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/A Diversity of Aquatic Life

Cardinalfishes, Family Apogonidae, Pt. 2

Part 1,

By Bob Fenner

Pterapogon kauderni

Genus Archamia:

Archamia (now Taeniamia to some) furcata (Cantor 1849). Orange-lined Cardinalfish. Bali 2014.
Archamia (now Taeniamia to some) biguttata . (Lachner 1951) Twinspot Cardinalfish. Bali 2014.
Archamia zosterophora (Bleeker 1856) Blackbelted or Girdled Cardinalfish. West Pacific. To 3 in. Here in Raja Ampat. http://fishbase.org/Summary/speciesSummary.php?ID=5777&genusname=Archamia&speciesname=zosterophora

Genus Cheilodipterus:

Cheilodipterus alleni Gon 1993, Southwestern Pacific; New Guinea, Indonesia. To four inches for males, about 2.5" for females. This one in the area of Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia. 

Cheilodipterus artus Smith 1961. The Wolf Cardinalfish. To seven inches in length. Indo-Pacific; East Africa to GBR, Japan. Feeds on small fishes. Raja Ampat pic.

Cheilodipterus isostigmus (Schultz 1940), the Dog-Toothed Cardinalfish. West-central Pacific. To nearly four inches in length. This three inch one in Fiji.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Cheilodipterus macrodon (Lacepede 1802), the Largetoothed Cardinalfish. Indo-Pacific; East Africa to the Marshall Islands. To nearly ten inches in length. A six inch specimen in Manado/Sulawesi/Indonesia,and a male of about the same size in the Red Sea "with a mouthful" of young.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.
Cheilodipterus quinquelineatus Cuvier 1828, the Fivelined Cardinalfish. Indo-Pacific including the Red Sea. To five inches in length. Here is pictured an adult and young near a Sea Urchin in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Genus Nectamia:

Nectamia bandanensis (Bleeker 1854). The Big-Eye Cardinal. Indo-West Pacific. To four inches in length. Aq. pic. http://fishbase.org/summary/Species Summary.php?id=5763

Genus Ostorhinchus: Plus see the genus Apogon for species that have been moved to this genus

Ostorhinchus angustatus (Smith and Radcliffe 1911), the Black- or Broad striped Cardinalfish. Indo-Pacific and Red Sea. to three inches. A reclusive species that prefers caves and overhangs. Mauritius 2016.
Ostorhinchus apogonoides (Bleeker 1857). Golden bodied w/ two blue lines through the head running horizontally. To 10 cm. Lives in associations of a few dozen individuals, rising off the reef during the day. Zooplanktivore. Western Pacific, I.O. and Red Sea. Here in Mauritius in 2016.
Ostorhinchus novemfasciatus  
Ostorhinchus parvulus (H. M. Smith & Radcliffe, 1912). Bali 2014

Genus Pristiapogon:

Pristiapogon kallopterus Bleeker 1856, the Iridescent Cardinalfish. Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea (where this one was photographed at night while foraging). To six inches in length. A larger specimen out during the day in the Maldives also shown.

Bigger PIX:
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Genus Pseudamia

Pseudamia amblyuroptera (Bleeker 1856). Indo-West Pacific. To six inches in length. Not a great beauty, but one of the more common Cardinalfishes offered in the hobby.

Genus Pterapogon

Pterapogon kauderni Koumans 1933, the Banggai Cardinalfish. Restricted in distribution to Banggai Island, Indonesia, though commercially produced in good numbers in Indonesia and elsewhere. To three inches in length. A darling of the ornamental aquatics industry and hobby. Readily reproduced in captivity. Young cluster about large/symbiotic anemones tentacles or the spines of the Urchin Diadema setosum when threatened.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
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Genus Sphaeremia: Pajamafishes.

Sphaeramia nematoptera (Bleeker 1856), the Pajama Cardinalfish. West Pacific. To three inches in length. A long-standing favorite in the aquarium trade. Second perhaps only to the Banggai in use.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)
Bigger PIX: The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.


Sphaeramia orbicularis (Cuvier 1828), the Orbiculate Cardinalfish. Indo-Pacific. To four inches in length. An uglier version of the Pajamafish, but hardy just the same.

Geographical Range

Tropical marine, Atlantic, Indian and Pacific reefs; some estuarine and freshwater members (Papua New Guinea, see Allen).


Most to a few inches, some species to six-eight inches or more in the wild.


Cardinals display little middle-ground in their quality on-arrival; they are either hardy and sure to "make it", or thrashed and "doomed" to break down and die. For reference, they share many of the same selection criteria as damselfishes.

1) Behaviorally; look closely at the group on display. They should be clustered somewhat, with none having "private parties" off in the corners of the system. Are they aware of your presence? Good.

2) Reddening: Examine the bodies of each specimen carefully, especially the insertions of unpaired fins. Do you see evidence of infection on any individual? If so, pass them by.

Collecting Your Own

Gathering cardinals compared to other marines is a breeze. Apogonids are easily spooked out of hiding into a carefully placed hand net. Care must be taken in not snagging their dorsal fins' spines (6-8 in the first dorsal fin, one with 8-14 soft rays in second) and anal fin (two) spines.

Environmental: Conditions


Cardinals hide in the netherworld of ledges and corals by day; searching the bottom for food, by night.


Apogonids are about as tolerant as damselfishes; they are not demanding. Some temperate species prefer lower temperatures, but 72-78 degrees F. is fine for the group as a whole. Elevated temperatures may bring on a feeding strike and odd behavior. Higher, steady specific gravity is appreciated, closer to 1.025; maybe due to their close association with invertebrates?

Cardinals will tolerate a few tens of ppm of nitrate, but little or no ammonia, nitrite.


I'd like to mention that apogonids are an under-rated portion of the living reef's populations. Several of the hundreds of species are of large number in the wild, just not commonly encountered due to their largely nocturnal habits. Many form close associations with invertebrates, living within the spiny shelter of urchins, sea stars and more.


I'd shy on making it brisk. These fishes are found in areas where the water really whips at times.


For a really outstanding arrangement, provide a large dark shelter-space with one opening and a group of these fishes and others they are found with in the wild. The under ledge and cover sub-habitat is a rich biotope in the reef world.



Generally not. In the wild most live in aggregations as young and adults. In captivity they only fare well in groups.


Best put in established systems, keeping some low illumination on but subdued for a couple of days.

Predator/Prey Relations

Most cardinalfishes as individuals get along with their own kind, other species of apogonids and other peaceful tankmates. Large predatory fishes will inhale them like so much aqua-popcorn if they're small enough.

The smaller species (some get to six inches) are strongly promoted for use in fish-only and reef-tank set-ups. They are supreme choices, being hardy and interesting; their only shortcomings being that they're shy and reclusive. Apogonids as a rule do not "sample" more than mouth-size invertebrates.

Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation/Growing Your Own:

Several species spawning habits are known. The sexes are not much differentiated but may be distinguished by the males slightly larger size and the girth of gravid females. They are some of the few marine mouthbrooders with the males generally doing the incubating. Young are released after about a week, and develop as plankton for a couple of months in the upper water column.

Part 1,
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