In my free time, I enjoy a number of extracurricular activities. I greatly enjoy ultimate frisbee, hiking, fishing, playing various instruments (piano, French horn, and ukulele), and reading science fiction novels. I have recently started writing my own fiction, in the form of fanfiction, which I post to AO3, and in the pandemic, am learning to figure skate at my local outdoor rink. I am also quite fond of cooking. You can sample a number of the recipes I've collected over the years here: Assorted Recipes
NEW: Follow my aquarium adventures on my aquarium Instagram!
I also keep tropical freshwater fish. I enjoy this both because it gives me something simultaneously entertaining and calming to look at when I need a break from work, and because an aquarium is surprisingly complex ecosystem. A successful aquarist has to cultivate a tank that can support a thriving bacterial culture to process the fish waste, avoid introducing more waste-producing biomass than the system can withstand, keep algae in check while providing adequate lighting, and prevent fungus and parasites from taking root. When done correctly, this is incredibly rewarding. Below is a brief run-down of the things a tropical freshwater aquarium needs for optimal health and minimal maintenance:
- Ammonia-consuming bacteria: these break down the ammonia produced by animal waste, and produce nitrite as a waste product.
- Nitrite-consuming bacteria: nitrite is also toxic to fish, so these consume the nitrite produced by the first type of bacteria, and produce nitrate as a waste product.
- Frequent partial water changes: Nitrate is non-toxic, but is also a fertilizer, so too much encourages funguses and other diseases. Replacing some of the tank water every so often keeps nitrate levels in check. However, large water changes can be stressful to the fish, so the best approach is to remove 10-20% of the tank water 1-2 times per week, depending on the tank's bioload.
- Detrivores: Creatures like shrimp or snails can consume uneaten fish food, algae, and various other debris. They produce their own waste, so count against the bioload, but are a better solution for algae and detritus than the popular bottom-feeding fish, which either grow to be quite large or need large social groups.
- Day/night cycles: Fish need to sleep too! Having tank lights on a timer is crucial for giving fish the rest they need. Sometimes I have to return to the office after their bedtime (say after an outreach event), and the fish are always extremely upset about the unexpected light in the room.
- Feeding: Fish need to be fed, but not very often! I feed my 17 fish a small pinch of flakes once per day, and not on weekends. Fish in the wild don't eat every day, so over-feeding fish is one of the fastest ways to cause problems--uneaten food decomposes into ammonia, which can exceed the capacity of the biofilter.
- Brachydanio rerio: Also called the zebra danio, this is one of the most popular, and in my opinion, underrated tropical freshwater fish. They are highly-active, social, and generally peaceful. They are named for their horizontal black stripes, but also have vivid metallic iridescence, sometimes blue, sometimes gold.
- Brachydanio kyathit: Similar to the popular Zebra danios, this fish (also called an 'ocelot danio') is active, social, and has beautiful leopard-skin spots. The fins have a reddish tinge, and when the light hits just right, the golden background of the fish has a light blue sheen. These fish are native to streams and tributaries in northern Myanmar.
- Brachydanio albolineatus: Also called the 'pearl danio', this danio is very similar to the kyathit danio in shape, size, and behavior. I have found them to be a little more gregarious than the kyathit danios. They appear quite pale and bland in the store, but once comfortable at home, take on vivid blue/purple iridescence, with metallic orange detailing in the form of a line of spots down their spines and horizontal stripes along the centers of their tails. Their distribution in the wild is similar to the kyathit danios.
- Pseudogastromyzon laticeps: This is a hillstream loach endemic to the Longjin River basin in Guangdong province, China. They are specially-adapted through fused pectoral and pelvic fins to latch onto smooth stones and boulders, like a suction cup, which allows them to graze on biofilm and aufwuchs (a mix of algaes and microorganisms that grows on well-lit aquatic surfaces) without getting swept away by the current or needing to constantly swim to stay in place. They are passively social animals, found in loose groups, and have delightfully goofy behavior--they may compete for lunch spots by plowing their noses under each other, or simply draping themselves across the back of the offending fish until that fish gets irritated and moves.
- Trigonostigma hengeli: These fish are slightly smaller than the danios, and characterized by relatively-transparent bodies with two golf-club shaped stripes on either side, with the club head on the fish midsection. The bottom stripe is black, and the top is a bright copper-orange. Also very social, and fond of swimming out in the open. These fish are native to small streams in the Greater Sunda Islands within the Malay Archipelago.
- Trigonostigma heteromorpha: Also called harlequin rasboras. Very similar and closely-related to T. hengeli, these rasboras are distinguished by their deeper bronze bodies and broader black stripes.
- Hyphessobrycon amandae: The ember tetra. Native to the Araguaia River basin in Brazil. This is a tiny fish, no more than an inch long, with bright orange coloration. They are native to tannin-stained waters and are quite timid, preferring to hide in dense marginal vegetation.
- Betta splendens: The betta fish! Mine is named Tedric, and he's a sweetie. Contrary to popular belief, bettas need more than a simple bowl. They need room to swim, and a stimulating environment. They are also native to blackwater environments, in which the water is stained with tannins and humic acids from wood and leaf litter. Tedric is in a 20-gallon with plenty of floating and epiphytic plants, stained with rooibos tea, leaf litter and seed pods, and driftwood.
- Neocaridina davidii: Commonly called cherry shrimp, due to the bright red color of the most popular variant. These are small freshwater shrimp, no more than an inch long, which love to feed on algae and anything dead. They breed readily in the home aquarium as long as they have enough food and shelter from predators, and a number of color variants exist, ranging from fire-engine red, to green, to yellow, to orange, to green, to blue, and even dark brown or black. The appearance of the shrimp is due to a range of genes, controlling the hue of their chromatophores, the size of the chromatophores, pigment in their flesh beneath their shell, the density and spacing of their chromatophores (controlling carapace translucency--green shrimp are the consequence of translucent yellow carapaces over blue flesh), and the heterogeneity of their chromatophore distribution (allowing variants with multiple colors). The wild types are a mottled translucent tan or brown, and it is not uncommon for offspring to show substantial variation in their colorations and patterns due to a genetic random walk through the various genes responsible for their appearance. I have two different blue variants, some of which sport red patches on their heads and tails.
- Taia naticoides: This snail, also called the piano snail, is a striking rare freshwater snail endemic to Lake Inle in Myanmar. They are so-named because of their alternative stripes of black/brown and white/tan, like the keys of a piano keyboard. They primarily eat algae, but will feed on decaying plant matter, biofilm, and fungus as well. Unlike most freshwater snails, this snail breeds viviparously, meaning it gives birth to live young. Snails birth one baby snail at a time, but may hold potentially up to a dozen fetuses in their uteruses at a time, all at different stages of development. Piano snails are sexually dimorphic, with sexually mature males having one antenna curl into a corkscrew shape. They breed readily in the home aquarium, so long as they have plenty of food and sand in which to burrow. The gestation period, from my own observations, is somewhere between a few weeks and a few months. Few captive-bred populations exist, but I am attempting to establish my own. I am currently on my second generation of snails born in my tanks, and continue to experiment with the conditions and diets they prefer best.
- Neritina natalensis: This is a small, algae-eating freshwater snail native to East Africa. They only reproduce in brackish water, so do not multiply readily in freshwater aquaria. They are functional hermaphrodites, so as long as you have two, they can reproduce. When there are multiple snails in a freshwater tank and they're happy, they can reproduce and lay eggs; however the eggs will not hatch.
- Tarebia granifera: Also called teh quilted melania, this is a sand-sifting snail similar to the Malaysian Trumpet Snail, and native to the same regions, though not nearly so prolific a breeder. I don't see them very often, because they spend all their time buried in the sand beneath leaf litter. I'm given to understand they sometimes emerge at night, and sometimes I see them after dropping in snail treats.
- Pond snails: My tanks are home to a variety of pond snails that showed up with my plants. These include red ramshorn snails (Planorbarius corneus or Planorbella duryii), acute bladder snails (Physella acuta), and Radix peregra. All reproduce quite readily, and grow to various sizes, with Radix peregra reaching up to near-walnut size in some cases. The ramshorn snails eat some of my plants, to my great annoyance.