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Rare Danios, Blue-Eyes and More at Wildwoods
As we've said many times here at Tropical Fish Finder, a visit to Wildwoods is always a treat. Many experienced aquarists will say that if you can't get a fish from Wildwoods, you probably can't get in anywhere, and there's a good deal of truth to that statement. We did, for example, come across the Dusky Hatchetfish Triportheus angulatus, a lovely, adaptable schooling characin that is often seen in aquarium books but almost never offered for sale. It's typical of the management at Wildwoods that they not only import the popular stuff that sells well, but also some of these rare and unusual species that hobbyists would probably enjoy if they ever got the chance to keep them!
Wildwoods is on Theobalds Park Road, Enfield, just south of the junction with Whitewebbs Road. There's ample parking in front of the store. Travellers coming by public transportation will find Crew Hill station (Travelcard zone 5) about 10-15 minutes walk away. Wildwoods is of course well worth a visit, but if you can't get there, the store also has a mail-order service as well.
On our visit we saw over ten different Danio species, including of course old favourites like the Zebra Danio and Pearl Danio. But we also saw new favourites like the Glowlight Danio and Orange-Finned Danio and a few of the rarer Danios such as the Bengal Danio that aren't traded regularly but really should be.
As a group Danios have the makings of perfect community fish. For a start, they are all relatively small. They are also peaceful fish, if a bit pushy and boisterous, and don't normally nip or harass their tankmates. So long as they aren't kept with substantially smaller tankmates or shy species prone to being bullied, they're good all-rounders that work well with most of the popular tetras, barbs, Corydoras and dwarf cichlids.
Feeding presents no problems at all as all Danios feed from the surface and readily accept flake food as well small live foods and frozen foods. Danios aren't fussy about water chemistry either, and while they may prefer soft, slightly acidic to neutral water, most seem to do perfectly well in hard, alkaline "liquid rock" of the sort served up to aquarists to in Southeast England. Danio hardiness is legendary, but this does need to be put into context. The farmed Zebra and Pearl Danios really are very tough fish, but the other Danio species can be a bit less tolerant, and deserve good care. While most Danios can be expected to sail through occasional water quality problems, this isn't an excuse to keep them poorly, and as well as good water quality, Danios appreciate relatively cool water (typically 22-25 degrees C) with plenty of oxygen and a good strong current.
One of the new Danio species that has become very popular among hobbyists is the Glowlight Danio, Danio choprae. It's a small species, barely reaching 3 cm in length, but it is very strikingly coloured. Its body is pearly with a few iridescent purple-blue vertical bands on the flanks, an orange band running from behind the eye onto the caudal peduncle, and delicate yellow stripes on the unpaired fins. They look their best in shady tanks with a dark substrate and lots of plants. Like all Danios they are intensely social and must be kept in a large group, at least eight specimens, otherwise bullying can be a problem, especially in small tanks. Otherwise this species is a delight to keep, very lively and peaceful, and an excellent addition to planted community tanks. The Glowlight Danio does best in soft, slightly acidic water, but will tolerate moderately hard water without problems.
The Gold-Ring Danio (Danio tinwini) is even smaller, only getting to between 2-3 cm in length, and an excellent choice for aquarists with limited space. Its body is silvery-gold, with numerous black spots along the middle of the flank and on the fins (except for the pectoral fins). They are sociable and lively, but being rather small can be nervous and easily bullied by larger fish. On the other hand a group of eight or more specimens will work wonderfully in a community of other "nano" fish species. Water chemistry isn't a crucial issue, but again, soft water is recommended.
Devario species are not so often traded as Danio species, but several species make excellent aquarium fish. One of the classic species is the Giant Danio, Devario aequipinnatus. At up to 10 cm in length it's a relatively big fish, so obviously needs a relatively large aquarium to do well, upwards of 250 litres at least. But this restriction aside, the Giant Danio is a beautiful, versatile fish very well suited to use in jumbo fish communities, and would work well with things like clown loaches, medium-sized barbs, L-number catfish, and medium-sized non-aggressive, non-piscivorous cichlids such as eartheaters and acaras. Like other Danios it is strongly gregarious and if too few are kept, it's prone to being skittish or even aggressive; don't keep fewer than six, and try to keep at least eight specimens. The Giant Danio isn't fussy about water chemistry, but does appreciate good water quality and plenty of room for swimming.
The Bengal Danio (Devario devario) is another species that gets to around 10 cm in length, but it isn't as often traded as the Giant Danio. That's a shame because it's a very adaptable species and for its size, quite peaceful and easy-going. A group of six or more specimens will work well in any community of medium-sized tropical fish. Like the Giant Danio, the Bengal Danio can do well in hard water, but it does need relatively cool, oxygen-rich water and plenty of swimming space.
Devario auropurpureus (on sale under an older name, Inlecypris auropurpureus) is a distinctive species that comes from a single lake in Burma. It's a medium-sized Danio, getting to 6 cm or so in length, and silvery-green in colour with short orange and iridescent blue-purple vertical bars along its flanks. Like mother fish from Lake Inle, it needs moderately hard, neutral to slightly basic to do well, and will not thrive in acidic water conditions. In terms of care it's much like other Danios, but nervous, lacking the self-confidence typical of Danios in general. It must be kept in a large group, realistically ten or more, and never mixed with aggressive or even substantially larger tankmates.
The family Pseudomugilidae contains a number of small (around 5 cm long) fish related to the more family Rainbowfish family Melanotaeniidae. Only one genus,
Pseudomugil, contains species that turn up in the aquarium trade where they are known as Blue-Eyes, a reference to their typically iridescent turquoise irises. They make excellent aquarium residents, provided their few critical needs are met. Although shy, they are lively, and work particularly well with peaceful "nano" species that stay at the bottom of the tank, such as gobies, dwarf rasboras, pygmy Corydoras and shrimps. On the other hand, their small size and nervous disposition keep them from being good choices for standard community tanks.
We saw no fewer than three species of Blue-Eye on sale at Wildwoods. The Forktail Blue-Eye (Pseudomugil furcatus) is a reliable, adaptable species that is probably the best choice for newcomers to this group of fish. Both sexes are semi-transparent fish with yellow and black markings on their fins as well as the trademark blue eyes, but males have longer fins and much stronger colours than the females. Like other Pseudomugil they are relatively short-lived fish (lifespans of a year or two are typical for the genus) but the Forktail Blue-Eye is quite easy to breed if kept in a tank thickly planted with Java moss and Indian fern. Adults spawn freely when mature, and at least some eggs and fry will survive predation long enough for the aquarist to recover them and put them into a breeding trap. The eggs hatch within 3 weeks, and the fry are big enough to take brine shrimp nauplii and finely powdered flake food (such as Hikari First Bites) immediately after hatching.
Also on sale at Wildwoods was the Spotted Blue-Eye, Pseudomugil gertrudae, an even smaller species that only gets to about 3-4 cm in length. As the common name suggests, this yellow, semi-transparent species is peppered with small dark spots on its flanks and fins, but there isn't a huge difference between the males and females apart from the males being a bit more colourful and having longer fins than the females. Basic care is much as the Forktail Blue-Eye, though aquarists should take its smaller size into consideration when choosing tankmates.
The third species on sale was the Pacific Blue-Eye, Pseudomugil signifer. This lovely little fish is semi-transparent but with a golden-yellow glittering pattern across its body highlighted with electric blue under certain lighting conditions, particularly around the caudal peduncle. The males have longer fins than the females as well as black and white edges to their pectoral fins and sulphur-yellow or orange colouration to the dorsal, anal and tail fins. Adult size is variable depending on the place of origin, northern strains measuring up to 7 cm while southern strains are much smaller, as little as 3 cm in length. The Pacific Blue-Eye may be found in marine, brackish water and fully freshwater habitats. As such, they're adaptable fish that may be used in either a freshwater "nano" fish community or in a brackish water system alongside small, inoffensive gobies.
The South American cichlids we call "Eartheaters" are a fascinating group of species adapted to finding their food by sifting mouthfuls of sediment. Many, though not all, are mouthbrooders, something that is common among African cichlids but otherwise unknown among South American cichlids. Eartheaters are mostly medium-sized fish around 15-30 cm in size, but relatively peaceful for their size. Many species are very attractive, and their interesting feeding and breeding behaviours certainly add to their charm, but they remain fish for the more advanced aquarist because of their sensitivity to poor water quality. Like all cichlids non-zero ammonia and nitrite will quickly stress them, but they are also sensitive to nitrate levels above 20 mg/l. Coupled with their preference for soft, slightly acidic water chemistry, these are definitely cichlids that benefit from the use of RO water or rainwater instead of "London tap". Needless to say, as sand-sifting specialists, they must not be kept in tanks with a gravel substrate; use a smooth, silica sand substrate instead.
Gymnogeophagus balzanii is one of the less-often seen Eartheaters. It's somewhat variable in colour, but basically greyish-green with dark vertical bands when young, but adopting a more golden hue, especially along the throat and belly, when sexually mature. Males and females are similar, but males have a much larger nuchal hump (especially dominant males) and tend to be rather bigger, around 20 cm vs 15 cm for the females. It is almost a subtropical fish in terms of water temperature preferences, doing best around 22 degrees C most of the year, and a degree of two cooler in winter. This will place limits on the sorts of species it could be kept with. The larger Danios like the Giant Danio and some of the subtropical barbs such as Red-Line Torpedo Barbs would make excellent dither fish and should be left alone by these somewhat territorial fish. Male Gymnogeophagus balzanii are aggressive; it's best to keep a single male alongside two or more females. It is a "primitive" mouthbrooding species, the eggs being laid in a simple nest and fertilised there, and only after the eggs have hatched a couple of days later will the female take them into her mouth and look after them for the next few weeks.
Geophagus altifrons is an adaptable and accommodating Eartheater that has lovely bright colours and generally peaceful personality. Outside of breeding, it gets along well with most medium-sized fish that leave it alone, though it does require fairly warm water to do well (around 26-28 C) so tankmates should be chosen accordingly. Water chemistry isn't a critical issue but very hard should be avoided. Geophagus altifrons are gregarious outside of breeding, but as ever with sociable cichlids, either keep a singleton, a known pair, or a group of at least six specimens; in smaller groups than six bullying is likely. This species spawns in a similar way to Gymnogeophagus balzanii, but sometimes the male shares mouthbrooding duties with the female.
It's impossible to visit Wildwoods without seeing at least a few remarkable predatory fish. Wildwoods is, for example, one of the best places in the country to get hold of Piranhas and Snakeheads. But to finish off our report on Wildwoods are two very unusual predators, the Electric Catfish and the Red Wolffish.
The Electric Catfish (Malapterurus electricus) is one of the oddest fish in the hobby. It is often described as looking like a sausage thanks to its cylindrical body and short fins. Maximum length is anywhere up to 90 cm, but most aquarium specimens are substantially smaller than that. Obviously a big fish needs a big tank, but Electric Catfish are never kept with tankmates and don't move about much, so a well-filtered 450-litre aquarium is sufficient. It's best to buy juveniles (like the ones on sale at Wildwoods) because these are more easily weaned onto non-live foods. Frozen foods are usually taken without much trouble, particularly things like krill and bloodworms. As the fish ages, these can be replaced with chunkier foods like tilapia fillet, earthworms, and shrimps. Electric Catfish need to be treated with respect: they can deliver strong shocks to the unwary, and though specimens usually become very tame, these are clearly not fish for beginners!
Our final Wildwood treat was the outstanding Red Wolffish, Erythrinus erythrinus, a predatory characin from South America. This superb fish combines attractive colours with moderate size (it gets to about 20 cm in length) and a high degree of adaptability. It isn't fussy about water chemistry, though good water quality is important, and eats all sorts of chunky frozen foods as well as suitable live foods like earthworms and river shrimp. It is a fairly easy-going species when kept with robust tankmates of similar size such as L-number catfish, but is territorial and won't get along with its own kind. Do take care not to keep this fish too warm though; aim for 22-25 degrees C.
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