A very interesting clownfish was recently brought to my attention by MJ Jones, who saw the fish labeled as “CF217X” at east coast wholesaler Carolina Aquatics, asking what I thought it was. Anyone who has become enthralled with the Anemonefish produced by Bali Aquarich has come to know the strains and types of fish by the company’s codes, and CF217X wasn’t on any published list. As near as I could figure out, CF (Clown Fish) + 217 (?) + X (hybrid?). A conversation with Wen-Ping Su started with an almost surprised response; “how did you get that fish?!”
After a bit of discussion, including the clarification that I didn’t physically have the fish in question, Su recalled that he had sent out only a few of these fish as extras into the US, listed only as “CF217X’. He revealed that 217 is the combination of 02 and 17; a hybrid cross between their CF02C4 (stardard true Amphiprion percula) and the CF17A (stardard White Stripe Maroon Clownfish, Premnas biaculeatus).
Visually, this clownfish stands out from any pure species in a couple ways. First, it carries a truly intermediate body shape between that of a Percula and a Maroon Clownfish. Then, there is the differing shade of orange. The most interesting aspect of this hybrid, a trait that seems apparent in other Maroon X Orange Ocellaris hybrids, is the reduction of black margins on the fins. All of this could still change as the fish mature; for now we’re only seeing what a single juvenile specimen looks like.
It’s extremely noteworthy that this is an intergeneric hybrid, a hybrid that doesn’t simply cross species lines, but actually crosses the genus division as well. It’s a step farther than the typical Angelfish or Butterflyfish hybrids we fawn over here at Reef Builders! When I pressed fellow contributor and hybrid guru Lemon if he knew of any intergeneric hybrids (outside of Clownfishes), he basically came up blank. “The closest I can think of is between Chaetodon tinkeri and Chaetodon miliaris. Well both are in the same genus so technically it doesn’t qualify, but Tinker’s is in it’s own subgenus and is pretty different from Miliaris.”
The Perc X WSM hybrid clownfish we are looking at here were reared only one time by Bali Aquarich in 2014. Their goal was to simply see what the hybrid would look like. They have no plans to make more “CF217X” at this time.
So at least for now, this is going to be one of those truly LE, “limited edition” fish. Kris Cline of Carolina Aquatics has procured all the remaining specimens of this new hybrid clownfish from Bali Aquarich; they are due to arrive from Indonesia tomorrow, January 7th, 2014. To be the only supplier in the world to have something is a little bit of a coup for a regional, family-owned and operated wholesaler like Carolina Aquatics. Once that supply runs out, it will be slim pickings unless Bali produces more, or some other breeder successfully recreates the hybrid.
The Hybrid Debate Continues
When it comes to hybridization in Clownfishes we’re embarking on a debate that’s raged in freshwater aquatics for decades, perhaps even a century or longer. It is one of the most divisive topics in that realm, with long-standing hybrids being somewhat acceptable as the damage has been done (there’s no going back), but any new hybrid pursuits raising condemnation from many aquarists over the conservation issues hybridization presents. In recent years, the Flowerhorn craze has become the most emblematic example of all that people perceive as wrong, or right, with hybridization in the ornamental fish trade.
I’ve certainly modified my opinions of hybrid marine fishes over the years. There is the veteran purist breeder in me who was raised in a freshwater arena where hybridization was the outright cause of conservation and business failure; many of the most respected freshwater aquarists draw a very hard anti-hybrid stance because of the lessons hard-learned. Why should we intentionally repeat past mistakes?
Then, there is the reality that we marine aquarists love our naturally-occurring hybrids when we see them…they’re nature’s “one offs” and I’ve long held the believe that recreation of naturally occurring hybrids would simply be recreating naturally occurring biodiversity. The re-creation of, say, the hybrid of Paracentropyge (venusta X multifasciata) could no doubt represent an incredible income source for a captive breeding operation, since there are effectively no wild caught specimens to compete with that can drag prices down to non-profitable levels. There’s no harm in the recreation of this example hybrid…no one would ever confuse it for a parental species, but the upsides for commercial angelfish propagation would be immense, and the parental species would need to be maintained and propagated as well in order to keep production viable for the long term. It’s actually a winning business and conservation scenario (anyone want to get in and fund me?)
But then we have the youngest crop of marine breeders who at times are eager to play mad scientist to simply create something new (and make a name for themselves) often without care or concern for the long term consequences. This is no doubt in part driven by how easy clownfish propagation has become, while most every other group of marine fish is perceived to be far more complicated (many are not, but Clownfish have become the marine aquariums “guppy” these days). I believe there is a fundamental lack of understanding, particularly among the often very young, first time breeder, that not all hybrids are equal; some are likely benign while others represent direct paths to the erosion of the genetic differences between species that, once having occurred, can never be undone. This is dangerous territory we are getting into, particularly should we be unable to access wild, pure broodstock in the future.
But I’m concerned this is already becoming reality, the marine breeders repeating the mistakes of their freshwater counterparts, refusing to learn from those who went before them. Good luck trying to find a genetically pure Darwin Black Ocellaris in the United States – I suspect that ship has sailed and all we will have in the future are hybrid mutts that “look enough like them”. The more I talk with producers of clownfishes, the more I realize just how loose we are collectively being with our genetic stocks.
Doing Hybrid “Right” – How (and why) Bali’s Newest Hybrid Got A Name
The middle ground we can strike is simple and two fold. First, breeders should avoid making hybrids between related species where the outcome will be difficult or impossible to differentiate from a pure species and even what some believe are only geographic races (because taxonomy changes, but geographic uniqueness does not). Granted, this is a lost cause in the Ocellaris/Percula complex at this time, and there are breeder out there who will push these lines almost directly out of spite, because no one else should dare tell them how and what to breed…so the problem will always persist at some low level as a result of arrogance and immaturity.
But more importantly, we need to embrace an ethic of transparency and record keeping for hybridization as it happens, as such a basic framework allows us to credit the originator of something that is new, but also gives us a framework within which we can reference this hybrid organism and market it as what it is. There is room to tolerate hybridization and even showcase it, as I’m doing here, provided we can come to a collective ethic that values and respects transparency and accurate information.
Simply put, it all comes down to a name. Having a singular name inextricably tied to a specific hybrid lineage ensures that everyone knows what the fish is. One hybrid name for one hybrid makeup….not 10 names for the same thing.
These days, anyone can now look up ‘Mai Tai’, ‘Blood Orange’ and ‘Cocoa’ Clownfish and should be able to find out that all three names designate unique biogeographic hybrids between types of “Ocellaris” and “Maroon” Clownfishes. Su, in his pragmatic point of view, was hesitant to select a name for this new hybrid, both downplaying that he had in fact created something “new” while also suggesting that he simply isn’t the best to name his fish (Nebula was in fact, another name provided by a third party to Bali Aquarich). Still, this hybrid needed a name, so Su invited myself to propose a name for his creation.
Knowing that Cline and Carolina Aquatics would be the sole source for the one-time limited quantity of new fish, we both engaged in a discussion to find a suitable name for Bali’s latest hybrid Clownfish. Given the coloration and prior names for similar hybrids, we knew we’d be playing around with citrus and cocktail-inspired words until we found the right one. Connoisseurs of a certain Wes Anderson film would have loved the name Citroën for this fish, although in the end, that’s also the name of a French car manufacturer. In the end, the simpler Citron is the name that Kris Cline, Wen-Ping Su, and myself all came to agree on for this unique, new hybrid clownfish.
Introducing the Citron Clownfish, by Bali Aquarich
I’ll leave you all with a thought I initially shared with MJ Jones; someone should take one of these new Citron Clownfish and pair it with a Blood Orange Clownfish. Why?
Well, the resultant offspring would be 25% A. percula, 25% A. ocellaris, 25% P. biaculeatus “White Stripe”, and 25% P. biaculeatus “Gold Stripe”. Now, I firmly believe that “Gold Stripe Maroons” should be restored to full species status as P. epigrammata…either way; the hypothetical next generation hybrid clownfish would consist of 3 to 4 unique species of clownfishes, and I can step aside from an ingrained anti-hybrid upbringing long enough to say there is something rather novel in that idea. Whether it will be pretty…that’s another story.
Image Credits – Kris Cline, CarolinaAquatics.com