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Related FAQs: True Blennies, Combtooth Blennies 2, Blenny Identification, Blenny Behavior, Blenny Compatibility, Blenny Selection, Blenny Systems, Blenny Feeding, Blenny Disease, Blenny Reproduction, Algae-eating Blennies, Ecsenius BlenniesSaber-Tooth Blennies, Blennioids & their Relatives, Tube/Pike/Flag Blennies/Chaenopsidae,

Related Articles: Blennioids and their Relatives, Algae Eating Blennies, Ecsenius Blennies, Sabertooth Blennies, Family Blenniidae/Tribe Nemophini, Algae Control, Triplefin Blennioids, Tube/Pike/Flag Blennies/Chaenopsidae,

Regional Accounts: Blennioids of Indonesia,

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

The True/Combtooth Blennies, Family Blenniidae 

By Bob Fenner

Cirripectes castaneus

New Print and eBook on Amazon

Marine Aquarium Algae Control

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Family Blenniidae, the Combtooth Blennies; are mostly marine and tropical, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific. They have scaleless bodies with large blunt heads that bear their namesake comb-like teeth; maximum size to eighteen inches, but most under six.

These are the Blennies to many. There are some six tribes, fifty three genera with about three hundred fifty species. Atrosalarias,  Ecsenius, Meiacanthus, Petroscirtes, Ophioblennius, Cirripectes, Parablennius, Istiblennius, Salarias are the genera whose members are most often offered to the hobby. <To save download time, the Sabertooth Blennies are treated elsewhere>

Blenniids include several mimetic species, that look and behave like other fishes, including other blennies, to gain advantage. Mullerian, Batesian and aggressive mimicry are all involved. We will mention some of this below.

A Least Favorite Blenny, The False Cleanerfish

Aspidontus taeniatus Quoy & Gaimard 1834, the False Cleaner. Mimicking Labroides dimidiatus in both color, markings and behavior, the False Cleaner sneaks up on unsuspecting victims and takes a bite out of their flesh or scales. This fish is discernible from its wrasse look-alike mainly by its sub-terminal (underslung) mouth. As you might guess, rarely offered (by accident) in the trade/hobby. Nuka Hiva, Marquesas image on left, Labroides on right. 

Favorite Combtooth Blennies/Groups

The family Blenniidae has several stalwart species that are perennially offered to aquarists. The Caribbean Red Lip Blenny Ophioblennius atlanticus is surely one; and a ready "poster child" example of the family, skittering about with its comb like dentition and prominent "eyebrow" cirri. Please see the pertinent negative press and image of the "Leopard" or Sailfin Blenny, Exallias brevis, posted in the FAQs on Blennies... this obligate corallivore occasionally makes it into pet-fish markets, and shouldn't (thanks to Bruce Carlson, Waikiki Aquarium for this heads-up).

Genus Atrosalarias: Monotypic (one species).

Atrosalarias fuscus (Ruppell 1838), the Brown Combtooth Blenny (though it can be yellow, very dark...). A popular reef aquarium fish for its prodigious filamentous algae feeding. Western Indian Ocean; Red Sea to Pakistan. To about four inches in length. Three aquarium images and one in Pulau Redang, Malaysia. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Country/CountrySpeciesSummary.cfm?Country=Indonesia&Genus=Atrosalarias&Species=fuscus%20fuscus

Genus Blenniella:

Blenniella chrysospilos (Bleeker 1857), the Red-Spotted Blenny. Indo-Pacific. To five inches in length. Found on reef flats of moderate to high current. Shown typical setting, hiding in a hole in Fiji.

Genus Cirripectes is another popular aquarium genus with a handful of its twenty one members offered off and on to the trade. Their all-seeing eyes are large and protruded even by blunt blenny head standards. Also conspicuous are the groups fleshy lips and "eyebrows" (orbital cirri). Cirripectes are more cryptic than Ecsenius but just as attractive and comical.

Cirripectes castaneus (Valenciennes 1836), the Chestnut Blenny. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to Tonga. To five inches in length. Found on reef flats of moderate to high current. Males with a barred appearance anteriorly. A male and female in the Red Sea. 

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)
Cirripectes stigmaticus Strasburg & Schultz 1953,  Red-Streaked Blenny. Bright red ring about the eye. To 10 cm. Fiji 2017.

Cirripectes variolosus (Valenciennes 1836), the Red-Speckled Blenny. Pacific Plate: Palau to Johnston, Marquesas, throughout Micronesia. Usually found in association with Pocillopora corals. To four inches in length. Nuka Hiva, Marquesas photos.

Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Genus Crossosalarias:  

Crossosalarias macrospilus Smith-Vaniz & Springer 1971, the Triplespot Blenny. Western Pacific; east to Tonga. To 8.2 cm. This one off of Queensland, Australia. 

Genus Ecsenius

The genus Ecsenius deserves special attention in the family Blenniidae; with forty seven species these are delightful, small (to four inches) fishes that do superbly well in peaceful fish, invertebrate and reef systems.

The Coral Eater: Exallias (one species, thank goodness)

Exallias brevis (Kner 1868), Leopard Blenny. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea to Hawaiian, Marquesas Islands. To almost six inches in length in the wild. Obligate feeders on live coral polyps. Definitely NOT reef safe. Still offered on pet-fish markets on occasion. A male in Oahu, Hawai'i female at a marine wholesalers in L.A. starving...

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Genus Hypsoblennius:

Hypsoblennius brevipinnis, Barnaclebill or Red-Spotted Blenny. To 2.5 in. Puerto Vallarta 2015

Genus Istiblennius: Twenty four nominal species



Genus Ophioblennius: ten described species. Can be territorial terrors.

Ophioblennius macclurei (Silvester 1915), the Atlantic The Red-Lipped Blenny. Tropical Eastern and Western Atlantic. To more than seven inches in the wild. A tough customer... territorial. Aquarium images.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)
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Ophioblennius steindachneri Jordan & Evermann 1898, the Largebanded Blenny. Tropical Eastern Pacific. To a bit over seven inches in length. At right off of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico's Baja. Below, a juvenile and adults in the Galapagos.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
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Omobranchus zebra (Bleeker, 1868) is known as the Zebra Blenny or Vietnamese Freshwater Blenny in the aquarium trade. It is found in mangrove and brackish waters fringing the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans from India through to Philippines, though oddly enough not from Vietnam, despite the common name! Maximum length is about 2.5". Hard, alkaline water with some salt added (SG 1.005+) seems to be essential to the long-term health of these fishes though they seem to tolerate maintenance in freshwater adequately well for short periods. They can also be kept in marine aquaria. Zebra Blennies are distinctly territorial and need to be given plenty of space is kept with their own kind or with other, potentially competitive fishes, such as gobies. They are predatory and will attack surprisingly large prey, including shrimps almost as large as they are! They also enjoy bloodworms and other such foods. Do not seem to eat algae. This species is very pretty, with a greyish body marked with bold dark grey and off-white approximately vertical bands that are strongest on the head but become fainter towards the tail. Other brackish water species of Omobranchus may turn up in the future, and these will likely require similar care. 

Blenny photos   3/21/07 Hello Robert, Courtesy of Bob Edwards, here are some photos of Omobranchus zebra: It's a brackish/marine species, so may have use in the marine blenny article as well as the FW/brack one. Hope they're useful. Cheers, Neale <Will post with credit to BobE, noted re the marine habitat. B>

Genus Salarias: Lawnmower Blennies. Much-loved by aquarists as algae groomers. Seven nominal species.

Salarias ceramensis Bleeker 1852, the Seram Blenny. Western Central Pacific, Indonesia, Philippines and PNG and northern Australia. To six inches in length. This one in an aquarium.

Genus Stanulus: 

Stanulus talboti Springer 1968, Talbot's Blenny. Pacific; GBR to S. Japan to the Society Islands. To about 2.5 inches in length. Nuka Hiva, Marquesas, Polynesia pic. 

Bibliography/Further Reading:

New Print and eBook on Amazon

Marine Aquarium Algae Control

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Baensch, Hans A. & Helmut Debelius. 1994. Marine Atlas, v. 1. MERGUS, Germany.

Brown, Gregory W. The Combtooth blennies, from the kelp forests to the world's coral reefs. Discover Diving 3,4/92.

Burgess, Warren E., Herbert R. Axelrod & Ray E. Hunziker. 1990. Atlas of Aquarium Fishes, v. 1. Marines. T.F.H. Publ. NJ.

Dakin, Nick. 1992. The Book of the Marine Aquarium. Tetra Press.

Howe, Jeffrey C. 1995. Original descriptions; Cirripectes alleni, Ecsenius randalli. FAMA 10 & 11/95.

Hunt, Philip. 1993. The midas touch. TFH 2/93.

Kahl, Burkhard. 1972. Blennies of the Mediterranean. Aquarium Digest International 1:2(72).

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World, 3d ed. John Wiley & Sons, NY.

Parker, Nancy J. 1976. Piscatorial clowns. Marine Aquarist 7(4):76.

Pyle, Richard L. & A. Privitera. 1990. The Midas Blenny Ecsenius midas Starck.

Ranta, Jeffrey A. 1996. Bicolor Blennies. TFH 12/96.

Robertson, Graham C. 1975. North Sea blennies. Marine Aquarist 6(1):75.

Thresher, R.E. 1984. Reproduction in Reef Fishes. T.F.H. Publ., NJ.

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