Ask the WWM Crew
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"I hate Butterflyfishes…" this was Walt (Smith) on one our conversations in Fiji. "They take such a beating in being collected, shipped... I wish folks would just order more hearty species". I wholeheartedly agreed with Walt, so I asked him, "How about some examples of better choices?" His vote for best Damselfish for reef aquarium use... none other than Talbot's Damsel, Chrysiptera talboti.
What makes Talbot's stand out amongst the more than 325 described species of Pomacentrids (the family of Damselfishes) are several outstanding characteristics. It's small size (a giant one attains two inches overall length), easygoing disposition (not mean in the least), it's ease of being trained to take any, all prepared, frozen/defrosted foods of small size, the fish's lack of predation on sessile invertebrates, its inherent toughness/resistance to disease, damage through the supply side, oh, and Talbot's beauty , behavior and grace of movement.
You know the Damselfishes likely as "bread and butter" fishes, readily available and inexpensive livestock at fish stores. In the wild, this group is omnipresent on the world's tropical and sub-tropical reefs, providing feisty opportunities for underwater photographers, and a large part of food-webbing between zooplankton and benthic algae and larger fishes and invertebrates.
For aquarists, many of the Damsels function as beginner marine aquarium specimens, often mis-used due to their overall toughness, for "breaking-in" or establishing nutrient cycling in new marine systems. Damsel use is well-warranted considering their diversity, beauty and tolerance of chemical and physical conditions, general gregariousness when crowded and general compatibility with fishes and invertebrates. However, some damsels re special settings, getting too big, or being just overtly over-aggressive. Once again, Talbot's Damsel has all the good traits to be found in the family, and none of the bad.
On any given day a handful or two of species are readily available from livestock fish stores. This mix generally includes Three-Spots or Dominoes (Dascyllus trimaculatus, Three and Four Stripes or Humbugs (Dascyllus aruanus et al.) Yellow-Tail Blue and Blue Damsels (Chromis cyaneus et al.) various Chromis, "Beau" Damsels (Stegastes spp.), Sergeant Majors (Abudefduf species), so-called "Deep Water" Damsels (Glyphidodontops species et al) among others. You may well have to "special-order" or at least request of your fish store to "bring in" Talbot's... It may be, given the enormous number of species seasonally available that they're unaware of this species.
The following general guidelines apply to all prospective Damsel purchases:
1) Buy from reputable dealers; ones who earn your trust, that feed, care for their stock and your business.
2) Buy from systems with no dead or dying specimens. Look for signs of gill burn/ammonia poisoning from recent shipping; cut-marks on damsels from mis-handling and aggression, and avoid that tank. Beware of tanks of damsels with individuals hanging, drifting around having "private meetings".
3) Don't buy the smallest (less than 1/2") or the largest individuals available. Small ones die easily and large ones don't adapt well behaviorally to captive conditions.
4) Buy them all about the same size; this reduces inter- and intra-species aggression. Talbot's will live happily as solitary specimens, but if your system is large enough (forty plus gallons), do consider a small grouping.
5) Buy stock that have acclimated-stabilized. Damsels that have been adequately acclimated and held for just a few days to a week or more; just-new ones may die easily no matter how good they appear.
Most Damselfishes are easy to keep in aquaria; they are not generally fussy in terms of water chemistry and physics. For Talbot's temperatures in the low to upper 70's degree F. (72-78) are ideal. They tolerate a wide range of salinities, but are best kept at near seawater specific gravity (1.025) conditions.
Any amount of light, dim to bright, is okay with this species. Natural or synthetic water makes no difference in terms of vitality or reproduction in captivity. A pH of 8.2 to 8.4 is favored; no ammonia, nitrite and as low a concentration of nitrates as practical is the rule as with most marines.
Any standard protocol of acclimation will prove fruitful with Talbot's. A typical two week quarantine period is a good idea to give your specimens time to "harden", catch their breath coming from the wild, and preclude the introduction of parasitic disease. At the very least, a ten-twenty minute pH-adjusted freshwater bath should be administered before placing your new fish in their final home.
Territoriality can be alleviated by under-crowding. Allow at least fifteen gallons per Talbot's Damsel, and provide plenty of cover. If you're placing more than one, buy and introduce them to a new damsel-free tank all at once. Other toward the peaceful end of the spectrum Damselfish and other fish species can be added a few weeks later.
Talbot's like hiding spaces. Provide coral, rock nooks and crannies for social-psychological shelter. And remember that small damsels are a dietary mainstay for most fishes whose mouths are large enough to accommodate them.
Some damsels are specialized planktivores to herbivores in the wild. In the wild Chrysiptera talboti "feeds on zooplankton a short distance from the bottom (fishbase.org)". Talbot damsels accept all foods greedily. Frequent small feedings 2-3 times per day of a mix of foods sustains them well. Nutritional diseases are all but unknown in their family.
Damselfishes as a group are better to start feeding as soon as possible. Frequent, small feedings of a variety of foods (dry, frozen, fresh, & live; both vegetable and animal) will help settle in the stock and reduce possible aggressive turmoil.
Infectious and Parasitic Disease:
Damselfishes are parasitized internally and externally by several species of sporozoans, Cryptocaryon, Amyloodinium, roundworms, flukes tapeworms and crustaceans, however, Damsels for the most part are disease resistant and if preventative measures have been executed and their environment is optimized you can expect low parasite loads. Most treatable conditions (external) can be excluded by the freshwater dip treatment and low specific gravity mentioned before.
Most damsels reproduce like many substrate spawners; their behavior is similar to typical central-American neo-tropical cichlids. Other similarities with their contrasting freshwater cousins include an incomplete lateral line, a toothless palate, single, continuous dorsal fins and territorial behavior.
Of the more than three hundred described species of Pomacentrids, Talbot's Damsel ranks supreme for peaceful marine aquarium, reef system use. It's good looking, disease-resistant, interesting behaviorally... and not rare or hard to catch in its geographic range. If you have room, desire for a great damselfish, a coral-rich setting, do look into Talbot's.
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