Dottybacks are an interesting group of fish, with behaviour as varied as Melbourne’s weather; for those of you who don’t know, Melbourne is said to have four seasons in one day. The largest subfamily of Dottybacks is Pseudochrominae which contains about 60 species. These fish are well suited to the home aquarium due to their small size, hardiness, easiness to feed, disease resistance, and have awesome coloration. While these fish have many characteristics which make them well suited to the home aquarium, most are also quite aggressive and it is not uncommon for a Dottyback to dominate a fish twice its size.
The following is a list of species that are commonly found in the marine hobby;
Royal Dottyback and the Bicolour Dottyback
The Royal Dottyback (Pictichromis. paccagnellae) and the Bicolour Dottyback (Pictichromis coralensis) both reach a maximum length of 5cm (2 inches). These fish are super resilient and also super aggressive. As evidence of this, it is not unknown for them to go ‘toe-to-toe’ with triggerfish! Both species are a common sight in dealer’s tanks around Australia.
The ‘Australian’ Dottybacks
The genus Ogilbyina, commonly referred to as the Australian Dottybacks, is most notable for two species; the multi-coloured Dottyback (Ogilbyina novaehollandiae) and the Queensland Dottyback (Ogilbyina queenslandiae. Both inhabit the Great Barrier Reef. The multi-coloured Dottyback gets to about 10cm (4 inches) in length, while the Queensland Dottyback reaches about 15cm (6 inches).
Many a hobbyist has been confused by these fish, as their coloration varies with age and sex. The Multi-coloured Dottyback has a total of five colour stages alone.
It should be noted that the Multi-coloured Dottyback will attack anything smaller than groupers, triggerfish, or large eels.
Dottybacks in the genus Labracinus are far too aggressive to be kept with fish their own size or smaller. The firetail Dottyback (Labracinus cyclophthalmus), is another native of Australia which lives on coastal reefs and feeds upon shrimps, snails, crabs, worms, serpent stars, and small urchins and fish. This fish is an absolute no-no for the reef aquarium due to their prey drive. This species is perhaps one the biggest bullies among the Dottybacks and cannot be trusted with anything smaller than and less aggressive than large eels, groupers, and triggerfish.
The Carpet Eel Blenny (Congrogadus subducens) has what is perhaps the most confusing name of any marine fish, as it is neither an eel nor is it a blenny. This is an eel-like species which attains a maximum length of 45cm (18 inches). It is naturally found in the western Indian Ocean and western Pacific and is a native to Australia. It naturally inhabits shallow seagrass beds, tidal rubble flats, and tide pools. This is a predatory species, so it should not be housed with small fish and shrimp. Caves or rock crevices should be provided as hiding places. It should be fed every other day with a diet consisting of meaty-type foods. The aquarium should also be covered, as this species has a habit of jumping out of an uncovered tank. It can be safely housed with larger and more aggressive fishes, such as squirrelfish, angelfish, surgeonfish, and rabbitfish.
The Diadem Dottyback
The Diadem Dottyback (Pictichromis diadema) is a small species, reaching a maximum length of 5cm (2 inches). It is naturally found in the Western Pacific. In the wild, its diet consists of plankton and small crustaceans. The fish is often seen in the trade because it is a small and attractive species. However, in an aquarium with less aggressive fishes, such as damsels, anthias, gobies, anemonefish, and other Dottybacks, their aggression will result in them dominating the aquarium. Therefore, it is best to keep them with larger, more aggressive species, such as larger angelfish, surgeonfish, squirrelfish, and wrasses, it can be maintained quite successfully in most aquariums.
The Magenta Dottyback (P. porphyria) also reaches a maximum length of 5cm (2 inches) and has the same almost the same temperament but is a little more tolerant of its tank mates. However, it still should not be kept with very docile tank mates, especially in small aquariums where it has a tendency to get really aggressive.
Arabian Blue-lined Dottyback
The Arabian blue-lined or Neon Dottyback (Pseudochromis aldabraensis) hails from the Arabian Gulf. It gets to about 20cm (8 inches) in length and feeds on plankton and small bottom-dwelling crustaceans, as do most Dottybacks. P. dutoiti, which is naturally found in the waters off east Africa, looks similar but has a more greenish body. Both are extremely fast, quite hardy, territorial, disease resistant and not finicky eaters.
The Springer’s Dottyback
The Springer’s Dottyback (P. springeri) reaches 5cm in length (2 inches). It could be considered a nervous fish, as it’s always going from one place to another searching for food. One of the things that make it favourable for reef aquariums is that it’s not overly aggressive and will get along with almost all tank mates except those that are quite docile, such as anthias. It’s also a good hunter of small bristle worms.
The Orchid Dottyback
The Orchid or Fridman’s Dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani) is undoubtedly well suited for the community tank. It originates in the Red Sea, and features a magenta body with a black stripe that runs from the lip through its eye to the edge of the operculum, and a blue spot on the gill cover. This small fish is about 6.5cm (2.5 inches) and easily adapts to reef aquariums. It rarely bothers other smaller fish, but still maintains some of the Dottyback attitude. Nevertheless, it is the absolute best of the bunch when it comes to temperament. It’s probably the most sought-after Dottyback species in the trade. As with other Dottybacks, it is a meat eater that should have at least one meal per day. One minor drawback is that it tends to jump out of aquariums, but covering any open areas should solve this problem.
The Oblique-lined Dottyback (Cypho purpurascens) reaches a maximum length of about 7.5cm (3 inches). Although it can be aggressive with docile species, it can be kept with damselfish, larger wrasses, tangs and angelfish. It needs lots of hiding places, so a larger reef aquarium would suit it perfectly. As for diet, it requires meaty foods and should be fed once daily. If its meal is too large to swallow, it will bash the food against something hard to break it up into smaller pieces. The females have somewhat of a drab coloration; their bodies appear yellowish and washed-out, and they tend to have red colouring around the eyes. The species can only be kept singly or in mated pairs in aquariums, and even though it’s safe with corals, it’s not safe with tubeworms and shrimp, nor is it safe with any fish that has red coloration.