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Book Review: 

Surgeonfishes, Rabbitfishes and their relatives;

A Comprehensive Guide to the Acanthuroidei

Rudie H. Kuiter & Helmut Debelius

2001, 208pp. Hardcover

ISBN 0-9539097-1-9

Suggested Retail: $32.00

The Marine Fish Families Series

TMC Publishing, Chorleywood, UK


Bob Fenner  

Continuing in a series of marine fish groups of prime use/interest to aquarists, Tropical Marine Centre's production here on the Acanthuroids is a photographic feast covering all the known families, genera and species in this important suborder of percoid fishes.

What this work presents is well-done; complete notes on the diversity and abundance, maximum size, distribution, foods and feeding behavior, reproduction where known, fin-ray and other meristic (taxonomic) notes… and all in all an excellent photographic library of more than one hundred species of fishes, several of popular aquarium and fishery use.

What this book is not about is aquarium husbandry. The authors are not aquarists. Little in the way of practical captive care of these fishes is offered; and this is a great shame (see below re suggested changes). Nonetheless, information on distribution and habitat is of service to aquarists seeking input on biotopic presentations, as are notes on maximum size and natural foods/feeding.


The book begins with an introduction to the current higher taxonomy of the Acanthuroids. Kuiter and Debelius recognize a more "inclusive" view than some specialists here, including not only the Surgeonfishes (family Acanthuridae), Rabbitfishes (Siganidae), Moorish Idol (Zanclidae), and Scats (Scatophagidae), but admitting the Spade/Batfishes (Ephippidae) in as well.

Next we have a nice, brief description of the family Acanthuridae, including interesting notes on sexual dimorphism and dichromatism in some species, their generalized embryology, distribution, rationale for division into subfamilies, and brief mention of their use in aquariums. This space is aptly applied to warnings re the need for space and propensity for many species to become too large and aggressive (especially kept in small systems) for aquarium use.

Following this and in succeeding chapters on the other families, genera and species involved are fin ray counts, a "picture index" (catalog of a page or two of the members likenesses) and a beautiful assemblage of mainly underwater photographs of all species. Occasionally we are treated to a "Debelius" mini- natural history photo-essay on recorded reproduction of a species, strategies for survival.

Suggested Changes/Additions:

This work is principally geared to "advanced divers" who are keen on underwater natural history. Sales of this work could have been easily trebled by the inclusion of a few pages (even at the expense of supplanted images) offering of aquarium information such as the best source countries, size at acquisition, acclimation, disease identification and treatment… Even a couple of such pages would greatly expand the marketability/applicability of this tome. Successive titles in this series and revised editions will not miss this chance. Some easy examples: The inclusion of Platax pinnatus as one of "highly recommended" pets of the family Ephippidae is damning. I know the fine folks that work the marine livestock wholesale trade at TMC know better. What an opportunity lost to draw distinction twixt the historical aquarium survivability/suitability of Acanthurus nigricans and A. japonicus!

How much more visually appealing and point-making would have been small distribution maps? Countries and island groups are not well known to novices… The authors/editors are aware of the utility of placing similar-appearing (and likely related)

species in contiguous pages (for ease of identification, separation); the use of small range maps would "hammer home" much of the theme of sympatric species, speciation.

Similarly, a chart detailing the species likely to be found in a general vicinity would be extremely useful… sort of like a checklist for divers. This is a serious oversight for such a tool directed to adventure-traveling naturalists.

There are many examples of diversity in color, markings by species, but no mention or illustration of Acanthurus thompsoni further north in its range (e.g. Hawai'i), with its dark caudal. For such a "comprehensive" work there should be a bit more discussion on "splitting" of species (e.g. Zebrasoma veliferum and Z. desjardinii being recognized as two valid species).

Where is the Bibliography? References? Species information is listed showing someone has traced back the original descriptions of each animal… No internet references? Not even FishBase?

Concluding Remarks:

For the "true a-fish-ionado" Kuiter and Debelius' print works apart and together are very worthwhile. They bridge a gap in diving, fishing and ornamental aquatics little otherwise exploited. However they're photofests could be greatly improved in sales with inclusion of captive husbandry notes. Having visited Tropic Marine Centre, and considering it the best facility our industry/hobby has for several excellent reasons, I do wish the editors had "gone the extra mile/kilometer" in making this work more aquarium/aquarist applicable.

TMC's titles are available in the United States through retail fish stores (who in turn can acquire them through CPR and Quality Marine) and direct to the consumer otherwise via Sea Challengers.

Re: Upcoming Review and much more Dear Bob, I read the review with interest and will pass your comments on how it could be improved to Rudie and Helmut. Could you please amend all mentions made of our Company to read Tropical Marine Centre (rather than Tropic Marine Centre as it currently reads). <Yikes, will do so. Sorry re... obvious I write these "reviews" while on the road (in this case on a plane last week)> Also, please note that our two main distributors are CPR and Quality Marine (Sea Challengers now buy from these and no longer direct from us) - both trade suppliers but can be contacted by hobbyists to find a local stockist. <Would rather not... Dave Behrens does carry, sell to end-users. CPR and QM do not> Also, please could you put our book website on there - where hobbyists can buy direct from us on-line? www.tmc-publishing.com <Am almost certain it is there (on the review), but will send along to Sue Steele and BSV (das Aquarium) who have/will run the reviews> I will pass your details onto Helmut and see if he would like to contact you directly about your photos. <Real good. Am most/mainly concerned with the lost opportunity of making these works "aquarium applicable" (let alone much more commercial successes)... ala the Hans Hass inclusion of practical matters in Allen and Steenes mid seventies Angels and B/Fs of the World tomes... This is a very REAL concern... and one that the TMC livestock staff could solve... Rudie and Helmut are NOT aquarists... YOU (TMC) ARE! Bob Fenner> Kind regards, Jayne

fishbooks (a rude note from Rudie Kuiter re a review in progress of his/their new TMC title) Hi Bob, Jayne Robb sent me your comments and mentioned you interest in triggers. The fish-book series that I'm producing are primarily aimed at identifying species, either in the field or in the aquarium.  <Yes. Understood from the reading of the first two titles... My desires are obvious I hope; to greatly expand the applicability, marketability of the works. I am familiar with Helmut's other works... friends, associates with John Jackson of Odyssey Publishing, David Behrens of Dan Gotshall's former resale end of Sea Challengers...> It is not possible to include everything, or what some-person, some-where wants. The problem is space and much had to be left out. Glossary, lost of photographs, and text. Dark- or light- caudal fins means very little in surgeon fishes and the book is not one to be talking about diseases when you are always looking at healthy fish in the ocean or as it should be in an aquarium.  <Agreed... and I do understand that there are many diving, underwater naturalist folks in the book-buying public... However, the company producing the works (TMC) IS in the aquarium industry... not dive adventure per se... and they and the books would have much greater market coverage touching on practical husbandry... or if you were so inclined fishing, fisheries data for that matter...> You mention needing a few pages for this and 'only' a few pages for that, but is soon becomes another 10 pages. We have a limit now of 208 pages. <I have self-published books and do know the multiples of pages considerations, cost of larger production. It is my opinion that the changes warrant consideration in place of so many photographs of the same species> I have a bibliography sitting here, but who apart from yourself and perhaps a few academics would look at this anyway. I produced a large book on Australian fishes and the key to the species is 80 pages long, so I decided to make it available as a supplement and available for only $10. Just 2 Museums and CSIRO ordered some copies. It would have been a washed of a lot of money to have it included in the book. <Am sure I have this book... as others by you on the Fishes of the Maldives...> Re: diseases and treatment, it can't be done on a few pages and without showing photographs, besides there are a number on good books on the market. The books that I'm doing are to fill a gap and have an aim that doesn't allow to be side-tracked. I'm not sure about some of your comments: 'more "inclusive" view than some specialists ................ but admitting the Spade/Batfishes (Ephippidae) in as well'. The scats and batfishes were reclassified into the Acanthuroidei some years ago. See Eschmeyer's Catalog of Fishes. Also 'splitting' of the two Zebrasoma species. These are no my decisions, and it seems to my that you are not in a position to making such comments. Use to the Smithsonian fishbase, it's all there. <I do utilize fishbase.org as my principal source... and for the Acanthuroids Dr. Randalls more recent papers, correspondence> No internet references? Not even FishBase?..........you must be kidding! <I am not> 'inclusion of Platax pinnatus as one of "highly recommended" pets of the family Ephippidae is damning' ......I can't see how you came to this conclusion. Are you a lawyer? <A lawyer? No. What does this have to do with the above statement? You obviously have never kept these fish... they have a very poor survival history in captivity... This "mistake" taints the validity of the rest of the work...> And on the subject of maps. This is totally unrealistic, and even if there was space, it would need a complete World Atlas of the seas to go with it. <See Allen and Allen and Steene's re-working, single-volume of Angels and Butterflyfishes... They present very nice small maps by species. Or even the Wiley-Interscience, MERGUS and Aquarium Systems twin editions of the mid seventies with the few husbandry pages by Hans Hass re these fishes... for an example of what you might do... including a few notes (one page) on photography.> Anyway, I appreciate your comment however strange. <What is strange about the review? To offer my frank input, suggestions for improvement? To suggest ways of making the works commercial successes? If you'd prefer I will contact my editors in the pet-fish magazine business and ask them to not run the review.> Best wishes, Rudie <And to you. Bob Fenner>

Re: fishbooks Hi Bob, Sorry if my comment on your review upset you. I can take criticism and I assumed so would you. You obviously have trouble understanding my English and I admit that it is a bit back to front due to my origin, but I have trouble understanding some of yours. What does twixt mean? <Between my friend. My understanding is that you were originally from Deutschlund on to Australia back in the sixties... Do wish we had had the opportunity to dive together by now> The books were originally titled as Syngnathiformes and Acanthuroidei and were available as CD-Rom or special edition books A4-size, hard-cover. TMC bought the rights for the English version in reduced size and have their own title. <Ahh> The books are published in 4 languages and none of your suggestion are possible. <I see> ....inclusion of Platax pinnatus as one of "highly recommended" pets of the family Ephippidae is damning' ......I can't see how you came to this conclusion. Are you a lawyer? <A lawyer? No. What does this have to do with the above statement? ...........the sentence is what you said, I didn't! Isn't this how lawyers operate in the US? <Mmm, I mean/t is "negatively indicative" perhaps... that the simple mention of the Red Face Spadefish (the batfishes are the Ogcocephalidae) is a matter of mistake... that the people that do the marine livestock management at TMC would never make such a statement> I don't understand how you came to such a conclusion. I said that they (Platax, in the genus section) make great pets and if space is not a problem they are highly recommended. In the caption on the next page I mentioned that Platax pinnatus is not as easily maintained as other batfishes. So where did you get your sentence from? <The first "blanket" statement... unfortunately, if memory serves, there is a gorgeous image of none other than P. pinnatus on the facing page> To me it's like when Randall wrote in one of his papers once about a distribution of a species, of which I wrote in one of my books 'occurs in northern Australian water' and he stated 'he means the Great Barrier Reef'! I wrote what I meant! <I do understand this... Jack/John.R has a way of being particular> You obviously have never kept these fish... they have a very poor survival history in captivity... This "mistake" taints the validity of the rest of the work...> Well, what can I say! You've made the assumption that I'm not an aquarist. Well you are wrong. I've grown most of the species from the eastern Australian coast from juvenile to adults. Batfishes are very easy and usually finished up in the Zoo's aquarium when I lived in Sydney, including two pinnatus. Most species grow like crazy and in 6 months outgrow a medium sized aquarium. <Surprising> In your comment re maps: 'Countries and island groups are not well known to novices' ........this seems to be an American problem . <Agreed... the Americans (I am one though have lived, traveled out of the country more than half my fifty years) are amazingly (to me) underinformed re geography (among other topics)... and arrogant to boot! I would be surprised if more than one percent could either point out Afghanistan on a map or one hundredth of a percent name its contiguous countries> <What is strange about the review? ..............I have seen many reviews and never seen one like yours before. So, to me its strange. The majority you wrote seems to be about what isn't there, and plenty of advice how to do it 'better'! <Ah, I do understand this meaning of "strange"... as in "unfamiliar" not "odd" as is most commonly intimated in the U.S. I have several other reviews posted on our principal site, www.WetWebMedia.com under the Marine Index if you'd like to see others.> Cheers, Rudie <Be chatting my friend. Bob Fenner>

Re: fishbooks Thanks Bob, Glad we got this cleared up. Unfortunately there are quite a number of words which have different meanings and cause confusion. Like the fish names, we call the Ogcocephalidae 'Walking Batfishes' here. Maybe there will be a volume on Anglerfishes that you are calling frogfishes by Scott Michael, which will include the walking batfishes. Cheers, rudie <Or perhaps one of your upcoming volumes. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Re: Upcoming Review and much more BOB---- It's up to you---if they are being a pain in the butt, forget it---Your call. Sue <Will query Jayne.R tomorrow re. Bob F, disgusted with writing for the pet-fish industry> <Jayne, my sent/final copy of the review, Mr. Kuiters input posted here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/acanthuroids1.htm  You want this to run? Bob Fenner>

Re: Upcoming Review and much more Dear Bob, I'm a bit bemused about this email! Has something happened that I'm not aware of? <Perhaps> You're clearly angry/upset but I don't have the faintest idea what it's all about. Could you please enlighten me so I can try to resolve this somehow? <Will try. The link sent (below) has the goings back and forth by Rudie and I re my review of "Acanthuroidei"... in which he more than intimates that I don't know what I'm talking about. I assuredly do IMO. As a courtesy to TMC I will gladly forego the whole fifty dollars such reviews pay at FAMA and send on the book to a more suitable (acceptable) reviewer. Please make it known what you would like to do.  Sincerely, Bob Fenner> Many thanks, Jayne

Re: Upcoming Review and much more Dear Bob, I had not seen any of this "debate" before this afternoon, so now I can see what it's all about! I certainly respect your opinion and have no problem with you running the original review - in fact I would welcome it. <Ah, glad to hear, read Jayne... Please do share the raw copy with Derek and Paul there... I do strongly suggest you take my "general" comments to heart and add more "aquarium related" matter to these works... and carefully excise the few contrary bits before publishing> Authors are always going to find it hard to hear criticism (albeit constructive) about a book they have worked on for a long, long time, so I understand Rudie's attitude to a certain extent. <I as well... "have been there, been bruised by that"> However I do agree with him about the fact that this book, and the others in the series, are intended to be identification guides and not manuals on looking after these fish in an aquarium or their suitability to that environment, and they should therefore be reviewed in that light. <I understand> I look forward to seeing the review in FAMA and hope we can maintain the good relationship we've had over the last couple of years! <Certainly!> Kind regards, Jayne <Be chatting my friend and associate. Bob Fenner>

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