An adult male green sailfin molly P. velifera, in courtship display.
dotted, 1½-inch-long velifera babies were
swimming in a 20-gallon-high aquarium in
my fishroom. In her listing for the velifera,
Dr. Norton did not include a population
code or designation, as this was before
such notations were common practice in
the hobby. But in the May 1973 issue of
Livebearers, Dr. Norton noted for the first
time in print that her population of P. velifera
came from Dr. Goldstein’s 1971 Progreso,
I did not acquire petenensis through the
ALA. No, I stumbled onto petenensis at a
local fish store in early 1976. I was looking
at the store’s fish when I stopped in front of a
tank of what I thought were rather nice wild-type latipinna mollies. Imagine my surprise
when I took a closer look and noticed a little
black sword on the lower edge of one of the
male’s caudal fin. And it wasn’t just on one
male. All the males in the tank had the small
black sword extension on the caudal. I had
found the myth in the flesh: P. petenensis. I
can only assume they were from Socolof’s
stock, and maybe even from his farm. I
bought several pairs. Finally, I had breeding
colonies of my two dream species: Poecilia
velifera and Poecilia petenensis.
I was able to maintain pure lines of both
velifera and petenensis for a number of years
in my fishroom, and I even attempted,
without any luck, to cross velifera with
the unbelievably gorgeous wide-tail, veiltail
mollies that Steven Saunders developed (and
Dr. Norton popularized) in the 1970s, and
which were tragically allowed to disappear
from the hobby in the 1990s. Today, people
would not believe such fantastic mollies
even existed—imagine a 4- to 5-inch-long
molly that had the finnage of a show-quality
male delta tail guppy! What a loss.
Life has a way of changing one’s course,
and by the early 1980s my love of fish had
taken a backseat to young adulthood and a
career. When I re-entered the hobby in the
early 1990s, pure wild-caught populations
of petenensis and velifera could not be found.
I had to start searching all over again.
My second search for the giant sailfin
mollies did not end until 2004 during an
email exchange with Dr. Bruce Turner. Dr.
Turner is well known in livebearer circles for
his early work with goodeids. I mentioned to
Dr. Turner that pure populations of Poecilia
velifera and P. petenensis were no longer
available in the livebearer hobby, hadn’t
been for years, and most surprisingly, most
hobbyists didn’t even seem to notice or
care about the absence of such magnificent
species. Dr. Turner replied that if I wanted
some, he knew where I could get some.
Where I could get some was from the
research lab of Dr. Turner’s friend, the
evolutionary biologist Dr. Margaret Ptacek.
I soon discovered from reading her website
that Dr. Ptacek had been engaged for over
a decade in research centered on all three
species of sailfin mollies, but with a particular
emphasis on P. velifera and P. petenensis.
This research had, needless to say, involved
numerous trips to Central America to collect
wild specimens of velifera and petenensis.
In her lab, Dr. Ptacek maintained several
populations of wild-caught velifera and
petenensis. Dr. Turner provided me with Dr.
Ptacek’s email address at Clemson University,
and I immediately contacted Dr. Ptacek. Her
answer was quickly forthcoming, and within
a few weeks, I had a number of young velifera
and petenensis swimming in my tanks.
Each species was placed in its own
55-gallon aquarium in a sunny room.
The tanks featured large filters, and a
powerhead was added to each tank for
water circulation. The temperature ranged
from 78° to 84°F. The tanks were bare-bottom but contained multiple pots of
aquarium plants. Driftwood covered with
Java fern and Anubias was also included
as a hiding place for fry. Each aquarium
received water changes two to three times a
week of around 80 to 90 percent. My local
tap water had a pH of about 7. 8, and a GH
and KH of around 18°, which are perfect
(hard and basic) conditions for sailfin