Any saltwater hobbyist worth his salt or doesn’t live under a rock surely knows about LiveAquaria. On this post MACNA trip, we managed to visit their facility and caught up with Kevin Kohen, the man behind the company. Seeing as we’ve already covered some behind the scenes processes that goes on inside the chocolate factory equivalent of the fish industry, we thought we’d take a look at Kevin’s private fish collection right in his office this time.
Kevin Kohen is a fish guy. He loves his fish and by love, we mean love – all four alphabets bolded, in italics and capitalized. His passion for rare fish oozes in every possible way, from his incredible book collection, to the high quality unusual livestock that hits the Diver’s Den regularly, and also in his office tanks. We spent a day with Kevin and his aquariums, and in this first part of our mini blog series we’ll feature some of the fish living in his office.
We’ll take a look at Kevin’s compartmentalized three sectioned mixed-reef set up and the fish that live in it. This is an interesting aquarium with three different themes going on, but all sharing the same water and filtration system. The first two compartments comprises of a rather standard mixed-reef, but not without super cool fish, and the last compartment is home to Kevin’s NPS reef display. If you were present during Kevin’s presentation at MACNA, this is the tank he was talking about.
In the mixed reef portions of this tank, Kevin houses a Copperband butteflyfish in each section for Aiptasia control, and Paracentropyge venusta. A single specimen in the first section, and a pair in the other. Why? Because why not? P. venusta is a gorgeous angelfish with striking lemon yellow markings on a deep inky blue body. Also, Kevin’s pension for touchy and sensitive fish makes keeping these aquarium expert level species look like a walk in the park.
Speaking of touchy fish, Kevin’s claim to fame is probably the feminine wrasse (Anampses femininus) and his knack for keeping them alive and healthy. The rest of the aquarium world is constantly reminded of this with the slew of LiveAquaria videos showing this species living and thriving in his set ups, and also the regular, for lack of a better word, offerings on Diver’s Den. We were definitely not disappointed when we visited, because look what we were treated to.
A beautiful feminine wrasse in its transitioning phase lives in the first section of Kevin’s mixed reef. This specimen was introduced as a male, but without a female companion, he lost some of his terminal male coloration and begun transitioning back into this state of transition. The fish is still without a doubt, a beautiful specimen and one that is beyond healthy.
Anampses are not the easiest of wrasses, and all of them require a sandy substrate for burying in when threatened, or when they want to sleep. Their mouthparts are also easily damaged during shipping and this often complicate matters during the initial acclimation stage. Anampses, like Macropharyngodon, are fond of pillaging live rock in search of shelled-invertebrate prey.
If you’ve witnessed an Anampses or Macropharyngodon at work, you may have noticed a little clicking sound every time the fish eats. Unlike most Labrids, these wrasses take some time to crush their food, often regurgitating it and re-swallowing it again repeatedly. This clicking sound comes from their powerful jaws as they crush up their food. This makes them rather slow eaters compared to Cirrhilabrus or Halichoeres, and with a new fish in an unfamiliar system with boisterous tank mates, they may pine away slowly without frequent feedings.
In the later half of the day, Kevin introduced a female feminine wrasse into the middle compartment of his mixed reef. The segmented nature of this tank meant that the male in the first compartment could see the new female in the middle compartment, but cannot get to it. This is also a great idea for the new female as it allows her to get accustomed to her section of the tank without being constantly harassed by a sexually charged male.
Many times, females are often stressed and killed in the process of a harassing male. This is especially the case for new fish. In a stable pair that has been together for awhile though, that is not often the case. Needless to say, the male in the opposite section went bananas for the new sheila, and we were treated to some impressive color change.
Fully grown terminal phased males in display adopt a blue head and yellow body as their nuptial coloration. This transitioning male shows some hints of the yellow body going up to the tail, but is not terminal enough to develop the blue on its head.
Another very touchy and difficult species of wrasse that lives in the middle section of the mixed reef is the Choat’s leopard wrasse (Macropharyngodon choati). A pair of younglings in excellent condition makes me tempted to try this species again when I get home, but having failed on numerous occasions, i’m reluctant. Leopards are generally difficult, but the Choat’s leopard has got to be one of the toughest. Again, no big deal for Mr. Kohen.
The only member representing the Surgeonfish family is a Gem Tang (Zebrasoma gemmatum) that lives with the male feminine wrasse in the first section. Funky aberrants and ghost Yellow Tangs aside, the Gem Tang is the most expensive member of the Zebrasoma genus and also the rarest. Unlike Z. flavescens or Z. scopas, the Gem Tang is neither found in schools nor does it inhabit shallow water. They are solitary or pair forming in the wild and live in deeper waters than your average Zebrasoma. Their distribution around Mauritius and Madagascar also contributes to the high price tag that accompanies this fish.
The coolest fish that live in this set up however, has to be the pair of Rainfordia opercularis that Kevin houses in the first section of the tank. Back in 2011 we named Rainfordia opercularis THE fish of the year, and although much of the hype around this fish has died down, seeing it in person again rekindled the excitement.
I have personally seen this fish three times in person. Twice in Japan, and then the third in Kevin’s office. This is an extremely cryptic fish both in aquaria, and in the wild, and this is one reason why we don’t see this fish often in the trade. The flathead perch is interesting in its compressed head with eyes located at the sides. Endemic to Eastern Australia and found in very dense caves in deeper water, the fish is almost never seen by photographers and divers in its natural range.
It is a wonder then, how suddenly a small influx of this fish hit the market back in 2011. As quickly as they appeared, they disappeared and no new Rainfordia opercularis has been offered recently. Rainfordia as mentioned, is very elusive and never swims out of its cave unnecessarily or for any given length of time. If it does decide to show itself however, you’ll be treated to its beautiful cadmium orange and lavender-blue stripes that run horizontally down its body.
There is a hyptonizing black eye spot ringed in the same lavender hue situated on the caudal peduncle of this fish. The coloration is really beautiful, not as neon as a Liopropoma carmabi, but more striking than a Liopropoma swalesi. However unlike the two, Rainfordia opercularis is a big basslet that can reach 6-7 inches easily. It is not to be trusted with small fish or invertebrates, but the occasional live ghost shrimp as a treat would work wonders.
The last section of the tank houses Kevin’s NPS corals, and is dimmed down to provide the lighting requirements of the corals and the fish. This section is heavily fed, up to a dozen times a day or whenever Kevin walks pass the tank, and mimics a deeper water environment. Aside from the numerous Tubastrea and other NPS corals, this tank houses a group of Cook Islands Ventralis Anthias, and a pair of Red Sea Ecsenius gravieri amongst other things.
The Ventralis Anthias living in this tank are some of the most colorful and healthy examples i’ve seen. There are many regional morphs to this species, from the Coral Sea, Japan, and even the Philippines. However the Cook Island originals are in my opinion, the most gaudy. Pseudanthias ventralis is a deepwater species that does not care for bright lights. It will be happy in a tank with no lights in fact, but for display purposes, a dim blue LED will be good enough.
A close relative, Pseudanthias hawaiiensis, is the Hawaiian endemic sister of this species. Both are difficult to keep in captivity, with decompression problems and lack of frequent feedings being the most likely cause of demise. The heavily fed nature of this tank is perfect for a fish like this, and they eat almost constantly throughout the day.
Females are less colorful than the males, but are still beautiful with the shiny purple bodies. Yes shiny. I am never able to explain in words how this fish is just reflective, especially the female. At certain angles, the purple on the bodies can take on a silver-slated appearance. Kevin keeps a small group of females with that one male.
We’re done with this picture intensive part 1 of Kevin’s fish collection. Keep reading for parts 2 and 3 as we take a look at Kevin’s SPS wrasse display and nano tank. We may even need a part 4 just for pictures that we weren’t able to fit in here.