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Frogfishes: Some Great Small Choices
By Bob Fenner
Most folks have only seen photographs of Frog- or Anglerfishes, family
Antennariidae, named for their chubby appearance and specialized
“fishing apparatus” used for luring unsuspecting food fishes. Aren’t
they all too large size? You will soon know that there are some very
diminutive species in this family, and that even the larger ones can be
kept smallish with proper feeding.
Even though these are “bulky fishes”, of good biomass per length, they
do tend to also be low metabolism; sitting about most all the time,
blending in with their environment; akin to their camouflage and ambush
lifestyle in the wild. Hence there’s not a tremendous need for neither
swimming space, nor extra aeration, circulation nor filtration to
What is crucial is picking out the right species, a good specimen, being
careful in how much one feeds it, and taking care re tankmate selection.
Given these criteria, you can have a very interesting display with an
Angler as the centrepiece for years.
Frogfishes for smaller systems:
species that are occasionally available that grow to a maximum of four
inches (10 cm.). There are others that top-out at 3 and 5 cm., but they
rarely make it into the ornamental trade.
(Desjardin's 1840), the Clown
Anglerfish. Indo-Pacific. To four inches
in length. Often seen out in the open,
especially when small, apparently
mimicking toxic nudibranchs. Most are
white with orange or red mottling, but
many colors exist. Have prominent
illicia ("fishing poles") that resemble
small fishes. Occur in white and yellow
with red mottling varieties.
Larger, but still small enough Anglers for 40 gallon systems:
(Bloch & Schneider 1801), the Hairy or
Shaggy Anglerfish. Indo-Pacific;
particularly Malaysia, Indonesia. To
eight inches in length in the wild;
about half this in captivity. Coastal
bays near camouflaging sponges. Occur in
oranges, tans, yellows, and apparently
black. N. Sulawesi images of two of many
color varieties. You can tell this
species apart from the similar A.
striatus by its pom-pom like esca.
(Valenciennes 1837), the Long-lure
Anglerfish. Tropical West Atlantic;
Florida to northern South America. Most
common frogfish in the TWA, found
disguised around sponges. Fishing rod (illicium)
about twice the length of first dorsal
spine. Feed on fishes and crustaceans.
Eggs laid in ribbon like masses. Occur
in several colour varieties that match
the sponges they’re associated with. To
20 cm. total length.
(Shaw & Nodder 1794), the Painted
Anglerfish. Indo-Pacific. Principally
imported from Indonesia and the
Philippines. To 16 cm. overall length.
Comes in all colors, and mottled,
matching with local decor. Typically
found amongst sponges, rock near the
bottom or on the mud/muck. Below, N.
Sulawesi images of some of the many
color and marking varieties of this
species (or multi-species complex).
Distinguished by bony part of "fishing
rod" being about twice the length of
second dorsal spine and "lure" being an
elongated and flat tuft.
(Linnaeus 1758), the Sargassum
Anglerfish, or if it were up to me, "The
Incredible Eater Upper"... To only 13
cm. but able to eat most any animal near
its length. Known from all tropical
oceans, typically found "floating" in
kelp canopies or bits that are broken
off. Aquarium photo
Other species of Frogfishes:
are some 49 described species of Antennariids. Most others are too
large, too deep water, cold-water or just too plain to gain much
interest in the ornamental trade. Just the same, if you’re up for the
challenge, do keep your eyes open and your stockist notified that you’re
on the look out to try an odd Anglerfish.
(In) Compatibility with other tankmates:
Unfortunately, this family of fishes is inclined to inhale other fishes
and most all types of motile invertebrates, unless they are relatively
large; as in more than half the length of the Frogfish. Hence, by and
large it’s best to house them one to a dedicated system, w/ no
crustaceans (shrimps, crabs), easily detached mollusks. Due to their
clumsy walking behavior it’s also best to leave out spiny echinoderms,
like Sea Urchins as well.
Don’t think your Frogfish can catch, let alone ingest large organisms?
By some measures, these are amongst the fastest of eaters… perhaps able
to inhale a meal at a ten thousandth of a second! And yes, I’ve seen
them suck in fishes more than one and a half times their length. Beware!
Picking out a good specimen:
With Anglers is easy to do; as most all specimens are in very good
shape post shipping. All Frogfishes are wild caught, and usually kept
separately in “cubicles”; small recirculating systems reserved for
valuable, easily picked on specimens. Due to their calm nature, they are
easily shipped, and almost always quickly acclimate to new surroundings.
Healthy Anglerfishes are “bright” in appearance and behavior. Their eyes
are clear, and aware, shifting to your presence, movement and other
stimuli. Unless recently fed, they respond positively to the presence of
possible foods, stalking or “fishing” for them.
What to look out for are obvious damage to eyes and fins, though the
latter heal very quickly. And the usual “acid-test of” feeding; always a
good idea to make sure the fish is accepting the types, kinds of foods
you will be offering.
specimens should be left to rest up, maybe on deposit, for a good week
before taking them home. Care should be taken to move these animals in
slow, deliberate motions; not exposing them to the air where they may
“suck in” the atmosphere. They’re slow enough and easily hooked by and
damaged by netting, so pushing them into bags or specimen containers
underwater is the proscribed method of capturing, moving these fishes.
provide redundancy in any size system in the way of filtration and water
movement; doubly so for smaller volumes, and triply concerning larger
specimens housed therein. In the case of Anglers I like to have two
outside power filters, either hang-on or canister types.
Décor is important as these fishes employ mimicry and their surroundings
to blend into the reef; avoid predators and not scare away food items.
For their psychological well-being providing rockwork, maybe sponge
material of a similar color is a plus.
Lighting isn’t important as long as it’s not too bright. If you house
photosynthetic life that needs intense illumination, do provide
purposeful shaded spots for your Angler to get out of the spot light.
In the wild, all Frogfishes are consumers
of live fare; other fishes, motile invertebrates… that they attract with
their built-in lure and fishing pole or simply rapidly inhale as the
erstwhile food item comes on by where they’re camouflaged.
In captivity, most Anglers can be trained
to accept dead small food items by wiggling these on a chemically-inert
“feeding stick”, available commercially, or home-made. If yours doesn’t
feed for a few weeks, don’t panic; as these fishes can go without
feeding for this duration easily.
Should yours prove the exception to
accepting non-live foods, there are a few options that you can employ,
including live shrimp of various sizes, and (non-goldfish) feeders of
marine or freshwater origin. These foods should be offered on a limited
basis; no more than once or twice a week. Far more problems are induced,
iatrogenic in folks over-feeding their Anglers than any other class of
Troubles with this family of fishes are rare; they are amongst the best
shippers, and resistant to common pathogenic diseases. Almost all losses
I’m aware of have resulted from hobbyist mistakes or system failure.
Simply developing and adhering to a regular regimen of maintenance,
water changes, mechanical checking, scant feeding… will stand you in
Should yours appear puffy, eyes sunken in, you may want to sample some
of the fish’s body slime and look at it under a microscope. Should such
examination reveal a Protozoan parasite issue, these fishes respond well
to standard treatments of copper and quinine compounds.
Antennariids are excellent choices for species tanks; the smaller
species being very suitable for nano to medium sized hobbyist systems.
They do best when kept without other fishes which may pick on them or
reciprocally be swallowed; and with limited sessile invertebrate
tankmates. Their few downsides include the possible need to feed live
foods. Otherwise, the Angler/Frogfishes of small to moderate lengths,
albeit of squatty appearance and pectoral fin walking make for
fascinating, hardy small marine system stocking.