Family saved by fish tank!

An aquarium saved a family of five from a potentially deadly blaze at their home in Warrington, Cheshire.

Steve Whitehall had forgotten to blow out a Christmas candle in his lounge before he went to bed, but the fire that ensued caused a nearby 100 l/22 gal. aquarium to shatter, dousing the flames and putting out most of the blaze.

The family were woken early in the morning by the sound of the fish tank bursting. They rushed downstairs to discover the damage and then left the house to phone the fire brigade.

Steve and Elizabeth Whitehall and their three children were unharmed, but the residents of the aquarium were not so lucky. Most of the fish died when the tank exploded, although two were found still alive in a tiny pocket of water at the bottom.

Mr Whitehall said: "We often have candles burning around the house and are usually very careful about making sure they are all out before we go to bed or go out. Unfortunately, we missed one last night and I cannot believe the damage that has been caused from just that one candle.

"We now have to sort out a fire damaged lounge, replace Christmas presents and have lost more than 13 fish.

"I dread to think what would have happened if the sound of the breaking tank hadn’t woken us and alerted us to the fire."

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'Amnesty pond' to be created for unwanted fish

A so-called 'amnesty pond' for dumping unwanted fish is being planned at a park in San Francisco.

The announcement follows the poisoning by officials of the four-acre Mountain Lake (pictured above by Daniel J. McKeown, Creative Commons), to remove alien species in an attempt to restore populations of native Three-spined sticklebacks, chorus frogs and Western pond turtles.

The lake had become a dumping ground for goldfish and other species over the years. In the past, officials had tried using nets and electro-fishing to remove these fish, but it hadn't proved very successful. As a result, the lake was recently poisoned using CFT Legumine, which contains the active ingredient rotenone — a botanical material that degrades quickly.

The bodies of more than 850 non-native fish were retrieved after treatment — mainly goldfish, but there were also koi, catfish and bass.

It's hoped that re-stocking with native species can begin in May next year.

The amnesty pond will be built elsewhere in Mountain Lake Park to allow people to continue dumping their unwanted fish without having an impact on the native population.

The Presidio Trust, which oversees Mountain Lake, is spending $12m on a restoration project — reported by the San Francisco Chronicle to be the first of its kind — that will restore the lake to the way it was before Europeans arrived in America.

North America's lakes are turning to jelly

"Aquatic osteoporosis" is spreading throughout many North American soft water lakes due to declining calcium levels in the water and hindering the survival of some organisms, says new research.

Scientists from Queen’s University, working with colleagues from York University and the University of Cambridge, as well as other collaborators, have identified a biological shift in many temperate, soft-water lakes in response to declining calcium levels after prolonged periods of acid rain and timber harvesting. The reduced calcium availability is hindering the survival of aquatic organisms with high calcium requirements and promoting the growth of nutrient-poor, jelly-clad animals.

"Calcium is an essential nutrient for many lake-dwelling organisms, but concentrations have fallen so low in many lakes that keystone species can no longer survive," says Adam Jeziorski, one of the lead authors of the study.

The research team found that when calcium levels are low, the water flea Daphnia, which has high calcium requirements, becomes less abundant. 

Importantly, this keystone species is being replaced by its jelly-clad competitor, Holopedium (pictured above by Ian Gardiner/E-Fauna BC).

"Conditions now favour animals better adapted to lower calcium levels, and these changes can have significant ecological and environmental repercussions," says Dr. Jeziorski.

"The study found that jelly-clad invertebrates have been increasing in an alarming number of lakes, likely as a long-term effect of acid rain on forest soils, logging and forest regrowth."

The increase these invertebrates can have important implications for lake biology, altering food webs, but can also clog water intakes.

Unfortunately, many lakes investigated by the team have passed critical thresholds.

The study is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

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Boys catch Red-tailed catfish in Florida pond!

Two 12-year-old boys were stunned when they caught a Red tail catfish while fishing in a pond in Oakleaf, Clay County.

Ethan Lloyd and Christian Scheibe recognised the fish — a native of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Essequibo river basins of South America — from footage they had seen on the Animal Planet series 'River Monsters'.

"It was fairly big, and whenever we pulled it up, most catfish kinda grunt, well he growled and huffed," they told WJXT Jacksonville.

Lloyd recalled, "Me and Christian watch Jeremy Wade all the time...and we were like, 'Is that a Red-Tailed catfish?'"

"Aubrey was like, 'There's no way.' He came out here and picked it up, and it was a Red-tailed catfish. Red-tailed catfish have a red line down the middle and red on the bottom and top, it has a signature look. We never thought we'd catch anything like that," Lloyd said.

The boys put the tankbusting fish back into the pond, where it had probably been released in the first place by a fishkeeper when it had outgrown its tank.

You can watch the news report below.

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Endangered frogs put in blender to make 'healing juice'

A species of aquatic frog, listed by the IUCN as critically endangered, is used as an ingredient in a juice that some Andean cultures believe has special healing powers.

The Titicaca frog, Telmatobius culeus, is freshly killed and juiced on demand as a cure for bronchitis, anaemia, stress, fatigue and other health issues, including a low sex drive.

In a report by The Associated Press, Maria Elena Cruz, who is a vendor at one of the stands selling the juice in Peru's capital, Lima, explained how the drink is made. She first grabs a live frog from an aquarium containing a large number of the amphibians, then kills it by whacking it on the edge of the counter before skinning it and then dropping the whole frog into a blender along with some carrots, honey and Peruvian maca root.

After a couple of minutes the resulting green concoction is poured into glasses for customers.

The Titicaca water frog is the world's largest truly aquatic frog, with adults commonly weighing 1kg/2.2lb and measuring up to 50cm/20in length when outstretched. Its most distinctive feature is its very loose capillary-rich skin which hangs from its neck, stomach and legs and which is used in respiration underwater.

There is no scientific evidence to support the healing powers of the juice, but Cruz's customers — most of whom are from the Andean region that borders Bolivia, where the juice is also popular — are convinced of its benefits.

Tumour removal op on school goldfish is top class!

A seven-year-old goldfish called Roger has made history after he was the first in Britain to receive microsurgery to remove a growth from his face.

Roger is a firm favourite with pupils at Mont Nicolle Primary School in St Brelade, Jersey, so teachers became concerned when he started to develop what appeared to be a tumour over the summer holidays — the picture below shows Roger before his op.

The growth rapidly got bigger and staff feared the worst.

But local vet Jeremy Miller, from All Pets Veterinary Surgery in Jersey, had seen reports of a ground-breaking operation on a goldfish called George, in Australia, which PFK covered earlier this year — and offered to try something similar.

The operation was a success and Roger was apparently swimming about and eating minutes after the surgery was completed.

Roger — named after tennis star Roger Federer — has since made a full recovery and is swimming about in the aquarium at the school, much to the delight of the pupils. 

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Fish use colour-coded fins to send messages

Male Bluefin killifish communicate with other members of the species using their fins, a new study has found.

Despite its common name, the fin colours of male Lucania goodei vary, with red, yellow and/or black markings on their anal, caudal (tail) and dorsal fins.

University of Illinois animal biology professor Rebecca Fuller noticed this when snorkelling in a stream in Florida.

"In some of the males, the anal fin was yellow, and then some of them were red," she said. "And the field guide showed them as blue."

Some of the males had darker black markings on their anal fins than others, and some had bright yellow or orange caudal fins.

Fuller decided to try and find out what caused this variation in colour.

Previous studies suggested that melanin, the black pigment, is a badge of status among males; those with more prominent melanin markings tending to be more aggressive towards other males. In the new study, Fuller and her former graduate student Ashley Johnson, found that males with heavier melanin outlines on their anal fins dominated, driving other males away to gain exclusive access to females.

"Melanin is a signal to other males: 'I’ve been winning in the past and I'm doing well and get out of my way,'" Fuller says.

The red and yellow pigments on the anal fins and the yellow tints on the caudal fins have different origins, the researchers found. Carotenoids colour the caudal fins, but pterins tint the anal fins either yellow or red.

Carotenoids are known antioxidants; they gobble up highly reactive ions or molecules that can damage cells and tissues. Because killifish obtain carotenoids only by eating, researchers hypothesise that a display of colour derived from carotenoids signals to potential mates that the male in question is robust and well-fed.

In the new study, Fuller and Johnson discovered that richer carotenoid colouration on the caudal fin was associated with better body condition, lower parasite infection and good spawning success, suggesting that females respond positively to the brightly pigmented tail fins of potential mates.

Much less is known about pterins, Fuller says. They are associated with immune function and also have antioxidant characteristics, and so also may be a badge of health.

In the new study, the researchers found that carotenoids coloured only the caudal fin, while pterins appeared only on the anal fin. Brighter pterin colouration was associated with lower parasite infection and higher spawning success.

"We are finding that communication is complicated in nature and that animals have evolved ways to send different messages to different receivers," Fuller explains. "In the case of Bluefin killifish, multiple messages are being provided by three distinct pigments that are in three different areas of the body. Both females and males are getting these messages. Males are paying attention to the melanin, most likely, and females are paying attention to these more-colourful fins."

The results of the study are published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

Cichlids play too!

Fish just want to have fun - scientists studying a group of male Tropheus have documented play in cichlids.

"Play is repeated behaviour that is incompletely functional in the context or at the age in which it is performed and is initiated voluntarily when the animal or person is in a relaxed or low-stress setting," said Gordon Burghardt of the University of Tennessee.

He and his colleagues Vladimir Dinets and James Murphy of the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, DC, are the first to document play with objects in a cichlid fish species. There are hundreds of species of cichlid, but the behaviour of the species they studied appears unique.

The three male Tropheus duboisi were studied and filmed individually over the course of two years. Researchers observed the fish repeatedly striking a bottom-weighted thermometer. The presence or absence of food, or other fish within the aquarium or visible in an adjacent aquarium, had no effect on their behaviour. The thermometer-attacking behaviour satisfies Burghardt’s criteria for play.

The quick righting response of the bottom-weighted thermometer seemed the primary stimulus factor that maintained the behaviour, according to Burghardt. "We have observed octopus doing this with balls by pulling them underwater and watching them pop back up again," he says. "This reactive feature is common in toys used for children and companion animals."

Burghardt says his research illustrates how play is embedded in species’ biology, including in the brain. Play, like much of animals’ psychology including emotions, motivations, perceptions and intellect, is part of their evolutionary history and not just random, meaningless behaviour.

"Play is an integral part of life and may make a life worth living," said Burghardt.

The research is published in the journal Ethology.

Alien invaders displacing local fish in the Yamuna River

A team of scientists studying the fish population in the Yamuna River, the largest tributary of the Ganges in northern India, have found that alien fish species are now dominating the 950km stretch of river.

Data was gathered from 15 sites between May 2011 and March 2013. From a total of 63 fish species recorded, ten were identified as alien invasive species. There was a predominance of the alien fish species at most of the sampling locations. The invasive species included carp, Clarias catfish and Nile tilapia.

India’s National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources stated in its report: "The main reasons attributable to the decline in fishes are habitat destruction and fragmentation, water abstraction, industries and increased incidences of alien invasive species in particular".

The "deliberate or accidental introduction" of the alien species was identified as a key component of the human-induced biodiversity crisis that is harming native species and disturbing the ecosystem processes.

Cichlid egg-spots shed light on evolutionary mechanism

Keepers of African cichlids will be familiar with the egg-spots that adorn the males of many mouth-brooding cichlids. These induce the female to approach this area when picking up eggs during spawning, allowing the male to fertilise them.

A team of researchers from Basel, Switzerland have published a study in the scientific journal Nature Communications showing that the evolution of egg-spots is linked to the insertion of a mobile genetic element – a so-called “jumping gene” – in a newly identified pigmentation gene.

Evolutionary changes normally occur by progressive changes through natural selection, but the development of novel traits with new functions is not easily explained by this mechanism.

The short DNA strings that compose “jumping genes” are able to change their position and influence the regulation of other genes, in this case genes controlling pigmentation cells. The scientists were able to induce the trait by transferring the mobile element into the embryos of Zebra danios, a fish commonly used for genetic studies.

One of the study leaders, Prof Walter Salzburger, commented “These results illustrate once more the importance of changes in gene expression in evolution”.

Fish more aggressive towards ‘true’ rivals

The results of previous studies of aggression in territorial species may be potentially undermined by new research showing that fish do not react to reflections in the same way as they would react to a rival.

Mirrors have frequently been used to trigger responses in less self-aware animals such as birds and fish, but a recent study published in the journal Animal Behaviour demonstrated that Convict cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata) reacted slightly differently when facing a true rival, as opposed to their reflection in a mirror.

The study author, Robert Elwood from Queen’s University in Belfast, likened the behaviour to a boxer: “If a fish is truly looking for a fight with its reflection, it will move quickly and ‘stay on its toes.’ However, if it's just posturing in front of a mirror, a 'boxer' can stand around and pose for ages.”

Russell Fernald at Stanford University in California commented “Scientists generally underestimate the cognitive abilities of fish. We have shown that cichlid fish can do logical reasoning. Fish can infer social rank by observation alone. So why should they be fooled by a mirror?"

Giant fish rescued from underground tank at restaurant

A Giant gourami can now spread his fins after being removed from a tiny underground tank in the middle of a restaurant floor, and moved to a more spacious new home at SEA LIFE London Aquarium.

The RSPCA was called after concerns about Bob the gourami, who was being kept in a restaurant in Lingfield, Surrey. The fish is thought to be around 12–14 years old and has grown to 60cm/2ft long — far too large for the small hole in the middle of the restaurant floor where he was being kept. This tank is about 3 x 4.5ft and 4–5ft deep.

Bob’s owners agreed that it was in his best interests to be moved elsewhere, and so with the help of the Aquarium staff he was transported to London last Tuesday.

RSPCA inspector Kerry Gabriel said: "Poor Bob could barely turn around in the tiny space he was squashed into in the restaurant — he had just grown too big for it.

"It may have been more roomy when the owners first got him as a young, smaller, fish — and seemed a quirky idea to have a fish swimming in the middle of a restaurant — but there was no doubt that Bob’s welfare was being compromised and his needs not being met so we were pleased that the owners were happy for him to be moved.

"We are very grateful to the SEA LIFE London Aquarium for agreeing to take him in.

"The journey to get him there was very slow and tricky. We had take great care with balancing the oxygen and pH levels in the tank to make sure he was acclimatised and would survive the change.

"But it's all worth it to see him swimming happily about in his big new tank."

Kerry added: "Unfortunately this is something we see far too often, with people taking on unusual pets because of their quirky appeal, without realising how big they may grow or how difficult their needs might be to provide for."

Tom Pockert, from the SEA LIFE London Aquarium, said: "We are delighted to welcome Bob to his new pad which we hope suits his needs a lot better.

"It's common cases like this that not only put stress on the health of the fish being rehomed, but also on the aquariums that accommodate them. We simply don't have enough space to rehome every animal that outgrows its tank, which is why it's so important that hobbyists do their research before they buy tankbusters such as Bob."

'Number one most dangerous alien species' found near Heathrow

Native fish and other wildlife could be threatened by the discovery of a mussel in a reservoir near London's Heathrow Airport.

Quagga mussels have been described by the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust (WWT) as "the number one most dangerous alien species".

Their presence has been discovered for the first time in Wraysbury Reservoir, a popular sailing, fishing and scuba diving lake that’s also a protected area for wildlife.

The mussels are less than 5cm/2in long, but breed prolifically, with adults producing one million eggs per season. The larvae can drift downstream for up to 300km before forming new colonies.

The vast colonies which attach on to hard surfaces, can smother boat hulls, block pipes and potentially cause flooding. The mussels have been described by experts as "ecosystem engineers", due to their vast capacity to filter water, which upsets the natural balance throughout the food web. They eat some pollutants, but they turn it into concentrated toxic waste which can poison drinking water for people and wildlife.

Jeff Knott, WWT's head of conservation policy, said the creatures are likely to indirectly cause "suffering and death for hundreds of thousands of native animals, fish and plants" and cost millions of pounds in tax and water bills to protect drinking water supplies.

The spread of the mussels is usually the result of human activity — adult mussels attach themselves to boats and the larvae can get into cooling systems and ballast tanks.

Originally from the Ukraine, the species has spread across Europe as well as the US. There is no effective way of completely removing their presence after they have become established.

A Defra spokesman said that invasive non-native species cost the economy at least £1.8 billion a year.

He added: "We will be working closely with interested parties and our agencies to reduce the risk of the Quagga mussel spreading any further. Users of our waterways can help with this by checking their equipment and keeping it clean and dry."

If you come across a suspected Quagga mussel, you should report it.

Fish in Bristol lake saved from cull

The row between locals and officials at Henleaze Swimming Lake in Bristol, over the cull of 50 carp, looks to have been settled amicably.

The annual cull of the fish was due to begin earlier this week, but officials arrived on Tuesday to find the entry gates to the lake superglued and padlocked shut.

According to a report by the Bristol Post, a specialist firm in Lincolnshire has offered to take the carp to the Mainstream Fisheries headquarters in Lincolnshire where the fish can be treated for a category 2 parasite they are carrying. Henleaze Lake Swimming Club had been unable to move the fish from the lake while they were carrying the parasite, so had decided to cull the carp instead, leading to angry protests by anglers and locals.

Mainstream Fisheries is the only Environment Agency approved facility for the treatment of category 2 fish parasites in the UK and once the fish have been treated they will be moved to new homes elsewhere.

Protests over cull of 'healthy fish' at swimming lake

Plans to cull fish at a popular lake in Bristol have met with angry protests from anglers and swimmers.

When officials from the swimming club at Henleaze Lake turned up to begin an annual cull to remove 50 carp, they found the gates had been superglued and padlocked shut! Protesters waved placards at the entrance and security guards had to be called in.

According to a report by the Bristol Post, locals have accused the swimming club's committee of "killing healthy fish without a legitimate reason", insisting that the carp don't cause a problem to the 2,000 members of the swimming club.

A spokesman for the membership-only club says the fish will be removed by electrocution and netting, before being humanely euthanised, adding that they cannot be moved from the man-made lake because of the presence of a category two fish parasite.

Planning permission runs out for NIRAH aquarium

Planning permission for the NIRAH aquarium has expired, leading to calls for an explanation into where millions of pounds invested in the project has gone.

The National Institute for Research into Aquatic Habitats (NIRAH) was loaned £2m by The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for the gigantic £375m domed complex to be built at a disused brick pit in Stewartby, Bedfordshire in 2007, but work on the huge scientific research centre, which would have doubled as a major tourist attraction four times the size of the Eden Project, never began.

Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire councils are also owed £1.6m.

The freshwater aquarium and leisure complex would have brought increased revenue from the tourism industry to Bedforshire and the UK and early reports on the project suggested it could create up to 2,500 jobs.  

It was thought the land would go back into both councils' hands if the project failed, but that is now being disputed and the taxpayer may have to buy the land back from NIRAH, reports the BBC. The value of the land is not yet known.

Mid-Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries has called for an explanation into the matter.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: "Bedfordshire Consortium Ltd is in active discussions with NIRAH about repayment of the loan and the security held over the site."

NIRAH has yet to comment.

Blind cave tetra has no day/night cycle

The Blind cave tetra (Astyanax mexicanus) ditches circadian rhythm to save energy

The eyeless, cave-dwelling form of the Mexican tetra fish (Astyanax mexicanus) has surrendered its circadian rhythm for the sake of saving energy in its pitch-black habitat.

The absence of a day/night cycle in the cave-dweller's metabolism has resulted in a 27 per cent saving in energy use, the scientists report today in PLoS ONE.

Most animals have a clear day/night circadian rhythm according to their metabolism says lead author and fish biologist Dr Damian Moran, now a senior scientist at Plant and Food Research New Zealand.

"The reason why the metabolism is ramped up for day-active animals is that they are preparing for foraging, digestion and are anticipating all these physiological processes that they need to be ready for," he says.

However the cave-dwelling, eyeless form of the tetra appears to have eliminated that cycle, and as a result, uses significantly less energy over a 24-hour period compared to its surface-dwelling counterpart.

The fish's activity level was changed by varying the speed of the water movement, allowing the scientists to examine how energy use changed with activity. They also looked at how energy use changed over a 24-hour period.

The Blind cave tetra is a popular species among evolutionary biologists, says Moran, because the surface-dwelling and cave-dwelling forms are physically very different, but still similar enough that they can interbreed.

"Somewhere between 100,000 to one million years ago, you got surface fish somehow getting into these caves by accident or moving into them, and turning into these cave forms," says Moran.

"It's all about saving energy in these food-limited environments."

Goldfish rescued by the long arm of the law

A policeman arrived back at the station after his night shift at the weekend to find a goldfish flapping about on the ground outside.

Sergeant Colin Taylor, of the Isles of Scilly Police, quickly scooped up the fish and took it into the station, where he placed it into a sink full of water.

Describing the incident on his Facebook page, Sgt. Taylor said: "I came back to the station at just after 2am to finish my shift. It was a dry, pitch black night. The town was quiet nobody about.

"As I went to unlock the door I looked down and saw a live goldfish on the floor at my feet.

"We often get found property handed in anonymously but really not quite this weird."

The fish has made a full recovery and is currently residing in the lost property section of St Mary’s Police Station.

Fancy turning your hobby into a career?

Calling all would-be Fishery studies and Aquatics students: Sparsholt College in Hampshire is holding the first of this year’s Open Days on Saturday, October 4, 2014.

From 10am–3pm the entire college will be open, including the National Aquatics Training Centre (a purpose built teaching facility, unrivalled in the UK), Salmonid Rearing and Trials Centre (state of the art facility for rearing coldwater species) and The Sparsholt Fishery, a beautiful one-hectare lake.

Lecturers will be available to discuss the many Fishery and Aquatics courses available and current students on hand to talk about life studying at Sparsholt.
More info: Call 01962 776441 or visit the Sparsholt College website.

Goldfish has life-saving surgery to remove tumour

In a world filled with stories of the disposable treatment of goldfish, it’s refreshing to come across one where these often abused fairground fodder and pet shop staples are given the level of care most pet owners would not think twice of affording their cat, dog or rabbit but might baulk at providing for their aquatic pet.

George the 10-year-old goldfish had a tumour on his head that was growing rapidly, to the extent where it was affecting his quality of life. George’s owners who live in Melbourne, Australia, contacted the Lort Smith Animal Hospital to see if anything could be done for their beloved goldfish and were offered two choices: a risky $200 (£125) operation or to simply put George to sleep to prevent further deterioration and suffering.

They opted for the former and Dr Tristan Rich duly carried out the tricky 45-minute operation.

George was kept alive throughout the procedure with the help of three buckets; one with a knockout dose of anaesthetic, one with a maintenance level of anaesthetic, and one with clean water as the recovery unit. Once fully sedated in the first bucket, George was moved to the operating table where a tube from the second bucket, which was being oxygenated, was placed into his mouth, so that the water with the maintenance dose of anaesthetic washed over his gills.

The size of the tumour meant that a gelatine sponge was needed to control the bleeding during surgery and the resulting large wound was difficult to close and required four sutures as well as tissue glue to seal it. Once the glue had set, George was placed in the recovery bucket and given oxygen as well as injections with long acting pain relief and antibiotics. George soon came round again and started breathing independently before swimming around and is now safely back home with his owners.

Lort Smith Animal Hospital is Australia’s largest not for profit veterinary hospital, providing high quality veterinary care at a reduced cost for the pets of people in need as well as shelter services for injured, surrendered and abandoned pets.