So with this latest shipment of PNG Maroons, I now have the following inventory:
1 PNG Lightning Maroon Clownfish, sex indeterminant
1 PNG Morse Code Maroon Clown, sex indeterminant
4 PNG Maroon Clownfish, your typical White Stripe variety, all still at sizes where they should be male or “juvenile”.
1 “Labrador” Maroon Clownfish, a massive fish that could only be treated as a female at this point.
What’s a breeder to do?
Let’s circle back to the two most interesting fish, the “Lightning Maroon” and the “Morse Code” Maroon (I called it a “Dash Slash” or “Dash Hash” but then Jay pointed out the “dots”, so it was a “Dot Dash” and then Morse Code…you get the idea).  I do hold the assumption that there is a genetic basis to the Lightning patterning.  I’ve elaborated on that prior.  I also think that possibly, this “Morse Code” patterning, the random dot or dash, could be indicative of some genetic variation as well…not simply a “misbar”, but the starting point, the most basic example, of what might represent a continuum or range of pattern variation within the Maroon Clownfish.  In simple terms…if the Lightning is the equivalent of an “A-Grade Picasso” Percula, then this “Morse Code” Maroon might very well be the “B-Grade” version of the same genetic barring mutation.

The PNG Lightning Maroon - A-Grade by ANY standard!

Unofficially calling this the "Morse Code" Maroon. Is it just a B-Grade Lightning?

You might think I’m “reaching” here, until I ask you to consider that this is in no way the “first” “Morse Code” Maroon Clownfish I’ve seen.  No, I think I’ve actually seen at least a dozen of these fish, in multiple venues.  At least one commercial breeder has had fish looking just like this “Morse Code” Maroon and offered them for sale.  Maroons are known to throw some variation  on striping.  For example, check out the spotted Maroons from Reef Hot Spot or this other “one of a kind” Maroon Clownfish thread on Manhatten Reefs.  This type of “extra barring” and “spotting” apparently isn’t really all that rare of a thing in Maroon Clowns apparently (and corroborated by at least one author…but I can’t find that reference at the moment!)
Pile on the simple fact that this is another “extra barred” Maroon coming out of PNG, where we already know 2 “Lightning Maroons” have come from.   If this subtle, small barring variation is genetic, and is a less extreme version of what produced the “Lightning Maroons”, we could have just struck “gold”.  With ALL of that said, in the absence of having a second “Lightning” Maroon on hand, this “Morse Code” Maroon just became the most desirable mate I could utilize.
And yes, there’s a catch.  I have yet to put these two fish side by side, but I can tell you this.  The Lightning Maroon, and the “Morse Code” Maroon, are about the same size.  Both are in the “limbo” size where they could either be mature males, or easily become females.  Up until now, I’ve treated the Lightning Maroon as if it were male, in the hopes that if it IS in fact male, it could remain male.  Again, I’ve elaborated on the “why” before.
But now there’s this other ambiguous fish.  If it was notably SMALLER, it would’ve been a no-brainer….pair it with the Lightning, making the Lightning a female.  A great pair, and arguably the best I could hope for.  But CAN I do this?
It’s hard to say.  I have to fight the likihood that BOTH the Lightning Maroon and the “Morse Code” Maroon could be female.  Jake Adams already drew the conclusion that the Morse Code was female without even knowing its size…just looking at a picture.  So yeah, a fair amount of folks might already call the Morse Code female, and in most other settings, it would be paired up to be the female.
But what if one, or both fish in question, can still be male?  Well, as you know, the Lightning Maroon has been treated as male up until this point.  The XXLG “Labrador” Maroon from Frank and Mary has been prowling the main tank in the hope that its presence would keep the Lightning male (assuming it IS male).  They have not been allowed to interact…this has been a “show of force” more than anything else.
Ideally, while in Quarantine, it would be wise to attempt the same “social pressure application” on the Morse Code Maroon.  In other words, try to pair it, or at least house it, next to a much larger Maroon.  That way, if it’s male, it will remain male while in QT.  And then, when the time comes, it could be paired with the Lightning Maroon.
To accomplish such a pairing, the ideal mechanism would be to allow the Lightning Maroon to pair up with any one of the small PNG Maroons that was shipped in.  Of course, we’re looking at at-least a few weeks before the “all clear” siren is blown and that process could start.  Get the Morse Code Maroon paired up as well, but as a male.  Allow the Lightning to grow substantially in size, and then SWAP out the males, bringing the Morse Code in as the male, and the Lightning as the female.
It all works in theory.  But what if the Morse Code is already female?  Well, if that happens the best pairing scenario would be to form 2 pairs.  A Lighting + PNG pair, and a Morse Code + PNG pair.  The practical upshot is that we could attempt a “Lightning X Morse Code” (or if you prefer, an “A Grade Lightning X B-Grade Lightning”) pairing once the NEXT generation is born.  It’s a less direct route, but it’s by far the safest route to go.
But what if I’m not fully committed yet to allowing the Lightning Maroon become a female?  There is that odd chance that I could continue to apply social pressure to the Lightning Maroon, and could even move forward with highly controlled pairing to the Labrador Maroon.  I’d be foregoing the PNG geographic lineage in any offspring that develop.  In the meantime, I’d also have to let the Morse Code Maroon grow substantially, and that could take years.  And THEN try to pair the Lightning to the Morse Code, putting the Lightning at greater risk acting as the male.  As you can see, I’m clearly leaning towards letting the Lightning go female, but I’m probably going to by myself some time and try a few different things.
My ideal plan is to construct a far more permeable yet secure enclosure for the Lightning to allow better interaction with the Labrador Clown.  I’ve heard annecdotes of clownfish being able to fertilize spawns through physical barriers.  I figure, WHY NOT at least let there be a chance of some reproduction over the next month?
But if I do stay on the path with the Labrador, what do I do to push the Morse Code Maroon in the direction of being male?  Well, quite simply, I’ve found myself in need of yet another ridiculously large Maroon Clownfish!  I’d pretty much want to do the exact same thing to the Morse Code that I’m doing to the Lightning.  Being smaller than the Lightning, there is still a better chance that the Morse Code could remain male.
What if none of this works?  Well, there’s a reason I had a standing order for 4 PNG Juvies from Blue Zoo.  Quite simply, I could find myself with SEVERAL female Maroons, and I’d like to have mates for them all.  If I’m honest, the most likely and safest scenario is to just mate the Lightning to a PNG Juvie, do the same with the Morse Code.  If there’s any disasters, I have 2 backup males.  If everything works flawlessly, I could pair both “spare” Maroon clowns with little Juvies from PNG, have the Lightning X Morse pair, and 2 extras, just in case.  But most likely, I might end up with 4 pairs of Maroons in the long run, at which point I’d probably part with the BIG Maroons so I could focus on 2 PNG pairs.
Yes, that’s a lot of thinking, and I’m a Maroon shy of my plan at the moment.  Quarantine buys me time to think this through a bit more, and we’re not out of the woods yet.  More on the “Morse Code’s” issues in my next installment.