by Dr. Ted Coletti
Sitting in my fishroom…staring at my 65 gallon “pig” propped up on cinder blocks and plywood. I hate this tank. Why did I buy it? I'm not a tank-bustin' cichlid guy. I'm a livebearer guy. The tank is pretty useless for me. Three “20 longs,” neatly stacked, could be squeezed into the same space, with more species, with different water conditions. Then the fish catch my eye…
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Derek Lambert was an Editor of the UK magazine, Today's Fishkeeper. He is also a legendary figure in the history of the livebearer hobby. And he was a friend of mine.
Derek was all about the fish. In a span of 20 years (although a hobbyist much longer) he was a magazine editor, author, fish farmer, club officer, judge, explorer, collector, discoverer, lecturer, product tester, and in his heart of hearts a hobbyist. Derek did it all. He was the "real deal" as we say in the States. He lived a dream many of us can only wish for. Derek’s hobby was intertwined with his friendships, livelihood, travel plans, and family, and he loved it all with a passion that made you smile and take notice. My former Editor, Dick Mills summed up Derek when he said, “… at such a young age, [he] nevertheless managed to pack in an awful lot of fishkeeping into his life.”
Derek loved the livebearers and all things aquatic. As a young hobbyist in the organized British scene, Derek was made an official show judge while only a teenager. In his many travels to Central America and the Caribbean, Derek discovered, re-discovered, or introduced many species to the aquarium hobby. Allotoca maculata and Hubbsinia turneri to come to mind to name but a few. I specially appreciated his habitat descriptions.
Along with folks like Ivan Dibble, Derek popularized the livebearer hobby in the UK, which spilled species over to the USA and Europe. In the 1980’s Derek and his mother, Pat founded Viviparous - the Livebearer Information Service as a specialty organization. It boasted a fabulous magazine that introduced new species and clarified others.
Derek’s livebearer expertise was broad, and he was especially keen in the Xiphophorus area, where his book, Platies & Swordtails, is still essential reading for anyone interested in the genus. He wrote countless other books, too, with comparable knowledge, on topics ranging from Water Gardening to Rainbowfish. The Levamisole treatment he introduced for livebearers saved many hobbyist stocks.
Even though Derek was UK-based, for a time in the 80's and 90's he was the lone livebearer voice in USA aquarium magazines, writing the monthly “Livebearer World” column for TFH magazine, as well as some of the first popular articles on Goodieds in AFM. Without Derek sparking my interest, my own livebearer column now in Freshwater & Marine Aquarium Magazine would not exist. Indeed, the ending of Derek’s column was my inspiration for penning The Livebearer.
But many will tell you the best part of Derek’s legacy is Derek himself. He was gracious, helpful, and always open to learn even though he knew more than most of us. He answered any email from any hobbyist around the world, no matter what the level of expertise. I always appreciated Derek’s classic British wit (something lacking in many an American fish hobbyist).
My friendship with Derek began when I asked him for guidance on creating my column, and developed as we shared laughs on Richard Sexton’s Livebearer Mailing List (thank you, Richard, for keeping Derek’s persona alive through your on-line archive). A pleasant phone call occurred once or twice, and I was looking forward to meeting him on his next trip across The Pond.
But I never got to meet Derek Lambert in person. Never shook his hand. You see, Derek passed away without warning on February 20th, 2004. I was corresponding with him via email just days before when I received an eerie “reply from Derek Lambert,” claiming he died from a lung embolism, and signed by his mother Pat who was bravely cleaning up his correspondence. Our budding comradeship never was sealed over a brew as many a hobby friendship. And this I regret.
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Sitting in my fishroom…Still looking at this 65 gallon pig of a tank. With a smile now. You see, this tank houses a colony of extinct Zoogoneticus Tequila, progeny of fish collected (and saved) by my friend Derek Lambert before he died.
Nah. The tank is staying.
Ted Coletti is a Director of the American Livebearer Association, and pens the monthly livebearer column for Freshwater & Marine Aquarium Magazine. He resides in New Jersey, USA.