Smart selections saves money ... and lives
Harlequin Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris) are gorgeous, but your money is better spent elsewhere. Photo by Tom DeMeyer (C.C.)
So you’re feeling pretty comfortable with the definition of husbandry and now have a few key terms to use, so what’s next? Well the appropriation of inhabitants of course!
The aim with a mixed reef aquarium is to choose fish that satisfy your aesthetic goals as well as provide a certain level of biological benefit to the ecosystem such as the consumption of algae. This week, I will talk about two very popular families of marine fishes for mixed reef aquariums and help you avoid making mistakes with appropriation. Proper appropriation will save you money and help support sustainability within the Marine Aquarium hobby.
Tangs and Damselfish: Two examples of misappropriation
In a mixed reef ecosystem, and all ecosystems for that matter, plant life supports animal life. Wide varieties of fish are herbivores, relying primarily on the consumption of algae. The plant-based diet of the Acanthuridae (meaning "thorn tail") Family includes unicorn fishes, tangs, and surgeon fishes. Acanthurids are a great example of this behavior as they are voracious algae eaters that can help control troublesome algae. However, if the algae growths in your tank can’t keep up with the diet of these fish, you must supplement their nourishment with pieces of Nori (a dried form of macro-seaweed algae) or other forms of processed fish food.
One of the most popular and potentially compatible fish from this family is the "Yellow Tang" (Zebrasoma flavescens). Because of its bright yellow pigmentation and alluring appearance these are easily purchased. However, hobbyists must recognize the aggressive temperament of this fish. The most distinctive characteristic of Acanthurids are dangerously sharp barbs on either side of their tail fin (see photo [right]. Photo and 'Surgeonfishes, A.K.A. the Tangs' article by James W. Fatherree, M.Sc.). They can easily become troublesome additions in the event they are introduced with similar shaped fishes. When housed with such flat-bodied fishes such as angels and rabbit fishes, they become aggressive and inflict considerable damage with these barbs. Adding fish from this family, like the Yellow Tang, can definitely qualify as a major misappropriation.
Also, an average full-grown Tang is between 5 to 15 inches and in my humble opinion, tanks smaller than 75 gallons cannot appropriately house any species of Tangs. There is no need to induce stress or induce disease and infection by housing fish with large growth potential in small tanks.
The beautiful but very aggressive Blue Devil Damselfish (Chrysiptera cyanea).
'Damselfishes and Chromises'
One of the cheapest and most available families of fishes would be the Damselfish. This family of fish is comprised of a wide variety of temperaments and, because they are easily obtainable, “Damsels” are often purchased for the wrong reasons. Some local fish stores will recommend cycling new tanks with damselfish because they are cheap and relatively colorful, but I would recommend against this as most are ill-tempered as well as very hard to catch once live rock has been added to the tank. However, the subfamily of this group, Chrominae (previously mentioned in the fish section of the husbandry series), is kept for its beautiful color and shoaling potential. They will stay near the middle and higher portions of the tank where they are easily visible, and this behavior makes it easy to appreciate their beauty. Mr. Saltwater Tank describes these fishes perfectly when he calls them “eat anything(ers)" as their diets are easily managed with foods readily available in the hobby.
Not all that glitters is gold
When it comes to the purchase of juvenile fishes there are long-term esthetic and compatibility issues to consider. Fishes such as some Wrasse and angelfish have attractive color patterns when they are young but they will soon lose this attraction as they age. They are frequently purchased without consideration of their matured size potential. For example, Fuji/Twinspot Wrasses (Coris aygula) are usually purchased as beautiful two-inch juveniles. However, they grow to 30 inches, losing all their juvenile beauty in the process.
This is a beautiful juvenile Twinspot Wrasse commonly found in fish stores. Photo by Richard Field (Fishbase)
And this is what the wrasse matures into! Photo by John E. Randell (Fishbase)
Know your animals BEFORE you buy them
Another common mistake is purchasing animals that simply do not fare well in captivity. Animals such as seahorses, pipefish, filefish, and Mandarin Gobies are very difficult to care for in a captive reef system. Their finicky diets and overall sensitivity to small environmental fluctuations can cause headache and heartache. Not to mention some are very incompatible with many other marine fishes and invertebrates.
As was suggested in the husbandry series the best way to insure you don't waste your time and money on a fish that is unsuitable for your tank, or captivity in general, is to do your research before purchasing any livestock. The growth of the marine aquarium hobby increases pressure on natural reefs and it is our job to help limit the impact by making smart decisions.