Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Friends - Mattie Update

It's been more than a week since Mattie got the stitches out of her leg and I am happy to report that she is doing very good.

It has been unseasonably cold here this week, which has aggravated her arthritis. But other than some stiffness, she has been getting around much easier and is no longer acting as if she is in pain.

We all feel like she dodged a bullet this past month. It was touch and go for awhile. Now we are inspecting her leg each morning and also looking for signs of other cysts forming, as they tend to abscess on her.

Her badly abscessed leg is no longer infected. It is red and a bit raw from the bandages but now that the bandages have been removed, it is healing quickly. The incision is completely closed and looks terrific - although it is the length of her entire leg.

Mattie is a foxhound. When used as hunting dogs, their average lifespan is only three years. When they live as part of a family, their average lifespan increases to eight years. Mattie is over ten years old. She is shown here with Eddie, the Jack Russell, keeping watch in the background.

When we built our house, we had wall-to-wall carpet installed so it would be easy for elderly dogs to get up. Hardwood tends to be slippery for elderly dogs.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Scavengers for the Infant Tank

The tank used for raising baby angels gets much dirtier than a normal aquarium. The reason: baby angels eat fresh brine shrimp. I grow the shrimp in a separate tank but because they are so small, any that are not eaten often settle into areas that can be difficult to reach, especially if there is gravel in the tank.

Putting a scavenger such as a pleco in the tank can be fatal - the pleco can easily suck up dozens of baby angels until they are at least two months old. Even corydoras can be dangerous around tiny babies.

What I've done instead is add snails to the tank. They don't swim so I don't have to worry about the snails going after the babies. Instead, they stick to the bottom gravel or they clean the glass and other surfaces.

They are also easy to remove. I can simply stick my hand into the tank and grab one. I don't have to use a net, which could easily snare some babies.

I have also placed snails in a breeder tank until the pair begins to lay their eggs. However, in this case, I do use a net, as the breeding pair can aggressively go after any hand in the water as they seek to protect their newly laid eggs.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

And When Is It Just Right?

Yesterday I talked about one of my sixty gallon tanks and how it was too small for just six angels, because they had become aggressive.

I have a seventy gallon tank with six angels and they are very happy and peaceful. Why the difference?

I suspect the peaceful tank is due to the larger number of females in the tank. You can tell an adult female angelfish by her behavior; she is very peaceable and tends to stay by herself, just "standing" as it's called - hanging out and looking good. However, once she has begun to lay eggs, she can be as aggressive as the males while protecting her young.

In contrast, if you have a tank full of angels who are constantly fighting, it means you have a large number of males.

So when you're in the pet shop and you need to select an angel, how do you know what you're getting?

Most pet shops sell baby angels and it's impossible to tell what sex they are just by looking at their bodies. However, you can often tell by watching their behavior - and their size.

Males tend to be larger than the females.

When they think you're going to feed them, males will often nip at the other males - it's their way of establishing a pecking order. Watch the ones who nip and the ones they are nipping and avoid both if you want females. Male will very, very rarely if ever go after a female. Females will watch you attentively but they won't be attempting to run off the others as they gather to feed.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How Small is Too Small?

I've read many articles about the space needed for angelfish. Most recommend five gallons per fish. I suppose that means they need five gallons to get the right amount of oxygen. Because sometimes a sixty gallon aquarium can be too small for only six angels.

I had six angels who reached their juvenile status at about the same time: two koi angels, two rare blue angels (shown at right), and two blue marbles. The koi angels decided they wanted the entire tank to themselves, which is common when they pare off and decide to mate. They terrorized the others into one corner of the tank, where the blue angels were caught between the aggressive blue marbles and the very aggressive koi angels.

They very rarely hurt each other - I keep a constant eye on their fins and look for signs of nipping. But when the infants left for their new home last week and the infant tank was available, I moved the koi angels. Now they can try their luck at laying eggs and raising their young without fear of predators.

And now the blue angels have claimed one end of the sixty gallon tank while the blue marbles are at the other end. Peace at last!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Angelfish as TV Stars

Last week, I was very fortunate to have been profiled on The Tarheel Traveler, which airs every evening on WRAL-TV. If you missed the segment, which is available in the Raleigh, North Carolina viewing area, it is now available online.

The segment included film footage of one of my seven aquariums. This one contains 5 angelfish. It once held 7 angels but 2 of them - Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick - were so amorous that they needed a tank all to themselves. When angels are mating, the male becomes very territorial. And the eggs are subject to be eaten by anyone else in the tank, who seem to regard it as a sushi bar.

They have since successfully raised two group of babies and a third is hatching as I write this. They have proven to be great parents.

Another couple from another tank I own has joined them in the "apartment" next door, where I hope they will also breed. These are koi angels, which should produce offspring with beautiful, vivid orange color.

A breeder tank is often very stark because when I clean after the babies hatch, I must be able to do so without fear that I am sucking up any of the babies in my syphon hose. Babies can make a tank very dirty very quickly, because they eat exclusively freshly hatched brine shrimp. While I can clean the larger tanks once a week, I clean the breeder and infant tanks at least twice a week.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Koi vs. White Marble

A friend recently ordered koi angels through the mail. When they arrived, they looked just like some of the babies that Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick have had. Actually, what my friend received were white marble angels.

A white marble angel is an angelfish that is predominantly white but has some black markings. They can have a golden or orange crown. In my case, Lindsay Buckingfish, a black marble, and Stevie Fishnick, a golden angel, both have golden or orange crowns. So their offspring have the same bright crown.

But a true koi angelfish is one that is predominantly bright orange, just like the koi they are named after.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Uses for Algae Fix

When the water gets warmer in the tanks - either due to increased sunlight hours or warmer weather - algae can become an issue. But it can be fatal to angelfish when an algae inhibitor is added to their water. Why? Because it can remove some of the nutrients what angels need to survive.

So I use Algae Fix in a variety of ways that can help keep algae at bay while keeping my angels safe.

I pour a little into the cap so I know how much I am using, and then I pour it onto a tank sponge or cleaning rag set aside for tank use. I then wipe the inside of the glass with it. In my breeding tanks, I also use it to clean the bottom of the tank and for tank fixtures such as the intake.

If decorations become covered in algae, I'll remove the decoration and place it into a small bucket. I'll cover it in water and add algae fix to clean it.

A safe alternative to algae fix is plain old baking soda. A toothbrush can be used to brush off any stubborn algae.

I also have pleco's in each tank as well as mystery snails. They help to keep the algae down in a natural way, particularly my 15-inch pleco.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

New Batch of Angels Finds a New Home

Today four of my baby angels will find a new home. Shelli, from Carroll's Pets in Lumberton, will be picking them up this afternoon.

These angels could have left here a month ago but because of my schedule or Shelli's, they've remained here and grown... and grown! They are each about three inches tall. I believe I have three males and one female, judging by their juvenile behavior.

In the meantime, Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick have laid more eggs, this time on a flower pot. Hopefully, they will begin to hatch in a few days.

I plan to put a pair of koi angels, which are bright orange (the male is shown in the picture here), into the infant tank once the older batch of babies leaves with Shelli. This pair has been wanting to breed in their larger tank, terrorizing all the other inhabitants and sending them to the opposite corner of the tank. So they'll be given their own honeymoon suite, and we'll see what happens!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Mattie Gets Her Stitches Out

Today Mattie gets her stitches removed. We've been taking her to the vet's office every other day to get her bandages replaced and her leg inspected. It's been nearly three long weeks but she has definitely turned the corner.

The original idea after her surgery was to keep the area open so it could get some air to help with healing, and to give her oral antibiotics.

But one of her stitches popped loose (we think because she licked them) so the bandage was used instead. Every other day she's received a different color bandage and I think she enjoys the attention and the new legging. (She is shown here with an orange legging on her hind leg. Eddie monitors the situation behind her. He is a good nurse and very attentive.)

She also was able to detect the antibiotics no matter what I tried to wrap it in - lunch meat, hot dogs, chicken, peanut butter, cheese, Greenies... She knew it was there and refused to take it. The real turn in her condition occurred when they gave her an antibiotic shot, which was time released over a week's time.

She's lost about 20% of her weight so the vet suggested that, although she is 11 years old, she should be switched to high calorie puppy food. My local pet store recommended puppy food for tiny dogs, as they require more calories than a larger breed puppy.

Fingers crossed that she will continue to rally back!

Friday, March 15, 2013

An Update on Mattie

Mattie is doing well since the surgery on her leg.

Originally, the vet wanted to leave her leg unbandaged so it could heal with fresh air surrounding it. However, she licked it overnight while we were sleeping and one of the sutures was licked loose. So the vet bandaged her up and each day she's been brought in to have it rebandaged and her leg examined.

Mattie is about 11 years old, which is ancient for a foxhound. She lost her twin brother several years ago and we have felt like she's been on borrowed time. But she is a fighter and she's been hanging in there.

She could smell the antibiotic in her food and refused to eat. So she was given a shot with a timed release antibiotic that lasts for an entire week. It has done wonders to help her recover. She's also been on Tramadol as needed for pain, which thankfully has only been given at night to help her sleep and keep her comfortable.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

An Angel Loss

Over the past few weeks, the black angelfish who was suffering from dropsy took a turn for the worse.

She lasted for more than six months with dropsy and at one point I thought she might live much longer even though she was obviously bloated from the condition. In the picture on the right, you can see how wide she was. Angels are normally very thin when looking at them straight-on.

It's believed she ingested turtle food, which had been placed into the tank for the snails, which also need calcium. After this happened, I removed both the snails and the turtle food. But the local pet shop told me about the calcium that is normally placed into a parakeet's cage is also great for snails. It's much safer and dissolves in the water over time.

Medicine did not help and adding fresh, hulled peas didn't work, either.

One morning I found her near the bottom of the tank, hiding from the others. Within a few hours, she passed away. God bless her little soul.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Perfect Front for a CIA Agent

My 15th book, Dylan's Song, is being released this week. It's the fourth book in the Black Swamp Mysteries series, in which a psychic spy and a CIA ground operative live in a small town, using a front as angelfish breeders to mask their real professions.

In Dylan's Song, they leave America to go to Ireland to locate and extract a missing CIA operative. While they are gone, their CIA handler, Sam, agrees to watch over their angelfish business. Before they leave and unbeknownst to Sam, Dylan installs cameras so he can keep an eye on the angelfish while they're gone. Though he's a trained killer and a spy, he still has a very soft spot for his angels.

It turns out, he also has a soft spot for a border collie he'd left behind when he moved from Ireland to America. He'd found Shep a good home before he departed but they reunite in the book - and when Shep is mistaken for a CIA dog, he finds a way to get her to America so they can remain united.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

More Angelfish Babies

Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick have been on a break.

For the past two months, they have shown little interest in laying more eggs. It turns out that angelfish often will breed every two weeks for several months and then stop for several weeks or months.

While they've been on a break, their last batch of angels have been growing larger and stronger. I can tell that at least three of them are males. How? Males tend to grow larger than females. They also tend to become more territorial at a younger age, often chasing the other males out of their area - which sometimes they think of as the entire tank.

Next week, these angels will go to the pet shop in Lumberton, North Carolina. I'm told they can tell the difference between my angels and other breeders because mine have higher fins and grow larger. I believe that's due to the fact that I never overcrowd them. Angels with short fins and stunted growth are often grown in smaller, crowded tanks.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Catching Up

It's been a few weeks since I've posted. I've been involved in organizing the Book 'Em North Carolina Writers Conference and Book Fair, an annual event that brings together more than 75 authors, publishers and literary agents to raise money for literacy campaigns.

While I've been neck-deep in organizing, planning and tidying up afterward, Life has gone on around me.

My oldest dog, Mattie, a foxhound, had developed a cyst that the veterinarian determined to be benign. We were watching it to make sure it didn't grow so fast that it hampered her ability to walk, as it was located on the inside of her back leg.

It took a turn for the worse and began to abscess. Mattie had surgery but the infection was so bad (it grew amazingly quickly) that they limited the surgery to a biopsy. We received word that she did not have cancer, which was a huge relief. But what is causing the cysts - which grew from one to three on the same leg in less than a week - is still a mystery.

She is now on antibiotics and going to the vet daily to have her bandages changed and her leg checked.