You are hereA New Future for the Harlequin Filefish

A New Future for the Harlequin Filefish

By jml - Posted on 09 April 2009

Keeping and breeding Oxymonacanthus longirostris, a spectacular and challenging species

Story and photos by Matt Pedersen

The dazzling appearance of the Harlequin Filefish, a flamboyant little beauty with beaked snout and prominent Swiss-watch eyes, represents the very reason so many of us are drawn to marine aquariums. When in good health and full coloration, it is an arresting species and undeniably seductive for fishkeepers.

Common in the wild and found throughout the sprawling Indo-Pacific, from East Africa to Okinawa and Samoa, Oxymonacanthus longirostris is imported and offered for sale under a variety of common names, most often the Orangespotted Filefish (a common name also routinely applied to the west Atlantic species Cantherhines pullus), but also the Longnose Filefish or, in Australia, the Beaked Leatherjacket. Harlequin Filefish are typically offered at very affordable prices that often entice an uninitiated aquarist to make an impulse purchase. 

Only later does the hobbyist learn that the Harlequin Filefish is an obligate corallivore that experts say is “rarely alive for more than a week in captivity” and is “doomed to die,” a fish “best left in the ocean.” The pervasive information available suggests that this fish simply cannot be kept alive without live corals to feed on.

Those who attempt to keep this species risk the condemnation of their fellow aquarists, who often suggest returning the fish to the shop that sold it before it dies. What we might not consider is that this advice is often coming from people who have never attempted to keep the species—they are simply repeating what they’ve been told. This notion, which is decades old, is so firmly entrenched in hobby literature that most responsible aquarists never question it, and choose to admire this species in pictures or through the lens of a dive mask.

Excerpt from CORAL, March/April 2009. To read the full article, subscribe to CORAL and get a free instant downloadable copy of this and other stories.
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