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Related FAQs: Basses

Related Articles: Little Basses for Small Marine Aquariums by Bob Fenner, Cephalopholis/Hinds, Diploprion, Soapfishes (tribes Grammistini, Diploprioni), EpinephelusHypoplectrus/HamletsLiopropoma, Mycteroperca, Paranthias/Creolefishes, PlectropomusSerranus, VariolaFancy Sea Basses/Tukas (Anthiines), Related Families: Dottybacks/Pseudochromidae, Roundheads/Plesiopidae

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Basses and Groupers;
the Larger Serranids


By Bob Fenner



Likely the majority of hobbyists are more familiar with smaller members of the family Serranidae; the fancy basses of the subfamily Anthiinae, Hamlets of the genus Hypoplectrus, Soapfishes (subfamily Grammistinae; unless you subscribe to their being elevated to their own family rank); and many more amongst the current 75 genera and 537 species that Fishbase.org lists as valid.



Some Smaller Serranid Examples




As lovely as its namesake, Pseudanthias privatera is an expensive and hardy member of its subfamily. Here displayed best in a grouping at Rob Bray’s “House of Fins” in Greenwich, CT.

To about four inches overall length.




One of several gorgeous Soapfishes, Belonoperca chabanaudi; here out in Fiji. Soapfish species can be dangerous to keep in small volumes for their habit of releasing “soapy” mucus if disturbed; this exudate containing potent toxin that can kill all tankmates.




How many Hamlets are there really? Here’s a lovely Hypoplectrus guttavarius… one of several inter-grading species of little basses of the genus found in the tropical West Atlantic. Great for peaceful thematic (biotope) displays for mimicking shallow reefs of the area.



The twenty-five species of "Dwarf Seabasses" that make up the genus Serranus have much to offer the home aquarist. They're all small, and many are exceedingly beautiful. Many biotopic presentations of the tropical west Atlantic would be incomplete without one member IMO. And there is an Eastern Pacific species as well! Shown; the Tobacco Bass, Serranus tabacarius, here in Turks & Caicos.


            This skew in popularity for littler basses is reasonable when one considers the trend to smaller marine systems; but as you’ll soon see; there are several “real” basses and groupers that max. out at under a foot in length; in addition to larger to monster sizes.

Aquarium Groupers & Non-tiny Basses: Who They Be

            The number of Serranids of size is vast, but not too hard to offer general coverage of here; as the few species that make their way into the ornamental trade share selection, husbandry characteristics. Let’s alphabetically list them. Oh, and regarding the stated maximum lengths… Yours is likely to only grow to about a third of this in captivity; unless you start with a large specimen.

Alphestes immaculatus Breder 1936, the Pacific Mutton Hamlet. Eastern Pacific; Sea of Cortez to Peru, including Galapagos. To one foot overall length. This one in Costa Rica, Pacific side. A beauty. There are five species in this genus; with this one mainly offered to aquarists.


Anyperodon leucogrammicus (Valenciennes 1828), the Slender Grouper. Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea, out to the Marshall Islands. To twenty one inches in length. This fish always draws stares for its streamlined predatory good looks. An aquarium juvenile, one a bit larger in S. Sulawesi.  Blue juveniles change color and patterns as they grow.


Genus Cephalopholis:

Cephalopholis argus Bloch & Schneider 1801, the Peacock or Argus Hind or Blue-Spotted Grouper. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea to French Polynesia. Introduced into Hawai'i and the tropical eastern Pacific coast as a food and game fish. To a foot and a half in length. Make excellent aquarium specimens for large fish-only systems. At right: A juvenile in captivity of about five inches long; and a sixteen inch long one in Hawaii, where it was imported as a food and game fish.


Cephalopholis formosa (Shaw & Nodder 1812), the Bluelined Hind.  Indo-west Pacific. To thirteen inches in length. Often misidentified in the pet fish literature and sold as C. boenak (nee boenack). Shy at first and scrappy with other similar-appearing fishes. Aquarium pic.



Cephalopholis fulva (Linnaeus 1758), the Coney. Tropical west Atlantic. To sixteen inches long in the wild, usually less than half that in captivity. A hardy aquarium species that comes in three distinct color variations: Red  (at right in the Turks) or red above, white below; Brown or Brown above, white below, and Overall Yellow (xanthic), and changes between these variations. Two of these color morphs all pictured below.


Cephalopholis igashiensis Katayama 1957, the Garish Hind.  E. to Mid-Pacific; deeper water... usually 80 plus meters. To 16 inches in the wild. An expensive, gorgeous species. Juvenile of five inches and a ten inch adult below.


Cephalopholis leopardus Lacepede 1801, the Leopard Hind. Indo-Pacific. To a mere seven inches in length. One in Raja Ampat, Indo.  



Cephalopholis miniata (Forsskal 1775), the Miniata Grouper, Coral Hind. Indo-Pacific: Red Sea to the Line Islands. To eighteen inches in length. Undoubtedly the most prized, frequently used member of the genus for aquariums. A beauty that is intelligent, and capable of gulping up small fishes and motile invertebrates. This one in the Red Sea.


Cephalopholis polleni  (Bleeker 1868), the Harlequin Hind. To 43 cm. Western Indo-Pacific. One in S. Sulawesi. And a six inch juvenile in captivity below.


Cephalopholis urodeta (Forster 1801), the Darkfin Hind to science is the V-Tailed Grouper in the aquarium interest. Indo-Pacific, down to South Africa, over to French Polynesia. To eleven inches in length. Aquarium photograph. A rightfully popular species for our use.


Cromileptes, the Panther Grouper



Cromileptes altivelis (Valenciennes 1828), the Panther Grouper to the hobby is the Humpback Grouper to science. Western Pacific distribution. To twenty eight inches in the wild. At right is a four inch individual in Indonesia. A hardy animal with a large appetite and mouth to match. Monotypic genus. Below, a one and two footer in Australia. 


Dermatolepis, the Leather Grouper

Dermatolepis dermatolepis (Boulenger 1895), the Leather Grouper. This fish has "made the rounds" taxonomically, being placed in other genera (more recently Epinephelus). Tropical eastern Pacific. Cute when small, this species grows quickly to a large size, to three feet long in the wild. Six and twelve inch individuals in the Galapagos.


 Genus Epinephelus:

Epinephelus adscensionis (Osbeck 1765), the Rock Hind. West Atlantic. To about twenty four inches in length in the wild. Shy, but occasionally collected for the aquarium interest. This one in St. Thomas, USVI.


Epinephelus fasciatus (Forsskal 1775), the Blacktip Grouper. You might think "fasciated" might be a better common name for this Bass, until seeing how changeable its coloring is in the wild. Indo-Pacific. To sixteen inches maximum length. At right, one in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas. Images below: first taken at Raja Ampat, the other in the upper Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea.


Epinephelus guttatus (Linnaeus 1758), the Red Hind. Tropical west Atlantic. To more than thirty inches in length in the wild; a foot or so in captivity. A beauty and easy to keep when small. Like all members of the genus, will "cross the line" inhaling fish and motile invertebrates for food. Bahamas pic.


Epinephelus merra Bloch 1793, the Honeycomb Grouper. Indo-Pacific, but not the Red Sea. To about a foot maximum length. A real beauty and common in the aquarium trade. Image from Bunaken/Sulawesi/Indonesia.


Epinephelus striatus (Bloch 1792), the Nassau Grouper. Tropical west Atlantic. To more than three feet in the wild. A noble game and pet-fish for large systems. This one foot juvenile in the Bahamas.


Genus Gracilia:

Gracilia albomarginata (Fowler & Beane 1930), the Masked Grouper. Indo-Pacific, but not the Red Sea. To sixteen inches overall length. Monotypic genus (one species). Juveniles are gorgeous brilliant purple. An adult photographed in S. Sulawesi opening wide for a cleaner job. 


Genus Variola: Occasionally V. albimarginata is offered in the trade, but usually it’s only:




Variola louti (Forsskal 1775), the Skunk or Yellow-Edged Lyretail Grouper. Indo-Pacific to the Pitcairn Islands, and including the Red Sea. To thirty inches in length. Pictured at right a four inch juvenile; below, one and a half and two foot individuals in the Red Sea.




            Groupers range from being shy and reclusive; especially when first introduced; to bold and curious about most everything in and outside their system. What drives them most is food; so if you’re hoping to train yours to be a pet, using feeding rewards are the best means for positive reinforcement.

            In captivity they do what they do in the wild; pretty much hang out on a perch/overhang or under a ledge, watching, waiting/hoping for something edible to happen by. If something does catch its eye, it will be quick to dart out and give it a mouthing try.

            If you have keen vision you may well become adept at determining your Groupers mood through its color, tone changes. They do vary day to night, as well as stressed to happy.



            Large Serranids are NOT reef compatible livestock choices; they will consume smaller fishes and mobile invertebrates. Stock them with similarly big fishes that are fast and/or smart.

            If you can arrange it, place your Basses last; sometimes they can be very territorial, even seemingly autistic; mistaking newly introduced livestock as so much food. Should you be compelled to add more potential, but unintended food items in the way of new purchases after your Grouper is placed, do so during lights out to give the newcomers a chance to rest up and gain their bearings.

            And most all species of Groupers are territorial, or if they live in groups, require HUGE systems to get along. Hence, one species, specimen to a tank is the general rule.

            Likely compatible tankmates include Moray Eels, larger Wrasses, Puffers of all sorts, Triggerfishes….



            Larger Basses are easy to pick through for a good one; other than being close to death, they typically will bounce back from collection and shipping damage (all are wild-caught). Nevertheless, you should pay attention to the usual acid test of assuring the potential purchase is eating, and select for a specimen that is neither too small (less than a couple inches), nor too big (half or more maximum size).



            Groupers of size do need large systems; but not as big as more active fishes of other families. For the most part these are sedentary animals, hanging out or sitting on the bottom, rather than swimming, pacing back and forth.

            They do appreciate cover in the arrangement of décor in their systems; an overhang or cave will find your Serranid spending much of the day and night here.



            Greedy is a good term for describing Groupers feeding habits. Once yours get over their initial shyness, you may find that you’re wishing for the good old days when your other livestock could get some food. All larger Serranids are ambush predators, eating whole smaller fishes, motile invertebrates that aren’t too spiny or spiky.

            In captivity its more often troubles with over feeding that are of concern rather than non-feeding. You want to offer your Grouper food once or twice a week, thrice if it’s very small, but never to satiation. An over-stuffed Serranid is not a healthy one; and providing too much food will shorten its life span, cause it to grow too quickly and greatly add to polluting your tank.

            Foods should be offered by way of a feeding stick, or chopsticks; not by hand; they bite…. And it’s a good idea to train your Bass to take food at one end of the system while you simultaneously introduce foods for the other fishes at the opposite end.

            Take care to avoid constant feeding of “too fatty” foods like Silversides, krill and whole shrimp. Better to purchase a bag of frozen “seafood stew” at your grocery store, and soak/defrost items ahead of offering; for rinsing off unwanted pollution, reducing risk of Thiaminase poisoning, providing diversity, and saving money.

            And the usual admonition to avoid “feeder” goldfish; as being too fatty, expensive and messy; they’re more trouble than their worth as food.



            If it were up to me, I’d have most all newly imported fishes prophylactically dipped/bathed in pH adjusted freshwater and formalin mix (aerated) plus a preventative one-time treatment with Metronidazole and Praziquantel administered via foods… as these fishes often come in with Flukes and carry the usual Protozoan issues.

            Should yours come down with these parasites in your care, take heart; they are easily treated with copper et al. compounds. Serranids of size are not overly sensitive to the poisons we use for fish medicines.



            There’s a grouper for all sizes of large to huge marine systems; in all colors, patterns and personalities. If you only have a hundred gallons, do stick with a less-than potential foot species. If you have an Olympic sized pool, the sky’s the limit! Go ahead and consider the ten-twelve footers!

            Larger Basses are along with Triggerfishes and big Puffers are the closest thing we have to “aqua dogs”; learning to identify their keepers; well, at least their feeders. Try one and you’ll see.


Epinephelus itajara (Lichtenstein 1822), the Goliath Grouper, aka Jewfish. Eastern and western Atlantic and Eastern Pacific coasts. Now that's a Bass! Up to eight foot in length. Appropriate only for Public Aquariums, like this one here in Florida.


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