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Greater Seattle Aquarium Society

White Cloud Mt. Minnows

by Dave Sanford
December 1997

The story behind these cool little fish goes something like this. Tan Kan Fei was a boy scout leader who collected some of these minnows while on an outing with the scouts in the White Cloud Mountains in southern China near the city of Canton. He gave them to In Shu-Yen, the director of the Fish Biology Station. Lin published a description of the fish in 1932 and named them in honor of Tan. The name chosen is Tanichthys albonubes, which means Tan’s fish from the white clouds.

Often this pretty little 1-1/2 inch fish is recommended for beginners because they tolerate a wide range of temperatures, are incredibly easy to spawn, are cheap, active, and hardy. The colors of the body and fins are somewhat variable but here is an attempt to describe them. A white belly gives way to olive on the sides with an iridescent copper stripe on the lateral line. Above the stripe the olive shades to dark. The fins can be yellow with red margins or the opposite. The tail fin tends to have clear top and bottom margins with a wide red band in the center. The males are more colorful and slim compared to females who are plump and somewhat subdued in color.

White clouds are considered the easiest egg laying fish to spawn. All that is required is some Java moss, water sprite, or frogbit roots, and a pair. The males are constantly displaying with flared fins. A receptive female will follow her suitor into a plant and during a brief embrace release a small clump of clear eggs which tend to sink. They will even spawn in a community tank but the fry will have a harder time surviving. The eggs hatch in 24 to 48 hours depending on temperature, then wiggle for a few more days before becoming free swimming. Once they can swim they hover near the surface looking for tiny things to eat. Dense plantings provide lots of microflora for them to graze on. Micro food (from OSI) can be fed sparingly as well as finely crushed flake food. After a few days on these foods they can take baby brine shrimp. Many books recommend using infusoria as a first food, which is great if you want to bother, or if you want to mass produce them.

This adaptable fish fits into almost any aquatic setup you could imagine. The only caution is that larger tank mates may eat them. They show best with lots of bushy plants and some open areas to cavort around in. More is better, a school of at least a dozen or more is striking in a planted tank. I have had several kids at school keep them in the low form goldfish bowls with some hornwort or Java moss, as they come from a temperate climate and don’t require heat as long as room temp is above 60 degrees F. Of course, if the bowl is unfiltered then frequent or daily water exchanges should be made. I think that they would be great in a river tank type setup as they like a current and would probably enjoy leaping from pool to pool. Next summer I’m going to try them in an outdoor wading pool to see how many can be produced.

There is a long finned variety that is sometimes called the meteor minnow or even the red rocket minnow. They are even more colorful than the standard form and are quite possibly the coolest fish of all the Cyprinodonts, but rare, almost never seen in shops. If you should be fortunate enough to chance upon one while shop browsing, grab it, you may never see them again!

Considering that white clouds will eat anything, can do well in cooler water, are beautiful and very active, are simple to spawn, never pick on other fish, and are the cheapest fish you can buy (as young), and can be kept in smaller aquaria, I suggest that you snap up those being offered as fish of the month.