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Related FAQs: Triggerfishes in General, Triggerfish: Identification, Selection, Selection 2, Compatibility, Behavior, Systems, Feeding, Diseases, Triggerfish Health 2, Reproduction,

Related Articles: Balistes Triggers, Triggerfishes (Family Balistidae), Red Sea Triggerfishes, Triggers of the Cook Islands

 More Than You Bargained For. The Queen Triggerfish, Balistes vetula, Ruler of the Reef

By Bob Fenner

The Queen in her court

Triggerfishes for  Marine Aquariums

Diversity, Selection & Care
New eBook on Amazon: Available here
New Print Book on Create Space: Available here

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

'Oh, isn't she cute?!' Invariably the appraisal of a newer aquarist on viewing their first juvenile specimen of the Queen Triggerfish'¦ Unfortunately for all, this observation is too often followed with, 'Let's buy it and put it in our system''¦ Just ask anyone who has dived much in the areas of the Tropical West Atlantic that take in the range of Balistes vetula about this fish'¦ The Queen Trigger defines the word 'tyrant''¦ Allowing and disallowing any and all other wild life in its area, even scuba divers. 

            Yes, this species can be kept in with many other types of life; fish, invertebrate, algae'¦ when small/er'¦ but with growth, almost always comes a change for the utter worst. With the Queen eventually calling all to her bidding, or doom. If you intend to keep one of these majestic fish, do so with knowledge and forbearance'¦ and only with either fishes that can and will stand their ground, or animals that you won't mind missing.  

            And, oh yes, this species is indeed cute when small'¦ But then again, so was I! 

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.


            The Queen is of course a member of the family Balistidae (note the similarity between this and the field of Balistics). The family comprises eleven genera of approximately forty species, about half of which make it into marine aquarists tanks.

All Balistids share a general body plan. Laterally compressed, rough, plate-like skin, square-tailed, with three dorsal spines that along with their distensible underside help them "lock" themselves in places during while sleeping at night and where you and I can't pull them out if hunting them. All Triggerfishes canine like teeth for crushing and if you're interested 18 vertebrae. 


            Triggerfishes range in size as much as temperament. Some species stay under a foot in length, a few to three feet or so! Geographically they are found throughout the warm parts of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Some are circumtropical. Balistes vetula is a 'medium size' trigger, attaining some two feet in length maximum in the wild, though rarely more than half of this in captivity. In terms of temperament however, the Queen ranks up there with the most terrible and unpredictable'¦ the Clown Trigger (Balistoides conspicillum).

            Note that though a Queen (or other trigger for this matter) may not seem interested in consuming its tankmates, they are prone to change'¦ and 'test out their world' with their teeth'¦ including any and all exposed electrical cords, glass heater tubes, plumbing gear'¦ Everything should either be remoted elsewhere or heavily guarded against their abuse.

            Suitable tankmates run the gamut of a total mix of reef life (more successfully from the tropical West Atlantic'¦ though it does feed on benthic invertebrates in the wild'¦ particularly Urchins), to other very hardy and aware fishes like basses, morays and large/r wrasses. Again, there are no guarantees with housing Balistes vetula'¦ Starting with a small/er specimen, having it grow up with other livestock you intend to keep, avoiding offering other/similar food items to these tankmates, having a very large (hundreds of gallons plus'¦) system all may help, but'¦

            Oh, and it might go w/o stating, but 'one to a tank' with this as with most other (with the exception of pairs, and HUGE systems) species of Balistid.  


            A good Queen Triggerfish is usually easy to find. This species ships very well, and adapts quickly, in almost all cases, to captive conditions.

1) If there is more than one specimen to decide amongst, do go for the more outgoing one'¦ Some Triggers are reclusive at first'¦ you may as well start with one that is already socialized.

2) Size matters. There is, as stated, a desire to start with a smallish individual, but not too small. I have seen Balistes vetula offered at under an inch overall length. I would rather start on the range of 1 ½- 2' long. Larger, wild-collected (as opposed to traded in specimens) than 3-4' can be problematical behaviorally'¦

3) About torn fins'¦ not a problem. Almost all specimens have some collateral damage from collection (all Triggers are wild-caught) and consequent holding, shipping. These tears heal quickly, sans the use of medicines.


            Obviously, the larger tank you have to house your Queen, the better with this as with all Triggerfish species. Having room to move is important for exercise physically, as well as psychologically for these fishes. In the wild they have very large lek territories'¦ spanning at least a few hundred square feet. Giving them space in captivity greatly improves their stress levels and puts off aberrant behavior.  When small, a tiny specimen can be kept in a sixty gallon aquarium, but larger specimens need tanks of a few times this size.

            Matching gear should include at least an efficient skimmer, but I encourage you to 'go reef' with even just keeping such an animal in a Fish Only setting'¦ for all the benefits of having a live sump/refugium, with Deep Sand Bed (nitrate reduction), macroalgae culture (metabolite consolidation), and alternating light-dark period illumination (stabilization of water quality), among many other advantages.


            Getting a Queen Trigger to feed is not hard. All meaty foods are generally accepted with gusto. Indeed, the saying 'A fish that eats is a fish that lives' definitely applies here; a Trigger that is not voraciously feeding is something to be querulous about'¦ and calls for a rapid assessment of water quality, disposition of tankmates, function of gear.

            Small specimens can be fed twice or more daily, larger ones can get by easily with just one feast per day. Again, whole or cut fish, shellfish, crustacean meat'¦ nutritious pelleted and other prepared format foods are taken easily.  

Disease: Diagnosis & Treatment:

            Happily the pugnaciousness of this species is well-matched with its resistance to environmental and pathogenic disease. If 'things' start going sideways in/with your system, your Queen Trigger will be either the last or near to it in terms of showing symptoms or succumbing. This being stated, should the system itself become infested with the usual suspects in the way of parasitic protozoans, this and all other Triggers can well-withstand the usual procedures for extended dips/baths or exposure to medicines.


            As yet, this and all other Balistids have not been bred and reared in captivity for the ornamental trade, but I want to mention, actually caution folks who might sojourn out to their wild environs re being aware, beware of the family's disposition re biting intruders to their nest areas during breeding seasons (Summer into Fall). Males build nests, attracting females polygamously'¦ with all visitors being chased away. 


            Are you looking for that certain special 'alpha' fish for a long term, large display purpose? Not afraid of being bitten? Have fast reflexes? Well, the Queen Trigger may be just your ticket. This fish is smart to the point of being intelligent, can be trained to do tricks (for food), and is as-engaging as its con-familial Clown'¦ just as irascible however, and not to be ever wholly trusted with tankmates, be they fish or invertebrate.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Campbell, Douglas G. 1979. Fishes for the beginner; A guide for the new marine hobbyist -- part five; Triggerfish. FAMA 3/79.

Edmonds, Les 1994. Trigger happy fish. TFH 8/94.

Emmens, Cliff W. 1984. Triggerfishes. TFH 5/84.

Fenner, Robert M. 1998. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist; A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists. Microcosm, VT. 432pp.

Flood, Andrew Colin. 1997. The trouble with triggers. TFH 2/97.

Fong, Jack. 1992. The ten most aggressive triggers. TFH 12/92.

Holliday, L. 1987. Marine fish of the month. No. 7. Triggerfish. Practical Fishkeeping, April 1987, 62-63.

Manooch, C.S. III & C.L. Drennon. 1987. Age & Growth of yellowtail snapper and queen triggerfish collected from U.S. Virgin Islands & Puerto Rico. Fish Res. (Amst.) 6(1):53-68.

Michael, Scott W. 1995. Trigger talk. SeaScope, v. 12, Summer 95.

Michael, Scott W. 1997. Triggerfishes. A great reason for having a saltwater tank. AFM 2/97.

Miklosz, John C. 1972. Trigger Fishes. Marine Aquarist Magazine. 3(2), 1972.

Nelson, Joseph S. 1994. Fishes of the World, 3d ed. John Wiley & Sons, NY. 600pp.

Randall, J.E. & J.T. Millington. 1990. Triggerfish bite - a little known marine hazard. J. Wilderness Med. 1(2) 1990:79-85

Stratton, Richard. F. 1988. The queen of the seas. TFH 8/88.

Stratton, Richard F. 1995. The triggerfish mystique. TFH 11/95.

Triggerfishes for  Marine Aquariums

Diversity, Selection & Care
New eBook on Amazon: Available here
New Print Book on Create Space: Available here

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

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