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Could It Be...That Wild Angelfish Have Finally Spawned?
© Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod (H, 1988)

Pterophyllum Altum

The two fishes shown in these two photos are two different kinds of wild angelfishes. The fish to the right is a wild-caught altum while the fish below left is what was once called the eimekei. I was able to keep my eye on the "eimekei because of the shining scale immediately before his first dorsal spine. The altum is recognized easily by the deep brown or gray vertical stripes and the clear soft rays of his unpaired fins. The "eimekei," on the other hand, is easily identified by the light markings in the unpaired fins.

Pterophyllum Eimekei

It was a bit sad leaving Japan behind. Having lived there for a while (1950-52 as a lieutenant in the Medics) I had a liking for the place. My wife, Evelyn, studied Japanese too. It was hard to leave with a happy heart, but I did promise to come back in a few weeks to attend the world's largest koi show. I also wasn't too happy about the long 12 hour flight from Tokyo to Sydney, Australia.

But the time flew by as I worked on the text for my book, Koi Varieties and it wasn't too long before the long night flight was over and the crystal-clear waters of the ocean were visible. We made an intermediate stop in Queensland. It meant a few extra hours before we were in Sydney, but we needed to stretch out legs.

As we left our Quantas airplane, we were surrounded by smiling plainclothes policemen, each of whom had a Labrador Retriever. We were asked politely to line up with our personal possessions on the floor in front of us. Then the dogs were paraded down the line. I guess a sample of some drug was planted along the line, for a dog dove into the middle of the pile and came out with what looked like a stuffed men's sock. The policeman could not remove it from the dog's mouth so they brought in another dog! Thankfully, the second dog wasn't as lucky as the first and we were ushered into the Transit Lounge where I was able to buy and smoke a lovely Havana Montecristo #2 cigar.

Pterophyllum Eimekei

That sort of made up for the dog show, and in a few hours we landed in Sydney airport. Right photo shows two "eimekei" which may have been the spawning pair previously. The weather was beautiful (January is Australian summer) and I could hardly wait to get to our hotel on the beach outside Sydney. The hotel was right on the beach and as I gazed from the balcony of my 6th floor suite I could hardly believe my eyes. I couldn't tell the boys from the girls watching them from behind. The boys' hair was as long as the girls' and the girls' bathing suits were as brief as the boys' piece, topless. A stern look from Evelyn and I was convinced i should have a nap after flying and working all night! Could you believe that it started raining that night and no one was on the beach for the next 5 days! I left Sydney for Auckland, New Zealand with hopes that someday soon I can make it back to Sydney to see if the long hair style the boys were wearing is still in vogue!

It was early the next morning when Karl Schnell, the managing director of T.F.H. (Australia) turned up for breakfast...very apologetic about the weather. Off we went to his office to talk a little business: new books, a larger TFH magazine, and what was happening to the U.S. dollar against the Australian dollar.

Pterophyllum Eimekei

As I was sitting by his desk next to a fairly large aquarium...perhaps 100 gallons in capacity...I commented that two of his wild Pterophyllum scalare seemed to be getting ready to spawn. The female already had her ovipositor extending from her anal pore in what looked like a large, white dot, while the male was busy scrubbing off a large leaf, at the same time as he chased away the other Pterophyllum. Karl mentioned that they spawn regularly.

Wild angelfish, the kind 10-12 inches (25-30 cm) high, have never been spawned least not that I know of anyway. Dr. Eduard Schmidt-Focke, of discus fame, was able to cross a wild P. scalare altum with a wild Pterophyllum of the variety known as eimekei, but two wild altum had never been spawned.

The point of the upper right photo is that cardinal tetras, Paracheirodon axelrodi, and false rummy-nose tetra, Petitella georgiae, were kept in the same tank without consequence.

The tank was filled with wild angelfish which Karli had acquired in Germany. The other "eimekei" was the only fish which the shining-scaled "eimekei" tolerated next to the nest, but the mate might well have been an altum. In these photos, it is easy to distinguish between altum and "eimekei." The altum have no light spots in their unpaired fins.

Pterophyllum Altum

Right: View of an altum-type angel.
The next morning Karl called me excitedly..."See, I was right. They did spawn...just like they have many times before."
"Karli," I said, "come over here immediately and get me...No, never mind, I'll take a taxi." In 30 minutes I was in his office taking photos of the spawning pair. One was an eimekei-type and one was an altum, it seemed, but without the corpse of the breeders I would be unable to tell with certainty. "What will you do with the eggs?" I asked Karli?

Karl Schnell adjusting the air pump.

"I don't have staff, this is vacation time, and I'm too busy with my new house. Besides, my fish house isn't finished yet."
"!*&$ (and other unmentionabes). Karli, you may have made aquarium history. Let's save the spawn!"
"How?" asked Karli.
"OK let me show you."

Pterophyllum Altum

I took the bottom jar from a Diatom Filter and filled it almost full of water from the same aquarium. I added enough Wardley's Promethyasul, until the water was a deep blue. Then I carefully pinched off the bottom of leaf upon which the eggs had been deposited and put it into the jar. Right: The jar with the eggs floats in Karli's aquarium. The long stem of the leaf was folded onto the outside edge of the jar and held in position with a rubber band, squeezing it against the neck of the jar. A small vibrator pump and airstone were connected up and a steady stream of bubbles were allowed to play on the leaf. The jar was then hung in the aquarium with the neck an inch above the surface. This maintained a proper temperature in the small container (81 F). It only took three day for the eggs to hatch and the young to fall off the leaf and lay huddled on the floor of the jar.
"Karli," I said. "Do you know what to do now?"
"Yes, Doctor. I just add some egg infusion, or infusoria, as soon as they are free-swimming. I follow this in a few days with newly hatched brine shrimp and stand back as they grow."

Pterophyllum Altum

Right: Another of Karli's lovely altum type angels.
"Good, Karli. Start the cultures of brine shrimp and infusoria now."
"I can't. Remember, the office is closed. I only came here to be polite to you. There is no one to care for them."
"Karli, !?*$& you, who is the best angelfish breeder in the area?"
"He told me and we called him. He came down the next day and took the jar with the newly hatched fish bouncing on the bottom. This was all done while I was winging my way to Auckland.
A few days later I called Karli.
"Yes, Mr. So-and-so came and took the fish. But the man changed the water and all the fry died immediately."
I couldn't talk.
I hung up the phone and sat on the edge of the bed. Would Karli be able to spawn them again? Would he be able to save the babies and raise them? 

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