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Frogfishes: Some Great Small Choices


By Bob Fenner  


                Most folks have only seen photographs of Frog- or Anglerfishes, family Antennariidae, named for their chubby appearance and specialized “fishing apparatus” used for luring unsuspecting food fishes. Aren’t they all too large size? You will soon know that there are some very diminutive species in this family, and that even the larger ones can be kept smallish with proper feeding.

            Even though these are “bulky fishes”, of good biomass per length, they do tend to also be low metabolism; sitting about most all the time, blending in with their environment; akin to their camouflage and ambush lifestyle in the wild. Hence there’s not a tremendous need for neither swimming space, nor extra aeration, circulation nor filtration to accommodate them.

            What is crucial is picking out the right species, a good specimen, being careful in how much one feeds it, and taking care re tankmate selection. Given these criteria, you can have a very interesting display with an Angler as the centrepiece for years.


Frogfishes for smaller systems:
            These are species that are occasionally available that grow to a maximum of four inches (10 cm.). There are others that top-out at 3 and 5 cm., but they rarely make it into the ornamental trade.


Antennarius maculatus (Desjardin's 1840), the Clown Anglerfish. Indo-Pacific. To four inches in length. Often seen out in the open, especially when small, apparently mimicking toxic nudibranchs. Most are white with orange or red mottling, but many colors exist. Have prominent illicia ("fishing poles") that resemble small fishes. Occur in white and yellow with red mottling varieties.


Larger, but still small enough Anglers for 40 gallon systems:


Antennarius hispidus (Bloch & Schneider 1801), the Hairy or Shaggy Anglerfish. Indo-Pacific; particularly Malaysia, Indonesia. To eight inches in length in the wild; about half this in captivity. Coastal bays near camouflaging sponges. Occur in oranges, tans, yellows, and apparently black. N. Sulawesi images of two of many color varieties. You can tell this species apart from the similar A. striatus by its pom-pom like esca.



Antennarius multiocellatus (Valenciennes 1837), the Long-lure Anglerfish. Tropical West Atlantic; Florida to northern South America. Most common frogfish in the TWA, found disguised around sponges. Fishing rod (illicium) about twice the length of first dorsal spine. Feed on fishes and crustaceans. Eggs laid in ribbon like masses. Occur in several colour varieties that match the sponges they’re associated with. To 20 cm. total length. 


Antennarius pictus (Shaw & Nodder 1794), the Painted Anglerfish. Indo-Pacific. Principally imported from Indonesia and the Philippines. To 16 cm. overall length. Comes in all colors, and mottled, matching with local decor. Typically found amongst sponges, rock near the bottom or on the mud/muck. Below, N. Sulawesi images of some of the many color and marking varieties of this species (or multi-species complex). Distinguished by bony part of "fishing rod" being about twice the length of second dorsal spine and "lure" being an elongated and flat tuft.













Histrio histrio (Linnaeus 1758), the Sargassum Anglerfish, or if it were up to me, "The Incredible Eater Upper"... To only 13 cm. but able to eat most any animal near its length. Known from all tropical oceans, typically found "floating" in kelp canopies or bits that are broken off. Aquarium photo


Other species of Frogfishes:
            Indeed there are some 49 described species of Antennariids. Most others are too large, too deep water, cold-water or just too plain to gain much interest in the ornamental trade. Just the same, if you’re up for the challenge, do keep your eyes open and your stockist notified that you’re on the look out to try an odd Anglerfish.


(In) Compatibility with other tankmates:
            Unfortunately, this family of fishes is inclined to inhale other fishes and most all types of motile invertebrates, unless they are relatively large; as in more than half the length of the Frogfish. Hence, by and large it’s best to house them one to a dedicated system, w/ no crustaceans (shrimps, crabs), easily detached mollusks. Due to their clumsy walking behavior it’s also best to leave out spiny echinoderms, like Sea Urchins as well.

            Don’t think your Frogfish can catch, let alone ingest large organisms? By some measures, these are amongst the fastest of eaters… perhaps able to inhale a meal at a ten thousandth of a second! And yes, I’ve seen them suck in fishes more than one and a half times their length. Beware!


Picking out a good specimen:
With Anglers is easy to do; as most all specimens are in very good shape post shipping. All Frogfishes are wild caught, and usually kept separately in “cubicles”; small recirculating systems reserved for valuable, easily picked on specimens. Due to their calm nature, they are easily shipped, and almost always quickly acclimate to new surroundings.

            Healthy Anglerfishes are “bright” in appearance and behavior. Their eyes are clear, and aware, shifting to your presence, movement and other stimuli. Unless recently fed, they respond positively to the presence of possible foods, stalking or “fishing” for them.

            What to look out for are obvious damage to eyes and fins, though the latter heal very quickly. And the usual “acid-test of” feeding; always a good idea to make sure the fish is accepting the types, kinds of foods you will be offering.
            Newly-arrived specimens should be left to rest up, maybe on deposit, for a good week before taking them home. Care should be taken to move these animals in slow, deliberate motions; not exposing them to the air where they may “suck in” the atmosphere. They’re slow enough and easily hooked by and damaged by netting, so pushing them into bags or specimen containers underwater is the proscribed method of capturing, moving these fishes.


            Good to provide redundancy in any size system in the way of filtration and water movement; doubly so for smaller volumes, and triply concerning larger specimens housed therein. In the case of Anglers I like to have two outside power filters, either hang-on or canister types.

            Décor is important as these fishes employ mimicry and their surroundings to blend into the reef; avoid predators and not scare away food items.  For their psychological well-being providing rockwork, maybe sponge material of a similar color is a plus.

            Lighting isn’t important as long as it’s not too bright. If you house photosynthetic life that needs intense illumination, do provide purposeful shaded spots for your Angler to get out of the spot light.


       In the wild, all Frogfishes are consumers of live fare; other fishes, motile invertebrates… that they attract with their built-in lure and fishing pole or simply rapidly inhale as the erstwhile food item comes on by where they’re camouflaged.
       In captivity, most Anglers can be trained to accept dead small food items by wiggling these on a chemically-inert “feeding stick”, available commercially, or home-made. If yours doesn’t feed for a few weeks, don’t panic; as these fishes can go without feeding for this duration easily.
       Should yours prove the exception to accepting non-live foods, there are a few options that you can employ, including live shrimp of various sizes, and (non-goldfish) feeders of marine or freshwater origin. These foods should be offered on a limited basis; no more than once or twice a week. Far more problems are induced, iatrogenic in folks over-feeding their Anglers than any other class of trouble.



            Troubles with this family of fishes are rare; they are amongst the best shippers, and resistant to common pathogenic diseases. Almost all losses I’m aware of have resulted from hobbyist mistakes or system failure. Simply developing and adhering to a regular regimen of maintenance, water changes, mechanical checking, scant feeding… will stand you in good stead.

            Should yours appear puffy, eyes sunken in, you may want to sample some of the fish’s body slime and look at it under a microscope. Should such examination reveal a Protozoan parasite issue, these fishes respond well to standard treatments of copper and quinine compounds.



            Antennariids are excellent choices for species tanks; the smaller species being very suitable for nano to medium sized hobbyist systems. They do best when kept without other fishes which may pick on them or reciprocally be swallowed; and with limited sessile invertebrate tankmates. Their few downsides include the possible need to feed live foods. Otherwise, the Angler/Frogfishes of small to moderate lengths, albeit of squatty appearance and pectoral fin walking make for fascinating, hardy small marine system stocking.

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