Holiday trips usually mean a visit to a public aquarium and although I’m happy to deviate from the ‘What’s In Store?’ remit, it’s nice to have a reminder of why you won’t generally find Pangasius catfish in our stores aside from occasional emergency rehomes. Palma aquarium  is home to mature adults of P. hypopthalmus and well-grown sanitwongsei, both fishes of open water that are totally impractical as pets in home surroundings outside of a few rare tropical ponds in the homes of dedicated individuals. Sadly these animals are still seen for sale in some fish shops at low prices, with no mention of an adult size of >90cm and a nervous nature.

Some fairly exotic community fish are surprisingly easy to breed and obligingly do all the hard work for their keepers. A visit to Basingstoke was made all the more interesting by the sight of this male Royal whiptail (Sturisoma sp.) tending three different ages of eggs and fry. As part of the twig catfish group, these fancy plecs are beautifully adapted to a life spent living around waterlogged wood and feeding on the aquatic invertebrates found within. As such, they eat a bit of algae whilst foraging and this should be reflected in their captive diet - algae pellets and frozen food will provide a good staple that can be supplemented with any of the usual offerings that get past their tank mates to the lower levels where they do most of their feeding.

One of the best things about being in the same hobby for decades is witnessing the advances in husbandry. I’ve spoken before (and will again!) about the advances made to marine nutrition in terms of fish heath outcomes but this has also been matched by a greater understanding of the nutritional needs of corals. Providing modern substitute planktons to home reef aquaria has transformed Flowerpot corals (Goniopora sp.) from beautiful, short lived ‘cut-flower’ corals to a standard LPS that can be fragged and expected to thrive. This specimen in a display tank at Windsor was waving beautifully, despite its sweeper tentacles giving an insight into world domination plans.

Malawian haplochromine cichlids are a group of fish that have always enjoyed a devoted following amongst enthusiasts. Unlike Mbuna and the many brightly-coloured Peacock hybrids that dominate the modern hobby, the predatory Nimbochromis are big fish that aren’t especially social with members of their own species. In the wild fishes like this Livingstone’s Hap (Nimbochromis livingstonii) that don’t have the luxury of regular meals like this one at Stratford, use their distinctive pattern to hunt. That mottled pattern gives the impression of a rotting fish when its owner lies on its side on the lake bed. This ambush-style gives it the local name Kalingono which translates as ‘Sleeper’. Males in breeding dress are clad in bright blues and this means they’re unable to use this tactic, as a consequence, they’re more streamlined and built for pursuing small fish.

It’s not often that I use my own pets to illustrate a fish in store but after a summer in an outdoor water feature, I was as impressed with the colour and vigour of my Variatus platies (Xiphophorus variatus) as any rare or new import. With a subtropical range that reflects a Mexican highland ancestry, these rather retro livebearers are found in most of our stores and are a great alternative to goldfish for unheated aquaria or small terrace ponds in the warmer months. Given access to algae, sunlight and naturally occurring live foods, they glow with colour - low temperatures also mean that they’re less prolific and won’t overwhelm their keeper with hordes of young, in contrast to being kept at the top of their temperature range when their metabolism races.