Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Choosing a Mate

I mentioned yesterday that in my latest book release, Dylan's Song, Sam takes over the angelfish business while Vicki and Dylan are in Ireland. One of the more unfortunate things that happens is Sam mixes up the angelfish, which means that black marbles end up with platinums, silver striped angels end up with smoky leopards and koi angels end up with pearlscale whites.

But in reality, will angelfish breed with those who don't look like them?

When I purchased a dozen freshwater angelfish a few years ago from a terrific breeder in Pennsylvania, I found it fascinating to watch them select their mates. The koi angels chose other koi angels. The blue angels chose other blue angels. The marbles selected other marbles. They seemed to naturally select someone like themselves - even though they really don't know how they look, unless they understand their occasional reflection is like holding a mirror to them.

But in two instances, I've had angels select someone much different from themselves.

Lindsay Buckingfish is a huge, ten inch tall black marble and an alpha male. He selected Stevie Fishnick years ago, who is a petite platinum. Now, in all honesty, Stevie did play around and have sex with Mick Fleetfish more than once. But she always seemed to come back to Lindsay. Mick, by the way, was very large - taller than Lindsay at the time - and was also a platinum angel, though his top fin was very crooked so he always looked pretty worn out.

Then there was John McFish. A silver striped angel, one of the most recognizable angel designs in the world, he fell in love immediately with a petite smoky leopard angel named Christy McFish. They tried several times to raise babies and I wish I had a honeymoon suite for them at the time. Sadly, Christy passed away and although John has had a wandering eye just once - which didn't lead to egg laying - he's been pretty much a loner since her death.

Angelfish usually mate for life and they can live to be ten years old.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Babysitter

In my last book release, Dylan's Song, Vicki and Dylan are sent to Dylan's native Ireland. Dylan's grandmother, the woman who raised him, is dying. And Sam, ever the professional CIA supervisor, seizes the opportunity to send Vicki and Dylan on a CIA mission.

Meanwhile, they have their freshwater angelfish business to run. It's their "front" to keep friends and neighbors from knowing their real occupation as CIA operatives. And there's a catch: their front requires feeding and caring for live angelfish, which means when they leave town, they need backup.

Fish can actually go for several days without eating, though I imagine they are not too happy about it. In the event of a power outage, one way to keep the nitrite and nitrate levels down is to reduce their feeding either by the frequency or volume - or even go a couple of days without feeding them at all.

However, when there are newborn fry, the rules change. They need food and lots of it. Their mouths are tiny and their stomachs are about the size of their eye - or the end of a pin. So while they can't eat much at a time, they need frequent feedings.

In Dylan's Song, Sam stays behind to care for the fish. He makes a mess of it, suspecting fish are dying when they're actually sleeping... and when the parents eat some of their fry, he really freaks out.

I started this blog because so many people told me they had been unable to keep angelfish alive. In my opinion, they are the most beautiful of all freshwater fish. Their shapes are so distinctive that they are considered the most recognizable fish in the world.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Baby's First Bites

I've mentioned previously in these posts how I grow brine shrimp for my newborn angelfish fry. Their mouths are so tiny that if they must rely on fish flakes, they will starve to death. And babies need a whole lot of food at least three times a day to survive and flourish.

Yesterday, my friendly neighborhood pet shop (Carroll's Pets in Lumberton, NC) recommended that I try First Bites. Shelli, the owner, was using it with new angelfish babies that are actually the offspring of Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick.

First Bites is a very fine powder, finer than talcum. It's the perfect size for the babies' tiny mouths. What's more, when it is added to the water, it drops instantly. This is very important because new babies don't know yet to go to the surface of the water to get their food. They will learn that once they are about a month old. However, it's instinct that tells them to go after tiny specks that seem to be swimming around them - like live brine shrimp or First Bites.

I haven't completely discarded my notion of feeding live brine shrimp. However, I'll be using this as well. It is comprised of nearly 50% protein, including fish meal, Antarctic krill and clam, as well as some fillers that hold it together like wheat flour. It is rated five stars by this website that recommends it for Oscar fry:

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Friday Friends - Mattie and Skipper

Last Friday, I mentioned that my foxhound Mattie had passed away of old age. I'd like to tell you about her and her twin brother Skipper. But I'll have to begin with the dogs I had before them.

Years ago, I had an Old English Mastiff named Charmer and an Australian Shepherd we named Buddy because we adopted him to be a friend to Charmer. Both were rescue dogs and they were inseparable. When Charmer passed away of old age, Buddy was inconsolable. He refused to eat and he sat for hours on end staring down the long driveway where he'd last seen us load Charmer into the car and drive him off to the vet. He grieved so strongly that I was concerned that he would also pass away.

So one day, we put a bright red bandana on Buddy and we made a trip to the Richmond (VA) SPCA. And Buddy helped us pick out not one new companion for him--but two. We selected the foxhounds from a litter of five which the volunteers had named "the Butters". Skipper was originally "Peanut Butter" and Mattie was originally "Apple Butter"; their siblings were Nutter Butter, Lemon Butter and Almond Butter.

They were five months old and Buddy, who from this point on would be Uncle Buddy, was twelve years old. He was fabulous with them. One day I was sitting at my desk when out of the corner of my eye, I saw Buddy leading the two pups through the house in a line. Curious, I watched Buddy walk into the bathroom and drink out of the toilet bowl, and then nudge Skipper toward it. Mattie was so apprehensive that it took Buddy getting behind her and pushing her with his nose into the bathroom, where she discovered that big white bowl held the best water. He then walked them to the other two bathrooms, where they repeated the exercise.

We lived in Virginia then and our back yard was over an acre. Skipper and Mattie used to race around the back yard at a hundred miles an hour, with Uncle Buddy barking the whole time. There was the day when I brought home some mulch in bags and left them on the side of the house. When the Twins discovered it, they barked furiously, ran away, then raced back and barked some more, as if the giant bags were going to come after them.

Uncle Buddy had bad knees which at that time were not repairable and one cold winter, he passed away. The next spring, we moved to North Carolina and the Twins had a new home. Instead of living in the country, they were now in town with a wrought iron fence they could see through. They loved watching people walk or jog around the neighborhood and until Skipper's health prevented it, I used to walk them around the neighborhood. Having two large dogs pulling on the leashes, checking each culvert for signs of fox or cats, was better than lifting weights.

Then one day, Skipper became paralyzed from the neck down with an FCE (fibrocartilaginous embolism). We brought him two hours away to NC State's world-renowned Veterinary Hospital and within the week, he was transferred to the Animal Rehabilitation and Wellness Institute, where he learned how to stand and walk again. During that time, I drove each day to see him. When I came home, as long as Mattie could smell her brother on my clothes, she was okay. I'd spend the evenings with her, telling her that Skipper would be home soon.

When he came home, Mattie was ecstatic. She wanted to play but quickly learned that Skipper was weak and still needed help to walk. He grew stronger and Mattie always watched over him to make sure he was okay. (Shown below: Skipper coming home from the hospital. The shaved areas on his back were done at the hospital.)

We eventually adopted Simone, a collie, and Mattie became the Matriarch. When we adopted Eddie the Jack Russell, she became known as Mama Mattie. She helped with housebreaking and she showed them the ropes the same way that Buddy had shown her.

Simone was emaciated and there was a time in which we didn't think she'd make it, which was why we fostered her through the Robeson County Humane Society, fell in love with her, and adopted her. I wanted her to learn how to go in and out of the doggie doors so she would have a freedom she'd never experienced before. But she acted like we were trying to stuff her into a tiny box. So I asked Mattie to teach her. Mattie would jump through the doggie door, bark on the other side, and then jump back through and nudge Simone. Very quickly, Simone was learning that it was okay to go through it and it opened up a whole new world for her.

When I wanted Simone to know she would come to my office upstairs any time she wanted, I tried to get her to walk up the stairs. She was terrified of them. So I again asked Mattie to teach her. Mattie ran up the stairs, barked at the top, ran back down, and nudged Simone. I went on to my office and heard Mattie up and down, up and down, barking. About ten minutes later, there was Simone, coming into the office.

Skipper passed away about two years ago, not from the FCE but from his stomach twisting. By that time, we had Simone and Eddie and we soon added Lucy, another Jack Russell mix who is also a rescue. (We don't buy any dogs; we always rescue them.) Mattie was fabulous with them all. Below is a video of Mattie and Simone playing with Eddie. Skipper was too infirmed to play so he was standing beside me as I filmed.

Simone, especially, missed her terribly in the days after she passed. I spoke to her a couple of times, mentioning Mattie's name, and letting her know that she was with Skipper now. She seems to understand.

In my mind's eye, I see Mattie and Skipper the way they were when they were younger, racing around the yard at breakneck speed, leaping off the deck onto the ground below, ensuring our yard was free of birds and squirrels. And all the time, Uncle Buddy is barking his head off at them and Charmer is still chasing the Frisbee he loved.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Koi Angels

I noticed this morning that Robert Redfish's lips were pretty swollen. This is common among males who are trying to clean a space in which the female will lay her eggs. I observed him trying to clean all the algae off the arch in their tank, so I decided to help things along.

I removed the arch and cleaned it with water and a brush purchased just for that purpose. I changed about 25% of their water and added the arch back in. Now Robert Redfish's lips are no longer swollen.

Another time the male's lips will swell is when they are constantly blowing on the fish eggs to keep them from growing fungus. When the parents are removed from the tank before the eggs hatch, breeders place an air stone beneath the eggs to keep the water circulating and the fungus away.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Angelfish Babies Begin to Take Shape

The oldest angelfish babies are about four weeks old now.

One of the most fun aspects of raising angelfish is that each one is uniquely colored. It's fun to see the patterns that develop and how much black or white they have on them, since their Papa is a black marble and Mama is a platinum.

Their bodies have changed from torpedo shaped to the beautiful angelfish shape with the vertical fins. The more space babies have to grow, the taller their fins will be. If you see squat angelfish, it means they were overcrowded.

In with the oldest angels, you'll see some that are nearly transparent. Those are smaller and are about two weeks old. They will begin to get their color and shape in another week or two.

I have begun adding dried brine shrimp to their diet of fresh brine shrimp, in a gentle effort to getting them to eat something that isn't necessarily swimming. In a few weeks, they will be weaned off brine shrimp and will begin to eat fish flakes. Once they are completely weaned, their bodies should be the size of a quarter and they'll be ready to go to the pet shop, where someone will purchase them and love them as much as I've loved raising them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Eggs, Eggs, Everywhere!

Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick are astonishing me with the frequency at which they're laying eggs.

They have survivors from two batches in the tank now. I have somewhere between 12 and 14 angelfish babies that are around three weeks old. I haven't counted the younger babies because they're in the "invisible stage" where they hide in the gravel until they're big enough to enter the Big World of their tank.

One would think that's enough but not for these two lovebirds - er, fish! They've now laid another batch of eggs on the filter intake.

I stuffed the bottom of the filter intake with cotton, which prevents babies from being sucked into it. And I also changed the water this past weekend. Normally, I would replace the cotton twice a week but with eggs on it, I won't be able to do anything until they hatch.

Here's the latest video. You can see the eggs in the background and also the angelfish babies swimming around. Lindsay is the large black marble - about ten inches tall - and Stevie is the platinum angel, around 7-8 inches tall.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday Friends - Thunder Shirts and Mattie

I wrote the blog below on Saturday because I am out of my office all week, but late Saturday night, Mattie passed away. The picture below is the last one I took of her.

Mattie was ancient for a foxhound and had touch-and-go moments, particularly over the past year or so. I awakened Saturday morning to her wheezing, and as the day wore on she could not get comfortable but began pacing; she couldn't sit and she couldn't lie down but popped right back up.

So we phoned the vet, whose office had closed, but she immediately dropped everything (God bless her!) and met us at the clinic. Mattie's heart had filled with fluid and her lungs were filling also, signs that her organs were failing and she was passing away naturally of old age. We made the humane decision to stop the pain for her, and helped her slip peacefully away...

Below is the blog I wrote before she passed...


It has rained every day for nearly three weeks straight. It hasn't been an all-day, slow, soaking rain but rather flashes of storms that terrify my two oldest dogs, Mattie the foxhound and Simone the collie. Thunder, in particular, can send both of them into sheer panic as they run from one room to the next, looking for a place where the barking sky can not get to them.

So when several friends recommended the Thunder Shirt, I knew I had to check it out. I bought a Large for Mattie (who is now 55 pounds) and an Extra-Large for Simone, who is 87 pounds.

The Thunder Shirt goes on extremely easy, which was key because if I can't get it on them during a storm, the shirt is useless. It velcros in place and fits snuggly around them. The theory, according to the box, is the gentle yet firm pressure is soothing to them.

At the first rumble of thunder, I slipped Mattie's Thunder Shirt on her. (shown at right) She immediately calmed down. But when the storm continued through the night, she began to stress again - though not quite as badly as she had before.

When I slipped the Thunder Shirt around Simone, it was trickier as she was hiding behind the couch in an effort to hide from the barking sky. She has also long fur and I was concerned about catching it in the velcro. However, the shirt seemed to have calmed her down, even though she seemed more confused by it than Mattie did.

I ended up also purchasing a Calming Collar for Mattie. The combination of the Thunder Shirt and Calming Collar is keeping her from hyperventilating, which is a huge improvement. The Calming Collar emits pheromones that remind the dog of being protected by her mother as a puppy. The Collar emits a chamomile and lavender scent which is quite pleasant.

Simone, so far, has only needed the Thunder Shirt.

They aren't cheap - between $39 and $49 each depending on the size and where they are purchased - but I'd say they were worth the price. The Calming Collar was $12 on sale at PetSmart and it also was worth the price.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

When Can Angelfish Be Sold?

In my opinion, a lot of angelfish are sold when they are too young, leading to a higher mortality rate and a lot of grief among people who purchase them.

Technically, angelfish can be sold when they are "dime size", meaning their bodies are the size of a dime. I have seen many angelfish babies sold when their entire bodies - including those beautiful vertical fins - are the size of a dime. This is entirely too young for them to go through the stress of shipping and then acclimating to new water conditions - and then again when they go from the pet shop to the home.

I won't sell Vicki's Angels until their bodies are the size of a quarter. This allows me to keep them on freshly hatched brine shrimp until they can begin to be weaned onto dry flakes. I will begin the weaning process when they are about 4-6 weeks old, depending upon their size.

That means they will most likely go to the pet shop when they are between the age of 8 and 10 weeks.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Angels Coming Soon

Some folks have asked me what I plan to do with so many angelfish babies. Though they are beautiful and I love them all, I wouldn't be able to keep them all due to space limitations. Angelfish should have ten gallons per fish, and during breeding season, an 80 gallon tank can be too small for two angelfish couples.

So once these babies are large enough to sell, they will go to Carroll's Pet Store in Lumberton, North Carolina, where they will be sold.

Shelli already has a tank cycling through, getting ready for them!

This is a special tank in which Amazon Extract has been added. Angelfish need the nutrients that city water routinely takes out during the purification process. Amazon Extract replaces those vital nutrients and vitamins.

I will also create a sign so visitors to the pet shop will know that these are Vicki's Angels - named after Vicki Boyd, the main character in the Black Swamp Mysteries series, who is an angelfish breeder -- and also an undercover CIA psychic spy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Growing Angels

I've come to the conclusion that angelfish lay eggs every two to three weeks and lay around 300 eggs because very few of the eggs will actually result in angelfish that grow to adulthood.

But with the last two batches (both in the same honeymoon suite) I tried an experiment. Rather than change the water when the fish were less than two weeks old, I let it go. The result is that I have more angel babies surviving to the ripe old age (so far) of three weeks old.

So this weekend I will change the water - around 25% - because there is algae growing in the tank now. Algae is not harmful to fish unless it begins to completely take over the tank. However, it is unsightly.

Part of the reason for the algae outbreak is the fact that I feed the babies brine shrimp at least twice a day. The brine shrimp pollutes the water. However, because brine shrimp must hatch in saltwater, I am constantly adding that water to the tank - and the salt is also helpful in growing strong angelfish.

One reason Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick may have laid more eggs when they already had babies to care for is the plethora of brine shrimp in the tank. When food is plentiful, they are more likely to lay eggs.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Third Batch of Koi Angelfish Eggs

After last week's koi angelfish bust, Robert Redfish and Susan Saranfish have tried again. Who knows? Maybe the third time's the charm.

They've laid their eggs yet again on the arch in their tank. They've been investigating the plants as well. Once the eggs hatch, they will need a clean place to attach their babies (fry) by their little heads, where they'll dangle until they grow stronger.

If they can get their eggs to hatch, perhaps the leaves will be used for the fry. Then as they grow larger and begin to swim, the plants will serve as a nice hiding place for them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Friends

Many thanks to all the wonderful folks who have asked me recently about Mattie.

Mattie is the matriarch of the family. She is a foxhound and nearly 13 years old. She has had her share of rough days as she ages but we try to keep her pain under control with arthritis medicine.

Here she is in the background watching the two youngest, a Jack Russell named Eddie (with the short tail) and a Jack Russell - Basset mix named Lucy (with the long tail) playing.

Don't let the growling concern you. It's all in play. Here they are rough housing until Lucy calls a break to get some water.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Connect the Dots

I was asked recently why I have a blog on angelfish breeding if I am a writer of suspense.

My Black Swamp Mysteries series features two CIA undercover operatives. And as anyone knows, to remain undercover, they need a "cover story". Theirs is that they are angelfish breeders.

Why angelfish breeders? Because it's a solitary job and to be able to leave at a moment's notice, travel halfway around the world, and possibly be gone for weeks, they couldn't work in an office environment where their sudden disappearance would raise suspicion. (Don't worry; when they're gone, someone else with the CIA helps with their fish.)

Also, I found that most people's eyes glaze over when I mention fish, so I thought it would be the perfect cover. No one would ask detailed questions because they wouldn't care about fish breeding, and everyone would think they were just two boring people... Never knowing they have more excitement in a day than most people will experience in a lifetime.

If you'd like to read about the ins and outs of fish breeding AND being a CIA operative - based on the real United States' psychic spy program - start with Vicki's Key, shown here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Koi Angel Baby Bust

Meanwhile, in the koi angelfish honeymoon suite, Robert Redfish and Susan Saranfish have eaten their first batch of eggs.

This is not uncommon. They are still juveniles and trying to figure out this whole parenthood thing. One of them could have gotten cold feet - er, fins - and decided to eat the eggs while the other one slept.

But since they did lay eggs, it means they will continue to lay them. As they get older and wiser, they will get proficient at it - at least, that's the plan.

Some angelfish books and experts will tell you that angelfish don't know how to care for the eggs, the hatchlings, or the babies. But I have found them to be excellent parents if they're only given the chance for their own trials and errors.

This is my favorite picture of a mama and her baby - Stevie Fishnick with a baby who looks just like his papa, Lindsay Buckingfish.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Brine Shrimp

I've often mentioned that I grow brine shrimp to feed to the baby angelfish. Because the babies are barely the size of a pinhead when they hatch, they need something very tiny to fit into their mouths and tummies.

I have a brine shrimp hatchery and I often will pour some of the water and shrimp into a glass grapefruit jar (cleaned out, of course) while hatching more shrimp in the hatchery. The babies eat a lot so they are fed twice a day.

Here's what brine shrimp babies look like up close:

Monday, July 8, 2013

Two Batches of Babies in Two Weeks

Just about two weeks ago, Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick hatched hundreds of baby angelfish. Now they have yet another batch of eggs ready to hatch - even while the babies from their last clutch are swimming around!

During the height of their breeding season - which tends to be in warmer months when the temperature of their tank is a few degrees higher - they often lay eggs every two weeks. Then they'll take a break during the cooler winter months, unless the breeder turns up the heater to encourage them to continue. I don't - I allow them the break.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Lucy Hits the Wall

Lucy, the youngest of my four dogs and by far the most energetic, finally hits the wall around 8 pm each evening.

I don't know how she remains balanced but one of her favorite places to sleep is on the top of the couch as close to my head as she can get.

She always has to feel as if I am close by. She is the baby, after all.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Do Fish Sleep?

Fish do sleep, though they can't close their eyes or curl up in bed under the blankets.

My bettas enjoy sleeping inside some of their ornaments, most likely because they feel safe there.

When angelfish sleep, they often begin to tilt sideways. I've tried to take some pictures but when I approach the tank, they often wake up.

In the mornings when the automatic timing turns on the lights, I find most of the tetras are asleep along the bottom of the tank. They slowly begin to wake up and move throughout the tank in a school until they know their world is safe.

How do fish know when there is danger when they sleep? Along the sides of their bodies, they have receptors that detect movement in the water. Those receptors wake up the fish if they are sleeping.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Invisible Babies

It's been about a week since Lindsay Buckingfish and Stevie Fishnick had their newest batch of angel babies. During this stage, I call the fry "invisible fish" because they begin to hide in the gravel and in the plants.

Professional breeders do not have gravel in their tanks, which makes it much easier to do water changes. I have one infant tank without gravel and this one with gravel.

It will take several more weeks before these torpedo-shaped babies begin to assume the shape of an angelfish.