First Ever Video of the Pitcairn Angelfish (Genicanthus spinus)

by | Jan 23, 2017 | Fish | 0 comments

If you’re a fan of rarely seen, beautifully patterned deepwater angelfishes, you’ll want to check out the newest video shared by the Association For Marine Exploration. Filmed during an expedition to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, this remarkable footage features two of the ultimate pomacanthid holy grails, including what might be the only video ever taken of the mythic Pitcairn Angelfish (Genicanthus spinus).

This beautiful half-striped species is endemic to portions of the South Pacific, from the Cook Islands in the west to the southern archipelagos of French Polynesia and east into Pitcairn, where the species was first collected. It is part of an antitropical quartet of closely related deepwater taxa spread across the West and Central Pacific, which includes the Japanese G. semifasciatus, the Hawaiian G. personatus and the closely related G. semicinctus, known only from the subtropical reefs at Lord Howe Island and the Kermadec Islands. These two similarly patterned fishes can be told apart easily enough, as males of G. spinus lack the yellow belly found in G. semicinctus, while females of the latter species are much darker relative to the white ladies of G. spinus.

Pitcairn Angelfish (Genicanthus spinus) form Rarotonga. Credit: Association For MArine Exploration

Neither species makes it’s way into the aquarium trade these days, but at least one specimen of G. spinus has previously been collected (likely from Rarotonga). That individual made its way to Japan, where it was kept by renowned aquarist Makoto Matsuoka. Up until now, the only images of this species were those taken by Mr. Matsuoka and a dead specimen photographed by Dr. John Randall. And, so, this new video fills the last void in the documentation of the swallowtail angelfishes, with every member of this genus now well-illustrated on film.

Not to be outdone, the Narcosis Angelfish also make an appearance in this video. It’s always a treat to see this deepwater species in its natural habitat, and this is without a doubt some of the best footage yet of this reclusive yellow fishy. Sadly, there are no Peppermint Angelfish (Paracentropyge boylei) sightings, but, if you watch closely, you’ll catch a quick glimpse of a positively jaw-dropping male Bellus Angelfish (Genicanthus bellus), as well as a couple specimens of the true Ventralis Anthias (Pseudanthias ventralis). This video is like a greatest hits for mesophotic reef fishes…

  • 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.

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