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Related FAQs: Basses

Related Articles: Little Basses for Small Marine Aquariums by Bob Fenner, Cephalopholis/Hinds, Diploprion, Soapfishes (tribes Grammistini, Diploprioni), EpinephelusHypoplectrus/HamletsLiopropoma, Mycteroperca, Paranthias/Creolefishes, PlectropomusSerranus, VariolaFancy Sea Basses/Tukas (Anthiines), Related Families: Dottybacks/Pseudochromidae, Roundheads/Plesiopidae

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

The Basses, Family Serranidae

By Bob Fenner

 An Anyperodon Bass 

What's in a name? What, another Billy Shakespeare rip off? No, I mean it; names are important. Wasn't one of the first tasks of creation-man to go out and apply a label to all living things? Shouldn't we all similarly call a Spadefish a Spadefish?

Well, how 'bout a Bass, and I don't mean the English brew. Why in just sunny southern Cal.(ifornia) we have such notables as the LMB (the "Florida" Large Mouth Bass, Micropterus salmoides) which most everyone agrees is a BASS (!). In earnest, the LMB is a mere member of the sunfish Family Centrarchidae; but who wants to announce they've caught a ten pound Panfish?

Or consider the oh-so-delicious white sea "bass", Cynoscion nobilis: for somebody's sake, it's a croaker!, Family Sciaenidae. How palatable does that sound? Even the east coast import, the striped "bass" (Morone saxatilis) and the giant, or black sea "bass" (Stereolepis gigas) aren't true basses; they're percichthyids (Family Percichthyidae, temperate perches) whose gill covers (opercles) only have two spines unlike the real basses three. Geez. Other areas also suffer a surfeit of phony "basses".

Anyway, the "real" basses don't need these other groups honing in on their turf. As a group they've got the width and breadth, literally and figuratively to stand or swim on their own. Some are quite small (e.g. Anthias, one only gets 3 cm.), others (large groupers) attain more than a thousand pounds. Many are drab to disruptive/cryptic in their markings to camouflage-aid them in ambushing prey; disparate one's are gaudy to beautiful (Tukas, Hamlets (Hypoplectrus) and more). 

Most of the smaller species make good aquarium fare; as long as their tankmates are more than mouth-size.

Classification: Taxonomy, Relation With Other Groups

In this Section we are talking about the true bass & grouper Family, Serranidae (not all those other "phony basses"). Some salient characteristics of the group: 

1) Opercles (their gill covers) with three spines; one main spine with a lesser spine above and below. 

2) Lateral line complete and continuous. 

3) Pelvic fin with one stout spine and five soft rays. 

4) Three anal fin spines. 

5) Seven branchiostegal rays (the cartilaginous gill supports).

6) Usually 24 or 25 vertebrae. 

7) Hermaphrodites, usually non-synchronous; in other words, same fish, both sexes, not at the same time.

There are three to fifteen subfamilies recognized depending on whose taxonomic scheme you're into, @ 64 genera, and 449 species. Some notable members? True basses and groupers, hamlets, fancy basses, Coneys, Tukas/Fancy Basses. Related forms/species/families include Marine "Bettas", Soapfishes (you don't want these last; they exude toxic slime.)

Aquarium Groups/Species: Click! On the Blue, Highlighted Descriptor to see the Groups coverage:

Aethaloperca rogaa Forsskal 1775, the Redmouth Grouper. Indo-west Pacific, including the Red Sea. To two feet overall length. Imported from time to time as an "oddball" grouper. This one sitting in the Red Sea. Monotypic: one species in this genus.

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available)
Alphestes immaculatus Breder 1936, the Pacific Mutton Hamlet. Eastern Pacific; Sea of Cortez to Peru, including Galapagos. To one foot overall length. This one in the Galapagos. A beauty. There are five species in this genus.

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

Anyperodon leucogrammicus (Valenciennes 1828), the Slender Grouper. Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea, out to the Marshall Islands. To twenty one inches in length. This fish always draws stares for its streamlined predatory good looks. An aquarium juvenile, one a bit larger in S. Sulawesi and one in the Seychelles. Monotypic. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Country/CountrySpeciesSummary.cfm?Country=Indonesia&Genus=Anyperodon&Species=leucogrammicus
Ok, I'm stumped. Can you help me out here? Do suppose this is one of some five hundred true basses (family Serranidae), but after looking through my references here, FishBase... can't i.d. Help me out here at your risk... have many to-be identified images of Parrotfishes, Blennioids, Gobioids...  not to mention thousands of invert. images I'd love help with...Re: unidentified grouper Found it!  It is Anyperodon leucogrammicus.  Rarely seen in the hobby.  Gets about 24" and its blue juvenile color changes as it grows. <Bingo! We have a winnah!!!> here is its intermediate stage: http://www.uga.edu/cuda/images/INnightwhitelined72.jpg and then here is its final adult stage:  http://www.fishbase.org/Summary/SpeciesSummary.cfm?ID=4922&genusname=Anyperodon&speciesname=leucogrammicus <I'll be... I have a pic, we have this species listed on WWM: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/basses.htm> The reason I was searching for it was because I just got one for free from a friend that is friends with an importer.  Lucky me.  Anyway it is doing fine, its a grouper so it is a hardy fish.  I currently have in in a 60gallon, but when he gets a little bigger, he will look nice in my 310 gallon.  -Ron <Sounds good. Thank you for the input. Bob Fenner>


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


A Cephalopholis spiloparaea in the Maldives

Cromileptes altivelis (Valenciennes 1828), the Panther Grouper to the hobby is the Humpback Grouper to science. Western Pacific distribution. To twenty eight inches in the wild. This eight inch individual in an aquarium. A hardy animal with a large appetite and mouth to match. Monotypic genus. Second image and two footers in Australia.
Panther Grouper in 55 G?--Not (8/3/04)
Hi, this is Blake. <Hi there, Steve Allen today.> I was wondering if I could put a Drawf lionfish and a Panther grouper together in my 55 gallon aquarium. Its dimensions are 48x15x20. <Absolutely not. The Panther Grouper will grow to over 18 inches in length and needs at least 240 gallons. Not only that, but as a voracious eater, it will eventually out-compete the lion for food. The dwarf lion ought to be fine in your tank. Look for more suitable tankmates--ones that are too big too eat, but small enough to keep in this small tank.> http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw/Summary/SpeciesSummary.php?id=6457
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The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.
Dermatolepis dermatolepis (Boulenger 1895), the Leather Grouper. This fish has "made the rounds" taxonomically, being placed in other genera (more recently Epinephelus). Tropical eastern Pacific. Cute when small, this species grows quickly to a large size, to three feet long in the wild. A tiny individual in a sea urchin, six and twelve inch individuals in the Galapagos and a two footer in Baja.
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The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Diplectrum formosum (Linnaeus 1766), the Sand Perch or Seabass. One of the two or so species of the genus (twelve total) imported for aquarium use. Tropical to cooler west Atlantic. To about a foot in length. A digger (under stones) of substrates. This one in the Florida Aquarium, Miami.


Diploprion, a genus of Soapfishes, some folks place in a separate family ( Grammistidae) or a sub-family (of the Basses, Serranidae) ranking of Tribe (Grammistini). ICLARM (FishBase) lists the genera within the serranids... I've place this genus within a grouping, nominally as Grammistidae. Please click on the blue name here: Soapfishes, to go there. Shown: light aquarium and dark phase Australian specimens of Diploprion bifasciatum.
Epinephelus genus Basses/Groupers


Gracila albomarginata (Fowler & Beane 1930), the Masked Grouper. Indo-Pacific, but not the Red Sea. To sixteen inches overall length. Monotypic genus (one species). One photographed in the Maldives and another from S. Sulawesi opening wide for a cleaner job. http://fishbase.sinica.edu.tw
/Country/Country SpeciesSummary.cfm?Country=Indonesia&Genus=

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

Grammistes, a genus of Soapfishes, some folks place in a separate family ( Grammistidae) or a sub-family (of the Basses, Serranidae) ranking of Tribe (Grammistini). ICLARM (FishBase) lists the genera within the serranids... I've place this genus within a grouping, nominally as Grammistidae. Please click on the blue name here: Soapfishes, to go there.

Hamlets, the genus Hypoplectrus

Liopropoma genus Basses

Mycteroperca genus Basses

Creolefishes, genus Paranthias Basses

Plectropomus genus Basses

Rypticus, a genus of Soapfishes, some folks place in a separate family ( Grammistidae) or a sub-family (of the Basses, Serranidae) ranking of Tribe (Grammistini). ICLARM (FishBase) lists the genera within the serranids... I've place this genus within a grouping, nominally as Grammistidae. Please click on the blue name here: Soapfishes, to go there.

Serranus, the diminutive Seabasses

Stereolepis gigas Ayres 1859, the Giant Sea Bass. East and Western Pacific. To 250 cm., 500 plus pounds. Here a juvenile of about a foot length at SIO/Birch Aq. 2012

Variola, the Lyretail Groupers

Fancy Sea Basses/Tukas (Anthiines)

 Natural and Introduced Range

Marine (a few freshwater); worldwide tropical to temperate seas. Shallows to more than a thousand feet.


Some groupers to about 3 meters and 400 kilograms. Many Tukas, subfamily Anthiinae, to a few inches and ounces.

Selection: General to Specific

Look for newer arrivals with good color and outgoing or at least "curious" personalities.

Know this; that most members are best purchased as sub-adults and moved as few times as possible. Adaptability reduces with growing size and captive moves.

In the mood for travel? All specimens are wild caught. Many in traps, some barbless hook and line. Types that can be driven into hiding can be "goosed" with a wire/rod poker with finesse into a hand-net. You have to be fast.

Environmental: Conditions


Though identified as premiere bully-boys, the group spends most of it's time hiding, skulking and, not to be too anthropomorphic, sulking. Provide plenty of caves and other dark spots for cover. To elaborate on the note above in Acclimation; alter the particular favorite "hiding" space minimally. That is leave that shell, cave as is.


As far as captive marines go most basses are very tolerant of minimally "poor water quality". Any stable tropical temperature, mid specific gravity (1.022-1.023) is fine. I would suggest artificially supplementing the buffering capacity of the system with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or commercial preparation for the same. Rationale? The introduction and processing of so much proteinaceous foods tends to drive down alkalinity. A pinch of bicarb. every week or so will go a long way to maintaining a pH slightly above 8.0, with no deleterious effect.


Adequate and rigorous to handle large tanks and occasional large wastes.


At least two distinct rock/coral cave hide areas; low lighting.

Behavior: Territoriality

As a generalization, the family is "one to a tank", intolerant of same species or other similar of near size. Most species gather together in pairs or aggregations only for spawning, or group predation. The notable exception are the Tukas, subfamily Anthiinae, which live in great aggregations. We'll give them a separate Section.


Agonistic displays against new-tank members, and wanna-be challengers to their alpha position is not uncommon. Such charging and wide-mouthing generally passes without serious incident. Leaving the lights on in the system for a day and night or two usually cools things down.

Predator/Prey Relations

Though most basses as species and individuals are not overtly "mean", they are still predaceous, and will swallow any tankmate smaller than their mouth-opening.

Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation:

Simultaneous or synchronous hermaphrodites, little boys and/or girls at the same time or one then the other. For simultaneous species, taking turns during courtship to be female/male.

Pelagic young hatch out in a matter of a day or two.


Capable of great bursts of speed as catch-mechanism for prey and avoidance of predation.

Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes

Along with water quality, diet is primarily important in determining serranid health and color.

I find that authors, like Campbell in the late seventies, plug the use of live freshwater organisms as suitable food formats. I still don't. Live goldfish may be nutritionally acceptable to some, but the behavioral consequences of your livestock dashing about, equating fish-like stimuli with hunting/eating satisfaction sounds like a bad idea. Besides, feeders are expensive and inconvenient. Alternatively, I encourage the use of whole or formulated, preserved-frozen foods. Even the finickiest eater can be trained to accept these with gusto.

On that same note, if your bass doesn't eat for a while, for no or any apparent reason, don't sweat it. They have been known to go "off-feed" for days, weeks, even months.

Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social

Except for many of the Fancy Basses/Tukas (subfamily Anthiinae), basses are relatively disease resistant and hardy.


Hey! Where are the Fairy Basslets, aka the Dottybacks? Sorry, you've fallen prey to the pseudo-bass trap; in this case the Pseudochromidae is a separate family. As is the various grammas, royal or not, in the Basslet family Grammidae; not to mention the Pseudochromidae, Plesiopsidae...

The true basses are long-lived, color-fast if changeable, interesting in their activities, extremely interesting in their behavior; yawning, playing in bubbles. And keeping almost all of them is not difficult.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Allen, Gerald R. & D.R. Robertson. 1995. Pseudogramma axelrodi, a new species of serranid fish from the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. TFH 9/95.

Axelrod, H.R. & Warren E. Burgess. 1981. Groupers and their relatives. TFH 8/81.

Campbell, Douglas G. 1979. Marines: their care and keeping, Groupers and their allies. Parts 1-3. 9-11/79 FAMA.

Chlupaty, Peter. 1977. Marine aquariums; the harlequin bass. Aquarium Digest International #18.

Chlupaty, Peter. 1985. The two-banded grouper. TFH 1/85.

Edmonds, Les. 1988. Groupers. TFH 10/88.

Fenner, Bob. 1995. A diversity of aquatic life. The Family Serranidae. FAMA 9/95.

Fenner, Robert. 1996. Basses, groupers or hinds? The genus Cephalopholis. TFH 12/96.

Fenner, Robert. 1998. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.

Goldstein, Robert. 1992. Spectacular serranids, the colorful and fascinating groupers. AFM 11/92

Hunziker, Ray. 1988. Orange lightning- experiences with Cephalopholis miniatus. TFH 3/88.

Hunziker, Ray. 1995. Lovely Liopropoma.; rare Basslets for the reef aquarium. TFH 7/95.

Jonklaas, Rodney. 1975. Search for the super duper grouper. TFH 8/75.

Kerstitch, Alex, D.A. Thomson & L.T. Findley. 1979. Reef Fishes of the Sea of Cortez. Wiley Interscience.

Kerstitch, Alex. 1986. The golden grouper Mycteroperca rosacea. FAMA 2/86. Lobel, Phil S. 1984. Spawning behavior of the harlequin bass. FAMA 7/84.

Michael, Scott W. 1995. Fishes for the marine aquarium; basses and grammas- you can't go wrong with these. AFM 8/95.

Michael, Scott W. 1999. Lather up- it's the Soapfishes. AFM 6/99.

Miller, Gary. 1987. Serranids of the Caribbean, parts 1,2. FAMA 1,2/87.

Murphy, Geri. 1992. The great white grouper (The potato cod). Skin Diver, 8/92.

Nelson, Joseph S. Fishes of the World. Wiley. 2nd Ed. 1984.

Pyle, Richard L. & Lisa A. Privitera. 1989. The harlequin hind Cephalopholis polleni (Bleeker). FAMA 12/89.

Thomson, Donald A., Lloyd T. Findley & Alex N. Kerstitch.1979. Reef Fishes of the Sea of Cortez. John Wiley & Sons, New York. 302pp.

Thresher, Ronald. 1976. Serranus. Marine Aquarist 7(3):76.

Thresher, R. 1976. Hamlets. Marine Aquarist 7(6), 1976.

Thresher, R.E. 1984. Reproduction in reef fishes; part 2, sea basses (Serranidae: Serraninae) TFH 11/84.


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