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Sandperches, Family Pinguipedidae, Neat, Intelligent, Hardy and Abundant in the Wild


By Bob Fenner


Amongst conspicuous fish groups that divers come across in shall tropical and subtropical seas; sandperches are an anomaly in the aquarium trade. Why aren’t they offered for sale as ornamentals? Many are brightly patterned and colored. They’re certainly humorous in their wide-based pelvic fin scooting behavior, ever-curious as to what is going on in their world. On sandy and mixed rocky bottom settings where they occur they do so in abundance… and for petfish collectors, they’re less difficult to gather than many popular blennies and gobies.

            All told the family Pinquipedidae comprises five recognized genera and about sixty species... with only a few occasionally showing up with scarce occurrence in pet-fish markets. Sandperches occur on both sides of the tropical Atlantic, and widely throughout the Indo-Pacific.

            All Sandperches share the same general body plan; a slightly near-cylindrical elongated shape, long continuous dorsal and anal fins, a square to lunate caudal. They have large upward and forward eyes and large terminal mouths. Like Lizardfishes and Blennies that they’re often mistaken and labeled as, most Pinquipedids spend their time on the bottom, perching at times on rock, corals to espy the small invertebrates and fishes they feed on.


            Other than their comical perching, jetting about on the bottom, a major attraction to these fishes underwater is their foraging fish following behavior. Sandperches will attend digging fishes hoping for an exposed meal item. They learn to accompany divers that frequent spots for this same purpose and one can become a “pied piper” of fish by accommodating diver-unafraid followers by occasionally flipping over stones or running your fingers in the substrate.  


            I’d like to draw a comparison between this family of fishes and the oh-so-popular Clownfishes; both in terms of compatibility and stocking. Both groups members are protogynous hermaphrodites; that is, first females, synchronously becoming males. All are territorial, with Sandperches being haremic; one dominant male in association with a few to several females and undifferentiated juveniles.

            Can they be kept in reef systems? Yes; with some warnings. Sandperches eat small invertebrates and fishes in the wild, so you must be sure to have either expendable tankmates or ones that are large, smart and fast enough to avoid being picked up. Small worms, including sizable Bristleworms, Featherdusters, snails, crabs, and shrimp may be inhaled. They won’t pick at corals but may set upon them at times.

            Pinguipedids make for ideal rough and tumble fish only and fish only with live rock systems. They can hold their own with most large wrasses, puffers and triggers. Inhalers of fishes, like Anglers, fish-eating Morays and larger Scorpionfishes will try to suck up Sandperches.  


            For most all hobby systems, a single individual of one species of sandperch is recommended. Males will fight and there can be trouble if there are not several square feet of bottom to share even among individuals of small size. IF you intend to try a grouping either one larger specimen or a few of small size (a few inches) is suggested. Males are often physically and color/pattern-wise different from females; being larger and more colorful, distinctly marked.

            As these are territorial species, it’s best to place them last in your stocking plan; and take care to not have crustaceans of other fishes present that are smaller than mouth size.  

Genus Parapercis (Indo-Pacific) Sandperches on Parade!

Parapercis clathrata Ogilby 1910, the Latticed Surfperch. Have a bottom tow of black centered orange spots. Indian Ocean into western Pacific; S. Sulawesi image. Female; see male above. 



Parapercis cylindrica (Bloch 1792), the Cylindrical Sandperch. Indo-Pacific; Maldives to Fiji. To six inches in length. One in N. Sulawesi.

Parapercis hexophthalma (Cuvier 1829), the Speckled Sandperch. To nearly a foot in length. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to Fiji. Common on the reefs over its distribution and the most often seen Sandperch in the hobby. One in Fiji. 



Parapercis maculata  (Bloch & Schneider 1801), the Harlequin Sandperch. Indo-Pacific. To 20 cm. Indo-West Pacific: Persian Gulf to southern Japan. Raja Ampat pic. 

Parapercis millipunctata (Gunther 1860). Bali 2014


Parapercis punctulata the Spotted Sandperch. To six inches. Red blotches along the lower part of the body. Spiny dorsal w/ red, yellow margin. Distribution only in S.W. I.O. Mauritius.


Parapercis schauislandi (Steindachner 1900), Schauinsland's Seaperch. Indo-Pacific; Africa to Hawaii. 8 or 9 red bars/blotches on sides, first dorsal fin red and two black spots on caudal peduncle. To eight inches in length. Adult off Maui.




Parapercis snyderi Jordan & Starks 1905, the U-Mark Sandperch. Three U marks on the body, then broken/bars. Western Pacific; including Andaman Sea. To 10 cm. in length. N. Sulawesi pic. 


Parapercis tetracantha  (Lacepede 1801), the Reticulated sandperch. Indo-West Pacific: Bay of Bengal to Japan and Indonesia. Bali pic. To 26 cm. 



Parapercis xanthozona (Bleeker 1849), the Yellowbar Sandperch. Indo-West Pacific; Eastern Africa to Fiji. To a bit over nine inches total length. In N. Sulawesi.



            As with most captive systems, the larger the tank you have the better for stability and flexibility reasons. Pinguipedids can be kept in a three foot long system, but do far better in bigger environments. Though they spend the majority of time on the bottom, any type and depth of substrate will work for Sandperches. More important is that the gravel be suitable for your other purposes, functional and aesthetic.  

            Useful décor is important to these fishes; so do provide a few choice spots for yours to perch and scoot under out of sight when they feel the need. You will find, indeed enjoy the fixed pattern antics of your sandperch moving about its physical environment. 

            As far as out of the tank escaping, Sandperches are top in their class, and will launch themselves out of any suitable gap in the aquarium cover, during feeding, cleaning the system or at night. Assure you have complete coverage.

 Foods, Feeding:

 The Sandperches are bold feeders in the wild, often following divers around and nabbing photo-stunned small fishes and invertebrates as these prey organisms are temporarily blinded by flash or just distracted. In captivity they consume all formats of foods; flakes, pellets, live, frozen-defrosted, prepared of homemade mashes. Ideally you’ll have live rock, perhaps a large tied-in refugium that will provide ready food organisms on a continual basis, but otherwise offering food twice a day is recommended. Regularly offering food goes a long way in discouraging tankmate “sampling”.  


            As tropical reef fishes go, Sandperches are typically hardy and resistant to parasitic and infectious disease. Nonetheless they should be quarantined and given prophylactic pH adjusted freshwater baths ahead of introduction to main displays. Should they contract the usual Protozoan complaints, they are not overly sensitive to copper medications.  


            In the course of decades in both the aquarium trade and dive-travel adventure content business, I have encountered several groups of organisms that have gone underutilized to totally neglected in the ornamental aquatics side. The Sandperches are definitely to be included here. They’ve evidently just “never made it onto the list” of proffered livestock from the wild; and folks in the hobby have not known to ask for them.  

            Call them Grubfishes, Weeverfishes, Weevers, the Sandperches deserve more placement in the aquarium trade. They’re hardy, interesting behaviorally, beautifully marked, and they eat Bristleworms!


Bibliography/Further Reading:

Fishbase family info.: http://www.fishbase.org/summary/FamilySummary.php?ID=371

Michael, Scott W. 2008. Sandperches; often overlooked. Marine World (UK), 6,7/08


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