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Unknown to Under-Appreciated Fishes for Aquarium Use:

They Might be Pet-Fish, Threadfin or Whiptail Breams;

Family Nemipteridae

Robert Fenner

As an olde timey content provider to both the ornamental aquatics business and hobby interest, as well as the dive/travel adventure genre, it’s been an ongoing quandary as to why some groups of fishes are so heavily focused on for captive use, while others… beautiful, graceful, abundant, easy to catch and sturdy in holding/shipping and housing fail to be used. I like to label this phenomenon the founder (or flounder) effect: Folks know what they know, but aren’t aware of what they don’t know. Hence the hunt for what is “on the list” and leave out anything else that isn’t.

            This is really a great shame; as a cursory look at references like Fishbase.org will show that there are some 33,400 described species of fishes. Of these, perhaps 1,800 are used annually in any numbers as ornamentals, the majority by far freshwater. In fact some half of marine fishes used in the trade comprises a mere dozen species.

            Here it is my intention to introduce you to groups of fishes, mostly by family, that are largely regarded as unworthy of aquarium use. Yes; there are risk-takers in the trade that will import and sell them from time to time, but basically these species are ignored by the trade… out of ignorance mainly.

            The Nemipterid Breams are a delightful mix of tropical shallow water Percoid (advanced bony) fishes; always interesting to come upon while out diving; and a treat to see when kept in captivity. They’re never super-abundant, being found singly; but not hard to collect, and quite sturdy as aquarium specimens.

Breams: The Family Nemipteridae

            First off we should mention that there are other fishes called Breams; the family Sparidae has some members that are commonly called this. The group we’re interested in here are the Threadfin, Whiptail et al. Breams that make up the family Nemipteridae. There are some 67 described species of Nemipterids, parsed out into 5 genera. The physical characteristics that describe their morphology aren’t of much interest to folks concerned mainly with practical husbandry, so I’ll leave it to you to read these on Fishbase.org and elsewhere if interested.


            We should mention this aspect of Nemipterid natural history here, as it bears a huge degree of importance in their successful captive husbandry. Their “story” is really dual, as small/juveniles and larger adults. When little these Breams occupy small areas of sand and rocky bottom, where they scoot along (really) in short spurts, looking for food, and making space between themselves and perceived danger. Beyond about four inches in length, all species rise up a bit from the bottom, though never far from it; and become greater wanderers. Hence the need for not much space for small individuals, a great deal more for larger than juveniles.

            There are some neat mimicry examples by some Nemipterids related below under their species accounts.


            Following on to behavior and habitat, you should know that these Breams are carnivorous fishes that principally feed on small fishes, crustaceans and bristleworms. Some are more planktivorous, but all can and will inhale the above benthic animals. Other than these groups, Breams are “reef-safe”.

            Other than the usual suspects, large basses and morays; big triggers and wrasses… Most all get along in turn with Nemipterids. What aggressive interaction there may be is greatly diminished by providing adequate space for all.


            These delicate-appearing fishes are remarkably tough. It is rare to have them arrive DOA and they are amongst the last to succumb to infectious, parasitic and environmental disease in captivity.

            As with all marine purchases, query your dealer as to how long they’ve had their stock on hand, what they are feeding and if there have been troubles. Do wait a good few days for new arrivals to “harden” and see that the fish feed in front of you before purchasing.  


Some Nemipterid Breams to Consider:

            Some of the following images were made in aquariums, most in the wild; the maximum stated size is from scientific literature; and are likely about twice what one should expect lengths in captivity to be.

Genus Pentapodus:

Pentapodus emeryii (Richardson 1843), the Double Whiptail Bream. Indo-West Pacific. To a foot in length in the wild. An occasional import from the Philippines and Fiji. Hardy when shipped properly and placed in a peaceful setting. Aquarium shot of a two inch juvenile and N. Sulawesi photo of a seven inch adult.



Pentapodus nagasakiensis (Tanaka 1915), the Japanese Butterfish. Western Pacific; Japan to northern Australia. To eight inches in length. This juvenile one in an aquarium.


Pentapodus paradiseus (Gunther 1859), the Paradise Whiptail. Western Pacific; Coral Sea, Solomons, GBR. To 14 inches in length. This juvenile one in Raja Ampat. 



Pentapodus trivittatus (Bloch 1791), the Striped Whiptail. Indo-West Pacific; Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea. To eight inches in length. This one in N. Sulawesi. 

Genus Scolopsis:

Scolopsis affinis Peters 1877, the Yellow-Tail Spinecheek. West Pacific and Indian Ocean. To nearly ten inches in length. A juvenile and adult in Bali, Indonesia. 



Scolopsis auratus (Park 1797), the Yellowstripe Monocle Bream. Eastern Indian Ocean; Maldives to southern Indonesia. To a bit over eight inches in length. This one off of Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia. 


Scolopsis bilineatus (Bloch 1793), the Two-Lined Monocle Bream, or my preferred common name, the Bridled Bream. Indo-Pacific. Very common on the reef. To nine inches in length. At right, an adult. Sulawesi. Below; a juvenile in Raja Ampat and the Sabertooth Blenny, Meiacanthus grammistes that it is a Batesian mimic of.


But wait; there’s more from this same species! Fiji specimen of young Scolopsis bilineatus pictured below and its Batesian mimic. All yellow juveniles in Fiji are mimics of the Bicolor Fangblenny, Plagiotremus laudandus found there; and hence avoided as prey.



Scolopsis frenatus  (Cuvier 1830), the Bridled Monocle Bream. Western Indian Ocean. To ten inches long. This photo made in the Seychelles.


Scolopsis ghanam (Forsskal 1775), the Arabian Monocle Bream. Indian Ocean; Red Sea, East Africa to the Andaman Sea. To twelve inches. Here's a four inch juvenile in the Red Sea. 


Scolopsis lineata Quoy & Gaimard 1824, Striped Monocle Bream. Eastern Indian Ocean, Western Pacific. To 23 cm. Here in S. Sulawesi. 


Scolopsis margaritifer (Cuvier 1830), the Pearly Monocle Bream. Western Pacific. To eleven inches maximum length. Specimen off of  S. Sulawesi.



Scolopsis monogramma (Cuvier 1830), the Monocle Bream. Indo-West Pacific. To a foot in length. Below, a juvenile in Bali, Indonesia and adult off Heron Island, Australia's GBR.



Scolopsis vosmeri (Bloch 1792), the Whitecheek Monocle Bream. Indo-West Pacific; east African coast, Red Sea to Australia, Ryukyus. To ten inches. Rarely seen in the ornamental trade, and this is a shame. In the wild feeds on many benthic organisms. Pulau Redang, Malaysia photo.



            Most often these fishes are found on or over sand bottoms close to reefs. They appreciate a dark corner, cave or overhang to duck in to get out of the light. Keep in mind the ultimate size of individuals when you purchase them. The smallest system I’d recommend is an uncrowded eighty gallon.


            As mentioned, Nemipterids feed on a mix of small bottom-dwelling fishes, crustaceans and worms; a few are planktivorous. All do well on meaty fare in captivity; eagerly eating small crustaceans when young, and any mouth size animal-based foods as they grow larger.




            According to Rhyne et al. (2012) there are some 1,803 species of marine fishes that they’ve recorded as used (invoiced) for ornamental use. See their citation below and you will find the top ten species are predominant; with the top twenty making up the mass majority of all used as petfish. I assure you there are MANY others that are suitable. Once the retail and hobby base become aware of many of these fishes, they will create sustainable demand and collectors WILL gather them. I am hopeful that by way of exposure in this series of articles I can urge their introduction into the trade.

            Looking for “something different”? Consider the Sea Breams; as juveniles they have some brilliant species, and most don’t grow too large for big hobbyist systems. They’re not (yet) popular as aquarium fishes (though important as food and game animals); but they should be.


Bibliography/Further Reading:

Andrew L. Rhyne , Michael F. Tlusty, Pamela J. Schofield, Les Kaufman, James A. Morris Jr, Andrew W. Bruckner, Revealing the Appetite of the Marine Aquarium Fish Trade: The Volume and Biodiversity of Fish Imported into the United States May 21, 2012,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0035808

Nemipteridae on Fishbase.org: http://www.fishbase.org/summary/FamilySummary.php?ID=324

Russell, B.C., 1990. FAO Species Catalogue. Vol. 12. Nemipterid fishes of the world. (Threadfin breams, whiptail breams, monocle breams, dwarf monocle breams, and coral breams). Family Nemipteridae. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of nemipterid species known to date. FAO Fish. Synop. 125(12):149p. Rome: FAO.


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