Ask the WWM Crew
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What's in a name? What, another Billy Shakespeare rip off? No, I mean it; names are important. Wasn't one of the first tasks of creation-man to go out and apply a label to all living things? Shouldn't we all similarly call a Spadefish a Spadefish?
Well, how 'bout a Bass, and I don't mean the English brew. Why in just sunny southern Cal.(ifornia) we have such notables as the LMB (the "Florida" Large Mouth Bass, Micropterus salmoides) which most everyone agrees is a BASS (!). In earnest, the LMB is a mere member of the sunfish Family Centrarchidae; but who wants to announce they've caught a ten pound Panfish?
Or consider the oh-so-delicious white sea "bass", Cynoscion nobilis: for somebody's sake, it's a croaker!, Family Sciaenidae. How palatable does that sound? Even the east coast import, the striped "bass" (Morone saxatilis) and the giant, or black sea "bass" (Stereolepis gigas) aren't true basses; they're percichthyids (Family Percichthyidae, temperate perches) whose gill covers (opercles) only have two spines unlike the real basses three. Geez. Other areas also suffer a surfeit of phony "basses".
Anyway, the "real" basses don't need these other groups honing in on their turf. As a group they've got the width and breadth, literally and figuratively to stand or swim on their own. Some are quite small (e.g. Anthias, one only gets 3 cm.), others (large groupers) attain more than a thousand pounds. Many are drab to disruptive/cryptic in their markings to camouflage-aid them in ambushing prey; disparate one's are gaudy to beautiful (Tukas, Hamlets (Hypoplectrus) and more).
Most of the smaller species make good aquarium fare; as long as their tankmates are more than mouth-size.
Classification: Taxonomy, Relation With Other Groups
In this Section we are talking about the true bass & grouper Family, Serranidae (not all those other "phony basses"). Some salient characteristics of the group:
1) Opercles (their gill covers) with three spines; one main spine with a lesser spine above and below.
2) Lateral line complete and continuous.
3) Pelvic fin with one stout spine and five soft rays.
4) Three anal fin spines.
5) Seven branchiostegal rays (the cartilaginous gill supports).
6) Usually 24 or 25 vertebrae.
7) Hermaphrodites, usually non-synchronous; in other words, same fish, both sexes, not at the same time.
There are three to fifteen subfamilies recognized depending on whose taxonomic scheme you're into, @ 64 genera, and 449 species. Some notable members? True basses and groupers, hamlets, fancy basses, Coneys, Tukas/Fancy Basses. Related forms/species/families include Marine "Bettas", Soapfishes (you don't want these last; they exude toxic slime.)
Aquarium Groups/Species: Click! On the Blue, Highlighted Descriptor to see the Groups coverage:
Natural and Introduced Range
Marine (a few freshwater); worldwide tropical to temperate seas. Shallows to more than a thousand feet.
Some groupers to about 3 meters and 400 kilograms. Many Tukas, subfamily Anthiinae, to a few inches and ounces.
Selection: General to Specific
Look for newer arrivals with good color and outgoing or at least "curious" personalities.
Know this; that most members are best purchased as sub-adults and moved as few times as possible. Adaptability reduces with growing size and captive moves.
In the mood for travel? All specimens are wild caught. Many in traps, some barbless hook and line. Types that can be driven into hiding can be "goosed" with a wire/rod poker with finesse into a hand-net. You have to be fast.
Though identified as premiere bully-boys, the group spends most of it's time hiding, skulking and, not to be too anthropomorphic, sulking. Provide plenty of caves and other dark spots for cover. To elaborate on the note above in Acclimation; alter the particular favorite "hiding" space minimally. That is leave that shell, cave as is.
As far as captive marines go most basses are very tolerant of minimally "poor water quality". Any stable tropical temperature, mid specific gravity (1.022-1.023) is fine. I would suggest artificially supplementing the buffering capacity of the system with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or commercial preparation for the same. Rationale? The introduction and processing of so much proteinaceous foods tends to drive down alkalinity. A pinch of bicarb. every week or so will go a long way to maintaining a pH slightly above 8.0, with no deleterious effect.
Adequate and rigorous to handle large tanks and occasional large wastes.
At least two distinct rock/coral cave hide areas; low lighting.
As a generalization, the family is "one to a tank", intolerant of same species or other similar of near size. Most species gather together in pairs or aggregations only for spawning, or group predation. The notable exception are the Tukas, subfamily Anthiinae, which live in great aggregations. We'll give them a separate Section.
Agonistic displays against new-tank members, and wanna-be challengers to their alpha position is not uncommon. Such charging and wide-mouthing generally passes without serious incident. Leaving the lights on in the system for a day and night or two usually cools things down.
Though most basses as species and individuals are not overtly "mean", they are still predaceous, and will swallow any tankmate smaller than their mouth-opening.
Reproduction, Sexual Differentiation:
Simultaneous or synchronous hermaphrodites, little boys and/or girls at the same time or one then the other. For simultaneous species, taking turns during courtship to be female/male.
Pelagic young hatch out in a matter of a day or two.
Capable of great bursts of speed as catch-mechanism for prey and avoidance of predation.
Feeding/Foods/Nutrition: Types, Frequency, Amount, Wastes
Along with water quality, diet is primarily important in determining serranid health and color.
I find that authors, like Campbell in the late seventies, plug the use of live freshwater organisms as suitable food formats. I still don't. Live goldfish may be nutritionally acceptable to some, but the behavioral consequences of your livestock dashing about, equating fish-like stimuli with hunting/eating satisfaction sounds like a bad idea. Besides, feeders are expensive and inconvenient. Alternatively, I encourage the use of whole or formulated, preserved-frozen foods. Even the finickiest eater can be trained to accept these with gusto.
On that same note, if your bass doesn't eat for a while, for no or any apparent reason, don't sweat it. They have been known to go "off-feed" for days, weeks, even months.
Disease: Infectious, Parasitic, Nutritional, Genetic, Social
Except for many of the Fancy Basses/Tukas (subfamily Anthiinae), basses are relatively disease resistant and hardy.
Hey! Where are the Fairy Basslets, aka the Dottybacks? Sorry, you've fallen prey to the pseudo-bass trap; in this case the Pseudochromidae is a separate family. As is the various grammas, royal or not, in the Basslet family Grammidae; not to mention the Pseudochromidae, Plesiopsidae...
The true basses are long-lived, color-fast if changeable, interesting in their activities, extremely interesting in their behavior; yawning, playing in bubbles. And keeping almost all of them is not difficult.
Allen, Gerald R. & D.R. Robertson. 1995. Pseudogramma axelrodi, a new species of serranid fish from the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean. TFH 9/95.
Axelrod, H.R. & Warren E. Burgess. 1981. Groupers and their relatives. TFH 8/81.
Campbell, Douglas G. 1979. Marines: their care and keeping, Groupers and their allies. Parts 1-3. 9-11/79 FAMA.
Chlupaty, Peter. 1977. Marine aquariums; the harlequin bass. Aquarium Digest International #18.
Chlupaty, Peter. 1985. The two-banded grouper. TFH 1/85.
Edmonds, Les. 1988. Groupers. TFH 10/88.
Fenner, Bob. 1995. A diversity of aquatic life. The Family Serranidae. FAMA 9/95.
Fenner, Robert. 1996. Basses, groupers or hinds? The genus Cephalopholis. TFH 12/96.
Fenner, Robert. 1998. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.
Goldstein, Robert. 1992. Spectacular serranids, the colorful and fascinating groupers. AFM 11/92
Hunziker, Ray. 1988. Orange lightning- experiences with Cephalopholis miniatus. TFH 3/88.
Hunziker, Ray. 1995. Lovely Liopropoma.; rare Basslets for the reef aquarium. TFH 7/95.
Jonklaas, Rodney. 1975. Search for the super duper grouper. TFH 8/75.
Kerstitch, Alex, D.A. Thomson & L.T. Findley. 1979. Reef Fishes of the Sea of Cortez. Wiley Interscience.
Kerstitch, Alex. 1986. The golden grouper Mycteroperca rosacea. FAMA 2/86. Lobel, Phil S. 1984. Spawning behavior of the harlequin bass. FAMA 7/84.
Michael, Scott W. 1995. Fishes for the marine aquarium; basses and grammas- you can't go wrong with these. AFM 8/95.
Michael, Scott W. 1999. Lather up- it's the Soapfishes. AFM 6/99.
Miller, Gary. 1987. Serranids of the Caribbean, parts 1,2. FAMA 1,2/87.
Murphy, Geri. 1992. The great white grouper (The potato cod). Skin Diver, 8/92.
Nelson, Joseph S. Fishes of the World. Wiley. 2nd Ed. 1984.
Pyle, Richard L. & Lisa A. Privitera. 1989. The harlequin hind Cephalopholis polleni (Bleeker). FAMA 12/89.
Thomson, Donald A., Lloyd T. Findley & Alex N. Kerstitch.1979. Reef Fishes of the Sea of Cortez. John Wiley & Sons, New York. 302pp.
Thresher, Ronald. 1976. Serranus. Marine Aquarist 7(3):76.
Thresher, R. 1976. Hamlets. Marine Aquarist 7(6), 1976.
Thresher, R.E. 1984. Reproduction in reef fishes; part 2, sea basses (Serranidae: Serraninae) TFH 11/84.