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July 17, 2015

Happy Friday, dear readers. I hope the day finds you well and ready for the weekend – I know I am. I’ve got an open house at a local carnivorous plant nursery, Sarracenia Northwest, to go to on Saturday and a trip to a nearby pond to play with our indigenous Rough Skinned Newts, Taricha granulosa, on Sunday. I’m going to pet so many newts! It’s interesting to note that our T. granulosa are the most toxic of all Taricha species – they can secrete the neurotoxin Tetrodotoxin, the same toxin found in the pufferfish family. An adult Rough Skinned Newt is able to secrete enough neurotoxin to kill approximately 25,000 mice and will likely kill anything that tries to eat it, with the exception of the common Garter Snake – Locally, these snake populations have evolved a resistance to the toxin and the subsequent increase in toxicity and resistance between the two species have created one highly toxic newt species and one highly resistant snake species. If your stomach is strong, it’s worth watching the video below to see the effect this toxin can have on predators.

Anyways, enough about my upcoming weekend and our local newts; let’s talk about some fish!

We’ve got some absolutely beautiful new acquisitions – Nannacara aureocephalus “Golden Headed Dwarf Cichlid”. These are a larger species of Nannacara with males reaching almost four inches and females at two and a half inches. Males show a peachy base coloration in a neutral mood and flare to a beautiful golden tone when breeding, displaying, or feeling aggressive. The golden coloration is especially prominent on his face and gill plates, interspersed with crimson red spots. Each scale edge is decked in iridescent blue-green and his fins will carry hints of red, blue and gold. Females are much more demure with a gold and black coloration reminiscent of other female dwarf cichlids. When defending her clutch of eggs and fry, the female gains much more black banding and barring, almost presenting a checkered appearance.

WSNannacara aureocephalus

The fish’s fry share their mother’s checkered coloration when hatched, blending well with aquarium sand or fine gravel. After just a few days, the fry will become free-swimming and start to feed on small foods such as artemia and fresh baby brine shrimp. At three weeks, the male is still not allowed near them, but the fry have gained a rounder, less gangly appearance. By six weeks of age, the female will allow the male to approach the fry and they will spend their time with both parents. By six months, the fry will be fully mature.

N. aureocephalus hails from the blackwaters of French Guiana – an acidic blackwater biotope with negligible hardness and a pH of 5-6 will keep these fish in top condition. Décor of root or driftwood, leaf litter, and hardy plants with a sandy substrate will suit these guys, especially if hides and caves are provided as well, or at least “safe” areas are formed by the driftwood or root wood.

An excellent dither fish is hard to find for this species, so looking for species keen on sharing a blackwater habitat is the best route to take – perhaps Hemigrammus rhodostomus, the true “Rummynose Tetra” from Venezuela and Brazil. They are very similar to the more commonly seen H. bleheri, but possess a smaller red patch on their nose, less black striping on their tail, and a partial black lateral line extending forward from their caudal peduncle. They are tricky to tell apart when separate, but when a specimen of each species is compared side by side, they are obviously a different species. A useful graphic and chart defining the differences between the two species, as well as the False Rummynose, Petitella georgiae, can be found at These two inch fish will do well in a blackwater environment, with or without planting, and as a peaceful species should leave your Nannacara alone as long as they are kept in sufficient quantity – a group of twenty specimens would look stunning tightly schooling above your Golden Headed Cichlids.

WSHemigrammus rhodostomus

Finally, I always like to include some sort of catfish, whether plecos, Cories or both, in my South American tanks. While likely not from the same blackwater communities as the above species, our new Ancistrus sp. “Stardust” has caught my eye with its striking black coloration and tiny blue-white dots. They are aptly named, resembling well the starry night sky. We’re a little hazy on the true identification of these fish, so if you have any thoughts, please let us know – we do know they’ll likely reach 5-6”, enjoy slightly acidic water around 6.0 pH, and dine primarily on vegetable matter. Males sport a lovely crown of bristles on their noses, while females have just a small number of these fleshy growths. As juveniles, they sport distinctive white seams on their caudal and dorsal fins, but these appear to fade somewhat with age.

WSAncistrus sp Stardust

Thank you for reading and, if I take some nice newt and plant pictures this weekend, I’ll be sure to share them with you next week!

Jessica Supalla