Stocking The Reef (primer)

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  1. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    When I first entered the hobby I was 14 and walked into a store wide-eyed and excited. What little money I had was burning a hole in my pocket. For most of us, putting together our tanks is a mix of research and experience. Often that research is post impulse purchase. Often that experience is fraught with bad investments and dead animals. Success in the hobby isn’t by luck, but rather, foresight and planning.

    We can look at building the successful reef aquarium like building a house. The basics of the house consist of the very things that will make it livable. The brick and mortar are replaced by glass and silicone. The central air and furnace are replaced by chillers and titanium heating elements. Excellent ventilation becomes excellent circulation. Like any architect will tell you, building a house is more than just a job—it’s an art.

    Often, the most difficult tanks to maintain are ill planned and jury-rigged together. Like an architect building around a central theme, the most successful and stunning reef aquaria are built with an initial thought, emotion, or animal in mind.

    In the following articles, I will discuss stocking a successful reef tank with live goods. With an artistic eye and a vision, you can make the house that you have built into a home.

    In the first part of my series, I would like to lay down the foundation to good planning. I will introduce a few basic rules, and guidelines that can make choosing livestock into a fun and dynamic activity.

    In the second part of my series, I would like to explore the facets of different region specific set ups. Many areas of the world have exceptionally interesting animals that warrant special attention and design. Region specific tanks are not only more authentic representations of nature, but they allow us to more accurately develop systems attuned to the needs of its inhabitants.

    In the third part of my series, I would like to look at different stocking regimen for the nano-reef. This is one of the fastest growing trends in the hobby; however, in our haste, we often compromise the requirements of the animals that we wish to keep.

    In the fourth part of my series, I would like to close my discussion with a few animals that warrant attention. There are quite a few “bread-and-butter†fish out in the market. There are also a few animals out there that are particularly fascinating, and often become the centerpiece of which a tank is built around. I remember the effect that these animals had on me, walking into my neighborhood aquarium store for the first time. The spectacular colors to the subtle behavioral nuances captivated me. Sometimes, it is that one animal that makes the entire venture worthwhile.

    I hope that what follows is worthwhile and meaningful.

    Skeleton for future articles:

    In the first part of my series, I would like to lay down the foundation to good planning. I will introduce a few basic rules, and guidelines that can make choosing livestock into a fun and dynamic activity.

    -Keys to a successful tank
    -Choose the animals first, then chose your tank
    -Making a collage with the family
    -Foam board, fish magazine cuttings, article cuttings, book refrences, online printouts, markers, and construction paper
    -Stocking order, and a discussion on aggression
    -The division of aggression
    -Animals that have complex pecking orders
    -Complex and unpredictable—tangs, anthias, wrasses.

    In the second part of my series, I would like to explore the facets of different region specific set ups. Many areas of the world have exceptionally interesting animals that warrant special attention and design. Region specific tanks are not only more authentic representations of nature, but they allow us to more accurately develop systems attuned to the needs of its
    -Gulf of Mexico
    -Indian Ocean
    -Tonga, Fiji, Samoa
    -Red Sea
    -Reef wall
    -The seahorse reef (if we can even call it that)

    In the third part of my series, I would like to look at different stocking regimen for the nano-reef. This is one of the fastest growing trends in the hobby; however, in our haste, we often compromise the requirements of the animals that we wish to keep.

    -Less is more
    -Stocking levels in small tanks (and a mention of the additional risks and hazards to the smaller tank)
    -Animals that are particularly adept to life in nano
    -Animals that are most definitely not
    -A discussion on “grow to size†ethics.

    In the fourth part of my series, I would like to close my discussion with a few animals that warrant attention. There are quite a few “bread-and-butter†fish out in the market. There are also a few animals out there that are particularly fascinating, and often become the centerpiece of which a tank is built around. I remember the effect that these animals had on me, walking into my neighborhood aquarium store for the first time. The spectacular colors to the subtle behavioral nuances captivated me. Sometimes, it is that one animal that makes the entire venture worthwhile.

    -The Harlequin tusk
    -Harlequin shrimp
    -Anthias tank
    -Pistol shrimp goby
    -Clownfish, anemone
    -Sexy shrimp, anemone crab, porcelain crab, SPS crab
    -Panda Goby and pocillipora pair
    -Lionfish, pufferfish, boxfish, triggers, and eels
    -The acropora/clam garden

    (CONT TO PART-2)
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2006
    jhnrb, Apr 16, 2006
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  2. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    The Foundation

    Planning the reef aquarium is much like planning any other event or project. Success is not by mere luck, but is rather earned. Take the time to lay a framework for your project, and try to obtain a good grasp of it before making a single purchase. The biggest mistakes that we make are often rooted in impulse and misinformation. As much of an impulse buyer I am, the pragmatist often wins. Here are a few words of advice from a former-impulse reefer.


    The first “reef†aquarium that I put together was a used 40 Gallon breeder, with a canister filter, undergravel filter, crushed coral and “live†rock. In the course of its existence I had 2-3 yellow tangs (concurrently and consecutively), countless mandarins, and many pet Aiptasia. I was frustrated and poor, but I never gave up.

    I was 14 when I walked down to my local fish shop and picked up a used and tattered, first edition copy of The Reef Aquarium Vol.1 by Delbeek & Sprung. I remember how the pictures sparked such curiosity. I then discovered a huge library of information existed surrounding the hobby, reef and invertebrate husbandry, and reef aquarium methodology. Oh how I did everything wrong! With months of lunch money down the drain, and a lifetime ahead of me, I picked up the hair algae ridden remnants of my tank, and started over.

    The adage goes: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.†Taking the time to do the research is painless, pleasurable and comparably inexpensive alternative to learning through experience. There are a number of excellent books available to help researching animals and their husbandry requirements. There are also a number of excellent online sources.

    Here are a few of my favorite books that have really helped illustrate the ins and outs, and subtle nuances to reefing:

    -The Reef Aquarium Series
    -The Marine Aquarium Hand Book
    -Natural Reef Aquariums
    -The Conscientious Marine Aquarist
    -Reef Invertebrates
    -Aquarium Corals by Eric Borneman
    -Dr Burgess’s Marine Fish Atlas/ Pocket Guide.

    In terms of internet resources:

    -Internet forums have become a staple source of information (and misinformation) in the industry. They have helped foster a sense of community, enabling us disseminate knowledge and awareness worldwide.


    After my experience with my first tank passed, I was determined to do it right the second time around. I scratched my head and didn’t really know where to start. Should I keep my old tank? What equipment should I buy next? What animals would actually survive (or better, thrive) in my system?

    Planning and budgeting were never my strong points, but I picked up a few tricks with all of my research. The first thing I bought was probably the most helpful tool that I ever had. I picked up a journal.

    While you are doing your research, jot down the animals that are of particular interest to you. Take note of their husbandry requirements, their feeding habits, and any stocking limitations. Make as many wish-lists as you can, and let your aquarium come together on paper before making any real purchases. After my 40 gallon breeder crashed, the best part of the hobby for me was imagining the different tanks I could put together.

    Use your journal as a tool to planning, organizing, and budgeting your tank. Put together a rough idea with animals and lists. Then organize them into figures and numbers. Then make a timeframe for your purchases and expenses. Not everything needs to be purchased right away, and often, should not be.


    Only bad things happen fast in this hobby so almost every aspect of the hobby requires some degree of patience. The best advice that I could ever give you is, “take it slow!â€

    Take the time to draw out the bigger image. Use your journal as a tool to exclude lemons from your future purchases. Buy slow, and buy deliberately. Sometimes, living on a budget is a blessing in disguise.

    A Fun Family Project
    The Bigger Picture

    -1 or more large foam presentation boards
    -Colored markers
    -Colored construction paper
    -Your journal Aquarium and science magazines
    -Online Aquarium Resources
    -1 or more excited children


    Step one:

    Flip through the pages of your favorite aquarium magazines, books, catalogs, calendars and online photo albums and find the images and animals that really impact you. Print and cut out the images that mean the most to you, and in your journal, jot down any special requirements and stocking considerations the animal may need.

    Step two:

    Build your aquarium. Use Markers, construction paper, and a heavy duty glue-stick to draw out the background. If you bring your children with you to explore your local fish store, they often have a really good idea of what they want the tank to look like.

    If you want to let your children do the brunt of the artistic back drop, take a second foam board and begin drawing in the essential hardware to putting your tank together. Include the tank, lights, filtration, and any complicated plumbing arrangements that you may think would work.

    Step three:

    Stock your tank. Take the images and cut outs that you made, and glue the animals in with your children, as you see fit. Now, take into consideration special stocking considerations and add and remove animals as you go. Put glitter or fringe around the animals that mean a lot to you and your children, for special consideration.

    If you are using a second foam board for hardware, cut and paste the pictures of special equipment you’d like to buy.

    Take your wish lists and transcribe them onto these foam boards, to create your dream tank

    Step Four:

    Place the foam board where you feel that you want to have the tank. Put it up on the wall, and slowly start accumulating the things necessary to put your tank together.

    (CONT TO PART-3)
    jhnrb, Apr 16, 2006
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  3. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    A Look at Region Specific Stocking

    We as reef aquarists have a unique position in the world. We are both hobbyists and pet owners. We seek to collect rare and enchanting specimens from an ecosystem we are struggling to protect. While building the reef aquarium is an engaging and fulfilling thing to do, we must remember that we have a responsibility to the animals that we keep. Putting together a system that works and thrives is success in the hobby.

    The Pitfalls of the “Shop as You Go†Aquarium

    We go to the fish store every day and purchase what looks nice. As most animals that go into our aquariums have roughly similar needs, we are indiscriminate and hasty with our purchases. We then have a tank with representatives of all different colors, rather than need and compatibility.

    There are many ways that we paint ourselves into a corner. A man had purchased a grouper of a decent size. He also bought a good large clownfish, just large enough to stave off the grouper’s appetite. He then wanted to mate his large clownfish. As clownfish change sex as they move up in a size pecking order, the smaller the clown you get, the more likely it is to be a male. But how do you choose a clown that is small enough to be a male, yet large enough to not get eaten? In fact, won’t both clowns eventually be eaten by such a voracious animal eventually?

    Corals also present a particularly pertinent compatibility issue. Many of them just don’t get along. The galaxea is a great example. Like the rainforest, the reef floor is a constant battle ground for space. Many of these animals have adapted means of assuring space on the reef floor. Galaxea’s nematocyst laden sweeper tentacles present a unique hurdle for the aquarist when deciding its purchase and subsequent placement. A “mixed reef†of soft corals and SPS corals is often quite difficult to achieve as soft corals have adapted to this race for space by developing a type of chemical warfare. Palythoa, the common button polyp, releases a particularly toxic chemical, which is sometimes even dangerous to the aquarist, let alone your other corals.

    The secret to a harmonious and successful tank is, as said before, planning. The reef aquarium is a particularly powerful canvas to paint with, and works best with insight, inspiration, and foresight.

    A Brief Look at Regionality and Locality

    One solution that is always proposed to help choose animals appropriate for each other is to create a region specific environment. While the idea works in theory, there are still a lot of pitfalls. For instance, the genus Acropora has a huge distribution. They range from the east coast of Africa, through India, the Philippines, Samoa, Hawaii, north west South America, then through to the Caribbean (Veron, 126-127)! Palythoa, zoanthids, and mushroom anemones are found in many regions where acropora are found, however, they are not necessarily compatible. Aquariums that are densely stocked with such animals are particularly prone to chemical warfare. Furthermore, many tanks that are designed to keep mushrooms, palythoa, and zoanthids, are ill suited to house acropora.

    When looking at species distribution globally, we see very little that can help us put together our systems. It is only when we look at the locality of species within each region that we begin to see any type of useful stratification. Veron describes different localities in a variety of ways. The simplest that he depicts stratifies the indo-pacific shore into four different segments: The mangrove forest, the intertidal mud flat, the outer intertidal mud flat and the reef slope (Veron, 39). Corals are found from the intertidal mudflat through the reef slope. The reef slope is further stratified into the back reef margin, lagoon, reef flat, and the reef front. Each of these localities have different depths, current, and even ranges of temperature.

    When mapping the distribution of animals along the reef slope, we begin to see a phenomenon called a cline. Imagine that you are at the base of a mountain, surrounded by trees. Take a look at the size, shape and distribution of the trees. Take note of the different species of trees, animals, and other plants around. Then walk up the mountain. As you move up the mountain, the composition of plants and animals gradually changes. The different sections of the mountain each provide different conditions for life to grow. Like the mountain slope, the reef slope is rich with life. The distribution of animals depends on the resources and environment available for them. Moving any direction along the reef slope you can see a cline.

    jhnrb, Apr 16, 2006
  4. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    Part-3 (cont)

    The Regionally and Locally Specific Reef

    A veteran once stationed in Hawaii missed his younger days, and longed to be back in Hawaii and in the waters again. Although collecting corals from American waters is illegal, he pursued creating a tank as closely reflective of his old lagoon as possible. He chose fish and invertebrates that were endemic to Hawaii. He chose corals from South Pacific islands such as Samoa, Fiji, and Fiji that were present, or similar to corals that found in his lagoon. I have never seen such a breathtaking aquascape in such a small space. He packed corals densely enough to make them attractive, and chose animals that worked together, and were found often in close proximity. He chose animals whose biologies did not compete, or chose to keep those animals separate. He was judicious, slow, and intent on his vision. I have never seen such a breathtaking tank.

    The secret to his success was his commitment to his lagoon. He chose to create an environment that was both regionally and locally specific, and provided animals an environment that they work together in, or at least do not compete violently in.

    A Few Common Regionally and Locally Specific Themes

    The Outer Reef: The Outer Reef is one of the most dynamic and impressive environments in the world. Many of us strive to create such a bright, nutrient poor, and turbulent environment at home. It houses corals from Acropora, Montipora, to Favia and Favites. Acanthurus and Zebrasoma tangs are found in hoards throughout the outer reef surge zone. Damsels weave in and out of huge acropora heads.

    The Reef Apex: At the apex of the outer reef, along isolated reef walls, and across shallow sand crests on the reef’s shore lay small islands of life. Here, large anemones are host to huge families of clowns, reveling in their protective tentacles. Nutrient poor, and particularly bright, these invertebrate safe havens thrive. Great caution should be taken when creating such an environment, as clownfish hosting anemones require vigorous husbandry and seldom survive in the average aquarist’s care.

    The Reef Floor, Caves and Overhangs: Lower light, or particularly turbid, this is where some of the brightest and dynamic corals live. Tubastrea, gorgonia, and Dendronephthya grow in abundance under little to no light. Dendronepthya often grow completely upside down. Small, long nosed hawks, perch on great stalks of gorgonia, awaiting their next meal (Debelius and Baensch, 1032). Care and husbandry of such animals provides a great challenge to reef hobbyist. While nutrient poor, and relatively dim, these animals require huge amounts of current and food to survive.

    Soft Corals and the Shallow Reef: The conditions in the shallow, soft coral reef vary. Corals collected from such an environment have low to moderate lighting requirements. Huge Sarcophyton leathers, often measuring a few meters wide, dominate portions of this zone. Xenia, zoanthids, and mushroom corals find their niches along the shallow reef wall.

    A Look at a Few Good Guides

    Building the regionally and locally specific tank is often a difficult task. Being judicious while shopping at your local fish store is a challenge, to say the least. But there are many tools that you have at hand.

    As shown in previous papers, careful planning can help guide your purchases. Keeping a journal with you as you go through your local fish store helps you to note animals that are interesting, and reference your notes and existing animals. Bring a digital camera to the fish store, so that you may look up peculiar animals and corals on your own time.

    A few books are particularly helpful when looking for the locally specific animals of a region. A great book beginning book to look at is Natural Reef Aquariums, by John Tullock. Here he talks about basic set ups and methodologies, and then he expands on the possibilities of the natural reef tank. He takes great care to explain large regions, such as the Indo-Pacific and the Caribbean. He then divides each region into its local microcosms, such as the reef flat, outer reef shore, caves and over hangs. It is a great beginning guide for the aquarist in building a true microcosm.

    If you are looking at building an Indo-Specific tank of scleratinian corals of various types, Julian Sprung’s Corals, A Quick Reference Guide provides detailed descriptions of animals that are endemic to the Solomon Islands. He uses easy to read descriptions of placement to give a good idea of the animal’s locality along the reef-shore.

    The Marine Atlas Series by Debelius and Baensch is a wonderful reference that covers tropical animals throughout the world. It gives detailed descriptions of the distribution of both invertebrates and fish.

    A Few Closing Remarks about Regionally and Locally Specific Aquarium Stocking

    We draw pleasure from this hobby by creating a world. We build a house, a small universe, a living work of art. While I advocate vigorous husbandry, and careful attention to detail, I also acknowledge that this is, in fact, a hobby. We can’t always create a tank that mimics exactly a small cove in the world. So choose animals that make this hobby enjoyable. Find pleasure in the nuances of the animals that you have. Take joy in knowing your animals, and find wonder in rediscovering their behaviors. But never forget your responsibility to the animals that you carry.

    (CONT. TO PART-4)
    jhnrb, Apr 16, 2006
  5. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    A lot has changed in the last twenty years within the marine aquarium industry.. Due to methodologies and technological advances, more people are starting and maintaining successful marine tanks that ever and the reef aquarium is an attainable goal for the average hobbyist. We can see this in the advent of the nano-reef aquarium. Once an unthinkable task, nano-reefs are now the industry staple. Twenty years ago, a successful “desktop aquarium†consisted of a 5-10 gallon glass tank with an undergravel and dolomite substrate (Moe. 308). I look around our office, and think to myself that things have changed indeed!

    Simple 10 gallon tank set ups with air pumps and incandescent bulbs have been replaced by tuned up nano-reefs. Tanks in our office are outfitted with protein skimmers, additional flow, deep sand beds, and power compact lighting. One of my coworkers even uses an Aqua Controller Jr.!

    There are more products in the market now, than ever, to cater to the small tank enthusiast. All-in-one set ups are made, fine tuned, and shipped out in droves. Nano-reefs are the hottest trend in the industry, but as with all trends, we need to step back and look at what we are doing. As said before, while building the reef aquarium is an engaging and fulfilling thing to do, we must remember that we have a responsibility to the animals that we keep. We must work hard to provide an environment in which they can thrive.

    What is a Nano Reef?

    When looking at the ocean and its huge expanses of coral reefs, in comparison, any in-home representation can be considered a mini-reef. In practice, midsize mini-reefs ranging from 40-100 gallons have become common place. They fit easily into the average home, allow for most commonly available animals to be kept, and are reasonably affordable. Nano-reefs are even smaller representations of the reef. They range from 1-30 gallons. They fit easily onto a work desk or countertop.

    Considerations for the Small Tank Enthusiast

    Although nano-reefs are less expensive than a larger tank to set up, they are not, by any means, easier. Imagine that you have a five gallon tank and a five hundred gallon tank in the same room. Now place a dead or dying anemone into each. Which tank would crash first? If you said the five gallon tank, you are correct.

    Smaller tanks simply lack the stability and buffering capacity of larger tanks. As the above example depicts, they can be finicky, difficult to stabilize, and in the case of a mishap, can crash within hours. Everything from temperature, to salinity can swing in a heartbeat.

    When considering a nano-reef, do the research behind normal reef husbandry, and take a few extra precautions. Always be prepared to do a large water change in case of an emergency. Keep some fresh saltwater prepared and keep a close eye on the inhabitants. Remember, nano-reefs are a challenge!

    Stocking the Nano Reef Aquarium

    There are many more obstacles in keeping a smaller tank than a midsized or larger one. In addition to stability, great care should be taken when choosing the animals that you wish to keep. “The key to keeping marine organisms in a mini tank is to be lean and selective†(Moe, 311). Although you may see many densely stocked nano-reefs online or at high quality local fish stores, keep in mind that there was foresight and planning behind the tank.

    Before you purchase any animal, take the time and plan out what you want to keep. Online vendors, such as ourselves, catalog the many plants and animals available, and provide brief descriptions of compatibility, diet, and distribution. When planning your nano tank, browse through our selection here, and bookmark especially interesting animals. When planning the nano reef, there are three especially important considerations you must make before purchasing each animal.

    Size and Distribution

    The first rule in stocking any aquarium is to buy animals that as adults will fare well in your tank. Many animals are absolutely precious as juveniles, but become monsters as they age. For instance, the panther grouper is a charming animal when small. Their fins and coloration make them attractive, while their personality and intelligence make them personable. They fare well in small tanks when less than 4 inches, but can quickly grow to over a foot long.

    Also keep in mind the natural distribution of the animal that you are keeping. Clownfish are particularly well suited for aquarium life because they never occupy a space in nature more than two square feet. Mandarin Dragonets, though roughly equal in size, occupy much larger tracts of land to hunt and feed. As such, they are suited for only mid sized to larger tanks.


    Although many smaller animals are perfectly suitable for smaller tanks, be prepared to have them as the sole occupants. For instance, dottybacks, damsels, and larger clownfish such as the clarki, or tomato clown, are all great candidates for the nano reef aquarium. However, many will not tolerate other animals in their space.

    Territoriality is not limited to fish. Many corals also exhibit strong territoriality. Galaxea, frogspawn and hydnopora are all corals that are extremely aggressive, and can harm corals within their general vicinity. These animals have long sweeper tentacles that help it secure its space from other encroaching corals. Galaxea in particular, can harm and kill corals within a foot of it.

    Soft corals can also exhibit quite a bit of territoriality in the form of chemical warfare. Palythoa, and zooanthids have the capacity to release low levels of toxins into the tank, to inhibit the growth of competitors. In polyp-dominated tanks, this is rarely a problem. However, dense populations can prevent one from creating a mixed reef with small polyp stony corals.

    (PART-4 CONT)
    jhnrb, Apr 16, 2006
  6. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    Part-4 (cont)

    Bio Load

    One of the most common questions in the reef hobby is “how many fish can I have in a ____ gallon tank?†Many people try to boil it down to a simple “inch per gallon†rule. However, it is rarely that simple. Some small animals, though small, require large quantities of food. Some animals, require large tracts of space, and other animals prefer to be in large social groups.

    A good example would be the anthias. Anthias are relatively small, hardy animals that fare well in aquaria. As planktivores on the reef wall, they constantly feed, and have extremely high metabolisms. They also live in large social groups, with schools that cover acres of the reef wall. Though they may fit in the traditional “inch per gallon†sense, they are anything but suitable for the nano-reef.

    So How do I Stock my Nano Tank?

    This is anything but a simple answer. Some animals are not appropriate for the nano reef, while others great, but limit your choices for other organisms. Take your time, do the research and plan ahead. My best suggestion would be to shop around!

    Interesting Candidates for the Nano Reef Aquarium

    If ever there were an arena for a species or region specific tank, the nano- reef would be it. They allow you to explore and accentuate the eccentricities of the reef world on such a small scale. Relationships that would otherwise go unnoticed are in full view in the Nano reef.


    The family gobiidae is one of the most diverse animal group. There are almost 2000 named species, and many more to be named (Debelius, 1040). Small and peculiar, many gobies are particularly suited for aquarium life.

    The Neon Goby is a personal favorite. Often ignored in the larger reef setting, the nano tank showcases their playful personality. Purchased in small groups or pairs, it is not uncommon to have them breed in captivity. They serve as natural cleanerfish for other larger fish, but do not need to do so to survive. Another Marine Depot staff member has a pair that shares a barnacle hole as a home, and come out to play and feed.

    Prawn gobies are particularly interesting in small tanks, and allow us to see one of the most unusual social interactions in the reef. The pistol shrimp and prawn goby often form a symbiotic pair. The blind pistol shrimp and prawn goby share a burrow. While the pistol shrimp builds the home, the prawn goby often stands guard. There are many attractive pairs, such as the yasha hashe goby and randall’s pistol shrimp, that are easily obtained and showcased in a nano reef.

    Aggressive and Interesting Reef Oddities

    There are many animals that you would dread putting into your display tank, that are easily showcased and appreciated in the nano reef. Many animals are simply too aggressive in the main tank, or are not easily maintained. Here are a few exceptional animals to consider as the focus for your nano reef.

    Aggressive fish, such as the angler, scorpionfish, or fumanchu lion, are often overlooked as reef-safe fish. In larger tanks, there are often too many other prized fish to risk purchasing such beauties. In the nano tank, they become the center of the tank. Anglers, scorpionfish, and lions are spectacular animals that warrant attention, and have very peculiar personalities. Another Marine Depot Staff member kept a small angler in his tank named Joseph. He was a favorite among the accounting girls for his meek personality, and ferocious appetite. Keep in mind that these animals are dangerous, and should be handled carefully.

    Another nano-reef favorite is the mantis shrimp. Stomatopods can easily be the most beautiful or spectacular crustacean. They are ferocious, and have earned the name “thumb splitters†for good reason. Often these animals come in as pests in the liverock, skulking around the tank, and taking prized fish as their victims. Rarely seen, in large tanks, they can wreak havoc. In a nano-reef, however, they can thrive. Their unique personalities and eccentricities are revealed. Occasionally, beautifully colored peacock mantis shrimp come in and wow customers.

    The last animal is a true favorite of mine—the harlequin shrimp. These are the smallest marvel of the aquarium, and require expert care. Hobbyists are often mesmerized by its coloration and shape. However, they have an extremely specialized diet, and can only eat the suction feet of starfish. In larger tanks, they often perish trying to find food. In nano-reefs, however, you can easily feed them with a steady diet of chocolate chip starfish. Keep in mind that you must still discard of the carcass quickly, and feed them regularly.

    (CONT. TO PART-5)
    jhnrb, Apr 16, 2006
  7. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    The Center Attraction

    For many of us, the aquarium has turned from hobby to passion. Some of us immerse ourselves in the science of the hobby. Others delve into the hardware and stock pile more gadgets than we can count. And most of us become avid collectors, hand picking fish and corals on sale on our weekly trip to the fish shop.

    I remember an old friend of mine caught the bug and went on a reefing binge. He relished the hard work and ingenuity necessary in the hobby. He was diligent, well read, and in the end his system ran like clock work. He would open his stand doors and gleam with pride at the engineering marvel that was his tank. But I remember his tank as lackluster and plain.

    We often forget why this hobby is so great. While being collectors, biologists, and amateur electricians, we must also remember that we are artists. And like most works of art, the most successful and stunning reef aquaria are built with an initial thought, emotion, or animal in mind. There is inspiration.

    In closing this series of articles, I would like make a few final suggestions for stocking your reef tank. Take some time and look for some inspiration. Many animals are truly amazing, and warrant special attention.

    In the first half of this article, I would like to look at spectacular animals that spark joy and excitement when looking at the reef. These are true center pieces for the aquarium. They offer the aquarium that “wow†factor.

    In the second half of this article, I would like to take a look at peculiar and often unappreciated animals that offer personality and flare to the otherwise plain tank. Although appearing odd, meek or dull, when in your aquarium they are often more interesting and entertaining than their flashier counterparts.

    The Spectacular

    Schooling Fish

    Many animal displays are simply spectacular and quickly catch the gaze of the viewer. Intricate rockwork, and shimmering water lines can showcase hoards of these colorful animals playing amongst themselves. These are the schooling fish. For the larger tank, schooling fish offer energy and vitality missing in more placid displays. Schooling fish can even be quite beneficial for shyer fish in the tank. They can act as dither fish, coaxing timid animals from their hiding places and into view.

    For the hobbyist on a budget, a school of Green Chromises can make for an easy and brilliant focal point. They school well in groups over 7. In large tanks, groups of 12 or more swimming tightly, then dispersing quickly can make for a dazzling display of bright blue green. For those on a bigger budget, Blue Reef Chromises offer richer, deeper blue, often missing in the reef tank.

    For those with exceptionally large tanks, you may consider a small school of tangs. Tangs are found in large shoals, grazing the reef like cattle. In smaller tanks, the complex hierarchy of tangs expresses itself in territoriality and aggression. In larger tanks, with the capacity of holding 6 or more equally sized individuals, this aggression is dispersed amongst the group. Yellow tangs are particularly well suited for schooling in a large tank as they readily do so and are relatively inexpensive. Their bright yellow coloration, and interesting social interactions make them particularly desirable. Groups should be added simultaneously and be relatively equal in size. Other desirable schooling tangs include the and the Convict. For the extremely large tank Unicorn tangs are sometimes appropriate, as they are less aggressive than Naso, or Vlamingi tangs, and can sometime be kept in large groups.

    Perhaps the most brilliant and challenging schooling fish is the Anthia. Anthias display brilliant colors, and are often found in groups by the thousand along the reef wall. They have complex pecking orders that can be difficult to emulate in the aquaria. Many are accustomed to deep water and fare poorly in large reeftanks without adequate depth and shade to hide. Obligate planktivores, almost all anthias need to feed constantly directly from the water column. They must be fed no less than three times a day with enriched meaty foods. Never the less, anthias are a well welcomed challenge to the seasoned aquarist.

    For those with large, well established tanks, capable of handling a sudden increase in bioload, anthias are a wonderful candidate for schooling. Threadfin, Bi-Color, Square Spot, Pictilis, and Lyre Tail anthias all school easily and are relatively hardy compared to other anthias. Aggression of the male must be distributed among many females so group one male to every eight or more females. A group of nine or more anthias is quite impressive indeed!

    A challenging and dazzling anthia species is the Ventralis. Rarely found in the hobby, this anthia may have the capacity to school in large tanks, and large numbers, however this is difficult and costly. Best kept solely as the only anthia. Be wary that they often do not eat immediately in captivity, and must be quarantined and weaned onto frozen foods. Though difficult and costly, a display of Ventralis anthias is a display well worth the effort.

    Though not truly “schooling†fish, many fairy wrasses interact positively with large schools. Dense schools indicate safety for wrasses, and help to coax them from hiding. Some fairy wrasses even swim with the school. I have seen this many times with flasher wrasses among anthias. Many wrasses prove more robust, beautiful, and personable than their schooling counterparts. The Filamentous, Carpenter’s and Lubbock’s wrasse are excellent, colorful additions to reef tanks. Rarely seen in the hobby, the Blue Flasher wrasse and Mc Kosker’s fairy wrasse deserve a look as well.

    For the collector, wrasses offer an arena for exotic and brilliantly colored specimens. Though rare and costly, the Linneatus, La Boute, and Scotts fairy wrasses are well worth it. They are among the most beautiful reef safe wrasses available. They react positively in the presence of a school or other dither fish and easily become the centerpiece of the larger reef.

    (PART-5 CONT)
    jhnrb, Apr 16, 2006
  8. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    Part-5 (cont)

    Solitary Beauty

    Not all spectacular, centerpiece animals are schooling fish. Solitary beauties learn to “own†the tank around them. Beautiful, personable, and graceful, these animals often earn the “pet†status in a reef tank.

    One great example of a solitary beauty is the Regal angel. One of the few relatively reef safe larger angels, Regals are brilliant, intelligent, and personable. An old customer of mine built his entire tank solely to keep a regal. They are a formidable challenge to the average reef hobbyist and require great care and consideration. They often do not eat in captivity, and require quarantining and live foods. Although relatively reef safe, some individuals will nip at clam mantles and fleshy corals from time to time.

    Another solitary beauty is the Harlequin tusk. The tusk is a large, and almost domineering wrasse, with a bulky midsection and vicious looking teeth. The Australian variety is anything but plain, showing bright red, orange, silver, and blue stripes along their body. Though hardy and robust, tusks require medium to large tanks and can be threatening to small fish and invertebrates. They will often eat snails and hermits. Keep only with medium to large fish.

    Spectacular Invertebrates

    As reef keepers, we have many corals and invertebrates in our tanks. They are the color, the base, and the true center of the reef tank. However, many large tanks become cluttered with frags, and have no focus. The hobby has become more collecting than art or husbandry. Some invertebrates, however, are far from ordinary.

    Montipora Capricornis is an awesome coral that grows well under medium to high light. This hardy coral is often striking in size, shape and color. It ridges out and grows quickly, making beautiful plated shelves along the reef wall. These shelves often provide shelter and shade for shyer animals, such as Anthias. Bright green, pink, orange, and speckled variations occur frequently throughout the hobby. Though hardy, be wary of pests that come in with wild specimens. Montipora eating nudibranches and such can decimate healthy colonies in days.

    One of the most impressive tanks that I have seen was aptly named The Clam Garden. It was shallow, with only a few non-invasive corals. Appearing along the side and throughout the tank were small patches of clams of all different species and sizes. They sit along shelves on the reef wall, under cliffs, and in plain site. A giant black and white maxima claimed the center space. Clams are beautiful additions to the brightly lit reef. For the beginning hobbyist, juvenile deresa clams grow quickly and do not require as much light as other clams. They are hardy, undemanding, and beautiful. Squamosa, Maxima and Crocea clams often have mesmerizing color variations along their mantles. Sometimes “ultra†or very peculiar color variations are available, and are treated as exotic treasures. Be wary that clams are demanding in light, food, and water quality. They often succumb to parasitic snails and worms, and can fall victim to the appetite of many fish.


    The animals above are among some of the more striking in the reef aquarium. They are at once beautiful and intriguing, and leave a lasting impression on the viewer. However, there are many other animals that are overlooked as prized specimens.

    I have a good friend who comes by my house quite often. He sits in front of my tank with his mouth agape and stares in. He’d point at things that interest him. He’d make a few observations and ask a few questions. And as I think about the things that he points out, his attention is never focused where mine is. He doesn’t care about the cost of the animals, or their size or even color. He doesn’t care about the rarity or fancy name of the animals. Rather, he was amazed by the life and personality of, what I thought the most insignificant animals in my tank.

    Some of the most interesting and entertaining animals are peculiar, plain, or unspectacular at first glance. Given time, they quickly become well known and appreciated residents in your reef aquarium.


    The first animal that I’d like to look at is the scooter blenny (dragonet). Closely related to other dragonets, such as the green mandarin, these plainly colored animals look pale in comparison. However, take a closer look and they become marvelous in their own right. They have peculiar eyes, interesting swimming patterns, and are remarkably not shy. My niece calls them the small “lizard fish†for color pattern and shape, and demanded that I have one. They have a much better track record than other dragonets, and are a bit more easily weaned unto frozen foods. They fare well in large tanks with plenty of liverock and an active refugium. For those with a more discriminating color pattern, there is a red color variant that is very popular.

    Like Scooter blennies, engineer gobies are often overlooked and under-appreciated. They are plain looking, yes. But they have quite a personality. In tanks with a bit of sand, and rocks that are well supported, engineer gobies form tight knit group, building underground networks of tunnels throughout your tank. I remember my local fish store growing up had a group of six adults that would poke their heads out through their multiple hiding spots, like eels. They are easily found, and are very hardy. But be prepared for falling liverock, as these animals will often their tunnels below large pieces. A well planned tank and live rock structure can easily circumvent this problem.

    Cardinal fish are among some of the more amazing, underappreciated animals in the reeftank. Though plain in comparison to other fish, they are spectacular in their own right. These fish are calm and slow moving. They group tightly under large overhangs or calm areas of the tank. They are among the few fish that readily breed in captivity, and will do so when comfortable, and sexed correctly. There is no need to build a hatchery or such as the males are mouth brooders, and will house the small babies in his mouth until they are released. If not eaten, baby young will often seek shelter in the spines of the diadema urchin.

    When considering Tangs for larger tanks, there are a few that are rarely considered over their more colorful counterparts. For instance, the yellow eye kole is a deep brown fish, with horizontal dark lines that run across its body; it is a fish that is not very well appreciated. However, they are sturdy, hardy, and sociable fish that fare extremely well in the reeftank. Being bristle mouth tangs, they are among the most efficient in devouring filamentous algae. Another great tang to look at is the convict tang. Their silver body with vertical black stripes is often seen as drab, or unappealing. However, they are among the most congenial tangs available, and fare extremely well in small groups, grazing the liverock wall.

    When considering an angel for the reef tank, many of us automatically think of regal angels or dwarf angels. Though relatively reef safe, these angels will often harass fleshy or new corals, as well as occasionally nip on clam mantles. With a little research, there is a wonderful alternative to these angels that is completely reef safe. Genicanthus angels, such as the swallow angel, or the watanabi angel, are obligate planktovores. Unlike their counterparts, their diet does not consist of coral flesh, but of suspended foods. Though relatively plain looking, the swallow tail angel is a beautiful and striking animal that fares well in the reef aquarium.


    Like fish, many of the more interesting inverts are overlooked and overshadowed by larger, brighter, and more striking specimens. I have found that some of the most beautiful and welcome additions to my tank have been simple animals that offer great movement, texture, and accent to the tank.

    Two great examples of beautiful, yet underappreciated animals are the Colt coral, and waving hand Anthelia. Colt corals are absolutely stunning soft corals, that are rarely considered as they are drab and brown. Unlike many soft corals, colt corals grow many thick, vertical stalks, covered with pink to brown polyps. Placed correctly, the colt coral is a strong accent to almost any soft coral tank. Anthelia, like colt corals, are stunning in their own right, but are considered far less often than similar soft corals, such as xenia. Anthelia is fast growing in medium to high light, and well often grow in large patches, quickly taking over the back glass of the tank. In a tank that has good, complex wave action, anthelia can turn from an okay small coral, to a stunning mass, that sways back and forth in the current.

    Like The Colt and Anthelia, Toadstool Leathers are often underappreciated. Their most common color variant is a deep brown to tan. They are simple and plain animals. However, these animals often can quickly become the centerpiece of the tank, outshining rarer and more colorful animals. Larger specimens have beautiful shapes and textures, with tentacles that sway gently in the current. Some rambunctious clownfish mistake this animal to be an anemone, and will take residence among its many polyps.

    In closing this series of articles, I would like to urge you all to take risks, be creative, and really appreciate the animals that you are choosing for your tanks. In previous articles, I have taken great pains in giving good solid suggestions for stocking the reef tank. I have shown you that there are animals that are great in small tanks, big tanks, region and species specific tanks. I have shown that there are striking, colorful and engaging animals, that are hardy and well suited for your home aquarium.

    Last edited: Apr 16, 2006
    jhnrb, Apr 16, 2006
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