Fish Tales by Henry C. Schultz III

Grammas


The family Grammatidae, also commonly known as Grammas, is the third Basslet family I've discussed in this column. I'm sure this may be confusing to many people, as I've already discussed two distinct families of fish that are commonly called Basslets. To compound this confusion further, there are actually four distinct families that are referred to as Basslets: Plesiopidae, Pseudochromidae, Grammatidae, and Serranidae. For the remainder of this article, I'll refer to Grammatidae as Grammas.

About the Family
Grammatidae
Gramma
  •brasiliensis
•linki
•loreto
•melacara
Lipogramma
  •anabantoides
•evides
•flavescens
•klayi
•regia
•robinsi
•rosea
•trilineata

Courtesy of Catalog of Fishes

Grammas have an interrupted or absent lateral line, one spine and five soft rays on the pelvic fins, and eleven to thirteen spines on the dorsal fin (Fish Base). All are deepwater fish. In fact, Lipogramma spp. are rarely seen in the hobby because they are normally found at depths greater than 400 feet. I will, therefore, discuss only Gramma.

Gramma spp. are found in the tropical Western Atlantic from the northern tip of the Bahamas, to Venezuela. They are not indigenous to the Florida Keys; however, Gramma loreto has established itself from southern Florida throughout the Keys mostly due to irresponsible hobbyists releasing captive aquarium specimens (Courtenay, 1995).

Grammas are protogynous hermaphrodites; that is, all males were once sexually functional females. When the dominant male gramma dies (or otherwise disappears), and another male doesn't inherit the territory, the dominant female fills the void left by the missing male and the sex change begins. Shortly thereafter, the female becomes a dominant, sexually functional male. When the female of a pair dies, another female will fill the void.

In the Wild

Gramma spp. generally prefers to colonize highly rugose deepwater walls or reef slopes where cover is abundant. Crevices, cracks, sponges, corals, overhangs, caves, or anything that provides suitable cover, will usually have a Gramma of one species or another. They will spend most of their time with their heads sticking out of their preferred hiding spot or hanging upside down from the roof of their cave. They feed on zooplankton, primarily copepods and isopods. On occasion, individuals will clean parasitic isopods of other fishes. They have been observed cleaning yellowtail snappers (Ocyurus chrysurus) and the Nassau grouper (Epinephalus striatus) (Coral Realm). Their unusually large mouth for a zooplanktivore provides Grammas with their only means of defense. A large, wide-open mouth is displayed to defend against most attackers, including congeners. If this defense is insufficient, they are likely to flee into protected areas of the reef.

In the Home Aquarium

All Grammas are exceptional choices for the home reef aquarium. They will not bother sessile corals or mobile invertebrates, including shrimp. Most suitable tank mates are ignored (see graph). Overall, they are very resistant to disease. They do, however, have a few special requirements to ensure their well being.

Fish

Will
Co-Exist

May
Co-Exist

Will Not
Co-Exist

Notes

Angels, Dwarf

X

   

Good choice for aquariums larger than 55g.

Angels, Large

X

   

Good choice provided the tank is large enough for the angel.

Anthias

X

   

Good choice in larger tanks; risky in small tanks (both planktivores).

Assessors

 

X

 

Assessors may suffer in smaller aquariums.

Basses

   

X

Larger Basses may attack and possibly consume smaller grammas.

Batfish

 

X

 

Batfish attain an adult size that will keep the Gramma in hiding.

Blennies

X

   

Good choice.

Boxfishes

X

   

Good choice in larger aquariums.

Butterflies

X

   

Good choice in larger aquariums.

Cardinals

X

   

Good choice.

Catfish

 

X

 

Catfish row large enough to consume Grammas.

Comet

X

   

Good choice in larger aquariums with plenty of rockwork.

Cowfish

X

   

Good choice in larger aquariums.

Damsels

   

X

Damsels steal the den of Grammas; consume Gramma eggs.

Dottybacks

   

X

Not recommended. Only possible exception is P. fridmani in large aquariums with plenty of rockwork.

Dragonets

X

   

Will co-exist peacefully.

Drums

 

X

 

Small Drums in first, once acclimated follow with a larger Gramma.

Eels

   

X

Not recommended. Most eels will get large enough to consume Grammas.

Filefish

X

   

Good choice provided the needs of the Filefish are met.

Frogfish

   

X

Frogfish will consume Grammas.

Goatfish

X

   

Should be good tank mates.

Gobies

X

   

Good choice. Goby in first.

Grammas

 

X

 

Should co-exist in 4 long tanks with plenty of LR.

Groupers

   

X

Groupers will consume Grammas.

Hamlets

X

   

Should be good tank mates.

Hawkfish

 

X

 

Some Hawkfishes can become aggressive towards smaller tank mates.

Jawfish

X

   

Good choice provided the tank has open sandbed for the jawfish and a LR shelf/wall/cave on the opposite side.

Lionfish

 

X

 

Larger adults can consume Grammas.

Parrotfish

X

   

Parrotfish should ignore Grammas, though their adult size might be intimidating to the Gramma.

Pineapple Fish

X

   

Should do fine together provided there are plenty of hiding spaces.

Pipefish

   

X

Pipefish are often delicate and small. Best kept to a species tank.

Puffers

 

X

 

Some puffers may be too aggressive for Grammas.

Rabbitfish

X

   

Good choice in larger tanks.

Sand Perches

 

X

 

Gramma in first. Sand Perch may become aggressive once acclimated.

Scorpionfish

   

X

Adults can consume Grammas.

Seahorses

 

X

 

Can be kept together provided the needs of the Seahorse are met.

Snappers

   

X

Snappers will consume Grammas.

Soapfishes

   

X

Soapfishes may consume smaller Grammas

Soldierfish

   

X

Adults can consume Grammas.

Spinecheeks

X

   

Should be good tank mates.

Squirrelfish

 

X

 

Adults can consume Grammas.

Surgeonfish

X

   

The active swimming of the surgeonfish will keep the Gramma close to home.

Sweetlips

   

X

Can become large enough to consume Grammas.

Tilefish

 

X

 

The aggressive swimming of Tilefish may keep Grammas hiding.

Toadfish

   

X

Toadfish will consume Grammas.

Triggerfish

   

X

Most Triggerfish are too aggressive for Grammas.

Waspfish

X

   

Should be good tank mates. Gramma in first.

Wrasses

X

   

Good choice provided the tank is large enough for intended wrasse.

The biggest concern for the aquarist should be in providing them with a hiding spot. The more rockwork present, the more comfortable your Gramma will feel. Make sure there are several caves and overhangs for the Gramma. More often than not, they will choose one, and make it their home. If you do not provide a shaded overhang in your viewing area, they will hide, and you may only see them during feeding time. Providing overhangs and caves is especially important for brightly lit tanks. Simulating a deeper water environment with an actinic light is another excellent means of viewing your Gramma.

Food will only be consumed by Grammas when floating in the water column. Good foods for stimulating great coloration and vitality should include some of the following: mysis, plankton, enriched frozen or live brine, small pieces of squid or crab, and various carnivore flake or pellet foods. Additionally, vitamins should be added to the foods. Soaking freeze-dried plankton or live brine shrimp in liquid vitamins is an effective way to deliver it to the fish. Grammas are usually aggressive eaters and will consume most foods that enter the tank.

Captive Reproduction

Spawning in the home aquarium can, and does, happen in Grammatidae. Gramma spp. were the first marine fish bred within the U.S.A (Baensch, 1994). Unfortunately, the hobby still relies heavily upon wild capture to keep up with demand for this fish.

For the hobbyist interested in spawning Gramma sp., a tank at least four feet in length should be used. A male will defend up to 560 square feet (Coral Realm). For reference, a 55 gallon aquarium is 576 cubic inches. Grammas can be aggressive to congeners, especially when two males are mixed. To minimize the risk of adding two males, it is best to find two Grammas that are vastly different in size. The largest Grammas are always the males or will become the male when paired with smaller Grammas.

The male will prepare the den, which usually consists of various algae species, sponges, gorgonians, and urchin spines (Coral Realm). These materials are regularly replaced as they decompose. The den is built into a hole in the rockwork with access limited to a single entrance/exit. Any secondary entrances to the den are covered so that only one entrance/exit exists. The female will be lured into the den where she will lay the eggs. Depending upon the species, the female will lay up to 400 eggs. Both the male and female will guard the eggs until they hatch in the evening of the seventh day. The fry are well developed, have a yolk sac, and within one month they will have adult pigmentation. At hatching, G. melacara measures roughly 3mm, with G. loreto and G. brasiliensis being slightly smaller. First foods offered to the fry should include Nannochloropsis sp. and Isochrysis sp., and within two weeks the fry should be large enough to consume newly hatched Artemia (C~Quest, 1994).

Meet the Species

Gramma loreto, a.k.a. the Royal Gramma or Fairy Basslet, is one of the more common fish in the hobby. Outdated references will list this fish as G. hemichrysos. It is found throughout the Caribbean at depths of 3 - 120 feet, though it is most common below 60 feet. At all times, it will keep its bottom side towards a solid structure. Therefore, whenever this fish is hovering below the roof of a cave, it will be upside down (Spiekerman 1973).

click here for full size picture
click here for full size picture
Royal Gramma

The Royal Gramma can reach three inches in length and can be kept singly in a 20 gallon or larger aquarium. Selection of suitable tank mates is tricky in tanks as small as 20 gallons. Consider making the Gramma the largest inhabitant, and add it last. For a community aquarium, a 55 gallon tank or larger would be a better choice. If Gramma loreto is the lone species in a larger tank, a harem can be maintained. Gramma loreto has been found in concentrations as high as 116 individuals on a single coral head measuring 20 feet in diameter (Coral Realm). To attempt this in the home aquarium, try to ensure you obtain one male while the remaining animals are female. Males will fight for territory. If your tank is not large enough for the given number of males added, you will have problems.

Gramma brasiliensis, the Brazilian Gramma, is extremely similar to Gramma loreto. The only notable differences are their origin and a few minor cosmetic differences. Gramma brasiliensis is only found in Brazil, and visual differences occur in the jaw line, dorsal fin, and their slightly different coloration. Gramma brasiliensis' jaw line extends slightly past the pupil, and the first dorsal spine is noticeably shorter than the rest of the spines (Coral Realm). Brazilians violet is not as intense as G. loreto, and the fade from violet to yellow is more gradual.

click here for full size picture
Brazilian Gramma

Gramma melacara is known commonly as the Blackcap Basslet. The species name melacara comes from the Greek roots "melaen," meaning black or blacken, and "car = a," meaning the head or top. This species is found deeper than either G. loreto or G. brasiliensis. Rarely do they venture above 60 feet, being more commonly found below 100 feet. The depth required for collection also means a higher price found in stores. They do get larger than the other Grammas, growing to four inches in length. Unlike G. loreto and G. brasiliensis, G. melacara will not be found in large groups. Instead, they will be found as lone adults, or in small aggregations. This behavior should be mimicked in the home aquarium by keeping only one Blackcap per aquarium, except for exceptionally large home aquariums (>200 gallons).

click here for full size picture
click here for full size picture
click here for full size picture
Blackcap Basslet

The last Gramma sp. to mention is G. linki. It is also commonly referred to as the Yellowlined Basslet. This species rarely shows up in the hobby, mostly because they are not found shallower than 120 feet.

Conclusion

Grammas are an interesting group of fish. Their comical behavior of hanging upside down and their interesting personality adds even more enjoyment to an exceptionally colorful group of marine fish. When you combine their personality and beauty with their overall hardiness, you have a perfect choice for the reef aquarium.


If you have any questions about this article, please visit my author forum on Reef Central.

References:

Baensch, H.A. 1994. Fairy Basslets. Baensch Marine Atlas, Volume 1. Microcosm. Shelburne. 988 - 992.

Böhlke, J.E. and J.E. Randall. 1963. The fishes of the Western Atlantic serranoid genus Gramma. Proc. Nat Acad Sci. Philad. 115(2): 33-52.

Burgess, W.E., et al. 1991. Dr. Burgess's Mini-Atlas of Marine Aquarium Fishes MinEdition. T.F.H. Publications. Neptune City. pp. 209 - 210.

Courtenay, W. 1995. Marine fish introductions in southeast Florida. American Fisheries Society Introduced Fish Section Newsletter 14(1):2-3.

Lieske, E. and Myers, R.. 1996.. Coral Reef Fishes. Princeton University Press. Princeton pp. 152

Michael, S. W. 1999. Grammas. Marine Fishes: 500 + Essential-To-Know Aquarium Species. Microcosm. Shelburne. . pp. 125 - 127

Michael, S. W. 1998. Family Grammatidae. Reef Fishes Volume 1. Microcosm. Shelburne. pp. 101

Spiekerman, Dr. J. 1973. Marine Aquarium Guide. A.J.G. Strngholt N.V pp. 195 - 196.

On the Web:
Breeders Registry
Catalog of Fishes On-line
Coral Realm
Fish Base
United States Geological Survey
Wet Web Media



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Grammas by Henry C. Schultz III - Reefkeeping.com