A Touch of ingenuity

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In the past on multiple occasions Ceylon Today has got in touch with Thushan Kapurusinghe who is the Chairman of the Turtle Conservation Project (TCP) for various turtle-related articles. Recently to we met with Kapurusinghe at his home in Panadura but this time around it was not to discuss turtles but to shed some light on another interest of Kapurusinghe’s – ornamental fish breeding or to be more particular, breeding of new varieties of platy fish.  

Over the years Kapurusinghe has experimented with platies and produced over a 1,000 new varieties or new strains with different colour combinations and unique fins and tails. His interest in ornamental fish started at a very young age when he had them as a hobby. But as he grew older, Kapurusinghe wanted to do more than just have ornamental fish swimming inside a fish tank.

His interest in the subject made him explore further and he started studying the behaviour patterns of fish. “Fish are beautiful but I went beyond the beauty of fish and studied them. I found out how to identify the male and female fish and how the fish breed because different species breed in different ways. I found out that some fish change colour during the breeding season. I got a lot of experience by studying these fish,” Kapurusinghe explained.

Same type of fish

In Sri Lanka in most aquariums, it is usually the same type of fish; the platy, swordtail, guppy, goldfish, carp and the barbs among others which are found. “Some people who are interested in ornamental fish wait until new fish breeds are imported, to buy them for their fish tanks. When we bring down fish from overseas we have to buy the fish from those who breed them. The foreign breeders breed and sell as many fish as they can before they sell them to us. That is their marketing strategy,” Kapurusinghe said.

According to Kapurusinghe, although in Sri Lanka we consider this to be a new species, it is not really a new species because the country we imported the original species from, has already done the breeding of the new variety and sent it to other countries.

“As a country we have to develop new strains or new varieties. Sri Lanka has the potential to breed new varieties as we presently have all the resources. I took two species of platies – the Xiphophorus maculatus and the Xiphophorus variatus – and using the selective breeding process produced new varieties or new strains of platy fish. Though I have produced more than 1,000 varieties of platies I can’t use all of them on a commercial basis because there is no customer demand for new varieties. Some customers go for the colour. To produce different varieties we need a large area,” Kapurusinghe explained.

He said that at any given time we can only have a limited number of varieties with us. “With gene combinations we can create a large number of variants. With some fish we can make hybrids easily, while with some fish it is difficult. Some fish reach sexual maturity in three to four years. They produce young after three to four years. So we have to wait for a long time until the babies are born. Then we have to wait until the babies get big to see what type of fish they are. This is a long time consuming process,” Kapurusinghe said.

He went on to say that the genes of some fish are linked together and they don’t separate. “For example imagine there is a fish in red and black and I want to add a yellow colour fish to produce a fish with red and yellow colour. But if the red and black colour are mixed together and won’t separate from that fish I can’t get the colour I want. So we have to first breed the fish and see what genes separate from the fish,” Kapurusinghe explained.

After six generations a new species

According to Kapurusinghe it is only after six generations of breeding that we can establish a new species of fish and call it a pure breed. If for example a fish takes three months to reach sexual maturity, for six generations to be complete one has to wait for 18 months. “When we get a new breed the cost is more because the fish is rare and it is a new breed. But during the research process I cannot earn any money. That is why many people are reluctant to do research and breed new varieties,” Kapurusinghe said.

When asked if the new breeds can survive for a long period of time Kapurusinghe confirmed that they can because they are bred in tanks, kept in captivity and have no predators. “If they get sick we treat them. The ornamental fish breeding trade was active even during the COVID-19 lockdown time and brought good foreign exchange to the country.  But now the situation is different and with the power cuts, no fuel and so forth, the breeding and exporting has got badly affected,” Kapurusinghe explained.

Some of the new breeds by Kapurusinghe include the Sunset Pintail, Copper Red Highfin Brushtail, Calico Pintail, Copper Red Wagtail Pintail, Green Tuxedo Pintail, Black Neon Wagtail Pintail, Black Highfin, Calico Spotted Tail Pintail, Calico Wagtail Pintail, Calico Wagtail Highfin, Golden Variatus Highfin and Golden Variatus Pintail among others. Platies are widely used in tropical aquariums. Several different colour variations have been developed, such as red, yellow, orange, blue, rainbow (combination of colours) and white. Platies will usually live for around three years if the aquarium water parameters are correct.

“Platies are very popular among fish lovers as they are easy to take care of and come in many varieties. If we are committed to what we do we can have our own new varieties bred in Sri Lanka,” Kapurusinghe said.

(Pix courtesy Thushan Kapurusinghe)

By Risidra Mendis