Related Articles: Little Basses for Small Marine Aquariums
by Bob Fenner, Cephalopholis/Hinds, Diploprion, Soapfishes (tribes Grammistini,
Diploprioni), Epinephelus, Hypoplectrus/Hamlets, Liopropoma, Mycteroperca, Paranthias/Creolefishes, Plectropomus, Serranus, Variola, Fancy Sea
Basses/Tukas (Anthiines), Related Families: Dottybacks/Pseudochromidae,
/The Conscientious Marine
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.
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
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
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
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
(Bleeker 1868), the Harlequin Hind. To
43 cm. Western Indo-Pacific. One in S.
Sulawesi. And a six inch juvenile in
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.
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.
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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