Please visit our Sponsors
Related FAQs: Marine Life of the Tropical West Atlantic, Tropical West Atlantic 2

Related Articles: TWA Invertebrates, Algae, Vascular Plants, Introduction to Fishwatcher's Guide Series Pieces/Sections, Lachnolaimus maxiumus/Hogfish, Hogfishes of the Genus Bodianus

Fishes of The Tropical West Atlantic: Bahamas to Brazil, Part 10

To: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 11,


Bob Fenner  

The, Tangs, Surgeons, Family Acanthuridae. The TWA is depauperate (i.e. scant) on many groups of animals compared with the more speciose Pacific and Indian Oceans. Acanthurids follow this characteristic, with only three species (there are 24 in Hawai'i.). The only one used for commercial purposes is the (Atlantic) Blue Tang, Acanthurus coeruleus (2), as gorgeous, but diminutive yellow young, turning azure blue with age. The other couple of species, the Bahamian Surgeonfish (A. bahianus) (2) and Doctorfish, (A. chirurgus) (2) do as well in captivity, but are more somber and get quite large (about 14"). For big tanks only.

Ecotype: Roam shallow to mid-depth reefs searching for algal food

Acanthurus bahianus Castelnau 1855, the Ocean Surgeon, ranges widely over the western Atlantic coast. It's a shame this hardy fish isn't more often sold in the trade; it has a quiet, yet strong beauty. Although not super-gorgeous it is one of the least aggressive Acanthurus, and readiest feeder on aquarium fare. Two views in the Bahamas.

Acanthurus chirurgus (Bloch 1787), a/the Doctorfish; from the western Atlantic. Bluish to brownish in color, and though common in the wild, rarely offered in the trade. Bonaire and Bahamas pix.

Acanthurus coeruleus Bloch & Schneider 1801, the Atlantic Blue Tang; though not as dazzlingly beautiful as the other two "Blue Tangs" (Paracanthurus hepatus & Acanthurus leucosternon) this Caribbean surgeon makes a fine aquarium addition. One of a handful of Acanthurus that are overall yellow as juveniles, the Atlantic Blue Tang stays small enough for modest sized aquariums.

Acanthurus coeruleus (Juvenile)

Acanthurus coeruleus (Midsize.)

Acanthurus coeruleus (Adult)

Balistidae, the Triggerfishes. Here again, the TWA has a handful (okay plus one, 6) of species with only one used commercially. This is the equally beautiful and antagonistic Queen Trigger, Balistes vetula (1). Of the others the Sargassum (Xanthichthys ringens) (2) and Black Durgon (Melichthys niger) (2) ought to be more utilized. They're "medium" easy-going on the trigger scale, and only get about a foot long.

Ecotype: Like the joke about the 800 pound gorilla; "where do they live?" Anywhere they want. Actually these triggers inhabit low areas around reefs where they can quickly duck into hiding.

Much more beautiful but the embodiment of aggression in a marine tropical is the Queen Triggerfish, Balistes vetula Linnaeus 1758,  from the Atlantic. This is a MEAN fish, biting machine that must be kept with basses, puffers and other animals too unpalatable to bite or mean and smart enough to bite back. To two feet in length. Pictured below: A two inch "tiny" specimen, a fifteen inch monster in captivity, and a foot long beauty in the Bahamas.

Balistes capriscus (nee carolinensis) Gmelin 1789, the Grey Triggerfish. East and West coasts of the Atlantic. To two feet in length. Feeds on benthic invertebrates; mollusks, crabs. As B. capriscus in some literature.

Canthidermis maculatus (Bloch 1786), the Spotted Oceanic Triggerfish. Circumglobal. To twenty inches in length. A pelagic species that adapts poorly to captivity in general. To about a foot and a half in length.

Another all-gray contender is the tropical West Atlantic Ocean Triggerfish, Canthidermis sufflamen (Mitchell 1850). This is another candidate for regional Public Aquariums with space to spare. To twenty six inches in length. Open ocean species. Bahamas pic.

Most wholesalers offer two species of Melichthys more or less continuously, the circumtropical Black (Durgon) Triggerfish, Melichthys niger (Bloch 1786) (usually out of Hawai'i), to eighteen inches. Pictured: an individual in the Bahamas, and one in Maui, Hawai'i.

The Blue Cheekline or Sargassum Xanthichthys ringens (Linnaeus 1758) from the Atlantic Triggers. These pelagics adapt more poorly to captivity than other trigger species. Tropical west Atlantic, North Carolina to Brazil. This one in the Bahamas.

Filefishes, Family Monacanthidae. Rarely are filefishes of the TWA put to use, and this is a shame for three of the species. The Scrawled file, Aluterus scriptus (3) is found worldwide and collected for the trade elsewhere (though it gets to three feet long); and the Orangespotted File (Cantherhines pullus) (2) and Whitespotted File (C. macrocerus) (2) are good looking and can be kept in captivity.

Ecotype: The Scrawled File lives above the reef to open oceans; the two others are more homebodies, living in shallow to mid-depths near the bottom.

Aluterus schoepfii (Walbaum 1792), the Orange Filefish. East and West coasts of tropical Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. To two feet maximum length. Aquarium images.

Aluterus scripta (Osbeck 1785), the Scrawled Filefish. Circumtropical. Sold in the trade occasionally, but gets way too big. Shown a tiny one foot specimen and a two foot youngster (Bunaken/Indonesia and Red Sea respectively) (to forty inches overall length).

Cantherhines macrocerus (Hollard 1854), the Orange Filefish in the pet trade is called the American Whitespotted Filefish in the sciences... unfortunately, in part because it occurs on both coasts of the tropical Atlantic. One of the more common Filefish offerings in the world of aquariums. To twenty-six inches in length. Images of six inch and eight inch individuals and one foot adult specimens in the Bahamas.
Cantherhines pullus (Ranzani 1842), the Orange-spotted Filefish. Tropical West Atlantic. To eight inches in length. A more common aquarium offering. One off the Bahamas, another with its single dorsal "trigger" up off Boynton Beach, FLA.

Monacanthus tuckeri Bean 1906, the Slender Filefish. Western Atlantic; North Carolina to the Antilles. To four inches in length. This three quarter inch juvenile hanging out in a gorgonian in the Bahamas. 

To: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 11,

Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: