‘Doing My Part’: West Valley Man Raising Endangered Fish in Home Aquarium

Aug 8, 2018, 6:29 PM | Updated: Sep 22, 2018, 12:24 am

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — It may sound like a problem so big that an individual could never do anything about it; many scientists believe the world is in the midst of an extinction crisis.

As it turns out, though, a network of volunteers is helping — at least a little — by raising an endangered species in their own home.

Chuck Roberts, for one. His effort to stave off extinction revolves around a tiny fish most people have never heard of.

“At first glance they’re kind of a duller fish,” Roberts said. “But then, as the light catches them, they are quite pleasing to look at.”

Chuck Roberts is raising six butterfly splitfins in the basement of his West Valley City home.

The fish, each just a couple of inches long, are called ameca splendens, a species that is obscure and vanishingly rare. They’re popularly know as “butterfly splitfins” because of their patches of bright color.

“They kind of look like butterflies when they shine in the light,” Roberts said admiringly as he peers into his home aquarium.

He’s raising six of the rare fish in the basement of his West Valley home.

“(I) wanted to keep some fish that kind of had a purpose,” he explained, “beyond just something that looks nice in your house.”

In their home waters deep in the heart of Mexico, butterfly splitfins are up against big problems. Some experts consider them “extinct in the wild.”

Their natural habitat is in shallow, high-elevation rivers west of Guadalajara. But today, only two small populations still exist, according to John Lyons, curator of fishes at the University of Wisconsin Zoological Museum. He said the existing wild populations in Mexico are actually hanging on in two commercially operated water parks — about 1,000 fish in one and about 100 in the other.

“It’s out there,” Lyons said of the beleaguered species. “It’s certainly critically endangered and something could happen tomorrow that could eliminate them.”

Lyons believes the biggest factor in the species’ decline is the introduction of nonnative predatory fish that prey on the smaller splitfins.

Other possible causes, according to Roberts, include construction of dams, water shortages and chemical pollution from nearby farming operations. Whatever the cause, something has pushed ameca splendens to the brink.

“And I think it’s important to keep as many species alive,” Roberts said, “so that we don’t have a catastrophic failure of our ecosystems.”

Roberts is part of a loosely organized network — Lyons estimates it’s fewer than 500 aquarium hobbyists around the world — who care enough to provide a home for ameca splendens and about 40 other species in the Goodeid family of live-bearing fish.

“It’s one of the few things that keeps a lot of fish around,” Roberts said. “If not for the aquarium hobby, there would be countless species that would be wiped out.”

Lyons said it’s like keeping “fish in the bank.” He believes hobbyists in recent years have used the concept to save about 100 fish species from extinction.

The tiny splitfins seem to be doing very well in Roberts’ home aquarium. He feeds them several times a day; their favorite snackables seem to be boiled zucchini and brine shrimp from the Great Salt Lake.

“I just go out there with a net and scoop them up,” Roberts said.

Meanwhile, he’s been noticing some hints that his three male butterfly splitfins are ready to become fathers.

“They’ll get up next to the female and kind of shake,” Roberts said, describing the apparent mating ritual. “It’s kind of a shaking and shimmying. It almost looks like the fish was vibrating.”

His hope is that his ameca splendens will produce babies he can donate to other aquariums and someday, perhaps, help reintroduce the species into the wild. Lyons is hopeful that such an effort will eventually be made. A species similar to ameca splendens is currently being reintroduced in the same part of Mexico and the project seems to have strong support from people living in nearby communities.

“They are actively suppressing nonnative fish, removing them,” Roberts said. “I’d say I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Two organizations provide support for aquarium hobbyists. They can be contacted online at and, the website of the American Live Bearers Association.

Roberts is glad he joined the effort to give butterfly splitfins a second shot at survival.

“Humans have kind of messed things up around the world,” Roberts said, “and I just feel like I’m doing my part to undo that, or do something good in the world.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Signature Reports

John Hollenhorst, KSL TV

BYU professor discovers ‘dead zone’ in Antarctica

In the history of science, there have been big discoveries and little discoveries, fantastic findings and obscure observations. But here's a very special case: A professor at Brigham Young University is gaining attention for literally discovering "nothing."
1 year ago
Victoria Karpos works on her computer in her company's warehouse space. (Ray Boone/KSL TV)...
Ray Boone, KSL TV

Statue Sculptors In Salt Lake City Achieve International Recognition

Like all civilizations, every business starts out small. The one sculpted by Victoria Karpos and her husband in Salt Lake City has spread far beyond the Aegean Sea, thanks to a little help from the internet.
1 year ago
The Antelope Point launch ramp is closed due to dropping water levels at Lake Powell. (National Par...
John Hollenhorst, KSL TV

Love, Hope, Worry & Fear As Lake Powell Water Levels Drop

Normally at this time of year, Lake Powell's water level would have risen substantially due to spring runoff, but not this year. It continued to drop through the month of May. 
1 year ago
Richard Ledbetter, 88, began writing poetry after his wife, Elicia, succumbed to cancer in 1987. (K...
Peter Rosen, KSL TV

Elderly Man Shares His Big Heart By Writing Inspiring Love Poems

Love inspires, no matter who you are or how old you are. At his job as a security guard last year, Saxon Porter made a discovery — a new poet with a lot to say about love. The writer was 88-year-old Richard Ledbetter, the guard who worked the overnight shift.
2 years ago
(KSL TV)...
Shelby Hintze, KSL TV

KSL Special Report: COVID-19 Vaccine

In this COVID-19 Vaccine special report, KSL TV breaks down what is known about each vaccine and what the process for rolling out the vaccine will look like.
2 years ago
Ashley Moser, Keri Wilcox & Aley Davis, KSL TV

The Quiet Crisis: Utah Law Enforcement Share Mental Health Struggles With KSL

In 2018, more police died by suicide in the United States than died in the line of duty. And the number of law enforcement suicides went up dramatically in 2019. KSL heard from officers statewide about their mental health struggles in an exclusive survey.
2 years ago

Sponsored Articles

Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
‘Doing My Part’: West Valley Man Raising Endangered Fish in Home Aquarium