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Related Articles: Avoiding Bad Choices: Saltwater Animals That Are Commonly Offered in the Trade That Shouldn't Be, and Suggested Alternatives, by Bob Fenner,  Stocking,

/The Conscientious Reef Aquarist Series:

Organism Selection for the Saltwater Aquarist, or

How to Go About Planning & Picking Out Marine Livestock

With a Heavy Emphasis on Reef Systems

Part 2, Part 3

Bob Fenner

A really mad Garibaldi

 "When in the course of pet-fish events", the biggie: Livestock. A large part of the fun and excitement of the marine aquarium hobby is the anticipation and "scavenger" (that's you) hunt for your new livestock. The "what" to get and even "how to select" actually should have been decided (as in, nothing's decided till it's done) way in advance of even acquiring the system and its components. Yes, in an ideal world, aquarists would/will know what sort of presentation and/or livestock they intend to house way before actually buying their tanks and support paraphernalia.

What about such issues as; "how big" a system? (Answer: As large as you can afford to maintain. Notice I didn't write "to purchase"; that's a minor matter comparatively). What shape? A heavy bias on more flat, "standard" formats over "show" profiles that are tall and narrow. Lighting? What will your organisms need/take? Substrate? Nitrate removal/reduction considerations? Foods, feeding, nutrition? And oh so much more need to be addressed and answered with confidence.

And as you're cogitating furiously, seeking and discovering what's available, possible and the paths you'll try out matching your "dry-goods" purchases with the "live", what sorts of questions might you, should you explore concerning "what" species you'll place? Beyond these, what criteria can you apply to optimize your chances of securing the best/better specimens of the varieties of livestock you want? Unsurprisingly from the title of this piece, these are my answers.

Marine Livestock Species Selection: Determining "What" then "Which":

There are two issues to be addressed in figuring our what you'll be keeping in your marine system. First, the ideal of what is available and suitable for your particular set-up; secondly how to go about picking out the best of these species.

Discounting the possibility of "The Creature that Ate Brooklyn" deriving from your live sand and rock, the following issues must need be evaluated when considering potential fishes, invertebrates, algae and vascular plants: size (at purchase, growth, and ultimate potential), foods/feeding, compatibility (behavioral characteristics like territoriality) and anomalous losses issues. Even the issues of shipping problems and legal aspects should be of concern. Allow me to expand on these ideas and offer examples.

The Issue of Legality: Legal & Moral Concerns:

Some organisms are restricted in the trade (and others should be) as being considered overly exploited (Above and right Hypsypops rubicunda , the Garibaldi) 

or too valuable to remove; such as the Hawaiian obligate Cleaner Wrasse, Labroides phthirophagus. All places in the world have their licensing, paperwork and taxes/fees as relates to capture, transport and import of wild stocks.

Bad Species: Poor Capture, Transport, or Adaptability Record:

Mortuus Est:

One outright contraindicated behavior to avoid in livestock selection is death itself; some species, for whatever unknown reasons, don't generally live through the rigors of collection, holding and shipping. Both a "clean" list of desirable species and a "dirty" list of those to avoid run very long; an ongoing compilation is available on the net at http://www.amdareef.com/ecolist_main.htm; some pleasing examples are:

some of the Butterflyfishes when caught and shipped large, like the Saddleback, Chaetodon ephippium, and the Teardrop, Chaetodon unimaculata, here in the Cook Islands.


 Others rarely live any length of time regardless of size; 

examples include the Pinnatus Batfish, Platax pinnatus and Moorish idols, Zanclus canescens:

and Parrotfishes, ( a Steepheaded Parrot, Scarus gibbus male); even some Surgeonfishes (family Acanthuridae) (the Powder Brown Tang, Acanthurus nigricans) these sorts of fishes have very low initial survival records, 90+ percent perishing within a few weeks.

And let's not forget the non-vertebrates; how long have you ever seen a Flame Scallop (actually a File Shell, Lima scabra), stay alive in captivity?

Or most gorgonians? ( the Sea Fan, Gorgonia flabellum off Belize; Purple Sea Plume, Pseudopterogorgia bipinnata in captivity). The latter are mainly a matter of improper handling from wild removal and transport; but, until or unless you can determine yours is really "still alive" I'd either hold off on trying them or utilize "the deposit game" detailed below.

Does the Species Eat Captive Foods?:

Know that a species historical feeding record has little to do with the fact that it is being offered in the trade. There are organisms that have scarcely known to have eaten anything in captivity. Some examples are coral and other specialized-feeding Butterflyfishes (Chaetodon reticulatus, Webbed Butterflyfish; Chaetodon ornatissimus, the Ornate; and the Exquisite, Chaetodon austriacus among many others). See Butterflyfishes: Separating the Good Ones and Those You Don't Want.




 Other not-usually eating examples of fishes commonly offered in the aquarium trade include the aforementioned Moorish Idol and  Pinnatus Batfish, Platax pinnatus...

As well as most specimens of Regal Angels Pygoplites diacanthus, Ribbon Moray Eels, Rhinomuraena spp.

 And the Grunts called Sweetlips, sub-family Plectorhynchinae (Plectorhynchus gaterinus); the notorious Orange-Spotted Filefish, Oxymonacanthus longirostris and likewise coral-polyp feeding Leopard Blenny, Exallias brevis.

Some whole groups of invertebrates like Nudibranchs (here the Spanish shawl, Flabellinopsis iodinea)...

And too many more common retail offerings are in league with these poor and specialized feeders. Collectors, wholesalers, retailers should avoid them, but rarely do.

Chilly Willy:

A woeful mention of coldwater life placed in tropical aquarium waters. Catalina Gobies ( Lythrypnus dalli), Leopard Sharks ( Triakis semifasciatus), Metridium and Tealia (Tealia lofotensis, "Strawberry") Anemones and more are regularly offered as warm-water organisms; they are not; and will not live long in tropical tanks.

To: Part 2,

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