Aquarium Fish: Suttonia

Recently, I’ve received a call from my fishy friend. I
was told that he got two of the “red soapfish” in the shipment
that just arrived from Indonesia. He said that the fish was
clothed in bright red, with a clear white line in front of its
head. The body was slender and very beautiful! After his
explanation, I asked him to keep one for me. When I got home, and
searching for some information about the species I found out that
not many soapfish are the bright red color he described. At this
point, I thought of the Dottyback and it allies. There was a
general lack of information about this fish among Thai marine


On the following day, I went to the shop in the early morning.
As I stepped inside, my eyes caught two of the brightly color
fish staying near the corner of the tank. These two fish were
slender, a bright red color all over the body, and a white stripe
on the forehead. That was the first time that I’ve seen
this fish. I was surprised that it was a “Suttonia,” one
of the fish that I always dreamt about seeing. The fish’s
condition was not so good, perhaps because the shop put the fish
in a bright place without any hiding place. Their natural habitat
is around 12-24 meters near a rocky cave, where they probably
prefer a dimly lighted habitat.

The genus “Suttonia” is composed of two species, S.
and S. suttoni. For this Suttonia, at
first I believed that it was S. suttoni because of the
color and shape. But when I send the picture to a friend (a
specialist), he suggested that it has more characteristics of
S. lineata. S. suttoni is only known from the
Western Indian Ocean, while S. lineata is a species that
is widespread throughout the Indian Ocean, Hawaii, Philippines,
and Indonesia. My friend also suggested that S.
habitat might extend to the Andaman Sea,
although no one has collected one there yet. These two species
are very closely related in physical appearance. In my opinion,
S. lineata seems to have a rounder body and shorter
forehead than S. suttoni. Color is not a useful way to
distinguish between these two species.


You may have noticed that there were only a few pictures of
living Suttonia. In this case, I think that it is due to their
secretive nature and that only a few have been introduced in
Aquarium trade. When I brought the fish back home, I put him/her
in a separate tank with a small and peaceful fish. At first, I
was afraid that it would attack the small fish like larger
dottybacks do. Since almost no information on this
species is available both in books or on internet, I decided to
put him/her in the tank and I was surprised that it lived happily
together will small fish like the clown, damsel, and cardinal.
The tank was arranged as a small cave and a lot of crevices for
it to hide. Moreover, it was a peaceful and shy fish.



At first, I tried to feed him/her with live brine shrimp. Soon
it became interested, but it took a lot of time for it to focus on its prey
before capture. I tried with different kinds of food, like live
glass shrimp to attract its attention and succeeded. The fish saw
its prey and captured it in a second. Usually it will come out
from the same crevice showing half of its head, observing its
surroundings. This fish could be kept with corals, but not with
shrimps and crabs. In my own opinion, I think that this fish
needs time to focusing on its prey before it will eat it. So, if
you put it in a huge tank with lots of fish I think that it would
be surely starve to death.

From my observation, the fish will stay in one place and not
go far away from its shelter. It will show only its face from
the rock hole, similar to the Moray eel. So it would do great if
the tank is fully arranged with enough live rock and cave for it
to hide. But if you really want to have this fish, be sure that
you think that it is worth the money that you’re going to
spend for it – it’s an expensive fish.

More Information

  Advanced Aquarist

 Pavaphon Supanantananont

  (3 articles)

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