provide plenty of hiding places for the female. Otherwise,
the spawning-frenzied male might cause severe injury to her fins. This
is an easy-to-breed species, and would be an excellent and entertaining
first breeding project for someone just starting out in killifish
culture. Who knows, we might eventually get enough out at our own shows
to rival the large numbers usually entered in the DKG show.
1. Axelrod, H. R. & Schultz, L. P. 1955, "Handbook of Tropical
Aquarium Fishes," McGraw-Hill
2. Brill, John S., Jr., Jordanella Floridae, Nov./Dec. 1978, JAKA
Vol. I No. 6
3. Frey, H., 1970, "Illustrated Dictionary of Tropical Fishes,"
4. Hoedeman, J.J., 1974, "Naturalist's Guide to Fresh Water
Aquarium Fishes," Sterling Publ. Co.
5. Innes, W.T., 1966, "Exotic Aquarium Fishes," 19th Ed. Revised,
6. O'Connell, R.F., 1971, "The Freshwater Aquarium," The Great
Outdoors Publ. Co.
7. Petrovicky', I., 1989, Aquarium Fish of the World," Arch Cape
8. Rataj, K. & Zukal, R., 1972, "Aquarium Fishes and Plants,"
9. Tutaj, Duane, Aug. 1972, Jordanella floridae, An American Beauty
Killie Notes Vol. 5 No. 8
10. vanRamshorst, J. D., (Ed.) 1978, "Aquarium
Encyclopedia," H.P. Books
huntley at ix_netcom.com <mailto:huntley at ix_netcom.com>
Help Preserve our Aquatic Heritage join the Native Fish
Conservancy online at our website http://nativefish.interspeed.net/
From: Wright Huntley [SMTP:huntley1 at home_com]
<mailto:[SMTP:huntley1 at home_com]>
Sent: Friday, May 14, 1999 9:08 AM
To: nfc at actwin_com <mailto:nfc at actwin_com>
Subject: Re: NFC: Flagfish
Christian C Burke wrote:
> I recently purchased some Flagfish (Jordanella
floridae) from a local > fish store. These are beautiful, stubby,
little killies native to the > Florida peninsula.
> I had never seen these fish for sale in a store, but
perhaps this is due > to my western location. I got the impression from
the storekeeper that > they didn't sell very well, as they were not as
"pretty" as the platies > and swordtails in the adjacent tanks...
Whatever. Just bag 'em and tag > 'em, please!
> These are stunning fish. The females have a handsome
snakeskin sort of > pattern, and the males have bright orange horizontal
stripes. I was > particulary attracted to them because they reminded me
of the sheepshead
> minnows I used to catch in Maryland, but more
They are "pupfish" like the sheepsheads and many other
*Cyprinodons*. Their scientific handle, as you say, is *Jordanella
floridae*. Only killy with a stiff fin ray, AFAIK.
> I haven't heard any mention about these fish on the
list. Does anyone > else see them for sale in stores? Perhaps they
more common than I > realize? Does anyone have any experience they
would like to share about > these little guys?
PetsMart has regularly had them around here. They are often dull
and ugly in stores because they are very heavy veggie eaters, and need
lots of algae and plant material to get in good condition. Once there,
they rival Dwarf Gouramis for color. The red stripes on the side and the
blue shoulder field of the males look vaguely like an American flag.
That's where the common name American-Flag Fish comes from. As a
compound adjective, it *should* have that hyphen, but many ignore it.
Females are chameleons, changing from three spots on the side to
checkerboard to stripes to who knows. Females all have a small eyespot
on the dorsal as well as the big one behind the gills.
Breeding was described in an article in the Journal of the AKA
back about '96. They have two radically different spawning techniques,
top-plant and substrate nest, that have confused most writers of
Great community fish, they get really mean like Cichlids and
Gouramis when the male is guarding eggs in a nest.
Lots of us keep them, for they are great fish to watch. They
play like puppies, hence the name.
I recently entered a pair of those "$1.59" PetsMart fish that
had been fed up and grown to full size in a big killy show. They won 3rd
place in a big class, and brought $17 at auction!
Wright Huntley, Fremont CA, USA, 510 494-8679 huntleyone @
From: Phylesis at aol_com <mailto:Phylesis at aol_com>
[SMTP:Phylesis at aol_com] <mailto:[SMTP:Phylesis at aol_com]>
Sent: Friday, May 14, 1999 4:59 PM
To: nfc at actwin_com <mailto:nfc at actwin_com>
Subject: Re: NFC: Flagfish
I collect the Flagfish in the wild here in S. Florida and have
noticed a few things. The spawning trigger seems to be higher temps and
algal growth as they coincide. I kept a number of them in ten gal. for
months without paying any attention to them. Actually forgot em. The
tank was very green and filled with filamentious algea, it's water level
up and down with the rain or the rare dumping of excess water into the
tank to bring it's level above the airstone tube and when I rediscovered
them I couldn't believe the color. Hardy little buggers. The tank also
sits, or sat in direct sunlight for half the day. In the wild they
inhabit the upper 12 or so inches in heavy grass vegitation covered in
algea and the temps there can be quite warm in the summer, in the 90s
F.They are omnivors, but obviously prefer algea. Over the winter when
the night temps dropped into the forties, for us thats like the 20s for
you yaynkees, they did just fine with no heating. They did however
immediatly suffer from ich. In fact all the natives did well, while the
exotics ALL kicked. Even with the temps maitaned in the low fifties and
upper forties during the day, I noticed the ambient temps of the wild
waters stayed in the 70s with one time recording them at 68. The water
holds the heat over night so there is little significant change. As for
Alaska, and what a really cool / kewl place to live, you might want to
concider the ground temp as well. It will determine the mean average
temp for the water in an outdoor pond, perhaps more so than the air
temps. A side note... they are aggressive in a community tank with a rep
for being fin nippers. If kept as 1 male to 3 females this seems to calm
them. The females have the black spotted dorsal.