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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2011 8:40 am 
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During a recent scientific visit to Europe, I was able to take a weekend off and visit Simon Forkel on 4 June 2011 in Kleingarnstadt near Coburg, Germany. This meant travelling from Frankfurt Airport by train which took about three and a half hours. I slept over in a comfortable local hotel which Simon’s wife booked for me before returning. Before I visited Simon, I visited Stefan Adamek (Rödentaler Diskuszucht, http://www.roedentaler-diskuszucht.de/), who breeds very attractive discus. Stefan was kind enough to drive me to Simon’s house which was about 10 minutes away. Simon lives in a house to which a former cow stable is attached. This is a beautiful old building built of wood. He keeps his fishes in one of the rooms of this former stable, and this room is directly next to his house. Although Simon works for a large local tropical fish shop, he has now reduced the time that he works there to 30 hours per week so that he can devote more time to breeding his magnificent altums. What I would also like to add is that Simon has through his connections in the tropical fish trade been able to obtain P. altum directly from importers, with a better guarantee of obtaining accurate information about the origin of the fishes.

My general impression of Simon’s setup was that it was not too large, so that it is manageable, and it is precisely because it is slightly smaller that he can devote a lot of attention to detail. All his aquaria were large and the fish load in all aquaria was low. As he is a registered breeder, he is subject to veterinary inspection, and the local government veterinary authorities have insisted that his aquaria contain gravel. This is a management problem, but in spite of this his aquaria are spotlessly clean. All of his aquaria in which he keeps adult fishes are at least 60 cm high (deep), and in some aquaria 70 cm high. His tap water is soft, but does contain some general and carbonate hardness and he keeps his non-breeding fishes in this water without any further adjustment. Although he softens the water for breeding, he slowly adjusts the water in which he keeps the baby fishes to his tap water as a result of which the fishes he sells are adapted to harder water, which would make it much easier to adapt to aquarium conditions if one were to purchase fishes from him.

Simon showed me various pairs of different lines, groups of fishes that have not paired off, and groups of young fishes that he is raising at the moment as future breeders, as well as three groups of fry in various sizes. His fishes are all in excellent condition, they are well filled out, but do not show signs of excess body fat, and they show perfect finnage, all fin extensions are present. He maintains that if he keeps his fishes under conditions where the bacterial numbers are low, the fin extensions will not rot and will grow out longer than most fishes seen in captivity. His experience also shows that the young fishes that he raises under optimal conditions have fin extensions that are generally longer than those of wild caught fishes. He was raising a group of youngsters of the Siegrist line as future breeders in a huge aquarium and these were showing magnificent long finnage, even with extensions from the dorsal fin. Simon achieves this through excellent water flow through chamber filters built into the sides of the aquaria. These contained course sponge sections and a fine filter wool section for mechanical filtration, and a volume of Siporax for biological filtration. He feeds very high quality frozen white mosquito larvae, frozen brine shrimps and occasionally (once a week) high quality bloodworm. He has also recently started to feed a small amount of a beef heart mix which contain high amounts of vegetable material to the fishes that he is growing out as breeders, and he has found that they take this willingly and show excellent growth rates as a result. Babies are fed on freshly hatched brine shrimps for an extended period after hatch, which is obviously expensive, but from what I could clearly see this results in excellent growth not only initially but also after this.

What was very interesting to me was his opinion on what we tend to refer to as typical P. altum characteristic, specifically the notch in the forehead. The male fishes show a strong notch and a steeper forehead and back, and in most cases is slightly larger. He has also found that the notch is more pronounced in fishes that have been well fed while poorly fed fishes showed a shallower notch. Also when the adults reach the age of five to six years, the notch is also reduced again by the deposition of skin and connective tissue. Most altums only survive for much shorter than this age in aquaria and for this reason this has not been commonly observed. What this also shows is that we are perhaps overemphasizing the presence of the notch as a characteristic of altums, who knows?
It was very interesting to see the different lines that Simon is keeping and it was particularly interesting to see these different strains because this allowed me to make comparisons when the fishes were kept in the same aquarium under identical conditions. Simon currently keeps five different strains or lineages:

1. Rio Atabapo wild caught.

2. Rio Inirida wild caught.

3. Rio Orinoco wild caught.

4. Linke strain.

5. Siegrist strain.

In all strains the vertical bars become more intensive when the fish display breeding behaviour. Simon now has breeding pairs of all of these fishes and he has managed to get all of these strains to spawn. He has also crossed the Linke and the Siegrist lines, and the Siegrist line and wild caught Rio Atabapo fishes. When I visited him his Rio Atapabo pair were showing strong breeding behaviour, and were swimming around each other showing darker markings and expanded fins, and I think it will only be a matter of time before he manages to breed them.

Almost as though it was planned however, a pair consisting of a wild type female from the Rio Orinoco and a massive male from the Linke line actually spawned during my visit. I will write a separate report in this.

Below this I will show some pictures that Simon has recently taken and I will also post some of mine after this. For me this visit confirmed that altums certainly can be bred successfully and repeatedly in captivity. I think we can only congratulate Simon on his fishes and his breeding success. In my opinion his efforts are certainly allowing us to obtain more robust tank bred P. altum which the hobbyist will have greater success in keeping than the imported fishes which are so prone to disease upon arrival from South America.

Well done Simon! In my opinion he is the world leader in altum breeding at the moment.

Kind regards,

Dirk


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2011 8:43 am 
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Some more pics:


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2011 9:08 am 
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And a few more pictures: Note that the age of young Siegrist fishes is 24 weeks!


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Last edited by Dirk Bellstedt on Fri Jun 17, 2011 12:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2011 10:27 am 
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Wow, thanks for that Dirk.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2011 2:13 pm 
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How interesting, that Simon correllates fin development with aquarium bacteria levels. His observations of the variability of "Altum Notch" (something that I am sure most of us have suspected) leads me to question some recently made suggestions that this was down to differing races of Altum. There are considerable differences in the colouration of the pre dorsal area in the photographed fish.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:01 pm 
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This is one very nice article Dirk. I think we should ask Michelle to publish it in our Chronicles section.

The probable reason the German Veterinary authorities require aquaria to contain a sand or gravel bottom could be because unless the inner bottom glass of a bare bottom tank is continuously siphoned and cleaned it will develop a film or mulm that mostly contains germs and fungi which is the case of fish that have continuous contact with the bare substrate, the mulm tends to stick to the pelvic and anal fins and hence, it is an infection prone environment. A sand or gravel of the right quality will serve as a substrate for nitrobacs and these will tend to reduce the accumulation of the bad stuff (they eat it!). In the case of P. altum, we can compare the fish kept in poorly maintained BB vs. those kept in a "correct" sand and note how much longer the anal and pelvic fins develop. Very especially if these fish are in vertically deeper (higher) tanks. It is very nice to know Simon agrees with the same criteria and importance of a sand substrate in his Altum setups, something we discussed here some years back.

As to the notch, I agree with you (Dirk) and Simon as to maybe giving an excessive importance to the notch but we should neither underestimate its typicity. Some other Pterophyllum also show a deep notch but no species so deep and characteristic. The older fish show a more accentuated notch due to a heavier fatty deposit in the forehead area and this tends to be more pronounced in males than in females. This also occurs in mature and older discus and some other cichlids. In some other species or varieties, the notch may vary to an interesting degree being almost missing in some individuals (differences in some Peruvian scalare, i.e., such as the Nanay with a more pronounced notch, and other scalare from the immediate area with much less indention. We also see this variation along the Upper to Middle Rio Negro fish, but P. altum, have a uniform and deep notch, always.

Thanks a lot Dirk, this is a very good and educational read.

Regards
Ed

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:07 pm 
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BTW, I think this article and your photos will become a standard comparative reference for hobbyists trying to clarify the True Altum vs. False Altum issue. I have no doubt that what I am seeing in all these photos are the one and same Pterophyllum altum I have seen throughout the Orinoco Basin from Puerto Ayacucho through Caicara, all the way down to Atabapo, Ventuari and Casiquiare, and in my opinion, the same fish also captured in some Uppermost Rio Negro tributaries.
We are every day closer to know the truth.
Ed

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 17, 2011 12:51 am 
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Hi Ed,

Whilst your assumption about why the German veterinary authorities require gravel in the tanks may be correct, I actually suspect that they may view a tank without gravel to be unnatural and that it may contribute to the stress of the fishes. I will ask Simon about this. However, I fully agree with the point that you make about the bacteria on the bottom glass and that this may lead to a loss of fin extensions. What I can also say is that I noticed that the height of the aquaria which as I said was a minimum of 60 cm really did make a difference to the general behaviour of the fishes. They were much happier at this height (depth of water) and much more relaxed. I have previously kept my altum in a tank of which the height was 50 cm but in future I will definitely change to 60 cm.

What I can say to you though was that it was quite mind blowing to see six pairs of breeding P altum all basically showing breeding behaviour! I will post the egg-laying sequence soon.

Kind regards,

Dirk

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 17, 2011 7:47 pm 
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I perfectly agree with you as to the substrate and stress. I could never get wild discus to spawn in bare bottom tanks and once I added sand, just a thin layer, they did in only days (my experience with Putumayo RSG in the early 80's). It was not that I had kept them in a bare bottom for any particular reason, only that it turned into a long stay in a quarantine tank when my display tank broke. Once I repaired the display tank and put them in, they spawned in days... the difference was onlt the sand, as I had put the wood and potted plants into the QT. It also had brown wrapping paper under the bottom glass, otherwsie the fish turned nuts darting with one side flat against the bottom glass when lights in the room were on.
In the case of the altum, they would develop an excessive slime or mucus near the tips and the next thing was a columnaris like infection from which they would most likely not recover.
Guess I was never good enough taking care of BB tanks.
I started using tanks with a height of 77-82cm (30-32in) over a year ago and since I kept the fish in these tanks the change and growth was impressive. Previously I had been growing a batch in a 24 inch (62 cm) high tank. Altum defintely need the depth. Only giving them this depth did I get the anal and dorsal fins to develop full extensions and the caudal extensions and ventrals also became exceptionally long.
BTW, did Simon take out the fish and put them in boxes for you to photograph them?

Ed

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 17, 2011 11:01 pm 
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Hi Ed,

This information about the gravel in the tanks of altums and wild caught discus appears to be a very important factor in getting them to spawn which we should remember.

With regard to the photographs which were taken in the boxes, no, Simon did not catch them out for me, he actually did so himself and these are his photographs. My only pic so far is of the Rio Atabapo female. I also took many photographs whilst I was there, but it was quite tricky because of reflecting light off the front of the aquaria and if the fishes are not close to the glass then they come out blurred. In order to take pics without a flash, I set up my camera's iso setting to 1600 and this allows you to take pics as this is enough light. It is quite amazing what modern camera technology can do. So here are a few of my pics as well.

Kind regards,

Dirk


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PostPosted: Sat Jun 18, 2011 12:07 am 
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The conditions of this Atabapo pair is overwhelminglyverbkilling! or said, leaves me speechless.
Ed

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 18, 2011 4:14 am 
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Hi Ed,

What this pic also illustrates very nicely is the difference between male and female altums. Obviously the difference in the notch between the male (closer fish) and the female can be seen, but what Simon explained to me and what you can also see here is that there is a difference in the ventral fins. In the males these fins have more rays and are therefore slightly broader where they are attached to the body. There are also differences that I can see in the area of the vent and the angle between the anal fin and the body. One sees more marked differences in the vent area in scalare angels but you can see it here as well, and you have the advantage that you know that you are dealing with a pair and you are not just guessing. Makes this a much more accurate way of saying what the differences between male and female altums are.

The poise of this pair was amazing though, and I think this comes across nicely in the pic.

Kind regards,

Dirk

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 18, 2011 1:31 pm 
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Well, we have a lot of puzzle assembly to do and defintely Simon, through you and previously through Phil has thrown some nice pieces on the table for us to work with. I hope his observations can be confirmed by others. As to the notch, some fish have it deeper, some have it a bit shallower, but then, age/maturity and fatty tissue accumulation in the forehead area also add or subtract to the final impression of the notch depth. Mature males (5-6 yrs plus), as in discus, tend to exhibit a very marked notch, but then, I have seen younger males, pairing and breeding with females, who you would only tell apart after their genital organs when exposed.
I don't think I have noticed the observation of the ventral fins, and for the moment, I don't have enough fish to make a decent comparison.
Ed

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 20, 2011 6:28 am 
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Dirk Bellstedt wrote:
Hi Ed,

What this pic also illustrates very nicely is the difference between male and female altums. Obviously the difference in the notch between the male (closer fish) and the female can be seen, but what Simon explained to me and what you can also see here is that there is a difference in the ventral fins. In the males these fins have more rays and are therefore slightly broader where they are attached to the body. There are also differences that I can see in the area of the vent and the angle between the anal fin and the body. One sees more marked differences in the vent area in scalare angels but you can see it here as well, and you have the advantage that you know that you are dealing with a pair and you are not just guessing. Makes this a much more accurate way of saying what the differences between male and female altums are.

The poise of this pair was amazing though, and I think this comes across nicely in the pic.

Kind regards,

Dirk
Hi Dirk.

Fantastic job !
Thanks for your excellent report. Soooo jealous now !

Hopefully you were able to procure some high quality fish foods , on your travels. High quality glass worms seem gone forever from the shops.

The indicators of heavier pec girdle and fins on adult males was mentioned by Frank Aguirre, and quite clearly shown in his photos from the 90's that I saw. The ray count is new.

Jim robinson noted the vent area angulation differences, even in juvies, but cautioning that that on some fish you can see a clear indication, but on others, not so.

Dave


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