The words ‘marine’ and ‘spectacular’ seem to go hand in hand. Consider corals in all their diversity and splendour. The corals don’t have it all their own way; there are spectacular marine fish as well.
Many of the colourful fish available are medium to large in size. There are the butterfly fish with their various markings and colours, and, usually larger, the angel fish which require a large aquarium. There are small fish that could be considered for the aquarium of more moderate size, and one that comes immediately to mind are the dwarf angels (Centropyge sp). These have been called ‘God’s gift to aquarists.”’
There’s another two fish that are good for the smaller aquarium, and they have wonderful markings and colours. Their shape and method of movement is different as well. These are the Psychedelic fish properly called Synchiropus picturatus and the Mandarin fish properly called Synchiropus splendidus. These two fish don’t so much swim as move about on the rocks in jerks using their pectoral fins.
Overall the group of fish (there are more than the two mentioned) are called Dragonets. Usually they do not get bigger than 2¼” (circa 6cm) or so and this immediately makes them interesting to smaller aquarium owners. They have quite a large head with the eyes on top. The mouth is small and points forward. When the fish feed they don’t bite at the food but have a movement more like a peck or jab.
The fish should not be kept with predatory species or those that are very active and inquisitive. What they do need is rocks and a reef aquarium is ideal for them, not only because the reef is obviously rocks but because the fish in a reef system are generally more likely to be friendly. It is possible that the fish may have a ‘testing’ taste of small colonial anemones but overall they are considered to be reef safe.
The best habitat for the fish is the reef constructed of live rock. This is because live rock is more likely to harbour all the tiny crustaceans etc upon which the fish naturally feed, and this is the problem. This does not mean that the fish can only be kept with a live rock reef. They can be kept with reefs constructed of other inert rocks provided that over time, with the addition of coral rocks, they have been well populated with tiny life forms. This usually means the aquarium needs to be very mature.
There would have to be a problem wouldn’t there! The fish should take brine and mysis shrimp but need for their well being the live natural food. The aquarium therefore needs to be mature, which is beyond the ‘mature’ that is talked of when the bio-filter has a full population of bacteria. This time ‘mature’ means fully settled with the aquarist’s choice livestock, and the reef having a good population of tiny prey for the fish. We’re talking of an aquarium at least a year old, preferably more.
Another reason why there needs to be a good population of live prey is that the fish are not good competitors at feeding time. Other fish are more mobile and faster swimmers. The main reason, however, is ongoing health, in the same way as surgeon fish require algae.
In addition to the requirements mentioned it is important that in the confines of an aquarium there is not over-competition for the tiny prey. Subject to the size of the aquarium only one fish should be kept, giving it the whole reef to cover as its hunting territory. If the aquarium is 6 ft long with a reef to suit then two could be kept.
The fish are very tempting when seen in the shop as they are so colourful and small. The temptation should be fully resisted except by experienced aquarists, who in turn should only purchase them when they can provide the reef maturity and companion livestock the fish need.
Have a look at these beauties: