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FAQs about the Damselfish Systems

Related Articles: Damselfishes, Clownfishes, Jumbo Damselfishes

Related FAQs: Damsels 1Damsel Identification, Damsel Systems, Damsel Selection, Damsel Compatibility, Damsel Behavior, Damsel Feeding, Damsel DiseaseDamsel Reproduction

Dascyllus albisella juvenile in an aquarium. 

Couple very interesting fish science reports 12/4/10
Hi Bob,
> The first is about male Bettas being observed to watch fights between other males, and with the information they gather, choosing not to fight against males they determine to be good fighters. This type of behaviour has hitherto only been reported from advanced mammals and birds, but reveals that fish may have far more complex social behaviour than scientists thought -- something I doubt surprises you or I very much!
> http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/siamese-fighting-fish-keeping-score/
> The second is about water temperature and fish behaviour, damselfish becoming bolder and more aggressive as temperature rises. Obvious relevance here for marine aquarists as well as, perhaps, conservationists given global sea temperature rises.
> http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/fish-personalities-why-water-temperature-matters/
> Cheers, Neale
Thank you for this Neale. BobF

Fish Keep Dying, being killed... reading  12/25/08 Hello, <Howdy> I recently set up a 10 gallon saltwater tank (I know its small). I placed live sand, about 12 lbs of live rock (Fiji), live plants, and some airstone. The tank was set up for about a month and a half and cycled; The levels read: Ammonia 0 Nitrite 0 Nitrate 0 PH 8.4 Temp 78 Salinity 1.023 Calcium 440 I started adding turbo snails right when the levels were manageable. Two of the three had died and the one is still in it. I placed 2 damsels <This volume is too small for Damselfishes> in the tank a few weeks after the snails died. The one damsel died the same night and the second damsel died the next night. The second damsel that died looked fine for a day and a half and then began breathing very fast before it died. I went to a LFS and asked what it could have been. They said perhaps the acclimation process <Good guess, assumption> and that only water condition could kill a fish this quickly or perhaps it was a bad batch of fish. So I purchased a Green Chromis <A social species... again, inappropriate in this tiny volume. Doomed... "had you read..."> and did the drip method acclimation process for about 2.5 hrs <!?> and placed it in the tank along with three hermit crabs. The fish lived for two days and then died. There were no visible marks or cysts on the fish and the breathing rate seemed normal. Currently in the tank are 3 hermit crabs and the lone snail. The snail has recently been falling over <Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/snaildisfaqs.htm and the linked files above re Systems... As you'll see, you need to pay attention to alkalinity and Magnesium levels here...> and doesn't seem to be his self. The plants seem to becoming transparent, <Dying> which I read may be due to light source ( I use a 10,000 K 15 watt bulb). With all the levels checked out as mentioned above do you know why the fish can't make it past 2 days? <Yes> If you need more information I will be happy to provide it. Thank You! Klynt <Please read... re the needs... at least the Systems, of what you list here, intend to "try" in future... You're "shooting in the dark"... killing this life out of ignorance. No sense... as you can avoid further losses by reading about the many similar mistakes I and my friends have recorded on WWM. Bob Fenner>

Re: Fish Keep Dying  12/25/08 Bob, <Klynt> Thanks for the quick response. I know I need to learn a lot more and would love to. <Is a wondrous, continuing process... for all> This tank is just a starter tank until I purchase a much larger tank (125 gallon). I didn't realize it was too small for a damsel since they only grow to about 4 inches. <Some Pomacentrids a bit smaller, a few quite a bit larger than this> The 2.5 hr acclimation I read online and was told by the LFS owner, so that was what I thought was correct. <Is much longer than usually suggested protocols...> I'll make sure to check my magnesium in the tank to help my turbo snail. Would the 10 gallon volume kill my fish in 2 days? <Yes, could... very stressful> I didn't think it would since the fish were so small. Thanks, Klynt <Do give a read re smaller, more sedentary groups of fishes Klynt... There are only a few that are readily offered in the trade that will go for any time in such a small world... Some of the gobies, blennies... Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

Damsel Question, sys., env. hlth.   4/27/08 Hello. I enjoy reading your posts and some have been very useful. I have a nano-tank(6Gal), with two blue damsels. <Misplaced here. Need more room psychologically> I cycled the tank, checked all my levels, etc. I waited 2 weeks to add the fish and they have been in there now over a month. The ammonia is nil and the other levels are within acceptable ranges. The issue I have is one of the damsels spends a lot of time at the top of the tank, almost swimming sideways at times. He also appears to have spots on his side that looks like a human going grey, ie, losing color. He does dart around pretty good, so it is hard to tell if he is sick. The other damsel does bother him frequently but I don't see any frayed fins, etc. I cannot locate any bacteria or other disease that resembles what I am seeing. I am afraid to add a wrasse or more rock until I know if there is a disease. <... is environmental to the largest degree...> Also, as a nano tank, it does get algae quite a bit. I clean it weekly and add water as needed. Is there anything I can do to keep the growth low and can this be something that is affecting my damsel? Thanks for your help. Dale <Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/marine/fishes/part2.htm the second to last tray. This fish, these fish, are mis-placed; cannot live well/long in such confines. Bob Fenner> Starcki Damsel <and a Clown!> in a Nano  - 03/09/07 <Hi there, Mich here.> I really want to get a Starcki damsel for my 10G, but would also like to get a Percula Clown. Do you think it would be worth the risk?   <No! Too much fish, not enough space!> Do you think if I put the clown in first and add the damsel a few weeks later it might work. <No, there is not really enough room in the tank for one of these fish, let alone two!> I'm prepared to watch for any aggression, and remove one of the fish if becomes a problem. It's only a 10 so taking it apart if I had to catch a fish isn't terrible. <Better to get a larger tank or set up another system.> I have done a lot of Googling, and it seems that the Starcki is one of the least aggressive damsels you're going to find, and they are gorgeous little fish. Some people even say theirs are rather timid. <But the tank is still too small.> I think it is worth the risk, and I'm pretty sure if the Damsel tried anything the clown could take care of himself. <You are setting up a system filled with a good deal of psychological stress.  I wouldn't recommend it.> Do you guys think I can try it, as long as I keep a close eye out for aggression, and if necessary remove one of the fish (hopefully I won't have to).? I realize the instinct is Damsel=Evil, but people do a lot of things in this hobby that are against the rules, and have success. <I just don't think this is a good idea.> I'm just debating if it's worth the risk. Worse comes to worse I have to take the damsel out, it can't hurt to try right? <My goal is to have you be a conscientious marine aquarist and that means doing what is right for those creatures dependant on you for their care.  You ultimately control their entire world and I just don't think it's fair to put these two fish is such an exceedingly small system. I'm sorry, I know this is not what you want to hear, but is what should be said.  -Mich> Thanks

Suggestions for setting up a damsel tank  12/18/05 Hello there.  <Hello Phillip> I searched your site for the answer to this question; but I'm getting a bit of contradictory information. So, about eight months ago I decided to dive right in to the world of saltwater aquariums by trying my hand at a nano reef.  I set up a 12 gallon tank with some live rock and a deep live sand bed and let it cycle for about 2 months.  Then I went to the LFS looking for some soft corals and a small fish to add.  Turns out they didn't have any good beginner corals there that day; but the LFS guy was really good at talking me into going home with a three spot domino damsel.  I had read that damsel fish were the easiest fish to keep and that they were a little territorial but I planned on this being the only fish in my tank so I took the guy's bait, hook, line, and sinker. Of course, I know now that dominoes are one of the most aggressive of the damsels and that he would eventually get much too big for a 12 gallon.   However, and this sounds really silly, I've gotten quite attached to him (I named him Moe *grin*).  So, I'm getting a 55 gallon tank this weekend and I'm going to set it up as a FOWLR (the 12 gal is going to be strictly corals and inverts only... no fish allowed).  Once the new tank has cycled, I want to base my livestock community around ol' feisty Moe here so I know that's going to limit my choices. I'm thinking it should be a damsel only tank with an odd number of fish... maybe one each of different species for a total of 5 or 7?  Would this be too many for a 55? <No, as most damsels do not attain the length that a three spot does.> I'm going to have as much live rock as I can possibly afford in the tank so I can make lots of caves and other hiding places. <Good> Are there any other species of fish that I should consider?  I've heard that some Basslets and the larger clowns, like the Maroon, can be somewhat aggressive as well. <The larger clowns will limit the amount of fish you can have in the 55 as most of these will attain lengths of five to six inches.> Would they be able to "hold their own" with a few damsels? <Should> Basically I just want a good mix of aggressive to semi-aggressive fish that can co-exist without killing each other.  Is this even possible or am I just chasing a pipe dream? <It could work, I'd just stay away from the smaller damsels if you intend to keep the three spot.> Any words of wisdom you can supply would be greatly appreciated. <Phillip, read here for more information on the damsels.  http://www.wetwebmedia.com/damsels.htm> Thanks,<You're welcome.  James (Salty Dog)> Philip Carper Damselfish in cycle Hi, I need your help!  <I'll do my best to help you, MacL here.>  New saltwater hobbyist and just started tank up (75gal) about two weeks ago.  <How exciting!>  No live rock using dead reef bone, crushed coral/live sand for substrate and fake plastic corals (for decoration). Have two Penguin 1140 powerheads and Emperor (hangs over the back) power filter and two heaters. We stuck three damsels in there about a week ago to help with the cycle startup. One black/white tail, blue/yellow tail, and one all blue. We've tested the water every other day and our last tests is like this: temp=82deg., salinity=1.017, PH=7.8, nitrate=80, nitrite=.5, and ammonia=.25.  <Okay first your temperature is too high, you need to lower it a bit to 78 degrees. Your salinity is a little bit low, although it might very well change with a salinity reading 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Your nitrates are very high. Has your tank gone through part of a cycle? Risen and on its way down? You are giving me the latest readings but not the progression. The reading of nitrates would indicate that this has happened. If this is the case hopefully soon all the levels will drop to zero and all will be great. Let me refer you to http://www.wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm  and the discussion about the cycles just to be sure.>  We cannot seem to get any of these levels to where they should be and now our blue/yellow damsel is acting strangely. She is no longer as active, her breathing looks labored, and she seems to stay within one spot. We feed them twice a day (small amounts only) and they all eat even the blue/yellow one.  <Is she getting picked on at all by the other damsels? That might be a possible explanation for her behavior.>  We've bought some Proper pH to balance but not sure how to incorporate into water, because it seems not want to mix with the water.  <I am assuming that it is some brand of chemical you have picked to raise the pH? Does it say to mix with the water? Sometimes chemicals mix better in cold water if that helps any. Normally, my first recommendation would be to do a water change to get your ph to the proper levels but the water change if in the middle of a cycle will cause some problems.>  We need any kind of help/advice you can give us!! We don't want our fish to die (we want to be good parents)!!!!! <Obviously you guys care and that's all it takes. Usually in a cycle the ammonia rises and drops, the nitrites rise, and then the nitrates begin to kick in as illustrated in the article. (Okay massive oversimplification). My guess is that the live sand started a cycle then you added fish in the middle of it, which caused another rise. And that's what has sent things a little out of whack for you guys. Let me also ask you, before I forget, the Emperor doesn't have the carbon filters in the back do they? It is best to have removed those and replaced them with sponges. The carbon will interfere with the natural cycle. At this point, the way I see it you have two choices. First, you can let the tank go and let it finish what its doing or you can do a partial water change and get things BACK in balance and then let it go back to the natural progression of the cycle. Check for the fish being picked on, it could be totally natural behaviour. If you could try to answer some of what I've asked you and let me know we can get a little more in depth with the discussion and hopefully get you totally fixed up. Good luck, MacL>

A Tough Crowd (Damsels in a 10 gallon) Hello, <Hi there, Scott F. here> I just bought a small LR tank.  This is my first saltwater tank so I  thought I should start small. I bought the 10 gal tank and the 2 LRs and 5 small damsels (zebra, yellow tail, and one domino, oh yeah, I have a cleaner shrimp too), I was concerned with the number of fish in that small of a tank, but he said they would be fine as long as I did not add any larger fish. <Be honest with you, I'm a bit concerned myself.  That's a lot of damsel fish in a small tank.  There's a good chance that you may end up with some dead fish as there may be battles.  Water quality will be of utmost importance with this many fishes in a small tank.  Who is "he?"  Sounds like he was pushing the limits with this tank.> He said the sand was live too, and we set it up in my place. He even brought the water from his tank. So I have rock, sand, fish, and water all from his tank.  What I am concerned about is he said that he had the rock for "about a year".  I sent some pictures so you can see it... <Sorry, pictures didn't attach.> Being my first salt water tank, I don't know what I am looking at. <Neither do I because I don't have any pictures to look at.  hah! hah!> I wanted to know if this rock is going to be dead soon or if it will last me for a while?  Will re-curing it help?  And lastly, Is there anything I can do to add more life to the rock?  Like some anemones or soft corals? More visual colorful life to the green/brown rock?   <First of all, if the rock has been a tank for a year, chances are that there is a good growth of organisms attached.  If you feel that the life on the rock is dying, then I would look for the cause.  Chances are, the diversity of life may have diminished somewhat in the absence of new creatures added to colonize it.  There is no need to re-cure a rock that has already been cured.  What you probably need to do is add some new live rock, or look corals and other invertebrates to cover your boring, old rock.  Dependant on your lighting, water quality, and maintenance practices, you could add some easy to keep soft corals like xenia, or some mushroom corals.  Do read up on these animals and their requirements before making any purchase.> I have heard that some damsels can become immune to a sea anemone like the clown fish.  Have you heard that too? <Some damsel fish such as Dascyllus trimaculatus, the Domino damsel fish, do associate with anemones at some point during their life cycle.  However, I have not heard from anybody who has specifically set up a tank with damsels and anemones to see if this occurs in captivity.> Lastly, (disregard that last lastly) have you ever seen a nudibranch in a tank?  I was just wondering if they could be raised in captivity?  I love how Spanish-shawl nudibranch look, and they are just like a snail in that they eat algae (clean up the rocks)? <Nudibranchs are beautiful animals and I have seen them in aquariums.  However, the vast majority perish in either weeks or months in captivity. They are best left in the wild.  There are many other creatures that are cool looking that can also eat algae.  May I suggest, snails (Trochus or Turbo, among others)?> Thanks for you help.  It's a very informative site. -DJ <Glad to be here for you DJ.  Best of luck with your new system.  Do keep a careful watch on that population of damsels.  Regards, Scott F.>

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