The feisty but beautiful
The Dottyback is a small brilliantly coloured reef fish which is very shy in the wild and are never found far from their favored cave. Though they are found on coral reefs many divers are unfamiliar with these brightly coloured fish as they are so shy. Due to the huge size of the diver and the unfamiliar sounds produced by the dive equipment these fish are rarely seen by divers. In order to photograph these fish divers must be very patient and focused. These fish are however a common site in any reef aquarium.
This fish come from coral reefs all over the world and there is about 100 different species, which are broken up into 4 sub-families with 16 genera. Many of these fish are hard to collect and are found in remote locations. Depending on where you live they can be quite rare and very expensive. Most of these fish will only grow to about 8cm while the larger species may get up to 12cm.
In aquariums these fish tend to start out being very shy but can warm to you with time. They are always darting to and from their favored cave while still trying to keep a keen eye on what ever you maybe doing in the room. I will often sit in front of my tank containing a Royal Dottyback and enjoy watching it scurries to the front of the tank to get a good look at me then it will flee back into the cave or a moment of security before it builds the courage to dart to the front again hoping I am about to feed him.
These fish can be quite aggressive and are popularly kept in aquariums containing Damsels, Tangs, Wrasse, Clownfish and Hawkfish. Most problems with aggression occurs in smaller aquariums, as given space these fish will tend to mind their own business. Due to their slender build it is important not to house these fish with larger predatory fish as they often end up getting eaten. They spend a lot of time in the rocks so you may not even notice if it is missing for a long time in a busy tank. These fish do tend to dart around the aquarium a lot and can jump out of the tank if they are spooked. Larger species of Dottyback should not be kept with shrimp as they will often eat them.
Among a coral reef Dottybacks will spend a lot of time defending their territory and searching for small benthic invertebrates and zooplankton to eat. In an aquarium it is important to offer these fish a varied diet of high quality food as over time they tend to become dull in colour, which can be very disappointing. Frozen plankton, brine shrimp, mysis shrimp, bloodworms, pellets and flakes are all popular selections.
Dottybacks are a small, tasty, colourful fish that are very desirable as prey to predators so as defense they have evolved to be very shy and some species have also evolved to mimic the colour and behavior of other less appealing prey fish which have spines such as the Angelfish. Some Dottybacks have even been seen acting as fish cleaners in the aquarium picking on the side larger fish like angelfish. Due to their risk to becoming food for larger fish Dottybacks sleep in small caves in the night and feed during the day.
These fish can be very territorial mainly toward other Dottybacks. In an aquarium it is advisable to only house one single Dottyback per tank as most of the time they will fight resulting in the death of all but one. Trying to house these fish as a pair is rarely successful due to their aggression and should only be attempted in very large aquariums. It is very hard to pick the sex of some of the species of these fish and they are able to change sex from male to female and from female to male. If you do want a pair it is best to try to get two very young fish and allow them to grow up together. The females in general will be smaller, less aggressive, with a fatter belly. Dottybacks will fight other Dottybacks of other species but are far more concerned about rivals of the same species.
These fish can be bred in aquariums but this should only be attempted by the most experienced aquarist, who is prepared to except the challenge, even then luck must be on your side. To find a pair you will need to obtain and large and a small fish hoping that they are or will change to become a male and a female. Alternatively you can grow up several together and hope that the final two are male and female, knowing the others will have to be removed or will be killed. You will find that the male will grow a lot faster and will get a lot bigger than the female. When they do breed the male will perform a breeding dance out side its cave to lure the female. Once they have bred the male will look after the eggs, which will appear as a ball containing hundreds of eggs. This ball of eggs will be constantly fanned and attended to by the territorial male. Tank raised specimens from fish farms are now commonly available in America.
Dotty backs are an extremely hardy, easy to keep aquarium fish as they can handle lower water quality then most marine fish and are not susceptible to many diseases. These fish tolerate most medications but can be prone to get head and lateral line erosion as they get older. Though these fish may only live about 3 years in the wild it is common for them to survive for 5 years in the stress free surroundings of a home aquarium.
As these fish are found in very deep water they do prefer a dimly lit aquarium. This does not seem to be a problem as these fish are mostly kept in coral reef tanks but they do tend to be a little less shy when the lighting is not so bright. They are best kept at 25 degrees Celsius with a pH of 8.4 and a salt level of 1.023.
Many of the Dottyback species are expensive and very hard to get in Australia. Some of the cheaper and more common ones available in Australia are Pictichromis diadema (Skunk Dottyback), Pictichromis paccagnellae (Royal Dottyback), Pictichromis porphyrea (Purple Dottyback), Pseudochromis fridmani (Orchid Dottyback) and the bigger and more aggressive Oilbyina novaehollandiae (Australian Dottyback), Oxycercicthys velifera (Sailfin Dottyback), Pseudochromis fuscus (Yellow Dottyback) and Cypho purpurascens (Oblique lined Dottyback).
In Australia the most popular and sort after of this style of fish is by far the Gramma loreto (Royal Gramma) and the Gramma melacara (Black cap Gramma).
These fish truly are a joy to keep due to the brilliant colour, intriguing personality and small size; these fish really are feisty but beautiful.