Captive breeding of the rare McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi) Updates & Blog
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Exclusive Video of Spawning McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi) Play Video
In late 2008, obtained several pairs of captive-bred McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi) - a species not seen in the marine aquarium trade. In spring of 2009, the pair we decided to keep started to demonstrate spawning behavior. Recognizing the exceptional nature of this event, we were quick to get a video camera for documentation. Only ONE other person in the WORLD has managed to breed these fish in captivity, so this video is truly one of a kind! Watch the video, and then read the story below:

Our McCulloch's clownfish started being offered for sale in early 2010, with the hopes of continued breeding, rearing and being offered for sale through the Diver's Den on a limited basis. Please enjoy the story behind these rare fish below!

09/03/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
Great news! Things appear to have turned the corner with a major breakthrough for us regarding rearing the larvae McCulloch's clownfish! Focusing our efforts on nutrition, we began to experiment with different enrichment supplements for the Rotifers and Artemia, with very good results. Through the utilization of vitamin and Micro-Algae supplements that are designed for the enrichment of Aquaculture feeds and are high in Omega-3 HUFA Fatty Acids, DHA and EPA, I am happy to say we finally have what I would call a decent-sized batch of post-meta McCulloch's babies.

Moving forward, our next step is to experiment with different hatch techniques. Although these fishes spawn on a piece of tile so that it can be removed from the aquarium and placed in a rearing vessel the evening of the hatch, this technique has been problematic as the hatch rate of the eggs has been low. Removal of the tile and eggs to a different tank appears to stress the nest, causing the larvae to hatch out over the course of three evenings, as opposed to one or two. When this happens, the bulk of the hatch is later than normal, and the larvae are very weak. In the past, we have incurred substantial post-hatch mortality.

The best method for a successful hatch yield appears to be leaving the eggs in the aquarium where they were laid so they can be tended to properly by the parents who continually fan the nest with their pectoral fins to provide the proper circulation. We have utilized a home-built larvae catcher on two separate occasions to collect the larvae fishes so they can then be transferred to the rearing vessel. This catcher slowly pulls water from the surface of the parent's aquarium, and collects the larvae fishes into a small box with a 54 micron screen at one end to stop them from being drawn into the return pump, and pushed back into the aquarium. Although the larvae catcher does a fantastic job at collecting the larvae fishes, the area for the larvae fishes is a bit too small, and the slow water flow is not gentle enough, as it pulls most of the larvae into the screen which subsequently damages the fragile larvae causing mortality in less than 24 hours.

The parents continue to spawn now every 10-11 days, and it's amazing to see that they consistently spawn in the exact same place on the ceramic tile that leans up against the side glass of their aquarium. We are in the process of fabricating a larger larvae catcher so that we can provide more space for the larvae, and have the ability to fine tune the water flow so that we can avoid damaging the larvae fishes. Stay tuned as we should have another hatch as early as next week!

08/14/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
The picture is from the first rearing attempt which took place back in early June, 2009. The fish is now approximately 2 cm in length, and is in a nano cube aquarium with a pair of Liopropoma carmabi Basslets. It is amazing to see that as juvenile fish they have amazing lime green to yellow coloration on their face, upper margins of the pectoral fins, and on their caudal peduncle (base of the tail). Like other clownfish species in the Ephippium Complex, these fish will gradually loose the stripe on the caudal peduncle then the second stripe running vertically from their anal fin to their secondary dorsal fin as they grow and mature into adults.
Well, the McCulloch's project is still going strong. The parents are consistently spawning every 12-14 days so properly conditioning them between spawns is what we have been focusing on. These fish prefer to eat small quantities of food often; therefore, we are trying to feed 8-10 times per day with a mixture of fresh enriched frozen foods, and a variety of dry pelletized food (their preferred food) as I am sure they were raised on dry foods based upon their feeding response to each food type.

After missing a few consecutive hatches due to the parents choosing to lay their eggs on an adjacent rock next to their favorite anemone, we have a very nice nest that was laid on a tile which took place at 3:00 CST on Monday August 10th. We are looking forward to transferring this tile on Monday August 17th to their rearing vessel so we have an opportunity to work with a very nice size group of eggs. With every consecutive spawn, the nest appears to be more robust which should significantly increase the chances of successfully rearing a larger number of fishes.

Like a handful of other species of Amphiprion, every batch has hatched over the course of two or three days. The first larvae that hatch are normally only 6-10 individuals where the remainder hatches out the following evening or the next day. This becomes challenging, as the first larvae appear to be the strongest of the bunch and have the best chances to survive to the metamorphous phase where the larvae develop all of their fins and color.

The rotifer production is becoming more consistent and stable, as this is critical for the development of the larvae. Marine Rotifers are tiny multicellular animals that are approximately 40 microns in size (they look like a speck of dust) and consume phytoplankton. Rotifers are food of choice to feed newly hatched larvae clownfish. For the five days, each individual clownfish larvae need to consume 1500 individual rotifers per day, so having strong, consistent rotifers cultures are a must to rear the larvae. After five days on a diet of only rotifers, the larvae are gradually switched over to a mixture of rotifers, newly hatched decapsulated artemia, and Otohime larvae diet.

As you can imagine, it takes a significant amount of work, time, and effort to be successful. Any mistake or hiccup in the process to the meta phase will result in very low or no yield. Furthermore, it appears as though the larvae get stronger with each consecutive spawn, which will hopefully help us in our goal of having more significant yields so that we will be able to offer these fishes into the marketplace in early 2010. Currently, we have a handful of healthy juvenile fishes but the quantity of viable juvenile fishes is growing with each consecutive spawn. Stay tuned for more!

Clownfish 17 days old 07/10/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
There has been a lot going on lately with the McCulloch's clownfish. First, our last batch of eggs hatched on schedule, and we are doing our best to keep the larvae healthy & growing. Next, our pair has spawned ANOTHER new batch of eggs! They are spawning like clockwork now, every 14 days. And last, we've posted a video of a 17-day old McCulloch's clownfish for everyone to enjoy. It is fascinating to watch the changes that occur - they now look like real clownfish with stripes and have filled out in black. At this point, they are about 3/8" long.

07/2/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
We are expecting the latest batch of McCulloch's eggs to hatch tonight or tomorrow. Hopefully this will be the largest and healthiest batch yet.

06/26/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
I have been watching the McCulloch's spawn again this afternoon! This time we finally got the tile in the right place for them, and the egg batch is looking very bright, healthy and large. We are looking forward to rearing the best batch yet.

Clownfish 06/25/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
I knew we were in for a steep learning curve, and I can honestly say that we have learned a great deal in a very short period of time. For me, the best part of this incredible hobby is learning something new almost every day. The biggest thing that I have learned so far is what not to do .

Like any new venture, even with the best planning, research, and protocols, we have had a few bumps in the road and unexpected hurdles to overcome. Proper circulation, oxygenation, water chemistry stability, temperature stability, density of food, food culture protocols and procedures, and an array of other critical elements are all integral to the success or failure. One hiccup with any of these elements, and it compromises the larvae, which can be very frustrating after the countless hours and all of the hard work put into the effort.

On a positive note, things are still very exciting here at our facility. I am happy to say we are still caring for a handful of larvae fishes, having successfully weaned them onto enriched Artemia nauplii from Rotifers. The next step if we are successful will be to wean these guys onto a prepared larviculture feed diet that is specifically formulated for marine fishes which is called Otohime.

The McCulloch's pair is doing fantastic, and for a good part of the day today they have been cleaning a piece of strategically placed tile. The pair is displaying the characteristic pre-spawning behavior tonight, and it appears they will spawn again tomorrow!

Clownfish Day 5 06/18/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
We transferred 15 gallons of water from the aquarium where the fish reside into the rearing tank and moved the 2nd egg nest on the rock to the rearing tank. We have airstones close to the nest that create a gentle current to provide the nest with water movement. The eggs are just now showing silver eyes, and we estimate them to hatch Friday or Saturday night.

06/16/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
Our McCulloch's pair has spawned again! The sneaky pair laid their eggs late last week behind some live rock where nobody could see them. We had laid several tiles out in the hopes they would spawn on the tiles, but I guess the fish had other things in mind. Good news is we'll be able to transfer the rock to another aquarium for hatching, and we hope to cut down on initial mortality this way. This egg nest is three times as large as the first nest, and the eggs are bright orange, and look to be much healthier as well. We are down to a small handful of fish from the first batch, but they continue to thrive. We have learned a lot with the first batch, and are hopeful the 2nd batch hatches successfully.

06/12/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
We have put together a section with photos documenting the transition from eggs to larvae, day-by-day! In addition we've got pictures of Day 2 & 3 of the larvae, and detailed photos of our housing system for the larvae. So far we still have a batch that seem healthy and are eating. Please enjoy the NEW PHOTOS here

06/09/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
Good news! The main hatching occurred last night, around 10 pm. We suffered some minor mortality post-hatch when we transferred the larvae into 2 Kreisels made out of 2 gallon upright goldfish bowls. The Kreisels sit in a water bath to maintain a consistent temperature, and rigid tubing is used to create a gentle stream of bubbles to move the water in a circular motion through each Kriesel. This helps to disperse the rotifers and keep them moving to make it easier for the clownfish larvae to feed so they do not exert too much precious energy. The larvae are eating voraciously, and seem to be active and healthy at this point. We hope to post pictures soon.

06/08/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
Last night we had a small batch of the eggs hatch, and expect the rest will hatch tonight. The Larvae Catcher is working perfectly, and the batch that hatched last night are safely residing in a greenwater/rotifer rearing bowl. Stay tuned!

06/05/09 UPDATE From Kevin Kohen:
Thank you everyone for your compliments and support. This is a great feat for the entire marine aquarium community here in the US.

Our plan is to try to raise the larvae if they do in fact hatch, and have rotifer cultures and the necessary equipment ready to go. Being realistic, we are however in for a steep learning curve. I have spent countless hours researching any and all of the information out there on the trials and tribulations/successes and failures with this species, and other species with similar aggression levels during the different stages of metamorphosis.

We have a game plan that I hope will work so we will just have to be patient, cross our fingers, and hope things work out. All of us here are excited to learn quite a bit in the coming months! I have already started documenting the progress with the photography of the development of the eggs and will continue to do so. Regardless of the outcome we will prepare some nice photographs and hopefully some nice stories about our efforts.

See the background story of our McCulloch's Clownfish below!

The McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi) is a striking, jet black fish with a bright white caudal fin and a vivid white head band. Other key identifying features of this species include nose and lips that are blue/gray in coloration and bright white contrasting teeth. Growing to just 4.5" in length, this fish normally inhabits lagoons and rocky reef areas at depths between 2-45 meters (7 to 146 feet). Though normally found in Bulb Tip Anemones (Entacmaea quadricolor), the McCulloch's Clownfish has also been reported in another host anemone species, the Sebae Anemone (Heteractis crispa).

The McCulloch's Clownfish is one of six species in the Ephippium complex of the subgenus Amphiprion. The six species include Amphiprion mccullochi, A. ephippium, A. melanopus, A. frenatus, A. rubrocinctus, and the recently described A. barberi from Fiji. These fishes can be identified by their oval body shape and a single white bar behind their eye when mature. Like other members of the Ephippium complex, McCulloch's Clownfish fare well with or without a host anemone. Also, when compared to other members of the subgenus Amphiprion, the McCulloch's Clownfish appears to not be as strongly attached to one specific host anemone.

However, when housed with an anemone such as Entacmaea quadricolor, the McCulloch's Clownfish can be downright mean towards anything or anyone who comes close to their domain! I have been bitten by one of these fish while cleaning the aquarium and can attest to their very territorial nature when defending their turf.

McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi)
Our McCulloch's Clownfish (Amphiprion mccullochi) Story

The McCulloch's Clownfish is one of the rarest clownfish species in the aquarium trade due to its limited range which is now part of a protected marine sanctuary. This fish is endemic to only one locale in the entire world, a small island off the east coast of Australia called Lord Howe Island. This small island in the Pacific Ocean was designated a World Heritage Site in 1982 and the waters in and around this small island are protected as part of the Lord Howe Island Marine Park. For this reason, the McCulloch's Clownfish has not been available in the aquarium trade for decades . . . until now!

In early 2006, an Australian enthusiast was fortunate enough to legally collect Amphiprion mccullochi, by obtaining a one-time collection license from the New South Wales Fisheries and the Lord Howe Marine Park Management. After much effort, and overcoming some major obstacles, five pairs of this fish were successfully transported back to New South Wales, Australia. Through trial and error, the first documented successful spawning and rearing of Amphiprion mccullochi in a captive environment took place in early 2007. The majority of the offspring, limited in number, were shipped to the Asian market. Though fetching a price tag upwards of $5000.00 US each, the McCulloch's Clownfish were eagerly grabbed up by "hardcore" fish collectors.

In October of 2008, after months of work and negotiations, Drs. Foster and Smith put a rather substantial deposit down for several pairs of captive-raised Amphiprion mccullochi. A few weeks later, we finalized a shipping date to obtain these spectacular, and incredibly rare clownfish in the US aquarium trade. Meanwhile, we took appropriate steps to prepare for the arrival of our McCulloch's Clownfish. We eagerly set up and conditioned 40-gallon breeder aquariums in an office adjacent to our Aquaculture Coral and Marine Life Facility (in Rhinelander, WI) to house these fish separate from any other marine life. The primary objective was to maintain the highest level of bio-security for these animals. Our goal was to reduce the likelihood of these fish coming into contact with any potentially contaminated nets, equipment, water, or other fishes that may compromise their health.

With our special setup complete, we were ready to receive the first and only batch of captive-raised Amphiprion mccullochi to enter the United States. Even having worked out logistics for thousands of shipments of marine animals over the years, this shipment rated a 10 on the "stress scale" due to the rarity of these fish AND their hefty price tag. After confirming ideal weather conditions, we arranged the shipment for delivery. Needless to say, we tracked the fish throughout their journey to our facility in Rhinelander, WI. When the shipment arrived the following morning, we quickly processed and acclimated the clownfish to their new environment. Due to optimum shipping conditions including minimum transport time, generous amount of shipping water and giant shipping bag nestled inside thick, insulated shipping containers, our McCulloch's Clownfish handled shipping very well and were alert upon arrival.

After much anticipation, our facility welcomed the successful and healthy arrival of the rare McCulloch's Clownfish on the third week of November 2008.

Careful acclimation of the new arrivals was performed immediately upon arrival. We made sure to maintain subdued lighting conditions (little to no light) to reduce stress. The fish were placed directly into their quarantine aquariums and were separated to further reduce any potential aggression.

Careful observation over the course of the next few hours indicated the health of these new arrivals was not compromised by the shipping process. The newly-arrived McCulloch's Clownfish immediately settled into their new homes, exploring the aquariums and interacting with one another. To keep these fish at ease, and further reduce stress, the McCulloch's Clownfish were quarantined and permanently housed with numerous Bulb Tip Anemones (Entacmaea quadricolor) in divided 40 gallon breeder aquariums.

Although we purchased these fish as pairs, we understood the likelihood of some challenges. It was immediately apparent that the McCulloch's Clownfish possess a strong territorial and aggressive nature towards one another. It was essential to separate the fish from one another with the use of dividers. The McCulloch's Clownfish does not tolerate its own kind and the "pairs" demonstrated extreme aggression towards one another.

Conditioning the captive-bred Amphiprion mccullochi is fairly straightforward. This fish is not as demanding as other more challenging species. In the wild, the McCulloch's Clownfish is accustomed to water temperatures surrounding Lord Howe Island - 22-26 degrees Centigrade (71.6-78.8 degrees Fahrenheit) range during the summer months and even cooler in the winter months. Even though McCulloch's Clownfish are from a more Sub-Tropical environment, these captive-bred specimens are well adapted and are thriving in water temperatures of 77-78 degrees Fahrenheit and a salinity of 35 ppt.

The staff at our Aquaculture Coral and Marine Life Facility has been conditioning these fish for over six months, offering a varied diet of meaty fare in the form of vitamin and amino acid-enriched frozen mysis, frozen brine shrimp, flake food, and high quality pellet foods. These nutritious foods are offered to the pairs of McCulloch's Clownfish several times per day. A 25% water change is performed weekly, using prepared saltwater comprised of Instant Ocean Reef Crystals Sea salt and RO/DI water of the same specific gravity and temperature.

Encouraging the development of bonds between pairs proved to be a daunting task due to the very territorial and aggressive behavior of the McCulloch's Clownfish. The first step was to create a distraction by introducing other fish. This was done with a considerable amount of thought. We gave careful thought to species selection and origin, to prevent any transfer of potential pathogens to these irreplaceable fishes. After careful consideration, groups of young, F1 captive-bred Kaudern's Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), and captive-bred clownfish Percula x Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion percula x Amphiprion ocellaris) were added simultaneously to the McCulloch's aquariums.

This distraction alleviated slightly but did not halt the severe aggressive behavior these fish displayed to one another. The dominant fish would inevitably start to lip lock, pin down to the substrate, and then attempt to shred the fins of the submissive fish of the so called "pairs." We felt we had no options but to separate the individuals with an open mesh divider, making sure the fish could still see but could not physically attack each other. I had spent countless hours over the first three or four weeks removing and reinstalling the dividers, while keeping a watchful eye on the behavior and interaction of each "pair." This method worked with several of the pairs of McCulloch's Clownfish. They eventually accepted one another with an occasional spat but no damage to the jaws or fins.

For the remaining pairs, the divider technique proved futile. I had to employ a different strategy quickly since they were at the size of reaching maturity. The time frame was narrowing for these pairs to develop a bond. Anemonefishes such as the McCulloch's Clownfish are protandric hermaphrodites, where the dominant fish will change sex from male to female and live in association with another male and several smaller individual sub-adults or juveniles. If the female in the group were to perish, the most dominant male would change sex into a female. The largest juvenile or sub-adult would then develop to attain the status of the male fish.

A new method was employed. I switched some of the fish to keep like-sized individuals together to reduce the size differential between each fish being housed together. This helped a bit, but was still problematic as they would revert to behavior where the stronger fish constantly picked on the weaker individual. I then proceeded to incorporate the use of large, clear plastic cups with screw-on lids. These cups had holes drilled all over the sides and lid to ensure good water flow. The dominant fish would be placed in these large cups and located next to the anemone where the weaker fish would be allowed to regain its strength and composure for 3-4 days. During this time, the cupped fish would be offered little to no food in contrast to the frequent feedings offered to the submissive fish. After each confinement period, the cupped fish would then be released, and the bonding process started all over again. Through careful observation, patience, and diligence and 20 or more attempts, this bonding method finally paid off for the final two pairs!

Drs. Foster and Smith is proud to offer a few of these bonded pairs of Amphiprion mccullochi in the Diver's Den® section of More importantly, we are proud to be one of the few in the entire world to successfully spawn Amphiprion mccullochi in captivity, and the first to spawn F1 captive-bred individuals.

Special thanks goes out to Dr. Race Foster and Dr. Marty Smith for supporting this endeavor. Their willingness to prepay such a substantial amount of money and take such a risk to obtain these incredible animals is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your support and allowing this unique opportunity to introduce the captive-bred McCulloch's Clownfish back into the United States after several decades of absence.

Kevin Kohen
Director of LiveAquaria
Drs. Foster and Smith