By Bob Goemans
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The 'LIVING' Marine Aquarium Manual

Basic and Advanced Husbandry for the 'Modern' Marine Aquarium

by Bob Goemans

Chapter 15 – Choosing the Right Fishes For Your System Goal


Whether it's fish health, invertebrate health, or overall system health, successful interaction of living organisms in a closed system requires knowledge of their needs. And since it is not feasible to discuss each and every animal that finds its way into aquariums, the intent here is to present 'some' information on those that usually/may show up in dealer showrooms. Then possibly add some other interesting facts that may help when it comes to deciding if it's a species that is right for your aquarium. I'll even denote some articles I've written about personal hands-on experience with some species and mention where to find them on my website Furthermore, by visiting the 'Animal Library' on this website and opening its 'Fish Library,' you will be able to visit numerous fish families and their individual species for detailed information, e.g., their natural environment, which helps to better fulfill their environmental needs in a closed system, and also their size, diet, and preferred temperature range. I'll also mention some species that occasionally show-up in the trade that are only suitable for highly experienced aquarists or simply not appropriate for home aquaria.

Keep in mind the use of common names presents a writing challenge as those are often quite different in various countries and/or are constantly being changed to suit those selling or collecting the animals. Therefore, I'll also use their scientific name or class designation where deemed helpful. In fact, in the late 1700's Carl von Linne developed a system to overcome this very situation. The system, now called the Binomial System of Nomenclature classified each organism using a two part Latinized name - Genus and Species. Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Subfamily and other divisions were added. In fact, Linne is referred to as 'Linnaeus' as the original discoverer of many species.

With almost 2 million species of animal and plants living on our world, modern science now has them placed into 5 Kingdoms. The first Kingdom is Procaryotae, which contains about 5000 species of bacteria and blue algae (Cyanobacteria). The second Kingdom, Protoctista, contains about 70,000 species and is made up of one-celled organisms, water fungi, ciliates, flagellates, and infusoria among others. In fact, there are both good and bad members, e.g., the dinoflagellates and parasitic protozoans that cause fish maladies such as Marine Ich, and the good such as ciliates and infusoria that act as microscopic food for various animals. The third Kingdom, Fungi, has well over 100,000 species of mushrooms, toadstools, fungi, and truffles. The forth Kingdom, Plantae, has about 400,000 species, and consists of ferns, mosses, and higher plants and trees. And of major importance in this Section, the Kingdom Animalia that contains more than a 1,000,000 species, including humans.

To layout the following discussion in this and the next two chapters on animals of interest, it's necessary, in my opinion, to divide these creatures into subcategories, more properly called 'Phylums' that make up the Kingdom: Animalia. Of the 36 phyla in this Kingdom, only some will qualify for discussion here. In 'this' chapter, those of interest fall within the Phylum Chordata, which contains two 'Classes' of interest; Actinopterygii (spiny-rayed or bony fishes) and Chondrichthyes (sharks and rays).

In the following discussions I'll try to name their order, suborder, and family, which can be utilized for doing further research on species of interest. Keep in mind when discussing an individual specimen, its 'genus' name always begins capitalized, and its species name is all in lower case. Both are italicized. Higher classification levels are usually capitalized, but not italicized. And when a person's name follows the scientific name, it's the person who first described the organism. If the name appears in parentheses, another taxonomist has changed the genus name.

Of the 30,000 species of fishes on this globe, about 15,000 inhabit marine waters, with about half that associated with reefs. Of the 7000 to 8000 found adjacent to reef structures, few are suitable for hobbyist aquariums. Therefore, lets take some of the better-known reef families or subfamilies and discuss some of the more popular species, and where feasible, add some personal experiences with certain species. And for no better reason than trying to stay somewhat organized, lets utilize the overall common name of these fish families, e.g., Anemonefishes, and discuss them in alphabetical order.

Finally, fishes are an important part of almost any style aquarium, and by having an array of sizes, shapes, and colors, combined with their form of movement, it provides an additional level of interest in most aquariums. In fact, they are probably why most aquarists are attracted to the hobby and in my opinion; every effort should be made to purchase captive bred fishes and invertebrates. Such specimens are already accustom to aquarium life and therefore less quarrelsome and/or already accept prepared aquarium foods. In the long run, they are much more hardier than the wild caught livestock. It also helps to protect Mother Nature!

Again, will only show here one, maybe slightly more species photos per family, and/or provide some links per family to save uploading time and space. Nevertheless, throughout this chapter you will see the words, 'visit my Articles page and Animal Library>Fish Library' for either many informative TFH articles I wrote on many of these species maintained over the past couple of decades, and/or further information on different species. These are all posted on my website

(Please keep in mind all underlined word(s) are linkable files – just click on them and be taken to its content/photo. Also, all shown photos are clickable, which often allows a larger file to be seen.)


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Labroidei as members of the Family Pomacentridae (Damselfishes) where they fall into the Subfamily Amphiprioninae (Anemonefishes, having 28 species) and are found in the Central and Western Pacific and Indo-Pacific Oceans, including the Red Sea. Most are found along coastal protected reefs, generally in shallow waters and usually in small groups near their favorite anemone. The natural diet consists mainly of zooplankton, and they are generally easily maintained in the aquarium. In fact, they are considered by aquarists to be among the more colorful, mostly peaceful, and usually fairly inexpensive small marine fishes. And they accept a wide variety of foodstuffs and most do well in a temperature range of 77 - 82 °F (25 - 27 °C).

Family members fall into six groups called "Complexes"

Percula Complex consists of A. percula and A. ocellaris

Tomato Complex consists of A. ephippium, A. frenatus, A. mccullochi, A. melanopus, and A. rubrocinctus

Skunk Complex consists of A. akallopisos, A. leucokranos, A. nigripes, A. perideraion, A. sandaracinos, and A. thiellei

Clarkii Complex consists of A. akindynos, A. allardi, A. bicinctus, A. clarkii, A. chagosensis, A. chrysogaster, A. chrysopterus, A. fuscocaudatus, A. latifasciatus, A. omanensis, and A. tricinctus

Saddleback Complex consists of A. latezonatus, A. polymnus, and A. sebae

Maroon Complex with its single member, Premnas biaculeatus

As to color patterns between juveniles and sub-adults of the same species, A. melanopus and A. frenatus are almost identical, as are A. akindynos, A. clarkii and A. chrysopterus. Even A. percula and A. ocellaris juveniles and sub-adults are very similar to their adult color patterns. Yet, most all other anemonefish have vast differences between growth stages.

Recently, percula/ocellaris species with highly increased black or white areas are appearing and are quite attractive and/or other oddities, such as what is called Platinum Clowns, Black Ice Clowns, or others having somewhat fitting labels and are demanding high prices. However they do not breed 100 percent true and are basically oddballs, yet highly attractive ones!

As to 'Nemo's,' they have become extremely popular since the Walt Disney movie made its appearance. I've maintained many different species in this Subfamily, with most exhibiting a somewhat territorial behavior, yet when in a large aquarium, nothing its neighbors couldn't adequately handle without becoming stressed. Nevertheless, those without a host anemone or in small quarters can get quite bullish and pick on passerby's to 'their' area, which they will define.

My favorites, and those of my wife, are the Ocellaris or False Percula, Amphiprion ocellaris, and Percula, A. percula. I have probably kept these species in at least seven or eight different aquariums (maybe more) over the past few decades. Ocellaris specimens can slightly vary in the main body color from either a tangerine orange to that of yellow and are sometimes confused with the Percula species, which have slightly wider black bans bordering their three white vertical bars. Perculas also vary in main body coloration, with variations of orange to recently, areas containing far more black than in the original species.

As in all clownfish species, the female is normally about a third larger than the male. And if a female dies, a male becomes the dominant female, possibly within a very short period of time, e.g., one month. (Disney got that wrong in Finding Nemo!) In fact, two juveniles of the same species placed in the same aquarium will usually mature into a mated pair. And as long as there remain sufficient territories in the aquarium where any of these Anemonefish species can find a secure home, they can be placed into the aquarium at any time in its history. And I should add, their nutritional requirements are easily met, as the more common aquarium foodstuffs, e.g., frozen and live brine shrimp, mysis, various meaty diced fish and shrimp flesh, and flake containing Spirulina make it easy to keep them happy and healthy.

It's also worth mentioning it's usually advantageous to place 'all' clownfish into the aquarium at one time, i.e., not one this month and another the following month. The first group of clownfish into the aquarium will head straight for their favorite anemone, if available, and soon make it or a particular area in the aquarium their home. Any clownfish added at a later date may be chased away by its present inhabitants, or be severely injured in a territory dispute, even if there's not an anemone to squabble over. And even though it's not necessary to have their favorite anemone available, it does tend to be much less stressful for anemonefish if one is present. Besides, it's also quite interesting and entertaining to watch their behavior when associated with an anemone! (Baby Clowns in my aquarium......close-up view)

Those that I have personally maintained are numerous, and honestly can't remember all the species that have been maintained over the past decades. But highly recommend reviewing the Articles page and Animal Library>Fish Library on this website for 'lots' more information on these very popular fishes. Additionally, if anemonefish are in your aquarium or future goals, I highly recommend reading "Field Guide to Anemonefishes and their Host Anemones" by Daphne G. Fautin and Gerald R. Allen, and/or 'Clownfishes, A Guide to Their Captive Care, Breeding & Natural History' by Joyce D. Wilkerson. A book review of that work can be seen on this website on my Product & Book Review page. And for more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 4 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-97-1).


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei and are members of the Family Pomacanthidae (Angelfishes), which contains about 88 species in 8 genera. They are some of the most beautiful, smart and hardy of all aquarium fishes. All are thought to be protogynous hermaphrodites where females change to males and also mostly solitary swimmers, preferring shallower water in the range of 6 - 50 feet (2 - 15 m). Yet some species are found in somewhat deeper waters. Some species live in small social groups with a single male controlling overlapping territories containing one to four females. Many experience dramatic color and pattern changes from juvenile to adult stages, and most species are found in the Indo-Pacific: Australia - 23; Indonesia - 21; New Guinea - 22; Philippines - 19; and, Taiwan - 20, with about a dozen found in the Atlantic Ocean.

These are mostly territorial species and spend much of their time in search of food e.g., algae, sponges, tunicates, and various other benthic items. Learning what food preference certain species have goes a long way in their maintenance! Actually, they can be broken down into three different feeding groups - zooplankton feeders, sessile invertebrate feeders, and algae and detritus feeders. The genera Apolemichthys, Chaetodontoplus, Holacanthus, Pomacanthus, and Pygoplites fit well into the sessile invertebrate feeder group. The Centropyge genus is mostly an algae and detritus feeder. Those in the Genicanthus genus fit mostly into the zooplankton feeder group.

One of the most asked questions is whether or not more than one species can be kept in the same aquarium. In small aquariums, such a practice should be avoided because they are mostly belligerent towards each other. In larger aquariums, e.g., over 100 gallons, where there are many caves and hiding places, it could house a few different angelfishes. Yet, do not keep members of the same species together, or juveniles of the same coloration, e.g., the Koran and Emperor. Always add the least aggressive and smallest first. Wait sometime before adding the next, such as a week or two. Then add the next larger and more aggressive specimen. If there is some squabbling, try changing the way the aquascaping looks. Have fishes that differ in color patterns. Also, feed well prior to adding a new specimen and provide shelter, e.g., boulders and cave-like structures for them to investigate.

As for those in the Apolemichthys Group, they are all medium size species, and all are found in either the Indian or Pacific Oceans. Little is known about their behavioral ecology, with most solely feeding on tunicates and sponges. Nonetheless, juveniles no doubt include plant material in their diet.

For those in the Centropyge Group, most of these smaller angelfishes make very suitable aquarium specimens. They range throughout the Indian Ocean, as well as the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Yet, only a few of these pygmy or dwarf angelfishes are considered safe for the reef aquarium. I say safe, as they sometimes become a nuisance, as they can develop a habit of nipping at the mantles of Tridacna clams and some soft corals, causing them to remain closed or at least become stressed.

This genus contains about thirty species that mainly grow between 2 to 7 inches (5 to 18 cm). They all start sexually undifferentiated, then become females, where some develop into males as they grow larger. Most are medium priced, hardy, very colorful, peaceful and/or tolerate other fishes. Many prefer rubble-like bottom areas or rocky passageways/caves. Their primary diet consists of algae and small crustaceans and they can be quite territorial, especially with members of their own species. They are susceptible to Marine Ich, e.g., Cryptocaryon/Amyloodinium, and are sensitive to copper treatments with or without formalin, as are all angelfish.

Some pygmy angelfish are collected from the Atlantic Ocean near the northern border of the Tropic of Cancer and may be accustomed to middle 70 degree water temperatures, e.g., Centropyge argi. Therefore, check the area of origin as to water temperatures of your selected species before placing it in an aquarium environment that may be too warm. As with most other genera and species of angelfish, they prefer a diet high in algae, balanced with fortified brine shrimp, plankton, prawn, chopped clams and worms, e.g., bloodworms, tubifex, glassworms, black worms, and whiteworms. Some will also take a high quality flake food.

(The following is the results of a discussion on Centropyge species with Jim Stime, www.

"There are over 32 species of dwarf angels with new species being discovered all the time. Familiar examples include; Flame, Potters, Coral Beauty, Lemon Peel and the Resplendent. Dwarf angels need lots of algae to graze upon, and are very popular introductions into reef aquariums. In the wild they are often found in small shoals of females with one dominant male. If the male is lost, the dominant female simply turns into a male!

When shopping for a pygmy angel make it a point to note two things; richness of overall color, and is the fish aware of its surroundings. Select fish with deep rich color. Fish that are pale would be an indication that something is bothering the fish. Fish should react in a defensive, yet curious manner when you approach the aquarium. They should be aware of your presence, raise their dorsal fin and exhibit a defensive posture. It is expected they will seek a hiding spot but their curiosity will cause them to peek out at you.

Pygmy angels like all other fish are subject to marine parasites such as Ick. Copper-based medications are very effective but must be used in half dose increments, as Centropyge species do not tolerate immediate full dose applications.

As with other fish families it is difficult to add additional similar species when one species is already established in the aquarium, but not impossible. Many of the tanks I (Jim) have owned or maintained include more than one within the same genus. Established fishes will sometimes relentlessly defend their tank choosing to viciously beat up the new addition.

In regards to creating male and female pairs I (Jim) have found this to be quite easy. All Centropyge are born female. The larger or more dominant individuals will actually change sex and become males. Knowing that size is the main difference between the sexes, and not so much coloration, all one needs to do is place a small and larger version together. Within approximately 60 days either one of the two fish will have physically changed sex to accommodate each other and/or the two will have accepted their sexual role and have paired up.

Centropyge are broadcast spawners and spawning occurs at dusk or at the end of the light cycle in the aquarium. I (Jim) have found by using a series of timers controlling more than one or two separate sets of lights I could create a sunset effect. The timers allowed for a consistent time frame that mimicked the rise and fall of the sun. Just as the last set of lights shown in the tank the male would begin his nightly courtship. In nature this courtship occurred with more than one female as Centropyge live in harems of six to ten individuals. The recent successes in tank spawning and raising of Centropyge specimens will ensure their continued availability, including rare specimens and eventually bring costs down.

Dwarf angels tend to accept all forms of foods. I (Jim) have found that in the beginning it was good to get them feeding on frozen Mysis. This food seems to get their attention as a result of the high amount of oils and lipids it contains. Over time variety is best for any fishes. Pygmy's will nip at algae and small invertebrates, especially tanks furnished with live rock. Many hobbyists have reported that one species tends to enjoy nipping at live corals more than others. I (Jim) have experienced some problems with some fish but nothing to suggest a particular species over another"

As for those in the Chaetodontoplus Group, they are comprised of medium sized species, about 14 inches in length, and all hailing from the Western Pacific Ocean, from Japan south the Australia.

Those in the Genicanthus Group are small to medium size angelfishes, mostly plankton feeders, open water swimmers, and make good reef and fish-only inhabitants. They are commonly known as swallowtails or lyretailed angelfish. They do better in an aquarium of 100 gallons and larger where there is sufficient open space to dart after plankton-like food when available. May not be safe with very small crustaceans. Males always have long fin streamer/filaments that flow from the tips of the fins. Avoid purchasing any that can't maintain their position in the water, as that is an indication the swim bladder is damaged, probably during collection as they come from deeper waters.

Holacanthus Group species are constant grazers rather than consumers of large portions at single feedings. They should be fed with extreme care and particular attention paid to the quality and quantity. Frequent small feedings are better than large single feedings and sponge and some algae are of extreme importance in their diet. This species are also active swimmers and should have adequate space along with caves, tunnels, and overhanging ledges. There's also one of my articles dedicated to some species in the Holacanthus Genera that I've maintained and its posted in the 'Articles' section of this website. You may want to read it.

Those in the Paracentropyge Group are secretive in the wild and difficult to maintain in aquaria. They are thought to be sponge and tunicates eaters. They need plenty of caves and hiding places, low lighting, and no aggressive tankmates. A third member of this clan is the Peppermint Angelfish (Paracentropyge boylei) and it is still not clear whether or not it's in the genus Centropyge or this one!

As for those in the Pomacanthus Group, they may be the most spectacular, probably the largest in the family, and hail from all tropical seas.

There is only one specimen in the Pygoplites Group, yet there are subtle differences in the species depending upon where it comes from. Those coming from the Pacific area generally have white on the front part of the belly. Those from the Red Sea - Indian Ocean have orange on the front belly. There is no color difference between sexes. They can be difficult to maintain, with those coming from the Red Sea reported to fare better than those from the Pacific. Juveniles prove to be quite hardy and have little color difference from an adult; however they are somewhat more orange-yellow and have an eyespot on the rear portion of the dorsal fin.

Finally, just want to mention that over the past 40 years have kept 'many' different species; so if you need further info, contact me directly. Also, highly recommend reviewing the Articles page and my Animal Library>Fish Library on this website for 'lots' more information on these popular fishes. And for even more information, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6), and my Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and are placed in the Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Serranidae (Groupers & Anthias), which then contains the Subfamily Anthiinae and are found in all tropical oceans. It consists of 20 genera containing about 170 species, which are mostly small, peaceful, beautiful, yet somewhat difficult to maintain. They colonize the reefs in tropical seas in large numbers and are mainly zooplankton feeders. They mostly inhabit reef faces and slopes/drop-off areas at various depths and are mostly found in a temperature range of 72 - 80°F (22 - 27°C). Since they associate closely with reef structures, the aquarium should have ample rock structures and hiding places so as to reduce their stress level.

However, they do require exceptional water quality and also good water movement and since they form large aggregations in the wild, it may be better to keep them in small groups of the same genus by having one male and several females. Should the male perish, a female will become a male fairly quickly, sometimes in as little as two weeks. Nevertheless, they can be kept as individuals, which removes the pecking order situation when maintained in groups, and also reduces any social problems when groups insist on keeping their territories free from others outside their own species.

Those kept in groups also experience social problems among themselves, as the dominating male may not want a female in the group that is nearing a sex change or too overbearing, therefore drives the female away from the group possibly injuring it or having it starve to death. The same is feasible with females in the group, as they may not want an excessively dominant female in the group and may drive that individual away having the same results. And it is wise not to mix different genera in aquariums, as that can cause serious disposition problems, which may lead to fighting, injury or death. One further thought about keeping a male by itself, and that is it may lose its coloration and slowly become a female, which are color wise, far less attractive.

As to some of the various genera;


All members of this genus are located in the Atlantic Ocean or the Mediterranean. These cooler water rocky reef species rarely make it into the trade.


These are generally termed Streamer bass and are all found in the Atlantic Ocean. All live in deep waters, usually over 200 feet (60 m). Rarely ever collected, yet sometimes they turn up from food ships trawling the areas and are turned over to collectors if still viable. Generally not suited for aquarists as their deepwater environment makes them difficult, if not impossible to maintain.


These elongated Anthias are called Splitfin Anthias and there are about six identified species, however, have little value as aquarium specimens. They are zooplankton feeders and form large shoals that inhabit current swept drop-off areas. Male and female do not differ in coloration.


Often referred to as the Threadfin Anthias, and this one species of interest differs from the very similar Pseudanthias members because it has one more dorsal spine - eleven rather than ten. Like other anthias it is a zooplankton feeder. There are two color forms, one is reddish pink with yellow spots on each scale and lighter pink on the ventrum. The other is purplish violet with a violet dorsal fin and yellow on the posterior portion of the body and caudal fin (Scott Michael, 1998).


These are deep-water anthias, often found at depths below 200 feet (60 m). They feed solely on zooplankton, are accustom to dimly lit areas, are quite shy, and spend lot of their time hiding or exploring caves and rock crevices for prey. When available, they need a dimly lit environment having much live rock.


Referred to as Perchlets, these mostly small fish come from deep areas. There are about 40 known species, with all but one coming from the Indo-Pacific area. That remaining species, P. garrupleus, hails from the Atlantic Ocean. Most are secretive and the species in this genus are rarely ever seen in the trade. However, Plectranthias inermis occasionally shows up and looks somewhat like a Hawkfish.


By far the most common of the Anthias family and generally referred to as Fairly Basslets or just plain Anthias. There is about 30 species of interest to aquarists in this genus, some of which have yet to be steadily collected for aquariums.


Originally placed in the Hawkfish family, it was later moved to the Anthias family. They differ from their cousins as they have very deep bodies and elongated fins that extend back as far as the anal fin. The shape of their eye and mouth are also somewhat different, as they present a menacing look. They also swim upside down under overhangs and in caves.

As for the more popular species, my all time favorite is Pseudanthias squamipinnis, with others such as Pseudanthias bicolor; Pseudanthias dispar; Pseudanthias pleurotaenia; Pseudanthias bartlettorum; Serranocirrhitus latus; and, Nemanthias carberryi among those I've enjoyed keeping with great success. There's also a newcomer, Holanthias borbonius, that appears to be quite easy to maintain! But there are 'many' to choose from, so before selecting any species, do your homework and be sure you'll have the right environmental conditions before bringing it home to your aquarium. Also suggest reading the article I wrote for TFH who graciously allowed it to be posted on my website on the 'Articles' page, which is titled 'Anthias: Those Fancy Basses.'

And for really in-depth information concerning these beautiful reef fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1), and my Articles page and Animal Library>Fish Library for even more information.

Assessors & Comets

These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Plesiopidae (Longfins), which contains the following two genera of interest, Assessors and Calloplesiops. Nevertheless, there are 11 genera having about 38 species, all hailing from the Indo-Pacific Ocean with only a few of interest to hobbyists. These are shy/cryptic fishes that prefer to hide in caves and crevices and only venture out to seek food, usually other small fishes or crustaceans. In fact they are rarely collected with only a few species occasionally showing up in the trade.

The Marine Comet/Betta, Calloplesiops altivelis, is thought to be the only species in this genus, nevertheless, there may be another, C. argus which is still to be determined. These, even though secretive, make good fish-only or reef aquarium additions. They attain an 8 inch (20 cm) length and when hunting/seeing prey, tips its body forward and erects its large pelvic fins and curls its also large tail to one side. It then moves forward towards its prey, which seems to be mesmerized by its approach and when close, darts at the prey usually successfully attaining dinner. They spend their daylight hours in caves with only their tail possibly protruding outward. Their tail contains a false eyespot and gives the fish a moray eel appearance, which discourages predators.

These are very hardy and disease resistant fish, yet when first introduced may hide for days in brightly lit aquariums. Live food, such as enriched brine shrimp is a must to get them past this introductory timeframe in the aquarium. Thereafter, meaty frozen foods will usually be accepted. As specimen fish in small aquariums, they are quite interesting and easy to maintain, but in larger aquariums, especially reef aquariums with many hiding places they will need some special care to meet their nutritional needs when first introduced. And even though quite peaceful, small shrimp and fishes are always on their menu.

There is another closely related species, Paraplesiops meleagris, that is very attractive, yet rarely available in the trade, possibly because its common name is 'Blue Devil.' It hails from the Eastern Indian Ocean: Western and South Australia and is generally found on shallow rocky reefs and caves. It gets to about 10 inches (25 cm) in length, and is quite a beautiful fish, yet needs an environment similar to the above discussed species.

As for assessors, there are two, the Yellow Assessor, Assessor flavissimus, and Assessor macneilli the Blue Assessor that occasionally are seen in the trade. Both are small, a little over 2 inches (5.5 cm), and its wise to maintain only one in the aquarium unless it's a very large aquarium, e.g., over 100 gallons. Since they are live food feeders, they should be kept only in well-established reef tanks where small crustaceans such as copepods and amphipods are naturally available, or smaller 'food' fish. Since they are nocturnal hunters, little of them will be seen during daylight hours. Keep in mind these and the above species should not be kept with aggressive fishes, such as dottybacks, hawkfishes, and damselfishes.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Chaetodontidae (Butterflyfishes), which consists of 13 genera with about 130 species. One of the more popular genus, Heniochus, is commonly referred to as 'Bannerfish,' and hail from the Tropical Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. Some form shoals and feed upon zooplankton, while others prefer staying under overhangs or in caves and browse on benthic invertebrates.

There are two species that are considered ideal aquarium fish, H. acuminatus the Longfin Bannerfish/Black-and-White Heniochus (9 inches - 22.5 cm), and H. diphreutes the Schooling Bannerfish (7 inches - 18 cm). Both are zooplankton feeders; therefore require meaty foods fed 2 - 3 times per day. If desiring a shoal, all must be introduced at the same time, as newcomers will be harassed.

If the choice were H. acuminatus, I would limit their use to fish-only systems, as it is said they can be destructive in reef systems. For invertebrate systems, H. diphreutes would be a better choice. As for H. acuminatus, I've kept five in a 75-gallon fish-only system, making for an excellent display. In fact, some viewers thought them Moorish Idols! And they ate just about any food I put in the aquarium, with flake foods and various meaty foods quickly gobbled up. Both are mostly peaceful and accept a wide variety of foodstuffs, but can become somewhat territorial in small aquariums. The common German name for these fish is 'Wimplefish,' which is a type of hat with feathers.

And for more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6), and my Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Acanthuroidei where they are members of the Family Ephippidae (Spadefishes & Batfishes) with those of major interest to hobbyists in the genus Platax. They come from Central Indo-Pacific Ocean, and juveniles are found in coastal waters near and in mangrove/brackish waters and are more attractive than adults, with adults found in coastal lagoons.

A small four-inch tall juvenile specimen can outgrow a 75-gallon aquarium in one year, quickly reaching a height of about 15 inches (37.5 cm). Diet consists of plankton, algae, small fish, jellyfish, worms, and other small invertebrate. Only a few are of interst, such as Platax orbicularis, Platax teira, and P. pinnatus, which is the most popular because of its colors.

As for P. pinnatus the Long-finned Batfish/Red-finned Batfish, its mostly brownish-black body has spectacular large and flowing fins that are edged in deep red to orange-red. Many consider this slow moving fish something better suited for more experienced aquarists since it's often difficult to get it to begin feeding in aquariums. It must also be housed in an aquarium having considerable height, and because of its large fin areas, not housed with fin nippers. Even though an attractive fish, its probably better left in the wild as few survives for any appreciable length of time in captivity. Keep in mind; these high finned fishes need lots of space, especially in aquarium height.


These fish belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Blennioidei where they are members of the Family Blenniidae, which consists of 53 genera having about 350 species. It contains an assortment of interesting species that are mostly bottom-dwelling fishes and fun to watch, and can be kept in the reef or fish-only aquarium. Most lack a swimbladder or have a very small one, and have a slimy body instead of scales and a continuous dorsal fin. Some are quite colorful, peaceful, hardy, and generally inexpensive. Others have venomous fangs and prey on small invertebrates and other fishes. Some have their teeth in their lips, which are used for scraping algae from substrate surface areas. These are called 'Combtooth' Blennies. All will fiercely defend their territory, yet I have never seen the loser in territorial battles to really be the worse for wear. Many of interest are herbivores, making them highly desirable in closed systems where certain types of algae may be unwanted.

The members of the genus Cirripectes are called 'Eyelash' Blennies because they have a collar of cilia running around their neck. They are basically an algae consuming species and sometimes are also called Combtooth Blennies because they have about 100 fine teeth embedded in their lips, not their jaw. They utilized their lips to scrape the algae off rocks and even the sides of the aquarium.

The genus Escenius is the largest, with at least 46 identified species and are also the most popular, as many are colorful and quite interesting. They are also an algae consuming species and also sometimes called Combtooth Blennies because of the fine teeth embedded in their lips. In fact, they utilized their lips similar to kissing Gouramies and scrape the algae off rocks and even the sides of the aquarium.

The blennies in the genus Salarias are also Combtooth Blennies. Even though not colorful, they can be fairly effective at controlling unwanted algae. The same is true for those in the genus Scartella.

As for the genus Meiacanthus, these Lyretail members use their fangs mainly for defense, otherwise they are fairly peaceful. In fact, they have a poison gland at the base of their fangs, which is bad news for those that are bitten! They also have fully developed swim bladders, making them capable to swim and hunt in the open water.

Even though hobbyists generally see only one species from the genus Ophioblennius, there are two species, with possibly two additional subspecies. The most well-known species is O. atlanticus, however, it is thought there is a subspecies O. a. macclurei that is found in the Caribbean, with what should be termed O. a. atlanticus being found only in the Azores, Cape Verde, St. Paul's Rocks, Brazil, Trindade Island, Sao Tome, Ascension Island, and Saint Helena areas. Also, the Pacific species, O. steindachneri has a subspecies called O. s. clippertonensis found only at Clipperton Island (Springer. 1962). For all practical purposes, they all look similar, yet no photos of the subspecies exits that I know of.

Those in the genus Atrosalarias are excellent herbivores, yet won't pass up a small tasty crustacean. Since there is a wide selection available, do some homework on the species of interest before bringing it home.

The blennies in the genus Aspidontus are skin and fin nippers, and if anything, should be maintained with the knowledge they can be devastating to other fish in the aquarium. They have a small swim bladder, which is used mainly for briefly mingling with unsuspecting targets while they take aim!

The blennies in the genus Petroscirtes have a small swim bladder. Even though they have fangs, they are used for defense, not aggression. Yet, they may bite the hand that feeds them – caution is advised if you handle them.

Those blennies in the genus Plagiotremus are not what I would call a community fish! They are better left in the wild as they nip flesh from other unsuspecting fish. They have a small swim bladder and lack pelvic fins.

Mentioned here simply because its called a blenny, is the single member in the Family Pholidichthyidae, Pholidichthys leucotaenia, the eel-shaped Convict Blenny from the Western Pacific Ocean. Even though they are goby-like, they are related to blennies as they lack scales, have well-developed teeth, and also lack fin spines and a lateral line. As juveniles, they appear in great numbers along protected areas of drop-offs and are sometimes mistaken for coral catfishes. At night they settle into crevices in the reef. Adults are rarely seen, as they are quite secretive. This is a major digger and will excavate tunnels and holes under any rock or decor in the aquarium. It can be considered a good sand stirrer, but can undermine anything it can dig under.

Those in the genus Tripterygion in the Family Triperygiidae, are the only blennies having a notched dorsal fin consisting of three sections. They are very small fish, about 2 inches (5 cm), are related to blennies, however, they do have scales. They generally feed on crustaceans. Males are much more attractive than females. Better left in the wild as they nip flesh from other unsuspecting fish. Rarely available in the trade. Visit my Animal Library>Fish Library where there are over 130 species described!


These fishes belong in the Order Tetraodontiformes, Suborder Tetraodontoidei, as members of the Family Ostraciidae. This family contains 2 subfamilies, 14 genera with about 33 species and those of interest in the hobby are in the subfamily Ostraciinae. All are either box or angular-shaped and have a rigid body composed of bony plates with the only body openings for eyes, mouth, gills, anus, and fins. Many members contain toxic mucus, ostracitoxin, that can be released when stressed, and because of that it's always wise to keep activated carbon in use somewhere in the aquarium as it will help remove the toxin and possibly prevent a wipeout. Nevertheless, these poisonings are rare with some known incidents related to the Blue Boxfish Ostracion meleagris from Hawaii and Lactoria cornuta from the Indo-Pacific. One such incident happen to a northern Arizona store owner who called me after finding all their fish dead one morning, including the Blue Boxfish in their system.

Cowfish, in the genus Lactoria and Lactophrys, are usually more angular-shaped with various size horns, hence its name. Boxfishes/Trunkfishes do not have horns and their bodies are mostly trunk/box-shaped. They are all slow swimmers and are mostly found in shallow waters, sometimes in seagrass beds. Some feed by blowing away bottom sand and looking for small invertebrate. Fast moving and fin-nipping tankmates are not recommended. These fishes can be kept in pairs, however may quarrel over food as they grow larger. Probably one to a tank is the best for everyone, including the aquarist.

Often, newly arrived cowfish are light sensitive and difficult to get feeding. Adult brine shrimp and black worms are worthwhile trying, as the motion of the food often entices the animal to begin feeding. Do not offer floating foods, as they may ingest air, which may cause buoyancy problems. Since cowfish are constant grazers, hence the name, an adequate supply of algae should be supplied. Small hermit crabs and snails can also be a living food supply in the system. Hand feeding cowfish once they are acclimated is a favorite pastime with many aquarists.

The Smooth Cowfish (also called the Smooth Trunkfish) Lactophrys trigonus, about 18 inches (45 cm) hails from the Tropical Western Atlantic and is seen quite frequently in the trade as a cute juvenile. Its prefers a temperature range of 72 - 79°F (22 - 26°C) as do all from this region, and in the wild feeds upon benthic creatures, e.g., crustaceans, mollusks, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, crabs, and some marine plants/algae. In the aquarium it requires a varied diet that contains both meaty and vegetable matter. A slow moving fish and should not be housed with fast moving and/or fin-nipping fishes. Keep in mind if mistreated, when excited can release a toxin that may kill other fish and itself.

Two more occasionally seen in the trade are the Honeycomb Cowfish Acanthostracion polygonius (19 inches - 48 cm) and Scrawled Cowfish Acanthostracion quadricornis (about 18 inches - 45 cm), which have the same husbandry requirements as the above-mentioned species. Then in the genus Lactoria, the Longhorn Cowfish L. cornuta (about 20 inches - 50 cm), which hails from the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea is another often seen as a cute juvenile, again with the same aquarium requirements.

Two box/trunkfish species in the genus Ostracion occasionally seen in the trade are the Spotted Cube Boxfish Ostracion cubicus (18 inches - 45 cm) and Blue Boxfish O. meleagris (8 inches - 20 cm). Keep in mind the Blue Boxfish is the male, as the female is black with white spots. Since a 'blue' fish is more attractive, it shows up in the trade more often than the female in this species. Again, husbandry is the same as mentioned above.

All in all, these bizarre looking fish make pets similar to that of a dog, as when in the right environment they come to know their keeper and will beg for food every time its owner comes close to the aquarium. Just remember, juveniles grow quickly and need not only large quarters, but also the right diet and tankmates, otherwise there may be a die-off of all fish in the aquarium.


The Family Chaetodontidae, as discussed in Bannerfishes above, contains 13 genera and almost 130 species, both described and yet undescribed. It probably contains the most colorful marine fish to be found in the wild, with these laterally compressed disc-shaped fish not getting overly large, i.e., generally not exceeding 6 inches (15 cm). Besides size and coloration being a hobbyist attraction, they 'sometimes' make good community fishes. Notice I said 'sometimes,' as 'many' require excellent water quality, besides difficult to feed/requiring live foods such as coral polyps and crustaceans.

The majority of the species is in the genus Chaetodon, which means 'bristle tooth,' and are mostly shallow water coral reef fishes. Since they have very small mouths, many are constant gazers and usually on live coral polyps. Those that are exclusive coral polyp feeders should be avoided/better left in the wild. In fact, there are very few butterflyfishes suited for fish-only aquariums and far less for reef aquariums.

As for those in the Chaetodon genus, their distribution is quite extensive as it's found in both the west and central Pacific Ocean, Hawaii, southern Japan, and the northwest and east coast of Australia, along with areas in the Atlantic Ocean. It is probably the largest genus of marine fishes that interest hobbyists. Most of these very beautiful fishes are described here in the Fish Library. It should be noted that C. aya, C. obliquus, and C. guyanensis are no longer valid in this genus and have now moved to the genus Prognathodes. And, C. andamanensis and C. hemichrysus are no longer a valid species. And C. interruptus is also not a valid species, however, it should be regarded as a subspecies of C. unimaculatus, e.g., Chaetodon unimaculatus interruptus per Vincent Hargreaves, Jack Randall and Bill Eschmeyer. As noted above, C. andamanensis is an invalid species, however, it should be treated as a junior synonym of C. plebeius per Vincent Hargreaves. He states: "There are various 'intermediates' from the Maldives, Phuket and the eastern Indian Ocean that are well documented and prove that it is merely a geographical color variation." And that he, Frank Schneidewind, Jack Randall, and Bill Eschmeyer all agree on this matter.

As for more hardy species, the Raccoon Butterflyfish Chaetodon lunula; the Hawaiian Butterflyfish Chaetodon miliaris; the Pacific Double Saddle Butterflyfish Chaetodon ulietensis; the Teardrop Butterflyfish Chaetodon unimaculatus; and, the Long-Nosed Butterflyfishes in the genus Forcipiger are good choices. And most appear to do better near the higher level of their species temperature range (research each) and also seem to do better in specific gravity levels found in most reef systems, i.e., 1.025 than what is found in most fish-only systems (about 1.022 - 1.023). If possible, it is better to attain most of them as juveniles, as there is a greater chance they will adapt to available aquarium foods. Chaetodon auriga and Chaetodon kleinii are among the easiest to maintain.

Keep in mind butterflyfishes are often the first to show signs of Cryptocaryon and/or Amyloodinium infections. Often, copper or malachite green treatments will cure the problem, however, some species are quite sensitive to copper and other medications.

As to the latest revision (August 2004) of the entire Butterflyfish family, it can be seen right here by visiting the Fish Library! I want to personally thank those involved with this reclassification, i.e., Vincent Hargreaves Ph.D., and those assisting him such as John Randall, Frank Schneidewind, Peter Wirtz, and Hiroyuki Tanaka for their dedication to perfection, and for allowing my website to be the "first in the world" to post it!

Highly recommend reviewing the Articles page and my Animal Library>Fish Library on this website for 'lots' more information on these very popular fishes. And for really in-depth information concerning these beautiful reef fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6). You can see a review of this exquisite book by visiting my Product & Book Reviews page.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei where they are members of the Family Apogonidae, which has two subfamilies having 22 genera and about 207 species. They are mostly small, peaceful, and generally nocturnal fish, and are globally distributed. They are carnivorous/plankton feeders with generally large eyes and mouths, somewhat colorful and mostly found amongst coral branches and ledges during the day and searching bottom areas for food at night. Some do get large enough to eat small fish, so care must be exercised when selecting a species.

Cardinalfishes actually got their name because red is the main coloration in many of the species. Reproduction is by mouthbrooding, with male incubating the eggs. Many can be kept in small groups and should have adequate caves and hiding places with subdued lighting. Their diet should contain vitamin-enriched foods and a color enhancer, such as Spirulina.

There are a few species that are excellent for all aquarists. Probably the Banggai Cardinalfish Pterapogon kauderni is the most popular. It was originally described by Koumans in 1933 and rediscovered by Dr. Gerald Allen in 1995 and introduced to the public at the MACNA 95 conference. As the story goes, Dr. Gerald Allen and Roger Steele went to Banggai to checkout what was called an unusual cardinalfish by diver/adventurer Kal Müller. They took a flight to Luwuk, in central Sulawesi and then traveled another 10 hours by ferry to Banggai. They actually found these cardinalfishes under a dock near the towns waste outlet pipe. They noted that these fishes live among the spines of the Diadema setosum urchin in shallow seagrass beds, probably less than 6 feet.

It has also been reported that these fishes enter anemones, e.g., the sebae and long-tentacle anemones without incurring any damage. They are a mouthbrooder, with the male tending for the eggs and even holding the newly hatched young in the mouth for the first few weeks. At this time the female will chase away other fishes that get too close to the male. The fry are large enough to take newly hatched brine and rotifers.

If introduced in numbers, it's a peaceful species at first. Shortly thereafter they pair-up and start chasing others away from their territory. If more than a mated pair is to be maintained, it should be in an aquarium over 100 gallons. Difficult to sex, but the male may have a slightly longer second dorsal fin and a wider lower jaw. The female is larger than the male. Very hardy and a very good fish-only and reef aquarium fish, however, should not be kept with belligerent tankmates, e.g., dottybacks, hawkfishes, and some damselfishes. Will eat most meaty foods, e.g., black worms, brine shrimp, and various other meaty foods.

Another very good choice is the Pajama/Polka Dot Cardinalfish Sphaeramia nematoptera, which hails from the Western Pacific Ocean and gets to about 3 inches (7.5 cm). This is a shoaling fish and often seen in large groups in reef shallows and lagoons. With its orange eyes and ventral fins, it makes for a nice peaceful addition when kept in small groups of six or more in reef or fish-only aquariums. Their diet needs are the same as the above described species.

A species often seen in the trade, yet somewhat larger than the above species, is the Flame Cardinalfish Apogon maculates, which hails from the Tropical Western Atlantic Ocean and gets to about 4 inches (10 cm). They inhabit coastal reef caves usually in small aggregations near large over-hangs. Adults form pairs within the groups and are mainly nocturnal, spending daylight hours in crevices and caves. Their preferred temperature range is 70 - 79ºF (21 - 26ºC) and natural diet consists mainly of small invertebrate. This is a very hardy fish and easily maintained in aquariums, and will accept a wide variety of meaty foodstuffs. Nevertheless, their diet should contain a color enhancer, such as Spirulina to help maintain their reddish color. Keep in mind they prefer a dimly lit environment with caves, and can be maintained in small groups if all are added at one time. Even though somewhat small, they will attack and eat small shrimp.

One further species, the Spiny-eye/Bridled Cardinalfish, Apogon fraenatus from the Indo-Pacific Ocean is a common sight on the reefs and tidepools surrounding the Philippines. Its size and habitats are similar to the above species and its care is also no different. In fact, it looks quite similar to many cardinalfish, but its thicker horizontal bodylines end in a large black dot on the peduncle.

No matter what the species choice is when it comes to these fish, some research should be accomplished before they are introduced to the home aquarium. All will eat meaty foods, including any ornamental shrimp in the aquarium that will fit into their mouth.

And for really in-depth information concerning these beautiful reef fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 2 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-33-5). You can see a review of this exquisite book by visiting my Product & Book Reviews page. And also see my Animal Library>Fish Library for additional info.


These fishes belong in the Order Siluriformes, where they are members of the Family Plotosidae having 9 genera and 32 species, with one of interest to hobbyists being found on coral reefs, i.e., Plotosus lineatus. It hails from the Tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean and Red Sea and as juveniles, forms large shoals, especially when threatened. A hardy fish, yet has highly venomous fins, therefore avoid handling. Requires a meaty diet and numerous feeding per day. Juveniles have two white strips, but fade when getting larger. Larger specimens, usually over 5 - 6 inches tend to keep to themselves. May look nice in shoals, but actually better left in the wild. The bigger they get, and this species can reach 14 inches (35 cm) in length, the more other fishes in the tank become a possible food supply. Also see my Animal Library>Fish Library for additional info.

Coral Crouchers

If it swims like a goby, looks like a goby, acts like a goby, it is a goby. Right? - Wrong! These small fish look and act quite similar to those gobies in the Gobiodon and Gobiosoma genera, however, are actually in the Order Scorpaeniformes (scorpionfishes and flatheads). They like to hide among the branches of stony corals, e.g., Acropora, Pocillopora, and Stylophora. Like scorpionfishes, they have venomous dorsal spines. There is only one genus (Caracanthus) containing four members, and suggest visiting my Fish Library to see three of the species, which are almost impossible to see in the trade.


These fishes belong in the Order Ophidiiformes and Suborder Ophidioidei as members of the Family Ophidiidae, which include Livebearing Brotulas. They are quite similar in behavior to Brotuls, which are highly secretive, mostly nocturnal and eat anything they can fit into their mouths. They propel themselves by undulating their dorsal and anal fins.

Thought to feed upon benthic invertebrates in the wild, however, little else is known about these fish, as its 'very rarely' seen in the trade. If available, probably best suited for a reef aquarium with a lot of hiding places, yet, in my opinion, best left in the wild. Also see my Animal Library>Fish Library for additional info.


(Many years ago wrote an article for FAMA magazine titled 'Damselfish – Timid to Ferocious' and in part its presented here with their approval.)

These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Labroidei as members of the Family Pomacentridae (Damselfishes) consisting of 4 subfamilies, 28 genera, and 321 species. These fishes are among the most popular in the marine hobby because they are fairly small, inexpensive and quite colorful. They are probably the most widespread family of reef fishes, having species in every tropical sea in the world. And even though some aquarists do not think of Anemonefishes (Clownfishes) as being damselfishes, they are indeed one of the four subfamilies, i.e., Amphiprioninae. The other three subfamilies; Chrominae; Lepidozyginae; and, Pomacentrinae contain what aquarists generally think of as 'damselfishes', with species of interest coming only in the first and third subfamily.

As to their popularity, damselfishes are often the first inhabitants in many aquaria, as they are also quite hardy and disease resistant besides being lively and eating most aquarium foods. Nevertheless many have a feisty temperament, which I relate to them considering themselves 'whales' and owning the aquarium than small fish that should respectfully share their space with neighbors! And because of this territorial behavior an aquarist must choose carefully because once in the aquarium, especially a reef aquarium with lots of hiding places, getting them out is going to be difficult at best.

My experience with maintaining damselfish goes back to 1956 when I had my first marine aquarium. I netted two, which may have been the Yellowbelly Damselfish Amblyglyphidodon leucogaster in the shallow waters on the west side of the Island of Okinawa, in the South China Sea. Feisty would be an understatement, as they would attack my fingers if placed in the aquarium. In those days, only goldfish food was available on the Island, and even though they consumed it, they did not appear to like it. Because I was concerned about their long-term health, and new specimens were readily available, every few weeks my specimens would be returned to local waters and new specimens gathered.

In the following years my experience with damselfish grew, as the many aquariums I've had over the past 30 to 40 years has given me an opportunity to experience many different species both good and bad, either firsthand or from the experience of others that I have come in contact with. And because of that, I have developed some personal preferences as to what to keep, and what I wouldn't want to try a second time unless it had its own little world!

If there were one important aspect concerning damselfish in general, it would be the order to place them in the aquarium, i.e., would they be the first or last specimens to go in. I've found some species quite docile and making good community members, and can be added at any time in the history of the aquarium. While many others so territorial that by placing them first into an aquarium would constitute complete ownership of the entire aquarium with no new additions welcome, at least in 'their' opinion!

Moving into the Subfamily Chrominae, there are both good and bad choices depending upon your goals. For 'wonderful' peaceful tankmates, and those that can be kept in small groups, where they often school, i.e., swimming together as a coordinated group, those in the Chromis genus are good choices. My top choice here is the Green/Blue Green Chromis, Chromis viridis, as its suitable for both fish-only and reef aquaria. Depending upon aquarium size, I've always tried to keep at least 6 of them, and in larger aquaria, as many as 18. Once established, they always proved to be very hardy, eager eaters and never bothered their tankmates or invertebrates in any style aquarium. And as a bonus, they are mid to high-level swimmers, always active and staying in view. They make a good beginners' fish and are also very inexpensive.

I should note there is a look-alike with similar traits, which is C. atripectoralis and is often misidentified as C. viridis. Its popular name is the Black-axil Chromis, and is best identified by its black pectoral axil, which C. viridis does not have. It's considered even more peaceful than C. viridis! Another favorite, Chromis cyaneus, is often called the Reef Chromis or Blue Chromis. These tend to be a bit more scrappier than the previous two, yet not to the point where they stress their tankmates. They also should be kept in small groups, and as the previous two species, can be added to any style aquarium at whatever period in time.

Since I'm in the Subfamily Chrominae, there are a few that I would give second thoughts to ever owning again! In the Genus Dascyllus, Dascyllus aruanus, generally called the Humbug or Black and White Damselfish is one of them. There's probably not a shop that doesn't have these fish for sale in their tanks. As juveniles, they are cute and can be kept in groups. In fact, they are so hardy they can be used to cycle an aquarium. But when they get larger, they will fight among themselves and pick on tankmates unless they are much bigger and more aggressive, e.g., Moray eels, and Triggerfishes. And even though they will not harm sessile invertebrates and are easy to feed, in a mixed-company aquarium, whether they were first or last to be added, they think they own the aquarium!

Another is Dascyllus melanurus, the Blacktail or Striped Damselfish. It's often confused with the above-mentioned species; however, this species has four black bands, whereas the above species has three. It has the same traits, and the same is true for a third species in this genus, the Threespot or Domino Damselfish, D. trimaculatus. These three Dascyllus species must be recognized for what they are, inexpensive, hardy, easy to feed, yet can 'only' be kept with more aggressive fishes, as they become 'terrors' as they grow to maturity.

Moving into the Subfamily Pomacentrinae, and keeping with the few 'terror' subjects mentioned above, I want to mention one species, Microspathodon chrysurus, the Jewel Damselfish. I've had only one, which probably was one too many. As a juvenile this is a very pretty deep blue fish with iridescent blue spots on it body. However, the spots become smaller as it matures, and the body coloration changes to a yellowish-brown. Not only does it lose its pretty appearance, it will occasionally feed upon coral polyps, and that's besides it being a terror in mixed company aquariums.

Also in this Subfamily, there are those in the Genus Neoglyphidodon that I want to single out, e.g., N. crossi; Neoglyphidodon nigroris; and, N. oxyodon, because they continue to show up in the trade as very pretty and tempting juveniles. Unfortunately they become holy terrors as they mature, besides becoming quite drab in coloration. If you want to keep these members, then do so knowing of their temperament and forthcoming coloration changes, as they will only be fit to be housed with much more aggressive fish.

As for the good side of this Subfamily, such as many in the Genus Chrysiptera, there are several good choices. One of the most commonly available species is the Yellowtail Blue Damselfish, C. parasema. It's always inexpensive considering its electric blue body and yellow tail. Besides its beauty and small size, this is one of the more peaceful species in this genus and can be kept in small groups in mixed company aquariums, and will not harm invertebrates. As for additions to an up and running tank, I've added this species at different timeframes. Yet found it better to add them after the majority of my other fish were in the tank, or as the last members to be added. I've also found previous additions of these species not to coexist with new additions of this species, as there seemed to be battles as to who owned some areas of the aquarium.

There's also a look-alike Yellowtail Blue Damselfish that you should be aware of because it's not as peaceful, and that's Pomacentrus philippinus. Its blue coloration is much darker, has a very slight tinge of yellow in its pectoral and pelvic fin edges, and the yellow in its tail is somewhat dull looking. I've seen both in shops equally labeled as Yellowtail Damselfish, and that concerns me, as this species is aggressive towards smaller tankmates. And once in the tank, good luck on getting it back out!

Back in the Chrysiptera genus, is the Orangetail Damselfish, C. cyanea. Unfortunately, there's some confusion in identifying this species, since they hail from a wide area where they take on slightly different body markings and coloration. The female always has a blue colored body with a black spot at the base of the rear soft area of the dorsal fin and always has a clear tail. The males coming from the Pacific and Great Barrier Reef are a bright blue with some yellow in the mouth area and under the front portion of the head, yellow pelvic fins, and mostly a yellowish-orange tail. Central Indo-Pacific males are similar except they have mostly blue tails. This is an excellent aquarium fish and will not harm invertebrates, however, suggest getting juveniles as large males can be a little feisty. And I've found it best to add them as the last fish to go into the aquarium.

There are two other peaceful damsels in the genus Chrysiptera, i.e., C. hemicyanea (Azure Demoiselle), and C. starcki (Starck's Demoiselle) that I've kept more recently. Both seemed to have made good reef aquarium additions, and were added at various times during their history.

And just because many are noted as suitable for reef systems, it does not mean they get along with their tankmates! Therefore highly recommend reviewing the Articles page, and my Animal Library>Fish Library on this website where there is over 100 species described. And for more in-depth information concerning these beautiful reef fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 4 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-97-1).


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Gobioidei where they are members of the Family Microdesmidae (Dartfishes & Wormfishes) having 2 subfamilies, 10 genera, and 73 species. Their bodies are compressed and elongated, i.e., eel-like. Often thought of as 'Gobies' these fish are zooplankton feeders, and generally hover in open water, yet near the safety of an area where they can quickly retreat if threatened. They like the security of wedging themselves into tight places for a restful night's sleep. Unfortunately, nighttime predators such as crabs may make them an evening snack.

Those in the Subfamily Microdesminae (wormfishes) are 'very' rarely imported, with some of those in the genus Gunnellichthys infrequently available to hobbyists. Nevertheless, those in the Subfamily Ptereleotrinae are often available and are better known as 'Firefish.' There are two in the genus Nemateleotris and one in the genus Ptereleotris that are frequently available in the trade.

As for the two, Nemateleotris decora the Purple Firefish, and N. magnifica are usually simply called 'Firefish,' and hail from the Indo-Pacific Ocean where they inhabit coastal reefs usually in areas above gravel and rocky bottoms. Both are small fish, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) and somewhat shy. Since their natural diet consists mainly of zooplankton, they require a meaty diet, e.g., enriched brine shrimp, mysis, finely chopped fish or shrimp flesh, with one or two feedings per day. They naturally face into the current so as capture zooplankton, and are highly disease resistant. Keep in mind they are mid-level water column fish and good jumpers, therefore openings over the tank should be covered with something like eggcrate. One per tank is usually recommended unless a mated pair, however, in large aquariums, i.e., over 150 gallons, two or more may be maintained.

As for the P. zebra, its slightly larger at 4 inches (10 cm), yet hails from the same locations where it foams shoals above areas covered in coral gravel. It requires the same care as the above species. It's also an excellent jumper; therefore consider using an aquarium cover to prevent losses. For more info on these species, visit my Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes, Suborder Percoidei and the Family Pseudochromidae, which contains 16 genera having about 120+ species. They mostly come from the Indo-Pacific Ocean, Red Sea and Western Pacific. There also appears to be three new genera in the Subfamily Pseudochrominae, yet not scientifically accepted: Manonichthys; Oxycercichthys; and, Pholidochromis.

There's about 60 species in the Subfamily Pseudochrominae, and some are suitable for 'some' home aquariums. Traits in their favor are small size, hardiness, easy to feed, disease resistance, and that many have remarkable colors or combinations of colors. Yet these fish are mostly shy, as they are found on rocky reefs in the wild where they naturally prefer to hide in holes or crevices. They are also quite territorial and chase away others, even those of their own genus.

One of the most controversial species occurring in the Family Pseudochromidae, Subfamily Congrogadinae (snakelets) is the Wolf Eel or Carpet Blenny Congrogadus subducens, which is actually neither an eel or blenny. It comes from the Western Indian Ocean and Western Pacific where this eel-like species attains an 18-inch (45 cm) length and is usually found in 'very' shallow waters, e.g., seagrass beds, tidal rubble flats, and tidepools.

Because of its hardiness, it's an excellent beginners fish if given its needed environment and tankmates, yet not housed with small fishes and shrimp, as they will be eaten. It should also be provided with caves and/or rock crevices where it can hide, and its diet should consist of meaty type foods and be fed every other day. And it might be best to keep it in a covered aquarium as it has a tendency to jump out of uncovered aquariums! As for tankmates, it can only be maintained with larger more aggressive fishes.

As to others that 'may' be suited for home aquariums, lets first look at what commonly shows up in the trade and begin with some in the genus Pictichromis, such as what are called the Magenta Dottybacks, e.g., the Diadem Dottyback Pictichromis diadema. It's a small fish, about 2 inches (5 cm), and comes from the Western Pacific where it inhabits reef slopes, the bottom areas of drop-offs, coral crevices and which feeds on plankton and small crustaceans. Even though small and attractive, it's better kept with aggressive fishes, such as larger angelfishes, surgeonfishes, squirrelfishes and wrasses! That's because in smaller company species, such as damselfishes, anthias, gobies, anemonefishes, this species dottyback becomes aggressive and will stress its neighbors.

Another in this grouping is the very hardy Royal/Bicolor Dottyback P. paccgnellae. Also small and coming from the same area/same environmental habitat, yet is even more aggressive than the above species and will attack not only larger fish, but also those thought to be even more aggressive! And once in the aquarium, depending on aquarium size, their speed makes them almost impossible to catch if wanting to remove it!

Probably the only Magenta Dottyback that can be considered somewhat tolerant of its neighbors is P. porphyrea, which is about the size of the above two species and which is also found in the same areas in the wild. Yet in my opinion, still should not be kept with very docile tankmates, especially in small aquariums where it also has a tendency to get aggressive.

As to those in the genus Pseudochromis (Common Dottybacks), probably the Arabian Bluelined or Neon Dottyback P. aldabraensis is one of the most desired species. Not because it's a good community fish, actually just the opposite, but because it's a highly attractive fish! Its mostly yellow-orange 4-inch (10 cm) body is capped with blue and has an iridescent blue stripe running lengthwise. It comes from the Arabian Gulf east to Pakistan and inhabits various environments, e.g., fringing reefs, bays with rocky rubble, and growths of stony corals where it feeds on plankton and bottom dwelling small crustaceans. A very pretty fish, yet only suited for a large reef aquarium that is basically understocked with tankmates, and one that has much live rock/many hiding places.

There's a look-a-like that comes the Western Indian Ocean: Pakistan and the Persian Gulf to Durban, and South Africa, and that is P. dutoiti. Its about 3.5 inches (9 cm), inhabits shoreline rocks and corals and prefers a temperature range of 72 - 80° F (22 – 27°C). Its natural diet consists mainly of zooplankton and benthic crustaceans and is easily maintained with a meaty diet in the aquarium, and is also a good eradicator of small bristle worms. Keep in mind its one per aquarium except in very large aquariums, as they may fight among themselves. Yet better kept with larger fish as it can be quite aggressive to fishes its size and smaller. It's another that would be almost impossible to remove from a reef aquarium if necessary!

Believe it or not, there are a couple of dottybacks that I can really recommend, and the first is Pseudochromis springeri, the Springer's Dottyback/Blue-stripe Dottyback. Its small, about 2 inches (5 cm) and hails from the Red Sea where it inhabits the slopes of fringing reefs. Not an overly aggressive fish, and usually gets along with most tankmates, except those that are quite meek/afraid of their own shadow.

As to my favorite dottyback, can highly recommend the Orchid or Fridman's Dottyback, P. fridmani. This is without question one species that is well suited for the community/reef aquarium. This somewhat small 2.5 inch (7 cm) fish comes from the Northern Red Sea and easily adapts to reef aquariums. Absolutely the best of the bunch when it comes to temperament and is highly sort after in the trade, as its not only very pretty, but hardy and interesting to watch. And captive bred specimens are available! The only drawback that I know of is that it tends to jump out of aquariums, so an aquarium cover of some type, such as eggcrate, is needed over any open areas.

There's no doubt many more species available, yet most can be considered 'not safe' to accompany the majority of animals' hobbyists keep in their aquariums. Making the right choice the first time around is imperative if a dottyback is on your shopping list! And for a lot more information on these fishes, recommend visiting my 'Articles' page and Animal Library>Fish Library. And for even more information on many of the species, recommend reading Reef Fishes Volume 2 by Scott Michael ISBN 1-890087-33-5.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Callionymoidei where they are members of the Family Callionymidae, which consists of 17 genera, about 170 species, and are mostly found in the Indo-West Pacific. Most are found inhabiting reef and tidepool areas where they feed upon small crustaceans. There are two very colorful species of major interest to reef keepers, Synchiropus splendidus the Psychedelic Mandarinfish, and Synchiropus picturatus the Spotted Mandarinfish. These small fish, about 3 inches (7.5 cm) do well in environments with live rocks, many hiding places and a steady supply of small live crustaceans. In fact, they should only be kept in an aquarium where there is a constant supply of live foods such as in well-established large reef aquariums, otherwise, they may starve to death. Numerous females can be kept in the same aquarium, yet two males will fight until only one remains unless the aquarium is quite large and has a lot of hiding places. Males have longer dorsal fins. Tankmates should also be given some thought; as these fishes are shy and should not be kept with pugnacious fishes as they can become bullied and/or kept away from foods at feeding times. Not only are they extremely colorful, they are peaceful, fairly hardy, and usually inexpensive. For more info on these fishes, visit my Animal Library>Fish Library.

Drums & Croakers

These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei where they are members of the Family Sciaenidae. There are 10 subfamilies, 70 genera, and 270 species and almost all drums/croakers are called that because of the sounds they make. Most are too large for the average aquarium, about 10 inches (25 cm), yet, there are a few that continue to show up in the trade and are well suited only as juveniles in a peaceful aquarium setting. Nevertheless, they are not suited for beginners as they are timid nocturnal fishes, and during the day in the wild are found under deep ledges and coral outcrops where their diet consists mainly of snails, clams, and crustaceans. In fact, even in large aquariums they should not have aggressive tankmates.

In the genus Equetus, the Jackknife/Ribbonfish Equetus lanceolatus and Spotted Drum E. punctatus hail from the Western Atlantic Ocean. Both reach 10 inches (25 cm) in length and prefer cooler waters, i.e., 70 - 76°F (21 - 24°C). The Ribbonfish has as an undulating swimming action, however, is a 'very' finicky feeder and prone to disease. Both are difficult fish to get eating frozen type foods, quite shy and need lots of hiding places. Keep in mind they will eat smaller fishes and ornamental shrimp, and should be housed with either its own kind or very peaceful tankmates. The same locale and husbandry is true for Pareques acuminatus, commonly called the Highhat. It inhabits areas over sandy and rocky bottom areas and seagrass beds. It forms shoals in these areas and are often seen in public aquariums in huge displays. Better there than your aquarium in my opinion.

And for more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6) and my Animal Library>Fish Library.


(Many years ago wrote an article for FAMA magazine titled 'Eels, Not the Garden Variety' and in part it's presented here with their approval.)

These fishes belong in the 'Order Anguilliformes,' which has two suborders; 'Muraenoidei' containing the moray eels, and 'Congroidei' that has a variety of different eels known as conger, garden, snake, or worm eels among others. Overall, the Order consists of approximately 140 genera in 15 different families containing over 700 known species that are found in both tropical and temperate zones, including freshwater, throughout the globe.

Where aquarists are involved, those in the Family Muraenidae (Moray Eels), consisting of 15 genera with about 200 known species, contain the more commonly maintained species, however; there is experimentation with some in the Suborder Congroidei such as snake, garden and worm eels, which is briefly discussed further on here.

As for their general physical description, all eels have an elongated body with most lacking pelvic fins. In fact, the dorsal fin is connected to the caudal fin along with the anal fin, forming a continuous topside fin running along the back, and often around the tail. Where morays are concerned, they lack pectoral fins and scales, and range in size from 8 inches (20 cm) to about 14 feet (4 m) in length, with most growing too large for the average home aquarium. Their mouth is lined with numerous and very sharp teeth, which they constantly display in their gaping mouth as they intake water through it and then pump it through their small gill openings. Since they lack scales, they secrete a heavy body slime to protect themselves from parasites and abrasions. 'Slippery as an eel,' is a saying that I've always found to be an understatement!

In the wild these carnivores are found in caves, crevices, holes, submerged in sand or between heavy growths of coral. They are mostly nocturnal feeders venturing out during evening hours in the search of small fish, shrimp, and other forms of tasty crustaceans such as urchins and crabs, and one of their favorites, octopus. Since most have very bad eyesight and rely on sense of smell for catching their prey, it's wise to remember they don't know your fingers from other meaty foods when being fed! So it should go without saying not to put your fingers anywhere near their mouth. In fact, a well-covered aquarium is also a good idea as they have a propensity for escaping, and I can attest to that, as I've more than once found one of my eels on the floor, making for a screaming spouse!

Over the past twenty years I've maintained quite a few different morays, with Enchelycore pardalis, the Dragon Moray/Hawaiian Dragon Moray, my all-time favorite. This moray comes from the Indian Ocean east to Hawaii, and north to southern Japan. Its coloration is one of the best of all morays, at least in my opinion, and consists of a brownish orange body with dark white and brown spots, with white and orange bars on its head and snout. Probably the most striking and attention getting feature is its 'horns,' which are elongated nostrils above its eyes. Along with its curved jaw and a mouth full of very sharp teeth, this is a beautiful creature! This species is rarely available, and when so, is one of the most expensive eels found in aquarium shops.

Another favorite has always been Gymnothorax favagineus, the Tessellated or Honeycomb moray. This species hails from the Red Sea and East Coast of Africa east to New Guinea, and from the Great Barrier Reef north to the Philippines where it inhabits reef faces and lagoon areas. It feeds during both the daytime and nighttime, usually on small fish and octopuses. Its fairly common in aquarium stores, and generally fairly priced. Its coloration, black spots/markings on a while body, vary in size from the juvenile stage to maturity. When a juvenile, its black spots are almost band-like taking up wide areas of the body, however; as it matures the spots become smaller and smaller. In fact, they are quite small and numerous on adults.

Before I move away from moray eels, I want to mention one that I've purposely stayed away from, as it's a very difficult feeder. The Ribbon Eel Rhinomuraena quaesita is no doubt a pretty fish, but one that has a far better chance of survival if the aquarium interior is tuned towards it specific needs, e.g., has few very mild mannered or no tankmates. This species of moray comes from the Indo-West Pacific, where its found on coastal reef slopes where it inhabits holes in hard surfaces. In fact, copious amounts of body slime help cement sand particles into a 'lining' in their burrows. It feeds upon small fishes in the daytime that come too close to its burrow.

It's called a 'ribbon' eel for a good reason as its thin, somewhat flat ribbon-shaped body can attain a length of almost 4 feet (1.2 m). It comes in three colors, as the juvenile is black with a yellow stripe down its back. The adult male is blue, and the adult female is a yellowish-brown. Besides a deep sandbed and piles of corral rubble, some lengths of PVC pipe in the aquarium are needed to help keep this fish calm, since it is an escape artist and can get out through small openings in a covered aquarium. And feeding is reported as extremely problematic, as it often requires the feeding of live marine fish/shrimp, which are either difficult to obtain or expensive to purchase. Even when feeders are available, this species often refuses to feed upon them, slowly starving to death. Unless one is willing to devote the time and environment to 'try' and maintain this species, it's an animal that should be left in the wild, at least in my opinion, as I've rarely heard of any success with keeping this species.

There are of course many more suitable morays, such as Echidna nebulosa (Snowflake Moray), and Gymnomuraena zebra (Zebra Moray) to mention just a couple of the more common varieties. But as mentioned above, there are many other forms of eels, with some being called conger, snake or worm eels. They are probably the least recognized 'and' generally avoided by hobbyists and divers alike because even though fairly common on mud flats, seagrass beds, and on open sandy stretches around reefs areas, they are either secretive, uninteresting/unattractive or near impossible to maintain in closed systems.

Snake eels, such as Callechelys marmorata, are burrow dwellers, living in holes in sandy areas, mud flats and seagrass beds. They use the hard or firm edge of their tail to dig their burrow and remain almost invisible except for their head peaking above the opening. They generally hunt during the night looking for a tasty shrimp or crab and need large open spaces to hunt within. Worm eels spend almost their entire lives submerged in the sand and are rarely seen by divers. Garden eels, such as Heteroconger hassi (Spotted Garden Eel), are aptly named because at a distance in the wild they appear in large numbers like blades of grass on sandy stretch. When approached, they retract into their holes. When extended, they feed upon passing plankton. Conger eels, such as Ariosoma anagoides (Bigeye Conger), are more moray-like, staying concealed during the day and only forging for food during evening hours. These are all species needing specialize environments that most hobbyists cannot provide, or simply do not fit into reef style aquariums with a multitude of other type inhabitants that may serve as breakfast, lunch or dinner.

And for even more information on many of these species, recommend reading Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN 1-890087-21-1). There's also an article by Bob Fenner titled 'The Moray Eels, Family Muraenidae,' in my Article section that I think you'll also enjoy reading. Also visit my Animal Library>Fish Library as there, these fishes are divided into three different categories – Conger/Garden; Moray; and, Snake and many species are fully described.


These fishes belong in the Order Tetraodontiformes and Suborder Tetraodontoidei as members of the Family Monacanthidae (Filefishes) consisting of 31 genera, and 95 species. Filefishes somewhat resemble triggerfishes, with compressed bodies and a somewhat leaf-shaped body. They, as do triggerfishes, have an elongated first dorsal fin that can be erected when needed, however, their tail is not used for moving them forward. To discourage predators they can raise their first dorsal fin and/or grind their front teeth, i.e., incisors, producing a low-pitched growling sound. They are slow movers, do not do well in aquariums with swift water movement, and have extremely abrasive skin. They are sometimes called "leatherjackets" because of their skin texture. In fact, in olden days their skin was used as sandpaper to finish wooden boats. These omnivores are found in seagrass beds, where they consume plant material and any associated invertebrate they can find. Some species feed on sponges, coral polyps and/or gorgonians.

Some are also called Foolfish because of an elongated snout, or Shinglefish because of skin texture. As for the snout, its somewhat tapered on most species, yet more so on others, and their eyes are located high on the head. They use their soft, mainly second dorsal and anal fins for swimming, therefore, are weak swimmers relying more on camouflage to avoid predation than their swimming capabilities. Some species are brightly colored, while others tend to blend in with the surrounding environment, with some having body filaments helping to imitate the weedy areas they call home, such as the Tasseled Filefish Chaetoderma pencilligera. Some also seem to have the capability to somewhat change body color to match surroundings.

These omnivores are generally found in shallow water, inhabiting depths of no more than 100 feet (30 m) and often inhabiting slow-flow reef areas where different types of algae exist, e.g., macroalgae, microalgae, seagrass, and/or coralline, which become part of their diet. Also on the menu are sponges, bryozoans, hydrozoans, coral polyps, gorgonians, tunicates and to a lesser degree, polychaete worms, small bivalves, snails, amphipods, urchins, and shrimp. Most have a body length of 4 - 12 inches (10 - 30 cm), but there is one species, the Scrawled Filefish, Aluterus scriptus that reaches 3 feet (1 m) in length, which is found in all tropical seas.

For a lot more info on these fishes, visit my 'Articles' page and Animal Library>Fish Library.

Flashlight Fishes

These fishes belong in the Order Beryciformes and Suborder Trachichthyoidei where they are members of the Family Anomalopidae. This family consists of 5 genera, and 6 species and all are black with large mouths. They generally live in shoals inside caves and protected dimly lit areas and have an organ, called a 'photophore' below each eye that contains luminescent bacteria. The light produced can be turned on or off by either covering the organ with a moveable membrane, or rotating the organ in its socket. It is used to attract shrimp and small fish.

It's quite rare any of these show up in the trade, but the Twofin Flashlight Fish Anomalops katoptron is probably seen more in the trade than any other flashlight fish. It hails from the Western Pacific Ocean and inhabits caves in steep drop-off areas. This large fish, 11 inches (28 cm) has a temperature range of 72 - 78°F (22 - 26°C) and requires a constant supply of live food, such as enriched live adult brine shrimp and black worms. It does best in dimly lit reef aquariums that have been established well over six months where it 'may' find an adequate supply of live benthic invertebrates. If not in a well-established reef system with few crustacean eaters, it will require numerous feeding per day of live food, yet may in time accept frozen meaty foods.

The Small/Eyelight Flashlight Fish, Photoblepharon palperbratus also hails from the Western Pacific Ocean and inhabits similar areas. However, its only about 4 inches (10 cm), therefore making it somewhat easier to maintain. They, as the species above, require large caves to hide in during daylight timeframes and keeping them with other low light species, such as cardinalfishes, makes for a suitable environment. Live foods are usually needed to get them accustom to their surrounding, however frozen meaty-type foods can be substituted once they begin eating. These species are not suited for beginners.

For in-depth information concerning these interesting fishes, checkout 'Reef Fishes' Volume 1' by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1). Also, visit my Animal Library>Fish Library for more info on these species.


These fishes (flounder-like) belong in the Order Pleuronectiformes and Suborder Pleuronectoidei, and there are several species of interest in several families. All need a fine grain sandbed to bury themselves and an unencumbered environment to search for its foods, usually worms and crustaceans. All are difficult to maintain long term, and 'highly' recommend visiting my Animal Library>Fish Library to checkout the various species as these are fish only suited for specific aquarium environments!


These fishes belong in the Order Scorpaeniformes and Suborder Platycephaloidei as members of the Family Platycephalidae (Flatheads) consisting of 19 genera, with 60+ species. They lack a swim bladder, and bury themselves during the day and emerge to feed at night. Often called 'crocodilefishes,' only a few enter the aquarium market. For in-depth information concerning these interesting fishes, checkout 'Reef Fishes' Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1). Also, visit my Animal Library>Fish Library to view some of these fishes more in-depth.


These fishes belong in the Order Lophiiformes and Suborder Antennarioidae where they are members of the Family Antennariidae having 12 different genera comprised of about 43 species. These predatory, lumpy-looking animals have modified leg and foot-like pectoral fins that can be used for a walking motion and no swim bladder and scales, but instead have dermal spinules. Their first dorsal spine is elongated forming a bait-like appendage, called the esca, which is used to attract prey within striking distance. They are masters at camouflage and easily blend with their surroundings. Multicolored and quite interesting yet shows little or no movement until dinner is within reach. This species is better maintained in a small aquarium with eatable tankmates.

There are several that make it into the trade, with Antennarius commerson, the Giant Frogfish quite often seen. It gets to about 12 inches (30 cm) and hails from the Indo-Pacific Ocean where it inhabits hard substrates on fringing reefs and gentle sloped areas. Its one of the more colorful frogfish and capable of changing colors, as it will sometimes assume the color of the object it is near to enhance its camouflage. Requires a meaty diet of live shrimp, small fishes, or an enriched diet of defrosted marine flesh. And since these are sedentary fishes, their metabolism is quite low, therefore, infrequent feedings of once or twice a week for adults and three or four times a week for juveniles is highly recommended. Small live fish/shrimp, preferably marine species, or frozen foodstuffs suspended/impaled on a long stick will also suffice. This species, which is one of the largest frogfishes seen in the trade, should be maintained in an aquarium no smaller than 100 gallons and of course without eatable 'desirable' tankmates.

Another interesting same genus species occasionally seen in the trade is the Wartskin/Clown Frogfish A. maculates. Its only 4 inches (10 cm), and hails from the same areas, but is usually found among small and large polyp corals. It's also capable of changing its colors, which are mostly white with orange or red mottling, but many colors exist. With the same aquarium husbandry requirements as the above species and its small size and colors, it's one of the more popular frogfishes.

The Sargassum Frogfish, Histrio histrio, coming from all tropical seas except the Eastern Pacific Ocean, is another commonly seen frogfish in the trade. It gets to about 8 inches (20 cm) in the wild, and in the wild is almost always associated with floating Sargassum seaweed. Therefore, in aquariums it should have a ledge near the surface to perch on or some tall macroalgae, else wise it may set on coral branches if available, making them quite unhappy.

There are quite a few frogfish that make it into the trade, with those mentioned above among the more popular, but keep in mind no mater what the choice these are sedimentary fishes and their metabolism is quite low, therefore infrequent feedings of once or twice a week for adults and three or four times a week for juveniles is highly recommended.

For in-depth information concerning these interesting fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1).


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei, where they are members of the Family Caesionidae. There are four genera, Caesio, Dipterygonotus, Gymnocaesio, and Pterocaesio. They are somewhat large pretty fish, possibly suited only for the very large aquarium. Very few species make it into the trade, although probably best left in the wild! And for more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6) and my Animal Library>Fish Library to view some of these fishes more in-depth.


Belonging in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei, the Family Mullidae has 6 genera, containing at least 35 described species. Most hail from the Indo-Pacific or the Eastern Pacific region, however there are some found in the Atlantic Ocean in both tropical and semi-temperate waters.

In the wild these fish mostly live in areas containing soft substrates, and because of that favor shallow protected bays and lagoons where sand, rubble, and/or mud collects. Most species are difficult to identify using morphological features alone, however color variations do help, especially for those who are not trained scientists. Their diet consists mainly of benthic invertebrate such as shrimp, worms, small brittle stars, and crabs. They generally have elongated bodies with large scales, a small mouth, and have two strong barbels/whiskers on their chin that are used for digging and sensing prey in various substrates and crevices. In fact, each barbel can individually be moved, helping to quickly located buried prey in either direction. Their anterior and posterior dorsal fins are set wide apart, with the caudal fin deeply forked.

Since their diet mainly consists of benthic invertebrates, they often overturn small pieces of rubble to expose concealed prey. In aquaria this sometimes causes stress, both to its inhabitants and the aquarist when the target is small corals and clams! Nevertheless they are generally peaceful, yet some will also feed upon small fish. Most younger/smaller specimens make good sand stirrers. In aquariums they should be offered a meaty diet consisting of various types of chopped/graded fresh and frozen marine fish and crustacean flesh, and if possible live grass/ghost shrimp.

Even though there are many different species entering the trade, past experience has shown only a few species in two genera make suitable specimens for hobbyist aquariums, i.e., Parupeneus and Pseudupeneus. Therefore, the real useable choices are quite limited in the present aquarium trade. And as to other species than those discussed here, care must be taken to identify those newcomers before placing them in your aquaria since most can get far too large for anything but a large aquarium, i.e., over 125 gallon aquarium. Besides, many can or will become fish eaters as they grow to maturity, and that could lead to a diminished head count in your aquarium! So be careful when choosing a goatfish specimen for your aquarium and do the necessary research before putting it your aquarium!

And for really in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6) and also visit my Articles page and Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Gobioidei, as members of the Family Gobiidae (Gobies). It has a total of 5 subfamilies, over 200 genera and over 2000 species.

This is the largest group of aquarium fishes and has many species that fit extremely well in reef aquarium environments. Many are small, easy to maintain, generally feed on zooplankton and benthic crustaceans and/or take a variety of common aquarium foods. They are also quite interesting to watch, besides being peaceful and fairly inexpensive. Often, they are confused with blennies, but blennies have one dorsal fin and gobies have two.

Some of the genera have broad reaching common traits, such as the following;


These are called prawn gobies and frequently live in symbiosis with prawns/shrimp.


This genus has members that spend most of their time hovering in the water column. Mostly omnivores, they feed upon both algae and plankton/benthic invertebrate. Some are quite hardy and make good beginner fish, while others are troublesome and require dedication and experience if they are to survive.


Those in this genus live on certain forms of branching corals/sea whips and gorgonians in shallow lagoons. Difficult or near impossible to maintain in captivity.


These are often called neon gobies, however only one is commonly called the Neon Goby, Elacatinus oceanops, which has become exceedingly difficult to obtain in the past few years. However, E. evelynae, the Sharknose Goby is just as pretty, and quite available. They primarily live on rocks and set up cleaning stations where they pick off external parasites on the visitors to their areas. The genus Elacatinus was originally classified as a sub-genus of Gobiosoma, however was elevated to full genus status about 1990.


Often called coral or clown gobies, these small gobies are often found among the branches of stony corals. There are at least 16 named species, and their natural diet consists of benthic organisms, e.g., copepods, foraminiferans along with coral mucus and tissue. Because of their small size and their association in the wild with stony corals, it's probably better to maintain them in a small aquarium with some sps corals. They will quarrel with members of their own species and genus, therefore, one per aquarium unless it's a very large aquarium with numerous coral heads. Unfortunately they are prone to Marine Ich (Cryptocaryon irritans).


The five species in this genus can be identified from the 'Gobiodons' because they lack any major degree of lateral compression and have remarkable beard-like bumps and projections on the head. Due to the infrequent availability of these gobies there has been little written about their suitability in marine aquaria.

"My own experience with the genus Paragobiodon centers around two species. I found that they were quite hardy although they could be difficult to induce to feed. Due to their relatively small size upon import they can be fed live brine shrimp nauplii if they refuse any larger frozen foods. Species form either monogamous pairs or male dominated harems and although breeding reports are scarce this is probably more to do with the lack of hobbyists keeping them than their reluctance to spawn. Given that these species do not occupy Acropora sp. SPS corals in their natural environment they would make excellent gobies in addition to Gobiodon spp. for an aquarium that is home to a variety of such corals. – Tristan Lougher"


This genus contains one species of interest, the burrow creating Signigobius biocellatus. It uses its mouth to carry away sand and rubble, thereby creating a home in the sediment. Usually observed in pairs in the wild where it feeds by taking large amounts of sand in its mouth and sifting out benthic invertebrates. Very difficult to maintain in the home aquarium, as most slowly starve to death.


These fishes are burrow dwellers, and will normally seek protection under low overhanging rocks or actually burrow underneath rock to form a secure home and/or live in symbiosis with prawns/shrimp.


This genus consists of 39 identified species, with many still waiting to be identified. All are quite small, i.e., less than 2 inches (5 cm) in length. One male usually dominates a group, with all others being females. If the male dies, one of the females will become a male. Should a larger, stronger male become the leader of the group, the less dominant male will return to being a female. And do so quickly, sometimes in as little as four days! All species are peaceful and in the wild feed upon zooplankton and benthic invertebrates. In the aquarium, they will accept meaty foods such as brine shrimp and mysis shrimp. They are perfect inhabitants for small nano reef systems.


Those in this genus are usually called 'Sleeper Gobies' and come highly recommended as sand shifters. Even though they have scoop-like jaws, they are often short lived unless kept as a mated pair. Most sold in pet stores are males, and finding a female is almost impossible. They feed mostly on tiny crustaceans and worms, and the species Valenciennea strigata may eat small fishes, such as Neon Gobies. These fishes are burrow dwellers and will normally seek protection under low overhanging rocks or actually burrow underneath rock to form a secure home. Often, in the wild, their burrows will be occupied with juveniles from the surgeonfish family. They should be housed in aquariums with a sandbed of at least 2 inches in depth and not housed with aggressive fishes such as groupers, dottybacks, triggerfishes or aggressive angelfishes. Usually, they starve to death in closed systems unless there are few competitors for their food supply, or may simply jump out of the aquarium.

For a lot more info on these fishes, recommend visiting my 'Articles' page and Animal Library>Fish Library, as there are many other genera than those few mentioned above.


These small, 2 - 5 inch (5 - 12.5 cm) fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei, and Family Grammatidae, which has 2 genera and 11 species all occurring in the Western Atlantic Ocean. They are plankton feeders, and prefer to inhabit areas near overhangs, crevices, caves, and steep ledges, and can be extremely territorial in guarding selected areas. It is not possible to distinguish males from females; however, the male is generally larger than the female in these species.

The Royal Grammas, Gramma loreto, is the most popular species, and can reach 4 inches (10 cm) in length. They can be kept in small groups in larger aquaria (over 100 gallons), yet in small aquariums it may be best to maintain only one. They prefer a temperature range of 72 - 80ºF (22 - 27ºC) and since their natural diet consists mainly of zooplankton, they should be fed meaty/freeze-dried foodstuffs two or three time's daily. Should have numerous caves and hiding places, otherwise they may become quite territorial. Keep in mind they may eat small shrimps. Another in this genus, the Blackcap Gramma G. melacara is also quite popular and requires the same aquarium husbandry. These are probably best last added to the aquarium, as they may become quarrelsome with further fish additions.

As for the Lipogramma genera, these reef basslets are a deeper water species than grammas. They are quite secretive and difficult to catch in the wild, therefore rarely show up in the trade. Usually shy when first placed in the aquarium and should have many hiding places. Keep in mind they may eat small crustaceans and are prone to hiding if kept under bright lighting. They have the same diet requirements as grammas.

And for even more information on many of the species, recommend reading Reef Fishes Volume 2 by Scott Michael (ISBN 1-890087-33-5) and visiting my Animal Library>Fish Library.


As for groupers/hinds, they belong in the Order Perciformes and the Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Serranidae (Groupers & Anthias), which consists of 3 subfamilies, 62 genera, with 450+ species.

Many folks consider groupers among the most friendly of fishes. Friendly to the aquarium keeper that feeds them, however not other fishes that are small enough to be swallowed. Some groupers are more or less motionless animals waiting for prey to come close enough to be captured by a short lunge and inhalation of the prey. They are amongst the largest of fishes, e.g., the Potato Cod at 900 pounds, with some capable of reaching 10 feet. Only a few of the smaller species are suited for the aquarium. Diet consists of meaty-type foodstuffs and they seem to be able to eat their weight in food on a daily basis. Some prefer to hid in caves and under ledges, therefore provide with sufficient hiding places.

As for soapfish, they also belong in the Order Perciformes and the Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Serranidae (Groupers & Anthias). Within this large family are the Tribes Diploprionini and Grammistini containing various genera of 'soapfishes' that contain mucus that can kill aquarium tankmates. Care needs to be taken with these fishes, as stress caused by tankmates or poor diet can be fatal to its tankmates.

And for even more information on many of this these species, recommend reading Reef Fishes Volume 2 by Scott Michael (ISBN 1-890087-33-5) and visiting my 'Articles' page and Animal Library>Fish Library for additional information.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Serranidae (Groupers & Anthias), which include 3 Subfamilies, of which one Subfamily Serraninae has 11 genera with about 75 described species, one of which includes the fishes called Hamlets. All are found in the Western Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. All prefer shallow rocky and coral reefs. They forge for food, basically crustaceans and small fishes, during the day and hide in crevices at night. Possibly, some are suited for fish-only aquariums, but none for reef aquariums. For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1) and my Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Cirrhitidae (Hawkfishes) consisting of approximately 11 genera with about 35 species. Most occur in the Indo-Pacific where the majority are found in shallow reefs zones, however, there are three species found in the Tropical Atlantic and Caribbean.

Their members are generally small, fairly peaceful, hardy, and colorful. All have stocky bodies with prominent heads and fairly large eyes for their size. The name 'Hawkfish' is derived from their hawk-like perching behavior, as 'adults' (larval hawkfishes 'do' possess a swim bladder!) lack a swim bladder (the specialized organ that enables them to regulate their position in the water column), therefore perch/sit on various types of substrates while viewing the passing traffic in hopes that something eatable will come into range. When it does, they dart short distances to capture it. Their strong pelvic fins are used as supports when perching and will defend their feeding territory, which includes the area around its favorite perching place. All have "cirrhi" in their names, which refers to the small hairy tuffs on the tips of their dorsal fins. All begin life as females with the largest and more dominant becoming a male. They live and spawn in harems, with one male interacting with several females. Unless you can sex them, it's one hawkfish, in any genus, per tank, unless it's a very large tank.

They should be maintained in systems with plenty of hiding areas and places to sit and watch the traffic go by so to speak. They are undemanding when it comes to water quality; however, they are predators and prefer meaty foodstuffs, e.g., mysis shrimp, shredded fresh marine fish/shrimp/clam flesh, live enriched brine shrimp, krill, Cyclop-eeze, and even enriched flake foods. Unfortunately, they cannot be trusted with very small fish such as Neon Gobies, or small shrimp and crabs because they could windup as a meal.

For much more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1). Also, my 'Articles' page and Animal Library>Fish Library for additional information.

Helmut Gurnards

These fishes belong in the Order Scorpaeniformes and Suborder Dactylopteroidei as members of the Family Dactylopteridae (Helmut Gurnards) consisting of 2 genera, Dactyloptena and Dactylopterus (Flying Gurnards), totaling 7 species.

These fishes have large pectoral fins that render a somewhat wing-like structure. Those in the genus Dactylopterus are capable of gaining enough speed to break the surface of the water and glide short distances in the air and are called Flying Gurnards. They are rarely collected. Those in the genus Dactyloptena are not capable of this maneuver as their wings are less flexible and are slow moving spending the majority of their time on bottom areas searching for meaty foods. They occasionally show up in the trade.

Their wings, in fact, are used for walking forward and backward on bottom areas where its first three rays are finger-like and are used to comb the substrate in search of foodstuffs. They have large mouths and will feed upon crabs, shrimp, small bivalves, amphipods, and small fish, especially those sleeping during night hours when gurnards are normally more active.

When disturbed, they spread their so-called wings in an effort to look larger, hoping to ward off predators and can also produce audible grunts.

They are not suitable for most aquariums, as they need lots of open bottom areas to traverse; therefore live rock or other decor needs to be kept at a minimum. Also, small fishes/shrimp in the aquarium would be considered a meal. And since these fish become easily agitated and may injure themselves swimming into aquarium side panels or other decor, they need unencumbered and peaceful environments and usually nothing less than a 75-gallon aquarium with a fine sand substrate.

For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1) and also my Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Periformes and Suborder Percoidei where they are members of the Family Carangidae, which contains of 4 Subfamilies, 32 genera, and 140 species. Nevertheless, it only contains one specimen of interest, Gnathanodon speciosus, which when small is a quick moving golden colored, black barred fish often seen in store aquariums called the Pilotfish or Golden Trevally.

They have a temperature range of 72 - 82°F (22 - 28°C) and their natural diet consists mainly of smaller fishes. May be cute when small, but grows fast and will outgrow most hobbyist aquariums quite rapidly. As they grow larger they turn a silvery color and can easily weigh in at 30 pounds. They will take a wide variety of meaty foodstuffs, including ornamental crustaceans and small fishes and should be fed at least once per day. They escort larger fish, hence their name Pilotfish. They do form shoals, but require lots of swimming space. Probably better left in the wild.

And for more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6) and my Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Opistognathidae, which consists of 3 genera having 100+ species. They are probably not what many hobbyists would consider a reef aquarium fish because of its need for a deep course substrate since they dig and live in burrows. Yet, they are peaceful and will do well in an invertebrate tank when provided a pebble-like substrate for their vertical burrows. They are a carnivorous species mainly feeding plankton, and are also mouthbrooders with males incubating the eggs in their mouths.

There are two species that are often available in the genus Opistognathus, O. auifrons the Yellowheaded/Pearly Jawfish, and O. rosenblatti the Bluespotted Jawfish. Each attains a 4 inch (10 cm) length with the first found in the Caribbean and Florida and the second in Mexico's Sea of Cortez/Gulf of Mexico.

You could not go wrong with an environment filled with various, easy to maintain soft coral/mushroom disc anemones, a deep course sand substrate, possibly located in some shallow wide-mouth jars, and few of these fascinating and intelligent fishes. Yet, do not mix more than one species in the same aquarium. And for even more information on many of the species, recommend reading Reef Fishes Volume 2 by Scott Michael (ISBN 1-890087-33-5) and also visit my Animal Library>Fish Library for more information.


These fishes belong in the Order Scorpaeniformes and Suborder Scorpaenoidei as members of the Family Scorpaenidae (Scorpionfishes) consisting of 11 Subfamilies, 45 genera, and 388+ species.

Lionfish, also known as Turkeyfish or Zebrafish, are without question one of the more attention getting fish than most other marine fishes. Not only do they have an array of gorgeous dorsal and pectoral fins, they are hardy, undemanding as to water quality, disease resistant, and their diet is somewhat easy to provide. They have two venom (neurotoxin) containing glands located at the base of each dorsal spine. When agitated or frightened these fish are capable of springing forward and injecting the offending party, whether that may be another animal or the hand that feeds them, with a very painful wound. The severity of the toxin reaction depends on the individual stung. A moderate level of discomfort may be experienced, while others may experience severe pain. A severe anaphylactic reaction may occur in some cases and require emergency medical treatment. If stung, immersing the wound in as hot as possible water that can be tolerated will help break down the venom and reduce the level of pain. Care is well advised when cleaning their aquarium or when feeding.

In the wild they are solitary nocturnal creatures, usually searching the reef for a meal. Their diet in the wild consists of small fishes and crustaceans and they vacuum-in anything within reach with their large mouth. Keep this in mind if you decide to house it with smaller fishes as they will be considered food and be eaten. Also, they are prone to fin nipping and should not be housed with any tankmates that will think their fins a good meal.

In the aquarium the feeding of small freshwater live fish should be discouraged as it lacks some important fatty acids. Therefore lionfish should be trained to accept defrosted or freshly prepared marine shrimp and/or various kinds of marine fish flesh, or if available live glass/grass shrimp or marine-based feeder fish, such as sometimes available in bait shops.

Keep in mind goldfish feeders are not only NOT nutritious, but their cost will soon far out weigh the cost of the feedee. Feeder goldfish also carry many different bacteria, fungi, and protozoa that can cause parasitic and infectious diseases. They can also cause blockage in the digestive track and/or kidney and liver damage in the feedee, which usually leads to the consumer's death.

Lionfish make good tankmates for moray eels and triggerfishes, however a large moray eel can easily eat a small lionfish without being stung.

For much more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1) and my 'Articles' page and Animal Library>Fish Library.

Livebearing Brotula

These fishes belong in the Order Ophidiiformes and Suborder Bythitoidei, as members of the Family Bythitidae (livebearing brotulas), which contains 2 subfamilies, 31 genera, and about 90 species. They have elongated bodies and are quite secretive, and their favorite areas are caves and sinkholes. In the wild their main food is small crustaceans. Rarely seen in the trade, and if placed in large aquariums, the aquarists may never see this fish again unless using a red light at nighttime to monitor its movements and feed the specimen! Visit my Animal Library>Fish Library for additional information.


These fishes belong in the Order Aulopiformes and Suborder Alepisauroidei as members of the Family Synodontidae (Lizardfishes) consisting of 3 Subfamilies, 5 genera, and about 55 species.

These are ambush hunters that conceal themselves by burying themselves or simply remain still until something eatable comes close. Probably best left in the wild! For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1), and also visit my Animal Library>Fish Library for additional information.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei, where they are members of the Family Monodactylidae. There are only two genera, with all species more brackish water specimens than true seawater fishes and are found in estuaries and mangrove swamps. They are somewhat large and active swimmers needing lots of swimming areas. Very few species make it into the trade. Considered good algae consumers by some hobbyists, yet before getting too excited about that recommend visiting my Animal Library>Fish Library for further details. And for even more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6).

Moorish Idol

These beautiful marine fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Acanthuroidei as members of the Family Zanclidae. It consists of one genus, having one species, Zanclus cornutus, and they are commonly found throughout the Indo-Pacific. In fact, it has one of the largest geographical distributions of any marine fish. And it was the Moors in Africa who provided the common name, as they believed it brought happiness and prosperity to anyone that maintained them.

Idols are related to angelfishes and tangs, and are similarly shaped, i.e., having disc-shaped/laterally compressed bodies. They also have a long snout, small mouth with inward pointing brush-like teeth, and a very long filament on the dorsal fin, sometimes longer than their body length. An eye spike is larger on males than females.

Originally it was believed to be a butterflyfish, Linnaeus (1758) and was placed in the genus Chaetodon. He also thought there were two species, C. canescens and C. cornutus. As time passed, it was realized the only difference between them was their age, one being a juvenile and the other an adult. And furthermore, it was not in the butterflyfish family, therefore it was awarded its own family – Zanclidae, and recognized as one species.

In the wild they are found singly, in pairs, and often in small shoals, usually over hard rubble bottom areas in inner lagoons and outer reef areas where they reach a 10-inch (25 cm) length, yet have been sighted at depths far greater, e.g., almost 600 feet (180 m). Their long snout is used to graze on small crustaceans, algae including coralline, and sponges that normally inhabit small reef openings and crevices.

Usually referred as a difficult fish to maintain in the closed system and requires sufficient space with long tanks a better choice. They are bottom feeders and especially require sponge and mussel in their diet along with squid, clams, scallop, shrimp and a plentiful supply of algae. Placing the preferred foodstuffs on a clam or mussel half-shell is a good way to get new specimens feeding. Making pastes of different foodstuffs with some added trace and vitamin additives and applying it to a mussel shell is an ideal feeding method. It's recommended they be kept in small groups of 3 - 5, as they seem to have a pecking order that provides them social structure along with security.

Far before bringing one or more home, the aquarist needs to know 'exactly' where the specimen(s) comes from in my opinion. Just being told it's from the Indo-Pacific does 'not' suffice! Far too many arrive from places where cyanide is still used to capture the ornamentals aquarists strive to keep in their little slice of the ocean. Where this species is concerned, being sure it was not collected in areas where cyanide is still being used, and additionally did not endure extreme handling and/or overly long flights to its final destination is paramount. To accomplish that, be sure the specimens were collected in Hawaii, as this guarantees the best possible stock as no Hawaiian fishes are collected with cyanide, and shipping timeframes between it and the mainland US are far shorter than from places in the Indo-Pacific. Having a good relationship with the owner of the local shop is also helpful, as his word as to where his livestock comes from or at least where the livestock shipment originated is very important when it comes to this species. If you only get a shoulder shrug, then leave those specimens in the dealer's tank! Going online via the Internet to find a Hawaiian based source is also feasible, as they can be shipped directly to your home. Visit my Animal Library>Fish Library for further details.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei, where they are members of the Family Cheilodactylidae. There are 5 genera having a total of 18 species and all prefer cooler waters than normally maintained in the hobby. All feed on invertebrates, need lots swimming area and a varied diet. Very few species make it into the trade, and in my opinion these are best left in the wild. And for even more information on many of the species, recommend reading Reef Fishes Volume 2 Basslets, Dottybacks & Hawkfishes by Scott Michael ISBN 1-890087-33-5 and visiting my Animal Library>Fish Library for further details.


These fishes belong in the Order Periformes and Suborder Labroidei where they are members of the Family Scaridae. There are 2 Subfamilies, 9 genera, and 83 species in this family, and even though quite large, contain only a few interesting species. Nevertheless, their diet and physical size makes them very difficult to maintain in hobbyist aquariums. They are wrasse-shaped, yet more heavy-bodied, with the main difference the structure of their mouth. Wrasses have individual teeth, but those of the parrotfish are actually fused together, forming a beak- so much the better to feed upon the reef structure itself. In fact, they can be given much credit for producing the sand that settles in lagoons and along beaches. When they bite-off pieces of reef rock, it is ground-up by a set of plate-like teeth in the back of their throat. Any coral polyps and algae on these rock pieces serve as the main course, with the calcium carbonate rock being returned as sand.

Some species of parrotfish form a mucous cocoon to sleep in at night while tucked-away in some crevice. It is thought these cocoons are a form of protection against nocturnal predators. They are also wide-ranging individuals and don't adapt well to confinement. Since they are herbivores, small plaster of Paris stones that contain seaweed and algae are useful in maintaining them in closed systems. But keep in mind; these are not reef aquarium fish!

There are some that occasionally show up in the trade as juveniles, e.g., the Bicolor Parrotfish Cetoscarus bicolor, and the Queen Parrotfish Scarus vetula. The first, which gets to 31 inches (79 cm) hails from the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, and the second, which reaches 26 inches (66 cm) hails from the Tropical West Atlantic and Caribbean. Both inhabit clear lagoons and outer reef areas and feed upon algae covered rock, coral branches and mounds. Cute when small, but grow quickly, with the Bicolor males changing into a completely different color scheme as they age. And the Queen requires a slightly cooler water temperature, 72 - 79°F (22 - 26°C) since its an Atlantic species. Even though still quite attractive, they are far too large for most hobbyist aquariums. They require numerous feedings per day with a varied diet containing some meaty foodstuffs and a lot of vegetable matter. Safe to keep with soft corals, but not stony corals.

For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 5 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-44-0), and also visit my Animal Library>Fish Library for additional information.

Pineapple/Pinecone Fishes

(Many years ago wrote an article for FAMA magazine titled 'Fascinating Pineapple Fishes' and in part it's presented here with their approval.)

These fishes belong in the Order Beryciformes and Suborder Trachichthyoidei as members of the Family Monocentridae (Pineapple or Pinecone Fishes) consisting of 2 genera, and 3 species.

Rarely seen in the trade, Pineapple Fish are a sight to behold! They are members of the Order Beryciformes, Suborder Berycoidei, and Family Monocentridae. The family contains only two genera, Cleidopus and Monocentris, and the number of species in both seem to depend on what source is used for research, but it 'totals' no more than a few species. All are mostly deepwater nocturnal fishes and more suitable for the devoted aquarist wanting something out of the ordinary (an understatement) and an experience well worth the effort!

All hail from tropical and subtropical waters, which in their locations is slightly cooler than what most hobbyists maintain their tropical fishes, as 65°F - 77°F (18 - 25°C) would be required for these species. They are found at a wide range of depths, e.g., from 10 to about 1000 feet (3 - 300m) where most inhabit rocky crevices and caves, much like their squirrelfish and soldierfish relatives.

The body of the pineapple fish is yellow colored and has its rigid scales fused together, giving the fish almost impenetrable body armor. Each scale is edged in black, making the fish look somewhat like the surface of a 'pineapple,' hence the most common name. Combine the body armor with large fin spines that can be raised as needed and its defense against predators becomes quite formidable. Another interesting aspect is an area near each side of the mouth, as the skin in this location contains green to red bioluminescent bacteria. It can be illuminated, i.e., turned on or off, as needed to attract prey or possibly communicate with others in its species. Light produced during daylight hours is seen as 'orange,' and during nighttime hours as 'blue-green.'

As noted above, there are two genera, with the Pineapple Fish, sometimes called the Pinecone Fish or Japanese Pineapple Fish, Monocentris japonicus, possibly the species most widespread and most often seen in the hobby. Its the only species in this genus, nevertheless, it's still rarely seen in the U.S. trade, but more commonly seen in the Japanese aquarium trade, where its both a hobbyist fish and human food fish. It hails from southern Japan to the East Africa coast and Red Sea, and attains a 6-inch (15 cm) length. Adults inhabit deep rocky reefs and tend to hide by day in caves or near soft corals. Juveniles are often found in shallower waters and tend to hide under ledges and/or in crevices. In evening hours, all emerge and mainly feed upon crustaceans and small fish, attracting or locating them with their bioluminescent bacteria.

The remaining two species, depending upon sources utilize, are in the genus Cleidopus, e.g., C. gloriamaris and C. gloriamaris occidentalis, and hail from the Indo-West Pacific and Western, Eastern and Southern coasts of Australia. They also inhabit similar environmental conditions, yet at somewhat shallower depths. Even though also commonly called the Pineapple or Pinecone Fish, those in Australian waters are sometimes referred to as 'Harbor Lightfish' or 'Starboard and Port Lightfish' because of their luminance capability, or sometimes 'Knight Fish' because of its armor-like sides. Those in this genus reach a length of about 9 inches (22.5 cm), and are often caught while trawling for human food fish or especially so while trawling for shrimp during evening hours. Few of these make it into the hobby trade, as they are larger and not as pretty M. japonicus. All species are poor swimmers, often shoaling in small groups while using their bioluminescent bacteria as a common cluster aspect to attract prey during evening hours.

Their aquarium husbandry has at times in the past been thought to be quite limited/difficult, however that is far from true. In the distance past, darken aquaria having many caves and/or hiding places were thought to be the only way to maintain these very peaceful and somewhat shy fishes. Actually, their needs are quite easy to meet if one takes into consideration their general disposition, feeding needs and physical size, none of which is too limiting.

Since Pineapple Fish are peaceful and schoolers/shoalers in the wild, they will do better in systems with peaceful tankmates (if desired), such as surgeonfishes, squirrelfishes, wrasses (but not cleaner wrasses), small puffers and pigmy angels or in small groups of their own kind. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind if the tankmate is small enough to be swallowed, it may become a meal. Triggerfish, groupers, dottybacks, and large moray eels and angelfishes would not make good tankmates. Nor would feather duster worms and/or ornamental shrimp, as they also might end up on the menu.

As for the aquarium interior, open rear located vertical walls of rockwork that can provide areas to be out of sight when desired or places to rest at night will do quite nicely. During daylight hours, most will stay in these dim locations slowly moving from one somewhat darkened area to another. For the middle to front portion of the aquarium, a more open sand-covered area for shoaling and interacting with tankmates and/or hunting prey at night would suffice nicely.

Of course, high intensity lighting, e.g., metal halides, is not required and therefore far less expensive and common fluorescents such as G.E. Chroma 50 and 75's can easily provide enough light to view all in the aquarium and at the same time provide enough intensity to maintain some low light corals such as mushrooms and plate corals if desired. And since these fish are mostly nocturnal, it would be better to have a photoperiod with a sunrise and sunset setting, helping to reduce their stress level. And the timeframe between sunset and sunrise can be lit by blue moonlights, which will help orientate them to a somewhat more illuminated existence than what they had in the wild. Water currents should be gentle, and a trickle filter and live rock would provide for almost all filtration needs. Some chemical filtration, possibly provided with Poly-Filters and/or some activated carbon in a canister filter, would also be helpful.

Besides maintaining a slightly cooler water temperature, yet not too cool so as to limit the selection of tankmates, let say about 76°F - 77°F (25°C), feeding would probably be the husbandry aspect needing the most attention. One must keep in mind these are generally nocturnal creatures using their bioluminescent bacteria to attract or find small prey. Because of this, during the aquarium's lit timeframe these fish generally remain very calm and do little swimming, usually preferring somewhat protected areas. Therefore, feeding them during daylight hours, especially new specimens, may prove somewhat difficult. Nevertheless, they should be offered live adult brine shrimp, preferably enriched prior to feeding, and/or possibly defrosted mysid shrimp twice daily.

If feeding during daylight timeframes is proving to be troublesome or unsuccessful, there's another solution, and it involves equipping the aquarium with some "red" moonlights! And 'yes' these are available for the marine trade, yet more often used in the reptile trade. Once the normal sunset photoperiod concludes, the aquarium should be lit with only small red lamps - red moonlights. The fish will not see the 'red' light, but you will be able to see them! And since they become more active in this darkened setting and normally initiate their feeding responses, they can be fed as described above. If their intake of food is still proving to be inadequate, small live grass/glass shrimp, sometimes available at bait shops and/or some local aquarium shops may have to be used to entice them. But be forewarned, feeding only these live shrimp will make it almost impossible to wean them off this foodstuff and onto other meaty frozen foods. And besides, it would be overly expensive to continue to go this road! Therefore, while offering some live grass/glass shrimp, add some live enriched adult brine shrimp and some live black worms.

Once they begin eating, mix some defrosted mysid shrimp into the feeding process and go from there with other meaty foods. Keep in mind a steady diet of freshwater foodstuffs, such as aquarium grade mysid and unenriched brine shrimp is not a healthy diet in the long run as liver failure is quite possible. (This is true for all marine fishes!) Therefore, black worms and other 'marine' flesh should be included in their diet when feasible. And since feeding is sometimes troublesome, this is the reason why trickle filters and some chemical filtration is preferable, as initially there may be some food waste and these forms of filtration will greatly help control water quality aspects. The method of feeding under red light, if needed, is preferably accomplished during the first hour of darkness (mostly for the sake of the aquarist, who would no doubt like to retire for the rest of the night!), therefore, I recommend bringing on line some blue moonlights after much of the feeding is completed. All 'moon' lights should go out when daylight begins. Once having success during the 'red' timeframe, feeding during normal daytime timeframes should be tried if they do not have tankmates already being fed during these times. Could be, once taking food during red lighted periods, they will be more apt to join in during lighted timeframes when food enters the system. Nevertheless, do not cancel out the nighttime snack so to speak until finding it possible to feed them successfully twice a day.

And you've no doubt noticed I've used the word 'they' frequently, as its better to keep two or more if at all possible, as they seem to take some consolation in groups of their own kind. And additionally, at night its quite a beautiful sight to behold when a small group shoal together under red lighting as 'they' patrol the aquarium with their luminescent organs lighting nearby substrates in search of prey.

These are extremely hardy and peaceful fish besides being fascinating, and have been maintained in captivity for periods exceeding 10 years. They are easy to maintain if their needs, which are quite reasonable, are satisfactorily met. If interested, would recommend finding a local dealer or online/internet shop that can supply them. Then get their home set up and running for a few weeks before their arrival and have them be the first fish to be introduced into the system. If tankmates are desired, add them slowly over the coming weeks. You'll find keeping Pineapple Fish a worthwhile fishkeeping experience, one that you won't be disappointed in trying. For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1).


These fishes belong in the Order Gasterosteiformes and Suborder Syngnathoidei as members of the Family Syngnathidae (Seahorses & Pipefishes) consisting of 2 Subfamilies, 52 genera, and 200+ species, and Family Solenostomidae (Ghost Pipefishes) consisting of 1 genera with about 6 species.

As for pipefish, most are found in seawater, yet some are found in freshwater. They are fairly inexpensive, somewhat colorful and very hardy in the right environment. Like their Seahorse relative, requirements are basically the same. Among the more popular and commonly seen species, Doryrhamphus dactyliophorus, the Banded Pipefish attains an 8 inch (20 cm) length and is an undemanding species, easly maintained in a large reef aquarium. In fact, they complement each other in the reef/invertebrate aquarium and require much the same food/conditions as do seahorses and dragonets. For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1) and my Animal Library>Fish Library where there are about 28 species described.

Porcupinefishes & Burrfishes

These fishes belong in the Order Tetraodontiformes and Suborder Tetraodontoidei where they are members of the Family Diodontidae. This family consists of Porcupinefishes and Burrfishes, and has 6 genera, having 19 species, with only 2 genera of interest to most hobbyists, i.e., Chilomycterus (Burrfishes) and Diodon (Porcupinefishes). Both members have the ability to inflate themselves as a form of passive defense and in doing so, have sharp exterior spines often erected. Their diet consists mainly of large crustaceans and in the aquarium will take any type of meaty foods, including small marine fish. They should also be offered some green foods such as fresh spinach. They do get large, therefore aquariums larger than 75 gallons are recommended, and note they should not be kept with smaller or fin nipping fish. None are suited for reef aquariums.

Probably one of the most popular and quite often seen in the trade is the Balloon/Spiny Porcupinefish Diodon holocanthus, also sometimes mistakenly called the Spiny Pufferfish. It's widespread throughout tropical oceans and inhabits shallow reefs and hides during daylight hours under ledges and in crevices and then feeds at night. In the wild, where it gets to 20 inches (50 cm), it feeds upon benthic invertebrate and small fishes. In aquaria it requires a varied diet, e.g., enriched live brine shrimp, mysis, chunky chopped fish or shrimp flesh, and/or carnivore frozen foods along with some vegetable matter and should have numerous daily feedings and plenty of swimming space. Keep in mind it's nocturnal and may eat smaller tankmates. In fact, it's widely used in Chinese medicine. There's 11 species described in my Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes also belong in the Order Tetraodontiformes and Suborder Tetraodontoidei, however they are members of the Family Tetraodontidae (Puffers and Tobies) which have 2 subfamilies, 19 genera, and 121 species. There are two genera of interest to most hobbyists; those called 'Tobies' or Sharpnose Puffers in the Genus Canthigaster, and the 'Dog Faced' Puffers in the Genus Arothron.

Pufferfishes are smaller than Porcupinefishes and many species contain a strong toxin and also have the ability to inflate themselves by ingesting large quantities of air. They do not have pelvic fins and their front teeth are fused together, yet separated by a gap giving the appearance of having four teeth. In the wild they feed upon snails, tubeworms, crabs, sponges, starfish, clams, shrimp, urchins, tunicates, coral polyps, and algae including coralline. In the aquarium they will take any type of meaty foods, e.g., brine shrimp, earthworms, and tubifex/black worms, and should also have some fresh greens to graze upon. They are not safe with tubeworms and can become fin-nippers. All require numerous daily feedings (at least three per day) and 'plenty' of swimming space. Also provide a large cave to hide in when needed.

They will probably need to be dewormed and have their teeth filed to prevent overgrowth, which will inhibit their ability to eat. All are slow swimmers and are unable to maneuver quickly.

All members of the family contain a potent tetrodon-toxin in some of their internal organs. When alarmed, pufferfish can release their toxin into the surrounding water. In the wild they can swim away, yet in the closed system all tankmates may perish including them. In Japan, the Japanese marine puffer, known as "fugu" is served as a special delicacy. Those that prepare this foodstuff must be licensed by the Environmental Sanitation Division of the Bureau of Health. A Chef to be must prepare the organs to be eaten, then eat them. If he lives, he gets his license. Different strokes for different folks.

There are quite a few that are often seen in the trade; e.g., the Masked/Panda Pufferfish Arothron diadematus; White Spotted Pufferfish Arothron hispidus; Narrow-lined Pufferfish Arothron manilensis; Map Pufferfish Arothron mappa (poisonous to eat); Dogfaced Pufferfish Arothron meleagris; and, the Starry Toadfish Arothron stellatus. All hail from the Indo-Pacific, Red Sea, and/or Western Pacific Ocean where they inhabit coastal lagoons and feed upon snails, tube worms, crabs, sponges, starfish, clams, shrimp, urchins, tunicates, coral polyps, algae (including coralline algae) and small fishes. All range from 12 to 48 inches (30 - 120 cm) with A. manilensis the smallest and A. stellatus the largest.

Moving into the genus Canthigaster (Tobies), the Bennett's Sharpnose Pufferfish Canthigaster bennetti; Three-barred/Crowned Toby Canthigaster coronata; Hawaiian Whitespotted Toby Canthigaster jactator; Altantic Toby Canthigaster rostrata; Ocellated/Spotted Toby Canthigaster solandri; and, the Saddled Toby Canthigaster valentini are among these smaller species, e.g., 4 - 5 inches (10 - 12.5 cm) frequently showing up in the trade. Their diet, feeding and temperament are similar to the Arothron species above, however, can be maintained in smaller fish-only systems. For more information, there are about 33 species described in my Animal Library>Fish Library.


The Rabbitfish Family Siganidae belongs in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Acanthuroidei and consists of 1 genus with about 27 described species. I should note that previously there was one genus with two subgenera, Lo and Siganus. However there is insufficient evidence to continue to support the subgenus Lo in the opinion of some notable marine scientists. Those previously placed in the Lo subgenus are now considered to be in the Siganus genus.

These are related to tangs, and mostly hail from the Indo-Pacific where they generally inhabit reef areas, with some preferring seagrass beds and mangrove areas. Two of the species that more commonly enter the trade, and which are considered very good algae/hair eaters, are the Foxface Rabbitfish S. vulpinus (can reach a size of 8 inches (20 cm) and S. magnifica, the Magnificent Rabbitfish which is slightly larger. Others, as shown below are also occasionally available and are fairly good algae consumers.

Every once and awhile the very pretty Blue-spotted Rabbitfish Siganus corallinus shows up in the trade, however this is not good browser of algae, as it shows little interest in any live form of algae. Therefore, meaty foods are on its list of desired foodstuffs, yet may occasionally show some minor interest in prepackaged type greens. Keep in mind Rabbitfish will go to a favorite place in the aquarium in late evening where they tend to lose some/most of their coloration thereby getting quite blotchy in appearance. Yet when daylight returns, will again regain their coloration.

For more information on these fishes, visit my Articles page and Animal Library>Fish Library.


Sharks and rays do not fall into the category of 'Bony Fishes,' which makes up the majority of my Fish Library. They belong to the Class Chondrichthyes, which includes nonbony fishes. Sharks and rays both fall into the Subclass Elasmobranchii, which includes jawed fishes with cartilaginous skeletons, multiple gill slits, skin covered with tiny tooth-like scales, and rows of regenerating teeth.

The classification of 'rays' is currently undergoing some changes, with the Superorder Batoidea possibly consisting of only the Order: Rajiformes. Some propose as many as six orders. For now, I'll stay with what's below.

These rays mostly require a large, well-filtered system, with a fine grain sandbed, and few environment obstructions even for the smallest members. They bury themselves in the substrate to conceal themselves from predators. Most succumb to poor husbandry skills. They cannot be treated with heavy metal solutions such as copper. Fresh seafood, such as shrimp, fish flesh, crab, scallops and/or bristle worms are welcome.

For much more in-depth information on these creatures I suggest reading 'Aquarium Sharks & Rays, An Essential Guide To Their Selection, Keeping, and Natural History' by Scott Michael, ISBN #1-890087-57-2, and also visiting my Animal Library>Fish Library where 6 different species are described.

Reef Basslets

These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei, and are members of the Family Serranidae (Groupers & Anthias). These benthic Reef Basslets are in the Genus Liopropoma, with many looking similarly shaped and occupying similar habitats. They are also quite diverse location-wise and occur in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans. Since they keep close to the substrate, they may do better in reef-like environments.

Reef Basslets are a deeper water species and come out to feed at dusk. They are quite secretive and difficult to catch in the wild. Usually shy when first placed in the aquarium and should have many hiding places. Keep in mind they may eat small crustaceans. They are prone to hiding if kept under bright lighting.

For much more information on many of the species, recommend reading Reef Fishes Volume 2, "Basslets, Dottybacks & Hawkfishes" by Scott Michael ISBN 1-890087-33-5 and visit my Animal Library>Fish Library where 11 species are discussed.

Sand Perches

These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Trachinoidei, where they are members of the Family Pinguipedidae. There are 4 genera having a total of 50 species. These small to medium size fish occasionally show up in the trade and even though in a reef aquarium they are not a threat to corals, they will eat small shrimp, feather dusters, Christmas tree worms, and other small invertebrates and small fish. Nevertheless, they would also eat bristleworms and mantis shrimps. Much caution is advised where tankmates are concerned if keeping Sand Perches, and only one per tank is advised, as they will fight each other, especially the males. Also, they tend to be good jumpers, so cover the aquarium! Visit my Animal Library>Fish Library where 8 different species are described.


These fishes belong in the Order Periformes and Suborder Acanthuroidei where they are members of the Family Scatophagidae. There is only 1 genus with 4 species in this family. Scats have compressed bodies like butterflyfishes. Juveniles are found near river entrances and estuaries where freshwater abounds and they can be maintained in brackish, freshwater, and marine aquariums. Adults are normally found in wholly marine environments. They take a wide variety of foodstuffs, including copious amounts of vegetable matter. Actually, 'Scatophagus' means 'dung eater' which came about because they were seen feeding on sewage. However, they are actually omnivores. If selected from a freshwater environment, if slowly acclimated to seawater for a couple of days they make good additions to reef aquariums, as they are also a very good consumer of Aiptasia anemones.

Probably the Green or Spotted Scat S. argus is what is seen in the trade most often, which is found widespread in the Indo-Pacific where it inhabits coastal estuaries and river entrances, including brackish water areas/mangrove areas. It attains a 14-inch (35 cm) length and is considered a scavenger; as it eats a wide range of things include excrements from other animals. In aquaria, it requires a varied diet with several feeding per day and should also be supplied with a wide variety of vegetable matter. A good algae grazer and I have tried them in my reef aquariums, where they appeared to be well behaved.


These fishes belong in the Order Scorpaenoformes, Suborder Scorpaenoidei, and Family Scorpaenidae (as do Lionfishes), however those on interest here belong in the Subfamily Scorpaeninae, which has about 15 genera and 150 species. These are bottom dwelling fish that use camouflage to capture their prey. Very few interest hobbyists, as they require an environment tuned to their needs. And since they eat many of the crustaceans and fish that interest reef keepers and some of them are highly poisonous, few hobbyists have interest in this family of 'Scorpionfishes.' Nevertheless, some species continue to make it into the trade, as with the following two interesting species.

The first is the Ambon Scorpionfish Pteroidichthys amboinensis. This small fish, about 5 inches (12.5 cm) hails from the Western Pacific and inhabits muddy and/or algae overgrown bottoms areas in lagoons, reef flats, and reef channels where it consumes small fish and crustaceans. It mimics plant debris with its long horn-like and mustache-like facial projections. In captivity, it generally requires live food, at least in the beginning, but some can be trained to take defrosted fish and shrimp flesh on a feeding stick. Nevertheless, some will and some will not take it and die if not fed live foods. Their aquarium bottom areas should contain a lot of coral rubble and rocks. An odd-looking creature to say the least. Another, is the Weedy Scorpionfish Rhinopias frondosa, coming from the same location, however, slightly larger at 9 inches (23 cm), and has the same husbandry requirements. If any of these 'Scorpionfish' is of interest, I highly recommend further research before going further. Visit my Animal Library>Fish Library where 25 different species are described.

Sea Moths

These fishes belong in the Order Gasterosteiformes and Suborder Syngnathoidei as members of the Family Pegasidae (Sea Moths) consisting of 2 genera, and 5 species.

This family only consists of five species, and of those five only a few are worth mentioning as they are rarely ever seen in the trade, and besides they are extremely difficult to maintain in captivity. For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1) and visit my Animal Library>Fish Library, where the three described should be left in the wild!


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Serranidae (Groupers & Anthias) which include 3 Subfamilies, of which one Subfamily Serraninae has 13 genera with about 75 described species, one of which include the fishes called Seabasses.

There are some dwarf members of the Family Serranidae, which includes anthias, grammas, reef basslets, grouper, hamlets, rockfish, and that of seabasses, that interest aquarists. The dwarf members of the genus Serranus (Dwarf Seabasses) are especially of interest because of their small size, the fact they are extremely hardy, and they accept a wide range of foodstuffs. Yet, reef aquariums are another thing, as they will eat smaller fish and crustaceans.

For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1), and also visit my Animal Library>Fish Library.

Seahorses & Weedy-Leafy Seadragons

These fishes belong in the Order Gasterosteiformes and Suborder Syngnathoidei as members of the Family Syngnathidae (Seahorses & Pipefishes) consisting of 2 Subfamilies, 52 genera, and 200+ species. The subfamily Hippocampinae contains only one genus, which may have 50 or more species. Its difficult to properly identify many of them as their physical appearance can vary from location to location. Rudie Kuiter's 'Seahorses, Pipefishes and Their Relatives' is an excellent publication for identification purposes.

There are about 24 species of seahorses (Indo-Australia coasts - 10 species; European and African Atlantic coasts - 3 species; America Atlantic coast - 6 species; and American Pacific coast - 2 species). All are marine species.

Generally found in shallow coastal seagrass beds and weedy, rocky bottom areas and wear their bones on their outside as an exoskeleton armor. They range in size from an inch to more than a foot and can change color to match their surroundings.

When kept by themselves or with Pipefish/Mandarins these 'tube-mouthed' fishes add interest and beauty to an invertebrate aquarium. Their diet of newly hatched brine shrimp, rotifers and/or baby mollies make them somewhat difficult to maintain except for the devoted aquarist. They are slow swimmers, generally have a short two-year life span, mate for life, and the male carries and gives birth to the young.

They require the proper habitat such as an invertebrate aquarium with much live rock, slow moving water, no anemones, at least three daily feedings, and the proper tankmates. In fact, the fry can take in over 3000 food items per day, and a full-grown specimen can eat over 60 shrimp per day! One of the best foodstuffs is the frozen freshwater mysis shrimp, Mysis relicta, which contains an abundant source of HUFA's (Highly Unsaturated Fatty Acids). Live adult brine shrimp fortified with products such as Selcon or Spectra Vital is also an excellent foodstuff.

Most sold in the trade are H. erectus, H. kuda, and H. hystrix. Oceanrider sells hybrids of different species that are already use to closed systems and frozen foods such as mysis shrimp. And when selection time arrives, it would be much better to choose a captive-bred specimen. This would at least guarantee the animal has not been starved and/or subjected to poor water quality holding areas and long distance shipping stresses; as such animals can be a source for developing maladies.

For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1). Also, visit my Articles page and Animal Library>Fish Library.


Sharks (and rays) do not fall into the category of 'Bony Fishes,' which makes up the majority of the animals seen in hobbyist aquariums. They belong to the Class Chondrichthyes, which includes non-bony fishes. Both fall into the Subclass Elasmobranchii that includes jawed fishes with cartilaginous skeletons, multiple gill slits, skin covered with tiny tooth-like scales, and rows of regenerating teeth. Sharks fall into one of its two Superorders "Squalomorphii" (Sharks). From there, sharks fall into other various 'Orders' and 'Families' too numerous to mention here.

Most sharks are too large for the average aquarium, with the largest member, the whale shark (Rhiniodon typus) attaining almost 60 feet. They have streamlined bodies and lack air bladders. Instead, they have a large two-lobed liver that helps maintain neutral buoyancy. Besides having a keen sense of smell and eyesight, sharks have renewable teeth, which many of us, including myself, would like to have! As teeth are worn-out or lost, new teeth from a back row move up to takes its place. They are also very sensitive to electrical impulses, as they can easily locate buried prey. However, this sensitivity can lead to their loss in the aquarium if equipped with a faulty heater, UV filter, or water pump.

They mostly require a large, well-filtered and well-oxygenated system with a fine grain sandbed, and few environment obstructions even for the smallest members. Most succumb to poor husbandry skills and cannot be treated with heavy metal solutions such as copper. Fresh seafood, such as shrimp, fish flesh, crab, scallops and freshwater mollies are welcomed. Do not house with large triggerfishes, angelfishes, wrasses, and pufferfishes as they can pick on the shark and cause skin/eye damage.

To put it simply, I think they should all be left in the wild! I'm always saddened when I see them in home aquaria unless the enclosure is large enough and environmentally setup for them alone!

For much more in-depth information on these creatures I suggest reading 'Aquarium Sharks & Rays, An Essential Guide To Their Selection, Keeping, and Natural History' by Scott Michael, (ISBN #1-890087-57-2), and also visit my Animal Library>Fish Library as there are 24 species described.


These fishes belong in the Order Gasterosteiformes and Suborder Syngnathoidei as members of the Family Centriscidae (Shrimpfishes) consisting of 2 genera, and 4 species.

These tube-shaped mouthed fishes are closely related to pipefishes. They are knife-like in shape and swim with their head pointed downwards. Sometimes associated with long spine urchins. They feed on planktonic animals. Require live foods, preferably live mysis shrimp. For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1) and checkout my Animal Library>Fish Library where 3 species are described.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Lutjanidae (Snappers), which include 5 Subfamilies, 21 genera with about 125+ described species.

Even though there are over 200 species (described and undescribed), only a few are suited for the large home aquarium. Often difficult to get them to begin eating in captivity, require much swimming room, e.g., at a minimum a 500 gallon aquarium, and do not ship well. They eat a wide variety of meaty foodstuffs, including worms, shrimp, and small fishes. Once acclimated, they are hardy animals and non-aggressive to anything not small enough to be eaten. Good looking juveniles, so be careful when shopping for a new fish!

And for in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6) and my Animal Library>Fish Library that has 12 species described.

Soldierfishes & Squirrelfishes

These fished belong in the Order Beryciformes, Suborder Holocentroidei and Family Holocentridae, which contains both Squirrelfishes & Soldierfishes and consists of 2 Subfamilies, 8 genera, and 65 species. These are similar to Cardinalfish in physical characteristics, with the major difference being size, as these average 7 to 12 inches (17.5 - 30 cm). Some are capable of making loud clicking sounds and are also sensitive to sounds, such as what's produced when one taps on the aquarium glass, since they have large air bladders. Most are too large for the average aquarium, but often are collected as juveniles, so one must be careful when making a selection. Generally, they are peaceful, mostly nocturnal, carnivorous, and somewhat colorful, yet mostly crevice and cave dwellers.

Those in the Subfamily Myripristinae are called Soldierfishes, which has 5 genera, with only those in two appearing in the trade. They are fast growing fishes and with most collected as juveniles, aquarium size is an important consideration. They are also better placed in small groups than individuals/one or two specimens, unless a mated pair, as one may pick on the other or become feisty with its neighbors. There are few of interest, however the Brick Soldierfish Myripristis amaena, an overall reddish fish, is frequently collected in Hawaii, and is often seen in the trade. It's also widely found throughout the Western Pacific where it inhabits reef flats and seaward slopes, and often found in caves and under ledges. It gets to 10 inches (25 cm) and has a natural diet of planktonic organisms and feeds mainly during evening hours. In captivity it requires a meaty diet such as enriched chopped fish or shrimp flesh, mysis, frozen brine shrimp, and/or frozen carnivore foods with one or two feedings per day. And it should have numerous hiding places, caves, and overhangs in the aquarium.

Those in the Subfamily Holocentrinae are called Squirrelfishes, which has 4 genera and about 30 species. Most of interest are similar in size to the above and also spend their daylight hours hiding in caves and/or under overhangs and have the same husbandry requirements. Again, they are not safe with anything that could be swallowed. They also have spines on their head and gills, which can come entangled in nets. In fact, they have a large preopercular spine that can inflict a wound if mishandled by the aquarist. And in some species there's associated venom that can cause intense pain.

The Longspine Squirrelfish Holocentrus rufus hailing from the Tropical Western Atlantic is occasionally seen in the trade. It gets quite large, about 11 inches (28 cm), but its reddish coloring often attracts hobbyists, especially when seen as juveniles. Its husbandry is the same as mentioned above. The Crown Squirrelfish Sargocentron diadema is another species often seen in the trade. It's an Indo-Pacific species that is quite small when considering all in both families, as it gets to 6.5 inches (17 cm). Its body is a reddish color with horizontal whitish bars and can be maintained in reef aquariums without ornamental shrimp and hermit crabs, as it will eat them. In fact, it's a good bristleworm eater. It should have some caves to call home. Another in this genus, Sargocentron xantheythrum, the Hawaiian Squirrelfish, hails from the Johnston and Hawaiian Islands and attains the same size and also looks somewhat similar. It is best kept in small groups and overall has the same husbandry needs.

Be quite cautious when selection any Soldierfishes or Squirrelfishes, as several species continue to show up in the trade as juveniles and look quite attractive, but once in the aquarium they grow fast and become a threat to anything that can be swallowed!

For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1) and checkout my Animal Library>Fish Library where over 30 species are described.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei as members of the Family Nemipteridae (Spinecheeks) which include 5 genera and 64 species.

Those in the Genus Scolopsis have the most interest to hobbyists, as they are fairly easy to maintain in closed systems. Some of these fishes are also called breams.

They have a natural diet of benthic invertebrate and small fishes. Should be housed in a tank where the majority of the sandbed is exposed. May require live foods to initiate feeding in the aquarium. Requires a meaty diet, such as enriched finely chopped fish or shrimp flesh, mysis, frozen brine shrimp, and/or frozen carnivore foods with at least one feeding per day. It will, however, attempt to eat small ornamental shrimp and snails, so may not be desirable in some reef aquariums. Do not house with aggressive tankmates. One per tank. Rarely seen in the trade. See my Animal Library>Fish Library where 17 species are described.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Acanthuroidei as members of the Family Acanthuridae (Surgeonfishes), which include 3 Subfamilies, 6 genera and 72 species.

Called Surgeonfish or Doctorfishes because of the scalpel-like spine at the base of the tail or Tangs because of the German word Seetang (seaweed), which relates to their eating habits. In fact, the Greek word "acanthus" also relates to the scalpel-like spine just before the tail, i.e., caudal peduncle, hence their scientific name. They are laterally compressed fishes, such as angelfishes and butterflyfishes, and are a favorite of most marine aquarists. Even though thought of as predominantly herbivorous fishes, some also eat zooplankton and detritus. Where aquarists are concerned, they play an important roll in controlling algae in many aquariums, and where captured in the wild some are used/sold as food for the local population.

Many of these species grow quite large, with some attaining a 24 inch length (60 cm). Generally, a 75-gallon aquarium ought to be considered the minimum size for these fishes. Keep in mind tangs are active swimmers and require plenty of open space, moderate to strong water currents, and some areas to take shelter. They are also mostly constant browsers and even though they have small mouths, have large appetites. Tangs do not fare well on once-a-day-feedings! Dried seaweed, usually referred to as Nori is a much better foodstuff than lettuce and should be offered occasionally during the day.

Mixing different tang species of the same size and color generally create problems, and because they have little body mucus, stress can cause an outbreak of Marine Ich. Therefore they should be dissimilar in size, color, and shape. Once a pecking order is established, peace may return. Some species, e.g., a yellow tang and regal/blue tang usually tolerate each other. Ctenochaetus species are also very tolerant of other species.

Experience has shown the Chevron, Koli, Yellow, Blue, and Sailfin tangs to be the most popular. The Chevron is fairly expensive, the Koli and Yellow Tang low priced, and the Sailfin, especially the Red Sea species, and Blue Tang medium to high priced. Keep in mind the Blue Tang is not mainly an alga consumer. All are quite hardy and long-lived.

Of the 72 species in six genera, those in the Genus Prionurus are rarely seen, probably because they live at cooler temperatures than the species in the other five genera.

For more information visit my Articles page and the Animal Library>Fish Library, where about 55 species are described.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Percoidei, where they are members of the Family Pempheridae. There are 2 genera having a total of 25 species with most forming aggregations and inhabiting large caves and areas under large overhangs. Very few species make it into the trade, yet when available, are suitable for reef aquariums.

And for more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6) and my Animal Library>Fish Library that has 4 species described.

Sweetlips & Grunts

These fishes belong in the Order Periformes and Suborder Percoidei where they are members of the Family Haemulidae. There are 2 Subfamilies having 17 genera and 150 species. The two subfamilies are: Sweetlips (Plectorhinchinae) having 3 genera, and Grunts (Haemulinae) the remaining genera.

Grunts can actually make a grunting noise by grinding their teeth with the sound resonating in the swim bladder. The Genus Anisotremus or sometimes referred to as the 'Porkfish' genus, contains about 10 described species with only a couple of interest to hobbyists. Even then, they require large aquariums and carefully selected tankmates, along with very good filtration because they are sloppy eaters. Mostly found in seagrass beds where they feed upon benthic invertebrates. They mostly exceed 12 inches (30 cm) and are best kept in groups where they will put up with their own kind happily nipping each other fins.

Sweetlips, especially those in the genus Plectorhinchus are quite similar in shape, however their lips are much thicker hence their name. And they are somewhat more delicate and therefore more difficult to maintain. Most live by day in caves or shipwrecks and venture out at night to feed on benthic invertebrates. They are excellent community fishes in the quiet aquarium, and are fairly shy bottom feeders and need a diet that mainly consists of meaty-type foodstuffs. Colorful and cute as juveniles, but much less desirable as adults because of their physical size.

There are a couple in this genus that are frequently available in the trade. The Clown or Harlequin Sweetlips P. chaetodonoides is probably the most often seen as a very pretty juvenile, yet does get to 24 inches (60 cm) in the wild. It hails from the central Indo-Pacific Ocean and inhabits coastal areas in small groups taking shelter in caves and shipwrecks during the day and hunting prey during evening hours. Requires a meaty diet, e.g., chopped fresh fish or shrimp flesh, scallops, and squid, and requires two or three feedings per day. Juveniles prefer mysis and enriched brine shrimp, also black worms and will eat snails and shrimp. Needs lots of swimming room, however also needs an ample amount of hiding places. No doubt cute when small with its paddling-like movements, yet grows too large for most hobbyist aquariums.

The Painted Sweetlips, P. pictus, is another seen in the trade and it hails from the Red Sea and Indo-Pacific to East Africa and gets quite large, 32 inches (80 cm). While young, it's a silvery color with black stripes, but as it ages; brownish spots appear between the strips and finally overtake the entire body with yellowish-brown spots covering the entire body and fins as an adult. Another pretty 'juvenile,' but unsuited for almost all hobbyist aquariums because of its eventual size. Husbandry is the same as the above discussed species.

The remark that 'size matters,' is quite true where these species are concerned, as their eventual adult size will dictate their upkeep. If not prepared for this need early on, these fish will have to be move to more suitable quarters, which may create problems for all concerned. Again, research the species needs before putting it in your aquarium. Checkout my Animal Library>Fish Library as that has over 20 species described. And for more information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 3 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-69-6).


These fishes belong in the Order Periformes and Suborder Percoidei where they are members of the Family Malacanthidae, which has 2 Subfamilies, 5 genera and 39 species. They are very pretty, fast moving, and do well in reef aquariums, however are also great jumpers, therefore full aquarium covers are recommended. In fact, many of these fishes are simply lost because of injuries incurred when they jump out of aquariums, which I can personally attest to. They are not overly inexpensive, but its buyer beware since chances are you may find your tilefish on the floor some morning if the aquarium is not covered! They are peaceful and hardy, and take a wide variety of meaty foods. All are quite timid and not fond of bright lighting.

Probably those most often seen in the trade are from the genus Hoplolatilus in the Subfamily Malacanthinae. These shy and secretive fish hail from Western Pacific areas and inhabit shallow waters where they construct burrows and mounds on sandy areas. They all have blunt snouts and somewhat elongated bodies and are plankton feeders. Among the favorites are; Hoplolatilus marcosi the Redstripe Tilefish, about 4 inches (10 cm); H. purpureus the Purple Tilefish about 6 inches (15 cm); and, Hoplolatilus starcki the Blueheaded Tilefish also about 6 inches. All require a meaty diet, such as fortified brine shrimp, mysis, and meaty type frozen foods, with two or three feedings per day. Keep in mind they are fast swimmers and like good water movement, 'and' they are good jumpers! Probably not a beginner's fish, unless more attention is paid to their individual needs such as water movement, tankmates, open areas for darting/swimming, and frequent feedings per day.

For much more information on many of the species, recommend reading Reef Fishes Volume 2, "Basslets, Dottybacks & Hawkfishes" by Scott Michael (ISBN 1-890087-33-5) and visit my Animal Library>Fish Library where 11 species are discussed.


(Many years ago wrote an article for FAMA magazine titled 'Easy on the Trigger' and in part it's presented here with their approval.)

These fishes belong in the Order Tetraodontiformes and Suborder Tetraodontoidei where they are members of the Family Balistidae (Triggerfishes), which contains 10 genera and 40 species, with few suitable for the average home aquarium.

In general, they have laterally compressed bodies and small mouths, similar to angelfishes and surgeonfishes. Their jaws are very strong and contain chisel-like teeth that are used for crushing hard-shelled prey. Scales are plate-like and they have no pelvic fins, but do have a pelvic spine. All have three dorsal spines, but in some species the third spine is underdeveloped. In the wild diet consists mainly of shrimp, seastars, snails, small fish, crabs, and they are especially fond of urchins. They also tend to lose their colors if diet is inadequate, yet naturally become somewhat paler at nighttime while resting in their favorite places.

One of the more noticeable aspects is their head takes up about one-third of the body length. Their well-developed and independently moveable eyes are mounted high up on the front body to protect from urchin spines (their favorite food) since they take great pleasure in breaking them off so as to get to the central meaty body. In fact, they are capable of expelling a jet of water from their mouth to overturn urchins so they can more easily get at their soft underbelly! And since they continue to hunt in this fashion in aquaria, they should be housed with small pieces of seashells, as their favorite pastime is overturning small items in the search of a tasty meal. Besides, nibbling on shell pieces is better then nibbling on heater electrical cords, as its safer and helps to somewhat wear down their sharp teeth, which could get too long and pointed and interfere with normal feeding.

In the wild they normally seek crevices, caves, ledges, and even coral branches at night to sleep in or on, sometimes raising their first upper spine to securely lock themselves into position for the night. It's also raised quite quickly (triggered) when frightened, hence their common name, triggerfish, and can securely lock themselves into tight places making it almost impossible to safely dislodge them if necessary. In fact the first spine can only be lowered if the second spine is depressed into its recess. Their unique form of swimming is also quite attractive, as anal and dorsal fins are used for most of their movement, yet when bursts of speed are needed the tail is used.

And when it comes to selecting one for the aquarium, one word frequently comes to mind - 'research,' as there are many beautiful species, but only a few that can be successfully maintained with other fishes. So what are the 'problematic species' and the more amiable/friendly/good-natured ones? Actual, that's an easy question to answer, as none are totally safe with other fishes unless they are larger and/or more ferocious tankmates. So lets place them in three categories - Terrors, Risky, and Reasonably Safe.

As for those that are not even safe if kept in a large aquarium by itself, Balistapus undulates, the Undulate, Orangelined, Orangetailed/Yellowtailed Triggerfish is a holy terror. It gets to about 12 inches (30 cm) and hails from the Indo-Pacific. This is no doubt a beauty as it has a yellowish-orange tail with undulating orange lines on a dark green body. Very pretty, but the word 'aggressive' would not do it justice and it can't be safely kept with anything but itself!

Another one on my terror list is the Blue-lined Triggerfish, Pseudobalistes fuscus. It hails from the Indo-Pacific where it generally inhabits deep reef outcrops. Not only does it get quite large, e.g., 18 inches (45 cm), it will dominate anything in the aquarium that isn't 'much' larger. No doubt a pretty fish with a yellowish body covered in blue lines, and as a juvenile, an attractive and tempting species, but another species that can't be safely kept with anything but itself or at least much large more ferocious tankmates!

Another unmanageable species in mixed surroundings is the Queen Triggerfish Balistes vetula. This Atlantic species gets quite large, about 20 inches (50 cm), and will rearrange aquarium decor, bite airline tubing, possibly break heater tubes, and also scratch aquarium side panels. Besides eating or attacking any type tankmates, it will also eat any invertebrates such as snails, etc., in the aquarium. It's another triggerfish needing its own aquarium, e.g., 180 gallons or larger, and preferably one containing nothing of value!

Moving on to what I call risky are a few species often seen in local shops, and the first is the stunning Clown Triggerfish Balistoides conspicillum. It attains a length of about 20 inches (50 cm) and hails from the Indo-Pacific, where it swims in open deep drop-off areas, yet seeks local caves to hide or rest in. Juveniles have large white spots over most of the body and head, and a yellow snout area. As it matures, a yellow saddle area begins to develop around the first dorsal fin and contains small bluish spots, and the yellow on the snout recedes to just a small area around the mouth that is bordered by white. Even though juveniles are somewhat mild tempered, they do not fair well in captivity. Larger adolescents and adults are hardier, but bad tempered, and will nip just about anything in the aquarium, even much larger fish. In fact, I saw an adolescent actually buzz saw a damselfish in half in one of my aquariums. When I thought about cleaning the tank and what could happen to a finger, decided to return it to a local shop!

There's a few more that have never been in my comfort zone, as they were not trustworthy, even somewhat in mixed company of larger fish. The first is called the Picasso or Hawaiian Humuhumu Triggerfish, Rhinecanthus aculeatus, which inhabits most of the world's tropical seas. It does not get overly large, about 10 inches (25 cm) length, and is one of the few triggerfishes that will tolerate others of the same species in the same tank. One of the odd things about this species is that it snores, i.e., actually emits an audible whirring sound while sleeping! (I could joke about my wife doing the same thing, but she might read this.)

Another having similar size and coloration is the Rectangle Triggerfish, Rhinecanthus rectangulus, which comes from similar areas except the Atlantic, and a third, the Assasi or Arabian Picasso Triggerfish Rhinecanthus assasi, also somewhat similar in size and coloration, except that it hails from the Western Indian Ocean. I've had all three at different times and all had the same temperament and liked to rearrange system décor, chew on temperature sensing and probe leads, and take shots at passing fins on larger tankmates! And since these aquariums did not have sumps in those days, I believe it was the initial cause of my graying hair!

As for a couple of 'possible' reasonable choices (notice how carefully I worded that!) the Blue Throat Triggerfish, Xanthicthys auromarginatus, which attains a length of about 8 inches (20 cm) can be considered quite mild-tempered when compared to others in this family. It hails from the Indo-Pacific and I've had this species twice, and both times my 3-inch (7.5 cm) specimens were quite mild mannered and well behaved and did well in mixed company.

Another that was also well behaved was the Pinktail Triggerfish Melichthys vidua, which hails from similar areas, yet gets quite a bit larger at 14 inches (35 cm). Both of these were purchased quite small, about 2 – 3 inches and actually made good tankmates and can be considered the more gentle, better mannered of those in the entire triggerfish family.

But my all-time favorite has been Odonus niger, the Black Triggerfish, Blue Triggerfish, Red-toothed Triggerfish, Red-fang Triggerfish, or often simply called the 'Niger' Triggerfish. It hails from the Indo-Pacific where it reaches a length of about 20 inches (50 cm). Yet most in the trade are far smaller, with sizes varying from an inch (2.5 cm) to about 8 inches (20 cm), which is the largest I've ever seen at local shops. Mature members have teeth that are actually red, and its body coloration seems to depend on lighting and time of day, as its usually blue, but sometimes appears bluish-green or a dull green color. Its large head area is paler than the rest of its body, making it visually standout and which is also highlighted with blue lines and dots around the snout. The tail has long filaments on both the upper and bottom tailing edges. I've kept this species in several aquariums, even reef aquariums with large angelfish, surgeonfish, moray eels, and even lionfish which even though a much slower swimmer was always capable of successfully fending off any interest in its fins. And I've always purchased these beauty's fairly small, e.g., less than 3 inches (7.5 cm) and always housed it with tankmates at least its size, as it would consider anything smaller a meal.

As for all triggerfishes, hardy might be an understatement, and bulletproof another, but easily specimens that are not fussy about water quality or most tankmates, with the exception being others in its own family, as one triggerfish per tank is the general rule. And when it came to diet, anything meaty was perfect, as I generally fed enriched defrosted pieces of fish and shrimp flesh. In closing, none should be considered safe with smaller fish or tasty invertebrates such as shrimp, snails, and urchins, as they will be considered breakfast, lunch, or dinner! Choose carefully before adding one to your aquarium. Remember that word - Research! Visit my Articles page for more information, and Animal Library>Fish Library where 22 species are discussed.


These fishes belong in the Order Gasterosteiformes, Suborder Syngnathoidei, as members of the Family Aulostomidae, which consists of 1 genus and 3 species, with Aulostomus maculates, the Atlantic trumpetfish (39 inches - 1 m) and A. chinensis (35 inches - 87 cm), the Pacific Trumpetfish occasionally seen in the trade.

These slow moving fish have elongated bodies with tube-like snouts and fine teeth, and generally like to hide in corals and gorgonians in a head-down position and ambush their prey, usually small fishes or crustaceans. Because of their size, they need a large aquarium, e.g., over 150 gallons at a minimum. They require live food when first placed in aquariums, e.g., grass shrimp and/or small marine feeder fish, however, as time goes by they may accept defrosted fish and shrimp flesh. These fishes usually show up as juveniles and may look interesting, but are not really suited for most home aquariums, or especially the beginner. Keep in mind their diet is difficult to meet and are also pestered by faster moving tankmates.

For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 1 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-21-1) and my Animal Library>Fish Library where these two species are more discussed.

Walking Batfish

These fishes belong in the Order Lophiiformes and Suborder Ogcocephalioidei, where they are members of the Family Ogcocephalidae. There are 9 genera having a total of 62 species with most occurring on sand, mud, or rubble bottoms, possibly some in seagrass beds. They walk along the bottom on modified pectoral and pelvic fins. They are extremely poor swimmers and very rarely make it into the trade. For more information visit my Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Scorpaeniformes and Suborder Scorpaenoidei, where they are members of the Family Tetrarogidae. There are 11 genera having a total of 35 species These are small bottom dwelling fish, usually quite nocturnal, and requiring live foods, yet can be trained to take meaty food, e.g., shrimp on a stick. They hide during daytime, therefore require appropriate hiding places. Some bury themselves in deep sand. Easily picked upon by larger more aggressive fish. All require special care from the hobbyist. For more information visit my Animal Library>Fish Library.


These fishes belong in the Order Perciformes and Suborder Labroidei as members of the Family Labridae (Wrasses), which include 60 genera and 500+ species with only a small portion suited for hobbyist aquariums. Only the Gobies family is larger. Wrasses for the aquarium can be divided into two large groups: those that burrow and those that don't. They include some of the most difficult and easiest fishes to keep and also have a wide variety of temperaments.

They are mostly long, cigar-shaped or flattened cigar-shaped fish. Their side pectoral fins are basically used for swimming, yet when a burst of speed is needed use their caudal fin. Even though they don't have a large mouth, they do have strong lips with large, pointed teeth. So much the better to crush their favorite foodstuffs! In fact, all are hardy eaters and are very fond of worms, crabs, shrimp, urchins, snails, and mollusks. There are also some parasite consumers, while other are plankton feeders. And yes, there's also some coral polyp and/or smaller fish eaters!

There's also size to take into consideration, as some are simply too large, or what's seen is the juvenile stage and could soon grow into something detrimental to the aquariums environment/its tankmates. Then there are some small wrasses that are intimidated by larger tankmates and may stay buried in the sand and starve to death. Therefore, much research is needed before a choice is made!

For those that can be considered non-burrowing (yet some do when frightened), they fall into the genera Bodianus, Gomphosus, Hemigymnus, Stethojulis, and Thalassoma. These species often sleep under rock shelves, sometimes on or under a coral branch, yet usually in a crevice or directly on the sand surface in a secure area. Very active species will occasionally during the day find a quiet area and simply lay there taking a short rest.

As to burrowing wrasses, those in the genera Anampses, Coris, Halichoeres, and Macropharyngodon are of interest since they hide under the sand at night or when frightened. I've seen newly introduced specimens remain buried for hours, sometimes days until they became comfortable with the photoperiod or their tankmates. Generally, all can be observed during the daytime.

As for those in certain genera, the following may be helpful;


Most of these wrasses are poor shippers and generally refuse to eat when first introduced into the aquarium. Live foods such as black worms or enriched brine shrimp may be necessary to induce a feeding response. They also should only be kept in aquaria with a deep sandbed, and when so, may often disturb bottom dwelling corals, such as brain corals. These wrasses should be considered marginal reef or fish-only aquarium fishes, as they can be difficult to maintain for any length of time. Timid and difficult to feed.


The wrasses/hogfish of this genus are usually territorial, require hiding places, may eat invertebrate, need lots of swimming room, some provide cleaning services, and mostly feed upon worms and crustaceans, therefore pose a danger in reef tanks. Will take a wide variety of foodstuffs.


There are nine species in this genus, yet only a few are suited for hobbyist aquariums if that! They do not burrow, yet like to sleep in caves and crevices. All eat snails, worms (feather dusters) shrimp, crabs, brittle stars, sea stars, and small fish, therefore they are not recommended for the reef aquarium. Most are also big eaters, and after a big meal can go days without feeding again.


Fairy Wrasses of this genus are composed of approximately 36 species. They are distributed throughout the Indo-West Pacific with most coming from the Western Pacific. Males are usually larger than females and mostly differ from females in coloration. Males usually live with several females and juveniles. They make good reef aquarium inhabitants if supplied with ample crevices and caves.

They don't bury themselves in the sand at night, as do many other wrasses. Instead, they form a mucus cocoon similar to some parrotfishes and/or wedge themselves into a rock crevice. It should be noted the cocoon remnants do not seem to harm water quality or other aquarium inhabitants. They feed on small crustaceans and are among the most beautiful of marine aquarium fishes, especially the male Scott's wrasse, C. scottorum. However, they are jumpers and the aquarium top should have some sort of cover, possibly an eggcrate cover, to prevent them from jumping out of the aquarium.


There's about 27 species in this genus, and some are fine as juveniles for the reef aquarium. Yet they grow destructive with age and are too big as adults, even for the average fish-only aquarium. They prefer bottom areas of fine sand, and spend much of their time turning over rock and coral rubble searching for small crustaceans. They bury themselves at night.


There's only one species in this genus, and it's commonly described as the "Slingjaw Wrasse." The mouth of this species can extend outward about half the length of its body. When not in use to capture prey, it conveniently folds under the head. There are various color phases.


They are almost constant swimmers during the day and have a long snout to probe branches of coral and crevices for crabs, shrimp, and mollusks.


These wrasses are hardy, adapt well to aquarium life, peaceful, take a wide variety of foodstuffs, resistant to parasitic infections, and compatible with other wrasses. They are usually found in outer reef areas, near rocky/coral rubble and sandy surroundings, yet may have an appetite for tubeworms.


Another one of those large wrasses that shows up from time-to-time as an attractive juvenile. Probably best left in nature.


Cleaner wrasses are extremely dependent upon external parasites. Usually, their natural food supply is in very short supply in the aquarium and they waste away.


All wrasses in this genus, usually referred to as Leopard Wrasses, bury themselves in the sand during the night. They are mostly found over shallow bottom areas composed of rock and coral rubble near sandy surroundings. Some are hardy, peaceful, adapt well to aquarium life and accept a wide variety of foodstuffs making them good reef aquarium inhabitants. Others simply waste away no matter how well they are cared for.


The Dragon Wrasse is a notorious rock-mover, constantly looking for a meal under a small shell or rock. Can easily rearrange the decor in the aquarium.


They will eat snails, worms (including fire worms and feather dusters) shrimp (ornamental and mantis), crabs, brittle stars, sea stars, and small fish, therefore they are not recommended for the reef aquarium.


Members of this genus are considered flasher wrasses and closely related to Cirrhilabrus. Currently there are about 13 different species. They are distributed throughout the Indo-West Pacific with most coming from the Philippine-Indonesian area. Males are usually larger than females and mostly differ from females in coloration. Males usually live with several females and juveniles. They usually make good reef aquarium inhabitants if supplied with ample crevices and caves. Feeds on zooplankton above reef areas. Should not be kept with more aggressive fishes, e.g., dottybacks and some damsels.


These wrasses are fairly secretive, very small, found amongst heavy coral growths, and some make good reef aquarium inhabitants.


Most common in shallow waters, and usually quite cryptic, spending it's time among seagrass beds/macroalgae and often found in crevices on walls having a lot of invertebrate growths. Has a natural diet of zooplankton, benthic invertebrate and small fishes. Generally too secretive for aquariums, as they are very shy, therefore difficult to feed properly unless in aquaria with few very compatible tankmates.


These wrasses may sleep in the sandbed or in small caves and crevices. They are highly active swimmers, some juveniles associate with anemones, and they feed on benthic creatures and/or zooplankton in the water column.

If you chose carefully, there are many that do very well in the fish-only or reef aquariums.

For in-depth information concerning these fishes, checkout Reef Fishes Volume 5 by Scott Michael (ISBN #1-890087-44-0), and my Animal Library>Fish Library, where almost 250 species are described.


Hopefully – the above information as to different 'fish' species has been helpful, or at least may prevent the wrong species from entering your aquarium. Consider it more a 'heads up' as to what's available in the trade, and use it as you see fit.

Lets now move to Chapter 16, and begin looking at those invertebrates that many hobbyists desire, such as soft and stony corals.