Ask the WWM Crew
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Though most members of the Hawkfish family Cirrhitidae won’t “fit” in systems of just tens of gallons, due to size and/or psychological need for more space; there are more than a handful that do quite nicely in little tanks… note; not tiny. These are notably predatory on small crustaceans; shrimps, and may go after hermits as well.
After acclimating and getting used to their new surroundings for a few days, hawkfish take up residence in a constantly recirculating pattern of perching and hiding.
Littler Hawks for Small Volumes: Sizes listed are maximum total lengths recorded in the wild according to Fishbase.org; aquarium specimens typically top out at about half this stated length.
A good Hawkfish is easy to find; almost all (wild-caught only thus
far) specimens are suitable for captivity. They ship well and are
relatively parasite free from the wild. Unfortunately, these fishes
often take a beating, being broken out of their coral hiding places;
hence the note below to be patient.
1) Ascertain that the prospective purchase has been at your stockist for at least a few days
2) Ask regarding its existing habitat water conditions
3) Ask to see the fish eat what you intend to feed it. Hawkfishes are always hungry. If you ask to see one eat and it doesn't; wait to buy it!
4) If in doubt, put a deposit on the specimen or leave it for further consideration.
Torn fins and suspicious blemishes are to be avoided. Curiosity and activity are requisite behavior for any new purchase. Shredded fins may be from bad handling or poor water quality; blemishes could be from parasitic or bacterial infection. In either case these specimens should be passed by.
As mentioned in the introduction; these fishes hide amongst rock, coral, coming out to perch in good spots to watch the world go by, and possibly catch lunch. Without crowding out too much water, you should provide a similar habitat with live and decorative rock and corals; live or otherwise.
No special consideration is required; just regular maintenance (Savitt 1976). Hawkfishes do well in natural or synthetic water of regular to lower specific gravity (1.025-1.019). They are not sensitive in terms of temperature. Low to upper seventy degrees Fahrenheit are suggested for the entire group.
Despite their, at times, secretive nature, possession of large eyes and nocturnal habits, Hawkfishes adapt to well-lit aquarium conditions (Takeshita 1975), so don’t be discouraged from keeping higher light needing species with them.
Hawkfishes are fine with other species as long as their tankmates are large enough to not be eaten or eat the hawks. Sometimes they can become territorial after being in the same system a long time (Savitt 1976). Occasional shifting, addition or removal of part of the habitat alleviates this problem. They may chase other fishes, but rarely do any damage. In general it is not a good idea to mix Hawkfishes for this reason. Should you want to try pairing them, provide a divider for a few weeks twixt the specimens; so they can get a good look (and smell) of each other, without touching.
As noted for folks with plans for shrimp, crabs, hermits…: Be forewarned that a Hawkfish’s large jaws and sharp teeth are ideal devices for capturing crustacea. The small hawk species are ideal reef additions, but they will eat crustaceans and some worms. Watch out shrimps!
Oh, and for those looking for an “aqua dog”; these fishes display human-responsive behavior very readily. They imprint easily and will "beg" at the surface and feed out of your hand.
The long-nose hawk is known to lay demersal (bottom) eggs (Randall 1981). Takeshita (1975) describes a courtship dance among a pair in captivity in the early evenings. He also gives notes regarding sexual differences. In brief; males can be told apart from females by their being smaller, more colorful, often with black margins on the pelvic and caudal fins.
Hawkfishes spend most of their time perched on a rock or piece of coral, waiting to make a short fast rush at a food item. Their short, conical teeth are modified for grasping small zooplankton and fish. They accept all frozen and pelleted foods readily; with only brief training from the wild.
Hawkfishes are typically "clean" of pathogenic disease and have low parasite loads. Other fishes in the system will typically show symptoms of disease before your hawks, and succumb from the same ahead of them. They are not particularly sensitive to therapeutic agents or treatment regimens. Quarantine and a prophylactic dips are suggested as always; enroute from purchase to permanent placement in your display tank.
Smaller Hawkfishes have many good things going for them for use in littler marine systems; they are readily available, moderately inexpensive, hardy, interesting behaviorally, and accept all foods and a wide range of water conditions. Consider adding one if your other livestock are compatible.
Carlson, Bruce A. 1975. A scarlet hawkfish for the Fiji Islands. TFH 4/75.
Fatherree, James. Hawkfishes, Are they a good choice for your aquarium? TFH 1/05.
Fenner, Bob & Cindi Camp. 1990. The Hawkfishes, family Cirrhitidae. FAMA 4/90.
Michael, Scott W. 1998. Hawkfishes. Small, aggressive predators of the coral reef. AFM 8/98.
Michael, Scott W. 1999. Spawning flames. You could be the first if you pay attention to natural history. AFM 6/99.
Randall, J.E. 1963. Review of the hawkfishes (family Cirrhitidae). Proc. U.S. Natl. Mus. 114:389-451
Randall, J.E. 1981. Longnose hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus. Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine 8/81
Savitt, D. 1976. Hawkfish. Marine Aquarist 7:4 1976
Stratton, Richard F. 1989. The spotted hawkfish. TFH 10/89.
Stratton, Richard F. 1991. The flame hawkfish. TFH 2/91.
Takeshita, G.Y. 1975. Long-snouted hawkfish. Marine Aquarist 6(6):75
Tinker, S.W. 1978. Fishes of Hawaii. Hawaiian Service, Inc. HI.