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Related FAQs: The Fishes of the Red Sea

Related Articles: Reef Flats, Sandy Reef SlopeBiotopes, Fishwatcher's Guide to the Red Sea, Triggerfishes of the Red Sea, Butterflyfishes of the Red Sea, Angelfishes of the Red Sea,  

Marine Aquarium Biotopes: Pt.2

 Red Sea Reef Slope  5 of 5


Bob Fenner


Back to: Red Sea Reef Slope 4 of 5

Butterflyfishes, family Chaetodontidae: Of the twenty two species of Butterflies found in the Red Sea, these are the most hardy and readily available from the region. 

Chaetodon auriga Forsskal, 1775,  the Threadfin Butterflyfish; so named for a trailing filament that grows from the posterior dorsal fin. Some writers recognize a subspecies, Chaetodon auriga auriga confined to the Red Sea; this form lacks the "regular" auriga's dark spot on the soft dorsal fin. Feeds on a wide range of sessile invertebrates, including coral polyps.


Chaetodon fasciatus Forsskal, 1775, the Red Sea Raccoon Butterflyfish, an almost dead ringer for the wider spread Hawaii to Indo-Pacific Chaetodon lunula (Lacepede 1803), the Raccoon Butterflyfish to folks in the west. The Red Sea form is much brighter yellow, lacks the tail band of the wider-ranging species and has much smaller white and black head bands.

Chaetodon paucifasciatus Ahl 1923, the Red-Back or Crown Butterflyfish. Only from the Red Sea and one of my favorites. An opportunistic omnivore, feeding on benthic marine invertebrates of all kinds, including coral polyps. To five inches in length.

Chaetodon semilarvatus Cuvier, 1831, the Golden, or Blue Mask Butterflyfish. A fabulous fish for beauty, swimming grace and hardiness. A large species (to plate size) that accepts all types of foods in captivity, feeding mainly on polyps of hard and soft corals in the wild. A Red Sea, Gulf of Aden endemic species.

Heniochus diphreutes Jordan 1903, Schooling Bannerfish.(1) Similar to the "common heni", H. acuminatus, but with smaller mouth and more rounded breast area. Zooplanktivore that excels in a large, un-crowded system. Cleaners as juveniles. This one in Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia.

Heniochus intermedius Steindachner 1893, the Red Sea Bannerfish.(1) Eager feeder on all types of meaty foods; feeds on zooplankton and benthic invertebrates in the wild. Only found in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden to the south. To seven inches overall length.

Angelfishes, family Pomacanthidae: The larger species of Angels here are exemplary, even the Regal which is too touchy for aquarium use from everywhere else. Do look for captive-produced Asfur's if you have a large fish/tank need for a real showpiece specimen (hundreds of gallons).

Pomacanthus (Arusetta) asfur (Forsskal 1775), the Arabian or Crescent Angel. A fabulous beauty and centerpiece for very large systems. To sixteen inches in the wild. Red Sea on down to Arabian Sea and around Horn of Africa to Zanzibar. Juvenile and adult in captivity.

Pomacanthus (Arusetta) maculosus (Forsskal 1775), the Yellow-Band Angelfish. Very similar as adults and juveniles to Pomacanthus asfur, with told apart from their clear tails and smaller yellow body patch. To eighteen inches long. Red Sea, Persian Gulf to east African coast. Adults in captivity and the wild pictured.

Pomacanthus imperator (Bloch 1787), the Emperor Angel. Widespread in the central and western Pacific into the Indian Oceans coasts and Red Sea. To fifteen inches total length. Shown are a juvenile of about four inches in captivity and an adult in the Red Sea.

Pygoplites diacanthus (Boddaert 1772), the Regal Angelfish. Indo-Pacific; Red Sea, East Africa to the Tuamotus, north to southern Japan. To ten inches in length. Note the gray chest area of this Fijian specimen. The much more desirable, hardier Indian Ocean and Red Sea ones have an orange chest area. Shown: both.

Hawkfishes, family Cirrhitidae: The only semi-common species in the Red Sea (out of five that are found here) is Forster's, though the Spotted and Longnose are very desirable when/where encountered.

Cirrhitichthys oxycephalus (Bleeker 1855), the Coral Hawkfish. Most widespread species in the family; from all tropical parts of the Indo-Pacific, Red Sea to eastern Pacific. To four inches in length. One out in the open (for a short time) in the Red Sea. 

The Long-Nose Hawkfish, Oxycirrhites typus (Bleeker 1857), The Hawkfish most hobbyists have seen and want. Found in the Indo-Pacific, including Hawai'i, This superlatively suitable aquarium species reaches approximately five inches in total length. The Longnose is always associated with Sea Fans and Black Coral "bushes" Red Sea image. 

Forster's or Freckled Hawkfish, Paracirrhites forsteri (Schneider 1801). With a body marked by dark spots on the front half and horizontal bands on the rear. This species can be testy and eat goldfish near their full length of almost nine inches, so be careful when purchasing a larger one. Indo-Pacific. Juvenile and adult in the Red Sea.

Damselfishes, family Pomacentridae: Of the forty species of pomacentrid species found in the Red Sea, some are much more likely to be found at or near the reef flat, just on the border with the slope, and down further amongst sand, rocky rubble and patch reefs. The following three species are more slope-associated. 

Chromis dimidiata (Klunzinger 1871), the Two-tone Chromis. Indian Ocean and Red Sea (origin of this image). To two inches overall length. A more common offering in European pet-fish markets. Red Sea image. 

Amblyglyphidodon flavilatus Allen & Randall, 1980, the Yellowfin Damsel. Western Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. To four inches in length. A juvenile and adult off of Sharm in the upper Red Sea. A. leucogaster also occurs in the Red Sea.


Wrasses, family Labridae: Only a couple of labrids are prominent on the rocky reef slopes in the Red Sea, though most all of the sixty nine species found here can be found in this habitat on occasion.

Thalassoma lunare (Linnaeus 1758), the Moon Wrasse (2), sometimes comes in great, other times... all die. Red Sea and Indian Ocean,  to the Line Islands. Length to ten inches. Can be more green or blue in overall coloration. Young have a dark spot on their caudal and mid-dorsal fins. A male off of Gili Air, Lombok, Indonesia, and female in the Red Sea. 

Surgeonfishes, family Acanthuridae: Of the 15 species in the Red Sea, only four or five can be considered common and coincidentally of good use to aquarists. 

Acanthurus nigrofuscus (Forsskal 1775), the blackish Brown or Spot-Cheeked Surgeonfish. Manageable size (to eight inches), and moderate behavior toward other fishes qualify the Brown Tang as a desirable aquarium species especially as an algae controller. Unfortunately it is a rather plain fish. Red Sea images of individual and group feeding together to overwhelm more aggressive, territorial fishes. 

Ctenochaetus striatus (Quoy & Gaimard 1828) the Striped Bristletooth, is the one member of the genus found extending into the Red Sea (but also found in the Indo-Pacific to Oceania and the I.O.); it is the most frequently imported species in Europe. It's body color is overall drab olive sporting wavy blue lines. Small orange dots are sprinkled on the head. One and a couple tussling in the Red Sea.

Zebrasoma desjardinii ("day-har-din-ee-eye") (Bennett 1835), Desjardin's Sailfin Tang. Seeing this fish and Z. veliferum at the same time might cause you to do a double take; they are very similar in color and markings. Desjardin's Tang comes to the trade mainly from the Indian Ocean or Red Sea, so one way to distinguish it is by source locale (or cost). It also has a few less soft dorsal and anal fin rays (28,29D and 22-24A versus 29-33D and 23-26A for the Pacific Sailfin) if you can get yours to hold still. Actually, the easiest discernible difference is the markings on the tail. The Pacific is white, yellow and gray banded, and Desjardin's is dark with whitish yellow spots. Juvenile below. Currently considered the same species as Z. veliferum by some authorities. Below: four and six inch individuals in captivity and a fourteen inch one in the Maldives.

Triggerfishes, family Balistidae. Not always seen, rarely abundant, but almost always right around the corner, some species of Triggers from the Red Sea have been utilized in reef systems w/o "sampling" other tank inhabitants. Only those with large systems and plenty of nerves need apply. We'll skip the big bruisers here.

Balistapus undulatus (Park 1797), the Undulated  or Orange-Lined Triggerfish is both loved and vilified in our hobby. On the one hand it's a gorgeous species that is very hardy. On the other it can be a pure terror towards its tank-mates, eating or "sampling" them all to death. Don't despair if you have a penchant for keeping this fish. True, most Indo-Pacific ones are mean to a fault and must be kept only with like-mad-minded fishes, but do look for the more mellow Red Sea specimens if you can. These are much more peaceful toward other species. An Undulated Trigger in the Red Sea shown.

From further out in the western Indian Ocean and the Red Sea comes another "Picasso", or (preferably) the Assasi Trigger, Rhinecanthus assasi (Forsskal 1775). This one in the Red Sea. To one foot in length.

Back to: Red Sea Reef Slope 4 of 5

Or on down the slope to: Red Sea Sandy Reef Slopes, pt. 3

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