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FAQs about Tilefishes, Family Malacanthidae

Related Articles: Tilefishes

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A Hoplolatilus starcki  in captivity.

Flagtail Blanquillo          5/27/15
Sorry for the bad picture, but I thought maybe you'd like to see this guy.
By far my favorite fish ever. I've had him since he was a little guy, about 4 years now. He's in the healthy tank. :)
<Very intelligent fishes... bad jumpers though. BobF>

For Bob Fenner. Damaged Malacanthid      8/16/14
Hi Bob,
I was directed to you buy a member on Reef Central. I've got a blue headed tilefish in a QT that has come down with something that I originally thought was Uronema marinum, and have been treating with Metronidazole, but there has been no sign of improvement after 10 days of treatment (with daily water changes).
<Mmm; don't know re any pathogenic disease here (need sampling, 'scope); but I see in your excellent pix a nice Tilefish that is oh-so commonly physically traumatized... It jumped! Hit its back...>
The fish is active and eating well. Showing no signs of distress whatsoever, but has this ugly lumpy brown and white growth on his back. His dorsal fin actually eroded at that spot. I've attached some pics, which I regret aren't the best quality, but perhaps you could take a look and see what you think? I'd love to be able to cure him of whatever this is, and would greatly appreciate any advice you might have.
<T'were it me/mine, I'd go the indirect route of boosting this fish's immune system with foods soaked in vitamins and HUFAs... and possibly add a purposeful biological cleaner (one that will fit, get along with your other livestock), AND expedite this fish's move out of quarantine and into the main display post haste. Bob Fenner>

Husbandry     8/8/13
Hey Bob, do you think adding a Midas Blenny to a tank with a Malacanthid would be problematic?
<Should be fine if there's space/room>

QT question...   1/14/12
Hello all, I have a question regarding QT. I was lucky enough to find a beautiful Flagtail Blanquillo at my LFS. 
<A sand tilefish, Malacanthid>
This will be my second one as the first jumped out during routine maintenance
<VERY common>

 :( I had him for 3 years. Such personality! The LFS is holding it for me while I get the QT ready. My QT tank is now ready, seeded with a bag of bio media that's been in my sump for 4 months.  I also added some Bio Spira to help with the biological. I have 3-4" of fine sand and 2 pieces of live rock for him to hide under. My question is can I QT this fish in a 30 gallon QT tank? Or is this too small? He's a juvenile at about 4 inches...
<It's touch and go at both these sizes; I was going to write "if this specimen is less than four inches in length..." IF the area can be kept darkish, no one zooming past... and the tank of course covered!>
Thanks in advance,
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Tilefish (Hoplolatilus), sel./stkg.   5/1/10
I have a question about a Hoplolatilus macros that I recently purchased.
I've read on your site about the Hoplolatilus in general, but cannot find my answer yet.
My reading tells me that tilefish in general likes to be in group or pair.
<Mmm, yes, though as adults many times they're encountered as singles... but in closely arrayed territories>
The that I got is doing quite well. It sill hides a lot, but always out during feeding time and eats vigorously. My question is if I add another species of Hoplolatilus, let's say the purple or flashing tilefish, will it help to make it feel much more comfortable and out most of the time?
<Mmm, I don't think so. Almost better to house this genus one to a tank>
I'm looking for another H. but they're harder to get as their availability is rare here in the U.S. Will adding a purple or a flashing one is enough to make them feel comfortable?
Thanks in advance.
<Again, I wouldn't do this. If you do, make sure and have another system to move one of them to... and do take care to make sure the tops of their tanks are covered. Bob Fenner>

Re: Tilefish (Hoplolatilus)   5/2/10
Hi Bob,
Thanks for a quick reply. I do have a closed canopy on my tank, and I will not add the purple or the flashing then. The last thing I want to do is to stress out the tilefish.
<Ah yes... and we both know how easily this is done>
I am just trying to understand you clearly, so I apologize if I repeat the same question again. So you think even adding another H. Marcosi in the same tank is not a good idea either?
Thanks again.
<Might work... if both animals are "young" especially... And if this system is "large enough"... the more square feet of deep, small, softish sand the better... But in most cases, not a good idea... as most specimens of this family do fine... solo... and way too often w/ more than one specimen...
One dies mysteriously, the other shortly thereafter. BobF>

Hoplolatilus chlupatyi 9/11/09
I really enjoy your website- its full of GREAT info, much appreciated.
<Ah, good>
I recently purchased a pair of flashing tilefish (Hoplolatilus chlupatyi) and had two questions as well as wanted to offer what I've seen. My question is how are they specifically changing color? Any direction as to the specific biology involved would be appreciated- all I've found so far is what they are and what they do, not how they do it. Im wondering if its something Ill have to purchase an actual marine biology text as opposed to common place internet knowledge, or if its a typical color response/biological function, that is well documented in other animals already.
<Mmm, my general survey of such in the form of a hobbyist-article is posted here: http://wetwebmedia.com/AqSciSubWebIndex/coloration.htm
Do see also the two files linked above>
And the second question- how many colors? I've seen Blue, purple, green, yellow, orange and what seemed to be pinkish.
<I too have seen these>
I purchased my pair and acclimated them into my 125 gallon sand bottomed reef. It only has 40 watts
<Of light I take it>
and has been established for over a year with zero deaths but Im obsessive and have been serious for over 25 years. The tank mates are a small Mystery Wrasse, a pair of Pseudochromis Fridmani, a bicolor blenny, a watchman goby, a VERY small pink bar goby, a hawk fish and a bluespot Jawfish. Also 4 large tiger pistol shrimp and a cleaner shrimp. I built the reef suspended off 3 large base rocks, thus separating the tank into 3 sections for the burrowing sand dwellers. Easily there is 150lbs of live rock including the rubble I use in the back filter- I don't use contemporary filtration other than mechanical (2 sponges) for clarity. I also don't overstock or overfeed- makes for way less work and better results as Im sure you know! Plus I make all my own water from distilled (addressing PH issues of course)... Yes Im obsessed.
<It pays to be in these matters>
And as far as Im concerned with the addition of the tilefish- its overstocked... My LFS guy saw I had 10 small fish in my 125 gallon and jokingly said "its overstocked for you for sure". I hope more people start thinking this way...
<Me too>
There has always been no nipping or fighting in my tank. I cant stand an overpopulated tank because you lose 90% of the natural behavior and end up with a mosh pit, so I figured it would be perfect for this pair. I want to see what they do when they are NOT stressed... I was lucky to have found them the day they came in as they still had the vigorous healthy look and girth of an ocean fish. I also bet normally, once they get in the store, being so expensive they may sit a bit... which would mean being terrified 60 times a day for the entertainment of the staff and customers... of course the first thing the clerk did when we walked up was scare them into a bright yellow... No wonder they die in transit or are in horrible shape most of the time.
They are doing INCREDIBLE! I feed with a syringe (really to get food to the Jawfish) and they eat from the tip! They LOVE protein enhanced mysis shrimp- I couldn't ask for more except... they refuse flake (as usual)- though I will change that! I've done it with ALL my other "carnivorous" fish, so Im optimistic for these. A good flake food is a great mid day nibble for pickers, grazers and high metabolism fish whether they like it or not! But when all the other fish are eating and you aren't... its amazing how well that works! Or mix it then slowly remove the shrimp.
<Good technique>
They first went to opposite sides of the tank at introduction- one almost jumping out ( I cover the open top with huge cut Ziploc bags so it didn't ). They both went under rocks in the shrimp burrows on opposite sides and stayed there refusing to come out. A feeding changed that and there is no question they must be kept at minimum, in pairs. One stopped eating the food when it saw the other and raced to the opposite side of the tank, rubbing against it- they have not been more than 6 inches from each other since and swim in the open all day long.
<Just like paired Malacanthids in the wild>
One is slightly smaller and flashes colors much more- is that the male?
I know its not physically obvious but behaviorally I assume it would be if observed long enough. They definitely use their colors to communicate with each other. A few nights ago just before the tank lights went off, one of the tilefish (the one I think may be the male), got very upset at the other fish! He knew it was bed time (as most my fish prepare for bed before the light goes out every night) and kept swimming towards their burrow. The other refused and kept swimming in the current. He kept going towards the burrow then nudging or swimming against the female. She still refused to budge. All the sudden he did a light show- blue to green to yellow over and over a few times and she finally turned and they both swam together back to the burrow not to come out till the morning! I saw the color version of "Darn it honey- I WANT TO GO TO BED!"
<... or reproduce>
The biggest aspects to my success with these fish is exactly what you read here in your FAQ and overall rundown. Huge tank (125 gallon), low light (Im really low at 40 watts total and I still can have a few mushrooms and zoos flourishing at the top), 3+ inch sand bed (they absolutely dive into it and its SCARY to watch), mellow tankmates/environment and again beware SKITTISH- cover the tank. Other than that, they have been easy to feed and keep healthy! But I also tell EVERYONE about them so they don't scare them- I love that they change color but I would prefer to see as little yellow as possible! Their natural deep ocean blue is just fine with me- especially since they slightly flash green all the time anyway! Ill also say not one person has seen these fish and not been completely amazed... They are my grail!
My favorite color change was when one stuck his head in the Jawfishes burrow- just his tail turned green! As far as compatibility goes, only the blue spot could be an issue and that would be for HIM, not them! The Pseudochromis Fridmanis school with the Tilefish! And they share their den with the watchman goby, a brittle star and a pair of tiger pistol shrimp- and occasionally the Jawfish but he would prefer otherwise!
I would also say be careful once they are acclimated because they will have no fear of you and one almost got sucked up the syphon when I was cleaning. No joke- I kept moving it away and they still swam over when I had it in the corner- my 125 is 6 feet long! I now have to place my thumb over it, off just a bit, or they STILL swim up thinking its food. They literally wont stay away and try to nibble ANYTHING. They are the biggest pigs in the tank! (the Jawfish being 2nd)
And lastly, I would just like to say again, great info, all of which was correct and helped me purchase the fish worry free! I was just lucky I had set it up like that for the pistol shrimp/Goby relationship and the Jawfish... Now the shrimp and the Jawfish build burrows 24 hours a day and the Tilefish reap all the rewards of their hard work- it couldn't be better! Its so great I've been neglecting my real tank- a 3+ year old 55g reef- and this 125 was supposed to JUST be a trash/quarantine/maintenance tank for the 55... I guess not!
Best wishes and I appreciate your time,
Joseph Gauthier
<Thank you for your enthusiastic sharing Joseph. Bob Fenner>

Re: Hoplolatilus chlupatyi 9/11/09
Thanks so much Bob!
<Thank you Joseph>
Your "... or reproduce" line made me laugh out loud! It hadn't crossed my G rated mind! That explains the Barry White music coming from under the rocks!
<I can hear that artist's low, low bass voice now... Crooning to your sand tilefish! Heee! BobF>
Best wishes

Want to share some ideas on keeping Hoplolatilus 05/19/08 Hi Crew, Greetings from Shanghai. You all have been a wonderful source of information for me over the years and, so, I wanted to repay you all a bit on my observations on keeping Hoplolatilus and why I believe that these fish should be kept in small groups of 3 to five for best results. <Ahh!> About a year ago, we purchased our first Hoplolatilus, which was a Hoplolatilus marcosi. The fish was a fat and beautiful specimen, but it died four weeks later due to starvation despite numerous ways to get it to eat. <Very, too common with Malacanthids in captivity> It was not that the tank's other inhabitants were stealing its food; the poor thing just hid under a rock and did not budge (remarkably no flying suicide attempts either). About three months ago, we saw a 4" Hoplolatilus purpureus and decided to try again. The fish was placed into our 450L quarantine tank and went straight for the bottom; digging a hole in the sand under a PVC elbow. <Typical behavior> Unlike the previous H. Marcosi, this fish was at least coming out each night when the halides went off and would swim in the powerhead current for about ten minutes, but, again, would not eat. A dear friend of mine here whom has raised these fish before said that the best way to keep them is in small schools. So we ordered two more and placed them into the quarantine tank a week later just after the halides had gone out for the night. The impact on our other H. purpureus was immediate: all three schooled up and went straight into the powerhead current. When we offered dinner an hour later, all three pigged out greedily on mysis (my guy's hunger strike was entering week three...). Three months on in our 2 meter tank, my three guys are very fat and very active. They chow down at feeding time and all three will actually greet you at the glass when you come near the tank. They also very rarely hide. To elaborate further on my theory that keeping these fish in small groups is important to their well being, I have another friend was experiencing similar hunger strike problems with his Hoplolatilus starcki. He, like us, added another brace into his tank and the impact on his not too happy fish was the same. He has since added another two fish and they seem to be in wonderful health. <Yes! Sandtilefishes are always observed in social settings in the wild> I hope that this small observation helps someone down the road somewhere with this wonderful animal. Best, Chris <Thank you for this valuable input. You have saved many incidental losses thereby. Bob Fenner>

Purple Tilefish decline   5/14/07 Hi Bob, Thanks for your continued help in this "challenging" hobby.  We have had this purple tilefish for about 3-4 months.  It has appeared very healthy and has been an aggressive eater and is nice and plump. <Good signs> I noticed in the last two days a change in his eating pattern.  a. he didn't come out right away and b. he seemed to almost not see as well... missing the large pieces he usually loves.  We did a water change recently but all parameters (ammonia, nitrate, ph, phos, kH, .etc) appear optimal.  Today all of a sudden he was franticly swimming and went behind the rocks where he is now breathing rapidly. Definitely showing signs of being on the way out.  Any clues why this may have happened.  I know this is pretty vague and these can be difficult to keep...but he was very healthy and this was very sudden.  Nothing else in the tank appears to be having problems. <Mmm, could be a vitamin deficiency (I would soak or supplement the water or both... with such, including HUFAs (e.g. Selcon) and iodine/ide... You do have enough room for this Malacanthid I hope... Need very large spaces to feel comfortable (hundreds of gallons) and deep, soft sand substrate to duck into... The best arrangement for food, mediating environmental changes is the use of a large live sump (refugium) with a DSB, macroalgae... Bob Fenner>

Re: dolphin shark fish in local pet store, here are pics   1/19/07 sorry for the delay, ihave been busy. Here are pictures of the fish, let me know if you still think its a remora, bob. Harry <Are you a native English speaker? This is a Malacanthid... BobF>

Purple Tilefish Behavior...Early Morning Suicide Jumps  - 5/11/06 Hello, <<Hello Bret>> I've been using your website as a guide since I started in the hobby   over a year ago and it has helped me out tons! <<Great>> My question today is about  my Purple tilefish.  It kills me that there is so little information about these guys!  I only bought mine b/c my LFS gave me a good deal on it and  told me I have a month if anything happens for a full refund.  So I gave it  a try.   Its tried to jump twice but always at about 3am so It wakes me up  and I put it back in.  Like the other person, my tank is covered but it  always finds that little hole by the skimmer!  It has been eating like a  pig since I got it...Mysis, chopped scallops and it LOVES frozen  silversides.  My question is, I hear they are best kept in pairs.  Do  you think If I add another one now it will help make it feel more comfortable or  stress it out more?  There is another LFS that has one that looks pretty  good but I don't want to stress the one I currently have out more then I am sure  it already is.   The other one at the LFS is about the same size but  maybe even a bit smaller.  What are your thoughts on this.   <<The Purple Tilefish may be aggressive toward others of its own kind.  If the dealer is willing to take it back, then you may want to give it a go. The jumping behavior may stem from lack of a proper environment for him.  You should have at least a three inch sand bed as these guys do like to burrow in the sand.  I also recommend at least a 50 gallon tank for them.  Does this sound like your system? James (Salty Dog)>> Thanks for your help <<You're welcome.>> Bret Caprilla

Re: Purple Tilefish  5/12/06 Thanks for the quick reply. <You're welcome.>  My tank is a 55g.  The sand bed is about 2-2.5" in the area where the tilefish has made his home.  It stays most of the time in a cave between 2 rocks with just its head sticking out and body hidden in the rocks.  I have seen them before together in the stores and they always stay together, that's what made me think it might be better if I had 2.  <Info is based on the normal behavior of the fish, and, as I mentioned, "may be aggressive toward others of its kind."> I know some of them like the flashing tilefish hide in the sand.  My LFS has one in their display tank and when it got scared it would go straight in to the sand, but I have never seen my purple one go in to the sand.  Thanks again for your help... <You're welcome.  James (Salty Dog)> Bret Caprilla

Copper overdose in Purple Tilefish?   1/21/06 Bob, <Art> I recently purchased a Purple Tilefish, who was eating like a pig, four times a day. The second day, I noticed a light outbreak of ich on him, <... no quarantine> so I began to treat him with Seachem Cupramine (He is sharing a 30 gal. quarantine tank, <Oh!> only glass and water, with a Comet, who has shown no symptoms). I built up to the recommended dose at half the manufacturer's recommended schedule, and as I got nearer to 6L (the total dose recommended for 30 gal., in order to reach 0.5 ppm), I dosed in increments of one fourth the manufacturer's directions. I did this because there is very little info available on the Purple Tilefish, and I suspected he was sensitive to copper. <You are correct here> He tolerated the dose with no side effects whatsoever to a total of 4.25L (between 0.25 and 0.5 ppm), but the morning after I added another .75L, to a total dose of 5.25L, he was listless, stopped begging for food, stopped eating, started twitching his head, and he has the darkened, splotchy areas on his body (spine and around the eyes) that I have come to associate with copper poisoning (yes, I have done this before). <Yes...> I immediately performed a 10 gal. (one third) water change, and installed a couple of poly filters to remove the copper. A day later, he is still alive, but also is still not eating, still twitching, still has the dark areas, and one eye appears to be slightly popped, although not cloudy. <All symptomatic...> The Comet, meanwhile, appears to be fine. He may have skipped a couple of meals, but he has resumed eating. Are the symptoms I described consistent with copper poisoning, in your experience? <Yes> Can fish recover from this, and if so, will his normal coloring return, and what about twitching he pop eye? <All can be recovered from> This is the first time I have seen these symptoms associated with copper poisoning. <Mmm, would bear your "writing all up", presenting as an article, pitch to hobbyists, professional aquarists> As far as the Comet is concerned, I am naturally reluctant to continue his quarantine period  with copper. If he shows no symptoms of ich for the rest of his quarantine (another week and a half), can I add him to my display tank at that time, and be reasonably sure that I have not introduced the parasite to the display tank? <I might risk this... passing the fish through a prophylactic dip (just slightly reduced spg, a spritz of formalin mixed in)> I recently finished going fallow, and I don't want to do it again, but I have more fish on the way that I need to put into quarantine. I would very much appreciate your expert advice. Thanks, Art <Difficult to state what I might due w/o looking at the animal, but am inclined to encourage your moving it... lest it perish otherwise. Bob Fenner> Tilefish In Trouble? I bought a tilefish about a month ago.  He is being quarantined in a 72 gallon tank before I add him to my display tank.  He is eating fine and seems okay except I noticed that he has circular indentions on his head.They are different sizes.  I don't see it any where else on his body.  Is this normal for tilefish?  What might it be? Thanks for your help! Nicki <Well, Nicky- lots of possibilities here. Could be some sort of parasitic problem, could be Head And Lateral Line Erosion (check water conditions and diet), or could even be an injury of some sort. If the fish is eating okay, and seems otherwise unaffected, I'm inclined to recommend continued close observation and good husbandry on your part. Let us know if you notice and further degradation of the fish's health. Regards, Scott F>

Flashing tilefish Bob, I am thinking about purchasing a flashing tilefish (I am not sure the technical name for these).  I wanted to get your thought's on this specific tilefish.  Any information would be helpful.  He is about 4-6" long and looks great in the dealers tank.  I have a 240 gallon reef aquarium. Current stock Purple Tang, Sailfin Tang, Marron Clown, Regal Tang, Marine Betta, Royal Gramma and a bi-color angel.  I am fairly new to the hobby but everything is going great so far.  I appreciate any help you can give. Thanks, Brent Rook <Likely a species of sand tilefish... not tremendously well-suited to aquarium use as a group. Please read here re: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/tilefishes.htm and the Related FAQs (in blue, above) beyond. Bob Fenner>

Purple Tilefish Bob, First thank you for your informative site! <You are welcome.> I have a purple tilefish...I know I know if only I had read your site and others first. My husband and I made a pact from now on we will investigate and then buy (we are friends with our LFS and thought they knew their stuff) <No one can/does know anything but a glimpse of what is currently "known" and this is but a sliver of the universe> anyway...We got him Monday and his belly looked swollen like he had over ate...I did not see this until I got him home...all of his fins and things look great! But I cannot get him to eat I have tried live brine shrimp, formula #1, an algae mixed with whole frozen brine, and today I will try squid with algae brine...( oh and I tried to give him a hermit crab pellet...but the crab and he almost got into it (fight) so I gave the pellet to the crab and when I did he snapped at me.. yikes.. He stays in his little cubby when he see us and at night he snuggles next to our tomato clown in the powerhead flow...I don't want him to waste away and although he looks good now I know he cant not eat for too much longer.... <I would try as many small live foods as you can get your hands on, at different times of day, near lights out... or return this fish, give it to someone with a large, well-established reef set-up with lots of live rock, hopefully a thriving refugium... As you know (now) the Sand Tilefishes sold in the trade have dismal survival records.> also I got an algae blenny the same day and any information on keeping him happy would help...he hides from me too so I sprinkled the algae shrimp in the rocks and he got some so at least he is eating! :) <Likely a Salarias or Atrosalarias species... please see the Blennioid sections on the www.WetWebMedia.com site here... they are almost exclusively algal feeders... and quite hardy. Hopefully your system is large enough (oh, below, this is fine) and has sufficient filamentous forms of algae to keep this fish going> My tank: 72 gallons with 67lbs of live rock and 21/2 inches of live sand with Puka coral wet/dry Eheim filtration 1 power head behind rocks 1 Prizm protein skimmer nitrate less than 4ppm or less than 12.5 mg nitrite zero ammonia zero ph 8.2-8.4 Thank you again for your help and your website! Gina <You're welcome my friend. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Re: Purple Tilefish Bob, thank you again...unfortunately he did not eat again...however he is rolling around in the sand which I understand to be a normal behaviour and it gives me hope...one last (ok probably not) :) thing...Can I rub Nori (seaweed) on the rocks for the blenny??? <Yes my friend... better to anchor there with a rubber band on a small rock... or better still with an all-plastic "algae feeding clip" made for this purpose. Bob Fenner>

Re: Purple Tilefish Hey Bob!!! Great news...Friday my tilefish opened his little mouth like a bird and ate!!! I thought I would cry...of course after my aquatic frog died (4years old I guess it was his time) I promised my husband no more Pets that have to be hand fed...(my fish store friend says I spoil my fish) so as bad as I wanted to get a baby frog I did not got a goldfish for that tank instead...and here we have a tilefish that needs to be hand fed too!! :) oh well it must be my karma...anyway he has been eating since then and he even comes out to eat now (which makes it harder to feed him because he doesn't really compete with the other fish he puts his mouth to the turkey baster and waits...:) ok yes I spoil my fish but I was so elated and I just wanted to share the good news with you...I think he is going to be just fine!! Thanks again. Gina <Great news! Very glad to find this specimen feeding. Bob Fenner>

Re: Purple Tilefish Well Bob...I cannot believe my luck! I get up at 2am to get ready for work...this morning I woke up thinking get the flashlight and check the tank out for thingies.. (technical term :)) well I ignored the thought and hit snooze...at 230am my cat showed me the purple tile fish on the carpet...very dead... our top is covered except for a slot cut for the protein skimmer...not more that 3inches long and 1/2 inch -3/4 inch deep...and mostly filled by the skimmer outtake...I cannot believe it!! I have been so careful not to leave the tank unattended when cooling it off with the top open...how the heck he got thru is beyond me and sad. I will chalk this up to a lesson and hope this fishes karmic adventures are better next time... <Argghhh! I must've remarked a jillion times about this families penchant for jumping!> Bob you are the best! Thank you for your help and support...The time you take to help others help these beautiful creatures is honorable. Hugs to you Gina---  <Sorry to hear of your loss my friend. Bob Fenner>

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