Pterapogon kauderni (the Banggai Cardinalfish)
It's a shame that Cardinalfishes are so
often passed over as marine aquarium specimens. It's my
guess that their odd-shapes, retiring conduct, and large,
all-seeing eyes must lead aquarists to consider this group
as being too 'touchy' for captive use. Admittedly, the
success rate in keeping these fishes is dismal; but
for explainable, correctable reasons.
Cardinalfishes occupy some of the same
niches on the reef and in aquariums as the damsels (family
Pomacentridae); biologically, they're principal forage
fishes for piscivores; commercially they're plentiful,
easily captured, and transport well; resulting in their
being relatively inexpensive to acquire.
Securing decent specimens, maintaining
them in a small school, and granting them a few provisions
will reward you with hardy, interesting and long-term
Cardinalfishes, family Apogonidae ("Ap-oh-gahn-id-ee")
are members of the largest Order of fishes, the Perciformes.
They are one of the largest families of fishes with about 27
genera and 250 species. The Cardinals are further subdivided
into two families (the deepwater Epigonidae) and
sub-families depending on whose taxonomic scheme you favor.
Hobbyists are generally offered a half dozen members of the
largest genus Apogon and the Pajama (S.
orbicularis) and Blackbelt Cardinals of the genus
Many Cardinalfishes are reddish in color
(hence their common name) mixed with silver and white,
though most species are yellow, silvery and black. All have
large eyes, and are nocturnal; hiding in crevices or beneath
ledges by day (typically with Squirrelfishes, bigeyes and
sweepers). These are mostly shallow water fishes, found from
the surface to about 100 meters.
Pterapogon kauderni Koumans 1933, the Banggai
Cardinalfish. Restricted in distribution to Banggai Island,
Indonesia, though commercially produced in good numbers in
Indonesia and elsewhere. To three inches in length. A darling
of the ornamental aquatics industry and hobby. Readily
reproduced in captivity. Young cluster about the spines of the
Urchin Diadema setosum when threatened
Most to a few inches, some species to
six-eight inches or more in the wild.
Cardinals display little middle-ground in
their quality on-arrival; they are either hardy and sure to
"make it", or thrashed and "doomed" to break down and die.
For reference, they share many of the same selection
criteria as damselfishes.
1) Behaviorally; look closely at
the group on display. They should be clustered somewhat,
with none having "private parties" off in the corners of the
system. Are they aware of your presence? Good.
2) Reddening: Examine the bodies
of each specimen carefully, especially the insertions of
unpaired fins. Do you see evidence of infection on any
individual? If so, pass them by.
Collecting Your Own
Gathering cardinals compared to other
marines is a breeze. Apogonids are easily spooked out of
hiding into a carefully placed hand net. Care must be taken
in not snagging their dorsal fins' spines (6-8 in the first
dorsal fin, one with 8-14 soft rays in second) and anal fin
Cardinals hide in the netherworld of
ledges and corals by day; searching the bottom for food, by
Apogonids are about as tolerant as
damselfishes; they are not demanding. Some temperate species
prefer lower temperatures, but 72-78 degrees F. is fine for
the group as a whole. Elevated temperatures may bring on a
feeding strike and odd behavior. Higher, steady specific
gravity is appreciated, closer to 1.025; maybe due to their
close association with invertebrates?
Cardinals will tolerate a few tens of ppm
of nitrate, but little or no ammonia, nitrite.
I'd like to mention that apogonids are an
under-rated portion of the living reef's populations.
Several of the hundreds of species are of large number in
the wild, just not commonly encountered due to their largely
nocturnal habits. Many form close associations with
invertebrates, living within the spiny shelter of urchins,
sea stars and more.
I'd shy on making it brisk. These fishes
are found in areas where the water really whips at times.
For a really outstanding arrangement,
provide a large dark shelter-space with one opening and a
group of these fishes and others they are found with in the
wild. The under ledge and cover sub-habitat is a rich
biotope in the reef world.
Generally not. In the wild most live in
aggregations as young and adults. In captivity they only
fare well in groups.
Best put in established systems, keeping
some low illumination on but subdued for a couple of days.
Most cardinalfishes as individuals get
along with their own kind, other species of apogonids and
other peaceful tankmates. Large predatory fishes will inhale
them like so much aqua-popcorn if they're small enough.
The smaller species (some get to six
inches) are strongly promoted for use in fish-only and
reef-tank set-ups. They are supreme choices, being hardy and
interesting; their only shortcomings being that they're shy
and reclusive. Apogonids as a rule do not "sample" more than
Differentiation/Growing Your Own:
Several species spawning habits are
known. The sexes are not much differentiated but may be
distinguished by the males slightly larger size and the
girth of gravid females. They are some of the few marine
mouthbrooders with the males generally doing the incubating.
Young are released after about a week, and develop as
plankton for a couple of months in the upper water column.
Apogonids are predators on small very
small fishes and mobile invertebrates, principally
crustaceans. Livebearers, shrimp and other fresh and frozen
meaty foods are acceptable and good starter foods to train
them onto frozen processed foods; avoid pellets, flake and
other dry prepared foods; these will not sustain them.
If your specimens are new, refusing food,
or go on a feeding strike, execute a large water change and
try some live brine shrimp with the lights off on the
Disease: Infectious, Parasitic,
Nutritional, Genetic, Social
These fishes are generally received
external parasite free, and clean up easily with routine
freshwater dips and quarantine. The usual protozoan scourges
of tropical marine fishes can be handily defeated if
detected early enough with standard copper remedies.
Don't let the apogonids secretive,
nocturnal behavior or odd appearance dissuade you from
trying them. They are good aquarium specimens, whose only
demands are dark shelter, meaty foods and the society of
other members of their species.
Allen, G.R. 1991. Field Guide to the
Freshwater Fishes of New Guinea. Madang, Papua New Guinea:
Christensen Research Institute.
Allen G.R. 1993. Cardinalfishes (Apogonidae)
of Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, with descriptions of
three new species. Revue francaise d'Aquariologie 20:9-20.
Allen G.R. 1996. The king of
cardinalfishes (the Banggai cardinalfish, Pterapogon
kauderni). TFH 5/96.
Goldstein, Robert J. 1998. Breeding
Banggai Cardinalfish. A true marine fish success story. AFM
Howe, Jeffrey C. 1993. Original
descriptions, Apogon selas Randall and Hayashi. FAMA
Howe, Jeffrey C. 1995. Original
descriptions, Pseudamia rubra Randall and Ida, 1993.
Howe, Jeffrey C. 1997. Original
descriptions, Cheilodipterus persicus Gon, 1993. FAMA
Hunziker, Ray. 1990. In the shadows: an
introduction to cardinalfishes. TFH 1/90.
Michael, Scott 1996. The Banggai
cardinalfish; a newly available species that may become too
popular for its own good. AFM 8/96.
Michael, Scott 1997. Cardinalfishes.
Great for beginners and for small tanks. AFM 6/97.
Nelson, Joseph S. Fishes of the World,
3rd Ed., 1994. Wiley & Sons.
Rayner, Gary. 2000. The Banggai
Cardinalfish. And bigger fish to fry. FAMA 2/00.
Thresher, R.E. 1984. Reproduction in Reef
Fishes. TFH Publications, Inc. NJ.
Tullock, John. 1999. Environmental
Aquarist. Banggai Cardinalfish alert. Aquarium Frontiers
the permission of Robert (Bob) Fenner webmaster of WetWebMedia
Photo: MCH (G. Reclos)