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Related Articles: Marine Livestock Selection, Collecting Marines, Quarantine, Quarantine of Corals and Invertebrates, Acclimation, Acclimating InvertebratesMarine Life Use in Ornamental Aquatics

The Best Livestock For Your Reef Aquarium:

Recruiting Marines: Learn the basics of stocking a reef tank with this guide to biotope setups

Bob Fenner  
Small Marine Aquariums
Book 1: Invertebrates, Algae
New Print and eBook on Amazon:
by Robert (Bob) Fenner
Small Marine Aquariums
ook 2: Fishes
New Print and eBook on Amazon: by Robert (Bob) Fenner
Small Marine Aquariums Book 3: Systems
New Print and eBook on Amazon:
by Robert (Bob) Fenner

Oh, the fun of considering what one might build in the way of a livestock list to go into a new saltwater aquarium Think of just the approaches A key/must has species or two a biotopic set-up with a chosen slice of habitat and the biota that goes with it Perhaps a breeding attempt at culture of a difficult or cherished species. Maybe an economic venue with your eye on culture to help pay for your ornamental aquatic habit even a community approach with the emphasis on everyone getting along.

             There are many such windows to look through in going about putting together a livestock selection. In this brief piece Im going to have only space to proffer two proposed mixes but the thought processes, mental purviews presented will benefit any such person and task.  

A Tropical West Atlantic Rocky Outcropping Biotope:  

            Biotopic set-ups are attempts at gathering together the non-living and biotic components of a given place, slice of our planet. That is, mixing the physical (currents, light) and life that inhabits a given place. Such set-ups entail many benefits Ready adaption to a captive setting, natural behaviors, often easier compatibility amongst your livestock.

            Biotopes are not difficult to assemble. Photos and video abounds that accurately shows what a given area of the worlds seas are like underwater. Databases and books are available that organisms found there and their particular habitats (e.g. Fishbase.org, Hexacorallians of the World on the Net, and my own Fishwatcher's Guide to the Tropical Marine Aquarium Fishes of the World>

            For our example here Im taking a rocky outcropping at the base of a shallow tropical West Atlantic reef Lets say, off of Mexico's Cozumel southwestern shore.

This is an area of prevailing unilateral current movement of some capacity and relatively bright light (with darkened overhangs).  Like most folks, I like to think about what my show piece organism/s might be For here, Id like to splurge and get the smallest of the three wrasses called Hogfishes that are found in this locality, the Cuban or Spotfin Hog. Growing to about eight inches overall, this will be the biggest animal here.

There's plenty of space for something larger, but Im going to pick a couple of small bass family members and some golden Jawfish as my sub-centerpieces.

            The Hamlets, genus Hypoplectrus, have always been some of my favorite easygoing, small basses. There is a bit of ongoing discussion re just how many/few actual species of Hamlets there are but all are of similar size, temperament and care. Thus, the choice is up to you here. The small basses of the genus Serranus are a bit better agreed upon re their species status, but otherwise are similar in compatibility and care per the Hamlets. Here again I would maybe add two specimens in this sized system to provide interesting interaction. These can be of the same or difference species in the genus, and again, there is quite a selection to choose amongst.

            The golden Jawfish, Opistognathus aurifrons is a standard in the trade and one of my personal favorites. I would get two for here definitely; granting each enough room in a softer (small, roundish coral sand) bottom of a few inches depth, with space to peacefully co-exist, yet lending countless hours of enjoyment in observing their interactions.  

            If money is not too dear, Id add one of the two dwarf dwarf Centropyge Angels found in the north and southern parts of this geographic region. Either the Cherub or Flameback Angel a bit secretive, but really neat, intelligent animals.
            Lastly, for the fishes, Id place a couple of Cleaner Gobies tank-bred if available to add interest and cleaning behavior.
            For invertebrates, Id first try to buy some as-fresh-as-possible live rock that is collected or cultured from this area in the hopes that even some stony corals will have inadvertently settled and develop in your system along with whatever other recruits come along. This rock can be creatively stacked as usual or better, drilled, doweled and mortared together to make vertical stands to break up the physical environment, provide habitat.

            Of interest and appropriate risk here, Id employ a single Coral Banded Shrimp for clean up and further cleaning behavior.
            Again, if you can find it, and not too expensive, I would buy some Ricordea florida a gorgeous indigenous Corallimorph that can actually make you money (by reproducing, selling) over time.

            Lastly, I encourage you to consider adding some local algae for the main tank, and hopefully refugium you'll have. There are a few varieties, though they may have to be special ordered. See my partial list below.          


<Sidebar > List of Species for: Tropical West Atlantic Biotope

1 Cuban Hogfish. Bodianus pulchellus

1 or 2 Hamlets. Hypoplectrus species.

1 or 2 TWA Basslets. Serranus species.

2 Golden Jawfish. Opistognathus aurifrons.

1 of either Centropyge. C. argi or C. aurantonotus

2 Cleaner Gobies. Gobiosoma, Elacatinus species.
100 pounds. TWA originating Live Rock
1 Coral Banded Shrimp. Stenopus hispidus
Ricordea florida, Ricordea florida

TWA Algae. Acetabularia, Dictyota, Halimeda, Lobophora, Padina, Rhizocephalus, Sargassum, Udotea


A Specialty/Key Species Set-Up: A Large Pacific Anemone, Clownfishes, and Friends

             There are abidingly few humans of age who don't immediately recognize sea anemones as marine life with their fascinating colors, textures and hypnotically waving tentacles and what about the ever-popular Clownfishes that use some of them as hosts? Many folks try prematurely to keep the larger symbiotic anemone species to both's detriment. It turns out that these animals are very often misplaced with their stinging-celled kin (soft, hard corals and such, the Cnidaria), that makes for a problematic/negative-interaction situation in our captive systems. This is not to say that with some planning, careful procedures that anemones cant be mixed with their Cnidarian kin, but by and large such arrangements are difficult at best. So, what better way to display a large anemone and other life that it DOES get along with then in a specialized setting highlighting the anemone with species that definitely DO get along?

            If you're up to a/the challenge the anemone of choice might be a Carpet species of the genus Stichodactyla (S. mertensii, S. haddoni, S. gigantea) a good sized Bubble Tip (Entacmaea quadricolor) or a healthy Sebae, aka Leather anemone (Heteractis crispa). <pictured> I would make a mound or build a bommie (an upright solid reef) from drilled, doweled calcareous rock, a bit off of the center of the tank, and situate the anemone on top of this. What better to go with the Anemone than a pair or even trio (if they start small) of Clownfishes. A listing of naturally compatible species with the anemone you choose can be found on the Net (e.g. WetWebMedia.com) or books, but most all will species will learn to associate with a Clown-suitable anemone in time.  My preference is to use captive bred and reared specimens Perhaps some Amphiprion ocellaris, or A. percula or Maroons, Premnas biaculeatus.

            Is that all you can place in a hundred gallon volume? Oh no there are many other suitable choices of other livestock to consider. Myself, Im partial to keeping Cardinalfishes here there are many choices from Pajamas (Sphaeramia species) to the ever-popular Banggais (Pterapogon sauterne). What you say? The anemone will eat the Cardinals! Uh, no. These and other Apogonid species actually live within touch of such anemone species in the wild.

To add color and something of size in the way of fishes, do think of a hardy Rabbitfish that stays smallish. Ill list three that are generally available, colorful and relatively hardy. Pick one.

            If you can find one or two the false crabs aka Porcelain Crabs that are found in intimate association with Carpet Anemones are sure to draw alls attention. Oh, and they will share with the Clowns. Just introduce the symbiotic crabs ahead of them.
            And I encourage you to try keeping some compatible Sea Urchins here as well.  


<Sidebar > List of Species for: Pacific Anemone, Clownfishes, and Friends

Anemone: One, Bubble Tip, Leather/Crispa or Carpet. Entacmaea quadricolor, Heteractis crispa, Stichodactyla sp..

Clownfish: A pair or trio. Perculas, Ocellaris, Maroons Amphiprion percula, A. ocellaris, Premnas biaculeatus.

Cardinalfishes: Pajamas, Banggais, other possibilities. Pterapogon sauterne, Sphaeramia sp.  
Rabbitfish: A smaller species perhaps Siganus magnifica, S. virgatus or S. vulpinus,

 1 or 2 Porcelain Crabs: Genus Neopetrolisthes,
Urchins. Either Athenosoma or Long-spined Sea Urchins: Diadema sp.


 Some General Notes on Stocking: 

            Go slow. Even with a good plan in hand, there is nothing like patience to help insure success with marine aquarium keeping. Few good things happen quickly in this hobby the opposite is not so. Let your tank/system age stabilize.

            Be systematic. Avoid impulse buying; instead sticking with your plan of buying, acclimating new organisms in their best order of introduction, spacing them a few weeks apart to avoid trouble.
            Be cautious: Develop and adhere to a routine of careful acclimation procedure and (usually) quarantine. The last to give new arrivals a chance to rest-up as much as for you to ascertain and ensure their fitness before moving them into your main display.   


             In an ideal world you would dream up your stocking list first, ahead of even purchasing the tank! That way, if there was a better shape lets say more wide or shallow, you'd be able to choose which is best for your intended livestock. All other gear would follow in suit lighting, filtration/circulation, perhaps the type of refugium Whichever you actually start with, do your best to understand what it is you really want to accomplish by having a marine system. All of us evolve in our personal development as hobbyists, in time, going one direction or the other, but knowing ahead what you'd like to keep most of all what gets along with it most likely And what you want it to do be showy, grow, reproduce Will grant you insight into what gear to get, foods and maintenance that will have to be applied, and set you on a path to honing your selection skills for the next set-up.   

Small Marine Aquariums
Book 1: Invertebrates, Algae
New Print and eBook on Amazon:
by Robert (Bob) Fenner
Small Marine Aquariums
ook 2: Fishes
New Print and eBook on Amazon: by Robert (Bob) Fenner
Small Marine Aquariums Book 3: Systems
New Print and eBook on Amazon:
by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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