Fish Tales with guest Anthony Calfo

Anthiinae - the Fancy Basses


Members of the subfamily Anthiinae (Fancy Basses) are known by many common names around the world. Labels include: wreckfish, reeffish, goldies, seaperch, swallowtails, fancy basslets, and jewelfish - just to name… more than a few. The group en toto (the summation, not the band) is represented by more than a half dozen genera. Marine aquarists often collectively refer to them all, though, as "Anthias."

Pseudanthias taeniatus (Klunzinger 1884).
It is little wonder aquarists are attracted to the Fancy Basses, yet many of these beauties are still difficult to keep successfully for a full lifespan in typical community aquariums. Photo by Robert Fenner.

There are around 200 described species of Anthiinae, all of which are believed to be hermaphrodites. They are born "unsexed," then become females and may eventually develop into males (protogeny) when given the proper cues. Most Anthias display physical gender specific body shape and/or color differences.

Anthiines are examples of synchronous protogynous hermaphrodites. They are born with an undifferentiated gender, later turn into females, and then can become males when provided with the right cues. Pictured here, a Pseudanthias squamipinnis is in an intermediate stage between female and male. Keep only one male per tank, and feed small, frequent portions of food (2-3 times daily). Photo by Anthony Calfo.

This sub-family also boasts some of the most beautiful and oft-photographed fishes in the world. They are living rainbows of bright colors! Most tend to be peaceful towards other fishes - except their own kind - and that can be a double-edged sword in a home-sized aquarium. It's a challenging obstacle to overcome… too passive to fight for space and food with other fishes, but more than willing to attack their own kind. Yikes! Unfortunately, the more aggressive Anthiines tend to be the hardier species. This speaks to the dynamics of behavior among successful (assertive) fishes at large in typical marine aquariums.

Captive Care

The better "Anthias" are active, if not outright aggressive, in feeding and establishing territories among other popular aquarium fishes such as damsels, tangs and wrasses. More passive Anthiines will simply be intimidated by the very activity of other fishes, and can slowly waste away without enduring even a single nip or threat of aggression. Fishes in the subfamily Anthiinae run the gamut of behavior and aquarium suitability. Please choose your fishes wisely by researching their species-specific needs, history and likely behavior.

Well-fed Anthiines spawn regularly in the magnificent 20,000 gallon reef display at Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in Riverhead, NY, the inaugural site for the NERAC marine conference April 16-17, 2005. Photo by Anthony Calfo.

Even with the best species and specimens, it is still critically important to isolate all new fishes in a quarantine tank (QT) for several weeks (4 - 8 weeks, ideally). Look back at past articles and archives for details on the many benefits of strict quarantine. But do not fail to practice it, even if only to establish a hearty feeding response in newly acquired fishes. Athiines are categorically poor shippers with higher rates of mortality and morbidity than other common imports. Some otherwise healthy (on arrival) specimens will be pummeled or killed if thrown directly into a tank of established fishes. They truly do not fare well if forced to "hit the ground running." Quarantine tank protocol is mandatory with all Anthiines, in my opinion.

In hobby literature, the long-touted lore of Anthias needing to be kept in groups is a bit in error. It's true that many live in very large shoals or schools in the wild, sometimes numbering in the thousands. But in specific groups and harems, there is a decided pecking order and often considerable intraspecific aggression. With their natural territories consisting of many square meters in the wild, the compression of a harem into a home aquarium results in quite an abnormal situation, regardless of the size of the display (short of public-aquarium sized displays). Weaker or more passive individuals get singled out and harassed quickly, but they cannot escape far enough away to quell the aggressor, as they can in the wild. Thus, such practical realities make us reconsider what it will take to keep (or not keep) Anthiines captively.

Below, we offer a compatibility chart to serve as a guide for mixing Anthiines in aquaria with other popular reef fishes. It's proffered, of course, with the fair warning that it is only a general guide. With fishes that are often as sensitive and easily intimidated as Anthiines, common compromises to aquarium husbandry like overstocking or inadequate places for retreat can make a precarious mix even worse. Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that reef fishes have not read this chart to know how they "should" behave. Thus, close observation and the use of an isolation tank if needed are crucial. Anthiines are especially worthy, if not needy, of being "feature" fishes to a display where all other choices (new species and total bioload) revolve around them.

Compatibility chart for Anthiinae:
Fish
Will Co-Exist
May Co-Exist
Will Not Co-Exist
Notes
Angels, Dwarf
X
 
 
Should co-exist well. Some scrappy dwarfs will bully passive Anthiines.
Angels, Large
 
X
 
Variable… Angels may nip/bully.
Anthias
 
X
 
Varies by species. When in doubt, keep singly or in harems in very large displays (over 200 gallons).
Assessors
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Basses
 
X
 
Caution with larger basses over 6”/15 cm.
Batfish
 
X
 
Large, hardy bats may outcompete or intimidate passive Anthiines
Blennies
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Boxfishes
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Butterflies
 
X
 
Hardy, active BF species may outcompete or harass Anthiines.
Cardinals
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Catfish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Comet
X
 
 
Should co-exist well, provided all have enough space/territory.
Cowfish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Damsels
 
X
 
Safe if damsel is not unduly aggressive or territorial. Chromis species are good mixes.
Dottybacks
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Dragonets
X
 
 
Should co-exist well. Consider a refugium for smaller aquariums.
Drums
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Eels
 
X
 
Should co-exist well. Caution with large, fish-eating eel species.
Filefish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Frogfish
 
X
 
Large frogfish can consume small Anthiines.
Goatfish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Gobies
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Grammas
X
 
 
Should co-exist well
Groupers
 
X
 
Caution with larger groupers over 6”/15 cm.
Hamlets
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Hawkfish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Jawfish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Lionfish
 
X
 
Safe with smaller lions or Anthiines too large to be swallowed whole.
Parrotfish
 
X
 
Size and feeding activity may be intimidating for Anthiines.
Pineapple Fish
 
 
X
With deepwater species only in biotope displays. Expert care.
Pipefish
 
 
X
Best kept in species-specific tanks.
Puffers
 
X
 
Variable… seek passive and smaller puffers.
Rabbitfish
 
X
 
Should co-exist well. Caution with territorial, larger Rabbits.
Sand Perches
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Scorpionfish
 
X
 
Safe with smaller scorpionfishes or Anthiines too large to be swallowed whole.
Seahorses
 
 
X
Best kept in species-specific tanks.
Snappers
 
 
X
Snappers are too active and aggressive for most Anthiines.
Soapfishes
 
X
 
Do not underestimate the mouth (size) and appetite of soapfishes.
Soldierfish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Spinecheeks
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Squirrelfish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Surgeonfish
 
X
 
Should co-exist well, but caution with territorial surgeonfish.
Sweetlips
 
 
X
Sweetlips are too large, active and in need of expert/specialized care
Tilefish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well.
Toadfish
 
 
X
Too predatory.
Triggerfish
 
X
 
The more aggressive triggerfish should be avoided.
Waspfish
X
 
 
Should co-exist well. Caution with severe venom in Waspfishes.
Wrasses
 
X
 
Varies considerably in this large group… keep only with smaller, non-territorial wrasses.

Note: While many of the fish listed are good tank mates for Anthiines, you should research each fish individually before adding it to your aquarium. Some of the mentioned fish are better left in the ocean or for advanced aquarists.

Give Anthias very large aquariums (at least a couple hundred gallons) to allow them a better chance of surviving a full lifespan. It is difficult to give a rule of thumb on stocking densities for the dozens of species encountered in the aquarium trade, but I'll suggest a rough guideline of one "Anthias" per 75 gallons (285 liters) of water. I strongly encourage aquarists unable or unwilling to dedicate such space to consider keeping a single specimen of one of the hardier varieties. The Sunburst Anthias, Serranocirrhitus latus, are among the smallest, best and hardiest Anthiinae for aquarium use - provided they are given cover for protection from aggressive tankmates or excessive light.

Serranocirrhitus latus (Watanabe, 1949), is known variously as the Sunburst, Fathead or Hawkfish Anthias and can attain a surprisingly large adult size of 5" (12.5 cm). They are shy but gorgeous, and hardy in captivity. Photo by Anthony Calfo.

Feeding

Feeding is another great challenge with Anthiines. The main obstacle has been that many feed almost constantly on zooplankton in the wild. It is difficult, if even possible, to replicate in home aquaria the nature and frequency of the matter they feed upon in the wild. The advent of refugium methodologies has markedly improved the success of keeping many challenging fishes like Anthias. And the state of the hobby has evolved far beyond the dark, early days of keeping refugia with weak water flow and Caulerpa, to a place where aquarists now commonly construct dozens of very different styles of refugia to cultivate very specific types of microorganisms. Some of these styles are being referred to as "plankton reactors," which should clarify their purpose. Please refer to some of the fabulous threads on refugiums and their construction in the Reef Central forums, and consider my thorough coverage of the topic in "Reef Invertebrates" (co-authored with Robert Fenner).

Plainly stated, though, a staggeringly simple plankton-generating refugium can be constructed as follows. Take an empty aquarium or water-holding vessel (plastic shoebox, food storage container… whatever!) and tap it inline to the system. It can be upstream from the display (fed with pumped water that overflows back down), or downstream from the display (catching water before or after the sump pump, and before the topside display return). In this empty, water-filled vessel, string a series of coarse filter pads (such as Supreme brand "Pond Master" rigid prefilter inserts, cut to size) like clothes drying on a line. A bit of strong fishing line will do well here. The thick pads are to be slightly smaller than the height and width of the water column in the tank. And, they should be given space between each pad. This will allow strong water flow through the aquarium and all around the pads. That's all! No substrate; no lights needed. You simply have a dim or dark refugium filled with coarse media suspended off the bare bottom on a string, being given a strong water flow and a food source (raw overflow water and/or supplemental feeding). It's not rocket surgery… errrr, rocket science, I mean. It's just a dense matrix with good water flow and a food source for amphipods and other microcrustaceans to grow free from predation. A verifiable pod disco! Many will overflow each day and be an incomparable natural food source (and this productive refugium cost only a few tens of dollars, at most, to build).

There is also good cause to make an argument for timed or continuous food drips for Anthiines. Freshly hatched baby brine shrimp, live rotifers or (best of all, perhaps) copepods, can be loaded into a regulated drip line (like an intravenous drip or kalkwasser drip system) daily and be slowly bled into the display for natural and continuous feeding opportunities. Maintaining live food cultures is not difficult, but it can be quite tedious. Thankfully, live bottled copepods can be purchased online from several sources.

Click here for larger image
Live food such as small fishes or shrimps (i.e., eurohaline Palaemonid "ghost" feeder shrimp) are excellent vehicles for carrying nutritious prepared foods via gut-loading into Anthiines. The antennae hanging out of this fish's mouth reminds us that shrimp are indeed taken, and the definition of "reef-safe" is subjective! Photo courtesy of Keith Berkelhamer (reefbum).

The better Anthias species also can learn to accept thawed fresh-frozen foods; some will even take them readily and early after collection. Mysid shrimp are a real a boon to keeping Anthiines, being well received and quite nutritious. Fine krill (pacifica plankton) is also an excellent foodstuff. A suspension of meaty prey is usually a good choice for first foods. The commercial slurry of freshwater Daphnia, "Sweetwater Plankton," has also been an outstanding appetite stimulant for new and finicky Anthias. The addition (soaked) of vitamin B12 with all foods has been shown to be quite stimulating to fishes' appetites as well. And a really novel and nutritious food item is fish eggs! Do consider how very natural it is for reef fishes like Anthiines to eat eggs and larvae among plankton. Hobbyists can buy nutritious, fresh fish eggs from a grocery store (in the freezer) that offers Asian and International products, such as sushi supplies. "Flying fish eggs" are an inexpensive and common staple that sushi fans enjoy; fish eggs make fabulous food for many reef fishes. Some pet stores also offer frozen grouper roe, packaged to feed to pet fishes and corals. Be resourceful to procure a nutritious and varied diet for the finicky Anthiinae you might keep.

Alas, even with the best methods (QT tank use and B12 supplements to the food) and a most careful specimen selection, some new or stressed Anthias won't eat at first and may require temptation with live prey. Aside from the old standby, live adult brine shrimp, it's amazing to see how readily Anthiines will eat baby guppies and other small fishes! While such freshwater fishes themselves are nutritionally inferior, and would be a poor choice of food in the long term, they can be found readily at most aquarium stores as feeder fish. Palaemonetes-type ghost or grass shrimp are also excellent live food offerings. These items are useful vehicles to carry nutrition into your fishes; all such live foods should be "gut-loaded" (stuffed full of dense and nutritious matter, such as flake and pellet foods, vitamins, etc.) before being offered.

And for all of the challenges and concerns you might have with needing "buffets" of frozen foods and laboratories full of live food cultures, you can rest assured that plenty of Anthiines will simply eat dry, prepared foods. Some of my favorite feeds presently include Pablo Tepoot's "New Life Spectrum™" series, the Boyd Enterprises Vita-Chem™ soaked products, and Argent Laboratories Cyclop-eeze™. There are, of course, many other high quality feeds on the market for aquarium fishes. Look for crustacean based food containing significant levels of protein.

Unfortunately, there is the occasional, outspoken aquarist, preaching to anybody that will listen, that he is keeping a herd of Anthias in a 55-gallon tank and feeding them cheese doodles and beer nuts, or some other ridiculously convenient food (brine shrimp fits this description, in all seriousness… a hollow food). The reality is that such fishes are the exception and not the rule, and usually have not been in the display for more than a year, if even six months. They are not likely to survive a full lifespan either. Indeed, there will always be exceptional fishes that have not "read the same books we have" to know "how they should behave, or what they should eat." That doesn't make it right to encourage other aquarists to take a very big chance on getting a fish that will do the same. More often than not, the purchased fish merely becomes a statistic within months. Also note that the problem with many delicate fishes is not that they won't eat prepared foods, but rather that they won't survive (due to nutritional deficiencies).

A sampling of distinguished species is provided below. Please use these comments and all other available resources for due perspective before buying any Anthiines. Under the best circumstances, Athiines are challenging. Make a thoughtful and considerate choice when shopping for the best species for your display.

Pseudanthias bartlettorum (Randall & Lubbock, 1981), Bartlett's Anthias of the Western Pacific are among the hardiest Anthias for keeping singly. Growing to a modest 3.5" (~9 cm.), these shallow water Anthias are unfortunately aggressive towards others of their kind and require so many females per male that few home aquariums are large enough to house a group. Males are mostly pink while females exhibit varying degrees of yellow backs with pink bellies. Photo by Anthony Calfo.
Pseudanthias bicolor (Randall, 1979), the Bicolor Anthias, is a deeper water species from the Indo-Pacific. Imports to the U.S. mainland come from Hawaii. With growth to about 5" (12.5 cm), they are hardy if acclimated carefully to bright aquarium lights and active tankmates. Bicolors are more tolerant of their own kind than other Anthias and are candidates for large (200+ gallon/<760 liter) deepwater reef displays. Males are distinguished by yellow-tipped filaments on their extended dorsal spines. Photo courtesy of Greg Rothschild (gregr).
Pseudanthias bimaculatus (Smith, 1955), the Twinspot Anthias, are stunningly beautiful but by far one of the most difficult Anthias species to keep successfully. Please consider this species only if you are willing to set up a species-specific aquarium. They need tremendous space, passive tankmates, adequate places to hide, special attention to feeding (live food may be required) and superb water quality. It really is best for most hobbyists to admire this fish from afar and select another pretty, but hardier, Anthiinae for aquarium use. Photo by Anthony Calfo.
Pseudanthias evansi (Smith, 1954), the Yellowback Anthias (aka Evan's Anthias), of the Indian Ocean, is an attractive but very challenging aquarium species. They naturally occur in large groups and do not acclimate well to home-sized aquaria and captive diets. I do not recommend the casual keeping of this fish by hobbyists. Photo by Anthony Calfo.
Pseudanthias lori (Lubbock & Randall, 1976), Lori's Anthias (aka Tiger Queen Anthias), is a fairly regular import from the Philippines and elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific. With growth to about 5" (12.5 cm.) they are regarded as one of the best behaved Anthias for stocking in small harems in aquaria. Although not especially hardy, they can flourish in a very quiet tank with peaceful tankmates, but please do not underestimate their passive nature. Subdued lighting and reduced foot traffic around the tank will be necessary, at least at first, with new arrivals. Both males and females wear the attractive "tiger stripes" down their back, with females being decidedly less vibrant. Photo by Anthony Calfo.
Pseudanthias ventralis (Randall, 1979), the Longfin Anthias, is a small species (3"/7.5 cm) found in very deep water (not uncommonly at 300 ft!). They are very poor shippers and require dim illumination, at least at first. Although males can be aggressive towards one another, the species is exceedingly passive overall. Protection from even slightly active or aggressive community fish is crucial. Large copepod generating refugiums and offerings of fish eggs will be helpful to support them. Feed small portions frequently (2-3 times daily, minimum). For advanced aquarists and specialists only. Photo courtesy of Greg Rothschild (gregr).
Pseudanthia olivaceus (Randall & McCosker, 1982) is sometimes called the Olive or Green Anthias. They are one of the hardiest and very best Anthias for aquarium life. They are active swimmers and aggressive feeders requiring very large displays (over 200 gallons, ideally). Keep only one male per tank. The species is often imported through Hawaiian suppliers from Christmas Island. Photo courtesy of Michael G. Moye (64Ivy).
Pseudanthias pleurotaenia (Bleeker, 1857), the Square-Spot Fairy Anthias (aka Squareback Anthias), is one of the most recognizable members of this family to aquarists. Occurring throughout much of the Pacific, they are frequent imports from Indonesia and the Philippines. Although they are reasonably hardy and will learn to accept a wide range of prepared foods, most get a rough start in captivity when thrown into brightly illuminated dealer displays and home aquariums. Expect them to be very shy at first and perhaps require live food to begin feeding (gut-loaded guppies or similar substitute work well for this). The sexes are distinctly dimorphic with females in a fairly uniform gold-yellow color and males displaying a stark pink square patch on the flanks. They grow large (8"/20 cm) and are aggressive toward each other and other fishes - keep singly in most cases. Pictured here: male (pink) and female (yellow). Photos by Anthony Calfo.
Paranthias colonus (Valenciennes, 1846), the Pacific Creole-fish. This fancy bass bears a resemblance to its Anthiinae relatives and does feed similarly on tiny zooplankton (principally copepods, but also eggs and larvae). Their adult size, however, runs up to a whopping 14" (35 cm). Juveniles and sub-adults, with Atlantic kin P. furcifer in kind, occasionally enter the aquarium trade, but are more commonly used as bait in local fisheries. They are hardy but can be surly and require very large displays with durable tankmates. Keep singly in home aquariums and feed them several times daily with a variety of crustaceous fare. Juvenile (top) and adult (below) pictured here. Photos by Anthony Calfo.

For an inspiring look at some of the members of this sub-family, browse the slide show in the March issue of Reefkeeping with contributions from Reef Central members in admiration of these lovely fishes.



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




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Anthiinae - the Fancy Basses by Anthony Calfo - Reefkeeping Magazine