Brightly-coloured, generally small, frequently inexpensive and readily available, Damselfishes may initially seem like ‘model’ reef fish and almost too good to be true as potential inhabitants for reef aquaria, even small systems. However, although some species actually do ‘tick all the boxes’, many come along with baggage that, although not a problem at the time of purchase, has the potential to cause problems further down the line. As with many marine fishes, it’s a case of fail to do your research properly and it may not just be the Damsel that is in distress!
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Abudefduf genus – commonly known as “Sergeant Majors” this damselfish genus consists of 20 species. Some of these are benthivores, while others are planktivores. Growing to a moderate size these fish are not suited to a typical mixed reef setting unless the display aquarium is extremely large. They are more likely to be seen in public aquaria.
Amblyglyphidodon genus – there are currently 11 recognised species in this genus. Typically, these are small to medium sized planktivorous damselfishes that live alone, in small groups or pairs. They are often associated with various coral species that are used for nesting or protection. During breeding, a pair lays eggs on the substrate and guards these until they hatch. Only a few species are occasionally encountered in the trade.
Chrysiptera genus – with some 36 recognised species of generally small, peaceful and colourful reef fishes, the Chrysiptera genus contains some of the most suitable damselfishes for captive care. Typically these small fishes live in aggregations in shallow reef habitats, often in association with coral colonies which they use for cover. As they mature, they form pairs that lay eggs on the substrate. They may become territorial at these times and this can cause problems if there are smaller, less assertive fishes that share a confined aquarium with them. While some species are only occasionally available, several are frequently offered to aquarists.
Dischistodus genus – the 7 species of Dischistodus damsels favour quite shallow waters in Western Pacific lagoons, and coastal reefs, sometimes in silty conditions. They are all small to medium sized fishes. Like other genera in the subfamily, pairs lays eggs and protect them vigorously. At this time they can be aggressive and very territorial. Like most damsels, their colouration and patterns changes as a fish matures. Diurnal by habit, they feed on algae but are generally omnivorous. They are not frequently seen in the trade and to be honest, don’t make good community reef residents due to their feisty demeanour when mature.
Microspathodon genus – this genus consisits of 4 species hailing from the Eastern Pacific and Eastern and Western Atlantic. They grow to a moderate size and exhibit typical behaviour of the subfamily. As juveniles they are shy, sheltering in coral branches or other cover. As adults, they pair-off and defned territories in which eggs are laid on the subtrate. This nest is guarded aggressively by the parents. Juvenile colour forms are often more attractive than drab adults. Overall they do not make good community aquarium inhabitants unless tankmates are extremely tough.
Neoglyphidodon genus – there are 9 species currently placed into this genus. In most aspects they are similar to other members of the subfamily. They are diurnal, inhabit shallow reef environments, feed on plankton and algae (mainly) and establish territories on maturity. As with other species, they become aggressive with age and are not suited to most community reef aquaria. Some species attain a moderate size and unfortunately tend to lose vivid juvenile colouration, with which they are often offered for sale, as they mature. Only one or two species enter the trade with any regularity.
Pomacentrus genus – With 76 species, this genus is quite diverse. Some species remain quite small and peaceful but others can attain moderate sizes and are known to be territorial and aggressive even with much larger species. In other respects they are very similar to other genera in terms of habitat and behaviour. Unless the aquarist is attempting to create a species tank or breeding project, the smaller species are the only reasonably safe bet for inclusion into a community reef tank and even then, they can be a risk. Generally, specimens on sale in stores are likely to be cute juveniles with vivd colours that fade as they mature along with the development of a territorial disposition.