Ask the WWM Crew
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If someone asked you to name a group of marine fishes that were good-looking as juveniles to adults, got along behaviorally with almost all tankmates, that were accepting of all sorts of prepared and fresh foods... and disease resistant to boot; what would you say?
Let's see; it's not the angelfishes or Butterflies; many are good looking at all ages, but some are tough customers as adults, other's, pushovers. There are species that have never eaten in captivity! Not the Triggers either; they'd rather fight than get-along. Who then?
My answer to the above criteria are the hogfishes, wrasses (family Labridae) mainly in the genus Bodianus.
Classification: Taxonomy, Relation With Other Groups
This genus Bodianus members comprise the majority of the so-called Hogfishes, a deserved appellation for their appearance and gluttonous appetites. The couple of dozen species here span the application spectrum. Some are small (a few inches long maximum) and peaceful enough to grade into reef systems, others are of moderate size and temperate, suitable for mixed fish-only and rough fish and invertebrate set-ups. Then there are the big boys; bruiser size and behavior species that grow to two-feet plus and will gladly devour any slow or timid tankmates. When small, many are known facultative "cleaners". All are good to excellent aquarium additions given the space and knowledge of your choices ultimate size and disposition. These fish need lots of room. Here are the species available to the hobby.
All seasoned (salty?) marine aquarists should be able to name the two most common hogfish species; the Spanish and Cuban hogs (Bodianus rufus, Bodianus pulchellus) from the Caribbean. There are several more. I'll mention some others that are occasionally available in the trade, and one other that has never been, even though it hails from Hawaii.
Bodianus pulchellus and Bodianus rufus, the Cuban and Spanish Hogfishes respectively we?ll mention together. Both are (1)s, good looking and medium aggressive. The Cuban Hogfish is sold for more money for its more brilliant coloring and smaller ultimate size (to 9"). The Spanish Hog gets to about twice that and there are some interesting m?ange-colored individuals of this species to look for. Both these tropical West Atlantic Hogfishes function as cleaners as young and showcase specimens in captivity.
There are several other species in the genus Bodianus, and some of these would make spectacular possibilities for all types of marine aquariums. However few are imported in any real numbers.
Also there are a few other species of other wrasse genera at times, places termed Hogfishes. We'll mention one of these under its genus, Lachnolaimus.
As I stated, this isn't the end of Bodianus possibilities; take a look at Burgess and Axelrod's Atlas of Aquarium Fishes Reference Book; they illustrate twenty two species in the genus. ICLARM lists twenty nine valid species in the genus.
For those folks interested in the classification of fishes, this group is "spliced and diced" like most of the wrasses. If you're so inclined the Hogfishes belong to the tribe Bodianini, and it is sub-divided into sub-genera (ho-boy). The wrasses, Labridae are the second largest marine fish family, with at least sixty genera, six hundred species and a confusing disagreement as to sub-families, tribal arrangement. See Nelson for more on the group's higher taxonomy.
Hogfishes are tropical to sub-tropical in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans in shallow to deep rocky/coral reefs.
The Hawaiian "Neon" Wrasse/Hog is the junior-size member, only getting to about half a foot in length. Some of the obscure species get to over a meter, but even the Spanish Hogfish can become a "jumbo".
I remember a size-incident while working for an importer in the sixties in the Southern California, back when John Noyes & Co. was collecting in the Caribbean. All hogfishes are wild-caught, seasonal, and in high demand as aquarium fare. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is her typical fickle self, and the supply is often spotty and inconsistent in size. My employer had bitterly complained to Mr. Noyes that the last few shipments had contained few "Hogs", and though those received were alive and sold quickly, they were tiny (1-2 inches). Couldn't he do better?
Well, John tried to explain (as everyone in the trade has done) that "these things don't just come out of a mold", but the boss was not consoled. The very next Florida shipment however we were in for a surprise; we received a "one-to-the-box" eighteen inch Spanish hog! For your information, some species of marine fishes are sold for the same price to wholesalers regardless of size; the other costs, principally freight are what determine the retail price of these specimens. As you might appreciate, that foot and a half hog was expensive.
According to observations in the wild, the species gets to two feet on the reef; aquarium specimens are rarely half that. The other common Hog, the Cuban attains a foot in total length in the ocean, several inches in aquaria.
Selection: General to Specific
These fishes are generally excellent, homogeneous in good on-arrival quality. Still, you should look a prospective purchase over carefully. With Hogs, the most important deciding criteria is behavior; they should be out and about, looking over, sampling their environment, and aware of your presence.
Next time you have the opportunity, take a look through the side panel(s) of a row of marine tank(s). Where are the fishes concentrated? That's right, near the front panel. Marine livestock knows "which side of it's bread is buttered"; that is, where the food comes from; You. Intelligent, social species like Hogfishes should be "well-adjusted" psychologically before buying. They'll be watching you watch them.
One sure way to ascertain "fitness" is to offer some sort of meaty food, fresh or defrosted. A healthy specimen will react/eat immediately and heartily.
Occasionally individuals of species that are capture- and transport- thrashed are offered at the retail level. Any reddening on the body, especially at the origins of the unpaired fins should disqualify your purchase.
Collecting Your Own
These species are not the easiest animals to net underwater, but it can be done. Most specimens are taken "on the fly" with one or two hand-nets and a "gooser" (bendable probe). A hiding individual is caused to exit into a waiting, well-placed hand-net. Be Careful! these fishes bite, hard, and will draw blood.
I've been told there are commercial outfits that collect some Hogfish species with barbless hook and line such as is done for Harlequin Tuskfish, Choerodon (Lienardella) fasciata, another Wrasse, by baiting with a crab, clam meat and "jigging" while snorkeling at the surface.
Hogfishes as an artificial assemblage are tolerant of "standard" fish-tank-only conditions.
A broken rocky reef area where your specimen can hide out and skulk, with some larger substrate to root around in is called for.
Due to high consumption of meaty foods, be on the lookout for signs of rapidly diminishing water quality. Monitor pH at least once a week, trying to maintain it in the upper sevens, low eights.
Not touchy to slow temperature changes, higher nitrate concentrations.
Unlike many of their wrasse brethren Hogfishes don't burrow in the sand to hide or sleep; most don't build slime cocoons either (see Thomson et al. for the exception Bodianus diplotaenia).
Something vigorous, at least a two-plus turn-over per hour outside power filter in addition to adequate biological filtration from undergravel or wet-dry.
Hogfishes should be kept with other larger fishes; they are definitely not for reef set-ups, greedily eating all crabs, shrimp and shellfish. Stratton states that the Spanish hogfish is aggressive toward tankmates at larger sizes, but I have never observed any real agonistic behavior with any hog species; except for tussling over food items.
One Hogfish to a tank; they are solitary, territorial in the wild and captivity.
These fishes are almost always free of infectious and parasitic disease when imported; but just to make sure they haven't picked up some bug along the way, I would quarantine new introductions for a good two-three weeks.
For "intermediaries" (wholesale, retail...) and folks that "haven't seen the light" yet, in terms of the value of having a separate quarantine set-up, hogfishes respond well to prophylactic freshwater dips/baths.
Several species are key human food items; I've eaten them and they are tasty. Perhaps because they're facultative cleaners as juveniles, predators confer impunity upon them when small. When they out-grow the cleaning phase, hogfishes are able to hold their own being fast and able-biters.
Generally they leave all but the smallest of fish-tankmates alone once trained on other foods. Be sure to introduce post-hogfish specimens in a you-can-see-but-can't-get-to-me manner (e.g. with a transparent partition) so the hog (and other tankmates) don't take the newcomer for a snack.
Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation/Growing Your Own:
The Spanish hog has been artificially spawned in captivity (see Young). They are known to be "typical" wrasse egg-scatterers assembling in pairs in the wild around dusk, cued by lunar cyclicity.
Larval young spend approximately a month in the upper water column feeding principally on copepods. With metamorphosis, they rapidly color-up and settle on reef promontories (if lucky).
Hogfish Wrasses are synchronous hermaphrodites, juveniles developing into females then converting to males. The color, shape and size of males is varying degrees different than females of the same species.
Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes
Greedy feeders of all foodstuffs, flake (when small), fresh, frozen, prepared or natural. Some sort of meaty food should be offered daily as these are bulky, active fishes.
These fishes may be easily trained to accept favored foods "by hand"; but take care, they bite! Don't risk your hand on a feeding frenzy bite by those canine-like teeth; utilize a feeding rod or chopsticks.
Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social
As reef fishes go Hogfishes are remarkably disease resistant and are typically the last to show signs of bacterial, protozoal or parasitic problems. By the time they show evidence of poor water quality, most everything else in your system will be gone or going.
Hogfishes have much to be recommended for use in a fishes-only marine set-up. They make great show-specimens, being boldly colored and interesting behaviorally. Often a specimen will become imprinted on it's owner, accepting hand-feeding and jealously pushing over tankmates for your attentions.
The group of fishes called Hogs are long-lived, hardy and non-demanding species.
Burgess, W.E., H.R. Axelrod & Raymond E. Hunziker. 1990. Dr. Axelrod & Dr. Burgess Atlas of Aquarium Fishes Reference Book, vol. 1 Marine Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., NJ.
Fenner, Robert. 1995. The conscientious marine aquarist; with notes on Cleaner Wrasses. TFH 5/95.
Gomon, M.F. & John E. Randall. 1978. Review of the Hawaiian fishes of the labrid tribe Bodianini. Bull. Mar. Sci. 28(1):32-48.
Michael, Scott W. 1997. Hogfish, a mysterious common name. Aquarium Fish Magazine 5/97.
Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of The World, 3rd ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., NY.
Pyle, Richard L. 1992. The neon wrasse: Bodianus sanguineus. FAMA 12/92.
Randall, John E. 1968. Caribbean Reef Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, NJ.
Stratton, Richard F. 1993. The Spanish Hogfish. TFH 4/93.
Thomson, Donald A., Lloyd T. Findley & Alex N. Kerstitch. 1979. Reef Fishes of the Sea of Cortez. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. NY.
Tinker, Spencer Wilkie. 1978. Fishes of Hawaii. Hawaiian Service, Inc., HI.
Young, Forrest A. 1993. Artificial propagation of Spanish Hogfish (Bodianus rufus). FAMA 10/93.