Anthias Imposters! -
The Genus Pseudanthias, Part II

In the previous edition of Fish Tales I introduced the ever-popular genus Pseudanthias. I will intentionally avoid a recap because that column can still be read in its entirety, but I ended it with a cliffhanger leading right into the Meet the Species section. You've paid your dues and waited long enough; there is no need to make you wait any longer. Grab your drool towel as neither myself nor Reefkeeping Magazine can be held responsible for short-circuited keyboards, due to the outstanding beauty and magnificence of these fish.

The beauty of this Pseudanthias tuka cannot be denied.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Robert A. Patzner.

Meet the Family

In varying degrees, all Pseudanthias species can be considered attractive fish. Although some species are certainly more striking than others, it's safe to say that not a single species would be netted from your aquarium for having dull coloration. Unfortunately, not all species are meant to be housed in home aquariums in the first place. With a genus as diverse as Pseudanthias, I'm often disappointed by the number of people who continue to generalize these species. Among the most common generalizations heard is the ever-infamous, "All Anthias need to be kept in schools," or the almost as oft-proclaimed, "All Anthias are hardy aquarium fish." Well, this is not true, but as noted in my previous article, the marine aquarium hobby still refers to Pseudanthias as Anthias. Without a doubt, the vague generalizations are immediately wrong because this statement refers to a genus with a different name. Additionally, very few generalizations should be made about the genus Pseudanthias as a whole. The subgenera within Pseudanthias can almost be generalized however, and this offers me an ideal way to break down the large genus and discussing its subgenera individually.

Another beautiful Anthiinae, this Pseudanthias squamipinnis is seen here in a home aquarium. Photo courtesy of Mark Ridley.

The Subgenus Franzia

The family's bullies can be found in the subgenus Franzia. The three Franzia species are all aggressive toward conspecifics, as well as other tankmates. Because only three species comprise this subgenus, generalizations about Franzia are a bit more accurate merely because the limited number of species restricts their variation, but not always. Neither of the other two subgenera can be generalized as successfully. Despite their desire to kick the snot out of their tankmates, the three Franzia species are also easily kept and considerably hardy. Matched with other aquarium fish that can hold their own, they make ideal residents for the home aquarium.

I have mentioned how Franzia can almost be accurately generalized. I say almost because Pseudanthias fasciatus (photos below) is one of the three species in the subgenus that differs from the others. This particular species is not threatening to conspecifics or even other tankmates. In fact, a peaceful aquarium is a requirement for keeping these fish successfully. Smaller, peaceful fish such as Leopard wrasses, cardinalfish and gobies should be considered ideal. A deeper water species, usually located at depths below 100' and approaching 500' at times, the Redstripe Anthias (no relation to the Jamaican zymurgy export) does best in aquariums which are dimly lit. Thus, hard coral aquariums with intense lighting do not facilitate keeping these fish. In addition to providing a lower light aquarium, overhangs tend to help peaceful fish settle in to captive life more quickly. In the wild, this species is not found several meters off the reef wall, but instead is found upside down with its abdomen oriented up toward the roof of a cave or overhang. This is in direct contrast to what many hobbyists think of when they discuss Anthias. Most hobbyists immediately picture Anthias as existing in huge schools of fish feeding above the reef. The natural habitat and behavior for P. fasciatus can be recreated in the home aquarium given the correct rockwork aquascaping that incorporates caves and overhangs in the décor. The Redstripe Anthias is a large Pseudanthias, reaching 8" as an adult male. It is fairly common around Japan, yet extends southward to the Great Barrier Reef. Deep water specimens have recently been discovered from the Red Sea and southern Africa.

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Pseudanthias fasciatus. Photos courtesy of John Randall.

Toward the opposite end of the aggressiveness spectrum is the Redcheek Anthias (photos below). Pseudanthias huchtii is a mean-spirited aquarium fish best kept as the lone Anthiinae. Groups of 10 or more are possible, but require a very large aquarium; thus my recommendation is to stick with a single individual. In the wild, this species interacts with P. squamipinnis, but unless you have a large enough aquarium to display a small school of P. squamipinnis, it is best not to mix this species with any other Anthiinae. This particular species is rarely found deeper than 65' in the wild, thereby making it a great selection for a brightly-lit aquarium. Because it is common in the Philippines and Indonesia, in addition to generally preferring shallow water, aquarists have the opportunity to purchase them easily enough at a relatively low cost.

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Pseudanthias huchtii. Photos courtesy of John Randall.

Perhaps the most commonly kept Pseudanthias is the final member of the Franzia subgenus. While hobbyists prefer to call them Lyretail Anthias (photos below), ichthyologists have named them P. squamipinnis. Much of the information that hobbyists broadly espouse about the entire Pseudanthias genus originates with this particular species. Popular images of Pseudanthias shoals consisting of over 2000 individuals are typically photos of the Lyretail riding several meters above the reef. This is because Lyretails prefer to ride the currents on steep drop-offs above the reef crest while feeding during daylight hours. Combining all of the above mentioned tendencies of Lyretails, such as concentrating in excess of several thousand and consistently appearing in open water, countered with a natural depth range from 60' to 130', and knowing that Lyretails can be found in the wild in a vast area encompassing the Red Sea to New South Wales, Australia, it should come as no surprise that Lyretails are a favorite target for native fish collectors. Despite the large number of shoaling fish in the wild, shoals in the aquarium rarely work over the long-term unless the aquarium holds several hundred gallons, and unless a shoal of eight or more individuals is kept with only one male. This is because the male's aggression can then be dispersed over all the animals in a large group, generally resulting in a shoal that does not slowly disappear. With fewer individuals in the shoal the aggression can be concentrated, ultimately leading to the demise of the weakest fish, and this continues to occur until the male is all alone. This aggression will be directed not only toward conspecifics or even other species of the genus, but most likely all planktivores found in the aquarium will be victimized. Small wrasses and the like will be harassed and will need plenty of hiding places should you decide to keep a male Lyretail with them. Dwarf angels display a personality more conducive to the Lyretail aquarium. The Lyretail, much like its close cousin, P. huchtii, does not quite reach an adult length of 5".

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Pseudanthias squamipinnis. Photos courtesy of John Randall.

The Subgenus Mirolabrichthys

The second subgenus to discuss is Mirolabrichthys. The good: Most fish in this subgenus are non-aggressive. The bad: Most fish in this subgenus are prone to an early demise in the home aquarium.

Bartlett's Anthias.
Photo courtesy of Robie Sayan.

To open this subgenus' discussion I'll start with Pseudanthias bartlettorum, or what's commonly called Bartlett's Anthias, simply because it is exactly opposite of most fish in this subgenus. It is easy to care for, readily adapts to aquarium life and is a pugnacious little bugger, ready and willing to defend its home turf. If you ever get a chance to witness this behavior, it may surprise you that a fish as small as 3" has so much fight in it. Call it Napoleon's complex, I suppose. Therefore, it's best to keep only one male per aquarium unless you have an aquarium of several hundred gallons or more. In that case, the standard line for aggressive Pseudanthias holds true: keep a single male with eight or more females. Although Bartlett's Anthias do not form shoals nearing the same proportions as P. squamipinnis in the wild, they do prefer much the same type of habitat. Crystal clear water with a strong current on exposed steep reef drop-offs tends to collect smaller shoals consisting of a couple of males and up to 30 females. Depths down to 100' hold concentrations of this species around a few select islands, namely, the Marshall and Line Islands.

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Pseudanthias bartlettorum - both males. Photos courtesy of John Randall.

Bicolor Anthias.
Photo courtesy of John Randall.

Just about every colorful marine fish genus contains an individual named "bicolor" based solely on its two-toned coloration. Pseudanthias are no different, and the pink and orange Pseudanthias first described by Randall (1979) has been awarded this often used common Latin name. One good aspect of the name is that both hobbyists and ichthyologists alike can readily agree on Pseudanthias bicolor, the Bicolor Anthias, as an appropriate name. In fact, even though it took an ichthyologist to officially name this species, Randall (1979) reports that the local "fish fanciers in Hawaii already have begun to use the common name of 'Bicolored Bass' for this species" prior to his recognized description. Unlike many members of the subgenus Mirolabrichthys, this is an Anthias which should warrant serious consideration for your home aquarium. The majority of Bicolor Anthias are deeper-water specimens, often found as deep as 200'. It is doubtful that our aquarium arrivals were captured that deep, however, because it is not uncommon for them to also be found at 20' of depth. Nevertheless, Bicolor Anthias require a suitable cave to retreat into, mimicking their natural environment. Single individuals are best in the aquarium unless, of course, (repeat the mantra after me) "a single male to eight or more females" can be adequately kept in a large aquarium. In the wild the Bicolor occasionally mixes with P. thompsoni, and in the aquarium this could represent an interesting mix.

Pseudanthias dispar (photos below) is more typical than the Bicolor Anthias of the subgenus Mirolabrichthys. They are prone to harassment from more belligerent aquarium mates, thereby requiring a peaceful aquarium, and they are not considered hardy fish once imported into the aquarium trade. Should you wish to try your hand with P. dispar, beginning with several individuals is probably a better bet than starting with a lone individual. Several males can even inhabit the same aquarium, provided the ratio of females to males favors the ladies and the aquarium is several hundred gallons. As they are rarely found deeper than 50', and more than likely are found in the 20' range, they do make good candidates for a brightly lit aquarium. Pseudanthias bartlettorum and P. squamipinnis are regularly found intermixing with Dispar Anthias throughout the western Pacific.

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Pseudanthias dispar- left photo - male, right photo - female.
Photos courtesy of John Randall.

Another beautiful, but delicate and difficult, species is Pseudanthias evansi - Evan's Anthias (photos below). Success with this fish is unlikely over the long term, as the Evan's seldom adapts well to captivity, and rarely, if ever, acclimates to the home aquarium. Large shoals numbering several hundred fish are a common sight on reefs throughout the Indian Ocean extending eastward to the Mauritius Islands, but their shoaling tendency hinders keeping them successfully in the home aquarium. Should you wish to tempt fate by trying to keep this species, a peaceful aquarium is a prerequisite for success. Adults reach roughly 5" in total length, about average for Pseudanthias species. If success comes your way in maintaining this species, an interesting display can be achieved by adding an Ecsenius midas, a blenny which associates with the Evan's Anthias and occasionally adjusts its coloration to resemble the Pseudanthias.

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Pseudanthias evansi. Photos courtesy of John Randall.

As should already be obvious, P. evansi are not the only Pseudanthias which has a difficult time adapting to the home aquarium. Acclimation of P. ignites, for example, is nearly impossible without the aid of live food. Now, considering how much food a single Anthias requires (a lot), offering live foods as the staple of their diet can become rather expensive, and may not even be an option depending on where you are located and the quality of your local fish store. Using live foods to assist with acclimation is ideal, but it is also ideal to wean the fish off live foods and onto traditional aquarium fare as quickly as possible. Struggling to reach 3" in length as a full-grown adult, Flame Anthias, as they are called by the marine ornamental industry, are among the smallest Anthias species. Up to a dozen specimens can be maintained in a peaceful aquarium upwards of 200 gallons or more - including several males. One or two female P. squamipinnis individuals can be added to the mix for an interesting display, as these two species often relate to and intermingle with each other in the wild. Sometimes this species is also called the Indian Flame, no doubt referencing its distribution throughout the Indian Ocean.

Lori's Anthias.
Photo courtesy of John Randall.

An easy to keep species of the subgenus Mirolabrichthys is Pseudanthias lori. The Latin name begets the common name Lori's Anthias, but on occasion this fish might be labeled as the Tiger Queen Anthias. Unfortunately, this is a moderately plain looking species for the genus, and I say unfortunately because they are a rather hardy species for aquariums. Perhaps their only downfall is the greater depths they inhabit, but aquarium residents are surely not collected from the species' maximum reported depth of 225'. No doubt any specimens showing up at your local fish store are from less than 100', but even these are rarely found above 70'. Of the shallow water specimens (if 70' can be called shallow), they are most often found underneath overhangs or within cavern systems. If these fish are added to a brightly-lit aquarium, suitable overhangs should be provided. Otherwise, all traditional Anthias precautions still apply - keep one male per aquarium with several females if aquarium space allows and feed heavily. This average-sized Pseudanthias, less than 5" in length at adulthood, most likely hails from the Philippines when it appears in the aquarium trade, but the Tuamotu and Loyalty Islands also hold a good stock of P. lori. To create the natural relationship often found in the wild, P. smithvanizi can be mixed into the aggregation of aquariums housing Lori's Anthias.

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Pseudanthias parvirostris- left photo - male, right photo - female.
Photos courtesy of John Randall.

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Pseudanthias parvirostris - left photo - male, center photo - female, right photo - male.
Photos courtesy of Hiroyuki Tanaka.

Easy to keep, yet difficult to obtain, the photos of P. parvirostris (above) simply do not do this species any justice. I do not care for the common name of Diadem Anthias for this species, merely because it is a "common" name for an uncommon aquarium fish. Photos are difficult to come across because of this species' deepwater nature. It is rare to encounter this fish above 100' deep, thereby making it an expensive aquarium fish on the rare occasions it appears in the trade. It is a hardy species, however, when not placed in brightly-lit aquariums. If the lighting is too intense, it will not adapt to captive conditions, whereas a dimly-lit tank generally encourages a successful transition. Other non-aggressive dither fish will assist in the transition as well. This small Pseudanthias, reaching roughly 3 - 4" in length, is regularly encountered at deeper depths in the Philippines and southern Japan, but can also be found associating with larger schools of P. smithvanizi throughout the western Pacific. When attempting to recreate a small shoal, add females of P. smithvanizi, as these species naturally coexist in the wild. At least one author (Michael, 1998) has noted the Indian Ocean residents' different coloration, possibly warranting a separate species designation.

The Queen Anthias.
Photo courtesy of John Randall.

The Queen Anthias - what an amazingly beautiful fish! It is a large Anthias, reaching nearly 7" in length as an adult. For those keeping track, ichthyologists and astute hobbyists refer to this species by its Latin name, Pseudanthias pascalus. This species' affordable price tag is mostly due to its shallow collection depths and vast geographic distribution. Indonesia, French Polynesia, Japan, the Great Barrier Reef, New Caledonia and Sulawesi all hold concentrations of this species. Although this fish can be found down to 200' of depth, aquarium specimens are generally collected from 50' or less. The biotope most commonly preferred by this species is highly variable - from steep drop-offs to shallow rubble zones - yet they all share one common element - strong water movement. Slack water movement is not tolerated. While hovering high up in the churning water column this species gathers in groups to feed. Getting this fish to feed in captivity is a formidable task, however. Most specimens starve to death from refusing to eat, thereby making it a difficult species to keep and less than ideal for most hobbyists. Again, the one male to multiple females ratio is ideal, as well as providing several feedings per day. Among the female collective, try tossing in a few P. tuka, a closely-related species discussed below. Another interesting addition would be Hoplolatilus starcki, the Starck's tilefish, a natural mimic of P. pascalus.

Having just discussed the Queen Anthias, now it is time for the Princess. This fish has already been touched upon in many of the preceding descriptions - this is the P. smithvanizi (photos below) that relates to so many other Pseudanthias species. The male Princess (hey, it's the 21st century) is more vibrant than the females, but regardless of gender, this species does not acclimate to the home aquarium as well as the genus' other species. It remains reclusive and has a difficult time adjusting to captive foods. In the wild large schools do not congregate together, but rather small shoals of 20 - 30 individuals, mostly females, hover within several feet of the ocean bottom. The majority of individuals prefer depths beyond 100' and upwards (or is that downwards?) of 200', but those individuals appearing for sale in the trade are obviously not collected from those depths. Although not common, these fish can be located as shallow as 20', and these are, no doubt, the specimens that are typically harvested for the trade. Adults do not quite reach 4" in length. The Great Barrier Reef and Marshall Islands would be ideal locales should the desire to swim with P. smithvanizi in the wild overtake you.

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Pseudanthias smithvanizi - left photo - females, right photo - male.
Photos courtesy of John Randall.

One of my favorite Pseudanthias is the Purple Anthias, P. tuka (photos below). It is similar to P. pascalus, and the two species are easily confused. Pseudanthias tuka remains average-sized for Pseudanthias genus, not quite reaching 5". The disappointment with this species is the difficulty in providing suitable captive care. Similar to all difficult-to-keep Pseudanthias species, adapting to captive aquarium foods and adjusting to captive life in general are the biggest hurdles. Introducing these fish into a very passive aquarium is necessary should you expect to achieve long-term success. Small, passive dither fish such as Nemateleotris species, which are already successfully eating captive foods, may assist with acclimation. Even then, it is an uphill battle and one probably best not attempted by the majority of hobbyists. Located from Japan to the Great Barrier Reef and throughout Indonesia at depths less than 100' assures that this species is easily obtained within the aquarium trade at a reasonable price - perhaps unfortunately, given its poor captive care track record.

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Pseudanthias tuka - left photo - male, right photo - female.
Photos courtesy of John Randall.


A large number of Anthiinae remain to be discussed and, therefore, the next edition of Fish Tales will continue along this path as it concludes the Pseudanthias genus discussion by concentrating on the subgenus Pseudanthias and other popular Anthiinae from genera outside Pseudanthias.


Michael, Scott. 1998. Reef Fishes, Volume I. Microcosm. Shelburne. 624 pp.

Randall, J. E. 1979. A review of the serranid fish genus *Anthias* of the Hawaiian Islands, with descriptions of two new species. Contrib. Sci. (Los Ang.) 1-13.

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Anthias Imposters! - The Genus Pseudanthias, Part II by Henry C. Schultz III -