Fish Friendly

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Local aquarium enthusiasts can get together with other fish and reptile lovers by joining the Middle Rio Grande Aquarium Society in Los Lunas, led by fish expert Ken McKeighen.

Being a member is a great way to share knowledge and experience, plus gain insight from the monthly educational programs and talks, McKeighen said.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Meadow Lake resident Ken McKeighen recently started the Middle Rio Grande Aquarium Society for Valencia County fish, reptile and arachnid enthusiasts. The group meets at 6 p.m., every fourth Sunday of the month, at Peechi’s Pet Shop, 3515 N.M. 47.

Last month, there was a presentation about “Tank Busters,” and how to care for fast-growing fish, he said.

McKeighen has more than 40 years of experience with tropical fish and aquarium operations. He belongs to several fish associations, including the British, German and Japanese Killifish Associations, as well as several tropical fish associations around the world.

The killifish is one of his favorite fish. In 1970, he saw his first killifish, and thought it was the coolest fish, he said, so, he read everything he could about them.

The colorful killifish is a prehistoric fish and a worldwide species. There are 800-900 different killifish.

In 1976, at age 19, McKeighen wrote a paper about them that was published. He has been with the American Killifish Association for 40 years, and is a lifetime member.

McKeighen’s interest in killifish stems from his love of earth sciences. Prehistoric fish, amphibians and reptiles still alive today are of particular interest to him.

Along with the killifish, the alligator gar is another fascinating water creature because they are freshwater fish dating back to the time before dinosaurs, he said.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: The African orange blotch peacock cichlid was given to Ken McKeighen as a gift from a friend at the American Killifish Convention in St. Louis.

They can grow as large as seven-feet long or more, and look similar to alligators because of the pointy sharp teeth along their long mouth.

McKeighen has a gar at his Meadow Lake home. He has an aquarium room with wall-to-wall aquariums, and in one 90-gallon tank, he has a young gar nearly a foot long, ready for a larger tank.

One of the most common mistakes people make with gars is putting them in too small a tank, he said, because they grow rapidly.

Some of the most popular fish people buy include the tiny guppy from Central and South America.

They are also known as the millionfish, because there are so many of them, he said.

“Guppies are like the rodents of the fish world,” said McKeighen.

Because they are so small, it’s tempting to put a bunch of them in a tank together, he said, so it’s easy to overcrowd them. Putting them in a tank with Oscars or angel fish is a big mistake because they are predatory fish that feed on guppies.

Overfeeding fish is another easy mistake many people make with their first aquarium or bowl. Guppies, for example, only need a pinch of flake food twice a day, he said. Others, such as the betta fish, also known as Siamese fighting fish, only need a few flakes.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Ken McKeighen’s favorite prehistoric animal is the trilobite. He holds an exceptionally preserved fossil that has the creature’s stalked eyes in tact. He and his brother, Henry, have been avid fossil hunters for years. Their most important discovery is the Dimetrodon, a reptile of prehistoric origin.

People often buy one of the beautifully colored bettas with flowing fins and tail as an office decoration. They put them in a fancy vase or bowl with colorful glass pebbles and topped with a water plant.

These flashy fighters come from Cambodia and are fairly easy keepers, but need fresh, room temperature water in their bowl every day, he said.

“Bettas are from the Labyrinth family of fish,” McKeighen said. “They’re named that because their gill chamber has a labyrinth of blood vessels that help them survive in low-oxygen water.”

They like warm water, somewhere in the 80-degree area, and that’s critical since they come from the equator, he said.

McKeighen advises feeding them only as much as they’ll eat in five minutes.

“It’s hard to explain it in a book, that’s why we form aquarium societies,” said McKeighen.

Angel fish are in the Cichlid family, and come from South America. They like clean, spacious tanks. Goldfish are not good companions because they tend to be messier fish, and angel fish will eat tetras if placed in the same tank.

If the tank is too small, angel fish will pick on each other, McKeighen said.

A pair of them need at least a 29-gallon tank, six to eight require a 55-gallon tank. They can grow as big as five-inches long and six-inches tall, he said.

Tank mates must also be about the same size, because the larger of a mismatched pair will pick on the smaller one.

McKeighen is a self-educated walking encyclopedia of interesting facts and useful knowledge in a number of scientific fields. His unquenchable curiosity drives him to read text books like some people read novels.

He has studied ichthyology, the branch of zoology devoted to the study of fish, and a variety of other scientific fields including paleontology. He and his younger brother, Henry, are also avid fossil hunters.

One of McKeighen’s findings brought him acclaim and a research associate position at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

“Ken and his brother, Henry, are quite accomplished fossil collectors,” said Spencer G. Lucas, the museum’s head curator. “They have been looking for fossils in Valencia and Socorro counties for a few years now.

“Their most important discovery has been of fossils of the sail-backed reptile Dimetrodon, normally very rare in New Mexico, in rocks that are about 280 million years old. These have been important additions to our knowledge of New Mexico paleontology — really noteworthy scientific discoveries.”

McKeighen is the wildlife biologist and consultant for the Meadow Lake Park Area Association.

He is also a co-host on the Internet radio show, “Under the Sea,” and hosts his own show, “The Fine Art of Paleontology,” at 8 p.m. on the first Monday of every month. It’s a show about prehistoric life and can be accessed at www.blogtalkradio.com

He is an artist and paints detailed portraits of fish with oils on canvass, some of which can be seen on “Under the Sea.”

Since 1990, his killifish paintings have been used to create awards for several different aquarium societies and their contests.

He donates many of his oil paintings in efforts to save endangered fish species.

The Middle Rio Grande Aquarium Society meets at 6 p.m., every fourth Sunday of the month, at PeeChi’s Pet Shop, 3515 N.M. 47.

Door prizes are drawn at each monthly meeting, and refreshments are shared. For more information, call 916-5370.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.