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Captive care and Breeding of the Banggai cardinal fish Pteragon kauderni

By Frank Marini. Presented January 31st, 1999 on #reefs IRC.

Frank Marini was born and raised outside of Boston MA. He joined the army after high school and attended college back in Massachusetts. After college he moved to San Diego CA to obtain his masters at Scripps clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla CA. After which he moved to Houston Texas to complete his studies and was awarded a Ph.D. in molecular biology. He currently is researching and creating novel gene-based therapies for breast and prostate cancer at M.D.Anderson Cancer Center. Frank has maintained tropical fish for over 20 yrs, and his first saltwater tank 15 yrs ago. He progressed backwards from starting with a reef system, back when it was overly gadget driven, to now owning only fish-only tanks. About 4 yrs ago he stumbled upon the newly imported Banggai cardinalfish, and has been enamored ever since. He was one of the first people in the US to successfully raise and breed these popular fish, and also first to publish a narrative on captive care and breeding of these fish (published by the breeders registry)- available on the internet. Over the past 3 yrs he has been successful at continued breeding success, and has raised--[whats a good word for sold?????????]-many Banggai babies. Currently his interest is in lionfish. He has many diverse interests in animal husbandry, he raises the aquatic turtle "matamata", and besides fish breeding he also breeds, and raises the old world chameleons sp. Chamelo.

I would like to thank and the on-line hosts for the invitation to present tonites talk, to James Wiseman for contacting me, and to the many banggai owners and prospective banggai breeders in the world-Keep the questions coming....If it were possible to thank anyone it would be the original male banggai cardinalfish (his picture is in the original article) because he started all this excitment for me. So lets get to it, I am going to summerize the important info from a 15 page update I wrote on Banggai care/breeding. This update will be posted on an on-line source, and includes a large banggai-specific FAQ .


Its been over 2 and 1/2 yrs since I drafted the original article on captive care and reproduction of the banggai cardinal fish " Pteragon kauderni Ӯ [Many thanks go to Stanley Brown and the Breeders Registry for hosting the article on-line]. During these past years, It has been very exciting and overwhelming at times--exciting because the interest in banggais cardinal fish for the home aquarium has really taken off, and overwhelming because I have received over 1200 emails asking questions about these fish. I have been contacted by private individuals, Seaworld, and commercial firms interested in large-scale propagation of these fish.

I really believe all this interest in the banggai cardinal attests to the beauty and magnificence of these fish and how hardy and adaptable these fish are for the home aquarium. One of the great things is that as far as marine ornamental fish go, banggai cards are almost bulletproof, they fit into almost every reef-style tank, and are excellent fish for a little fish-only aquarium.

As an introduction I will describe some husbandry techniques which have changed from the original article (due mainly to streamlining the operation, and increasing success). I will describe new experiences, and/or techniques I have developed with these fish.

First off, I have seen many variations on the names of these fish: banner cardinals, bengai cardinals, buddaha cardinals , hi-fin cardinals, and my favorite, "De juweelkardinaalbaars", which is its common name in Dutch and translates roughly as jewel cardinal perch. I always assume weղe talking about the same fish Pteragon kauderni , so tonight Iլl try to standardize its common name, "banggai cardinals" or banggaiԳ for short.

I would like to cover new ground in this article and will assume that everyone has read and is familiar with the "old article". Due to this, I will only refer to certain aspects of husbandry, breeding, mating dance, etc., as they were explained in detail in the original article.

The original article


Starting off with what a good banggai looks like? I find that these fish are very alert and reactive to outside movements. The finage is always kept erect, and the second dorsal waves constantly. A healthy fish can remain buoyant and level with minimum movement of the pectoral and anal fins, and the fins themselves are intact with no debris or loose scales showing. The large eyes are clear, and plump, and the coloration of a healthy banggai is rich black stripes, and a dullish silver, doppled with many white spots. A healthy fish also reacts quickly to food and has no outward extensions/tears off the bottom lip. I usually have my LFS feed the fish first before purchase, and always feed with live brine, donմ purchase a fish which is not eating, and remember that all of the banggais in the US are wild caught specimens, unless outwardly stated otherwise (unless you live around the Houston TX area, where I have been supplying babies for the past few years).

I have found that these fish like good-excellent lighting and even thought the literature states they are nocturnal, they are very active during the day. These fish are active hunters, and will pursue food items, they are however not overly aggressive feeders, and will be out competed by aggressive triggers, psuedos, and tangs. The banggai cardinal is a somewhat shy fish, and are easily frightened, so provided rockwork or cover is beneficial. I find my fish do well in the home aquarium between 75-85F. I have seen these fish in people tanks where the water currents where excessive, and even thought the fish were struggling to remain stationary, the fish where acting and appearing outwardly normal, but in general I would suggest that the banggais donմ like high flow areas, and occasionally I have observed one of my fish inches away from my outflow tube, riding the current. Banggai cardinals are excellent aquarium fish, and appear to get along with most other tank inhabitants (remember they will eat shrimp, and small fish). I personally have kept them with tangs, butterflies, angels, gobies, wrasses, even baby lionfish, and the banggais have done well. I have not kept them with other cardinalfish, however I have received two reports over the years of fish harassing the banggaiԳ (pyjama cardinal, squirrel fish), and the banggais outwardly harassing another fish (other cardinalfish). Of course all bets are off during breeding.

Sexing Banggais

This is the most asked question I receive, and the one question I cannot answer fully. Even though I have seen over 300 banggaiԳ I am only 50/50 on juvenile animals (animals under 1-1.5inches SVL). When the animals reach sexual maturity (12-14 months), then the jawline takes on a characteristic structure, particularly the male which gets squared off. The second dorsal fin is an excellent characteristic, as the males second dorsal extends past the caudal peduncle, however this flowing fin is often nipped off by other fish. The most accurate sexing method: My best method of sexing banggaiճ is using my establish male [the original male banggai from the article]. I introduce another banggai into his tank and within 10 mins he either is trying to kill him (male) or trying to mate with it (female)...HE IS 100% ACCURATE!!! I have sexed many friends banggai this way. Alternatively you can buy 4 or 5 banggais allow then to reach sexual maturity and they will pair off, and please, please, return the unpaired banggais.


This topic has caused the most controversy. Many people write me and say why isnմ my banggai eating flake food. I always recommend live foods first, and then slowly wean the fish off them and onto the "dead foods". Personally, I can get banggais to eat Selacon enriched-live brine shrimp*, and live ghost shrimp* immediately. I have received reports that banggais will eat live wiggling blood worms, mosquito wigglers, and water boatman-like insects, while I have no proof of this in my own fish. Over the past years, I have switched some banggais over to eating frozen blood worms and occasionally flake. Many people have reported to me that their banggais will take flake foods right away, however I have received email reports in a 10:1 ratio of my banggai wonմ eat flake to will eat flake, so again I recommend only living foods initially. Now allow me to say this, I have found that banggais when fed a quality diet of enriched live foods will breed constantly, whereas when I switch over to feeding frozen blood worms and flake foods only my breeding activity drops considerably. Actually I have found that I can control the amount of breeding activity just by feeding strictly "dead foodsӮ I can only speculate as to why this happens, however it is a easy way to control activity. [*as a note please refer to the original article as to my live foods, Selacon enriched live brine, and gut loaded ghost shrimps]

Common ailments

I assume since banggais are a marine fish captured from the wild that they are susceptible to all marine aquarium ailments, but I have been fortunate in this regards as to only experience 3 problems which have been common to banggais. The first being lip fungus. This usually presents itself as an extension or tear on the lower lips, usually females, and within a few days it appears whitish, and pointed. I have seen this happen on many occasions since banggais reactively dash for cover into the rockwork, cutting their lip, and banggais will drive away opponents with a lip/jaw lock. I have not tried to treat this problem with medication, and invariably in a healthy fish it clears in 2 weeks. The second problem is what I would call a dorsal fin rotting or descalling of the dorsal fin. This usually presents itself as a lifting of the scales on the dorsal fin (where it is the most obvious), a loss of scales, what looks like mild hemorrhaging, and within a few days after this the animal is struggling with a full blown bacterial infection. This animals need to be isolated and treated, I have had success using a full spectrum antibiotic containing Kanamycin, such as Spectraguard. The third problem has to do with buoyancy of these fish, I believe it is a swim bladder problem, as a sick banggai will take on a characteristic upward angling. I have had a few fish which will appear outwardly fine, eat regularly, but struggle to remain neutral, they always point upward. This occurs for no reason, and has been fatal. I have consulted a few marine fish manuals for "cures to swim bladder infections/problems, and nothing appears satisfactory

Signs to look out for: the stress colors of a banggai cardinal are very obvious, the body which is normally silver turns dark almost brownish, the white spotting disappears, and the whole animal takes on a "closed posture" (fins down and tucked in).

Stimulating breeding

.In the initial report I had suggested that breeding was a seasonal event, and that the season for breeding may have been the hurricane season (June-Nov). Since this report, I have found quite the opposite, in my tank acclimated fish, they breed repeatedly, and consistently year round. If feed a proper diet, and given a good environment these fish will breed about every 4-6 weeks apart. A report by Robert Goldstein suggest they breed every three weeks in the wild. In my experience these fish will breed or attempt to breed often within 5 days of the male releasing babies. I have found that to continue breeding that no other stimuli are necessary except to feed the fish high quality foods, especially the female.

Male holding eggs

As I had initially described the male of the banggais supports the gestation of the babies for 20-25 days. It was reported to me that the babies reach a free swimming form around day 13-18, and the male retains these babies in his mouth for an additional week. During this period (day 18-25) the babies do not feed off the yolk sac, as I have witnessed babies which have been released earlier than day 18 (I have had 2 broods of babies released at day 12, and day 15, both of which had babies which contained yolk sacs, however only 2 fish [out of 28] at the 15 day period had a yolk sac. I donմ know what the babies are feeding on in the males mouth during the additional week, and it has been suggested that the babies are feeding on mucus or food remnants, similar to what has been observed in juvenile discus.

Breeding setup

In the original article I described the use of a breeders net set-up (a screened netting hang-on-the-side frame) as a breeding station. This method worked well until I decided to "scale-up my breeding.

After talking with Robert Goldstein he recommended using a 10 gallon aquarium as a holding pen, and using a breeding sponge filter. I setup up the sponge filters by establishing it in the "big aquarium for 2 weeks, (the day I discovered the male stopped eating), and then captured the male around day 18-20 and place him in the 10 gal tank with a plastic plant. I watched daily, and after he releases the babies, I quickly removed him, and kept the babies remaining in this tank. I was doing water changes with 2 gallons weekly. At the highest point of my breeding I had 5 -10gal aquarium bubbling away. I found this 10 gal set-up easy to use and allowed quick change outs of the water and sponge filters. I also found that a 10 gal tank was a good size for the babies, and the food. As many of you know it is important to keep a large number of food items in a small volume so to increase the frequency of your fish finding the food. A 10 gal tank allowed me to add baby brine shrimp at a much larger concentration without worry of the babies choking due to super high concentration of food I routinely added to the breeders nets. This switch to a 10 gal set-up was really the only major change from the original article.

My main tank is a different story. At the time of the original article I had recently converted from a reef style aquarium to a fish only. The tank bottom was bare, and a small pile of rubble (less than 10 lb.) was left in one corner. When I had only 1 pair of banggai in this tank, I could easily capture the fish, and it was easy to clean. However when I wanted to increase the number of breeding pairs of banggai, this tank was insufficient. So instead of buying a new tank I added tank dividers, actually I added 5 of them. In each section I had a small powerhead to ensure circulation, and I had cut out long thin slots (at the water level) on the top to ensure that surface water was moving, and no build up of stagnant water was present. In each divided section I placed a wild caught male and in 4 out of the 6 slots I had females, which I had selected by buying 5 banggais and allowing many of them to pair up, and the remaining females were selected using my "banggai selection" method. These divided sections had a few tall plastic plants in each, and were then home to each pair. All the fish got fed three to five times a week with Selacon enriched live brine and 3-4 times a week with ghost shrimp. I also fed frozen bloodworms, and attempted many times with flake foods, and beefheart. When I observed breeding activity (mating dance), I kept an eye on the males, and when the males refused food, I kept a log of events. Initially the females were kept in the presence of a " mated male until I captured the males to place in the breeding station (10 gal aquarium), however, by accident I placed a "paired female into another males section (a normally unpaired male), and within 2 hrs the males was dancing for her. They breed 18 days later. So after this experience, I rotated a females to different males and found that the females would sometimes breed again, often within 2 week of delivering eggs to the first male. There was a report in FAMA (Dec 1996), of another person who had 2 males and 1 female in his reef tank and during the time the first male was holding eggs the other male became "pregnant as well. At least suggesting that the females are not bonded to the males, and also implying that to increase the output of banggai babies the rate limiting factor was males, i.e. one needs few females to males. Using this method I was able to get 4 females to mate with 6 males and breed almost once every other month. A major drawback of this type of breeding tank (complete with dividers), is that each fish has very little space. This lack of space and cramped quarters may have contributed to the reduced output of babies as my breedings continued. (see TANK NOTE below). Please be aware that this situation of multiple breeding partners maybe a result of the captive environment. It is well known that cardinalfish live in pairs in the wild, and even when found in large aggregations in the wild, pair mates are often found. I would assume that this pairing is important to the behavior of these fish, however in captivity, there are many reports of hypersexual activities reported by many animal species. So this promiscuity maybe a result of this.

Baby Banggais

This is something of a mystery to me. Directly after release, the babies seemed very tolerant of each other and often ӭassed" around the plastic plants. They would all come out to eat at once and quickly dashed back to the protection of the plant. The mystery is that they would all do fine for the first week with no problems and like clockwork in the middle of the second week (day 10) I would loose 2 or 3 babies. As the weeks progressed the larger banggai babies would out compete their siblings, and fish would die due to starvation, this was a common problem which I would remedy by removing the larger babies. For the first 3 months the fishes body size remain between 1/3 and 3/4 of an inch. It would get slightly thicker in body, and would take on the adult coloration. During the next three month period, the babies would almost double in length each month, with the babies reaching 6-8 months being around 0.75-1.25 inches snout vent length (SVL). This is the most common size of fish available on the commercial market, and represents a juvenile animal which is not sexually mature. At this point all the babies can peacefully coexist, and often I see grouping in my aquariums. I cannot reliably sex these animals at this point, so to me a group represented fish which "got along (as compared to hierarchies, or harems). When the animals reached the one year point the animals would be about 1.0-1.5 inches SVL, and start to take on sexual characteristics, i.e., males having larger banner fins, squaring off of the jawline, and the problems in my holding tanks would begin. As these fish reached sexual maturity they would pair off in the holding tanks and really start problems. As mentioned earlier these fish become quite aggressive towards other banggai cardinals when paired. Now let me clarify, that this experience has been in my aquarium, the conditions and feeding from wild caught animals will be different, meaning that it is possible in the ocean, that these fish grow quicker, and reach sexual maturity earlier, and therefore using a "size to determine age maybe incorrect.

Feeding babies

As reported in the original article I fed the baby banggai with brine shrimp nauplii (artemia). This is still one of the best, and easiest food source for baby cardinal fish. It is an absolute must to Selacon enrich the nauplii, and additionally I recommend feeding the nauplii with scraped algae (from the tank) and other vitamins/mineral or lipid complexes, such as Aquafarms Rotirich liquid food, and Vita-chem. I would feed the babies a minimum of 5 times a day, and would feed as much as would be eaten in a few minutes, and then a little added more to the breeding station. My brine shrimp hatcheries where nothing more than 1 gallon milk jugs with the tops cutoff, filled with 3/4gallon of used tank water. I added O.S.I. brine shrimp eggs and aerated heavily for 2-3 days. I had 6-8 milk jugs of baby brine shrimp bubbling away, and always kept extras on hand in case of emergency. I would try to stagger the hatching of the brine shrimp over a few day period, as each culture would supply about 2 to 3 days of brine shrimp nauplii to the banggais. For the past years I did not attempt any more rotifer culture as they became more time consuming, and would crash far more frequently than the brine shrimp. However it is an excellent food source, and one that I would recommend to any seasoned aquarist. I believe that better and different food sources are the key to increased banggai production, this is an area where more research is desperately needed.

Lastly, about longevity of these fish. I currently have the original male from the article still doing well, and still able to carry young (he bred last Nov). I would suspect that when I purchased him he was 8-10 months of age and therefore he would be 4.25-4.5 yrs old (he is about 3-3.5inches SVL). The females seem to be less hardy as most of them have only survived about 2 yrs, however I have never kept a female alone, and therefore this shortened life span maybe due to breeding.

[TANK NOTE: my breeding stations were 10 gal aquariums (and kept babies up until 3-6 months), my holding stations were 20 tall aquariums (up until 6-8 months), the original tank is a 65long Oceanic reef-ready with 5 dividers.]

My report card

Over the past 2 and 1/2 yrs I have been able to get 18 successful breedings to full term. I was able to do this with 6 males and 4 female banggaiճ. The males had an average of 6 broods to completion or 3 broods/male/yr. [This does not include the breeding attempts where the male was carrying eggs, and lost them which numbers considerably higher]. The range of time the males were holding eggs was 18 days at the lowest to 27 as the highest. I started counting (day1) as the day the male refused food. My data suggested that the average length of holding has been 21.5 days (n=18). [r=18, 18, 19, 21, 21, 21, 22, 22, 23, 24, 25, 25, 26, 26, 26, 27]. The average numbers of babies released was 20 [r=10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 17, 19, 20, 21, 21, 21, 22, 22, 24, 25, 28, 31, 37]. Interestingly, the brood size was larger during the first one or two breedings, and after the first year all my brood sizes dropped to below 20 babies/brood. For me, getting the babies was difficult, however caring for them was 10 times harder. As initially reported, the babies were little problem until day 10, this appears to be a critical point, at which for no reason babies start dying. I had increased the frequency of feeding to 5 times day, over the initial 3 times/day, and even thought the babies were physically larger at day 10 I would always loose a few of them. So as a measurement of success, I have included the number of babies surviving at day 100. My overall success rate is slightly less than 66% with an average of 12 babies/brood alive at 100 days. [r= 6, 7, 8, 9, 9, 10, 12, 12, 14, 14, 15, 15, 18, 18, 20, 22]. Also interesting is as I got progressively better at increasing baby survival during the second year, the average number of babies produced from the males decreased. Over the 2 and 1/2 years, I was able to keep alive a total of about 300 babies. These data are ranked by increasing numbers not specific date-I will gladly release all this data on each brood (it will appear in the update)

Personal story

When I thought about "commercially" raising the banggais I looked at it as a challenge to be able to breed a marine fish. I figured out away of streamlining the operation as to get the most babies out of the smallest number of fish, and my hope was that maybe I could reduce the burden of fish pulled from the ocean (yes illusions of grandeur). However as you read this you see that infact over 2.5 yrs I was able to produce about 300 babies, and it took a tremendous amount of time, effort, and expense. Initially I was able to sell these fish locally as the current price for a banggai was $50/each -retail (1996 prices), so it was almost worth it to sell 5 babies here, 10 babies there. I was able to break even with the costs of water, tanks, electricity, and food (remember I didnմ sell these babies until 6-8 months of age). However the fish climate changed in 1997 and the cost of banggais dropped to about $20/fish-retail, and these same stores which offered me decent money for a bag of baby banggais before would offer me about $4-5/fish. So even though these were a tank raised fish (and assumed to be a better fish), it was less expensive for them to purchase the wild caught animals. So I stopped mass production of the banggais.So now I have two pair of banggai left, the original male from the article, an F1 male, and 2 new females. Allow me to say that I never felt competition from other commercial firms about breeding these fish as I was not into "it" for financial gain, but I could not reconcile my costs. I can only hope that there are others out there who want to mass produce these fish, and that this is a primer for mass production. These fish deserve every possible assistance we can afford, since the literature still suggests that the banggai cardinal fish population is a small one. As a glimmer of hope, there have been two reports of additional banggai populations discovered outside of the original locale, and I only hope this is true.

Are banggais agressive towards each other, especially when new banggais are introduced?

Yes, males are agressive towards other fish, however, females fare better.

Since the cardinals seem to prefer just "sitting there" in the water, do they seem to dislike tanks with heavy water movement?

Yes, they dislike heavy water movement, however, I have seen mine riding the current from the outflow, but very seldom.

How are the eggs fertilized exactly?

Only God knows...haha The female obviously lays the eggs the male squirts sperm over them and then spins around and gulps them.

I have only seen fake plants with suction cups that use wire to hold the fake plants together. I assume this is not salt safe? (This is a breeder tank with no substrate)

Probably not. I have plants are weighted on the bottom. uh,

I have bought several Banggai from a mail order source. They seem to be darker in color (not white) and then if they are healthy they will turn white in a few days. Is this normal?

When bangaiis are stressed, they are darker in color they will lighten when they become acclimated.

What are some sources of ghost shrimp?

Ghost shrimp are raised in crawfish ponds here on the Gulf Coast... Every LFS sells them here. You can mail order them, but they are pretty expensive.

Other than lack of (or reduced) breeding, have you seen or heard of any adverse effects from long-term use of exclusively dead foods?

No, I've not experienced anything long-term.

Fake plants weighted by what?

I purchased the fake plants mailorder and they came with plastic encased weighting. I assume it's metal wrapped and plastic.

Did you ever experience an adult banggai turning brownish in color on the bottom portion of his body? I got one from someone and it turned brownish after I got it and 3 weeks later, it is still brown. Is this due to stress? It wasn't brown in his tank. (his was 125 gal, mine only 30 gal)

I have never seen that, but it sounds to me that if the animal is healthy and eating then it's probably it's coloration... There are a few known color locales and this may be one of them.

Where else were they found in the wild?

There have been two reports of bangaiis outside of bangaii island, one of them was an inland waterway in the phillipines and the second report is unsubstantiated however it is a saltwater filled lake.

I purchased 2 Bangaii's from the LFS there about 2-2.5" and the get along well I want to now since there not fighting is this a good indication they are male and female?

At this size they should be adult animals, and therefore this is a good indication, however, is 2 inches the full length? Or snout to vent?...It still could be a juvenile animal.

How long will they live in home aquariums?

As I mentioned in the article, my male is 4.5 yrs old, so they could live longer if treated well.

Have you seen the relationship between the parents and the fry after the release of the fry into the tank with the adult pair? / Will the adult pair raise their fry past the mouthbrooding stage?

There is no relationship, the parents will eat the babies.

What do you gut load ghost shrimp with?

In the original article, I suggested gut loading the shrimp w/ quality fish food and blood worms.

Have you tried or heard of using "Beta Meal" to enrich the brine shrimp nauplii (artemia)?

No, I use strictly selcon, scraped algae, and OSI artemia food.

Would they be OK in a 75gal with 1 Green Chromis, 3 striped damsel and am electric blue damsel. The fish are 1.5 inches and about 30 pounds of live rock. / Are they aggresive enough eaters to get by in a tank with other species?

They are not agressive feeders and they are fairly shy fish, however, once established they do compete well.

Do female banggai's EVER have a long second dorsal fin?

This is a tough question. A long second dorsal compared to what? Usually,the females second dorsal is shorter than a males. I have heard that they had a female w/ a longer second dorsal, but over 100+ fish my males all seem to have the longer second dorsal.

Will Banggais keep "out of the way" of anemones?


How easy/hard are they to keep (in a "typical" reef tank with other fish etc)?

Once established, they are quite hardy fish and do very well.

What is a good size aquarium for a breeding pair?

I have received reports from people who have had bangaiis breed in a 20. I have done all my work in a 65.

With the 10g breeding setup was lighting consistently an important part of breeding?

They definitely need enough light to lighting isn't critical, but important. Breeding in my opinion was dependant on welfare of the fish and if lighting was a critical part of this, then I believe it was important. For me quality feeding and decent lighting was adequate

If they are so "easy" to raise why arent they being commercially raised?

First off, if you've had a chance to read my articles, they are not easy per. se. However, c-quest in puerto rico has tried to commercially breed this fish. I have received reports from others who are also doing what I am doing so to me, the main limitation is financial. Maybe people should be willing to pay more for tank raised fish!

What is with C-Quest...are they stil there or are they gone?

I have heard that they were wiped out by the last hurricane, and I am not sure at what point they have recovered and if they are still selling fish.

Thanks for the great talk, Frank!

Created by liquid
Last modified 2006-11-26 18:09