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FAQs about Box-, Cowfishes Behavior

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Ostracion meleagris : colour changing !     2/2/14
Hello everybody,
I am a Belgian citizen and have had a marine tank for 46 years. I would like to point out the following mystery. Two months ago, I bought a beautiful male Ostracion meleagris (+/- 5 inches. Long).
<A really beautiful boxfish... and quite variable in color and markings throughout its wide range>
My 265 gallons reef tank houses mostly Acroporas species, Tridacna maxima, Euphyllia ancora, Turbinaria etc... I've got the following fishes and animals : 1 Zebrasoma flavescens (20 years in the tank), 1 Ctenochaetus ( 11 years), 2 Paracanthurus hepatus (5 year), 1 couple Amphiprions frenatus (18 years), 1 Stenopus hispidus (10 years) 2 Diadema (25 years) and 1 couple of Hymenocera picta. The tank is lit by a Vertex Illumina (leds fixture)
The Ostracion meleagris eats all (for example krill, mysis, Artemia, "angel formula", fresh salmon, Nori, Caulerpas...).
<Ah yes; this species, indeed most all "puffers" is omnivorous/polyvorous>
Here is the mystery: within a month after its arrival, the meleagris has lost all its orange spots and marks. Its back is still black with white spots and its sides dark brown with blue marks. After much research on the Web, I have found out that its depigmentation could come from a lack of Carotenoids.
<Mmm; am more inclined to guess that this fish has somehow reversed its apparent sex... due to? Environment, social context? Some genetic anomaly? I don't know; but the appearance you describe is of the female gender of the species>
However, when I take its diversified feeding into account, I'm not convinced at all. I am quite sure the water is OK because all the corals are growing up (no NO3, no PO4 for example). 30 years ago, I had a male meleagris and it never lost its golden spots and marks.
<I have never heard of either>
The only explanation I found could be an excess of blue light (450 nm) of my Vertex Illumina.
<Perhaps an influence>
What do you think about this and do you have any explanation for this colour changing?
<As above speculations>
Thanks a lot in advance,
<Time will tell here; whether the fish resumes "male" appearance. Cheers, Bob Fenner>
Re: Ostracion meleagris : colour changing !      2/2/14

Thank you for your quick response. I will keep you informed of developments.
Thanks again.
<Ah; thank you. BobF>
Re: Ostracion meleagris : colour changing !      2/3/14

Hello Bob,
For your information, I send you a link where you can see the Ostracion meleagris as it was (more or less) when I bought it and on another picture as it became a month later.
<I see this article...>
Best regards,
Robert Urbanowicz.
<And you; Bob Fenner>

Cubicus Boxfish. Colour, fdg.     2/17/13
Hi Crew, I have looked on your site and cannot find anyone with a solution.
I have a small, about 3cms Cubicus Boxfish
<Wow! Small!>
 which I have had for about 6 weeks and all is well eating everything, New Life Spectrum and Spectrumax both 1mm sinking which I feed in small doses about 3 times per day. He has gone from being a bright yellow to a creamy colour but does get slightly more yellow when eating.
 I purchased Ocean Nutrition Spirulina flakes to try and get his colour back but still his it does not come back. The fish store said that Cubicus always lose their colour like the Regal Tang. I also have a Regal Tang (yellow belly) and he has kept his colour like the day he came out of the sea and doubled in size in the 7 months I have had him which I think is a good sign that the diet is complete in nutrients. Any magic remedies, the boxfish is not being stressed by any fish (I know they are prone to have their tail bitten by curious fish) I think he is very relaxed and happy and can only presume they lose their colour when happy and when he eats he gets excited and the yellow returns but only for a few min.s. Regards, Adam.
<Just time going, by, your good care... Bob Fenner>
Cubicus boxfish. Colour, beh.   4/2/13

Hi Crew, I have a tank of quite sensitive fish, BlueFace Angel changing colour nicely, about 30% in 2 months, Adult Majestic Angel with great colours, I know they should not mix but these two are fine, if not I can put one in the sea as the Andaman Sea is only about 1kms from me.
<Don't return, place anything kept in captivity "back" into the wild. Too much chance of introduction of pests, parasites...>
 Probably the BlueFace as Majestics are not seen this far North. Regal Tang as blue as when he came out of the sea about eight months ago. I feed them mostly on New Life Spectrum and SpectrumMax and also Ocean Nutrition. They are fed about 3 or four times a day alternating the food and all are well except the colour on my Cubicus boxfish. Although he eats all three kinds of food his colour has gone from a bright yellow to a creamy colour.
<Happens... stress, some missing aspect/s of nutrition...>
I know this happens when they are large but he/she is only about 3cms. My wholesaler said they always fade but they also said that about the Regal Tang which does well and keeps it's colour on the above foods so if you readers want to keep Regal Tangs Blue feed the above. Any ideas on the Box please? Regards, Adam.
<Expand the menu... add/soak foods in vitamin and HUFA supplements ahead of offering, bring in some new, substitute fresh live rock monthly. Bob Fenner>

Ostracion Cubicus. Color, beh. f'  12/31/12
Hi, Ostracion Cubicus Yellow Black Dot Boxfish -
>Oh! Recently wrote a piece for a pulp hobby 'zine re this species<
I have often wondered why some of these fish are much brighter yellow rather than creamy coloured. As I have just purchased a small one that was yellow but is not turning creamy I was hoping that you have any ideas on how to increase the yellow colouring. He is eating New Life Spectrum Finicky Fish Formula and not being bothered by any other fish. Regards,
<I do concur that some specimens are definitely differently colored... and that likely nutrition plays a significant role here... I'd mix in some other foods that have a goodly content of Carotenoids et al. coloring pigment precursors... Krill, other shrimps... along w/ Spectrum brand. Bob Fenner> 

Shaking boxfish   6/21/07 Greetings! <Salutations> I love the site that you guys have going on over there, I am finding lots of great articles on the Cowfish / Boxfish. I have a Boxfish that has developed a bit of a twitch. For the most part seems to be normal (swimming, eating, interactions with other fish, tank exploration, etc.), the only thing that is odd is that it shakes. It reminds me of when my dog gets water in her ear and is trying to get it out. We feed frozen blood worms and frozen brine shrimp. <Need more, different than this for food items> Water levels (ph, nitrate, nitrite, salinity) are all normal. <?> The only thing that I have noticed is that through the change of the season there is a window that is letting in some direct evening sunlight that hits the tank. <Good observation, but not likely a factor here> I have been very careful to not feed anything that "floats" like freeze dried blood worms, so I can't see how it would get a buoyancy problem. I am not too sure what else to tell you about the fish, oh, other than we have only had it for about a week. <Ah, a useful input> We watched it at the particular store for almost a month before purchasing. Could the packaging have done this to the fish? <The what?> the owner of the store fills the bags with air from a pressurized canister (looks like a helium tank, but full of air). <Interesting... better by far to use 100% or so oxygen... works as a general anesthetic, helps sustain pH...> I know that the fish are sensitive to eating food with air in it, if the pressure of the bag was too high, could that have been a cause? <Mmm, no... the pressure in the bag is only a few ounces higher than ambient at most> I know I am probably grasping at straws, but any insight would be greatly appreciated. Regards, TC Labby <I have seen what you describe... Do think this is a bit of psychological and/or physiological adaptive behavior... and will pass in time (a few weeks) with acclimation. Some folks have speculated over the years that the "shaking" may be communicative, others that it might be indicative of some sort of pathogen... Bob Fenner>

Bored Boxfish?  2/12/07 Hi, <Hello, Pufferpunk here> I tried to do some research on my question and I couldn't find anything, maybe I'm frasing <phrasing > it incorrectly.  We have had our boxfish for about 3 weeks now he has be doing great.  He is our funniest fish!  Anyway, last night he started scratching his teeth against the glass, at least that's what it sounded like.  After, he would make a sand cloud with his tail.  He repeated this over and over until we finally distracted him with food.  After eating, he continued until bedtime. What is going on?  Should we be worried?  Please email me back, thanks. <It could be he's bored.  Fish in this family are very curious & intelligent.  They need a lot of decor to investigate.  Try adding more things for your fish to check out--live rock, maybe some silk plants, etc.  It will take time for it to adjust to it's new surroundings.  ~PP>

Cowfish Seizures? Hi guys, I have already looked at two other Cowfish specific sites and nothing comes up like what I just witnessed, maybe you can help. <Perhaps> I have 2 long horn cowfish about a 2 year old.  These guys are very social, eat like pigs, always come to the front of the tank like puppies,  which is typical behavior for this type of fish.  But something strange just stared happening.  When I came up to do my normal feeding, one of the cowfish freaked out.  It started expanding its tail, trying to attack its reflection on the side of the tank, didn't take any food and when I got closer it backed away like it did not recognize me or thought I was going to hurt it. Any sudden move like raising the food made it jump.  I left the room to stop stressing it out and 5 minutes later it was back to normal like nothing had happened. <Mmm, likely confused by your apparent reflection...> I have never seen this behavior before in this fish.  It's happened 2 times in the past 10 days and it's defiantly not normal.  It's almost like it's having some kind of seizure or temporary loss of memory.  I don't think it was me just startling the fish, it almost acted like I was not there till I moved closer.  Have you ever heard of anything like this type of behavior? <Yes... look at the room around the tank... likely an open window, the sun shining in... you may not be able to make out the multiple copies of yourself... but the light is bouncing off of you, in and beyond the aquarium... confusing, frightening the fish> My only thought is that maybe it was still in some kind of sleep mode in the middle of the day or that it has some kind of infection of the brain I can not see.  Any idea why the sudden split personality?   CS <Try placing (in close contact), darkened paper or such on the non-viewing panels (all but one or two if practical... the front and one side) of this tank to reduce reflectivity. Am pretty sure this is the difficulty here... Along with too small a world... these species of fishes need hundreds of gallons of space. Bob Fenner>

Hovercraft Boxfish: Strange behaviour    12/9/06 Hello, Cam here again. Thanks for replying all my previous e-mails. My water parameters are excellent since I did a 1/3 water change and my boxfish has been fine after that, but after I added RUTO Mysis shrimps (for the first time) my Hovercraft Boxfish (Tetrosomus gibbosus) showed some very odd behaviour. He also does this after a clean the substrate and sometimes out of the blue. He (about 2.5->3cm long) <Wow! Small!> keeps twitching every now and then and he/she (It?) constantly tries to scratch his (what appears to be) anus as well as his spiky head and sides. He does not scratch against the decor (Live Rock), but instead he scratches and lifts the crushed coral (Substrate) up. There does not appear to be any physical injuries or parasites that I can see. Does he have worms? <Mmm, possibly... though this is "natural" behavior for this species (have seen it on larger individuals in the wild)... I would not be overly concerned here> Any information will be gratefully appreciated. Thank You. <You do realize that this Ostraciid gets quite large... is toxic... Bob Fenner>

-Puffer Peculiarities- Boxfish beh.  - 04/19/06 I have a blue spotted Puffer and recently it has been lodging itself vertically into a small reef of coral. Is this normal? Please help. <Well with no real information on tank size or anything about the tank  such as levels of ammonia nitrite and nitrate, tankmates, etc; it is hard to help you.  however normally puffers can and do go into a hiding place if you will to rest, or sleep.  Another big one is to digest food in peace.  Please write back with the information on your tank and the size of this puffer so I can help you more.> <Justin (Jager)>

Boxfish sex change    3/29/06 Do the species of boxfish which exhibit chromatic differences sexually <Yes> undergo a change from female to male? <No> For instance, I understand that it is very difficult to find male Ostracion whitleyi is that because they all start out as females? <No... males just not near as common in their northeasterly range> This would be similar to many wrasse species, clownfish, the ribbon moray, etc.  Also, in reading through your website and others, I've read that it is not a good idea to have two male boxfish housed together. <Agreed> Would it be okay to house two female boxfish together? <Could, but I wouldn't. Still too likely to be negative interactions> If so, will one of them eventually change into a male? <No. Don't change sex> The two in particular that I am asking about are Ostracion whitleyi and Ostracion meleagris.  Thanks for your help. Regards, Brian Lory <Gorgeous animals... Bob Fenner, out in Hawai'i where both are found, though not many male Whitley's>

Hovercraft Boxfish All Stressed Out! - 12/04/05 We have had our Hovercraft Boxfish called 'Ermintrude' now since last March. Everything has been going really well although we find he gets a little stressed with new fish being added. <<Mmm, a "he" eh...maybe just embarrassed <G>, isn't 'Ermintrude' of female origin?>> We are extremely careful in this situation and return new fish back to our shop if he's not happy. <<Hmm...from what I can find this fish (Tetrosomus gibbosus) is considered compatible with a wide variety of species.>> We've noticed since adding a Boxer Shrimp over two weeks ago that when he goes near he goes really black in colour. <<Curious>> We've kept an eye on this and this appeared to calm down however over the last day or two he appears really fat although not eating much. He is also keeping well away from the Boxer Shrimp over the last day or too as well. <<Coincidence, maybe.>> Tonight we found him sucked up against the filter, he appeared lethargic and not himself. <<Tis a real danger with these fish...not strong swimmers. Best to have protected intakes on filters/drain lines.>> His shape has changed enormously and we fear infection but can't find anything on this. Any suggestions ? Kay Bosanko-Sheady <<Hard to say really. Ideally you should remove this fish to a dimly lit hospital tank to reduce stress and watch for/treat any physical injury from the filter incident, if necessary. Do some research on this fish and make sure you are providing a suitable environment...the filter incident aside, it does sound as if your fish is suffering from stress related issues. Regards, EricR>>

Cowfish Buoyancy Issue  12/10/05 I think my cowfish has ingested some air. He is floating tail up. what should I do? <True buoyancy problems are often idiopathic, it's hard to determine the route cause. The problem itself however is often associated with the swim bladder (small sack responsible for fishes level in the water column) This could be dietary, the fish may have an impaction in it's digestive tract so I would use small pieces of easily digestive food (flakes, Mysis shrimp) and see if this helps. Until then I would move him to a hospital tank so that he can avoid becoming a puppet of your current and avoid being picked on by tank mates. Keep water quality and oxygen levels high.> Thanks in advance. Marc <Adam J.>

- Cowfish Changing Colors - I just purchased a long horn cow he's in a tank all by himself and plan to keep him that way now here's the problem if it is one he's not as yellow as when I bought him he's kind of brownish on him and I can't see his white spots and has a ring on his mouth, as  soon as I acclimated him he was eating and has been eat all this time he doesn't seem stressed or sick is this coloring normal if not should I do something? <Newly introduced specimens will often change colors for a while from the stress of transit. Sounds like it's in good shape if it ate the same day that you put it in. You should be all set! Good luck -Kevin>

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