An Anemonefish Battle Royale

by | Oct 10, 2017 | Fish | 1 comment

Aquarist Wang Junmin has succeeded in creating what has to be one of the most unusual aquarium concepts ever attempted, as well as one of the least-sustainable. Eight anemonefishes enter, only one will leave…this is the Amphiprion Battle Royale!

So, first and foremost, it has to be emphasized that nobody should ever try this at home. This video was filmed at what appears to be a retail aquarium store in China, and it should go without saying that this will be a very short-lived experiment (hopefully). Even with most of these specimens being on the smaller side there is some obvious territoriality and aggression on display, and some of these fishes appear a bit thin and beaten up.

So what do we have here? Well, the crown jewel would have to be the Whitemargin Anemonefish (A. cf latifasciatus) at centerstage, though it has been misidentified as the true A. latifasciatus in this clip. Both occur only around Madagascar, but on different sides of this island. They belong to an evolutionarily distinct lineage in the Western Indian Ocean, and, as we’re about to see, this small aquarium is a phylogenetic tour de force for the genus.

Lurking within the Longtentacle Anemone (Condylactis doreensis) are a couple species which would typically never be found in this host. The true Pink Anemonefish (A. perideraion) is a specialist of the Magnificent Sea Anemone (Heteractis magnifica) from the West Pacific, while the Orange Anemonefish (A. sandaracinos) is a Coral Triangle-endemic which hosts almost entirely in Carpet Anemones (Stichodactyla spp.). The two are known to form hybrids in the wild, so it’s interesting to see this dynamic play out in a captive environment.

Then there’s a brief glimpse of one of the Saddleback Anemonefishes. This small dark specimen likely originated from the Philippines, based on the shortened middle bar, which would make this A. cf polymnus (or, if you prefer, A. annamensis). This fish represents yet another distinct clade in the evolutionary history of Amphiprion. There are around four main species/populations of Saddlebacks spread across the Indo-Australian Archipelago, and they differ ecologically from most of their congeners in residing around seagrass meadows and other low-energy environments.

A member of the Amphiprion clarkii complex is present, and it appears to be from either the Philippines or Indonesia based on the pale coloration of the caudal fin. The true A. clarkii is described from the Maldives (and has a bright yellow tail), so the West Pacific varieties are one of the many examples from this complex that presumably represent cryptic species.

And, lastly, there are a couple species which are strict specialists in the Bubbletip Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor), though the two are quite distantly related. The Tomato Anemonefish (A. frenatus) is represented here with a small male, while a rather haggard Maroon Clownfish (A. biaculeatus, AKA Premnas biaculeatus) lurks miserably in the background. Someone should really get these fishes an anemone…

All that is missing to round out the genus would be one of the Clownfishes (A. percula or A. ocellaris), a Wideband Anemonefish (A. latezonatus) and an Akindynos Anemonefish (A. akindynos), which both belong to distinct subtropical lineages in the South Pacific, and something from the A. chrysopterus complex. The video above shows a misidentified example of a brown morph from this last group, which, admittedly, does tend to look a lot like the legendary A. omanensis (but note the yellow ventral fins, vs. dark in that species).

This really is an impressive slice of
Amphiprion biodiversity, and we didn’t even mention the Domino Damselfishes (Dascyllus cf trimaculatus), which are anemonefishes of a different sort. But, again, (and I really can’t emphasize this enough) this is totally unsustainable and no doubt quite stressful on these individuals. Please don’t ever try this, or, if you insist on trying, do so in a gigantic aquarium with anemones covering every square inch.

  • Joe Rowlett

    Joe is classically trained in the zoological arts and sciences, with a particular focus on the esoterica of invertebrate taxonomy and evolution. He’s written for several aquarium publications and for many years lorded over the marinelife at Chicago’s venerable Old Town Aquarium. He currently studies prairie insect ecology at the Field Museum of Natural History and fish phylogenetics at the University of Chicago.

1 Comment

  1. John Clipperton

    idiotic thing to do… and almost as idiotic to promote it.


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