Inside Lone Star Aquariums, it’s water, water everywhere — more than 4,500 gallons, in fact.
The store recently moved into a space on Troup Highway four times the size of its previous location.
There is “not a pure fish store this size between Dallas and Shreveport, La.,” said Jeff Morley, owner.
Morley, 28, and his wife Aundrea started out with custom installing aquariums and providing maintenance but eventually moved on to owning a store. They have been in business since 2005.
There was “a niche to fill,” he said.
The fish in the shop come from all over the world — the Philippines, Hawaii, the Red Sea — and are all hand caught, Morley said.
Morley is at ease dipping his hand in this tank or that to show off his sea creatures.
Roaming about the bottom of one coral tank are several kinds of shrimp, including the cleaner shrimp, which jump on fish and clean them.
As Morley demonstrated the creature’s natural tendencies, his hand in the water, he said, in the wild, “I’ve literally seen fish line up to come get cleaned, single file.”
What started with a 10-gallon tank for Morley became a love and addiction, and then a business, he said. After growing up by the ocean in Southern California, Morley studied business at The University of Texas at Tyler.
At the store, hundreds of saltwater and freshwater fish, coral and aquarium plants are on display, but anything can be special ordered, with shipments coming several times a week.
Perhaps one of the biggest draws in the store is Bruce, the horn shark.
He’s small now, but Morley said he could get up to 3 feet in length and could live more than 12 years.
“We feed him clams; he’s spoiled,” Morley said. Bruce also eats mollusks and “things that are sedentary.” “He’s too lazy to go after fish.”
That’s good news for his tankmates, a pair of stingrays who spend most of their time under the tank’s sandy floor.
And for $499, someone can take Bruce home.
Like hundreds of other fish, coral and plants in the store, he’s for sale.
Another eye catcher is a Huey, a giant goldfish. The 22-year-old is the same as the common household pet, only grown oversized in a pond.
Then there are the glow fish, which glow under a special light made specifically to make the tiny swimmers glow in their tank.
And for those who want to find their own Nemo, the store has plenty of clownfish varieties, including the false percula of the titular Disney character, black-and-white ones and the Picasso clownfish, which are bred for special designs in their stripes.
The fish aren’t the only living things in the shop: There are coral and water plants, too.
The shop has an employee just for plants: Ethan Hick, a senior biology major at The University of Texas at Tyler.
Having a coral tank is “kind of like gardening” or treasure hunting, Morley said, describing once-in-a-lifetime pieces or colors “you see just once.”
Reef tanks feature a base of “live rock,” ancient coral formed into rock. It’s called live because little animals, such as octopi, arthropods and jellyfish, burrow inside to make their homes.
In one reef tank, four wide-eyed pink soldier fish swish through the water. Lured by store manager Kortney Kelsey, the mostly black and incredibly bumpy angler fish makes a lazy appearance from behind the live rock, its signature brown angler pulled back.
The angler fish is a “professional camouflage fish, best I’ve ever seen,” Morley said.
As Morley distracts the soldier fish, which he called “food hounds,” with some food, Ms. Kelsey dangles a net with two tiny goldfish inside in front of the angler. As the soldiers’ food falls to the tank floor, a crab emerges from the live rock and snaps up a bite before scampering off with it.
One goldfish escapes the angler, but not the soldier fish. The other swims against the net, almost knowing its fate. Eventually, the angler snaps and the goldfish is gone.
The angler is an ambush predator, taking out its dangling angler and snatching up the prey when it gets too close, Morley said.
The store can build tanks to any size or shape needed, with furniture-grade tanks available.
“We just want to make sure you have a suitable tank for them,” Morley said.
Tanks available in the store range from 3 gallons to 200 gallons.
For the entry-level aquarium beginner, the store sells a 10-gallon setup, and Morley said, with fish and everything one needs, a customer could leave for $75 or $100. A starter glow fish tanks and coral systems also are available.
Every tank needs a filter, a heater, substrate, which is the gravel and sand at the bottom, appropriate lighting and a stand. Tanks need to be on a flat surface that can support the weight of the tank and the water.
At 10 pounds per gallon with water and glass, a 200-gallon tank weighs in at more than 2,000 pounds.
Lone Star Aquariums also provides maintenance for tanks from 3 gallons to 13,000 gallons in homes, restaurants and offices throughout the region, including Dr. Boozer Dentalworks. The biggest tank is for a major outdoor retailer in Shreveport and requires a scuba diver to take care of it.
The store also offers free water testing and premixed salt water for pickup “to make it easier,” he said.
“We want everyone to be successful with (their) tanks,” Morley said.