Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A somewhat biased early impression of learning in fish

  Yesterday I actually started training my fish to come to an orange square for food. I will use this stimulus until all the fish associate it with food. Then I will display other stimuli and see if the fish respond. Since all the fish responded instantly, I'll measure the amount of time taken to go to place of feeding. I need numerical values.
  The featherfinned catfish arrested its motion instantly upon presentation of the stimulus, raising its dorsal fin slightly. This is a "sudden stimulus posture" I've observed upon presentation with various objects in the past.
  The convict cichlid followed the square when presented with it, but did not swim to the top where food is presented.
  The sunfish hybrid started begging when I opened the can of fish food. I need to hide that stimulus from now on. It seemed to have no response when presented with the square.
  Today I sent in my college essays for review and completed more of the ApplyTexas application. I expect to finish by tomorrow.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Ways to Raise Funds

   As the months have progressed, I have been trying to answer the questions and proposals I've posed from the survey and presentation. One thing I haven't really touched upon is how exactly I'm raising money for Koi Polloi. I want to either hold events and/or sell merchandise, but what exactly I'm selling is unclear.
Clothing with a special logo or design could be viable, but selling within the school is a bad idea because of at least 3 other organizations selling shirts. It would be a better idea to do so if Koi Polloi had physical meetings between the members. I also have an idea for an app for making fishkeeping easier: one that gives reminders to the owner to take care of their fish depending on parameters given by the owner, and has easily-searchable reference material. Sadly, I can't program much (yet).

What's a Lizard Catfish?

Last night, I fed my 3 experimental subject fish. From the exhibited behavior, I can see all 3 being able to provide good data and even learn "tricks"! The featherfin catfish knows what type of food it eats; when I shook a container of turtle food in front of it, it barely reacted, but when I shook the container of cichlid pellets, it swam forward expecting its rations, proving it's capable of discerning shape and color, but this, along with the reports on the other two fish, aren't controlled and are only anecdotal. My convict cichlid followed my finger as I ran it across his glass enclosure, and begged when both the fish food and turtle food were offered. However, I want to see if it distinguishes between color and shape. The sunfish hybrid saw me
get his meal of dead crickets ready from across the room, without me giving any signal to associate with food. I determined he realized my actions by his frantic back-and-forth begging behavior compared to his typical placid hovering under plant cover.
   Today, however, I went on PetSmart's website to find more fish I could conduct research on. For the most part, all the fish of modest size are known to be easy to keep and breed, with a wealth of known information about them, while the fish of interest grow entirely too large for the modest accommodations I intend to give them. One fish, however, caught my eye: the lizard catfish. The store says, "The precise origin of the Lizard Catfish is a mystery. It may possibly be a natural species, but most sources believe it is a man-made hybrid from one or more other Rineloricaria species, but which exactly is also unknown. Only at PetSmart," The store's website provided an image of a loach, instead of a Rineloricaria catfish, and Google didn't provide much info. I live near a PetSmart, so the task falls on me to buy a couple and provide more information, like "Is it even a catfish?", "What are its habits?", "Where does it come from?"

Monday, November 17, 2014

Essays and Fish training

   Today I started ApplyTexas Essay C. This essay is simply talking about life goals and how what I'm doing now will help get me there. Quite simple. I'll probably finish by Wednesday .
   However, I haven't started intentional fish training or even went into detail about procedures. This is because my fish and I are cold, and unwilling to feed or do much. Once the house gets warmer, the fish and I will be more comfortable and give better data.

Fish Info and Planned Tests

To each fish, I will show various shapes and colors cut out of paper to show them, while offering food to only one shape/color combination. I will use a timer to gauge how quickly the fish react. Also, I won't feed the fish except during training, to keep water quality decent and increase willingness to eat.

Featherfinned Catfish (Synodontis euptera)
Chosen because this one is in a tank with only a small Gambusia. My personal favorite fish. Very hardy, and can survive dirty water and temperature extremes. S.euptera hails from the Nile River, Chad, and the Volta Rivers. They feed in the evening and night on aquatic insects and worms, but eat prepared fish food at any time when kept in captivity. This particular one is a subadult of unknown gender, but I refer to it as male. Because of my lack of time interacting with him, he doesn't act extremely excited like the other two test subjects when I come by, but he isn't afraid of me. This particular euptera can tell me apart from other people, and does not recognize me without my glasses.

Green sunfish / Bluegill hybrid (Lepomis cyanellus X macrochir)

This is a fish commonly used to stock ponds. Its fast growth, smallish size and voracious appetite make it a popular fish for novice fishermen. This one is a highly aggressive male who lives alone. His adaptability, large size compared to the other fish I have and quick learning make this hybrid a good subject to train. However, he is somewhat skittish, so if I scare him in the duration of the experiment, he probably won't respond to stimuli, skewing my data.

Convict Cichlid (Amatlania nigrofasciata)
A prolific native of parts of Central America, like the Honduras. The convict cichlid's behavior and colors have endeared them to many aquarists. Since convicts breed easily, have been common subjects to study fish behavior, and are hardy, my lone male will take part in the experiment. So far, he recognizes me as his feeder, but I haven't taught him anything else. My convict has no known quirks that will skew the data.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tangible Products

   In my first presentation, I stated I would have to do my own original research, like surveys and the like. I already did a survey and analyzed the results, but my previous statement implied I'm doing more than that. My next original research focus is the fish themselves.
   Many people in my survey say fish are not bright, and that deters them from caring much about them. Since I have 3 fish in their own tanks, which makes it easier to isolate the subjects, I'll attempt to train them using Pavlovian and chaining methods. So far, the three fish (a convict cichlid, a green sunfish hybrid, and a featherfin catfish) recognize me as their caretaker, at least when I wear glasses , and come to the front of the tank for food. To build on this, I will attempt to get my fish to recognize specific objects, shapes, sounds, and colors. I don't know what kind of "tricks" I can teach them, but I'll try that when I've proved my fishes' learning capacity.
  Also, I mentioned I want to breed endangered and little-known fish and record my findings. I have a spare tank of 10 gallons that would be suitable for housing a few small fish for breeding. Here's some species I've come up with, and their pros and cons.

Black Kuhli Loach

+ Small
+ Loaches are seldom bred
+ Common
+ Inexpensive
+ Hardy
+ Interesting shape
- Nocturnal
- Snake-like shape may repulse some people
- Probably require soft, acid water to breed (I don't have that)

Golden Shiner?

+ Very inexpensive
+ Active
+ Very easy to obtain
+ Usually considered "just bait"
- Not completely sure of species
- Highly disease-prone when not acclimated (at least where I get them from)
- If actually golden shiners, may grow a bit large for the space I have

Upside-down Catfish

+ Interesting habits
+ Rarely bred
+ Pretty common
+ Small
- Rather expensive
- Nocturnal and somewhat shy at first

Bumblebee goby

+ Tiny
+ Interesting behavior
+ Bright colors
- Sporadic availability
- Brackish water
- Finicky eaters

Dwarf Pufferfish

+ Tiny
+ Interesting behavior
+ Bright colors
- Sporadic availability
- Finicky eaters
+- Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, so becoming rare in the face of increasing demand

   I intend to create a separate website when research is all done, to invite people to come and publish findings.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    Today I looked again at the C.A.R.E.S. website. Its main purpose is to "create a base stock of conservation priority species through encouraging hobbyists worldwide to devote tank space to one or more species at risk and distribute offspring to fellow qualified hobbyists, while forming an information network between aquarists, scientists, and conservationists." Again, this is similar to what I want to do with Koi Polloi. To differentiate myself, I will be more donation-based, but it's unclear where I'm going to put the money. Also, I want to breed fish that aren't common in the hobby,as well as the fish relatively common in captivity but threatened in the wild, and get them distributed through Koi Polloi. Perhaps I will start with something tangible and breed native bait shiners.Prove they make suitable, interesting pets, and then go from there in doing fundraisers to keep trash out of their home range.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Now what will I do with all this data?

  This survey was surprisingly effective, getting 60 responses within 2 weeks. The people who answered the survey gave great insight into what I'd probably need to do to raise interest and awareness of freshwater fish. However, I feel I've focused a bit much on the aquarium hobby and not enough on conservation. The hobby of fishkeeping is only a means to an end of increasing public interest in freshwater fish, and what kind of goal is just attracting people to the hobby for no reason?
Therefore, from now on, I will research current events in the native waters of ornamental fish species and write reports on them. That way I won't be left with weasel words when I'm trying to explain what I do during this class, and I'll have a better project because of it. I also ran into complications with the film idea. I wanted to do one on goldfish, like a pilot for a documentary series, but that would be too off-topic. I also was instructed to talk to another classmate who wants to make a film about what it would require.
Yet another issue I've recently run into is the existence of another ornamental fish conservation group: C.A.R.E.S. This group also wants to breed and reintroduce rare aquarium fish into their native waters, and wants to get the general public involved, too. However, they haven't made much of a splash despite the backing of premium aquarium supply companies. I'll learn more and probably try to contact someone involved in C.A.R.E.S tomorrow to potentially find another advisor and think of ways I can make my intentions more distinct.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

More Analysis

What is one thing that would make you interested in fishkeeping?

   I don't know if this is response bias or anything, but there were many varied responses for this question. The aesthetics of the fish was a common answer, probably the most common. This is the easiest way to get people interested in freshwater fish, as there is enormous diversity in form. To lure in these people, all I need are pretty pictures of fish in common areas. Another issue was the ease of care. A few people wanted to know how to keep their fish alive. Since a large majority of respondents mentioned their fish had died from various causes, I'll have to do something that shows people what it takes to keep fish alive. Write articles maybe? Short video clips? Also, the tone and diction will have to be simpler and more accessible. One more common response was wanting to know about the cognitive capacities of fish. Many people think fish are stupid, so if this were disproven, they'd be more inclined to keep them.


Would you visit a public aquarium consisting of solely freshwater aquatic life?

   As with the previous question, I'm suspecting response bias. There was a large proportion of positive responses (84%)! Do these people realize the hypothetical aquarium would be mostly fish? The negative responders didn't answer with similar responses to the other questions. An all-freshwater public aquarium would have a niche over all the other ones, and generate more revenue for a city and more awareness of freshwater fish. However, I didn't consider this idea at first, so I'll only come up with plans after I finish the film and website outline.

Is the health of freshwater diversity, native and foreign, worth donating money towards?

This question's answer distribution was very similar to the previous question. Knowing this, I now need to find ways to get donations and a place to send it to.

P.S. I came up with a name for the group: Koi Polloi.