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/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Filefishes, Family Monacanthidae

To: part II, part III

By Bob Fenner

Paraluteres prionurus  

In many ways just as appealing in color, pattern and behavior as their toothier cousins the Triggerfishes, filefishes are more suitable tankmates on the basis of better-temperedness. Where any given trigger would rather "bite than flight", Files would rather "high-fin" it off to hiding.

Given adherence to a few selection and maintenance criteria, the novice can experience success in keeping many members of this group of fishes.

Classification: Taxonomy, Relation With Other Groups

Nelson used to place the filefish in a subfamily, the Monacanthinae (= "one spine") sharing the family Balistidae with the Triggerfishes, subfamily Balistinae. Note the convention in zoological nomenclature (scientific naming) of designating families with an -idae ending and subfamilies with -inae. Simple stuff, yes? But, no there are some kill-joy old and current timers (I'm one of them) who "elevate" the filefishes to their own family level, the Monacanthidae. No sweat.

These bad boyz find themselves in turn cataloged in the "most advanced" Order of living fishes, the Tetraodontiformes, along with such characters as the various puffer families.

Who Cares About This Scientific Naming Anyway?:

"News Flash": We break here for an important side note here concerning any and all references to these fancy scientific names, and higher classifications. I want to tell, maybe the word is show you the value in bringing up family, order, species et al. naming at all.

First, there is the matter of "common symbolism", that is, language itself. When you read or hear Yellow-tailed blue tang what comes to mind? Do you think this is the same for everybody who might read this book? It is indeed not.

As the "Aquatics Buyer" for the mass-merchandiser PetCo this point was made to me in trying to assign one "name" for every SKU (stock keeping unit number) that in turn referenced a given type of product (or livestock) for "inventory control". Our stores on the eastern seaboard would call me desperately seeking the "hippo tang" or "palette-surgeon" SKU. What we're these fishes? Yes, the same species Paracanthurus hepatus, by other common names. Unfortunately, the computer types in "MIS" (management information services) wouldn't help; "There's only so many SKU's available, and only so many characters/letters per SKU...". Ho-boy; I think this matter was resolved (not solved) by "fudging" the common name with an analog device (marking pen) on the livestock's label.

My second point in bringing up the value of scientific naming has to do with "higher" classifications like family-this, suborder-that. I figure that I'm like you and most everyone else; I have an interest in pet-fish and willingly dedicate some portion of my consciousness to their appreciation; but we also have many other items clogging up our "read-only-memories" (biological ROM's). The higher classification schemes of taxonomy help us to store information on a vast number of organisms in a more concise manner. For this family, the filefishes, you know that they're closely related to the triggers; and that both families are not too distant from the families of puffers. What does this all mean? Well, sure they have structural, possibly evolutionary kinship with one another; but more useful to us as aquarists, their close taxonomic affiliation has practical implications.

Files, triggers and puffers all get around by the same sort of undulation of their dorsal and anal fins; they eat about the same meaty foods in approximately equal proportions and intervals. Guess what? All of them suffer from similar maladies and infections, and are treatable in likewise fashion. Their environmental demands, reproduction, intelligence/behavior, the fact that they all will bite you... are also comparable. Memorizing and using this information for each individual animal would be hard compared with knowing it "by higher category". This is the practical value of "higher classification". Use it if you see worth in it personally, otherwise don't let it bother you.

Back to Classification of the Filefishes:

Filefishes themselves are identified by having usually two dorsal spines- the second may be small or absent. Their soft dorsal, anal and pectoral fin ray spines are unbranched. They have small scales not arranged in regular series. Their bodies are prickly to furry to the touch (hence the name natch). Upper jaw usually with six teeth in outer and four in the inner series.

About 31 genera including Aluterus (=Alutera), Amanses, Cantherhines, Chaetoderma, Monacanthus, Oxymonacanthus, Paraluteres, Pervagor, with about 103 species.

Species of Use/Disuse By Aquarists:

Genus Acreichthys: Four species. Hold out promise as great pest Anemone eaters... but will they stop there and not eat other stinging-celled livestock? Hmm.

Acreichthys radiatus (Popta 1900), the Radiated Leatherjacket. Found amongst soft corals in the Western Pacific. To 7 cm. in length.
Acreichthys tomentosus (Linnaeus 1758), the Bristle-Tail Filefish, is the "Man of the Hour" if you have the ultimate Aiptasia/Glass Anemone woes... it is reputedly the predator par excellence of these noisome pests. Indo-West Pacific in distribution. To four inches maximum length. In the Waikiki Aquarium, Oahu, Hawai'i and two pix from N. Sulawesi.
Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.


Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available


Genus Aluterus: Six species. I see this genus almost every dive, let alone dive trip... worldwide!

Aluterus schoepfii (Walbaum 1792), the Orange Filefish. East and West coasts of tropical Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. To two feet maximum length. Aquarium image.

Aluterus scriptus (Osbeck 1785), the Scrawled Filefish. Circumtropical. Sold in the trade occasionally, but gets way too big. Shown a tiny one foot specimen and a two foot youngster (Bunaken/Indonesia and Red Sea respectively) (to forty inches overall length).

Verticals (Full/Cover Page Sizes Available
Bigger PIX:
The images in this table are linked to large (desktop size) copies. Click on "framed" images to go to the larger size.

Genus Anamses: Monotypic, one species. Relatively hardy for the family in captivity.

Anamses scopas (Cuvier 1829), the Broom Filefish. Indo-Pacific including the Red Sea, where this picture was made. To eight inches overall length. A bit shy, even for the family.

To: part II, part III

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