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FAQs about Aquatic Cleaning Symbioses

Related Articles: Behavior

Related FAQs: ColorationCleaning Symbiosis Among Fishes, Biological Cleaners,

A male Cetoscarus bicolor getting the "once over" by a pair of Labroides dimidiatus at a cleaning station in the Red Sea.

Dear Bob,
I am a newcomer to the aquarium hobby and I absolutely love the magazine, I want to absorb as much information as possible, so I would like to pick your brains!
I read James Fatherree's article last issue 'Keeping things clean' and I am fascinated by cleaner fish and their relationship with the larger fish hosts that they clean. I have a small system at the moment, but I would like to upgrade to a larger aquarium where I can view this relationship first hand. I have space to keep a 7x2x2 aquarium, and I really like the Miniatus grouper, and I would like to keep a neon goby to take up the cleaning responsibility, among other fish. But, I don't want to risk this fish being eaten by the larger grouper; apart from keeping all fish well fed is there a way of minimising this risk?
Thank you,
Katie Linton 

            I too greatly enjoy studying, observing fish behaviour. Ever-fascinating for sure. Oh, and James and I are good friends, having dive-traveled together and given many presentations while both attending hobby conferences. The size system you list will be a real stunner, with a good deal of room to stock and experience fish-fish and more interaction. There are a few choices of symbiotic animals you might keep with a small to large size Cephalopholis miniata, including Neon Goby (Gobiosoma and Elacatinus spp.) you mention. As you're likely aware, though these species have distributions that don't overlap in the wild, they almost always recognize each other as symbionts; with the Bass seeking out the Goby for cleaning, not consuming it, and the Goby performing such duty.
            Additionally though in a system of your proposed dimensions I'd add other fishes and other potential cleaners. Most suitably, look to species of Hippolytid Shrimps, like the popular members of the genus Lysmata; particularly the Pacific L. amboinensis and Blood Red L. debelius. A bit more aggressive are the Boxer Shrimps of the family Stenopodidae, but these can also make great displays. The common Boxer, Stenopus hispidus is a common offering in the trade, but other species can be ordered through your stockist. (I've sent images on of these).
            As the saying goes Katie: 'The more you look, the more there is to see'. Enjoy your fish-watching! Cheers, BobF.

Problem with recent outbreak of Syconoid and need help with my puffer, Please  1/10/08 Hi and thank you for being there! I spent Sunday afternoon reading your site as I have done many, many times over the past years but couldn't really find an answer... There is so much info for new folks but where do we with the established aquarium go? I need some serious help! <I do wish... that the world itself, or at least the tiny bit that is WWM could be/was more "intuitive"... have tried to think of ways to improve accessibility, arrangement... but the indices, Google search tool thus far are the best I/we have... Would you/others rather some sort of Boolean tool with exclusion/inclusionary possibilities with terms like "established, marine, aquarium"... bringing up whatever included such chronologically mostly I guess?> In brief: My aquarium is a 150 gallon FOWLR and is six+ years old. The inhabitants are my original 6 year old dog- face puffer, original 6 year Foxface ( I truly love this gentle fish), a 3 year old hippo tang and a 3 year old Picasso trigger. I have the original Euro-reef protein skimmer ( model ES8-2). A small sump that holds maybe 15 -18 gallons of water. I have bio balls , 1/2 removed several years ago. I use Boyd's Chemi-pure ( 1/4 the recommended amount and rinse it 2 x week , change it monthly. My puffer and Picasso trigger share ( well kinda share) one mussel every am and 2-3 dime size algae wafers in pm. My fox face and hippo eat formula 2 (about a quarters worth) 2 times a day. Everyone is always starving! My ph hovers around 8.0 sometimes 7.8 ( my puffer always looks stressed when ph drops to 7.8 so I do my best to keep at least 8.0. My nitrates are sky high at about 80. They have been for years , I've tried nitrate sponges , more live rock, less food , more water changes etc over the years and finally decided after a month of daily water changes and readings still in 40's that if I were to cont' with this huge investment and love, I would just have to accept the readings and possible illnesses/ deaths that might result.( My sump is too small to add light and plants as EuroReef takes up all available room.) <Well stated, and done> About 2 years ago when my puffer was 4 , I really realized this was going to be one big fish! I was dealing with huge amounts of puffer detritus. (puffer poop). I mean he left gooey puddles in his favorite corner . Also his space for swimming (which he loved to do) was limited. I know this is incorrect but I removed about 1/3 of the sand bed on the side where he sleeps and always poops.( leaving bare glass). I took out lots of the live rock ( like 50%) so he could happily swim side to side and up and down. I left the middle third of the aquarium with about 1/2 inch of sand, and large pile of live rock, the last 1/3 with 2 inches of sandbed because he loves to blow through and root for food and sea creatures. The ph held at 8.0 with 5 gallon water changes every other day. I chose 5 gallons because I can do them in about 10 minutes without turning off the pump system ( other than the skimmer). I buy my salt water from a LFS several miles away as my townhouse doesn't allow for R/O, water wastage etc. Any way, 2 questions. My puffer has always swam with a blue neon goby. They live about 2 years , clean his surface skin frequently. I have read that puffers have sensitive skin and you should not let cleaner fish do this to them , but I have to tell you, it has always been amazing to watch. My last one even went completely inside Puffers gill. Puffer" taught " him to be gentle. It has been an amazing thing for me to watch. My neon died 6 months ago. I found him lying in sand. No one tried to eat him, and I was amazed by that. Anyway, I have no longer been able to buy these gobies. Do you know why they are no longer available? ( I live near San Francisco). I even tried Marine Depot. <Are a bit of a seasonal item (Gobiosoma, Elacatinus spp.)... the captive-produced ones had some real trouble with supply... with the largest producers basically getting blown off the planet by the hurricane series a few years back...> My puffers health seems to be declining. Quarter size pieces of his film float off occasionally. Each piece will have one little salt grain size of ich on it. Can you suggest a cleaner fish that will not be too aggressive for my puffer? <Really only the little gobies... but I do have another suggestion. See below> I am not really afraid of anyone eating small fish, there seems to be fish Language spoke in this aquarium, I swear! <Yes... this "arrangement" has been remarked on many times in the literature... Purposeful cleaners... even from disparate geographies... being "recognized" by otherwise predatory fishes... calming them, doing them a great deal of good... Sort of like Androcles and the Lion (man, I am dating myself)> My other concern , I started adding Kent's Zoecon to their food about 3 months ago. I admit I was not careful and let 3-4 drops fall on food frequently instead of the recommended 1drop. <Mmm, no worries> After several months I seem to have a proliferation of Sponges all over my live rock. I have seen my puffer and trigger try to eat the ones they can access but they are everywhere. I even see them growing in the water intake lines. I am afraid they will get massive and clog my system.( Actually they already are huge ) I read on your site my high organics , mussel juices, etc are causing this plaque.( a little Omega 3 and they were off!) <Ahh!> I also have never seen such large bristle worms till I started this lipid. (have always been very small - like 1/10th of any inch. The other day I had 2 an inch long! I have tried to clean puffers poop but it won't vacuum and sticks to net. Ugh.. <I have the same suggestion...> I have stopped Zoecon, Are there nitrate sponges that work? <Mmm, not worthwhile IMO... better to employ other means... Please read here re options: http://wetwebmedia.com/marine/maintenance/index.htm scroll down to the yellow line/tray> Why can't I find Neons? <Keep looking... should be around... Maybe the Marine Center (.com), Dr.s Foster and Smith (.com)> How can I eradicate sponges in the drain system? <Depriving them of food is best> I understand you may not want to answer this as it is so long <Heeeee! No my friend... not a factor> but any help would truly be appreciated. I feel I have always taken care of my pals and until recently they have flourished. My personal goal is to get my puffer to 10 years. Thanks again Leslie <A worthy goal. To reduce waste presence, boost your puffers health in toto, I strongly suggest your going to using Spectrum pelleted food... this will indeed "do it"... Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/foodsppt1.htm For a ppt presentation of the main ideas here. Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Anemones and Clown Fish.. host/symbiont def.s  3/16/2007 Bob and Crew,     Not a question, more of a comment brought on by my ADD.  In the Clown Fish/Anemone Relationship, the Anemone is the Host and the Clown Fish is the symbiont.  It just drive me crazy to read that "My Clown Hosted the BTA". Thanks for letting me vent     Roy <Heeeee! Okay! BobF>

How does a cleaner shrimp eat those parasites? Dear Bob & All <Peter> Happy New Year and thanks for the helpful reply on the sea-squirt.  I will now sit back and enjoy the little fellow. Could you answer a daft question?  How on earth can a cleaner shrimp eat e.g. Ick parasites??  My tang loves to drift near the shrimp.  Would you expect to see a shrimp eat parasites with its jaws (sic??).  Or do they retain parasites on their antennae and pass them to the mouth? Best wishes Peter Hosier The whole thing is a mystery to me. <Mmm, me too... I do think these shrimp species can actually see the resultant raised spots on the fish, and pick away at these general areas... and maybe they get clues from the host fish... like twitching when the area is cleaned up...

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