A healthy gray angelfish, Pomacanthus arcuatus, is pictured here

A healthy gray angelfish, Pomacanthus arcuatus, is pictured here

One for aquarium one for the reef.
This month I’m reviewing two books that both relate to the marine fishkeeping hobby, but are not fishkeeping books per se. As in many fields of interest, there is often good information to be found in related areas. For the aquarium hobby related fields include natural history, aquaculture and ichthyology. Marine Fish, The Recognition And Treatment Of Diseases, 2nd Edition by Robert R. Clifton (1993, Peregrine Publishing, 103 pages, $14.95). I have noted previously in this column that it is a fairly rare occurrence to see an aquarium book that lacks color photos. Considering that such photos are often a major selling point these days, it takes a bit of moxie to go against the tide. This is one such book, and overall the absence of color photos does not detract from the presentation.

Although the first edition (1987) was the same in its approach and general format, this new edition has been largely revised and expanded. Chapter one is entitled “Quarantine Procedure” and is a wonderful starting point. Many books present this topic as kind of an afterthought, which is a mistake. Be it a saltwater fish or a freshwater fish, the initial quarantining of any new acquisition is bound to save you problems in the long run ! Following this chapter are 17 pages of a running diagnostic chart. This type of chart is not new. The author used it in the 1st edition, and other books have also taken a similar approach (e.g., The Complete Aquarium Problem Solver by Kevin W. Boyd).

The chart consists, basically, of questions with either positive (yes) or negative (no) answers that serve to guide you through various symptoms and behaviors. The goal is to lead you to the most likely diagnosis of the problem. You are then referred to the appropriate section in chapter four, which provides information on the disease and its causative agents, and offers a course (or courses) of treatment. The author (wisely) notes that the treatments he prescribes may not be the only ones available, but overall he appears to offer a wide variety of treatments that should be of help to the aquarist.

As I have noted previously, although such charts are a good way of helping with a diagnosis, they may contain some pitfalls. It’s a wise practice to go back, once you have reached a conclusion based on the chart, and repeat the procedure just to be sure of the final diagnosis. Often, significantly different therapies are needed for different conditions, and a treatment regimen based on a misdiagnosis may prove fatal for the fish, not to mention expensive for the aquarist. In keeping with the axiom that prevention is the best cure, chapter three briefly (6 pages) covers water quality and nutrition as it relates to marine aquariums and fishes.

I think this chapter could have been expanded a bit (especially the nutrition section), but overall it is quite informative and provides a good introduction to the topics. The last chapter (Five) is entitled “Pathology And Laboratory Techniques”, and provides a good introduction to the topic. Some sections of this chapter, such as the section on anatomy and the illustrations of microscopic views of varions pathogens, would  I believe benefit by the addition of photographs, even black and white. I’ve worked regularly with a microscope for more than 30 years and, although line drawings can be helpful in identifying particular organisms, to my mind you can’t beat a good photograph for illustrative purposes. Those wishing to go further can dig into other sources something this author mentions.

The book ends with five appendices (A through E). The topics covered include: Freshwater Bath, Bacterial Pathogen identification (using a chart method as in Chapter Two), Bacterial List with most useful antibiotics, Measurement Conversion Chart (helpful), Dylox and Quinacrine Hydrochloride Treatments. A short (eight titles) “References And Suggested Reading” section is included. Unfortunately, for some reason, the dates of publication are included for only two titles, but should have been included for all of them. Overall, this is a valuable little book and it should prove helpful to the marine aquarist in the areas that it covers. No single book on the topic can do it all, but as a part of the marine aquarist’s library this book will find itself well used.

On The Reef
Hawaiian Reefs A Natural History Guide by Ron Russo (1994, Wavecrest Publications, 174 pages, $16.95). One consistent point that I’ve tried to make in this column is that there are many books of potential interest and use to the aquarist that are not truly “aquarium books”. This is one of those books. It encompasses both reef and fish-only aquarists in that plants, invertebrates and fishes are all covered. The author notes that the book is “…intended for divers, snorkelers, and all those interested in the marine environment”. Aquarists will fall into this latter group, although many may also fit into the two other groups as well. In the first 14 pages of the book the author offers a brief, but interesting, look at the Hawaiian coral reefs. Aspects of their history and formation are considered, along with an overview of their main habitats and ecology. Throughout this section the author’s obvious love of these reefs is evident.

From this point on the books deals with the life on the reefs. The first few pages cover various algae species, and it is this section that sets the format for what follows. Most sections start with a sidebar that provides general information on the biology of whatever group follows (e.g., “Algae Biology”).Thereafter, species are covered individually with text and accompanying color photographs. After the algae section, up to page 92, the book is devoted to invertebrates (incluluding corals). A wide variety of information is provided throughout this section on those animals covered.

It is interesting to note that many of the cormments aimed specifically at divers also apply to aquarists. For example, regarding the sea urchin Diadema paucispinum the author states “…do not attempt to handle this urchin”. A number of years ago I had a run-in with an Atlantic relative of this long-spined species and I can only confirm the author’s warning. The next 59 pages offer a cross-sectional view of the reef fishes of the area.

Many of these fishes have a much wider range than just the Hawaiian archipelago, whereas others, such as the milletseed butterflyfish (Chaetodon miliaris) are endemic to the area. The discussions on the various species of fishes (many of which are commercially available to aquarists) offer much information that is of interest to hobbyists. Among other topics, size, habitat, feeding and reproduction are covered. As with the previous sections, each fish is illustrated with a color photo of a live animal in its natural habitat. Most of these are very good photos, although a few don’t really show the fish to its best advantage (e.g., Potter’s angelfish on page 127). Should you venture further than your reef tank at home and head for the real thing (Hawaiian or otherwise) do make it a point to read “Coral Reef Etiquette” (pages 155 through 157). It is the “Leave only footprints, take only pictures” equivalent of the coral reef wilderness.

There should be a place in any aquarist’s library for this book. And, you’ll want to be sure to pack it with you when you make that trip to the 51st state. Should you have any trouble finding this book locally, contact the publisher, at P. 0. Box 921, San Leandro, CA 94577-0092. Note: Thanks to Paul Gildersleeve of The Pet Bookshop (P. 0. Box 507, Oyster Bay, NY 11771) for providing a review  copy of the first book covered in this column. It is available from this source for the price listed, plus $3.95 shipping / processing per order.