Microfishes and invertebrates to go

Rachel O’Leary has had a lifelong passion for the aquarium hobby, including, especially, the invertebrates, which are sometimes overlooked—possibly due to the myths and misunderstandings that surround their maintenance. They are, she says, easy to keep and desirable when maintained in the proper conditions. Undemanding: it’s what every hobbyist likes in a crustacean.

Within the past 10 years, the hobby has blossomed into a full-time business for this mother of three from York, Pennsylvania. She calls her enterprise Invertebrates by Msjinkzd, a name that seems perfectly suited to a consummate aqua rest with a nonconformist streak. While tending to her growing family, Rachel has developed her fishroom with courage and built a solid reputation for integrity in breeding, importing, and selling nano invertebrates and uncommon fishes, most of them suited to small aquariums.

As anyone who has a keen interest in freshwater fishes can readily attest, developing the ability to acquire, feed, breed, grow out, and then ship out a large variety of very, very small animals is no mean feat. To do it with over 70 aquaria, ranging in size from 10 gallons (38 L) to 220 (832 L) gallons, sounds like an awful lot of real work. Factor in the responsibilities of order fulfillment (down to the weather forecast for all time zones en route), and you will have a small idea of the scope of Rachel’s work day.

Because of her own hobby interest aquascaping is a relaxing pastime for Rachel—she maintains collections of dwarf freshwater invertebrates, including snails of the genera Pomacea, Clea, Clithon, and Neritina, for example; Amano Shrimp, Cardina spp., and Neocaridina spp.; and tiny crayfish, aquatic crabs, and even the African Dwarf Frog (Hymenochirus boettgeri). She keeps and shares an astounding variety of fishes and invertebrates under 2 inches (5 cm), but in the 220-gallon tank there are some true tank busters—the ancient Saddled Bichirs ( Polypterus endlicheri endlicheri) and Tropical Gars ( Atractosteus tropicus). She also has a Cuban Gar ( Atractosteus tristoechus) growing out to go in with them, but he is still only 12 inches (30 cm) long at this point, well short of his potential length of 5 feet (150 cm).

That passion for fishes both very small and very large is what has Rachel spending an average of 14 hours a day working in her basement fishroom. She estimates that 70 percent of what she sells is imported from overseas, either wild-caught or farmed; 10 to 15 percent is supplied by domestic U.S. breeders/hobbyists; and 15 to 20 percent is bred in her own tanks. She cannot keep up with the demand for her home-bred stocks, so sometimes she has multiple tanks of the same species, some she’s bred and some wild-caught. Rachel is always interested in hearing from sources of quality home-bred fishes and invertebrates, but she is the first to acknowledge that many of the animals she is interested in are either hard to breed or difficult to raise because of the tiny size of the fry.

Currently, Rachel is breeding an assortment of Central and South American cichlids, Corydoras spp., shrimps, snails, Pseudomugil sp. rainbows, dwarf crayfishes, plecos, and a range of livebearers and egg scatterers. She is known for having a fine way with the «eyestrain rasboras,» Boraras spp., and she is especially fond of many of the inverts and fishes outdoors for summer breeding. She is looking forward to an interesting impending import that will contain some wild bettas, small gouramis, and shrimps that are new to her fishroom. She is still working with the amazing freshwater pipefish, Microphis deocata. Rachel always has 10 to 20 different breeding projects going on, and she’s excited about every one of them.

And still, the responsibilities of the growing fishroom and online entrepreneurship are not such a burden that she doesn’t have time to visit aquarium societies, pick up some Ricefish (Oryzias sp.) and killifish eggs, and drop off orders along the way, and if she’s asked, she’s not too shy to take the mike and share her aquarium know-how with interested aquarists far and wide. Her speaking debut at the Potomac Valley Aquarium Society in 2010 set Rachel off on a roll, starting with the very serious title «Freshwater Invertebrates: Myths and Mythconceptions. » Rachel is an active member and on the board of the Capital Cichlid Association, as well as a global moderator on Aquaria Central and a moderator at MonsterFishKeepers.com.

She’s a rare gem in the organized aquarium hobby: a good talker. She has something to say, and she’s not shy about saying it. At her core an educator, Rachel is all seriousness when talking about the husbandry of the animals she’s working with. Many classrooms that didn’t have an aquarium now do, thanks to the pay-it-forward O’Leary.

One of her favorite speaking experiences was part of her visit to Bermuda, where she enjoyed the legendary hospitality of the Bermuda Fry-Angle Aquarium Society and presented on «Small Tanks and Their Occupants.» There’s a lot to be learned from our neighbors off the Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, coast, according to Rachel. She was most impressed by the scope of the entries in the traveling Home Show that she helped to judge during her visit. Bermuda has very strict rules about water use, as rainfall provides the only fresh water on the island and personal hygiene is a distinct priority over hobbies in a society with tenuous water supplies. Additionally, the importation of plants and fishes is severely curtailed. In spite of these obstacles, the club members showed exceptional attention to layout, grouping, and placement of the plants. Nano tanks are hot there, as they are everywhere we turn these days. More, Rachel was thrilled to see how many young members participate in the club, how pointed and intelligent the questions they asked were, and how they all «walked the walk and talked the talk.» And the cherry on top for Rachel? Club member Scott Dunstan showed his Pomacea cf. insularum, an Apple Snail species that Rachel had not met.

So what about that business name? Is Msjinkzd an inside joke?

«No,» she says, «it was more of a convenience. My husband is a car and motorcycle junkie. He is into old gassers and British cafe racer bikes. He would sell used parts on eBay and I would often do the shipping and answer questions. His username was jinkzd (also the license plate on our ’63 Chevy II), so when I signed up, I became msjinkzd to reduce confusion. Ironically, he now sometimes refers to himself as mrjinkzd, since I have gained some exposure.

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