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Related FAQs: The Fishes of the Red Sea

Related Articles: Reef Flats, Sandy Reef SlopeBiotopes, Fishwatcher's Guide to the Red Sea, Triggerfishes of the Red Sea, Butterflyfishes of the Red Sea, Angelfishes of the Red Sea,  

Marine Aquarium Biotopes: Pt.2

 Red Sea Reef Slope  4 of 5


Bob Fenner


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Spiny Skinned Animals, phylum Echinodermata. The Red Sea has an abundance of species of all the living classes of echinoderms, with crinoids (Feather Stars) and if you look close, Brittlestars (ophiuroids) in abundance. These two groups and the too-large Sea Cucumbers (holothuroideans) from here are either largely ignored by the trade or incidental in importance. The other echinoderm classes, the Sea Urchins and Seastars are of more interest.

Fromia ghardaqana Mortensen 1936,Ghardaqa Brittle Star. Red Sea endemic. To three inches in diameter. A few other Fromia spp. Seastars are found here; all make great reef aquarium specimens.

Gomophia egyptica Gray 1840, Eqyptian Brittlestar. Indo Pacific; Red Sea to the South Pacific. Needs shade, calcareous rocks which it feeds on the life on. Here in the Red Sea. 

Asthenosoma varium Grube 1866, the Pinhead Sea Urchin. Family Echinothuriidae. Indo-West Pacific; Red Sea to Indonesia. Test size to six inches in diameter; spines to twelve. Nocturnal, not safe kept with other invertebrates or handled with bare hands. Walks on spines and/or tube feet. Takes all foods. This one in the Red Sea.

Diadema setosum (Lske 1778), the Hatpin Urchin. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to South Pacific, Japan. To about four inches in diameter. Useful in coral bearing aquariums as these echinoids avoid their rocks. A frequent "contaminant" on live rock imports. Fiji nighttime image. 

Echinometra mathaei (Blainville 1825), the Common Urchin. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to Hawai'i. To about four inches overall diameter. Hides by day in rocky crannies it helps gouge. Mostly eats algae it rasps from rocks by night. Here in Oahu, Hawai'i by day and Fiji at night.

Echinothrix calamaris (Pallas 1774), the Hatpin Urchin. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to Hawai'i. Should be kept singly and may prey on cnidarian livestock. Need large spaces in rock to hide amongst by day and coarse substrate. Cebu, Philippines and Hawai'i images. 

Tripneustes gratilla (Linnaeus 1758), the Priest-Hat or Collector Urchin. Family Toxopneustidae. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to Hawai'i. Toxic to the touch to sea life. To about five inches in diameter overall. Mentioned so hobbyists will avoid it. A specimen in the Red Sea at night

Microcyphus rousseaui (Agassiz & Desor 1846), Rousseau's Sea Urchin. Western Indian Ocean; Red Sea to eastern Africa. Shallow water (0-5 meters), mainly on upper reef slope. Nocturnal, feeds on algae and sessile invertebrates. To three inches in diameter. Red Sea image.  

Sea Squirts, Ascidians.

Botrylloides species. Row Encrusting Tunicate. Tropical western Pacific to the Red Sea. Low growing colonies with distinctive rows of individuals and round chimneys. Red Sea images. 

Didemnum moseleyi Herdman 1886, Moseley's Sea Squirt. Tropical Indo-West Pacific, including the Red Sea. Encrusts rocks in brightly lit areas to 25 meters depth. Not easily kept. Must be collected with substrate attached. Red Sea image.  

Principal Fishes of the Red Sea Sandy Reef Slopes:  (Species commonly available, and useful for aquariums.)

    Per the general "rule" of greater habitat diversity, the more species abundance, the reef slopes are the areas of greatest mix of species and density. When planning and selecting your livestock mix, bear in mind the "sub-niches" of the fishes available to you, and provide space, habitat accordingly. Again, this is not an exhaustive listing, but only a guide to the species mainly found on Red Sea reef slopes that are of use and generally available to aquarium hobbyists.*

Moray Eels, family Muraenidae: Though of the 27 species recorded from here there are some small members, really only Gymnothorax griseus is common, appropriate for aquarium use. 

The Gray Moray, Gymnothorax (Siderea) griseus (Lacepede 1803), is a small (three foot max.) compatible species, though expensive; hailing from the Red Sea and west Indian Ocean. Red Sea photo. 

Soldierfishes, family Holocentridae. Fifteen Red Sea Species. Two species are common, often on offer: Myripristis murdjan and Neoniphon sammara. Sargocentron spiniferum is a regular resident, but gets too large for most aquarium use. 

Myripristis murdjan (Forsskal 1775), the Pinecone Soldierfish. Indo-Pacific through Oceania. This one photographed in the upper Red Sea where it is caught for the European hobby. To one foot total length.

Neoniphon sammara (Forsskal 1775), the Sammara Soldierfish. Indo-Pacific, Red Sea to the Hawaiian Islands. To about a foot long. An occasional import. Red Sea image.

Lion- or Scorpionfishes, family Scorpaenidae: Of the more common species in the Red Sea, the Radiata Lion is the one most often encountered (within rock caves by day, hunting about them and the bottom edge of the slope by night).

Pterois radiata Cuvier 1829, the Two-Bar Lion is the Radial Firefish. The most chameleonic of lions showing overtones of green, black and various shades of red over shocking white. The salient identifying characteristic of this species is the two while horizontal bars on the caudal peduncle, the part of the body right before the tail. Red Sea specimen. To nine inches.

Basses, family Serranidae. Cephalopholis argus, C. miniata, Epinephelus fasciatus, Variola louti and others are regularly found in pet fish stores. Others like members of the genus Plectropomus get way too big. 

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.

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. Red Sea image.

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 are a four inch juvenile,  eighteen inch and two foot individuals in the Red Sea.

Basslets, subfamily Anthiinae: These are the "signature fishes" of the Red Sea. If you're in the Red Sea on the Reef, you're looking at Basslets. Two species in particular:

Pseudanthias squamipinnis (Peters 1855), the Lyretail Anthias. Red Sea to western Pacific. To four and a half inches in length. A tough, but sometimes mean aquarium species. Male and females shown Aquarium and Red Sea.

Pseudanthias taeniatus Klunzinger 1884, the Striped or Red Sea Anthias. A Red Sea endemic. To five inches overall length. A male (with the white lateral stripe) and female shown, photographed at Sharm el Sheik. Formerly placed in the genus Anthias.

Soapfishes, family Grammistidae. Diploprion drachi and Grammistes sexlineatus are sold in the trade, and though secretive, stay small, are pretty.

Diploprion drachi Roux-Esteve 1955, the Yellowfin Soapfish. Red Sea (where this picture was taken) and Gulf of Aden. To five and a half inches in length. Shy species that hides near rocky reefs and masks behind larger fishes to sneak up on fish prey.

Grammistes sexlineatus (Thunberg 1932), the Sixline Soapfish or Grouper. Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea. To twelve inches in length. For calm surroundings with caves, of adequate size, that are well-filtered . A juvenile  in the Red Sea and adult in captivity. Monotypic genus.

Roundheads, family Plesiopsidae. Of the four species of the family found here, Calloplesiops altivelis is readily available to aquarists. Do keep your eyes open for the gorgeous C. coeruleolineatus which may be ordered from specialty dealers like Marine Center.

Calloplesiops altivelis Steindachner 1903, the Comet or Marine Betta. Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea. To a bit over six inches. A shy species that requires a dark cave and peaceful tankmates to thrive. Aquarium image.

Cardinalfishes, family Apogonidae. Fifty four species are described from the Red Sea. Of these, Apogon aureus is a beauty that schools, stays out in the open, is readily found in the hobby... Other more secretive, solitary, but occasionally available Cardinals from here are  A. fraenatus, A. kallopterus, A. leptacanthus and A. macrodon. The first two and last best kept in a group of several individuals, fraeatus and kallopterus find singly.

Apogon aureus (Lacepede 1802), the Ring-Tail Cardinalfish. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea, east Africa to New Caledonia. To nearly five inches in length. This mouthbrooding male in the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea.

Apogon fraenatus Valenciennes 1832, the Bridled Cardinalfish. To four inches in length. Indo-Pacific; from Durban, South Africa to Tuamotus. Image from Fiji at night. 

Apogon 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.

Apogon leptacanthus Bleeker 1856-57, Threadfin Cardinalfish. Indo-Pacific including the Red Sea. To a little over two inches in length. Found in dense school in the wild. This group in a friends aquarium.

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