If anyone is left wondering what the real guppies of the marine aquarium world are, it’s the clownfish, specifically Amphiprion ocellaris, A. percula, the Darwin Black, and all the myriad variations that are being discovered and/or created. The combination of hybridization, selective breeding, and genetic mutations is giving even the smallest breeder the opportunity to tinker and to create something that is arguably, demonstrably a unique new genetic recombination that hasn’t been seen before.
There are two camps. We can just throw our hands up in the air and “give up” on trying to make sense of all this, which invites a whole new slew of marketing spin and name game madness. Or we try to find some communally-accepted ethic and practice, based on actual facts, to bring order to chaos. I prefer the latter, I think clownfish breeders are starting see the merits of the latter, and I think that in a hobby which has a strong basis in science (itself being concerned with the minutia of facts and small details) we perhaps should lean towards orderly progress and transparency.
As such, allow me to present the latest “hybrid” designer clownfish, the flipside to the Chocolate Mocha, the Sunset Mocha.
What is a “Sunset Mocha” you ask? In a nutshell, it is the “wild-type”, aka. normal / 3-barred form, of a hybrid back-cross. Specifically, Sunset Mocha is the results of utilizing a Mocha-type hybrid (50% Ocellaris, 50% Darwin Black), and back crossing (mating it) to an orange Ocellaris. So it is 75% Ocellaris, and 25% Darwin Black. The first person to bring this to my attention and prove the breeding is a hobbyist breeder out of Texas, Shelly Dupchak Brynston. Alongside the Sunset Mocha, Shelly has also introduced what has now been named the “Sunset Mocha Snowflake”; same hybrid fish, but carrying and expressing the Snowflake gene.
Shelly’s breeding twist was created by mating a Black Ice (aka. a Mocha hybrid with the Snowflake gene) to a normal, 3 barred Ocellaris clownfish. All of the resultant offspring are 75% Ocellaris, 25% Darwin Black.
Independently of that, our basic understanding of Snowflake tells us that 50% of the offspring would not get a Snowflake gene, and thus, have normal bars. The other 50%, get the gene. I should point out though, that the range of expression of the Snowflake gene in Shelly’s offspring is rather remarkable, and is suggestive of other, hidden modifier genes possibly being present in the parents.
I bears mentioning that hot on the heals of Shelly is Iowa-based breeder Steven Sifuentes, who is working on a similar hybrid back-cross; the difference being the inclusion of the Davinci gene (responsible for DaVinci/FancyWhite/Gladiator Ocellaris, as well as Wyoming Whites). This will create two additional genetic combinations not seen in Shelly’s offspring; Steven’s use of a Davinci Ocellaris in place of a wild-type should result in what I’d propose we call Sunset Mocha DaVinci (offspring which only get the Davinci gene), and Sunset Mocha Frostbites (because Frostbite is the creation of Sustainable Aquatics, the genetic result of a fish having both Snowflake and DaVinci genes).
Given the common sense names being applied here, it’s proof there can be an orderly progression of things in the designer breeding world, provided breeders work together and recognize each other’s accomplishments. That, and perhaps avoiding the temptation to slap endless amounts of made up names and grades on fish as marketing spin.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this new back-cross hybrid having a published name is simply this; The Sunset Mocha is not a pure wild orange Ocellaris, but so far, in my opinion, it absolutely looks like one. Such fish are problematic for other breeders looking to produce clean lines of Amphiprion ocellaris. As such, the demarcation of these fish as Sunset Mocha, and not simply passing them off as typical orange ocellaris, is not simply “marketing hype” itself, but instead is a clear indication that these fish are not pure.
If it looks like you’ve seen these fish before, it’s because you kindof already have. Being 75% ocellaris, they strongly lean back towards that parent in appearance and coloration. Ojectively, Sunset Mochas aren’t going to be the “next big thing” in clownfish…they look too much like a straight up ocellaris. Given my advice that most people should not value a clownfish by a name, but by its appearance, naming this newly-documented hybrid isn’t really about the “money” or getting a premium; applying a new name to a new genetic combination is simply informative as to what the fish actually is. And provided all breeders follows suit, we won’t have a dozen new names popping up for the same hybrid back cross.
Some will ask – is this “official”? Well…yes and no. I did my searching for other people producing and marketing this particular genetic combination and came up empty, save one for-sale thread offering a Mocha X Ocellaris pair for sale. So certainly someone, somewhere, may have done this particular hybrid before. If someone else has named this hybrid before, I’d love to know about it and I would be absolutely sure to include reference to that in my records. However, just as we saw with Black Ice vs. S’more, sometimes it is not whoever published first, but sadly whoever has the bigger megaphone that wins out the shouting match, at least for now.
I am personally maintaining an ongoing expanding list of Clownfish Hybrid Names and makeup in my always-up-to-date clownfish presentations, and as such, I am acting as an unofficial “registrar” of sorts. However, to make such a program actually official, it would be far better for an established organization such as the Marine Breeding Initiative to take up the task. In the end however, it is only the breeder’s willingness to adopt such an ethic that makes this work, with or without some governing body. By and large the main commercial producers have respected first-published names for hybrids and genetics, and I hope to see that respect and practice continue.
All images courtesy Shelly Dupchak Brynston