We wouldn’t have guessed it, but it’s awfully hard to get a certain little blue Caribbean fish to breed. In fact, it took an expert at the New England Aquarium a year of work to set up the right combination of mood lighting, tank feng shui, and a never-ending buffet of gourmet fish food to make it happen.
Lead biologist Monika Schmuck had two baby Blue Chromis fish at the end of all that work. It was the first time anyone in the world had successfully bred Blue Chromis in captivity.
“Today I actually got four more, so that’s a total of six,” she told WCAI.
There are about 100 Blue Chromis in the large tank at the New England Aquarium at any given time, so there’s a lot more work to be done to scale up the breeding process.
“The animals that we choose to breed, including the Blue Chromis, are important for our aquarium and also for our exhibits,” Schmuck said. “Because we take them in numbers of up to 100 from the reef, we like to backfill that by growing some in-house.”
So, what makes it so hard to breed these little fish?
“Blue Chromis get really territorial, so we try to split up their tank with different habitats,” she said. “PVC pipe and all sorts of things to make it a little more homey.”
Then comes the process of hand-rearing the exact kind of algae that the fish like to eat, and eat, and eat. “To satiation,” Schmuck explained.
After that, it’s just the not-very-simple process of making sure the fragile, undeveloped larvae don’t die before they reach maturity.
To try to increase the numbers of juveniles that make it into the ranks of adults, the aquarium is setting up their tanks to be dividable so that each fish can be separated from a potential rival.
If that works, they hope to ship Blue Chromis off to other aquariums so that those institutions don’t have to get so many fish from the reef, either.