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A Guide To Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes

Gerald R. Allen, Roger Steene, Mark Allen

Tropical Reef Research/Odyssey Publishing

1998, 256 pages, Suggested Retail $39.95

Bob Fenner  

At long last, here is a/the one-volume update of Allen and Steene?s 1970?s popular reference works on the two most popular families of marine fishes, A Guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes. Here are presented all species known, most in new full color photographs, with some notable innovations that will continue to assure Steene and Allen the highest ranking as these reef fishes identification authorities.


After a brief Introduction granting the reader an historical view of the authors and science?s background re these fishes, some interesting highlights are offered as to Endangered Species (6 of very restricted ranges), and glimpses into the life of the most dedicated (and possibly crazed) collector of "Twilight" angelfishes, Richard Pyle. Three, four hundred feet of depth underwater for Centropyge? Yikes!

The next two chapters Introduce the two family?s Morphology (structure), Distribution (collectively tropics to cool water, around the world), Life History, and latest on Classification.

The bulk of the book (202 pages) is dedicated to a review of each Butterfly and Angelfish species in two geographical sections; The Indo-West Pacific and Eastern Pacific-Atlantic Regions. This division is made to facilitate field identification (if you?re looking for an Atlantic fish you won?t have to page through the South Pacific). For further ease of use, there is a distinctive reddish and orange, purplish and blue page bleed color for butterflies and angels for each respective region.

At a species per page, scientific and common appellation are offered with a line drawing of the genus outline, color image (mainly photos, some drawings, often including juvenile forms) and well made distribution map. Aquarists and diver-useful information: natural Habitat description (eco- and bio-tope, depth range), species-distinguishing Characters, Remarks such as feeding notes, behavior, similarity to other species, and geographic Distribution. For the purpose of comparison, similar appearing fishes are juxtaposed near each other (as opposed, let?s say, to an alphabetical listing of species by genus); this is of great help in discerning the many look-alikes within these families.

The ending portion of the book includes a short but worthwhile collection of ideas on how to keep Angelfishes and Butterflyfishes in the Aquarium including the epitaph, "It?s a sad testament to the hobby that these "living dead" (referring to inappropriate species) are regularly offered for sale by retailers". A sobering longevity list of pomacanthids and chaetodonts kept in public aquariums is given on p.236. Twenty plus years for Navarchus, Blue-Face, Flagfin, Tibicen and other angels? Wow. Do you think scientists have it rough, day to day in a dark lab with a lab coat weighing them down? Read Dr. Allen?s account of living on Palau in the early 70?s, his family collecting their own tropicals while living over the reef; sheesh.

The work finishes up with Appendices of living Genera, Subgenera and Species of Angels and Butterflies, References and Recommended Reading, Glossary, Index (very useful, I appreciate the listing of species names by their last half (e.g. loricula as well as Centropyge loricula) to aid in finding misplaced genera) and... Stop the Press! Four new species (with photographs) of angels and butterflies just made it on to the last page.

Intended Audience:

There it is, right on page one; "This book is designed as an identification and reference guide". A reference of use to divers, natural historians and aquarists, but not really directed to any one interest. As such, this book is scant on hobby understanding. Nonetheless, for the cost, abundant graphics and information that can be gleaned by careful reading and perusing of habitat photos this book is well worth the money to any serious marine aquarist utilizing these fishes.


As anyone who has spent a few dollars and hours in our interest will attest, there is a huge range of opinions concerning the viability, or maybe better put, survivability of given species, sizes, sources of livestock. My principal "problem" with A Guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes lies here. Maybe the authors derive their opinions as to aquarium suitability on the basis of stomach contents studies (zoo-plankton eaters good, coral polyp eaters bad), maybe their experience and second hand information (none are aquarists) is different coming from their home country, Australia. It?s possible that a compilation of hobby and scientific literature on the issue might even had led them astray... but my experience in the industry has led me to have widely diverging opinions of "what lives and what doesn?t" than that presented here. The authors describe a simple scheme of awarding one to three stars, the highest number for the most suitable species, commending single star species for advanced hobbyists only. Some example scores:

The Bandit Angelfish, Apolemichthys arcuatus 2 stars

Lemonpeel Angelfish, Centropyge flavissima 2 stars

Ornate Angelfish, Genicanthus bellus 2 stars

Rock Beauty, Holacanthus tricolor 3 stars

and more "anomalous" positive scores (IMO). For whatever reasons, historically these fish species have dismal records of survival in aquariums, more than half living less than a month as of capture, and most all dying before three months in captivity.

On the other hand: The Blue (Holacanthus bermudensis), Queen (H. ciliaris), King (H. passer), Clarion (H. clarionensis) and French (Pomacanthus paru), are given two stars??? These are exemplary aquarium species.

I?m very sure that the authors would encourage you to seek other information (and I would not simply rely on theirs or mine for that matter) on suitability in advance of purchasing any of these animals. I?m surprised at the difference in my practical experiences with these families with the stated suitability listed here, but thankfully (for my sanity) our opinions are much more in agreement for the butterflyfishes (Heniochus do deserve three stars, the Ornate, one, etc.).

There are the usual insidious editorial problems: In referring to Pieter Bleeker?s treasure of work on fishes (p.4), I?m sure the authors meant the importance of such cannot be over- not understated. In the Angel Index, p. 238, where is G. takeuchii in the Genus Genicanthus? It?s detailed on p. 79... Or on the next page (238), the Old Maid, Pomacanthus rhomboides, has missed the listing under its genus but can be found on p.88. In the same area, what is P. striatus"? Small matters, these and a handful more, but in the life of a nit-picking editor-type, the real prey of the hunt. Oh, and worth listing to clean up for future editions.

A Guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes, despite my differences of opinions in aquarium survivability, has taken it?s soon-to-be-well-worn place on my reference shelves next to the two-volume MERGUS/Aquarium Systems and Wiley efforts in the seventies by Steene and Allen. The photos are exquisite, physical production a joy, the scientific information accurate, and listing of species and their classification up-to-date. Take a look at this book if you are or are considering becoming a marine aquarist. You?ll find it hard to stop perusing.

A Big Thank You,

To friend and Publisher John Jackson of Odyssey Publishing for floating me a copy of A Guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes, as well as his earnest efforts on our printed behalf. A nod as well and g?day to Gerald Allen and son Mark, as well as the ever-affable and fabulous photographer Roger Steene down under. Good work mates.

Book purchase, commercial fish production Dear Sirs, <Britto>   I am interested to buy your book A Guide To Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes, can you tell me do you briefly explain how to keep them? <The book you can order from Seachallengers.com, information on their husbandry can be reached on our site: www.WetWebMedia.com> Do you have any article of marine ornamental fish breeding in commercial scale?  And how do I pay for your book and how do you send it? <See WWM here as well. The search tool on the homepage may serve you well. Bob Fenner> Awaiting reply at the earliest. Regards, Agnello.

Allen, Allen and Steene's A's and BF's book Mr. Fenner, <Michael> Thank you for recommending the book "A Guide to Angelfishes & Butterflyfishes". It has been an excellent resource, and I have worn out the binding! Just wanted to brag a little on something really cool. Due to the kindness of Rich Pyle, I was able to send the book to him, and not only did he autograph it, he got Jerry Allen and the one and only Mr. Jack Randall to sign it as well. He also emailed me a digital photo of Mr. Randall signing it with a smile. <Wowzah! The worlds leading ichthyologist!> Thanks again for the excellent recommendation. Brandon Wilson <A real keepsake my friend. Thank you for writing. Bob Fenner>

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